NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environment Cleanest in Decades

June 24, 2003

Americans are breathing easier and drinking cleaner water than they have in decades, but millions still feel their lungs burn from summer smog and find themselves barred from rivers and lakes too dirty for swimming or fishing.

That good news/bad news scenario can be found throughout a new report card from the Environmental Protection Agency. The study, commissioned two years ago by outgoing EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, is billed as the federal government's first national assessment of the environment and human health.

Highlights of the report:

  • Air pollution declined 25 percent over the past 30 years although the U.S. population grew 39 percent and gross domestic product rose 161 percent.
  • Some 133 million people, nearly half of the U.S. population, live in areas where the air is unhealthy at least part of the year.
  • In 2002, states reported that 94 percent of residents served by community water systems were receiving water that met all health standards -- up from 79 percent in 1993.
  • Nearly 40 percent of U.S. waterways remain too polluted to be used for swimming or fishing.
  • The destruction of wetlands, which filter pollution and provide critical wildlife habitat, has slowed from about 290,000 in lost acres a year in 1974 to about 58,500 acres a year today; that's still far too high, the report says.
  • The number of beaches that have closed or warned swimmers because of pollution has risen in recent years, from 23 percent in 1997 to 27 percent in 2001.

The report did not involve original research but instead compiled information from more than 30 federal agencies, states, Indian tribes and the private sector.

Source: Erin Kelly, "Report: Water, air cleanest in decades: Critics of White House say findings by EPA are no reason to relax policies," USA TODAY, June 24, 2003.


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