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Why Do We Treat Our Seas, Lakes and Rivers Like Sewers?

Nobody wants to wallow in somebody else's waste -- or our own, for that matter. So why do we continue to use our valuable freshwater resources as a dumping ground?

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Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law.

The result?:

Some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.

Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.

Some members of Congress are trying to remedy this egregious state of affairs through a piece of legislation called the Clean Water Restoration Act, but as the Times reported:

…a broad coalition of industries has often successfully lobbied to prevent the full Congress from voting on such proposals by telling farmers and small-business owners that the new legislation would permit the government to regulate rain puddles and small ponds and layer new regulations on how they dispose of waste.

Glenn Beck is warning that passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act will result in the government regulating virtually every body of water larger than your birdbath. This could conceivably include the puddles of crocodile tears that Beck routinely weeps, and maybe even the pools of drool that accompanied his ick-inducing interview with Sarah Palin.

Allowing the EPA to prevent industries from polluting our waterways is just bad for business, according to Beck. Never mind that letting manufacturers dump toxins into our waters is bad for us. For wingnut pundits whose populist veneer is thinner than the chocolate shell on an M & M, the concerns of common citizens must never be allowed to trump the needs of commerce.

It’s a view evidently shared by mega developers the Toll Brothers, who withdrew from a proposed project along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn last Tuesday after the EPA finally declared the famously fouled Gowanus a Superfund site.

Thanks to "years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies," the EPA declared.

The Toll Brothers had grand plans to build 450 housing units and 2,000 square feet of retail space there. "We’re extremely disappointed in the EPA’s decision," David Von Spreckelsen, a Toll senior vice president, told the Wall Street Journal. "It’s going to have a big impact on the properties along the canal…It’s unlikely you are going to see development there for many, many, many, many years."

Admittedly, this news is a colossal disappointment for all those would-be home buyers who longed to live by a canal whose signature stench betrays its industrial past: a heady blend of "cement, oil, mercury, lead, PCBs, coal tar, and other contaminants."

But as the New York Times reported last year, "Studies have shown that property values decline after a Superfund listing but rebound after the cleanup, sometimes to far higher levels."

Given the choice, most folks prefer their creeks and canals to be contaminant-free. Sadly, too many communities haven’t got a choice. They’re up a rancid river without a paddle, while Glenn Beck piddles on the truth and peddles his twaddle about puddles.

Big River Trailer from Wicked Delicate Films on Vimeo.

Kerry Trueman is the co-founder of EatingLiberally.org. You can follow her on Twitter.

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