Parents change their children during the "Great Cloth Diaper Change" Saturday morning April 20, 2013 during the Earth Day Festival Green Baby
Parents change their children during the "Great Cloth Diaper Change" Saturday morning April 20, 2013 during the Earth Day Festival Green Baby Expo at the American Legion in Savannah Georgia. Around 65 parents participated in the Guinness World Record attempt in Savannah, which was one of several participating locations around the world. (AP Photo/The Morning News, Richard Burkhart) THE EXAMINER.COM OUT; SFEXAMINER.COM OUT; WASHINGTONEXAMINER.COM OUT (Richard Burkhart)

The first Earth Day was held in the spring of 1970. Millions of Americans participated in events, having been fed up with factories belching black smoke, and corporations dumping toxic cocktails of chemicals into rivers and streams with little consequence. This year's Earth Day was observed Monday.

The Republican president at the time took notice: Richard Nixon proposed an Environmental Protection Agency and signed an executive order to create it. His order was ratified by Congressional committee hearings, and the agency became operational by the end of 1970.

Flash forward to the most recent Republican primary season, and most of the candidates voiced support for eliminating the EPA altogether. The agency is under constant court assaults by everyone from the corn refineries to the petroleum industry.

Balancing business costs and interests with regulatory oversight is nothing unusual — and certainly the EPA is hardly a perfect model of efficiency. Everything from accidents to willful negligence are inevitable on the industry side. Early supporters of the EPA didn't seek to end harm to the environment: They rightfully saw the need to provide a framework where spills, dumps and explosions would be mitigated.

On Earth Day three years ago, the Gulf of Mexico was on fire. The enormous BP oil spill had claimed 11 lives, and spewed an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the gulf. The effects are ongoing. To summarize the findings of the investigation into the deaths and the spill: BP, Halliburton, and Transocean were found to have caused the spill by ignoring safeguards in an effort to save time and money. The regulators were found at fault for taking the corporations at their words.


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The idea that private industry would simply self-regulate is, in short, laughable.

On Earth Day this year, Texas is still reeling from at least a dozen deaths — as of this writing, 60 people were still missing — from an explosion of a fertilizer plant in the town of West. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, and hundreds of people were injured.

It was a devastating tragedy, even in a week that seemed to be full of them. There will be a full investigation, but in the meantime, Texas newspapers were reporting that the plant had previously violated environmental regulations.

Ideally, if there are violations, they will be caught early and fixed before something on the level of a BP spill or a West Chemical and Fertilizer explosion can happen. It happens all around us, in smaller ways: The EPA fined the Cemex plant in Lyons $1 million on Friday for violating the Clean Air Act.

Individuals and families will perhaps rededicate themselves to taking care of the Earth tomorrow. But all around us, the struggle between business progress and profits, and taking care of the environment, continues on. More than 40 years after Nixon's signature, that balancing act is just as relevant as ever.