Fourteen-thousand scientists, lawyers, supervisors and others work for the Environmental Protection Agency. The E-P-A works to improve the nation's drinking water. It helps control the increase of gases that warm Earth's atmosphere. It restricts the use of dangerous substances. It bans chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases. It reduces air pollution by vehicles.
During its thirty years the E-P-A has won praise for many projects. But not everyone approves of the agency. Companies forced to make costly changes sometimes react angrily. They say E-P-A requirements threaten their profits and the economy in general. Some companies say they have to dismiss workers to pay for required changes.The E-P-A began operating in Nineteen-Seventy. But officials say the agency probably got its true start in Nineteen-Sixty-Two. That is when an American scientist named Rachel Carson published an important book. It was called "Silent Spring." The book created a nonviolent revolution in American thought.
"Silent Spring" warned that pesticides were polluting our environment. For years these chemicals had successfully controlled insects and unwanted plant growth.
But Ms. Carson said they could also harm humans. Her work influenced people across the country to fight for a better environment.In Nineteen-Sixty-Nine, United Nations official U Thant said the Earth had only ten years before the environment suffered terrible damage. He blamed the United States for most environmental problems. That same year an American Interior Department official said humans might not survive if pollution continued to increase at the same rate.
The public began to demand action. President Richard Nixon reacted by signing a measure called the National Environmental Policy Act in Nineteen-Seventy. The act declared a national policy of improving the relationship between people and their environment. Public interest intensified.
One senator said the issue of the threatened environment struck the nation like an exploding volcano.
((BRIDGE MUSIC ))Soon after the National Environmental Policy Act became law, President Nixon took further action. He announced an environment program with thirty-seven points. It strengthened federal programs against air pollution and water pollution.
Activists organized the first environmental protest called Earth Day on April Twenty-Second, Nineteen-Seventy. Twenty-million Americans held peaceful demonstrations for environmental reform. It was the largest public demonstration in the United States since World War Two.
Some of the protests were very dramatic. For example, activists pulled a net loaded with dead fish down a main street of New York City. They pointed to the dead fish and told people, "This could be you."A few months later, the president sent Congress plans for reorganizing environmental action in the nation into one agency. At the time, many agencies dealt with the environment. These agencies sometimes competed instead of cooperated.
President Nixon proposed a single federal office that would establish and enforce protective measures. It also was to carry out research. The new agency was to help cities and states develop programs against pollution. The E-P-A was officially born on December Second, Nineteen-Seventy.The first E-P-A administrator was government lawyer William Ruckelshaus. He took an aggressive position against pollution and other environmental threats. Sometimes people jokingly called Mr. Ruckelshaus "Mr. Clean."
Almost immediately after his appointment, the E-P-A administrator warned the mayors of Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan, and Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Ruckelshaus told them they had six months to clean the water of their cities. They would face legal action if they did not obey.The E-P-A's first year ended with major environmental legislation. The Clean Air Act of Nineteen-Seventy called for the E-P-A to establish national levels for air quality. The Clean Air Act strongly affected the car-manufacturing industry. The act ordered ninety-percent reductions in the amount of harmful substances that cars could release into the atmosphere. Car makers were given five years to reduce levels of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide pollutants. They were given six years to reduce nitrogen oxides.In Nineteen-Seventy-One, the E-P-A had a dispute with a major chemical company. The E-P-A told Union Carbide to reduce the amount of sulfur oxide released by its factory in Marietta, Ohio. The company offered its plan for making changes. But Mr. Ruckelshaus rejected the plan as too slow. Union Carbide then threatened to suspend more than six-hundred workers.
The E-P-A offered a compromise. The compromise saved the workers' jobs. And Union Carbide provided an acceptable plan for reducing the release of dangerous gases. The factory cut the release of sulfur oxide gas by seventy percent. And it did so within the required time.
((BRIDGE MUSIC))The E-P-A has dealt with a number of crises. For example, in Nineteen-Eighty-Nine, the ship Exxon Valdez [val-DEEZ] leaked oil into Prince William Sound in the state of Alaska. More than forty-one-million liters of crude oil poured into the water. The Exxon oil company was ordered to pay one-thousand-million dollars. That was the largest criminal environmental damage settlement in history. Another terrible environmental event took place in the United States in Nineteen-Ninety-Three. Four-hundred thousand people in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, became sick from the drinking water. More than fifty people died. An organism in the water called cryptosporidium was to blame.One E-P-A crisis involved the agency itself. It took place in the Nineteen-Eighties. Congress had provided more than one-thousand-million dollars to clean dangerous waste areas. This "Superfund" money also was to help identify and punish violators. In Nineteen-Eighty-Three, Congress and concerned citizens criticized the agency. Congress started to investigate wrongdoing. Critics said the E-P-A was not using the Superfund money correctly. Critics said some E-P-A officials used public money for political purposes. The agency also was accused of poor enforcement against polluters.Anne Burford served as E-P-A administrator at the time. The accusations led to her resignation. President Ronald Reagan then appointed the agency's first administrator to supervise it again. William Ruckleshaus returned to the E-P-A.
Mr. Ruckleshaus was able to end much of the criticism of the E-P-A. In Nineteen-Eighty-Six, Congress again provided money for the Superfund. It added another nine-thousand-million dollars for cleaning dangerous waste areas.
((BRIDGE MUSIC))After thirty years, the E-P-A can point to progress against a number of environmental threats. For example, it has set new requirements for chemical factories. It has taken action to prevent the rain from being polluted by chemicals. It has almost completely removed lead from the air. And half of the nation's worst waste areas have been cleaned up.
More than one-million homes have been tested for radon gas. This gas is a leading cause of lung cancer. More than one-million new homes have been built to resist radon. And the cars of today produce ninety-five-percent less pollution than the cars of Nineteen-Seventy.
In the past, owners of businesses have opposed some environmental requirements set by the E-P-A. However, they say they would not want to live in a nation without an Environmental Protection Agency.
This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.