Walden Defends the Right to Pollute

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If you want to get conservative rural voters riled up, nothing works better than warning them of an impending “government takeover.”

The 2nd District’s own Rep. Greg Walden understands the tactic well, and he’s using it to muster the troops against legislation that would clarify the federal Clean Water Act.

Passed in 1972, the act gives the federal government authority to prevent pollution of “navigable” waters in the United States. For the first 30 years of the act’s existence, “navigable” was interpreted broadly. But a couple of Supreme Court decisions since 2001 have held that it applies only to major rivers, lakes and other truly “navigable” waterways.

In practice, that means polluters only have to go upstream to a point where a waterway isn’t “navigable” and they can dump gunk into it without fear of federal action.

“Because of the Supreme Court decisions, companies have spilled oil, carcinogens and bacteria into the lakes, rivers and other waters without being fined or prosecuted,” Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told the Washington Times.

Clean Water Action, a group that supports reform of the act, claims that the water supplies of 110 million Americans are in danger if an amendment to the Clean Water Act backed by Oberstar and other lawmakers of both parties isn’t passed. “In just one year more than 500 enforcement cases have been dropped by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department” because of the new, more stringent interpretation of the act, its website  says.

But Walden and other conservative members of Congress, mostly from rural areas, are ganging up to try to kill the amendment.

In a press release earlier this month, Walden invoked the bogeyman of a “federal takeover” of the nation’s water – not just once, but four times. The amendment, he said, amounts to “an unprecedented federal government takeover of water in Oregon, from ponds to irrigation ditches, that would put the federal government in charge. … This is [a] top-down Washington, D.C.-driven federal takeover of our water rights.”

Of course, the Clean Water Act amendment isn’t a “federal takeover” of water, any more than the very limited health care reform legislation passed by Congress is a “federal takeover” of health care. It would simply clarify the federal government’s power to stop people from polluting water supplies, a power it exercised for 30 years.

Walden’s scary rhetoric is dishonest, and I’m sure he knows it. But raising the specter of oppressive “big gummint” and pretending to be bravely battling against it always plays well with the GOP’s hard-right “base.”

Clean Water Action urges people to contact their representatives in Congress to urge them to support the Oberstar amendment. It would be pointless to ask Walden to support it; his mind is made up. But it might be fun to ask him to explain why he’s supporting the right to pollute over the right of Americans to have clean water. E-mail him here.


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