WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- As the EPA marked its 40th anniversary Thursday, it faces challenges as it looks to the future.
Officially created by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 2, 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency started with an initial budget of about $768 million and 5,322 employees, many of whom were pulled from positions at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the Department of Agriculture and other agencies, The New York Times reports.
That was at a time when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland ignited from an accumulation of industrial waste and sewage.
Today, the EPA boasts more than 17,000 full-time employees and a budget of more than $10 billion.
"We've made enormous progress," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the newspaper reports. "We've gotten to the point now where we don't see the pollution as often as we did, and in some ways, that makes our job a little bit harder. It's pollution that's less easy to photograph and less easy to get people riled up about."
President Barack Obama lauded the agency and its employees in a White House proclamation Thursday, saying: "Since its formation, EPA has responded to our Nation's most urgent environmental challenges, including industrial waste polluting our waters, acid rain poisoning our forests and lakes, the thinning of the ozone layer that shields the Earth, and safe handling of electronic waste."
But Jackson faces resistance from the new Congress, which aims to increase oversight of the agency's programs and attempt to reel in rules they consider excessive as the EPA seeks to finalize a number of regulations, including smog-forming pollutants, greenhouse gases and emissions.
In a Washington Post editorial last week, incoming House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who is hoping to head up the Energy and Commerce Committee, warned that regulations such as the upcoming revision to the national smog standard "may devastate our economy and send us into a prolonged recession," the lawmakers said.
In a Wall Street Journal editorial Thursday marking the EPA's anniversary, Jackson rebuked her critics, saying, "Last month's elections were not a vote for dirtier air or more pollution in our water."
Annual figures compiled by the White House Office of Management and Budget show that EPA regulations produced between $82 billion and $533 billion in benefits between 1999 and 2009, compared with between $26 billion and $29 billion in costs.
"The advances we make today will build a sustainable future for our country, creating new clean-energy jobs and laying the foundation for our long-term economic security," Obama said in his proclamation.