Clean Water Action is a one million member organization of diverse people and groups joined together to protect our environment, health, economic well-being and community quality of life. Our goals include clean, safe and affordable water; prevention of health threatening pollution; creation of environmentally safe jobs and businesses; and empowerment of people to make democracy work. Clean Water Action organizes strong grassroots groups and coalitions and campaigns to elect environmental candidates and solve environmental and community problems.
40 Years of Successful Clean Water Progress
During the late 1960s water pollution was spreading virtually unchecked in many parts of the country, with a burning Cuyahoga River in northeast Ohio and dead Lake Erie among the most visible examples. Clean Water Action founder David Zwick, working with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, published Water Wasteland in 1971. The book was a two-year study of the nation's water pollution problems, concluding that a major reason for widespread water pollution was the power of polluters to work their political will.
In 1972, Zwick started what was to become one of the nation's largest grassroots environmental organizations, Clean Water Action. In order to remedy the power imbalance favoring polluters, the group followed a strategy of people-based power, using grassroots campaigns including issue awareness methods like door-to-door canvassing. The fledgling organization's ambitious goal was to enact many of Water Wasteland's recommended changes into law. When the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972, commonly known as the Clean Water Act, was passed by Congress, the initial policy goals that animated Clean Water Action's founding were realized.
Passage of the original 1972 Clean Water Act, with many of the law's most important parts drafted by Clean Water Action, was followed by enactment of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. Clean Water Action's successful defense in 1977 of the Clean Water Act's wetlands protection program was won by a single vote in the U.S. Senate.
In the 1980s, Clean Water Action overcame a major assault on the federal Superfund toxic waste cleanup program and helped to win funding increases and a polluter-pay plan along with a requirement that companies report their toxic releases on an annual basis. That disclosure requirement has been credited with producing dramatic reductions in toxic emissions. Clean Water Action also launched a major War on Waste, targeting efforts and opposing hundreds of waste incinerators around the country.
In the 1990's, Clean Water Action helped lead the fight against the Dirty Water Act, a bill written by polluting interests in 1995 that would have gutted the Clean Water Act. While the bill passed the US House, it was killed in the Senate. Clean Water Action used its muscle to campaign against House members who voted for the Dirty Water Act during the 1996 elections, helping defeat several incumbents in high profile races where their vote against the Clean Water Act was a key factor. Later in the decade, Clean Water Action was instrumental in the re-authorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act, with a number of stronger standards and new protections for the public, including a new right to know requirement for an annual report on water quality to drinking water customers.
The first decade of the 21st Century saw continued work to strengthen and preserve key drinking water protections, including the standard for arsenic, and efforts to better protect the sources of drinking water. Clean Water Action fought to reverse actions that reduced Clean Water Act protection for small streams and wetlands. Clean Water Action helped lead the campaigns for federal action to address climate change, promoting bills and regulatory action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Clean Water Action also helped lead efforts to better protect the public from toxic chemicals through reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act.
In addition to this work at the federal level, Clean Water Action has led hundreds of successful campaigns in dozens of states around the country. In addition, Clean Water Action helped elect pro-environment candidates to office at all levels of government-- federal, state and local--pioneering the use of door to door canvassing for electoral campaigns.