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Before 1970, if a factory wanted to dump toxic waste into a river in the United States, they could get away with it. There was no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, no Environmental Protection Agency. Though protests were common, they were focused on the war in Vietnam, not improving the environment. A Wisconsin senator, Gaylord Nelson, was inspired to change things; on April 22, he organized the first Earth Day, a "teach-in" on the environment. 20 million Americans demonstrated that day, and the government listened: by December, they had established the EPA and passed the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Acts.

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How an Idaho Couple Wound Up Defending the Nation's Biggest Polluters

The Sacketts say they just wanted to build a lake house. But their case against the EPA could give corporations more leeway to pollute waterways.


The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday morning in a case that could make it easier for huge corporations to pollute the country’s wetlands, rivers, and lakes—and harder for the Environmental Protection Agency do anything about that. Surprisingly, the party bringing the suit against the EPA is not a big corporation or an industry group. Instead, the case centers instead on an Idaho couple, Chantell and Mike Sackett, who are arguing the EPA has denied them their right to build a house and a shop on their land, which is a protected wetland.

In April 2007, the Sacketts started fixing up a parcel of land they had bought a few years back, in a small development just across the road from Priest Lake, in the northwestern corner of the state. A few days after the couple started filling in the land with gravel, representatives from the EPA told them their property, a wetland, qualified for protection under the Clean Water Act and that, lacking a permit, they would be required to stop construction.

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How to Paddle the Los Angeles River

Starting in July, a new program might allow kayak trips along the L.A. River. But it needs public support to make it happen. Here's how you can help.

We were among the voices that cheered last year as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency overruled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and declared the whole Los Angeles River navigable and protected by the Clean Water Act. But according to environmentalists, that was only half the battle. "The Clean Water Act was about protecting the water and the watershed, but it didn’t address the issue of public access to the river," says George Wolfe.

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