Watch CBSN Live

Dirty Waters: Who's To Blame?

Forty percent of America's surveyed waterways are too polluted for fishing and swimming, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. For example, New York's Hudson River is dramatically cleaner than it was decades ago, yet new reminders are about to be posted: it's still not safe to eat the fish.

Environmentalist John Cronin says the Hudson is a microcosm of our national waters. They're cleaner than they used to be, but still not clean enough. "The average citizen believes that pollution is illegal; pollution is not illegal," Cronin explains. "Polluters pollute every day without violating the law. That pollution mounts up."

In his weekly radio address , President Clinton unveiled a plan to clean up 300,000 miles of the nation's polluted rivers and shoreline, plus five million acres of dirty lakes. "Parents have a right to expect that our recreational waters are safe for our children to swim in," he says. "All Americans have a right to expect we're doing what we can to clean up our waterways."

That's what the Clean Water Act of 1972 was supposed to have done. The goal was to see waters fit for swimming and fishing nationwide by 1984. If this goal was set so many years ago, who do we have to blame for dirty waterways today? According to Cronin, "The blame for water not being cleaned up today is politics. It's politics that has gotten in the way of environmental law enforcement."

These days, it's politically unpopular to force businesses and states to pay to clean up or invest in expensive anti-pollution technology. Cronin doesn't see much teeth in the new Clinton proposal. However, the plan would force states to set pollution caps, limit how much can come from sources like factories and farms, and develop cleanup plans.

Cronin says its success can only be measured one way: "By whether or not a kid can come down and fish for the family table in the Hudson River, or the San Francisco Bay, or all the waters in between."

View CBS News In