I’ve been working for nearly 18 years helping families in American neighborhoods use our court system to force the companies that polluted their water to clean it up. Despite all the anguish that having contaminated water initially caused these families, and despite the truly reprehensible behavior of some of the polluters who caused the contamination, I’ve always known one source of hope and pride: the American belief that everyone in this country has the right to clean water. We back up this belief with a host of laws–like the federal Clean Water Act–and regulations that compel our government agencies and courts to honor the right to clean water, even if it means forcing a polluter to spend millions of dollars to restore clean water to a neighborhood.
Now, it’s certainly a fair criticism–I’ve voiced it regularly–that our “clean water” laws could be stronger, enforced more vigilantly, or applied more thoughtfully, to help the disadvantaged in our communities. But the very fact that we have these laws at all, available for enforcement by courts who take them seriously in the great majority of cases in which I have been involved or of which I am aware, separates us from most countries in the world.
We Americans are often stunned to learn that the access to clean water which most of us take for granted is not shared by many in the rest of the world. As reported by an extraordinary organization called “Charity: Water”, there are more than 663 million people in the world who live daily without access to clean water.