Mar. 3, 2017

During the 1960’s, people were awakened to the problems of chemicals in the environment when Rachal Carson published Silent Spring. Silent Spring conveyed the ecological message that humans were endangering their natural environment, and needed to find some way of protecting themselves from the hazards of industrial society. Carson stated, "The central problem of our age has … become the contamination of man's total environment with … substances of incredible potential for harm." This began an environmental movement.

After reading the book, President Kennedy created an advisory panel on pesticides. Then, a series of well-publicized environmental crises in the late 1960s focused the nation's attention on the need to control pollution. Examples include the 1969 blowout of an oil well platform off the coast of Santa Barbara, which contaminated scenic California beaches with oil, and in the same year the bursting into flames of the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland because of toxic contamination. In the summer of 1970, President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.  Monitoring of air pollution, water treatment and waste management had been under the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The Department of the Interior monitored pesticides and water quality. This put one agency in charge of monitoring the environment. The Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act of 1972 were enacted and the EPA was charged with enforcing these acts. Today, the EPA manages more than a hundred programs that uphold a dozen major laws or statutes. The programs can be broadly broken down into six categories: air pollution prevention, wastes and recycling, toxics and chemicals, water and pesticides.

During the 1970’s, the Love Canal incident stirred Americans to be concerned about the environmental impacts of industry and the toxic waste by-products.

The agency has often contended with vigorous adversarial efforts from industry and environmental organizations. Under the Reagan administration in 1980 and 1983, the EPA lost one-third of its budget and one-fifth of its staff. Underfunded and understaffed, these cuts had a lasting effect on the agency, leaving it without the resources to fulfill all of its functions.

In more recent years, carbon dioxide was defined as an air pollutant, which placed monitoring and control of carbon emission under the umbrella of the EPA. There have been court cases that are trying weaken the EPA’s ability to include carbon dioxide as an air pollutant.

Under the new administration, Scott Pruitt was nominated and confirmed as head of the EPA. Pruitt is known for working with the petrol-chemical industry in several lawsuits against the EPA, challenging its legal authority to regulate such things as mercury pollution, smog and carbon emissions from power plants. He has been known as a climate change denier although he claimed to understand and agree with anthropogenic climate change during the congressional confirmation hearings. He has vowed to curb the regulatory reach of the EPA as its head.

The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Its annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion. And because much of that funding already goes to states and localities in the form of grants, such cuts could have an even more significant effect on the EPA’s core functions.

Though our current president professes to care strongly about clean air and clean water, almost no other federal department or agency is as much in the crosshairs at the moment. As a candidate, he vowed to get rid of the EPA “in almost every form,” leaving only “little tidbits” intact. Grants to states, as well as its air and water programs, would be cut by 30 percent. The massive Chesapeake Bay cleanup project would receive only $5 million in the next fiscal year, down from its current $73 million. In addition, 38 separate programs would be eliminated entirely. Grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites, would be gone. In addition, the radon program, climate change initiatives and funding for Alaskan native villages will not be funded. The agency’s Office of Research and Development could lose up to 42 percent of its budget, and funding will be eliminated altogether for the office’s contribution to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a climate initiative that President George H.W. Bush launched in 1989.

The controversy of the EPA is surrounded by the notion that environmental regulations are bad for business, therefore bad for the economy. Yet, clean air and water are closely related to health and quality of life. The EPA has greatly helped to improve the quality of our natural resources over the past four decades. The current administration does not seem to understand the importance of a quality environment and how that affect so many Americans’ daily lives.