Next time your parents or your grandparents tell you about the good old days, tell them they’re wrong—at least when it comes to our environment. Before the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970,
air pollution was so thick in some cities that it was hard to see or breathe. Rivers caught fire because of all the pollution in them.
America is dramatically cleaner today. It didn’t happen because companies voluntarily cut pollution; it happened because of strong national environmental laws that were enforced by the EPA.
Every year, rigorous enforcement of the Clean Air Act alone prevents more than 160,000 premature deaths due to heart attacks, lung disease, and other health problems, according to an EPA report. And the value of the benefits—from higher productivity to avoided deaths and fewer sick days—is more than 30 times greater than the costs, according to the EPA. Toxic lead, which harms brain development and causes behavioral problems, has dropped dramatically in our air, in part because of the EPA’s work to remove it from gasoline.