We all do, according to people whose health and livelihoods have been protected by these rules and laws
During the early 1980s, Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation Texas shrimper, had worried that the prime fishing grounds of Lavaca Bay, on the Gulf Coast, might be seriously contaminated. For years she had watched onshore industries pumping wastes into the waters where she and other shrimpers had struggled to make a living on smaller and smaller catches. She also had noticed disturbing numbers of dead dolphins and birds at sea and washed up on beaches.
Then, in 1986, when the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act became law as part of the Superfund package, requiring industries to disclose their discharges of more than 300 different toxic chemicals, one of the plants on Lavaca Bay proved to be among the worst polluters in the nation - the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) plant in Point Comfort. Offshore from Alcoa, the Environmental Protection Agency found toxic levels of methyl mercury and proposed the area as a Superfund site. The Texas Health Department warned pregnant women that eating one meal of fish caught in the area could cause fetal damage.
Wilson now sees hope for an end to the pollution. In summer 1995, Alcoa signed a "good-neighbor" agreement pledging to work toward zero discharge of wastewater pollutants. In exchange, Wilson agreed not to file a citizen's Clean Water Act lawsuit against the company. Late last year, Formosa Plastics of Point Comfort, a major producer of polyvinyl chloride, signed a similar agreement.
This corporate change of heart occurred after Wilson had staged three hunger strikes and after other fishermen had joined her in multiple protests and legal challenges. But had it not been for the Clean Water Act and the Right to Know law, Wilson believes, the agreement never would have happened. "When we got Community Right to Know, it was like a light in the darkness," she says. "If it hadn't been for that law, we never would have known how much pollution was out there."
The laws the Texas shrimpers relied on to leverage pollution-control agreements - along with many other environmental laws and regulations - are now targeted for radical change. In response to complaints from some politically powerful businesses, which claim that regulation is a burden, Congress since the 1994 elections has moved to weaken or revoke many environmental protections.
Anecdotes of heavy-handed regulation …