The Growing Importance of the Environmental Protection Agency

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/RITU JETHANI
The EPA was created as a response to the public's concern over the buildup of several decades' worth of pollution.

Learn about the history and successes of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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,
SilentSpring 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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