November 30, 2020 – By a margin of more than 6.2 million votes, Americans elected Joe Biden president, largely on his promise to help unite the country and restore the public’s faith in our democracy.
It’s a tall order, but he can make a good start on both by setting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back on track. Few arms of the government touch all of us more directly or have suffered more harm under Donald Trump.
It was 50 years ago, on December 2, 1970, when Richard Nixon, a Republican president, established the EPA to protect the public from runaway pollution that damaged our health and put our communities at risk.
Since then, the agency has become the worldwide gold standard for environmental protection, dramatically reducing the air pollution, water contamination, and toxic chemicals that make us sick, even as our economy has nearly quadrupled.
The public benefits have been huge. Reductions in air pollution alone saved Americans up to $3.8 trillion just this year, preventing up to 370,000 premature deaths and more than 30 million lost days of work or school. Those benefits accrue to all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike.
The Trump administration, though, has turned the EPA mission on its ear—protecting polluters, not people.
The administration has tied the agency’s hands, crippled or eliminated commonsense safeguards, curbed enforcement of environmental laws, and turned its back on climate change, the central environmental crisis of our time.
Biden has made it clear that polluters have had their day—every day that Team Trump has been in office. Their time’s up. Biden’s EPA will get back to protecting people and restoring the agency to the mission it was founded on 50 years ago.
That begins with naming what I like to call an “Anthony Fauci of the environment” to head the EPA; someone who, whether they’re a scientist or not, has unassailable credibility among scientists, advocates, and the public.
Much as the Trump administration has put our health at heightened and needless risk by ignoring the science behind the coronavirus pandemic and dismissing experts like Dr. Fauci, it has also recklessly disregarded the truth about environmental hazard and harm.
The next EPA administrator must make it clear from the start that sound science, public health, and the rule of law will guide agency actions and decisions. We need an environmental champion who makes equity a core agency value, listens and learns from public comments and concerns, and puts protecting our people’s health, communities, and future first.
That means taking action on climate change now since the last administration squandered four years we couldn’t afford to lose.
The Biden administration is going to hit the ground running. Biden has named former secretary of state John Kerry to oversee international climate policy; former deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken as Secretary of State; and senior foreign service officer Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
This marks a clear return to U.S. climate leadership, at home and abroad. It puts effective climate action at the top of the agenda. And it sends the message to our friends and allies around the world that they can once again take us at our word and depend on our partnership in the vital effort to confront a global crisis that demands global solutions.
That’s 180 degrees from where we’ve spent the past four years.
Gina McCarthy, President and CEO, Natural Resources Defense Council