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Jim Lang Delivers Remarks on the Clean Water Act to the NRPA

Jim Lang Delivers Remarks on Federal Clean Water Act to the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance

Last week, attorney Jim Lang presented to members of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance during their series, River Talk, in Suffolk, VA. Specifically, Jim shared his expertise on the sets of conditions giving rise to the Clean Water Act, an overview of the Clean Water Act and the major Clean Water Act programs.

What are the Conditions that Led to Enactment of the Federal Clean Water Act?

To kick off the presentation, Jim shared several examples in the early to mid-1900’s where the absence environmental law gave rise to a series of pollution catastrophes that harmed entire populations of people, caused massive property damage, and triggered responses costing many millions of dollars.

Among them were Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, dangerously toxic air covering Los Angeles, California in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, the Union Oil Company oil platform “blowout” in 1969 that fouled 35 miles of the Santa Barbara, California coastline with an oil slick of 800 square miles, and the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire in June 1969 (for the 10th or 15th time). The U.S. Congress responded in 1969 by adopting the National Environmental Policy Act, in 1970 with the Clean Air Act, in 1972 with the Clean Water Act, in 1976 with the Resources, Conservation and Recovery Act and in 1980 with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

What Are the Major Programs in the Clean Water Act?

The overarching goal of the Clean Water Act, as stated in the legislation, is to make all the waters of the United States “fishable and swimmable” by 1983 and, further, to eliminate all discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States by 1985. Jim noted that, while the waters of the United States are much cleaner now, as a direct credit of Clean Water Act programs, neither of these very ambitious goal has been reached.

The Clean Water Act created a federal/state partnership to clean up the waters of the United States whereby each state, if it wished to do so, could run the federal Clean Water Act program in that particular state by adopting a state-level clean water program, obtaining an approval from the EPA for that state-level program, after which the state would run the program within that state on a delegation from the EPA. Approximately 46 of the 50 states in the United States have received the delegation of authority from the EPA to run the Clean Water Act program within the borders of those states. Jim explained the main features in Virginia’s version of the Clean Water Act, including the Virginia Tidal Wetlands Act of 1972, the Virginia Nontidal Wetlands Act of 2001, and the Virginia State Water Control Law (with its VPDES program for end-of-pipe dischargers, VWP permit for wetlands, Erosion and Sediment Control Law, and Stormwater Management Act).

Initially, the greatest gains in water quality were brought about through the upgrade of sewage treatment plants (an infrastructure program on par with the creation of the interstate highway system), the requirement that so-called “end of pipe” dischargers obtain a permit before releasing effluent into the waters of the United States, and the requirement that dischargers of “fill material” obtain a permit before placing fill into the waters of the United States (this latter requirement includes the “wetlands” permit program).

Later, starting in the 1990’s, EPA’s initial resistance to regulating pollution entering the nation’s water ways overcome. Jim also explained how enforcement, to include the citizen’s environmental lawsuit, have been key to the success of the Clean Water Act in cleaning up the nation’s waters.

See slides HERE.

The mission of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance (NRPA) is to raise public awareness and encourage environmental stewardship of the Nansemond River, Chuckatuck Creek, Bennett’s Creek and their tributaries and wetlands by developing and implementing programs and initiating collaborative actions with individuals, businesses, civic organizations, and governmental agencies. To learn more about NRPA, click HERE.

The River Talk Environmental Program is offered 2-3 times each year. NRPA recruit’s experts in the field who provide a 30–40-minute presentation on an environmental waterway related topic. The presentation is followed by a Q&A. The sessions are free and open to the public. 

The NRPA YouTube Channel featuring their environmental educational videos can be found HERE.


About The Author

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Jim uses waterfront (riparian) property rights law, maritime & admiralty law, and environmental law to protect Virginians who live, work and play on the water. Contact Jim at (757) 502-7326 or jlang@pendercoward.com.