By By Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) - 04/23/14 04:27 PM EDT
As we celebrate Earth Day this year, I’d like to draw attention to the greatest story never told: the real state of the environment. Over the last four decades, Americans have witnessed dramatic improvements in the environmental health of this country. When I speak with students about environmental issues, I often start by asking them whether America’s air and water are cleaner today or cleaner when their parents were growing up. Most say pollution is far worse today. They’re shocked when I tell them that pollution levels have dramatically decreased over the last few decades.
Children born today enjoy a much cleaner environment than previous generations. Air pollution levels have been steadily decreasing throughout the United States on a yearly basis. Americans don’t realize how clean our air and water have become. This is largely due to skewed media coverage.
This kind of rhetoric is unscientific, counterproductive and dangerous.
The public should be able to trust information about health and safety disseminated from relevant government agencies. Americans should recognize the incredible progress we’ve made. Since 1980, aggregate emissions of the six criteria air pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act have dropped more than 60 percent. Over a similar period, there has been a 65 percent reduction in toxic releases of chemicals tracked by the EPA. Other indicators demonstrate a similar trend of reduced environmental risk.
Steven Hayward, author of the annual Index of Environmental Indicators, said air quality has improved mostly due to market forces and economic growth, “as can be seen by the fact that air pollution began dropping in the United States in the mid-1960s -- before the first Clean Air Act passed.” Yet the EPA’s annual report that outlines these positive air quality trends rarely receives any media coverage. Instead, mainstream coverage of environmental trends has become misleading at best.
The media often promote sensationalized stories that exaggerate the state of our environment. From false associations between extreme weather and climate change to faux documentaries about flammable tap water, the public has grown wary of bias environmental media coverage.
Water pollution cleanup in the United States has experienced a similar untold success story. Before 1972, dumping raw sewage into rivers and lakes was considered standard practice. Since the Clean Water Act was enacted, discharges of organic wastes decreased by 98 percent from industrial facilities, and the number of waters meeting quality goals has roughly doubled.
But now, instead of continuing down this pathway to progress, the EPA wants to use the Clean Water Act to get more control. The president and the EPA are trying to circumvent Congress by using regulatory enforcement to create a vast expansion of Clean Water Act authority.
It’s important to remember that the original purpose of the Clean Water Act was to give the federal government authority to regulate “navigable waterways.” But now the EPA has proposed a rule that would change the definition of certain bodies of water to expand the agency’s power. The Obama administration’s new definition expands the agency’s control over natural and man-made streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands located on private property.
And the EPA’s scientific justification for many of its costly new air regulations is based on secret science that is not publicly available and cannot be replicated by independent scientists. The agency recently conceded that it doesn’t have the data in its possession and never did. “Just trust me” science isn’t sound science and it’s a dangerous policy.
That is why I recently introduced the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4012), a bill to prohibit the EPA from proposing regulations based upon science that is not transparent or not reproducible. Effective environmental policy for a cleaner, healthier and safer environment will not come from increasingly heavy-handed and nontransparent federal regulations. Appropriate regulations must be informed by the best available science and must involve stakeholders and the states.
Smith has represented Texas’s 21st Congressional District since 1987. He is chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, and sits on the Homeland Security and the Judiciary committees.