The federal government has scores of departments, agencies, and programs. But there is only one whose sole mission is to protect human health and the environment: the Environmental Protection Agency. For the past 40 years, the EPA has compiled a remarkable record of success, giving Americans clean air to breathe, pure water to drink, and lands safe from toxic wastes.
When the EPA was formed, smokestacks fouled the air with dangerous pollutants. Today, the EPA uses the Clean Air Act to roll back that wall of smog and hazardous gases. The result has been a dramatic reduction in the number of heart and lung ailments suffered by Americans every year. According to the most recent data, EPA’s enforcement of the clean air laws will prevent over 230,000 early deaths. By 2020, it will have prevented 120,000 emergency room visits, 5.4 million lost school days, 2.4 million asthma attacks, and 200,000 cases of heart disease.
Water pollution was rampant before EPA arrived. The Potomac River, flowing through the nation’s capital, was an open sewer, and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught on fire. Today, the EPA uses the Clean Water Act to restore America’s lakes, rivers, and streams. Developers are building “River Walk” and “Harbor Walk” projects to take advantage of the tremendous economic asset of healthy rivers. Uncounted cases of intestinal illnesses, some of them fatal, were a daily risk from contaminated drinking water. Today, when parents turn on the tap to give their children a glass of water, they do so with confidence because the EPA is making sure that the water is safe and pure. Love Canal was a tragic case of hazardous wastes poisoning a New York community. Today, the EPA uses the Superfund and related laws to keep our lands, and the fragile drinking water aquifers flowing under them, safe. Cases of environmentally caused cancers are down and community protection is up.
Critics of the EPA are fond of saying that environmental laws hurt businesses, job growth, and the economy. Their criticisms are predictable, feeble, and wrong. A study mandated by Congress and released in March proved the value of EPA’s implementation of our clean air laws. According to the study, the benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 reach approximately $2 trillion in 2020. These tremendous benefits are expected to exceed the costs of related programs and regulatory compliance actions by a factor of more than 30 to 1.
Controlling pollution does more than save lives. It also creates jobs. According to the Institute of Clean Air Companies and the Small Business Majority, clean air technology has created more than 1 million jobs in the United States and a multibillion-dollar market for pollution reduction technology, leading to tens of billions of dollars in exports each year.
Pollution control in America is a federal-state partnership. The majority of EPA’s budget goes to the states each year. EPA provides needed national direction, oversight, consistency, and technical expertise, while the states provide vital day-to-day operational support. It is a partnership that works. And at $7 billion a year, it is a relative bargain. Americans spend that amount annually on potato chips.
We need safe water and we need clean air. We need to keep the environmental cop on the beat and aggressively address the continuing and emerging environmental threats to Americans’ health and to our environment. The EPA has a proven record of success, and we should give it the strong support that it has earned.