Earth Day and the Clean Water Act


Author: Ted Hadzi-Antich

This week Pacific Legal Foundation is celebrating Earth Day 2010 by devoting the PLF Blog to a different environmental topic every day. Today, Friday, April 23, we’re focusing on the Clean Water Act.

Over the past 40 years, the Clean Water Act has been a tremendous success. Our lakes, rivers and streams are more fishable, swimmable and drinkable than they were 40 years ago, largely as a result of the Clean Water Act’s technologically-based provisions requiring polluting facilities to install the “best available technology” to clean up wastewater discharges. The substantial improvement in water quality throughout the nation is cause for celebration.

Unfortunately, along with the successes, the Clean Water Act has engendered problems, the types of problems anticipated by our Founding Fathers, who understood well that governmental power leads to governmental abuses, which is why they developed a system of limited government. One example of governmental abuse under the Clean Water Act is the enforcement action brought against Charlie Johnson and his family by the U.S. EPA. Charlie is a cranberry farmer in Southwestern Massachusetts who expanded his cranberry farm by converting swamps on his property into productive agricultural farmland, thereby improving Mother Nature. EPA took umbrage and sued Charlie and his family, in an effort to require Charlie to destroy the farmland by “restoring” the swamps, at a cost of millions. The striking thing about this case is that Charlie has not added any pollution whatsoever to any water body. The lawsuit has been in the courts for more than a decade, and PLF is defending Charlie and his family from this governmental overreaching.

So, as we celebrate Earth Day 2010, we need to be mindful not only of the tremendous successes of our environmental laws but also of some of their failures, and we need to ensure that government understands that protecting liberty, free enterprise and the pursuit of happiness should be an integral part of protecting the environment.