WASHINGTON– Congressman Harley Staggers’ daughter is a young physician in West Virginia. She has treated patients suffering from contaminated drinking water. Yet she was not familiar with the safe drinking water bill which has been bogged down in her father’s House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee for several months due to lack of quorums, oil industry lobbying and nitpicking.
She is not alone in this unawareness. Cleaning up the nation’s drinking water is not exactly a burning political issue. Politicians do not lose or win elections over their stands on the level of mercury, cadmium, nitrates, asbestos, lead, live viruses, bacteria or other drinking water pollutants that cause short or long term damage to citizens’ health.
But if the urgent facts about community and metropolitan water supplies which have been compiled by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Environmental Protection Agency do not move voters to action, they have had an effect on Congress. Last year the Senate passed a bill providing for federal drinking water standards and technical assistance to the states who retain the primary enforcement role. However, should a state fail to protect its citizens by not enforcing these standards, the EPA would insure compliance.
The House bill, as it is presently written, would require water systems which violate the health standards to notify consumers and the media. Passage of such legislation would alert the residents of Cleveland, for example, more frequently about the antiquated systems of pipes and water-processing plants which bring water from Lake Erie. It would have led to the disclosure earlier of asbestos leaching from asbestos-cement pipe or from industrial water pollution in numerous cities.
The drinking water bill must be reported out within three weeks by Chairman Staggers’ Committee or this truly historic effort to show how little it would cost (about $1 per American per year) to apply known technology for much purer drinking water will be lost.
To bring this bill to a vote on the House floor before the impeachment process dominates the legislators’ attention, three changes are necessary.
First, the Committee must stand up to the omnipresent oil lobbyists who want to block a provision dealing with contamination of underground water supplies by careless oil operations As always, the men from the American Petroleum Institute want special Congressional treatment.
Second, the members of the Staggers Committee must show up at the meetings in order to constitute a quorum. Some members, such as Congressman John McCollister of Nebraska or Congressman Dick Shoup of Montana, have been engaged in delaying and trivializing tactics that are demeaning and disgraceful to them. Fuller Committee attendance will bring more support to the work of Congressman Paul Rogers and his Subcommittee majority who have worked hard on this bill.
Third, Chairman Staggers must assume a vigorous role in completing Committee consideration of the legislation soon. For several years, some of the more energetic Committee members have chafed under Staggers’ lack of leadership in getting the Committee to consider bills before it with reasonable attentiveness. Bills languished in the Committee long after the Senate Commerce Committee–no speedy unit itself–has gotten parallel legislation through the Senate. Such attrition must not stop these efforts for drinking water standards which are so long overdue.
So if you drink water, write to Congressman Staggers and your own member of the House of Representatives. They need to hear from you in some detail.