During the decades of the 1960s and 70s, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire due to buildup of industrial sludge. Washington D.C. was dumping 240 million gallons of industrial waste daily into the Potomac. Salmon in Oregon’s Willamette River died from toxic sewage. Smog and dangerous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides were at their highest levels, and 80 percent of children in the U.S. had elevated blood lead levels. Because of injury from the toxic pesticide, DDT, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons nearly went extinct in the Lower 48, and the Brown Pelican, our state bird, vanished from Louisiana. America had become a dirty and dangerous country.
Angered by this dismal state, Americans spoke up and Congress and President Richard M. Nixon listened. By nearly unanimous agreement of both Republicans and Democrats, the Environmental Protection Agency was born. In his 1970 State of the Union address, President Nixon said, “Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond political party and beyond factions.” The people and the politicians had come together for the good of the country and its wildlife.
What followed in that decade was a series of bipartisan landmark protections for the environment and for people: the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Since that decade of progress for the environment, there has been significant improvement in the living quality of America. U.S. roads now produce 99 percent fewer emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, which causes lung injury. The number of children with elevated blood lead levels has decreased from 80 percent to 4 percent. The number of U.S. waters that meet federal quality goals has doubled. Carbon monoxide and other air pollutants have declined by 70 percent. Most forests and waters have rebounded from prior years of acid rain. Sewage in the Willamette River is reduced by 94 percent. There are significant reductions in PCBs, mercury and other industrial pollutants in the Great Lakes. And the Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Brown Pelicans are largely back from their toxic die-off. Through four decades of both Democratic and Republican administrations, protections by the EPA and the four congressional acts have been sustained with significant headway in protecting people and wildlife in America.
But no more.
Under the administration of President Donald Trump, the effort to dismantle and to outright destroy the EPA and the landmark acts of the past four decades is unprecedented. Within both Republican and Democratic administrations of the past, the EPA has supported the protection of “all waters of the United States” leading to the Clean Water Rule to protect the small water bodies of America. But the present administration has targeted this law to strip the watershed infrastructure protection of the health of communities and waterways downstream. Also targeted is the EPA’s mandate under the Clean Air Act to regulate the dangerous greenhouse gas, methane, which ultimately threatens the health of the American people. Additionally, the administration is intent on abolishing fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Our present administration’s EPA head has removed climate change data from its website and is reducing staff to the lowest levels since the 1980s. The present administration has waged an attack on the Clean Power Plan, which could save lives while lowering our electric costs and give coal plants free license to dump unlimited carbon pollution into the air.
Under today’s administration, science and health are no longer matters of paramount importance. Republican Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the EPA under President George W. Bush, gave her assessment in the New York Times in 2018, “The agency created by a Republican president forty-seven years ago to protect the environment and public health may end up doing neither. The evidence is abundant of the dangerous political turn of an agency that is supposed to be guided by science.” And regarding the EPA’s present lack of regulation enforcement, Ms. Whitman said, “People will get sick and die – It’s that simple.”
It’s difficult to realize how much the EPA has protected Americans and wildlife over the last forty-nine years. It’s easy to forget the lessons of the past. But now, for our own good, the old sentinel agency needs us to bring it back to health. After all these years, it’s once again up to us, the American people, to stand up for the health of the environment in which we live our lives.
Johnny Armstrong, Author
Rescuing Biodiversity (publishing in June 2023) tells the story of Johnny's attempts at Wafer Creek Ranch to preserve a vanishing Louisiana ecosystem and restore the animal and plant species that once lived there.
“An avowed student of life and restoration ecology, Johnny Armstrong expertly teaches us how to restore an imperiled southern ecosystem based on deep research, firsthand experience, and delighted observation of the species that return to his beloved Wafer Creek Ranch. Driving his devotion is the alarming truth that loss of biodiversity poses a threat on par with climate change and his impassioned belief that society can alter that trajectory, one acre at a time.”
Cindy Brown, Executive Director
Land Trust for Louisiana
“Up there on your bookshelf between Tolkien and Watership Down is where this book belongs. As an anthropomorphic adventure that winds through the realm of animals possessing courage, savagery, perseverance, and ultimately wisdom in the face of mounting evil threats – humans disconnected from the natural world – the tale is relevant, if not necessary.”
Kelby Ouchley, Author
Bayou Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
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Shadowshine, An Animal Adventure
by Johnny Armstrong
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