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Region 1: EPA New England

Cleaner Air, Water & Land - EPA's 35 Year Legacy & Future Promise

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

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By Robert W. Varney
December 2, 2005

The Environmental Protection Agency is 35 years old today, born by executive order issued by President Nixon on Dec. 2, 1970.

EPA's creation, and its mission to protect human health and the nation's environment, was hastened by the existence of rampant and highly visible pollution - rivers that literally burned and flowed with human and industrial waste, towns built upon toxic waste sites, and lethal air pollution.

Since that time, our nation has been engaged in a generational relay effort that has created a cleaner, healthier environment for all Americans. EPA's dedicated workforce has been instrumental in implementing historic protections to achieve clean air and water, to clean-up toxic wastes from communities, to protect the earth's ozone layer and ensure a safe and abundant food supply. The Clean Air Act alone has saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented millions more from suffering severe respiratory problems.

EPA's Superfund program, established by Congress to address the nation's worst hazardous waste sites, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. Superfund has cleaned up nearly one thousand sites to date. One example in Londonderry, N.H. is at the former Tinkham's Garage site, where the completed cleanup of 375 acres addressed contaminated soils and surface- and ground water, making way for a revitalized parcel in the community that now is used for both a retail complex and housing for senior citizens.

After 35 years, EPA continues to make strides. Last month, the agency released an annual report highlighting progress made in 2005. These successes include the first national rules ever to reduce mercury from power plant emissions, a related interstate air pollution rule to dramatically reduce power plant emissions of other harmful air pollutants, and an aggressive campaign to reduce pollution from diesel engines. EPA also announced $76.7 million in Brownfields grant funding this year which will be used to assess, cleanup and revitalize blighted sites in 45 states.

Also in 2005, EPA and state partners attained water quality standards in an additional eight percent of the nation's previously impaired waters. Nationwide, Agency enforcement actions reduced, treated or eliminated more than 1.1 billion pounds of pollutants. While these are just examples, the numbers tell an impressive story.

Today, EPA's success depends more than ever on working with increasingly capable and environmentally conscious partners. Unlike 35 years ago, state and local governments now leverage considerable expertise and resources towards environmental protection. These governments often need more of EPA's help as a partner. This means providing them with new, flexible solutions and the scientific and technical support they need to meet environmental goals.

Working together with those we regulate is also important. Here in New England, EPA's ability to address issues collaboratively with local communities, state regulators and businesses is increasingly critical to our mission.

EPA is also responding to a growing need to address environmental problems globally. Last week, a team of EPA-supported Chinese researchers released a report outlining strategies to dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The study found that clean energy technologies and policies in Beijing could reduce annual emissions of carbon dioxide by up to 22 percent by 2010 and health-impairing particulate matter by up to 40 percent each year. This project is part of EPA's larger effort to transfer results-oriented approaches that have been successful here in the United States to developing countries.

The mission to protect our environment has received bipartisan support for 35 years. We all rely on clean and healthy drinking water, food and air to breathe. Even as we recommit our efforts to continued environmental protection in the years to come, all Americans should reflect on 35 years of exceptional progress yielding tangible results for a cleaner environment that we all enjoy. In the cross-generational relay race that characterizes our work to protect the environment, our generation should be proud of our work to achieve cleaner air, purer water and healthier land that will yield further improvements as tangible as the ones we celebrate today.

For more information, see: http://epa.gov/35thanniversary/ .

Robert W. Varney is regional administrator of EPA's New England Office in Boston.

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