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The future of the EPA is uncertain

by Alessandra Potenza  Feb 28, 2017, 8:00am EST

Children play in the yard of a home in Ruston, Washington, while a smelter stack showers the area with arsenic and lead residue in 1972.Photo by Gene Daniels / US National Archives Children play in front of a smelter pumping lead and arsenic residue in the air of Ruston, Washington;  a woman holds a glass of black, undrinkable water from her well in Ohio; and the view from the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan is so hazy with smog that the New Jersey skyline is impossible to see. These scenes were captured in the early 1970s as part of a project, called Documerica, that was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency to document pollution in the US. Today, the photos show what America looked like before environmental protections were put in place — and they serve as an important reminder of why we need those protections.

Today, the future of the EPA is uncertain. The new EPA leader, Scott Pruitt, has made a career out of suing the agency for its environmental regulations, working hand in hand with the fossil fuel industry. President Donald Trump is expected to drastically cut the EPA’s budget and workforce, as well as roll back many of the regulations that empower the agency. And a bill meant to terminate the EPA by December 2018 was recently introduced in the House by three Republican congressmen.

But most ordinary people haven’t forgotten life before the EPA — and the majority of them don’t want these cuts to the agency. More than 60 percent of Americans want to see the EPA’s powers preserved or strengthened under Trump, according to a Reuters / Ipsos poll released last month. And it’s not just liberals, either — almost half of Republicans wanted the EPA to continue in its mission as well. Only 19 percent of Americans would like to see the agency “weakened or eliminated.”

“There’s tremendous public support for clean air and clean water, and the basic mission of the agency is tremendously popular,” Paul Sabin, an environmental historian at Yale University, tells The Verge. “People are counting on the government to provide those protections.”

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