Delaware needs a ‘Water Golden Rule’

Yesterday, I was excited to have Delaware’s own Collin O’Mara, former DNREC Secretary and current President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, join me at a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee. As a tireless advocate for Delaware’s natural resources and the health of our communities, Collin was the perfect person to help our committee examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Rule, which protects our nation’s millions of miles of waterways from harmful pollutants.

For Delaware, this rule is incredibly important, protecting the Delaware River and Bay from pollution occurring hundreds of miles upstream. Small amounts of pollution put into smaller waterways in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York flow downstream toward Delaware. In those places, these small amounts aren’t a big deal for farmers or fishermen or anyone drinking the water. But when all of that pollution flows downstream, toward Delaware, it adds up. In the end, that accumulated pollution can have huge impacts on the health of our fish and wildlife, and the safety of our drinking water. 

In creating the Clean Water Rule, EPA spent years examining the latest peer-reviewed science. They also held more than 400 meetings with farmers, business owners, local leaders and the general public in towns across the country. The EPA received more than one million comments on the draft rule – some with suggestions, some with specific challenges and some simply asking questions. Before issuing the final rule in August 2015, EPA responded to every comment. 

In the end, the EPA’s final Clean Water Rule isn’t perfect. Some argue it’s too strong and hurts businesses. Others say it’s too weak and fails to fully protect our waterways for our children and grandchildren. No one can honestly say, though, that EPA didn’t do its homework. After years of analysis, discussion and rewriting, EPA took an incredibly complex issue and found a reasonable, workable compromise that I believe would ensure our children inherit healthy waterways in the decades to come.

Unfortunately, last month, the president issued an executive order directing the administrator of EPA, Scott Pruitt, to reconsider the final Clean Water Rule and either rescind or replace it. Instead of accepting the smart compromise of the EPA, the president’s action muddies the waters and threatens to walk back a smart protection aimed at helping downstream states like Delaware so we’re not forced to deal with our neighbors’ pollution.  

Collin explained the Clean Water Rule best yesterday when he quoted Wendell Berry and suggested we should adopt a ‘Water Golden Rule’ where you ‘do unto those downstream as you would want those upstream to do unto you.’ The EPA’s Clean Water Rule, while not perfect, is as close to a Water Golden Rule as we’ve ever seen. It protects the drinking water of 117 million Americans – including every Delawarean. It’s important for the health of our waterways, the health of our economy and the health of the First State in the decades to come.