Looking Back at the EPA

In today’s political atmosphere, it’s hard to predict what the future holds for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It’s clear that the new administration wants to minimize the EPA’s power and influence by cutting its budget, but just how far this will go, we do not know. Even the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, believes the proposed cuts for the EPA may go too far.

While many honorable people and worthy organizations believe the EPA has become too heavy-handed in recent years, we should not forget the many good things the organization has accomplished since its inception in 1970.

At that time, there was increasing concern about the impact of human activity on our environment. During the EPA’s formative years, it was finding its footing and focused primarily on creating policies regarding environmental issues. But that all changed when the New York Times ran the following front-page story in August 1978:

EPA and Love CanalNIAGARA FALLS, N.Y.–Twenty-five years after the Hooker Chemical Company stopped using the Love Canal here as an industrial dump, 82 different compounds, 11 of them suspected carcinogens, have been percolating upward through the soil, their drum containers rotting and leaching their contents into the backyards and basements of 100 homes and a public school built on the banks of the canal.

 

This was a key turning point for the agency, as you could say the EPA found itself and its purpose with this crisis. It investigated the situation, conducted testing, and helped secure federal funds to assist with the hazardous cleanup. The agency also took steps and imposed regulations to help make sure that something like this never occurred again.

In addition to these efforts, the EPA should also be credited with accomplishing the following over the past 47 years:

Protecting the ozone layer: Back in the early 1980s, reports started coming out that pollution, most of it man-made, was causing parts of the atmosphere to disintegrate. The goal of the EPA at that time was to educate the American people about what was happening, and it appears the agency was successful. While President Ronald Reagan was a strong proponent of deregulation, he listened to the reports and the calls for action from American citizens and, to the surprise of many, backed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement signed by 197 countries to ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons, which are used in air conditioning systems and aerosol sprays and can be harmful to the ozone layer.

Raising concerns about lead: In 1985, the EPA released a study that estimated at least 5,000 people die each year from lead-related diseases. The agency had already banned the use of lead in paint, but as more information unfolded about how lead negatively impacts health and even the learning capabilities of children, the EPA set out to ban the use of lead wherever feasible. Once again, the agency’s efforts proved successful. By 2002, a study revealed that the level of lead in young children’s blood fell by 80 percent from 1976 to the late 1990s.

Ensuring healthier air: In March 2015, the University of Southern California (USC) released an encouraging study. After studying Southern Californian children aged 11 to 15 over a 20-year period, researchers discovered that today’s children have larger and better functioning lungs than children who grew up in the same communities in the 1990s. According to the study, “Air quality in the Los Angeles basin, as measured in five cities by USC researchers, improved over two decades. That provided a healthy environment for children’s growing lungs. This happened as a result of EPA efforts to crack down on smog in the 1970s and 1980s in Southern California and around the country.”

Today, the EPA is very focused on climate change. While the current administration has shown little interest in this topic, it is hoped that the EPA will keep this topic alive, just as it has in the past, by educating Americans about the situation and its potential impact on health and our planet.