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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hits 40

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Forty years ago today Republican president, Richard Nixon, created the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time the nation had no law mandating clean water, clean air or the safety of chemicals. Lead was still in all gasoline, and acid rain was poisoning the waterways downwind of the nation’s coal-burning power plants.

Forty years later, we have the EPA to thank for reductions in air and water pollution, unleaded gasoline—as well as cars more efficient at burning it—and even new efforts to evaluate hundreds of thousands of chemicals for safety. In fact, before the EPA, "nearly every meal in America contained elements of pesticides linked to nerve damage, cancer and sometimes death," the agency’s current administrator Lisa Jackson noted in the Wall Street Journal. After all, among the EPA’s first major acts was to ban the pesticide DDT, made infamous by Rachel Carson’s environmental screed Silent Spring.

As for accusations that the EPA has sacrificed the economy to environmental priorities, Jackson counters by pointing to the innovation the agency has spurred—from the catalytic converter to alternatives for the refrigerants that created the "Ozone Hole." At the same time, regulations like the Clean Air Act have prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

Now the EPA stands poised to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. The only question is: will it take another 40 years for Americans to appreciate that?

Image: New York City smog before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Courtesy of EPA.

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  1. 1. Soccerdad 4:49 pm 12/2/2010

    The article in the WSJ penned by Ms. Jackson is a real embarrassment to her and the President that nominated her. She essential says that we can wave our hands and create jobs. There is no consideration given to the macroeconomic picture, which is the only one of importance. It’s akin to a high schooler’s paper.

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  2. 2. Unbeliever 9:31 am 12/3/2010

    "…After all, among the EPA’s first major acts was to ban the pesticide DDT, made infamous by Rachel Carson’s environmental screed Silent Spring."

    Yeah, and those "hundreds of thousands" of lives saved by the EPA are a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of human deaths caused by malaria, due to that DDT ban.

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  3. 3. Postman1 3:31 pm 12/3/2010

    Unbeliever- My thoughts exactly! The EPA needs to be reined in, and, if necessary, defunded. All they are now is a tool for king obama. (Lack of caps is intentional)

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  4. 4. coronakid 5:32 pm 12/3/2010

    Yes the evil Communistic, Nazi like EPA must be destroyed so that the rate of childhood asthma in urban areas can go up and we get really groovy sunsets over Catalina Island! Yup gument is the problem every time, never the solution…well cept for roads, schools, armies, police, and a few other modern conveniences…here is what The Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, a well know Maoist rag has to say about the EPA on it’s fortieth birthday;

    "…* Virtually the entire nation has achieved clean air standards for four of the six main pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act (carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and lead). The only pollutants where clean air standards are still widely exceeded are ozone and particulates.

    * In the case of ozone and particulates, the areas of the nation with the highest pollution levels have shown the greatest magnitude of improvement. The average ambient declines in pollution on the national scale understate the magnitude of improvement in the worst areas. Los Angeles, for example, used to exceed the 1-hour ozone standard about 175 days a year in the 1970s; today, L.A. exceeds the 1-hour standard fewer than 20 days a year, and peak ozone concentrations on the worse days are two-thirds below their peak levels in the 1970s…"

    Obviously the Institute editors have been brain washed in North Korea as was done to Nixon which is the only reason he supported such a demonic agency’s creation.

    Who would have guessed that Red State patriots would be trolling the Scientific American online site?

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  5. 5. Soccerdad 5:35 pm 12/3/2010

    I can agree with Unbeliever and Postman1.

    As to xiaojiejj and coronakid, I find their posts incoherent.

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  6. 6. coronakid 11:09 pm 12/3/2010

    Trolls and housewares hawkers…weird!

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