There is nothing more Californian than our ability to swim, surf and fish in clean water. And yet, we have fallen behind Kentucky and Texas when it comes to clean water enforcement. With industry advocates in the federal driver’s seat, we need state leaders in California to hold polluters accountable for harming our precious water resources.
It used to be that the federal government was a cop on the beat enforcing the Clean Water Act. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency being subjected to a hostile takeover from polluting industries, the number of environmental enforcement cases and the amount of penalties levied has been cut in half.
At least under the Trump administration, California is going to have to go it alone. We are known internationally as a state that cares deeply about environmental protection, so you’d think we’d have this covered. California is suing the Trump administration to prevent rollbacks to vehicle emission standards. Frustratingly, this same vigor has not been applied to taking action against those polluting California’s beaches, bays and rivers.
The State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards are charged with protecting our increasingly scarce and precious water resources. These agencies helped us survive a devastating drought, but are falling short when it comes to levying fines against polluters. In 2016, only 1 percent of the illegal industrial and construction storm water pollution cases brought to the state water board resulted in penalties.
Six of the nine regional water boards did not issue a single fine in 2016. In 2017, just 2 percent of industrial and construction storm water pollution cases brought to the state water board resulted in penalties.
This means that of the thousands of refineries, trash dumps, auto dismantlers and cement factories from San Jose to the Oregon border, not a single facility was fined by the state for storm water pollution. In California, the polluter doesn’t pay. Even repeat offenders and those who are responsible for “serious” violations face no economic consequences. This puts the majority of companies — which are complying with the Clean Water Act — at a significant competitive disadvantage.
The same state agencies that don’t seem willing to issue penalties for polluted industrial runoff have a good track record when it comes to issuing fines for sewage pollution, so it can be done. Let’s start enforcing clean water laws by taking these three steps…