Does the United States need the EPA? By Donnie Ryan



Given the nature of party politics, some people might be surprised to learn the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was born in 1970 under a Republican president. While then-President Nixon didn’t show high regard for giving people access to the truth, he did announce and back up his beliefs pertaining to all people’s rights to have access to clean air and water. Before the EPA, there was no air or water oversight by the federal government. Toxic waste poured into our lakes, oceans and rivers, smoke spewed into our skies and trash landed in our natural settings. Like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration created the same year, the EPA was created because private industry was not effective in addressing the issues and producing the outcomes that we as a people valued and demanded.

Now the Trump administration has picked an EPA adversary, Scott Pruitt, to run the very department he has sued 13 times on behalf of big oil, and may be intending to dismantle the EPA 2.  Unfortunately, Pruitt is not alone in stating his desire to remove the EPA, or in the very least to significantly reduce it.  He and others have vociferously blamed the EPA for creating many unnecessary obstacles to doing business, creating job opportunities, and growing the economy. To make sense of what is at stake in having Pruitt head the EPA, one must begin by weighing the pros and cons of its existence and asking key questions:

·         What has the EPA done to protect water and air, and what are the impacts of this on human and animal health and welfare?

·         What are the monetary benefits that have been realized with the EPA, such as reduced medical costs, and reduced worker absenteeism from better health?

·         What are the budgetary costs of running the EPA?

·         How can all of the costs be taken into consideration, including detrimental impacts to economic growth and innovation, job creation and maintenance, and worker productivity?

Unfortunately, answering many of these questions and gaining consensus is very difficult, if not impossible. Still, important records exist to help paint a picture of what existed before, and what still exists in developed and developing countries where business churns along without national regulations.  The evidence speaks volumes about the progress our nation has experienced in the forty-five years of the EPA’s existence 1. Unless human nature has changed for the better, there’s no justifiable reason to think that doing away with the EPA will result in anything other than the horrendous messes we struggled with for many decades.

Certainly before the EPA was formed, environmental issues motivated many concerned citizens.  Now, given the scientific evidence of the enormous threats to our very existence, it is clearly the time for all to step up and be agents for change. Social workers all across the country have unique opportunities to engage by expanding their person-in-environment perspective and work shoulder-to-shoulder with scientists, legislators and the plethora of supporters for environmental justice.

To learn more about climate change and why we need the EPA now more than ever, please visit the Center for Biological Diversity website at:



1 Burton, T. (2017). Dissecting Trump: Do We Even Need The EPA?  Paste Quarterly. Retrieved February 15, 2017 from


2 Reston, M. (2017). Trump’s EPA pick took hands-off approach to environmental crisis that shook Oklahoma. CNN. Retrieved February 15, 2017 from



3 Rockström, J., Steffen, K., Noone, Å., Persson, F., Chapin, III, E. Lambin, T., …J. Foley. 2009. Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32. Retrieved March 5, 2017 from


4 United States Environmental Protection Agency (2016).  Progress Cleaning the Air and Improving People’s Health.  Retrieved February 14, 2017 from




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