Hours before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, dozens of local and national environmental groups launched a campaign calling for greater protection of the nation's waterways.
The American Clean Energy Agenda, a coalition organized by a Massachusetts nonprofit, plans to push the White House to develop an "Energy/Water Roadmap" – the creation of which would be tied to existing federal tax incentives and subsidies received by mining and energy companies in an effort to better protect and conserve U.S. waterways.
"There's no effort publicly to present any type of water policy," says Grant Smith, senior energy analyst at the Civil Society Institute, the Newton, Mass., nonprofit that organized the American Clean Energy Agenda. "Since Congress isn't going to go anywhere with this, we thought, 'Well, we should take a look at the administration and what it could do.'"
The campaign comes nearly three weeks after a toxic chemical used to process coal leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia, leaving about 300,000 residents without water for 10 days.
That spill, Smith says, offers an opportunity to highlight 10 other states that are also home to what the American Clean Energy Agenda has dubbed "water sacrifice zones," areas where "irresponsible industry practices have compromised water resources, including drinking water," the coalition said in a release.
"What we're seeing is, in many instances, government essentially at all levels turning its back on people in these communities and the problems they're raising with respect to water quality and air quality tied to these extraction industries," Smith says. "This is all tied to the fuel cycles of the current energy mix, whether it be fracking or coal mining."
An ultimate goal, Smith says, is to convince the administration to abandon its proclaimed "all-of-the-above" approach to energy, in favor of renewable such as wind and solar.
"This is going to be a difficult road," Smith says. "We're going to have these groups, these organizations we're working with, to start letting the administration know this is something they should seriously consider. The status quo just insight going to work to achieve this."
Corrected on Jan. 31, 2014:
previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the “Roadmap” would
extend tax incentives and subsidies to energy and mining companies.