"Congress, We Have A Problem"

Earth Day 1996

April 1, 1996

"Congress, We Have A Problem": Fouling Lakes, Rivers, and Beaches

A House of Representatives rewrite of the nation's Clean Water Act, H.R. 961, set the low water mark for environmental rollbacks in the 104th Congress. If enacted into law, the bill, passed by the House on May 16, 1995, would:

  • Allow untreated sewage to be discharged into coastal waters;
  • Make the cleanup of toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes voluntary;
  • Redefine most of the nation's wetlands out of existence and;
  • Gut EPA efforts to control farm runoff, the single largest source of unregulated water pollution today.

If this "Dirty Water Act" were signed into law, America would forfeit much of the progress made cleaning up the nation's waters over the past 25 years. Standards would be eased and more sewage and toxic chemical pollution would be dumped into the rivers we swim in, the lakes we fish in, and even the reservoirs we drink from.

How it Hurts America

  • H.R. 961 would threaten the country's waters with increased sewage discharges and toxic pollution. A weakened Clean Water Act and congressional budget cutbacks would imperil ongoing efforts to protect many of America's treasured water resources, including the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and the San Francisco Bay.
  • Thirty eight (38) percent of America's rivers and 44 percent of America's lakes fail to meet Federal standards for fishing, swimming, or other uses. Under H.R. 961 pollution of these waterways would increase, setting back the modest progress on cleaning them up that has been achieved to date.
  • In 1993-94, over 11.6 million Americans drank tap water that was contaminated by fecal matter or other bacteria -- in part because of sewage discharges into rivers and lakes at over 7,500 locations throughout the country. H.R. 961 would weaken sewage treatment requirements for small communities, putting more sewage into the nation's drinking water sources.
  • Approximately nine percent of all private drinking water wells in the country -- used by over 3.8 million Americans -- have nitrate contamination that exceeds EPA standards, posing acute risks to infants. But the Clean Water Act passed by the House of Representatives would virtually eliminate controls on toxic agricultural runoff -- the main source of the nitrate problem.