On February 1st, 2017, Republican congressman Matt Gaetz published a bill to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Gaetz highlighted the need for the bill, saying that “American people are drowning in rules and regulations” imposed by “unelected bureaucrats,” of which the EPA is an “extraordinary offender”.
Since the inauguration of Donald Trump in January, the President has filled the White House with climate change sceptics, such as Scott Pruitt, his nominee for head of the EPA. The future of environmental protection in the USA looks bleak after the – increasingly sceptic to climate change – Republican Party’s victories in both the congressional and Presidential elections last November.
Environmental Protection Groups
The issue of the environment first came on to the agenda in America during the late 19th century, when concerns about sustainability began to develop, particularly in industries such as fishing and forestry; this became known as the Conservation Movement. A key group in this movement was the Sierra Club, founded in 1892. Its earliest goal was establishing national parks across the country, in which it achieved great success; due to lobbying from the Sierra Club, the California legislature ceded Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to the federal government in 1905, essentially making them national parks. Their work continued through the 20th century and in 1940 they worked to establish the Kings Canyon National Park. During the 1930s, most of its 3,000 members were Republicans, but the onset of the New Deal saw the group attain cross-party support. The group remained prominent after WW2; in 1950 the Sierra Club boosted its national reputation by succeeding in lobbying the government to remove the Echo Park dam from the Colorado River project. As a direct result of this victory, Sierra Club membership increased from 10,000 in 1956 to 15,000 in 1960. Throughout the 60s, the group campaigned to prevent the construction of two dams in the Grand Canyon; the Sierra Club’s success saw their membership skyrocketed to 75,000 by 1969 and the group remains prominent to this day.
There are numerous noteworthy environmentalist groups in the USA; the National Wildlife Federation, set up in 1936, has over 650,000 members and the WWF-USA and its 1.2 million members support over 1,200 environmental projects around the globe.
The Environmental Protection Agency
Concerns about the environment escalated in the 1950s and 60s, as Congress began to reflect the public’s concern about the impact of human activity on the environment. To deal with these concerns, the National Environmental Policy Act was passed by congress in 1969 and was signed by the Republican President Richard Nixon in January 1970. The act enacted a national policy to protect the environment and it created the Council on Environmental Quality. This was the first of several significant environmental laws passed in the 1970s. The EPA was established in 1970, as well, by an executive order from the President. The agency was and still is committed to a wide range of responsibilities; it conducts environmental assessments, research and education; it maintains and enforces national environmental standards and laws; and it works with industries and all levels of government to promote voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts. The EPA’s enforcement powers include fines, legal sanctions, and other measures. In 2011, the Clean Air Act extended the remit of the EPA, as it became responsible for the regulation of green house gasses produced by both mobile and stationary sources.
Critics, such as Mr. Gaetz, argue that the EPA is simply an extra layer of bureaucracy which makes life harder for the American people by overregulating and complexifying what would otherwise be simple practices. However, its supporters suggest that the EPA is a vital proponent in protecting American’s health and welfare, whilst keeping big businesses and corporations in check. That being said, it is the Republicans who currently hold the power and, as such, it is they who will decide the fate of the EPA.
What can be said, however, is that the future of global environmental protection hangs in the balance as scientific studies have revealed that the effects of pollution in one nation can have consequences around the world. What’s more, should the USA turn its back on the environment the likelihood of positive environmental reform in developing nations and other superpowers, such as China, may be significantly reduced.