Our company depends on clean water for our success. That’s why we’re pleased that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new draft rules for enforcement of the Clean Water Act last month. Since the Supreme Court handed down decisions in 2001 and 2006, enforcement of the Clean Water Act’s provisions has become incredibly complex, leaving businesses and consumers without clarity. This action by the EPA will give us the confidence we need to know that our access to clean water will be protected.
So many businesses rely on clean water: industries from manufacturing to agriculture to tourism can only survive if bodies of water are protected. In our case, clean water is essential to great-tasting beer. Losing access to clean water as a resource can make the difference between a company thriving and failing. What the EPA is doing will save jobs.
We believe that clarity in regulation and the protection of natural resources are keys to economic development. Our own journey in crafting world class beers over the past 23 years and growth to over 525 co-workers attest to the fact that when smart regulation exists for all - and when clean water is available for all - business thrives.
For centuries, brewers have depended on clean, plentiful water supplies to craft great beers. Our water supplies depend on responsible regulations that limit pollution and protect drinking water at its source by keeping small streams and wetlands healthy. Simply put: craft brewers like New Belgium depend on a clean and abundant water supply.
Brewers as also rely on clean water nationwide to be available for barley, hop and other agricultural products. Whether drawn from lakes, rivers, groundwater or a local water system, brewers rely on the protections of the Clean Water Act to ensure the quality of our main ingredient. Beer, after all, is 90% water. Fouling of our water supply – whether we draw directly from a water source or from a municipal supply – threatens our ability to produce our great-tasting beer and our bottom line.
However, loopholes in the current Clean Water Act have made it possible to dump waste into many small streams and tributaries without fear of prosecution. In many cases, the loophole has rendered the EPA (and its sister agency on clean water issues, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) unable to protect communities. Lawsuits and weak policies left over from the 1980’s have left many streams without adequate protection
Under the new safeguards proposed by the Obama administration, hundreds of communities will now enjoy the full protections of our nation’s clean water laws. Bringing these streams and wetlands under the umbrella of the Clean Water Act will also help protect drinking water for 117 million people. It will safeguard natural flood protection, since wetlands and streams help catch and soak up rain. This is no small benefit; 9.6 million homes and $360 billion dollars-worth of properties lie in flood-prone areas. Similarly, brewers rely on clean water to sustain their businesses and are cheering the new protections, as are hunters, anglers and wildlife-lovers
The EPA has done a terrific job of coming up with these new rules. They don’t give the agency any additional power that isn’t already granted to them by the 1972 Clean Water Act. They’re based on a thorough review of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature. And they’ll give the business community a much-needed dose of certainty going forward. Business organizations, such as the American Sustainable Business Council, of which our company is a member, have endorsed the rules.
While the rules won’t be finalized until after a 90-day comment period—to be determined soon —there’s a lot here for businesses to like, and very little not to like. Protecting our waterways is good for business, specifically businesses that rely on clean water to make great beer. There is no substitute for clean and abundant water for our business, for communities and for individuals. These proposed rules will offer the clarity and certainty that we need to continue to grow.
Vervier is Director of Sustainability and Strategy for New Belgium Brewing Company, the third largest craft brewery in the U.S.