In the United States, the last decade has been marked by an important legislative effort tending to control and regulate the increasing pollution of waters. The unparalleled economic development of this huge country was accompanied dangerous degradation of the environment in general and of water in particular. The market economy, free enterprise, traditionally in outside state limitations, are probably partly responsible for the extent of water pollution.
By the Clean Water Act of 1972, Congress demonstrated its will to fight against pollution more effectively. Uniformity of standards rejection of a cost-benefit analysis, the centralization of measures and the increased powers of the federal authority reflect an important strategic change.
For the first time, real constraints are imposed on private industry and municipalities. It is now clear that one cannot achieve significant results only through government intervention and a unitary conception of the environment was necessary. Government action can be oriented differently depending on the choice of instruments likely to combat pollution. The American legislator, confident in current and future technological capabilities, chose to use above all these capacities to eliminate or reduce pollution.
We can regret that they did not show more imagination in considering other methods of struggle, at least as far as industrial pollution is concerned. Once the control instruments have been chosen, the effectiveness of the system depends on economic and financial factors. On this point, the funds released by Congress seem important, but they proved to be insufficient at the county and city levels where purification works require residential dumpster rental, recycling centers and public awareness.
As for the industry, it has the tendency to excuse economic considerations to resist implementation application of the standards and measures that we want to impose on it. The permeability of the EPA, great organizer of the whole struggle system, to such considerations seems neither important nor non-existent.
The Clean Water Act is a big step towards improving water but its handling is difficult. Different levels of decisions overlap, federal, state, local , different measures must be combined as the pieces of a puzzle, rejection standards, quality standards, performance standards, and finally the precise objectives of the law, elimination of landfills after transitional use of discharge permits were too ambitious.
We can nevertheless stress with satisfaction that specific deadlines for the total elimination of discards are included in the legislation. The main idea seems to be not to consider a certain level of pollution as inevitable in an industrial society, but on the contrary of starting from the premise that technological progress allows the progressive elimination of pollution.
In summary the USA has adopted legislative instruments essential for water protection. Despite the imperfections they conceal, texts like the Clean Water Act contain binding measures likely to reduce the degradation of aquatic environments and thus manifest a turning point in anti-pollution legislation. The satisfaction will not be total. It will be all the less since a real change of perspective marked the recent years.
The road traveled is irreversible, but the new US administration seems unwilling to continue efforts that the implementation of anti-pollution measures requires. Already the states and municipalities are very concerned about the announced credit restrictions. It has become both internally and internationally more essential no longer to act for the preservation of waters in particular, of the environment in general, but to do nothing that can slow economic growth.
In the USA and in Europe the environment has not yet become a fundamental value of society. American industrial firms welcome new directions in politics. During his election campaign, future President Reagan declared that it was necessary to preserve the environment without hampering a system of free enterprise that made the poor agricultural country of the past the greatest nation on earth. This economic rationality constitutes a powerful brake on the effort for by applying values such as environmental protection.