|When President Clinton unveiled his Clean Water Action Plan in Baltimore on Feb. 19,
it was the first acknowledgment at the presidential level that polluted runoff such
as oil from city streets and pesticides from farms threatens the nations
water quality. The plan calls for a reduction in runoff from federal lands, the creation
of buffer strips along 2 million miles of streams and improvements in monitoring major
But thats not where the good news ends. Clintons
plan also pledges to achieve a 100,000-acre net gain in wetlands per year by 2005. We
currently lose 117,000 acres per year. Whats more, the president proposes that
federal land managers improve water quality in streams and rivers by improving maintenance
along 2,000 miles of roads and trails each year by 2005, and decommissioning 5,000 miles
of roads some in wilderness areas and national forests each year by
The Clinton plan proposes to spend $568 million in fiscal year 1999 a 35 percent
increase for water-quality programs. The additional dollars would not establish new
programs, but bolster existing efforts, said Kathryn Hohmann, director of the Clubs
Environmental Quality Program. Congress must approve the proposed budget.
Hohmann says the presidents recognition of the dangers of polluted runoff
also called nonpoint source pollution is significant.
When I came to Washington in 1990, nobody was talking about polluted runoff. You
just did not say that corporate agriculture was a polluter, said Hohmann. Now
the administration is saying we need to get a handle on runoff, such as the manure that
comes from hog factories and thats an important step.
Nonpoint sources of pollution include oil and chemicals from urban streets, fertilizers
and pesticides from agricultural operations, animal waste from industrial hog and chicken
facilities, and air pollution carried in rain. Unlike a visible factory pipe that spews
industrial sludge into a river, these sources can be difficult to locate and
Robin Mann, chair of the Clubs Wetlands/Clean Water Campaign, praised the plan for
its strategies to curb runoff. We are also cautiously applauding the
presidents announced commitment to achieving net gains in wetlands, but we would
really like to have heard him say the gains will be made by cutting back quick-and-easy
permitting of wetlands destruction, as well as by restoration. The goals in the plan
appear to be inconsistent with early steps in revising the permitting process.
In 1997, the Clinton administration decided to phase out the worst of its quick permits
for wetlands destruction Nationwide Permit 26, which allowed the dredging and
filling of thousands of acres of the nations wetlands.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which administers the permit program, approves 95
percent of permit requests within 20 days, said Hohmann. Its a lottery
in which no one loses. Its a program that cries out for reform because it adds to
suburban sprawl, loss of green space and coastal wetlands destruction.
A system to replace Nationwide Permit 26 has been drafted, but, said Hohmann, at
this point in the process it looks like its worse than the original. Well work
with the administration to get something different on the table, but theyre under
pressure from developers, the oil industry, roadbuilders and utilities. Those folks are
used to rubber-stamp permits.
The Clinton administration is poised to give with one hand and take away with the
other, said Mann. We have to force them to link the two and realistically
pursue the proposal for a net gain. Overall, this action plan is a worthy proposal that
can add up to better, safer water quality for America. But the administration has to fight
for its approval in the budget-appropriations process, or it will die as a hollow
To take action: Contact your representative and senators and tell them to
support full funding for the Clean Water Action Plan.
For more information: Contact Robin Mann at (610) 527-4598, firstname.lastname@example.org or
Kathryn Hohmann at (202) 675-7916,