This weekend, when presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann promised to shut down the “job killing” Environmental Protection Agency if she were elected, she was the latest among several Republicans to attack the agency.
Since it was founded in 1970, the EPA has had an extraordinary track record of accomplishments, including, as EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson outlined during the agency’s 40th anniversary last year, removing lead from gasoline and the air, acid from rain, and secondhand smoke from public places, banning many toxic substances, and passing the “Community Right to Know” Act for reporting on hazardous chemicals. Additionally, the “job killing” EPA is in fact spurring job growth. As green energy expert David McKinney pointed out in the congressional newspaper The Hill two weeks ago, the Office of Management and Budget estimates that every year the EPA generates up to $551 billion in economic benefits—nearly twenty times more than the cost of compliance (about $29 billion). And the Political Economy Research Institute figures that new EPA rules will create nearly 300,000 new jobs over the next five years.
So, these conservatives are not just wrong about the EPA’s effect on the economy, they’re also wrong to portray the environmental movement as “radical,” to quote Bachmann. After all, the EPA was established under Richard Nixon, whose administration had one of the greenest records of any president, passing landmark legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. His environmental credentials weren’t unique among Republicans: Teddy Roosevelt launched the modern conservation movement, and the idea for a cap-and-trade system for emissions, much maligned now among conservatives, began with Reagan and was enacted by his successor, George H.W. Bush, with amendments to the Clean Air Act.
To portray sustainability as a liberal agenda is uninformed, unproductive, and, more importantly, myopic. The future of technology, industry, and the economy depends on environmental innovation. Sustainability can and should be an apolitical, nonpartisan aim. It reimagines the very concept of value by recognizing that economic, social, and environmental benefits are all intertwined. Whether you live in red or blue America, that just makes good sense—and good business.