Thursday, April 26, 2018

The EPA is under's a reminder why it's important

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt goes before Congress today to answer questions about his spending habits and ethics issues. Not only has Mr. Pruitt spent lavishly and carelessly, he is also deregulating at a rapid pace, putting the health of Americans and our environment at risk. In light of all this, it behooves us to review the EPA's history and mission as well as how it has improved the quality of American lives over the past 48 years. 

One needs only to remember, or see photos of (Documerica), the condition of the environment in the United States in 1970 to realize the EPA's value. Documerica is a photo project created from 1971 to 1977 to document the condition and transformation of the environment as new regulations were put in place and clean-up efforts began. We have come a long way since then in improving the environment and protecting U.S. citizens from toxins associated with pollution.

Republican President Richard Nixon signed an executive order to create the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. You may be surprised by that fact given today’s Republican party's animosity towards the agency. However, it is the truth. Nixon's executive order was not only a wise action, but a beneficial one, one that has improved the quality of life for many Americans. The EPA's mission is short and simple: The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. 
The campaign to reduce pollution and improve the environment was widespread. Those of a certain age will remember this commercial: 

The post-EPA years have resulted in a cleaner, healthier country. The agency's research, recommendations, and regulations have improved the quality of the air we breathe, the land on which we live and toil, and the water we drink and use for transportation and recreation.

Some of the major laws enacted throughout the years include but are not limited to:

1970 – The Clean Air Act
1970 – Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act
1972 – Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments
1972 – Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
1972 – Marine protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act
1973 – Endangered Species Act
1974 – Safe Drinking Water Act
1975 – Hazardous Materials Transportation Act
1976 – Toxic Substances Control Act
1977 – Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act
1980 – Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Created
            the Superfund Program)
1980 – Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act
1982 – Nuclear Waste Policy Act
1986 – Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
1990 – Oil Pollution Act
1992 – Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act
1997 – Kyoto Protocol
2005 – Energy Policy Act
2007 – Energy Independence and Security Act
2016 – Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act

The site I used to compile the above list is here. The reader can see on the site that during the 1970s, there were 16 major pieces of legislation passed by Congress. That shrank to 10 and 11 laws in the 80s and 90s, respectively, to 5 from 2000 – 2010, and only 1 since 2010. The regulatory landscape was obviously changing. 

In the 80s, the Reagan administration viewed environmental regulations as a burden on the economy and overreach by "big government," and so commenced an era of deregulation and cuts to the EPA's budget and staffing levels. In the 90s, some conservative groups—legislators, think tanks, media, the fossil-fuel industry—organized a massive campaign (that is still ongoing) to challenge climate scientists and climate policy in an effort to foster denial and doubt about climate change and that it was/is largely due to human activities.

Each time a different political party won the presidency or gained the majority in Congress, there has also been a corresponding change in environmental policies, either supporting or impeding the EPA's mission. Democratic administrations tend to expand the agency's authority, while Republican administrations prefer to weaken it via deregulation and budget cuts.  

Environmentalists across the country and around the globe cheered when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. We’ll examine his environmental legacy in the next post.  

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