The Growing Importance of the Environmental Protection Agency

Thirty years after its inception the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency has grown, along with a bigger budget and good success in convincing the public about recycling, using less water and buying environmentally beneficial products.
By Michael Asprion
August/September 2000
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The EPA was created as a response to the public's concern over the buildup of several decades' worth of pollution.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/RITU JETHANI


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Leonardo DiCaprio aside, the 30-year-old environmental movement is as strong as ever. According to a Gallup Poll conducted in March, 73% of the 1,004 adults polled consider ecoawareness as, if not more, important than it was in 1970. Moreover, Americans seem to be taking more action.

In 1970, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Earth Day were born. The EPA was created as a response to the public's concern over the buildup of several decades' worth of pollution. (Rachel Carson's 1962 book, Silent Spring detailed the widespread use of pesticides and also helped to spur public interest in protecting the environment.) Earth Day — also formed in 1970 — launched the idea of environmentalism as we know it today: that we are all responsible for the upkeep of the planet, and that the government has an obligation to protect the environment and punish those who pollute it.

Since 1970, the EPA and Earth Day have only grown in importance. The agency's 2000 budget is more than seven times that of 1970's $1 billion. Plus, over 18,000 employees now work for the agency, compared to nearly 4,100 in 1970. The Earth Day 2000 Gallup Poll also suggests that the U.S. has become more active in environmental concerns, while adopting the now-familiar slogan "think globally, act locally." According to the poll 90% of Americans are recycling, 83% are trying to use less water, and 73% are buying environmentally beneficial products. In addition, 28% of the adults asked have voted or worked for candidates because of their position on the environment, 18% have contacted a public official about an environmental issue, and 13% have contacted a business to voice concern over the environmental impact of their products.

To its credit the environmental movement has come a long way since its inception 30 years ago when, on the original Earth Day, protesters dragged a net full of fish down Fifth Avenue in New York City, proclaiming "this could be you" to onlookers. But today there are more power plants, pesticides and trash dumps than ever before, not to mention the newer challenges to the planet of overpopulation and genetically modified food. If we plan to sustain a healthy environment over the next 30 years, we're going to need to be at least as productive as the last 30.

—Michael Asprion 








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