Water ‘Advocates’ Advocate for Water Pollution

You’ve heard of a wolf in sheep’s clothing… Get a load of these water “advocates.”

On January 13, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency revoked the permit for one of the country’s biggest mountaintop-removal coal-mining projects — namely, Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia. EPA used its revocation authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, arguing that the proposed mine “would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend.”

More specifically, the agency cited concerns over environmental and water quality resulting from blasting thousands of acres of mountain tops that would have, among other things, sent “110 million cubic yards of coal mine waste into streams, buried more than six miles of high-quality streams in Logan County, … [and] buried more than 35,000 feet of high-quality streams under mining waste.” In short, after years of trying to negotiate a less damaging, more sustainable way to mine the area, the agency nixed the permit, as is its right under federal law and as its duty in protecting waterways, wildlife, and human health.

Of course, such action has been construed by some as controversial because EPA revoked a permit it had already issued — reportedly an action taken just once before in the Clean Water Act’s four decades. Not surprisingly, protests have erupted from expected quarters, including the National Mining Association, the pro-coal campaign called “FACES,” and leading West Virginian politicians.

But what surprised me were the objections from a group called the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which sent President Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality a letter asking chairwoman Nancy Sutley to oppose EPA’s decision, warning that the revocation would “chill investment and job creation by creating an uncertain regulatory environment in which businesses and citizens will no longer be able to rely on valid Section 404 permits.”

Wow, how strange that a group putatively advocating for water would object to a decision aimed at protecting clean water. Who is this coalition, I wondered. So I went online to find out.

On the group’s Web site — protectmywater.org — I found messages to “support” the Clean Water Act for the many great protections it has afforded. I thought, so far, so good. Its members, the site says, are “made up of diverse organizations representing numerous individuals and businesses that depend on our nation’s clean water resources.” Great.

But then the waters got pretty murky.

Surrounding its supposed staunch support of the Clean Water Act were calls to action to oppose the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA)/America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act (ACCWA), a bill that would close a loophole in the Clean Water Act that allows pollution to be dumped into “unnavigable waters” that might ultimately flow into rivers and streams from which we derive drinking water.

By this time I wasn’t at all surprised to find out who the member groups are that make up this coalition that’s supposedly advocating for water. Here’s a partial listing:

  • American Farm Bureau Federation
  • American Road and Transportation Builders Association
  • 
Ball Clay Producers Association
  • Edison Electric Institute
  • 
The Fertilizer Institute
  • 
Foundation for Environmental and Economic Progress
  • 
Industrial Minerals Association – North America
  • International Council of Shopping Centers
  • 
International Diatomite Producers Association
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • 
National Association of Manufacturers
  • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
  • 
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
  • National Industrial Sand Association
  • 
National Mining Association
  • National Multi-Housing Council
  • National Pork Producers Council
  • National Realtors Association
  • National Stone Sand and Gravel Association
  • 
Public Lands Council

  • Southern Crop Production Association
  • United Egg Producers
  • Western Business Roundtable

So here’s my question. I don’t have a problem if a business group wants to take a stand for business over protecting the environment — it might be short-sighted, but that’s its prerogative. But why does a pro-business organization see the need to advance its agenda by posing as an environmental advocacy group? Could it be that it’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

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