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Supreme Court Ruling Restricts Clean Water Act
Why Lack of Regulation is the Biggest Environmental Concern for the Ithaca Area
| March 2, 2010
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The Ithaca community has recently been embroiled in an intense debate regarding "hydrofracking," which is large corporations’ latest attempt to secure profitable resources at the expense of the local environment as well as the well being of the local population. Many residents of Ithaca and the Central New York region have become very aware of water quality, and efforts have been taken recently to maintain the amount of potable water available to homes in the region. As recently as last fall, local municipalities, such as the town of Dryden have conscientiously acquired lands bordering the many kills, gorges, and tributaries that stretch from Cayuga Lake. It was believed that acquiring such land would prevent pollution of these valuable sources of water for local wells and other water supplies. As a supporter of environmental legislation, I applaud the governments of Dryden and the surrounding municipalities for their efforts to protect their residents. However, the recent agitation against hydraulic fracturing may not be the most well-directed environmental protesting for the area. Yes, much is unknown about fracture drilling, which is only beginning to be used on such a large scale in recent years. The largest health concern the process should raise among local populations is the rate and distance which the chemical solutions pumped into oil wells can travel through rock. However, a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 declared that the method of extracting oil from pre-existing wells was safe to conduct within certain distances from residential areas. At the same time, legislation was introduced in 2005 that allowed the EPA to monitor the process of fracture drilling. For this reason, Hydrofracking became a regulated oil-drilling process. When such activities are regulated, they generally do not warrant much concern from the average person. However, recently, the process of regulation which was previously applaudable seems to be suddenly vanishing. Since the early days of the Bush administration, previously stringent regulations by the EPA have been rolled back. The amount of arsenic considered potable on a national level was raised several times over Bush’s tenure as president, as were levels for CO2 emissions, which affect not only the air quality, but the water quality as well by means of acid rain. Regulations regarding hydrofracking were also rolled back which allowed exemptions to government regulation of the process. With newer types of chemicals being used in the evolving practice, Benzene contamination in many wells in Colorado and Wyoming appeared, seemingly as the result of fracturing. A Supreme Court ruling only a few days ago dealt an even greater blow to the ability of the federal government to regulate national water supplies. The ruling limited the number of waterways which the federal government could regulate in regards to pollution. The Clean Water Act of 1972, which had been the primary regulating piece of legislation became legally handcuffed. While the EPA once regulated all waterways which provided drinking water to American residents can now only regulate those water supplies which affect the water quality in multiple states. The New York Times reports that this ruling will allow about 45% of prospective polluting companies to escape the watchful eye of the federal government. While states like New Jersey and communities in New York City or on Long Island will still be protected since their water supplies come primarily from the ocean and interstate waters, other localities across the country who draw their water from “watershed” reservoirs may not be as fortunate. Ithaca, whose wells get their water from Cayuga Lake and its tributaries, which are all contained within the state of New York, is among these communities. Fortunately, the Clean Water Restoration Act has been passed by the senate and awaits conformation from the House of Representatives. This legislation intends to reword the clean water act so that it may apply to interstate economics, regardless of whether or not a body of water is contained entirely within a certain state. Hopefully, such legislations will allow the water quality to be restored to the standards of a few years ago.
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