Americans like the Clean Water Act (CWA), which was passed in 1972 to clean up the country’s waterways polluted by decades of industrialization and weak regulation, because they like having access to safe drinking water as well as clean water for activities like swimming, boating and fishing. It seems like a no-brainer. So it was no surprise when the general public submitted more than 800,000 comments during the public comment period last year in support of President Obama’s plan to restore CWA protections to the country’s small waterways.
However, a new report from Environment America, Polluting Politics: Political Spending by Companies Dumping Toxics in our Waters, shows opponents to the CWA are spending significant amounts of money to act against the public interest.
“Year after year, polls show that more Americans are concerned with the pollution and quality of our waterways more than any other environmental issue,” the report begins. “And after toxins in Lake Erie left 400,000 Toledo, Ohio residents unable to drink the water coming out of their taps last August, the need to protect our waterways is clear and present.”
But, the report says, “Corporations and industry groups that oppose restoring Clean Water Act protections can drown out the voice of the average voter by spending enormous sums on election campaigns and lobbying.”
The report reveals that currently, half of the U.S.’s lakes, rivers and streams are unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking, and that 206 million pounds of toxic materials are dumped in our waterways each year. Polluting Politics ties some of the polluters to investments in political candidates who might work to minimize CWA protections.
“As it turns out, the same companies that are polluting our waterways with toxic chemicals are also polluting our politics with their spending,” said report author Ally Fields, clean water advocate at Environment America.
What these companies want is to stave off regulations that would limit the discharge of industrial chemicals from fracking and agricultural runoff (especially from factory farms), and restore wetlands and protect them against development. Those are regulations the public likes and wants. But to a large degree, the public interest has been trumped by several U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2006 that have left half the country’s waterways—which provide drinking water for a third of Americans—vulnerable to toxic pollution. And these big spender have swooped in to try to exploit those loopholes.
The report revealed that AK Steel Holding Corp, the top water polluter, dumped 19,088,128 pounds of toxics into waterways in 2012. And in 2014 it spent $739,752 on lobbying to try secure its ability to keep on polluting. Industrial foods company Tyson Foods, the second biggest water polluter with 18,446,749 pounds dumped, spent $1,163,838 on lobbying. The U.S. Department of Defense was the third largest waterway polluter at 10,868,190, but does not spend money on lobbying. But chemical company Cargill, checking in at fourth, spent about $1,300,000 to allow it to keep dumping more than 10,600,000 pounds of toxic materials into U.S. waterways.