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The Shocking Republican Attack on the Environment and Our Drinking Water

Ensuring that Americans have clean water has been an effort with strong bipartisan support for four decades. But not anymore.

WASHINGTON, DC (ENS) -- This year, residents of Midland, Texas sued Dow Chemical for dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium in their drinking water. Chromium-6 is a cancer-causing chemical made infamous by Julia Roberts' film, "Erin Brockovich." There are currently no drinking water standards for chromium-6, and the chemical industry is delaying a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessment labeling it a potent carcinogen.

This is far from an isolated scenario, threats to the public drinking water supply are national in scope. From the 1950s to the 1980s, trichloroethylene, a carcinogenic metal degreaser, lurked, undetected, in the drinking water at North Carolina's Fort Lejeune -- affecting up to one million marines and their families.

California's San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay Delta are contaminated with selenium and mercury.

Atrazine, an agricultural weedkiller, frequently pollutes groundwater across the Midwest corn-belt.

Las Vegas tap water contains radium.

Across Florida, pesticides taint a public water system serving nearly 10 million people.

And in the Northeast, millions living along New York's Hudson River and New Jersey's Passaic River struggle with the industrial legacy of toxic PCB and dioxin pollution.

Americans overwhelmingly want such problems solved. Safe drinking water was of serious concern to 84 percent of respondents in a recent Gallup poll that also ranked water pollution as the top U.S. environmental concern.

Ensuring that Americans have clean water has been an effort with strong bipartisan support for four decades. President Richard Nixon and Congress established the EPA in response to growing public demand for cleaner water, air and environment. The Clean Water Act followed in 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

But today there is a deep disconnect between escalating public concern and government action. Numerous bills passed this year by the Republican-led House of Representatives bash well-established scientific evidence, attempting to dismantle or delay regulations that safeguard America's water, food, air and environment.

The current war on clean water is part of a Republican deregulation agenda that screams "job killer!" at any environmental protection effort.

Both Senate and House Republicans make no secret of their ultimate goal: to end all environmental regulation and abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. "EPA is a rogue agency," Nebraska Republican Representative Lee Terry recently told the Associated Press.

Texas Governor Rick Perry opened his presidential campaign by saying the agency "won't know what hit 'em" if he is elected president.

But, as David Goldston, a Natural Resources Defense Council researcher, notes, "They're changing fundamental laws, not just blocking regulations."

The REINS Act, which passed the House of Representatives on December 7, is among the most draconian of these new initiatives.

By a vote of 241 to 184, the House approved the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act, which would require an up-or-down vote in Congress on all rules with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more proposed by regulatory agencies.

Four House Democrats voted for the bill: John Barrow of Georgia, Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and Colin Peterson of Minnesota.

The REINS Act has been flying under the media radar, embedded in both Senate and House plans for "job creation." It would require a Congressional vote on any regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more -- that's 50 to 100 votes per year -- creating a scheduling nightmare that would make passage of any new federal regulation virtually impossible.

Under the Act, if one house rejected or failed to vote on a rule within 70 working days, it would "be dispatched to the regulatory graveyard," notes "The Washington Post." REINS would return environmental regulation to 1890s standards -- when corporations polluted with impunity.

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