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.