Supreme Court case could jeopardize Maine’s waters

By Andy Burt

Water is sacred. For our health. Our spirit. Our community. And for justice.

We are not only spiritually tied to water, but we need water to survive. In fact, water is a fundamental component of all life. The Clean Water Act, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, helps ensure clean and healthy water for the place we now call Maine and other states.

Maine is blessed with an abundance of water. From Moosehead Lake to Sebago Lake to the Penobscot River, our streams, lakes, rivers and other waters are where we go to fish, swim, canoe, and get away to spend time with family and friends. Maine lakes provide clean drinking water to nearly two-thirds of our state. 

But we are facing numerous threats to our clean water — from court decisions to PFAS contamination and pollution. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments that could limit which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act, leaving many of Maine waters vulnerable to pollution. And, recent analysis found that more than 80 percent of U.S. waters contain “forever chemicals,” — pollution that persists indefinitely and causes a wide range of adverse health effects.

The streams and wetlands protected by the Clean Water Act also provide critical habitats, help reduce flooding and recharge vital groundwater resources. All these benefits would be put at risk if the U.S. Supreme Court limits the scope of the Clean Water Rule. 

Tragically, frontline, and indigenous communities often pay a higher price when it comes to water pollution, and they can benefit from strong clean water protections. The Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik and the Penobscot Indian Nation have been advocating in the Legislature and courts for clean water for years and only recently were able to press policymakers and businesses to take some steps towards cleaning up the waterways that are both a source of food and identity. As we celebrate the anniversary of the Clean Water Act, it’s important to address the environmental justice implications of the Clean Water Act for Maine. Indigenous communities and communities of color have the most at stake if we weaken clean water protections. 

Faith communities, including the Maine Council of Churches, have long worked with others to protect the environment, including protecting the waters in Maine. As people of faith, we have a clear moral call to ensure clean water in our state and beyond. The Clean Water Act has been invaluable over the decades in protecting people in Maine and preserving the natural beauty of our waterways. 

The U.S. Supreme Court must uphold the Clean Water Act’s longstanding safeguards for the health of families, communities and our natural environment. The Clean Water Act affects communities in Maine and across the country spiritually and practically. 

Burt is a Quaker Environmental Justice Advocate and the creator of Down to Earth Storytelling. She is a member of the Maine Council of Churches.

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