Ecocentric

Happy 40th Birthday, Environmental Protection Agency!

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this before leaving the office tonight (it’s Thursday Night Football!): forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), capping a year of tremendous green progress. (It was kind of like 2010, only opposite.) Obviously Nixon was, to put it politely, no bleeding heart Earth Firster. But the 1970s were a different time for politics—and especially environmental politics. Both Democrats and Republicans supported laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and later efforts like the battle to stop acid rain. It’s only recently, in fact, that the environmental politics—like so much else in the country—have become fractured, with Republicans almost universally opposed to acting on carbon or tightening environmental regulations on business.

But that very change is, in a way, a result of the EPA’s success. By many measures American air and water is far cleaner than it was in 1970, especially in our growing cities. The visible smog, the rivers on fire, the illegal dumping—which both Christopher Mims and Alexis Madrigal document in separate posts today—pollution was simply far harder to ignore 40 years ago. Climate change, the defining environmental issue of our time, is slow and mostly invisible. With the failure of cap-and-trade, tackling climate change will now fall on Lisa Jackson’s EPA, which is already being attacked by conservative critics who claim the agency is harming the economy. But Jackson won’t back down, as she wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

The last 40 years show no evidence that environmental protection hinders economic growth. Neither the recent crisis nor any other period of economic turmoil was caused by environmental protection.

Good luck, EPA. And happy birthday.

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