This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Many people may not remember a time before the EPA, before the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act became law of the land. But I do. Polluters dumped waste into our waterways without consequence, factories released toxic fumes, and acid rain fell from the sky. Smog in major cities around our country was so thick you could almost cut it with a knife.
In the face of all of that adversity, the American people got to work and created a movement. Millions took to the streets calling for transformative action to protect our planet. In response, a Republican president—President Richard Nixon—helped lead the effort to create a new federal agency with the mission of protecting human health and the environment. In the time since, the EPA has been instrumental in protecting the air we breathe, cleaning up the water that we drink, and improving public health.
Despite those 50 years of progress, sadly, the last four years have reminded us that progress is not permanent. Fortunately, though, neither is the damage that has been done to our nation's leading environmental agency. With forward-looking leadership, EPA can and will be restored to help our nation overcome the most pressing challenges of our day. That is what my friend and fellow Delawarean, President-elect Joe Biden, has promised.
Right now, EPA can help us reduce the air pollution that is worsening COVID-19 outcomes. Right now, EPA can help to address the environmental inequality that stems from systemic racism. EPA can help our nation reduce harmful pollution and prioritize environmental justice in ways that ensure we uplift economically disadvantaged communities, foster greater economic prosperity and achieve equity. In fact, environmental quality and economic growth go hand in hand.
On top of a deadly pandemic, an ever-deepening economic recession and a national reckoning of racial injustice, the United States is grappling with another crisis—the climate crisis. We may not be experiencing all of the same problems we were in 1970, but make no mistake. From rising sea levels and more frequent and severe extreme weather events, our planet is at stake. Guided by science, EPA can help us combat the climate crisis. EPA must use every tool in its arsenal and mobilize our entire economy to reach net-zero carbon pollution by no later than 2050.
When future generations look back to this moment 50 years from now, I want them to say that the United States rose to meet the challenges of today—that EPA was guided by science and ensured cleaner air, clearer water, and healthier communities everywhere. That EPA helped to save our planet from the climate crisis.
Now, it’s up to us to make that future our reality.