Looking Good at 40 – Saluting the Environmental Protection Agency

Since 1970, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, we breathe cleaner air, drink safer water, and live in neighborhoods that are no longer contaminated by hazardous waste. Thanks to the passage of landmark laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and the dedication of the people who work for the EPA working with states, cities, and countless local citizen groups to protect communities and our environment, people are healthier and the water and air are cleaner. EPA has removed lead from gasoline and banned the widespread use of DDT. For instance, the EPA’s work has resulted in reducing “60% of the dangerous air pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, [and] lead poisoning.” This translates into real health benefits including prevention of hundreds of thousands of cases of asthma attacks, premature death, heart disease and respiratory illness. Similarly, many of our waterways that were once grossly polluted are now in better shape thanks to EPA’s implementation of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In large part because of laws like these and others, clean and safe drinking water was available to 92% of all Americans in 2008 compared to only 79% in 1993.

There’s still a lot to be done – many of our rivers and lakes remain polluted and we’re at risk of going backwards unless we can increase protections for our small streams and invest in smarter water infrastructure. Over the years, EPA’s budget has been slashed, Congress has attempted to derail various programs and safeguards, and some Administrations have not made protecting clean air and clean water their priority. In 2005, during the Bush Administration, the Onion satirically wrote that:

Days after unveiling new power-plant pollution regulations that rely on an industry-favored market-trading approach to cutting mercury emissions, EPA Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that the agency will remove the “E” and “P” from its name. “We’re not really ‘environmental’ anymore, and we certainly aren’t ‘protecting’ anything,” Johnson said. “‘The Agency’ is a name that reflects our current agenda and encapsulates our new function as a government-funded body devoted to handling documents, scheduling meetings, and fielding phone calls.”

Fortunately, with current Administrator Lisa Jackson leading the Agency, EPA can make the strong case that environmental protection is good for economic development. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Administrator Jackson wrote:

‘without protections for the water, air and land that communities depend on, our economic horizons are limited. Without innovations like clean energy and energy efficiency, the global economy will be running on empty within our lifetimes.’ Protecting clean water and clean air is essential to ensuring safe and healthy communities where innovation and job creation can develop.

So, thanks to the EPA for what they’ve done over the last 40 years to make our lives better. Right now the EPA has the opportunity to fundamentally improve the management of polluted stormwater runoff among other important issues – we’ll be working to ensure strong protections for clean water as part of this effort

Happy birthday EPA and stay strong – like they say, 40 is the new 30!