Breathe Deep (and then thank the EPA that you can)

The postcard is almost 40 years old. Angelenos of a certain age will recognize it-a wide-angled, aerial shot of the downtown core of Los Angeles and its then, much-more modest skyline. Framed by the intersection of the Santa Monica and Harbor freeways, the whole scene is muffled in a brown smear of smog. Barely visible in the deep background, just poking above the thick toxic stew, is a snow-capped Mt. Baldy, the tallest of the San Gabriels.

In the fall of 1972 you almost never saw its bold face. Now you can see Mt. Baldy every day, often with stunning clarity, as if the entire range was etched out of a blue true dream of sky. How strange, then, that Republicans in Congress are maneuvering to gut the Clean Air Act, stop the EPA from regulating Greenhouse gases, and, in a special affront to Los Angeles, roll back the federal agency’s ability to monitor tailpipe emissions. It’s enough to make you gasp for air.

Their regressive political agenda, designed to savage public health, ought to infuriate any who lived–and suffered–through the dark-sky years that hung over SoCal like a pall. It took decades of fierce struggle on the local, state, and national levels to build the political capital and legislative clout needed to write the binding regulations, a battle that began in the late 1940s.

It took just as long to create and fund the federal Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the local South Coast Air Quality Management District (1976). Neither organization had an easy birth: President Nixon created the EPA with reluctance and under considerable pressure; and Governor Ronald Reagan twice vetoed the creation of SCAQMD, which only came into being with a stroke of Governor Jerry Brown’s pen. You now have blue skies only because of the robust regulatory regime that emerged out of this fraught politics of smog.

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