Environment Made Headlines Over Past 30 Years
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, January 4, 2001 (ENS) - Oil spills, chemical poisons and toxic wastes were among the top environmental stories of the past 30 years, according to a new list compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But just as newsworthy are the actions taken by the U.S. government to counter these environmental threats, the agency concluded.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turned 30 years old in 2000. To mark this anniversary, the EPA's Pacific Southwest regional office has compiled a timeline of 30 of the top national environmental news stories of the past 30 years, and 30 of the top regional stories.
EPA's choices for the top environmental news include oil spills like the 1971 tanker collision beneath the Golden Gate Bridge that spilled 840,000 gallons of oil, a Shell Oil refinery spill that sent 365,000 gallons of crude oil spills into Carquinez Strait in 1988, and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound.
Other environmental disasters made the list along with the new legislation they inspired. For example, the 1984 explosion at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India led to the closure of many U.S. hazardous waste dumps, and to the 1986 passage of the Toxics Right-To-Know Law.
The 1978 discovery of toxic wastes buried beneath the community of Love Canal, New York, made the list, as did the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Many wildlife species, including the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon, have made a dramatic recovery since the EPA banned the use of the pesticide DDT in 1972. This long lived chemical, which builds up to toxic levels as it passes up the food chain, continues to poison birds and animals that eat fish from contaminated waters.
A number of the pro-environmental actions that made EPA's list were taken by President Bill Clinton's administration. In 1994, Clinton signed an Environmental Justice executive order, requiring all federal agencies to abolish and prevent policies that led to a disproportionate distribution of environmental hazards to low income communities of color.
The Brownfields Program, which provides funds to remediate and revitalize abandoned industrial sites, was launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1994.
The Clinton administration took several actions to clean up the air around the country. In 1997, the EPA adopted stricter health standards for ozone and particulate matter, known popularly as the smog and soot rule. Opponents have delayed implementation of this rule, and the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing challenges to the rule in November 2000.
In December 1999, the EPA ordered tougher emission standards for sport utility vehicles, and just last month, the agency approved new emission standards for new heavy duty trucks and buses, intended to cut their pollution by 95 percent by the year 2010. The rule also requires that cleaner diesel fuel, with 97 percent less sulfur, must be sold by 2006.
More of the national stories have been posted on EPA's national Web site, at http://www.epa.gov/history/timeline/
The EPA's regional office has posted its summary timeline at: http://www.epa.gov/region09/features/top30/