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Peter Lehner’s Blog

What Would It Be Like if the GOP Abolished the EPA? As Dirty As It Used to Be

Peter Lehner

Posted January 9, 2012

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The Republican Party has turned the Environmental Protection Agency into a political punching bag in the past year. GOP lawmakers routinely call for abolishing the agency and scraping the government standards that protect us from pollution.

These attacks are part of the GOP’s larger ideological war against government regulation. But what if they actually came to pass? What would it look like if lawmakers really did shutter the EPA and push aside protections like clean air standards?

It would look like this.


Photo credit: Chester Higgins Jr.

This is a picture of the George Washington Bridge in New York City taken in 1973—three years after President Nixon established the EPA, but a few years before America started seeing results from a host of Clean Air Act programs.

I go by this bridge every week, and I can assure you even on New York’s muggiest days, it never looks like this anymore. But we didn’t get to clearer skies by accident. It required decades of government safeguards, industry compliance, and agency oversight.

This photo and thousands of other shots come from an impressive EPA project in the 1970s designed to document the state of America’s environment. Here’s a shot from Cleveland taken before the EPA began forcing polluters to reduce their filthy emissions.


Photo credit: Frank Aleksandrowicz.

Is this really what we want to return to? Just because we've made technological advances since the 1970s doesn't mean we've left dirty skies behind. Innovation alone can't deliver safe air. If it could, Beijing’s skies wouldn't look like this right now.


Photo credit: NRDC

The different between Beijing and New York and the different between New York in 1973 and New York in 2012 comes down to strong standards. Once the government started holding polluters accountable for their own mess, Americans started breathing healthier air.  The results were astounding: In the first 20 years of the Clean Air Act alone, pollution reduction programs prevented 200,000 American deaths, 21,000 cases of heart disease, and 18 million child respiratory illnesses.

The GOP can pretend that America doesn’t need the EPA or the Clean Air Act, but the millions of Americans who breathe easier today know better. Meanwhile, the pictures speak for themselves.



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Jeremy D'HervilleJan 9 2012 06:51 PM

The EPA appear to me to be a poorly educated and expensive public relations department working for, rather than against the corporate enterprises that have been responsible at causing the greater pollution worldwide. The public who would normally fight with them are attcked by them with regulations that those industries should be paying for themselves. We're being manipulated away from self sufficient forms of energy. They produce unconvincincing cost benefit analysis reports without evidence sold to 'convince' and not 'proove' worthwhile policy. They fearmonger with facts replaced with media-style hype. The reason we have cleaner air is due to advances in design and engineering, that these federal bureacrats seem to have little understanding of. The environmentalists have developed a niche where their specialised lawyers and scientists need jobs. The EPA can give them these but I do not believe the outcomes will proove useful. It's a waste of money and creates a further risk of corruption on the public's freedoms. They are manipulated by the wealth of the top end market that either still want to cut corners for greater profit.

kyle lJan 9 2012 09:43 PM

Nice try Jerm. All that design and engineering is because of the regulations not in spite of.

Susan TorresJan 10 2012 01:58 PM

This is a fantastic post! Thank you for showing how important the EPA is. These pictures really highlight how far we've come and how far back we could fall.

Karen SayleJan 15 2012 01:10 PM

Many commenters are too young to remember what it was like. As a child I visited my grandparents in Queens, and remember that the dust was charcoal grey, and you could draw pictures in it on the sill. I visited cousins on Lake Erie, and swam at a public beach with brown water. The sunsets in Buffalo, thanks to chemical cos in Niagara Falls, were spectral purple, red, orange. It is well past time to ask the anti-EPA faction what they preferred about these scenarios. We have to stop accepting the premise that we can only have a healthy economy if we let companies do what they want to our environment.

Shannon O'SheaJan 16 2012 07:27 PM

Mr. D'Herville, Could you please elaborate on your comments? You say, "They fearmonger with facts replaced with media style hype." I'm not quite sure what that means, but if facts don't scare you into attaining and maintaining a cleaner, healthier environment, nothing will. You seem to be under the impression that we can trust, at face value, big business and big oil in doing the right thing. The facts are GE, Lockheed Martin, BP and dozens of other Corporations would still be dumping thier swill into rivers without EPA regulation. If you believe they can be trusted without regulation, I have a bridge over a very dirty body of water to sell you.

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