Sunday, December 11, 2011

When Did the EPA Jump the Shark?

A cautionary tale about bureaucracy and mission creep.

Iron Eyes Cody cried at the sight of polluted waters and skies in a famous public service announcement, first aired in 1971. Old Iron Eyes may have been a faux-Indian, but his message resonated with people. The Crying Indian PSA was one of the most successful ever.

It resonated because it was true. In the early ’70s, the environment was a mess. Urban skies were noticeably tinged in sepia/grey. Rivers and streams were often clogged with discarded debris and fouled with chemical sludge.

April 1970 saw the first Earth Day. In December of the same year, the Environmental Protection Agency was born.

The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, with the Clean Water Act to follow in 1972. 1973 brought the Endangered Species Act. [Note: see comments. The Fish & Wildlife Service & NOAA are the lead ESA agencies, with EPA in a support role. I stand corrected. Ed.]
Gradually, the environment improved. The bald eagle and the American alligator came back from the brink of extinction. Air quality improved, there was less litter, and the phosphate foam disappeared from streams.

And, rightly or wrongly, EPA got the credit. As the hippies of my generation greyed, they remembered their Earth Day Groove-In fondly.

Fast forward to 2011: the EPA has become a stifling, job-killing bureaucracy. What happened? When did the EPA jump the shark?

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