When Trump was elected, Neil Stawksi was devastated for many reasons, but one of the biggest was that he knew Trump would be terrible for the environment. And Trump certainly hasn’t disappointed: “Can you believe Trump wants to cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent?!”, Neil Stawski, head of the website ClimateWise.co, asked. We met Neil and let him tell us about the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Diana Kinnert, NewsGreen: What is the EPA?

Neil Stawski: Put simply, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, protects human health and the environment. The EPA is much more complex than that. At its core, the EPA is a global-change research program that provides scientific info that “supports policy makers, stakeholders, and society at large as they respond to climate change and associated impacts on human health, ecosystems, and socioeconomic systems.” The research the EPA conducts is driven by its mission and requirements, and includes:

  1. Improving scientific understanding of the effects global change has on water and air quality, ecosystems, and human health.
  2. Providing adaptation options to prepare for and respond to global change threats.
  3. Understanding the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, and developing reduction technology to reduce human health and environmental impacts.

The most recent EPA strategic plan for 2014-2018 identifies five strategic goals, which address climate change, water and air quality, sustainable development, pollution, and human health. All goals are connected to the EPA’s wide-reaching goals of working toward a sustainable future, making a visible difference in communities, launching global and international partnerships, and embracing the EPA as a high-performing organization.

NG: Why was it established?

Neil Stawksi: President Richard Nixon established the EPA in 1970 in response to ineffective environmental protection laws. Leading up to its establishment, the U.S. had several environmental wake up calls such as rivers catching fire from pollution and respiratory problems caused by smog, thus setting the stage for the creation of the EPA. The EPA hit the ground running, and established the Clean Air Act of 1970 to reduce air pollution from industries and vehicles, and the Clean Water Act of 1972 to regulate wastewater discharge and treatment. By the mid-1990s, the EPA enforced 12 major statutes, including laws to control ocean dumping and create safe drinking water.

NG: How does the EPA accomplish its mission?

Neil Stawski: In order to accomplish its mission of protecting human health and the environment, the EPA utilizes various strategies, beginning with the development and enforcement of laws. When Congress writes an environmental law, the EPA follows through with it by writing regulations and setting national standards. The EPA isn’t just there to make rules. Almost half of their budget goes into grants to state environmental programs, non-profits, and educational institutions to implement projects such as scientific studies or community clean ups. At laboratories, professionals identify and come up with solutions to environmental issues, and the information discovered is shared with other organizations, agencies, and even countries. The EPA enlists the help of others through sponsored partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, and state and local governments to come up with solutions and ideas such as ways to conserve energy or how to re-use solid waste.

It is important to recognize that the EPA doesn’t handle all environmental concerns, as some issues are handled by other federal, state, local, or tribal agencies. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) manages the Endangered Species Act, with the EPA’s concern being to assure that pesticides don’t endanger these species. Concerns about wildlife would be directed to your local wildlife office, not the EPA.

NG: How has it helped?

Neil Stawski: The EPA seems to have a lot of rules and regulations, but is there any evidence that their efforts have worked? In the 1960s, Bald Eagles became a potent symbol of the way human industry was negatively impacting the environment and human health. During this time period, the use of the pesticide DDT was widespread, and rainfall washed it into fields and streams where it was absorbed by plants, fish, and birds. By 1963, DDT had reduced the Bald Eagle population to less than 500 nesting pairs. In 1972, the EPA banned DDT and within a few decades, the Bald Eagle population, as well as other affected species, recovered.

For an example of what it would be like without an EPA, consider what the U.S. looked like in the middle of last century before companies were required to install technology to limit the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Without such technology, smog covered cities, caused chronic disease, and polluted the land, water, and air. Amendments to the Clean Air Act set up new national standards for healthy levels of common air pollutants, and put together an action plan to cut down on pollution from cars and factories.

The EPA is an important organization that helps to protect your health and the environment you live in. For more information and the ways the EPA is positively impacting your environment, check out their website for helpful links and articles. You can also find other resources on how you, as an individual, can make your home more environmentally-friendly.