NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environment is Improving, Says the EPA

June 27, 2003

Though the public believes that most environmental trends are negative, much government data suggests the contrary. The eighth edition of the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators says that forests are expanding and water quality is improving.

  • By 2001, roughly two million acres a year were being planted with trees, an amount larger than the land lost annually to urban sprawl.
  • However, as many as 190 million acres of public forests are at risk of major fires because of overgrown conditions.
  • Water quality has improved in the last thirty years: the percentage of children exposed to unsafe water declined from twenty percent in 1993 to eight percent in 1999.
  • The level of toxic chemical releases has declined 51.2 percent since 1988.
  • Total emissions of the six major pollutants have declined 25 percent since 1970, while the U.S. economy grew 161 percent and energy consumption expanded by 42 percent.
  • Ambient levels of pollution -- the actual concentration of pollution in the air we breathe -- have fallen even more.
  • Ozone decreased by 32.9 percent between 1976 and 2001, and lead levels went down by 97 percent during the same period.

The new Index also notes that the United Nation's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg may have marked a turning point in environmental policy by emphasizing economic growth as a prerequisite for environmental progress.

Source: Steven F. Hayward and Ryan Stowers, "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2003," April 2003, American Enterprise Institute and Pacific Research Institute.

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