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April 22, 2022 by Jake Moore

The Clean Water Act's Midlife Crisis

In October 2022, the Clean Water Act will turn 50. Though heralded as a crowning environmental achievement, some argue it’s a costly and ineffective law. Half a century later, what has it achieved, and what can policymakers improve?

Since enactment, the Clean Water Act has led to cleaner waterways and healthier wildlife. Its implementation has prevented billions of pounds of pollutants from entering our water, protected public health, and slowed the decline of ecologically and economically crucial wetlands.

According to Center for Progressive Member Scholar Robin Kundis Craig, its most underappreciated achievement has been direct investment in wastewater and sewage treatment infrastructure. Often taken for granted, the social, economic, and environmental benefits of wastewater treatment facilities are massive. By some estimates, funding national water treatment needs would spur $220 billion dollars of growth. Since 1972, over $100 billion of Clean Water Act assistance funds alone have been distributed to wastewater projects.

Shortcomings of the Clean Water Act and its Implementation

In setting water pollution standards under the Clean Water Act, states rely on the public “uses” of any given waterbody (whether it's used for fishing, recreation, etc.). The “existing use” criteria reflects how waterways had been used prior to …

April 21, 2022 by Minor Sinclair
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This blog post is the third in a series outlining the Center for Progressive Reform's strategic direction. We previously published "Strengthening the 4th Branch of Government" and "A Turning Point on Climate."

I'm hopeful the recent disco revival won't last but that other resurging movements of the 1960s and '70s will. That era saw the birth and explosive growth of the modern environmental movement alongside other sweeping actions for peace and equality.

Public pressure led to critical environmental laws that continue to protect our natural resources and our health and safety. In 1970, Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and enacted the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the federal government to limit air pollution, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which established the first nationwide program to protect workers from on-the-job harm. Two years later came passage of the Clean …

Feb. 8, 2022 by Darya Minovi
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Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One bill would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.

Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Part I, which ran yesterday, explores our collaborative work to protect clean drinking water in Maryland. Today, we look at our efforts to protect Virginia’s health and environment from toxic chemical spills.

As climate change intensifies, Virginia’s coastal and riverine communities are increasingly under threat of sea-level rise, hurricanes, and storm surge. Research published in 2019 by my colleague David Flores, a senior policy analyst at CPR, and CPR Member Scholar Noah Sachs found that flooding not only …

Feb. 7, 2022 by Darya Minovi
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Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.

Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Today’s piece looks at our efforts to protect clean drinking water in Maryland; check back tomorrow for Part II, which explores our collaborative efforts to protect Virginians from toxic chemical spills.

In 2020, CPR policy analyst Katlyn Schmitt and I investigated nitrate concentrations in drinking water on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore — where much of the state’s agricultural activity is concentrated — and analyzed state policies designed to protect private well owners. We found that Maryland was one of five …

Jan. 13, 2022 by Sandra Zellmer
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A global movement is underway to protect 30 percent of the Earth's lands and waters by 2030. More than seventy countries support this goal to combat climate change and slow the pace of species extinction, both of which are accelerating at an unprecedented rate. The two threats are closely intertwined. The greatest drivers of species extinction are climate change and habitat loss; by the same token, the loss of intact, functioning habitat and biodiversity diminishes the capacity for climate resilience.

In the United States, one of President Biden's earliest executive orders, issued in his first week in office, established a goal to conserve at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and water and 30 percent of U.S. ocean areas by 2030. The order proclaims an "all of government" approach to …

Dec. 9, 2021 by Christine Klein
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In an era when most Supreme Court opinions are sharply divided, recently the high court unanimously rejected Mississippi’s claim against Tennessee in a long-running dispute over the groundwater that lies beneath both states in a common aquifer.

The impacts of this case will extend far beyond Mississippi and Tennessee, as states compete with one another over limited water supplies.

