Federal Crimes Against the Environment: Some Wins Worth Mentioning and What Comes Next

If you ever turn on the news and watch for more than ten seconds, it’s hard not to feel defeated. Seemingly full of nothing but negative stories, it’s usually enough to make you lose your faith in humanity.

But when it comes to federal crimes against the environment, we’ve witnessed some pretty significant wins. The current administration is turning some environmental heads, though, so it seems like a good time to remind ourselves of those wins and talk about what might happen next.

Important Environmental Laws and Victories

He may not have left the White House in style, but 50 years ago, Nixon did some good. In a rare period of presidential cooperation with Congress, that even crossed party lines, Nixon helped pass two distinct laws to address growing environmental concern. Those laws were The Clean Air Act of 1970 and The Clean Water Act of 1972. The EPA was also formed and explicitly empowered to enforce these important new laws.

Much to the surprise of their naysayers, the laws were almost immediately effective. Even their supporters didn’t expect to see such great results. And today, both Acts and the EPA continue to serve our environment and the public good well.

In fact, in recent years, we’ve continued to witness some significant victories through the EPA and the Clean Air and Water Acts. Few fans of the environment can forget, for example, the cases against Wal-Mart in 2013. Four separate cases brought by the Justice Department and the EPA claiming that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. violated nearly half a dozen regulations resulted in the billion-dollar corporation paying over $81 million in fines! It’s hard not to cheer when we see crimes against the environment end so justly.

The Environmental Defense Fund also reminded us of a very recent victory where the Supreme Court upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s authority to protect certain endangered species under The Endangered Species Act of 1973. Another Nixon legacy, this Act has protected countless endangered species over the years and provided the Fish and Wildlife Service liberty to do what it does best.

What Now?

As successful as they’ve been, the 1970’s environmental protection laws were literally the last ones passed at the federal level. While they’ve done their jobs, and rather well, many of them are now under attack. The current administration has a history of cutting environmental corners, threatening to slash the EPA’s budget, and boosting commerce at the expense of the environment.   

Many environmentalists are especially concerned about the Trump administrations push for protections for coal and nuclear power plants, as well as his plans to revoke the Clean Power Plan. But as we continue to see victories, like the Supreme Court case, there’s still reason to hope. With three decades of progress, strong environmental protection laws, and multiple generations of environmentalists now using their voice, I don’t think there’s reason to throw in the towel, just yet