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Environmental regulation works

Case study: the bald eagle

President Richard Nixon (R) created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 02 December 1970 via an executive order.

EPA banned DDT in 1972.

In 1973, a Democratic Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with broad bipartisan support, and Nixon signed it into law. It became effective 28 December 1973.

Why do we need environmental regulation? In economics terms, pollution is a negative externality.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted that it spontaneously burst into flame. Air pollution was so bad at that time that Chattanooga, Tennessee was a city where, as an article from Sports Illustrated put it: “the death rate from tuberculosis was double that of the rest of Tennessee and triple that of the rest of the United States, a city in which the filth in the air was so bad it melted nylon stockings off women’s legs, in which executives kept supplies of clean white shirts in their offices so they could change when a shirt became too gray to be presentable, in which headlights were turned on at high noon because the sun was eclipsed by the gunk in the sky.”

Pollution imposes social costs that a company (such as DDT manufacturers) or person (such as when driving a car or using excess fertilizer on a lawn) passes on to society. These social costs include negative effects on human health, reduced property values and imperiled wildlife habitat, for example.

Without regulation, society bears these costs, not the polluter.

In order to recoup those costs (place responsibility where the burden of pollution originates), society imposes regulations.

Command-and-control regulation ranges from prohibition (banning DDT) to limiting “point source” pollution (smokestacks and drainpipes). This is the dominant type of regulation in the United States.

Alternatively, regulation could take the form of a pollution tax.

Taxes are passed on to consumers; in a sufficiently competitive market, companies would seek to limit their tax liability to limit the cost of their products. The United States is an increasingly concentrated market, however, so the incentive to seek creative reduction in pollutants (and tax liability) could be more costly than passing on the tax to consumers.

Bald eagles

As a symbol of strength, the eagle dates to at least the Roman Empire. Congress adopted the seal of the United States, which featured the American bald eagle, on 20 June 1782.

In the late-1800s, we had approximately 100,000 nesting bald eagles. Congress passed the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act in 1940; since that point, it has been illegal to possess, kill or sell bald eagles.

Then came DDT.

The bald eagle was one of the first species protected by the ESA. In 2007, we removed the bald eagle from ESA protection.

We now have more than 317,000 bald eagles in the United States. The number of nests with breeding pairs has increased from 417 in 1963 to more than 71,000.

Miracles can happen when we ALL work together.

eagles
From a low of 417 nests in 1963, bald eagle numbers rebounded after the elimination of DDT, ESA protection and conservation efforts. Image: Cornell University

#scitech, #society (003/365)
An abbreviated version of this first appeared on Facebook
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Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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