The desire for better results is a defining characteristic of the American experience. We can humbly acknowledge our imperfections while striving for excellence through America’s social, industrial, and environmental standing. This desire is particularly evident in the progress of energy production and the ever-shrinking environmental footprint of an industry representative of economic growth, human development and sustained environmental progress.
On this Earth Day, let’s focus on the real story of the American environmental experience. And also celebrate our countless successes. While some will predictably call for top-down, costly regulations coupled with fearmongering rhetoric, America’s environmental story is one of the most heartening. It reflects innovation, thoughtful leadership, competition, a search for efficiency and evolving science.
Our air is the cleanest on record. Since 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency has carefully measured the presence of six common air pollutants and, to date, we have reduced these emissions by 78%. Driving this success is the concept of cooperative federalism in which EPA works alongside state and local air quality experts while building constructive partnerships with industry stakeholders.
When it comes to water, the United States is a world leader in access to safe drinking water and continues to meet modern water challenges head on. In 2020, we updated a range of programs to remove lead from drinking water with a focus on schools, daycares and rural communities.
The United States continues to lead the way in reducing marine litter and plastic waste by working with local communities to strengthen waste management practices. Since more than 60 percent of marine litter comes from six Asian countries, the United States has also established more than 50 international partnerships to share relevant knowledge and expertise.
Today, more land—public and private—is conserved and managed for recreational and commercial purposes, respectively. Balanced Use has propelled our nation toward economic prosperity while maintaining respect for natural resources and wild spaces. Private landowners have strong incentives to maintain their livelihoods, but create an environment where coexistence with nature is possible. And despite claims that only 12% of waters and lands are protected, the United States already has 40% of federal public waters and lands protected.
Our biodiversity is just as enviable. Other key species, including the American bald eagle, grizzly bear and gray wolf, have fully recovered after facing near extinction in the last century. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was largely successful in preventing extinction 100% of the time, but could be better used to recover more than 2-3% of endangered or threatened species.
The United States leads the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is expected to continue this trend. The latest report from the International Energy Agency states bluntly that the US reductions represent “the largest absolute decline in (greenhouse gas emissions) since 2000”.
Notably, this success has been largely achieved through advances in hydraulic fracturing, the resulting growth in the use of natural gas in our nation’s energy mix, and the wider adoption of modern emissions control technologies by our industrial operators. Proving that climate change is not something to be feared, but rather a complex issue that deserves a constructive and balanced policy response that the United States continues to pursue.
Decades of environmental progress in the United States have proven that maintaining a robust economy and meeting quality environmental standards are not mutually exclusive. Those willing to sacrifice the former for the latter are on the losing side of history. Today’s environmental discussion is too often distracted by such false choices and extreme doomsday rhetoric about modern climate change that is far removed from both reality and scientific fact.
At the heart of this success is a global commitment to genuine conservation, not restrictive conservative policies. As a country, we strive to do more with less and support continuous innovation, which has allowed us to emerge as global leaders on this front. Accordingly, we must push back against efforts to politicize environmental missions and reject policies that seek to ban politically disadvantaged technologies or divert investment from politically disadvantaged stakeholders.
Although America’s environmental path is far from perfect, it is on the right track. And our model is the envy of the world. Whether you find your park, fish in your local stream, or create products as an environmental entrepreneur, let’s celebrate our accomplishments this Earth Day.