Cleaner water, bigger savings

March 28, 1994

The Clinton administration's plan to improve the quality of our national water supplies would give more money and more flexibility to the states for cleaning up all manner of pollution from city streets to farms, from industries to sewage treatment plants.

At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency boasts, the plan would save government and business about $30 billion compared with the current stringent requirements of the Clean Water Act, which needs to be reauthorized by Congress this year.

It's an appealing package, with something for everyone. Maryland and its neighbors hope to get an extra $20 million from the inclusion of the Chesapeake Bay restoration bill in the administration's final proposal.

An important target of the proposal is non-point source pollution that runs off streets and developments and farms, accounting for half the contamination of U.S. waterways. States would have to come up with plans to reduce this kind of pollution, which has been minimally and ineffectively controlled in the past.

The federal loan fund for states to improve sewage treatment facilities and to control waste water would increase by 40 percent to $13 billion, while rigid federal requirements would be relaxed. That flexibility is supposed to improve the states' effectiveness in implementing more reasonable programs, adding up to $30 billion in annual savings, by government calculations.

The major loser from the proposal would be the chemical industry. EPA will continue its efforts to eliminate or drastically reduce the industrial use of chlorine and chlorine compounds. A task force would review uses of chlorine and the environmental impact, while considering less harmful replacements. Chlorine is widely used in water treatment plants for purification and in the manufacture of plastics, paper and medicines.

In the 21 years since its passage, the Clean Water Act has done much to improve the quality of water in our lakes, streams, rivers and bays. Yet 40 percent of them are still too polluted for recreation or fishing, let alone drinking, EPA says.

The Clinton proposal would give new impetus to that program, while attaching the flexibility and compromise that have marked this administration's approach to environmental initiatives. But the proof will be in the details and in the collective resolve of the 50 states.

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