Living Earth Reflection: Protecting the Waters of the United States

Posted on May 27, 2015 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Mary Minette, program director, Environmental Policy and Education

​May 2015

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Amos 5:24

Water as a metaphor flows through scripture, perhaps because of the essential role water plays in sustaining human life and the abundance of God’s creation. Water is also central to our spiritual lives. In the waters of baptism we begin our journey as Christians; the water that makes possible both the bread and wine of Communion.

So how does the scriptural significance of water relate to our calling to seek justice for our communities and protect that which plays a central role in creation?

For more than four decades, the federal Clean Water Act has protected our nation’s waters, including the smaller streams and wetlands that feed into larger rivers and lakes. But many of these bodies of water are still under threat from pollution.

In recent years two Supreme Court cases created uncertainty about whether smaller streams and wetlands merit the full protection of clean water regulations, and ordered the Administration to resolve this ambiguity. This week, the EPA issued a new clean water rule that protects small and seasonal streams and wetlands that connect to larger bodies of water, which we rely on for drinking, fishing and other uses. Under the new rule, many of the streams and wetlands that were historically covered under the Clean Water Act will again be covered. The rule carefully defines “waters of the United States” to clarify that all bodies of water with a clear connection to larger watersheds are protected, but also allows for case-by-case evaluation of streams and wetlands with less certain connections to downstream bodies of water.

The new rule has drawn criticism from groups that argue that it will regulate irrigation ditches and puddles, and that it will cause economic harm to landowners, who will be required to ask permission before using their land in ways that may affect water quality. The EPA has responded to these concerns and attempted to reassure groups worried about the economic impact of the rule that these impacts are overstated and that the benefits of the rule outweigh the economic costs. Such conflicting points of view about economic impacts are nothing new; nearly every new environmental regulation proposed in the last 30 years has had to overcome arguments that these rules are overreaching and economically harmful. In the midst of such conflict, how is God calling us to be stewards of Creation?

As Lutherans we believe that we stand at the foot of the cross, and are called to acknowledge our own sin and brokenness. But we are also set free from sin and captivity by the love of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that we can be loving servants, caring for our neighbors and seeking justice for all the earth.

What does justice for creation look like? To quote from the ELCA social statement “Caring for Creation”: “When we act interdependently and in solidarity with creation, we do justice. We serve and keep the earth, trusting its bounty can be sufficient for all, and sustainable.” Justice for creation includes four principles—participation, solidarity, sufficiency and sustainability.  Within this framework of justice, the principles of sufficiency and sustainability speak most directly to the need to balance economic interests against protection of the earth to meet the needs of current and future generations.

Take Action

  • Learn more about the proposed rule and the Clean Water Act on from our ELCA Waters of the United States resource.
  • Write your U.S. Representative today at the ELCA Action Center, and ask them to oppose efforts that prevent the EPA and Army Corps from protecting small streams and wetlands—your voice will make a difference!
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