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Holding government to account: empowering citizens and ensuring clean water.

Ensuring clean water in New England and protecting the region's forests requires holding government accountable for its actions--or lack of them. Over the last year, CLF has been taking the government to task throughout the region.

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In some cases, such efforts by CLF involved making sure that state governments were living up to their obligations to abide by good science and law in its actions. CLF filed comments on rules, pursued lawsuits over permits that did not protect natural resources adequately, and alerted lawmakers when legislation ensuring public access was needed. In other cases, when state governments were failing to do their work, it meant CLF stood ready to bring these instances to the attention of federal agencies.

In Vermont, CLF successfully pushed for passage of a bill granting citizens and conservation groups the right to know about, to comment on, and, in some cases, to intervene in, environmental enforcement settlements reached with polluters. Using its status as a region-wide organization, CLF is leading a coalition pushing for implementation of stricter permit limits for sewage discharges in the Blackstone River and is opposing the state of Massachusetts's efforts to delay those limits, which would come at the detriment of downstream neighbors, including in Rhode Island. At the same time, CLF is demanding that the U.S. Dept. of Energy give full consideration to all of the impacts of Canadian hydropower and the proposed massive Northern Pass power line through the forests of northern New Hampshire.

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Over the 12 months, these issues each posed unique difficulties and required unique solutions. But they had one very important thing in common: demanding good government and protecting a healthy environment went hand-in-hand.

HIGHLIGHTS

* As part of its effort to get up-to-date permit limits for the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District, CLF has opposed efforts by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to delay their implementation. By claiming there needs to be more study of the effect of the district's discharges--as much as 54 million gallons a day--on the Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay, the state was attempting to delay those more protective limits.

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* During Tropical Storm Irene, protections for Vermont rivers and streams disappeared nearly as quickly as some of the state's iconic covered bridges. CLF worked to document, oppose and ultimately overturn some of the most destructive dredging, channelization and stream bank armoring using government records, among other resources. But the organization's work hasn't stopped there, as CLF continues to successfully push for greater knowledge and acceptance of the need for modern science-based river management, and has successfully pushed for federal authorities to intervene where appropriate.

* After reviewing documents obtained through the state's Freedom of Access Act, CLF advocates reached the conclusion that the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection's failure to act on water certification standards for Flagstaff Lake was no failure at all, but a deliberate decision. CLF Maine directly confronted the department, telling its leader the organization's review of documents "leads us to conclude that the Department, under your direction, intentionally waived the State's rights under section 401 of the Clean Water Act."

RELATED ARTICLE: GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY AT A GLANCE

GOAL

CLF ADVOCATES WILL CONTINUE PUSHING FOR GOVERNMENT THAT IS OPEN, ACCESSIBLE AND HONEST TO ITS CITIZENS AS PART OF ITS WORK TO ENSURE THAT THE DECISIONS ABOUT HOW TO MANAGE AND PROTECT NATURAL RESOURCES CAN BE FOLLOWED--AND INFLUENCED--BY CITIZENS.

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WHAT'S AT STAKE:

Without engaged citizens, the future for protection of natural resources would be grim. Without the public ultimately controlling decisions around the use and protection of publicly-held land, air and water, those decisions would rarely benefit the majority.

CURRENT STATUS:

Whether kept secret intentionally, or as a side effect of a government-knows-best attitude, the right of the public to know about the activities of government are constantly under pressure. But New England's tradition of citizen-run and accessible governments is a big help, as is a sometimes-unusual collection of allies.

NEXT STEPS:

The effort to ensure that environmental decisions by governments are done in the open is active on several fronts. First, each issue in which such information is gathered and disseminated by CLF and others is a small victory. Second, CLF and its allies stand vigilant and ready to push back against any efforts to curtail or circumvent public access taws, and ready to push back.
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Title Annotation:CLEAN WATER & HEALTHY FORESTS
Publication:Conservation Matters
Geographic Code:1U100
Date:Mar 22, 2012
Words:726
Previous Article:Financial statement.
Next Article:Canadian hydropower for New England? Awash in promises, as promise dries up.
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