Local named hero of Clean Water Act

By Melissa McRobbie Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday November 13, 2002

How does it feel to be a hero? Just ask Arthur Feinstein, a Bay Area resident of 22 years who was recently named one of 30 Clean Water Act heroes nationwide. The honor, which he shares with the likes of Senator Barbara Boxer and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., was bestowed upon him by the Clean Water Network in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. 

“I’m really honored, but I sure didn’t feel [like a hero],” Feinstein said. “There are many others who have done the same work or more.” 

The dedicated nature-lover is executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, which focuses on environmental conservation in San Francisco and northern Alameda counties. 

His focus is wetlands, and his work to protect them was grounds for his recognition alongside the nation’s landmark 1972 water conservation legislation. 

Feinstein had difficulty pinpointing exactly what constitutes a wetland, since he said there are so many different types. Wetlands can range from marshes, which are open to bays and rivers to seasonal wetlands, the kind that become dry fields in the summertime, he explained.  

Unfortunately, said Feinstein, such loose definitions can be dangerous to the Clean Water Act. For instance, he said, the federal government is now trying to de-classify some areas that are now considered protected under the CWA in order to reduce restrictions on dumping and pollution. 

“They’re definitely reducing enforcement,” Feinstein said. “This is an extraordinarily depressing time for anyone who cares about our world.” 

Feinstein considers his greatest victory to be against the 1994 Contract with America, drafted by the Newt Gingrich-led Congress. Feinstein co-founded the Campaign to Save California Wetlands, and the group eventually defeated the bill’s proposed wetland attacks. 

More locally, his accomplishments include saving the Martin Luther King, Jr. wetland at the MLK Jr. Regional Shoreline on the San Leandro Bay, as well as more than 400 acres of wetlands at the Oakland Airport. He went on to help restore the MLK Jr. wetland, which is now a public recreation area and bird habitat. 

“Like many successful environmental activists, he doesn’t pause to come up for air,” said Mike Sellors, Policy Director for the Golden Gate Audubon Society, who has worked with Feinstein for six years. 

He noted that Feinstein seemed pleased by the recent honor. “Oh, I think he was. He didn’t let on that he was, but he was. No one who has achieved as much as Arthur has is unhappy to receive recognition for their years of hard work,” Sellors said 

A native of New York City, Feinstein studied biology at Reed College in Portland, Ore. After graduation, he returned to New York and briefly taught middle school in Harlem. 

He moved to the Bay Area in 1971, a year before passage of the Clean Water Act, and became interested in clean water issues. 

His current projects include introducing urban youth to wildlife studies and protecting the bay from the impacts of dredging. 

Feinstein believes that for the Clean Water Act to remain in effect, legislators need to fight for its survival in Washington D.C. 

“The only way they’re going to do that is if all of us tell them to. People need to write their legislators and say ‘Whoa- I’m getting nervous,’” he added.