How the U.S. Protects the Environment, From Nixon to Trump

A curious person’s guide to the laws that keep the air clean and the water pure



A little less than 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon united with a Democratic Congress to pass laws that altered the everyday experience of almost everyone living in the United States. These laws arose from a flurry of legislating—nearly all emerged in the same two-year period—and they had astonishingly large goals. They sought to restrict toxic air pollution nationwide, clean up hundreds of streams and rivers, and erect a permanent, federally empowered Environmental Protection Agency.


Here is the most astonishing thing about these laws: They worked. Although they contained flaws, the laws accomplished their goals with greater success than critics predicted; and their rules cost businesses less money to implement than even hopeful supporters forecast.


The laws remain in place today, though the EPA still bickers with various industries over their scope. EPA employees consult the most recent science about conventional air or water pollution, formulate rules to protect the public from those dangers, and turn them into law. The American public benefits from this process, according to most research; and a large majority of Americans tell pollsters that they approve of it. The system seems to work.


Or, at least, it worked. The Trump administration has indicated—through its proposed budget and through its choice of appointees—that it cannot abide the status quo. Its proposed budget cuts billions from the agency’s budget, and it has begun the process of rescinding years of Obama-era regulatory work.


Trump could be the most hostile president ever to sit over the agency. His only rival is Ronald Reagan, who did not enjoy the benefit of a Republican Congress. Suffice it to say that this scares a lot of Americans. Many of them have looked anew at the environmental policy machine running in the background of the government and asked, essentially: Wait, that old thing? How does that work?


This is a brief guide to how it works.


Read more from the source article published in the Atlantic on Mar. 29 2017.




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