During 45 seconds of a 22-minute, June 25 speech about the environment before the League of Conservation Voters, President Obama spoke in surprisingly unsophisticated language regarding his water agenda:
I’m going to stand with sportsmen and conservationists against members of Congress who want to dismantle the Clean Water Act. We’ve got to dredge up that old tape of the Cuyahoga River on fire, and the Chicago River, and just remind people that this thing worked.
But the Clean Water Act has not worked during his administration. As his second term wanes, President Obama has little about which to boast regarding improvement of the nation’s waters. Perhaps it was a measure of his speech writer’s desperation that the audience’s attention was directed to a river that caught fire forty-five years ago.
Soon after Lisa Jackson’s appointment as President Obama’s first EPA administrator she said, “America’s waterbodies are imperiled as never before.” His second EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, said, “Progress in advancing clean water and safe drinking water goals in the U.S. is stalled.” McCarthy’s was a kind assessment. Evidence suggests the quality of the nation’s waters is headed backward.
For the 30th consecutive year, 40% of the nation’s waters are of too low quality for fishing or swimming. If decades of trends hold true, Summer 2014 in America promises more health advisories about fishing and swimming than the United States has experienced to date. (More on the Clean Water Act here and here.)
President Obama wrapped up his comments about water with this:
[A]s Americans, we have an obligation to be good stewards of the gifts that have been given; and make sure that they’re around for our kids and our grandkids.
Familiar sentiments. But to deliver on them President Obama must use the opportunity of his lame duck years to come clean about the Clean Water Act. He should articulate the profound challenge, and reforms, his successor and Congress must take on if we are ever to attain its mission to eliminate pollution and “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.”