EPA Under Siege

A recent news piece about the EPA finding itself in a holding pattern since the Trump election reminded of some of the work from my fear book. During the early 1980s, in a critical misreading of the American public’s interests in environmental protection, the Reagan administration sought to gut the agency, and even put a moratorium on a number of different control measures surrounding waste disposal. There was a backlash, and the Republicans back-pedalled quickly and more than a little sheepishly. Here’s a paragraph from my work in progress.

The cuts and dismissive attitude toward environmental hazards did not sit well with the American public. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment that was exploring revisions to the Clean Air Act in 1981, the pollster Louis Harris warned against gutting the Act’s authority. “Clean air happens to be one of the sacred cows of the American people,” he reported on public attitudes. Indeed, that applied to environmental pollution writ large. After attempting to reverse a ban on dumping drums of toxic liquids into landfills in 1982, the Reagan Administration confessed surprise at the vociferous backlash their rollback inspired. Their 90-day trial was curtailed after 27 days. Americans wanted stricter controls over dumping, not regulatory relief. A Roper survey from September 1982 found that only 21% of those polled thought “environmental protection laws and regulations have gone too far.” In contrast, 69% approved of the existing laws or thought they didn’t go far enough. Surveys also showed Americans willing to sacrifice some economic growth for waste controls. A 1983 ABC-Washington Post poll, for example, found that 75% of Americans acknowledged that while compliance with antipollution laws cost business firms a considerable amount of money, those laws were worth the cost. The tide was swelling against deregulation. In September 1981 45% of Americans agreed with the statement that “protecting the environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be too high.” In April 1983—little over a month after the Times Beach evacuation was announced and Anne Gorsuch resigned as EPA head—58% of Americans shared this view.

I can only imagine that the Trump regime will be more dogmatic at charting its own path, but a failure to ensure environmental protection has historically been a sore point among Americans.