FSU law prof says Mississippi River still polluted, 35 years after Clean Water Act

Robin Kundis Craig

Thirty-five years after Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, America’s most storied river—the Mississippi—is still not safe for swimming or fishing, according to a National Research Council committee that included a Florida State University law professor.

Robin Kundis Craig served on the NRC’s 13-member Committee on the Clean Water Act and the Mississippi River, which has issued a report calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to take a more aggressive role in enforcing the Clean Water Act to improve the health of the Mississippi River.

Enacted Oct. 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act aims to make U.S. waters "fishable and swimmable." Parts of the 2,300-mile Mississippi River, which flows from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, are neither.

"There are a lot of provisions in the act waiting to be awakened," said Craig, a nationally recognized expert on water quality, regulation and resource protection and author of the book, "The Clean Water Act and the Constitution." "Like certain water quality provisions that came to life in the 1980s, the Act’s many interstate provisions have yet to reach their full vitality, and they could be critical in protecting large rivers like the Mississippi."

The law halted much of the industrial pollution that once poured into the river, but nitrates from farm fertilizer runoff are now choking the Mississippi and its tributaries, the report said. The panel recommended the EPA exert its federal authority to promote cooperation among states to develop clean water standards while pushing for limits on farm pollution.

The National Research Council spent two years studying the condition of the river. The council is part of the National Academy of Sciences, set up by Congress as an independent group to advise the government on science.

Craig, the Attorneys’ Title Insurance Fund Professor of Law at FSU, received her law degree from Lewis & Clark School of Law in 1996. She had previously earned a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara; a master’s from Johns Hopkins University; and a bachelor’s degree from Pomona College.

Before entering law school teaching, she clerked for the Honorable Robert E. Jones at the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and worked in the Natural Resources Section, General Counsel Division, Oregon Department of Justice. She also is the sole author of an environmental law text, Environmental Law in Context (West 2005), and more than 20 law review articles and numerous shorter works.