The new U.S. president and Congress are taking a hard look at environmental rules—none harder than a freshman U.S. representative whose new bill would “terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.” …. “Everybody hates regulation,” said Republican Christine Todd Whitman, a former EPA administrator and New Jersey governor, “because it makes you either spend money or change behavior for a problem you may not see.” This year, as we all know, is a little different.
…the concept that the preeminent guardian of clean air, soil, and water in the U.S. would go the way of the 20th century is now, if nothing else, no longer confined to the realm of fantasy. Rule-of-thumb holds that once countries pollute their way into economic progress, they’ll pause for a second and check to see if they can still breathe the air and swim in the water. If not, they fix it. China is currently the leading example, with India coming up behind. There are fewer examples of nations unwinding national environmental efforts.
Internationally, the U.S. does pretty well when it comes to protecting its environment and doing its part to combat global climate change. It ranks 26th among 180 nations in the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, a collaboration of the World Economic Forum and Yale and Columbia University researchers. That’s just worse than Canada and a bit better than the Czech Republic.
The EPA sits at the forefront of that accomplishment (such as it is). The environmental laws passed under President Richard Nixon, who helped create the agency, have cleaned up the excesses of mid-century American industrialization. ….
In July 1970, the Republican president cobbled together the new agency from about a dozen offices distributed throughout the federal government. An additional dozen functions were reorganized into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the biggest entity within the Department of Commerce. By creating the EPA, “I am making an exception to one of my own principles,” Nixon wrote. “That, as a matter of effective and orderly administration, additional new independent agencies normally should not be created.” But in this case, he said, there was just no better option.