Today marks the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, an invention of Gaylord Nelson — then a senator from Wisconsin — that triggered the environmental movement.
Back in 1970, as the Earth Day Network notes, “Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity.”
Today, as officials with the Environmental Protection Agency are quick to point out, things are better. An EPA study predicts, for instance, that 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act will prevent some 230,000 premature deaths by 2020. In a speech last year, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the Clean Water Act “has kept tens of billions of pounds of sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways.”
Big problems remain, however. The EPA has become a lightning rod for forces hostile to regulation. The 37-year-old law under which it regulates toxic chemicals is widely acknowledged to be ineffective, yet attempts at reform have failed. Emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases in 2011 — while down 7 percent from 2005 – reached the equivalent of 6,702 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
The Center for Public Integrity’s environment team will continue to highlight these and other issues, as it has in projects such as “Toxic Clout” and “Poisoned Places,” links to which can be found below.