You wouldn’t guess it from a late-Friday Google News search, but in my book, this qualifies as big news: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised today to redouble its efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.
The EPA’s announcement today comes in reaction to an excellent New York Times series that we’ve paid homage to before, and which documented how polluters have systematically violated the Clean Water Act for decades, often with little or no retribution.
What’s really significant is that agency is promising to go after some of the most prolific sources of stormwater, including city streets and feedlots. We’ve been harping on this topic for years now, and it’s great to get the heft of the NYT into the picture. The paper reports EPA is likely to go after “mining companies, large livestock farms, municipal wastewater treatment plants and construction companies that operate sites where polluted stormwater has run into nearby lakes and rivers.” About time.
Here’s what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had to say in the agency’s press release:
Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.
It should be pointed out that reporters had documented parts of this story before the Times. Yours truly, along with Lisa Stiffler, Lise Olsen and others at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, did that in the Puget Sound region earlier this decade. And other journos — though not enough, IMHO — have done in-depth reporting on the Clean Water Act in their parts of the country.
But it took the Times setting loose reporter Charles Duhigg to take a look at a massive amount of computerized records to give us the big, national picture.
While I’m an avid blogger and user of various social media, I have to say that we still need this kind of in-depth investigation that’s conducted by professional journalists working bonkers hours.
Make no mistake — we at InvestigateWest are also on the lookout for how to involve citizens in our reporting. If you have ideas about that, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, InvestigateWest will be looking into some interesting and potentially eye-opening aspects of how the Clean Water Act is enforced in coming months, based in part on what I learned while putting together two series on the health of Puget Sound. I’m already working on a couple of aspects of this, but please do alert me if you think there are other rocks that need turning over.
Here at InvestigateWest’s World Headquaters, we have on the wall a bumper sticker: “Democracy depends on journalism.” (It’s also my e-mail signoff.) Reporter Duhigg and the Times have shown how this can still work. My hat is off to them.
— Robert McClure