Businesses need clean water, too: Why we need the EPA's help

Policy Matters

Businesses need clean water, too: Why we need the EPA's help

Water image by Andrea via Flickr.

Every time you turn on the tap or sit down at a restaurant, you can count on getting a clean glass of water. It's so common that we tend to not think about it. It's usually only when something goes wrong — like if you lived near the Elk River in West Virginia earlier this year — that this can change.

Overall, though, that doesn't happen too often in the United States. One reason is because the Environmental Protection Agency has tools such the Clean Water Act to protect the health of our waterways, and the people who rely on them. The EPA also has an administrator, Gina McCarthy, who has shown a willingness to use them while working to balance the concerns of environmentalists and businesses alike.

In recent years, there have been some challenges. The Supreme Court handed down two decisions on the Clean Water Act in 2001 and 2006; since then, enforcing the Act's provisions has become more complex. For businesses, this has been incredibly frustrating, because they don't know what to expect from the government — and if businesses crave one thing, it's certainty.

That's why we're glad the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers put out new draft rules for the Clean Water Act last month. This action finally will give us the confidence we need to know that our access to clean water will be protected.

A lot of industries rely on the consistent availability of clean water. Some, such as agriculture or fishing or tourism, are fairly obvious; others, such as clothing and technology, are not. But this is not something only a handful of businesses worry about. Losing access to clean water as a resource can make the difference between a company thriving and failing.

The benefits go further than that. People who drink dirty water get sick. When workers have to take time off to recover, that makes a company less productive and drives up health care costs for everyone — and those costs already are too high.

Despite what you may have heard, environmental protection and economic growth do go hand in hand. A report from the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers found that restoring protections to tens of millions of acres of waterways could add close to $400 million to the economy. There are so many benefits to this that it should be a no-brainer.

Who profits from polluted water?

Now for the flip side: Which industries benefit from contaminated water? If you're struggling to think of one, that's because no business benefits when our waterways are contaminated. The Elk River spill ended up costing $19 million each business day, and continued to affect the community after the chemical dispersed. The company responsible for the spill ended up filing for bankruptcy.

Do not drink image by West Virginia National Guard via Flickr.So the idea that businesses don't want this doesn't make sense. Many rely on water for their success, and consumers rely on many of the products they sell. What the EPA is doing will save jobs, not kill them.

Of course, we'll still hear the same chorus of voices claiming that the EPA is putting out yet another job-killing regulation. But the business community has as much to gain from this as anyone.

These are not some ill-conceived rules, nor an attempt at a power grab. They don't give the agency any power that isn't already granted by the Clean Water Act. They're based on a thorough review of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature. They are, in short, exactly the kind of rules the government should be coming up with.

There's a 90-day comment period once the rules are published in the Federal Register, which could happen as early as this month. When that happens, we can expect a lot of comments telling the EPA to water down the rule (no pun intended) in the name of the business community.

But that would be wrong. What we need is for the business community to step up and make clear that this proposed rule will protect our livelihoods.

You only miss something like water when it's gone. We need the EPA to make sure that doesn't happen.

Water image by Andrea via Flickr.