EPA too good for its own good

Sunday April 29, 2012

There are any number of examples of the decline into paralysis of our federal system of government, but none may be more clear-cut than the then-and-now status of the Environmental Pro tection Agency. An organization that was created four decades ago in bipartisan fashion and has been a resounding success may be fighting for its life in 2013 depending on the results of the November elections. The EPA’s crime? It is a government agency in a time of knee-jerk anti-government animus.

The EPA came into existence four de cades ago during the presidency of Repub lican Richard Nixon, whose pro-environment credentials are as undisputed as are his totalitarian tendencies. The first EPA head, William Ruckelshaus, speculated earlier this month that the agency is under attack today in large part because environmental problems are not as apparent to Americans as they used to be. In short, the EPA is a victim of its own success.

When the EPA came into existence, air pollution, particularly over major cities like Los Angeles, was readily apparent to the naked eye. The same could be said of many polluted lakes and streams, as well as industrial sites polluted for decades by companies burdened by few regulations and limited enforcement of those regulations. Not that pollution no longer exists in the United States, but many of the major problems have been reduced or eradicated. Locally, the EPA, along with the state Department of Environmental Protection, was instrumental in the crafting of the Consent Decree that led to the cleanup of PCBs in the first two miles of the Housa tonic River and throughout Pittsfield. The oft-delayed Rest of the River proposal is anticipated in June or July.

Undeniable successes aside, the EPA is under assault this election season by Re publicans who have made "environmentalism" are a dirty word. The Republican House has approved rollbacks of the Clean Air and Clear Water Acts, and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s debunking of claims that these regulations cost jobs has earned her the animosity of House leadership. (A top Republican observed to the AP that Ms. Jackson goes before the House so often she could get her own parking place on Capitol Hill.) Ms. Jack son’s environmental advocacy has so en raged Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that he has demanded her firing -- even though her job is presumably to be an environmental advocate. Failed GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachman went even farther in calling for the abolition of the EPA during their campaigns.

Efforts to adopt clean energy programs with taxpayer assistance to help end Amer ica’s addiction to fossil fuels take a regular pounding on Capitol Hill, but many in Congress are out of touch with the public in this regard. A survey conducted by the nonpartisan Civil Society Institute found that 83 percent of Americans -- 69 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Independents and 95 percent of Democrats -- agreed with the statement that: "We need to take action to ensure that our taxpayer dollars support renewable energy -- one that protects public health, promotes energy independence and the economic well being of all Americans."

Americans care about their environment. Our elected officials should as well.


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