The early part of this century will leave a story for the future of a long series of pro-corporate rulings from the Supreme Court. Among the decisions that will leave a negative legacy on this nation are those that restricted the EPA’s ability to keep our waters safe and clean.
Right-wing extremists started targeting the courts 30-40 years ago. They wanted only the judges that agreed with their fringe worldview to be seated – at all levels. As a result, the nations’ courts have moved steadily toward a solid pro-corporate stance, much as our legislators and executives have done. Too few voters realize the extent of judges’ decisions have on their lives since they’re not required to face the people to continue on the bench. Lifetime appointees can rule on issues that affect millions for decades. The Bush regime was, perhaps, the group that realized this most accurately. Note their nomination of Alito and Roberts; both were very young, very ideologically rigid men. No matter who else is nominated to the Supreme Court, the Court will be heavily influenced by these two for three or more decades to come.
The Clean Water Act was intended to keep pollution out of the nation’s drinking water and protect ecosystems which support our economy. Every major polluter across the nation was to face common sense regulation. But no matter the reach of any potential regulation, pro-corporate forces will always argue they are too severe; that too many jobs will be lost; that the economy will suffer. After the Clean Water Act’s passage, have you heard about the thousands of businesses shut down because of the heavy hand of the EPA? Have you heard of the tens of millions of lost jobs because the regulations were just too onerous to observe? Of course you haven’t – the regulations have kept our waters safer than they otherwise would have been, just as they were designed to do.
But the recent Supreme Court rulings are causing corporations to more openly flaunt the law while ensuring the EPA has a harder time enforcing the law. 1,500 major polluting investigations have been canceled in the past four years. That’s not due to lack of evidence, it’s due to the ambiguity left by the Supreme Court in what is enforceable and what isn’t. Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted. To put things in context:
About 117 million Americans get their drinking water from sources fed by waters that are vulnerable to exclusion from the Clean Water Act, according to E.P.A. reports.
This situation won’t change for the better unless and until Congress passes a law that is more specific about what the Clean Water Act covers and what it doesn’t cover. But you know that those same corporations that are currently polluting the public’s waters can simply buy a few lobbyists to ensure future laws are no more restrictive than exactly what they want.
Just as in other policy areas, it’s going to take a disaster for things to change. A few million of those people getting sick and some of them dying will be about the only thing that generates enough political will before the EPA will be allowed to enforce the law as it is written today. That and a resurgence of populist politics in America. Alito and Roberts can continue their activities as long as the Supreme Court is dominated by justices who actually care about their fellow Americans. That’s going to take years of hard work, however.