August 7, 1996 in Nation/World

Clinton Signs Drinking Water Law Bipartisan Effort Hailed As Breakthrough For Safety

Washington Post

President Clinton on Tuesday signed a major overhaul of the nation’s safe drinking water laws that dramatically toughens standards and authorizes $7.6 billion over seven years for a revolving loan fund to improve badly deteriorating water systems throughout the country.

Clinton and Republican and Democratic lawmakers hailed the legislation as a major breakthrough, because for the first time local water authorities will be required to annually disclose what chemicals and bacteria are in drinking water as well as give public notice within 24 hours of discovering a dangerous contaminant in the water system.

The measure also creates a program to fight pollution at its sources by keeping streams and rivers clean and improving facilities that treat water before it comes out of the tap.

“Americans do have a right to know what’s in their drinking water, and where it comes from, before they turn on their taps,” Clinton said.

The legislation would force water authorities to focus on preventing and treating the most harmful pollutants in tap water, such as the crytosporidium microbe that sickened 400,000 people in Milwaukee in 1993. This directive marks a shift in policy away from identifying new pollutants towards controlling the most dangerous ones.

Enactment of the legislation marks the first agreement between the administration and the GOP-dominated Congress on a major environmental initiative. The bipartisanship was reflected in Tuesday’s White House signing ceremony, which included the House and Senate Republicans and Democrats who had a hand in drafting the bill.

But before Congress and the White House reached agreement on the drinking water measure, partisan squabbling over funding led to a delay of the vote and forfeiture of $725 million that had been earmarked to help states address pollution problems in local water systems for the remainder of the year. The revolving fund would have become available only if the new law had been approved by Aug. 1.

However, lawmakers said they were confident the $725 million would be added back this year.

Clinton also signed into law a $52.8 billion funding bill for nutrition programs and agricultural research that provides $12 million to combat a rash of fires at black churches.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email