Toledo Exposes Rep Upton’s Two-Sided Clean Water Stance

By trying to have it both ways on the issue of clean water and agriculture pollution, House Energy and Commerce chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) exemplifies the precise qualities the Republic of Awesome’s status quo thrives on.

Here he is in May excoriating the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule at the behest of the Michigan Farm Bureau:

“We need EPA to go take a hike.”

“We’re going to have a concerted effort to deny funds to the EPA to go forward with the approval of these regulations.”

“This is not the intent of Congress.”

Upton even called the proposed rule “nutty.”

Flash forward to last week. Here’s Representative Upton with two other colleagues sending a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy asking what her agency is doing in the wake of a serious threat to Toledo, Ohio’s drinking water.

A recent water emergency in Toledo, Ohio left 500,000 people, including families, hospitals, and businesses, unable to utilize drinking water provided by the public water system without risking negative health effects. We are deeply concerned by any threat to the water supply, and we appreciate the time and information your agency has devoted as we seek answers. …

Here’s why Upton’s pleas to EPA for action in Toledo is a thick cut of USDA prime, dry-aged, cravenly-seasoned congressional hypocrisy.

Spurred by federal ethanol mandates and increasing global demand for livestock feed grains, America grows a lot of corn and soybeans. And we use a lot of chemical fertilizer to push for high yields. Those fertilizers end up in lakes and streams where they cause algae to bloom and form dead zones. The largest dead zone appears in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi carries farm pollutants directly to the Gulf.

And climate change makes them much worse.

For years, environmentalists have been warning about the dangers of algae blooms and chemical fertilizer run-off. Since this type of non-point source farm pollution is exempted from federal Clean Water Act authority, the only way to combat it was through voluntary conservation funds that pay farmers to do the right thing.

Except the money keeps getting cut in farm bills in favor of more subsidies, the conservation isn’t targeted for need, and crop expansion and intensification have reversed any meaningful gains. If 80% of farmers are fantastic stewards of the land but 20% give zero shits about water quality its tough for “voluntary” measures to gain traction.

A 2013 EPA survey found more than half of the nation’s rivers and streams were in poor condition. And farm run-off is a major contributor to that number. This year the EPA and the U.S Army Corp of Engineers embarked on a major re-writing of existing rules – the proposed Waters of the U.S rule.

And the farm lobby went apoplectic. Rightly fearing agriculture’s unchecked and exempted non-point source pollution would be regulated under the new rule, the American Farm Bureau federation created a campaign called “Ditch the rule.” Here’s NRDC’s Jon Devine calling bullshit on assertions made in opposition to the WOTUS rule.

Then Toledo happened. 500,000 residents were without drinking water for three days due to an agriculture run-off fueled toxic algal bloom. A major U.S. city could not provide a basic and critical service. The problem was suddenly too big and too expensive for politicians to ignore.

And Toledo won’t be the last major American city with this problem. The chief executive of the Des Moines’ Water Works said, “it’s not a matter of if, but when” they face the same disaster.

Despite the letter, the Representative and “friend” of the Michigan Farm Bureau knows exactly what the EPA is doing to restore U. S. water quality. For a political weathervane like Upton, Toledo has made attacking the agency for doing its job the less tenable position. At least something good came from all that green goo that fouled Ohio’s water.

So for these reasons Representative Upton is the inaugural ROA Honor Roll inductee.

(Honorable mention to Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), who was also on the “please help” letter to EPA and opposes WOTUS but was smart enough to not go on the record with hyperbole soaked myths)

Don Carr