Kenney joins environmentalists to celebrate bolstered Clean Water Act

 Jim Kenney speaks at Monday's press conference held on a Fairmount Water Works gazebo to celebrate the restoration of Clean Water Act protections. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Jim Kenney speaks at Monday's press conference held on a Fairmount Water Works gazebo to celebrate the restoration of Clean Water Act protections. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

On a gazebo overlooking the Fairmount Dam, mayoral candidate Jim Kenney joined with environmentalists Monday morning to celebrate restored Clean Water Act rules aimed, in part, at protecting “headwater streams that feed the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.”

In doing so, Kenney harkened back to his days growing up a couple blocks from an unsafe Delaware River to draw a contrast to last year’s Bassmaster Elite fishing competition on that very same waterway.

“I thought about the difference that my childhood memories growing up in the 1960s and 1970s meant as it relates to what’s going on today, and how much work has gone into making sure that a national championship like Bassmasters … would actually come to Philadelphia because of the cleanliness and condition of the Delaware River,” he said.

“Same thing here,” continued Kenney, who has a “Making Philadelphia the Greenest City in America” platform item on his campaign website (PDF). “Some of the events we’ve had in recent weeks, the Dad Vail and other regattas [on the Schuylkill] all take place as a result of the fact that this is an improving environment for our water quality. There is no reason why we should be stepping back.”

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Kenney’s brief comments at an event helmed by PennEnvironment, which endorsed his mayoral candidacy on Earth Day, took a longer view at the reason it was scheduled.

In a press release issued last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) spelled out the most recent developments, which were formalized by President Barack Obama:

In an historic step for the protection of clean water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule today to clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science, and is shaped by public input. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

Locally, the new rule (PDF) applies to “49,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams” including those which feed into the Delaware and Schuylkill.

That explains why representatives of PennEnvironment, the Philadelphia Water Department (which provides an estimated two million customers with 250 million gallons a day),  Thomas Jefferson University’s School of Population Health, Moms Clean Air Force and Clean Water Action shared the gazebo stage with Kenney to celebrate “the biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade.”

“We’re thrilled to see the EPA protect all our waterways,” PennEnviroment Field Director Adam Garber said. “This rule is about securing that all our water is safe and healthy.”

Last week’s actions, which restores previous environmental protections, came after more than a decade of legal wrangling about the Clean Water Act. Still, PennEnvironment warned that some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, are considering actions to again roll back the protections.

“We need Sens. [Bob] Casey and Toomey to support these critical protections to our water-drinking source, not side with polluters,” said Garber, noting that the “biggest-threat” scenario could involve “legal warfare” promised by ExxonMobil and others.

Asked for a response, Toomey Communications Director Elizabeth “E.R.” Anderson said the senator hasn’t addressed the issue since Wednesday’s actions and steered NewsWorks toward comments made last month about water-act runoff:

“The EPA’s proposed rule is a terrifying power grab,” said Toomey (video). “Common sense has gone out the window. The EPA’s new position seems to be that a puddle from your garden hose will ultimately end up in a navigable waterway, so the agency should have dominion over that water too.”

Said Kenney, “We need to support each other’s efforts to make sure we continue to improve the quality of our water — recreational, environmental, drinking water, our stormwater-runoff [program] has been a great project to watch because it’s improved neighborhoods.”

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