The New York Times published a devastating article today on the erosion of enforcement of the Clean Water Act over the past few years. The article discusses how pollution of water sources nationwide has increased while the federal EPA and many state agencies have done nothing to penalize violators.
Much of this has to do with the hostility to regulation that marked the Bush Administration’s ideology and the fact that state and federal administrators do not have the budgets needed to adequately insure compliance with water safety legislation.
The phenomena is prevalent throughout the country, but the article discusses an interesting example in West Virginia where coal mining operations essentially pump sludge and other byproducts of mining into aquifers, thus polluting the groundwater.
Another problematic source for polluting stems from pesticide and fertilizer runoff in the big agricultural states of the Midwest.
Problems with water safety are scandalously under-reported, so it is good to see the Times spending resources to compile information (they have also compiled a database of violations available on their website).
It also helps to show the integrated nature of environmental problems which needs to inform policy debates. Coal not only is problematic from the standpoint of greenhouse gas emissions, but also can literally kill people through pollution of groundwater. Assuming you can sequester CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants, the public health issues related to its mining still persist. Furthermore, the fact that poor water quality stemming from industry’s indiscretions hurt people’s health should also be brought into current debates pertaining to health care and health insurance. If water sources polluted by industry in particular locales results in higher negative health outcomes, don’t the polluters bear some responsibility for bearing the costs of health care for its victims?
Similarly, the article discusses agriculture as a problematic source of water pollution. This stems from monoculture production of commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, etc…These crops need toxic enhancements to grow which, in turn, contaminate groundwater.
The irony here is that polluting monocrop agriculture is highly subsidized. The products–such as corn–are converted into such products as animal feed or high fructose corn syrup which contribute to the high carbon footprint of agriculture and health problems such as obesity.
Thus, the system that produces dirty water also produces dirty air and bad public health in a myriad of ways.
It is good to see the current EPA administrator express concern about the current situation. Remedying these systemic problems will likely take a lot of time and resources.