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A Job Half Finished: The Clean Water Act After 25 Years

November 1997

Citation: ELR 10574

Author: Drew Caputo

Congress passed the Clean Water Act on October 4, 1972, by overwhelming margins—unanimously in the Senate and with a bare 11 dissenters in the House of Representatives. Rising on the Senate floor that day a full quarter-century ago, Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Me.), chairman of the Senate's Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution and leader of the Senate's clean water forces, explained with simple gravity why Congress was about to pass by such large margins such a powerful and unprecedented law:

Our planet is beset with a cancer which threatens our very existence and which will not respond to the kind of treatment that has been prescribed in the past. The cancer of water pollution was engendered by our abuse of our lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans; it has thrived on our half-hearted attempts to control it; and like any other disease, it can kill us.

We have ignored this cancer for so long that the romance of environmental concern is already fading in the shadow of the grim realities of lakes, rivers, and bays where all forms of life have been smothered by untreated wastes, and oceans which no longer provide us with food.

The author is an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C. The author thanks Jessica Landman and Peter Lehner for their suggestions. The views expressed in this Dialogue are the individual views of the author and not necessarily those of the NRDC.

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