By: Marc Yaggi
When Richard Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act in 1972, he called the Act “budget-wrecking,” saying, “Legislation which would continue our efforts to raise water quality, but which would do so through extreme and needless overspending, does not serve the public interest.”
In rolling back nearly 100 environmental regulations, the Trump administration is essentially making the same argument. And they’re doing it at the worst possible time. Environmental health is key to human health, and, as we’re tragically realizing now, a healthy population is the critical infrastructure our entire world economy is built on.
Smog-choked air, dying rivers, and oil-soaked soil won’t help us rebuild our economies. That work will take all of us, and we’ll need to do it in as healthy an environment as possible.
Just one U.S. environmental regulation, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, averts up to 11,000 premature deaths in the country each year, preventing 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet the Trump administration is chipping away at that very standard.
Protecting the environment means protecting human life. In protecting the waters they love, Waterkeepers also protect the people who depend on those waters.
For example, the Upper Huai River Waterkeeper installs water purification systems in Chinese villages where industrial pollution is so endemic, they’re called “Cancer Villages.” Since 2008, Upper Huai River Waterkeeper staff and their partners have built 50 purification systems in 47 villages. Thanks to their efforts, more than 80,000 villagers now have clean water. The cancer rate in those villages has dropped by 90 percent over 10 years, falling from 330 cases per 100,000 people to 30 per 100,000.
This is just one example of the work the women and men of the Waterkeeper movement do every day, in virtually every part of the world. The stories in this magazine, about battling plastic pollution in Texas, tackling algal blooms in Florida, and working for solutions to the water crisis in the Middle East, are all inspiring examples of Waterkeepers taking on long odds for the health of their communities.
We’re all in the fight of our lives right now. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the struggle of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color in the United States, and across the world, for justice and equality.
For too long the fight for justice for our planet and the fight for justice for all people have been seen as separate struggles. They are not.
As protestors have marched throughout the U.S., and the world, we at Waterkeeper Alliance are looking inward to see what we can do to deepen our commitment to racial justice.
This has called for some hard conversations.
It has helped us to see, even more clearly, as we work through this time, that the illusion that the earth is separate from us, and thus exploitable, is inextricably connected to the illusion that some people are different from us and inherently disposable.
After Nixon’s veto, Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine led the override effort, saying on the Senate floor, “Can we afford clean water? Can we afford rivers and lakes and streams and oceans which continue to make possible life on this planet? Can we afford life itself?”
Congress overrode Nixon’s veto and we all got the answers to Muskie’s questions in the decades of expansion and prosperity after the Clean Water Act became law in 1972. The answer was a clear and ringing, “Yes.”
Yes, we can afford clean water. Yes, we can afford rivers and lakes and streams and oceans that continue to make possible life on this planet. Yes, we can afford life itself.
Let’s not forget that lesson now.
Wherever you are, I hope this finds you safe and well. And I’m grateful to you, beyond measure, for continuing to fight for this blue planet and for all its people.