EPA Touts 40 Years of Successes, but What Do the Next 40 Hold?

Forty years ago today, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was signed into being by President Richard Nixon.

It's a testament to the scale and scope of the EPA's successes over the past 40 years that they've faded into the background, or been woven into the fabric of daily life.

All this week, the EPA has been touting those hard-earned successes, including the publication of a report from the Aspen Institute highlight 10 big changes the EPA has made to protect the environment.

Among those successes:

1. Banning Widespread Use of DDT
4. Removing Lead from Gasoline -- and from the Air
6. Vehicle Efficiency and Emissions Controls
8. Controlling Toxic Substances
9. Cleaner Water

A website created by Green For All, ThankYouEPA.com, spells out these achievements more concretely:

• Prevented 205,000 premature American deaths in 1990 alone by providing cleaner air, and prevented hundreds of thousands more in subsequent years.

 

• Saved Americans more than $55 million in water and sewer bills in 2008.

• Reduced 60% of dangerous air pollutants in the air we breathe.

• Increased recycling in American families and businesses that went from recycling about 10% of trash in 1980 to more than 33% in 2008.

• Transformed 67% of contaminated Superfund Brownfield sites nationwide into bustling neighborhoods and business centers.

These achievements form the backdrop for environmental protection in the U.S. today: The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, CAFE standards for vehicle fleets, TSCA chemical regulations, and on and on. To say it's an impressive list is an understatement that can only be made from the vantage point of 40 years of successes.

The EPA is also taking its 40th birthday as a time to look forward as well. On Tuesday, Adminstrator Lisa Jackson unveiled plans to have the National Research Council create a "Green Book" that brings an added focus of sustainability to how the EPA conducts its work. The Green Book is a follow-on to the agency's "Red Book," which in 1983 built risk-assessment and risk-management into the EPA's approach.

But looking beyond the EPA's own plans and celebrations of its past, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the coming years will be arguably the most important and most challenging that the agency will face.

Next page: What does the next 40 years hold?