EPA: Much to Celebrate as Earth Day Turns 50

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For 50 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has been an integral part of Earth Day celebrations across the United States. In times past, the agency helped organize large outdoor celebrations on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and around the country, highlighting the tremendous improvements to American health and well-being that the environmental movement has generated since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

This year Earth Day will be celebrated very differently.

As the nation and the world work to defeat COVID-19, EPA employees will observe social distancing and take our celebration online and indoors. Today, please follow along with us on social media as we hold educational discussions and activities and celebrate a half century of Earth Day. 

We encourage the public to make signs for their windows to remind their neighbors of this important anniversary and share their artwork using the hashtags #EarthDay2020, #EPAat50, and #EarthDayatHome.

There is much to celebrate about the health of America’s environment, and I’m grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to serve at the head of the organization where I began my career in Washington.

Today, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land we use has grown cleaner. So much cleaner, in fact, that it’s worth setting a moment aside to appreciate the progress. 

Since the first Earth Day, the EPA has regulated lead out of paint, air, and gasoline. It started fuel-economy testing (and then caught those cheating on them), phased out ozone-depleting aerosols, and removed cancer-causing pesticides from the marketplace.

In 1970, more than 40% of the nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet basic health standards. Now, over 92% of community water systems meet all health-based standards, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

During the past half century, the United States became a global leader in clean air. Particulate matter levels in our air are now five times lower than the global average, seven times lower than China, and measurably cleaner than France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Now, EPA is leading the way in protecting the environment and Americans for the next 50 years. 

We are working to understand and regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl synthetic chemicals, known as PFAS and PFOS, used to make water-repellent fabrics and non-stick products. These chemicals have been in prevalent use since the 1940s, but we need to learn more about their potential effects on human health and the environment.

We took the lead in October by announcing the first major overhaul of the lead and copper rule for drinking water systems in almost 30 years, requiring cities do a census of lead service lines in their systems. We are writing the rule in a way to ensure that replacement of lead service lines targets the most at-risk communities first.

Both these bold efforts demonstrate that the EPA can make regulations less burdensome while still upholding strong environmental protections.

Even as much of the nation is immobilized by the pandemic, the EPA will continue its primary job of protecting public health and the environment for generations to come.

Earth Day in 1970 began largely as a youth movement, timed to not interfere with student exams, spring breaks, or religious holidays. The first event prompted over 20 million people to take part in political demonstrations. By 1990, progress on environmental stewardship had transformed the Earth Day demonstrations into celebrations, with more than 200 million participants in more than 140 countries.

In this way, every Earth Day seems to take to heart William Shakespeare’s words: “April … hath put the spirit of youth in everything,” even in difficult times like what our country is experiencing this month. By 2020, Earth Day has become much more than a youth movement. While this year’s celebrations will be unlike any of the previous 49 years, it’s my hope that we all can take some time today to quietly reflect on the major environmental gains we’ve experienced in this country.

Here at the EPA, the agency will continue to do its best to promote the health and welfare of all Americans. 

Andrew Wheeler is the administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

 



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