When neighboring states fight over shared rivers, the law has been clear for more than a century: They can settle their differences either by negotiated agreements known as “interstate compacts” or they can ask the Supreme Court to divide up the waters through what is known as an “equitable apportionment.”

But until late November, it was not as clear how states should resolve brawls over water when it is found underground in geologic formations known as aquifers.

Read …

Nov. 23, 2021 by Robin Kundis Craig
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

Confirming expectations, the Supreme Court on Monday unanimously denied Mississippi’s claim that Tennessee is stealing its groundwater. If Mississippi wants to pursue its groundwater battle with Tennessee, it will have to file a new complaint with the court asking for an equitable apportionment of the Middle Claiborne Aquifer, which lies beneath Mississippi, Tennessee, and other states.

Defying everyone else’s agreement that equitable apportionment was its only cause of action, Mississippi argued before the Supreme Court that Tennessee had invaded Mississippi’s sovereign territory by allowing the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division to pump so much water from the aquifer that it created a cone of depression that extended across the state line and caused groundwater that naturally would have remained under Mississippi to flow into Tennessee. For this …

Nov. 23, 2021 by Robin Kundis Craig
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

Less than two months after oral argument, in its first interstate groundwater case, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Mississippi must rely on a doctrine known as equitable apportionment if it wants to sue Tennessee over the shared Middle Claiborne Aquifer. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court squarely rejected Mississippi's claim that Tennessee is stealing Mississippi's groundwater, noting that it had "'consistently denied' the proposition that a State may exercise exclusive ownership or control of interstate waters."

The Supreme Court's decision

As expected, the court's opinion in Mississippi v. Tennessee is short — 12 pages, half of which recount the long history of the case. Nevertheless, in this first opinion about states' rights to interstate aquifers, the court made three important decisions that are likely to guide …

Oct. 1, 2021 by Robin Kundis Craig
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This post was originally published on SCOTUSblog. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

Mississippi v. Tennessee is not only the Supreme Court’s first oral argument of the 2021-22 term, but it is also the first time that states have asked the court to weigh in on how they should share an interstate aquifer. The court’s decision could fundamentally restructure interstate groundwater law in the United States for decades — or the case could be dismissed immediately on the grounds that Mississippi has failed to allege the proper cause of action.

The case will be argued on Monday, and it will be the court’s first in-person argument in a year and a half. In March 2020, the justices stopped meeting in person due to the coronavirus pandemic, and since then, all arguments have been conducted by phone. But the justices are returning to …

Sept. 2, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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This op-ed was originally published in The Virginia Mercury.

The U.S. Senate faces a long to-do list when it reconvenes next month.

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax,  wants to be sure an important but fairly obscure environmental health bill makes the list. 

It passed the House in July, thanks in part to Democratic members of our congressional delegation, and now awaits action in the upper chamber. “The Senate must take action,” Connolly told me by email.

The legislation would regulate and clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of toxins linked to cancer, infertility and other serious health problems. One such problem is compromised immunity, which may reduce the effectiveness of COVID vaccines — just as the delta variant surges across the state.

This bill is urgently needed in Northern Virginia — a reported PFAS “hot spot.”

Used in tape, nonstick pans and other everyday …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 22, 2022

The Clean Water Act's Midlife Crisis

April 21, 2022

Protecting Future Generations, Just as Earlier Ones Sought to Protect Us

Feb. 8, 2022

CPR Pushes Bills to Protect Waterways and Public Health in Maryland and Virginia: Part II

Feb. 7, 2022

CPR Pushes Bills to Protect Waterways and Public Health in Maryland and Virginia: Part I

Jan. 13, 2022

Will the 30 x 30 Initiative Protect 30 Percent of Freshwater Resources by 2030?

Dec. 9, 2021

Memphis Commercial Appeal Op-Ed: Supreme Court Turns to Science to Resolve Groundwater Dispute Between Mississippi and Tennessee

Nov. 23, 2021

In Dispute over Groundwater, Court Tells Mississippi It's Equitable Apportionment or Nothing