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Group Says Millions of Pennsylvanians Would Benefit from Clean Water Legislation

April 7, 2009

Philadelphia, PA - The drinking water of two out of three Pennsylvanians is at risk, unless new legislation to protect the nation's water quality finds its way to the President's desk to be signed into law. That's the view of the advocacy group Clean Water Action, which supports a Clean Water Restoration Act introduced last week by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin).

The bill is an effort to put some teeth back into its 30-year-old predecessor. The intent of the original Clean Water Act was to keep drinking water clear of cancer-causing pollutants and toxic runoff. However, Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action's Pennsylvania state director, says confusing court cases and government action came into play, particularly during the Bush Administration. In recent years, he explains, streams and wetlands in Pennsylvania and elsewhere were removed from protection when the law was narrowed in scope to include only larger, "navigable" waterways.

"Even if you take a small stream out of jurisdiction and then you can pollute that small stream, that stream goes somewhere and it goes into the larger streams and eventually into ones we're drinking out of."

As it now stands, says Arnowitt, the measure is a shell of what it once was.

"Basically, it's just saying, 'There is this federal law that protects waterways in the United States - but it doesn't protect yours."

Twenty-two members of the Senate have signed onto the Feingold measure as cosponsors; so far, Pennsylvania's senators have not. Arnowitt hopes that will soon change.

"We were disappointed to see that neither Senator Specter nor Senator Casey are cosponsors of this bill. Now that it's been introduced, I certainly hope they'll take a good look and realize the real value for Pennsylvania."

Business groups opposing the Clean Water Act say it's thick with Washington bureaucracy. They contend the permits needed to comply become costly, eat into profits, and hurt job creation.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA