Democratic and Republican Platforms Show that Clean Water is a Bipartisan Issue

In the wake of the National Conventions, business has returned to normal in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., and the Nation’s attention has shifted back to the hot-button political ads, post-convention polling numbers, and inspirational videos that have become intrinsic to the Presidential race. NACWA, however, decided to dig deeper into the national platform that each party rolled out during the conventions. These platforms provide an aerial view of each parties’ values, vision for the country, and positions on various national issues.

We found that both Democratic and Republican platforms reference water infrastructure and the importance of clean water in our communities. This begs the question: Have both parties always embraced clean water issues? NACWA analyzed both parties’ platforms from the last seven presidential elections to see where they stood on water issues. We found that over the past 24 years, both Democrats and Republicans have consistently advocated for clean water in the United States (see chart). Each party, however, took a slightly different approach to clean water, depending on the priorities in a specific year and the rhetoric shaping the campaign.

In every Republican national platform except 1992, a general message promoting clean water for Americans and pledging to maintain an adequate supply of water for agriculture was included. In the 1992 platform supporting the re-election of former President George H.W. Bush, environmental protections were mentioned only briefly along with discussions of economic growth. It also included the brief statement that the country "spent $1 trillion to clean its air, water, and land” during the previous twenty years. For two years following 9/11, the Republican platform advocated increased security for water systems and infrastructure as a safeguard against potential bioterrorism.

The Republican platforms in 1988, 1996, and in 2012 most directly supported improvement and expansion of water systems and infrastructure. In 1988, the platform proposed improving public works for rural communities that had deteriorated, including sewer and water systems, and for continuing environmental progress to ensure clean water to cities. The 1996 platform encouraged the “establishment of public-private partnerships to build and finance our nation’s water infrastructure.”

In Tampa this month, the adopted 2012 Republican platform stated that “engineering surveys report crumbling drinking water systems, aging dams, and overwhelmed wastewater infrastructure,” and directly supported public investment in these areas.

Like their Republican counterparts, Democrats also have included these broad statements about clean water in the past 24 years. Instead of focusing on a general clean water message, however, every platform included more specific language calling for reductions of pollutants and toxins. In the 2008 platform, Democrats promised to “reinvigorate the Environmental Protection Agency so that [they] can work with communities to reduce air and water pollution and protect our children from environmental toxins, and never sacrifice science to politics”.

The Democratic platforms that most directly address water systems and infrastructure—1988, 2004, and 2012—also promote federal support and investment in these projects. In 1988, in a discussion of the revitalization of rural America, Democrats suggested a “workable agricultural policy” providing new sources of capital for water supply and infrastructure. In 2004, the platform focused on the lack of oversight of public water systems in cities and made commitments to increase water quality. The 2012 platform supports investing in rural water and wastewater projects and “strengthening rural water, sewer … to make rural businesses more competitive.” Additionally, the Democrats included several statements rebuking Republican opposition to environmental protections such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

The bottom line is this: clean water is a bipartisan issue. Both parties have consistently included clean water and water resource issues as a priority in their national platforms. This is unlikely to change as water quality improvements become an increasingly complex goal to achieve. Granted, the exact language that is used may change, and specific priorities may shift, but both parties understand the importance of clean water. Unfortunately, however, these platforms do not equal policy. In fact, that’s when the far more difficult work begins. This step, however, is critical if we are to see any improvements in our Nation’s water quality and find solutions to our infrastructure challenges. And this is exactly what NACWA is hoping to accomplish: ensuring that a plan for achieving our Nation’s clean water goals is actually put into action after the next election.

Claire Moser, government affairs assistant, contributed to this post.

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