It may be the sort of birthday where someone shouts, “50 candles blazing on the cake? Are you crazy? Why don’t we just fill a pinata with cow methane while we’re at it???”
I’m speaking of the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency. President Richard Nixon proposed the independent executive agency on July 9, 1970 (fun fact: “EPA” was the only term on that particular Nixon tape with fewer than FOUR letters) and it began operation on Dec. 2, 1970.
(This was mere weeks before Elvis Presley’s famous meeting with Nixon in the Oval Office. Nixon would maintain an interest in both Elvis and the environment, as witnessed by a joint operation of the FBI and EPA in investigating the effect of a hunk’a hunk’a burning love on the ozone layer.)
The EPA didn’t arrive on the American scene a moment too soon. Bob Hope and Red Skelton were running out of smog jokes, and newcomer Flip Wilson’s Geraldine Jones character was in danger of her sassy catch-phrase becoming “What you see is what you get - no, I’m over here - *cough* *cough* just squint real hard...”
I know some people long for the Good Old Days (“Who needed Jell-O Pudding Pops when you could just draw them right out of the well? Mmmmm...”), but we were some nasty sons of guns before federal intervention.
We thought an “ecosystem” was a plan for blowing your horn while driving through a tunnel. Tourists seeing the U.S.A. in their Chevrolet frequented tourist sites such as the World’s Largest Ball of Particulate Matter.
It was a “buyer’s market” for hitchhikers. (“If you ain’t haulin’ at least three barrels of benzene in the back of your pickup, I’d just as soon walk, mister.”) The fuzziness of nostalgia helps us forget that kids couldn’t even make a simple paper football in class without calling time-out to add lead paint and asbestos to the project.
Homeowners and factories took shortcuts and were not particularly keen on looking at the big picture. And if they did look at the big picture, afterwards, they let the photographic chemicals run off into navigable waterways.
I know sometimes the EPA is accused of going hog wild with regulations (arguably, little Jimmy’s mud pie business probably ISN’T that big a threat to endangered wetlands), but in general we shouldn’t take the agency for granted.
They educate us about fuel efficiency, set radiation standards and prepare Environmental Impact Statements for all major government projects. Roughly 1,000 “Superfund” hazardous waste sites have been reused or redeveloped in the 40 years since Congress put a priority on such cleanups.
Considering humanity’s desire to cut corners, bend rules and kick the can down the road (suddenly the Traveling Wilburys song “The Devil’s Been Busy in Your Backyard” is playing in my brain), there will always be a need for the folks at the EPA to serve as our ecological conscience and maintain this great land’s natural beauty.
Just don’t get me started on the funding of other federal programs, such as the Pony Express Saddle Inspection Agency or the Department of Keeping Betsy Ross Supplied with Needles.
Those can go to the Landfill of History for all I care. Unless there’s another cracked landfill liner...
All these complications make me mad enough to whack a pinata!
Hey, there’s one now...
Danny welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”