Passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972 brought many improvements to surface waters by curbing much of the toxic and organic pollution going into waterways. But 42 years later, we have yet to make significant reductions in two major pollutants in our rivers, lakes, and coastal sounds—the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. Although nitrogen pollution overall has gone down in U.S. streams and rivers since 2004, it remains a serious problem in many waterways, and phosphorus pollution has gone up significantly.

With the 22 December 2008 collapse of a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) ash pond in Kingston, Tennessee, and the arrival of the Obama administration the following month, the regulatory ground is shifting in regards to coal combustion waste (CCW), the millions of tons of waste left over each year from burning coal for electricity. The U.S.