To mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Aspen Institute convened environmental thought leaders to develop a report on 10 ways EPA has strengthened America:
Banning Widespread Use of DDT – EPA held hearings and defied industry opposition to ban a ubiquitous pesticide that disrupted the reproductive cycles of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, brown pelicans, and other iconic native birds, beating back one significant threat of extinction.
Removing the Acid from Rain – Using both traditional regulation and market-based trading of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from power plants, EPA reversed an acidification trend that was affecting fish populations and freshwater chemistry of lakes and streams, decreasing soil nutrients, causing regional haze, and damaging historical monuments.
Rethinking Waste as Materials – “Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, working with state and local governments, EPA succeeded in driving a change in thinking about the nature of waste, how it is managed, and its effect on our environment,” write report authors.
Removing Lead from Gasoline—and from the Air – “Between 1984 and 1995, airborne lead concentrations throughout the country decreased 89 percent, directly due to the phase-out of leaded gasoline, as well as to the majority of cars equipped with pollution control devices that require using unleaded fuel. Average blood lead levels for both children and adults in the US today have dropped more than 80 percent since the late 1970s,” according to the report.
Clearing Secondhand Smoke – EPA’s classification of secondhand smoke as a known cause of cancer was instrumental in the movement to ban smoking from indoor public places.
Vehicle Efficiency and Emissions Control – EPA’s progressively more stringent pollution standards for cars and trucks prompted manufacturers to build vehicles that emit 75-90 percent less pollution for each mile driven than their 1970s counterparts.
A Clean Environment for All/Environmental Justice – EPA’s analysis and acknowledgement that minority and low-income populations tend to bear the brunt of pollution prompted the agency to incorporate environmental justice considerations into many of its initiatives, bringing needed attention to communities previously underserved by environmental protections.
Controlling Toxic Substances – While there is widespread agreement that the underlying law is in desperate need of strengthening, EPA has used the Toxic Substances Control Act to compile an inventory of roughly 84,000 chemicals that have been produced in, or imported into the United States and taken more than 4,000 regulatory or voluntary actions to gather data or restrict use of chemicals before they were introduced on the market.
Cleaner Water – “The percentage of fishable and swimmable US rivers and lakes has increased from approximately 36% in 1972 to nearly 62% by 1998. Also, 74% of the population was served by sewage treatment plants in 1998, as opposed to 32% twenty-six years before,” write Aspen Institute report authors.
The “Community Right to Know” Act – The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) is still wildly controversial with polluters. Why? It allows ordinary citizens and policy advocates to simply look up their pollution records – a simple concept, but incredibly powerful tool.
“Over its 40-year history, EPA has evolved into the world’s preeminent environmental regulatory agency through a balanced, three-pronged strategy, combining excellent science, regulatory enforcement, and engagement of all stakeholders in developing new solutions to environmental problems. EPA’s balanced, multifaceted structure and operation sets the standard around the world for applying strong science, as well as economic incentives and disincentives, to achieve positive environmental outcomes while allowing businesses to grow and prosper,” said Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson at an event unveiling the list.
Happy Birthday EPA!
EPA workers clean up residential mercury spill in Nevada. Courtesy of U.S. EPA.
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