When you think about water you probably think about many different things: rivers, swimming, rain, drinking water, droughts, floods, etc. Water is vital for life and a precious resource. Yet, how often do you think about the Supreme Court when you think about water? If your answer is never, we think you should start.

Thanks to two recent decisions by the Supreme Court undermining the Clean Water Act, thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are now outside the Environmental Protection Agency’s reach, a calamitous situation affecting drinking water for about 117 million Americans.

In Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006), the Supreme Court restricted the federal government’s jurisdiction over the nation’s waterways, suggesting that waterways entirely within one state, creeks that sometimes go dry, and lakes unconnected to larger water systems may not be “navigable waters” covered by the Clean Water Act.

As a result of these decisions, more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or put on hold in the last four years, and EPA regulators now say that they are unable to prosecute as many as half of the nation’s largest known polluters because officials either lack jurisdiction or fear that proving jurisdiction would be extremely difficult or time consuming.

And, while the number of facilities violating the Clean Water Act has steadily increased each of the last few years, EPA actions against major polluters have fallen by almost half since the Supreme Court rulings.

The effect of the Supreme Court’s decisions not only endangers our drinking water, but threatens the existence of wetlands, wildlife, and entire ecosystems. It also gives a free pass to corporations – part of a political agenda being furthered by the Supreme Court that consistently favors big corporations over average citizens. The conservative wing of John Roberts’s Corporate Court sides with big business 84% of the time.
If you want to ensure clean water in this country, you can take action and tell Congress to repair the damage caused by the Corporate Court, specifically by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act. But we must do more than correct the missteps of the Roberts Court if we want to ensure that environmental regulations are enforced. We must urge the President to appoint, and Congress to confirm, judges that will stand up for equal justice for all, not just the wealthy or powerful.

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