Politicians, please take note: regulation works

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Today’s New York Times featured a piece about conservatives attacking the Environmental Protection Agency. Never mind that a substantial majority of Americans are concerned about air and water pollution and largely trust the E.P.A.

Conservative presidential candidate and member of Congress Michelle Bachmann drew applause ten days ago at a rally in Iowa when she declared: “I guarantee you the EPA will have doors locked and lights turned off, and they will only be about conservation. It will be a new day and a new sheriff in Washington, DC.”

Sorry to upset your apple cart, Ms. Bachmann, but it just so happens that regulation works. One of my favorite examples is the dramatic reduction in highway deaths over the past decade. Have we become safer drivers? I don’t think so. Have cars become safer and have we been more successful in cracking down on drunk driving? Absolutely.

How’s this for a statement of fact: Americans are less likely to die on the highway today than at any time since the middle of the Truman Administration (that was 1948-1952, 59 years ago) The number of people killed in accidents dropped to 32,788 in 2010, the lowest since 1949, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In fact, the 3 percent decrease in traffic fatalities since 2009 occurred even as drivers put nearly 21 billion more miles on their cars than they had the year before. Imagine: the death rate has declined by 25 percent since a peak of 43,000 in 2005. The reason for this reduction: stronger drunk driving laws, mandatory safety standards on vehicle for both crash protection and crash avoidance, including head and side air bags, better seat belts, head rests and crush zones in cars. Add anti lock brakes and rollover prevention (known as “stability control”) have all contributed to safer cars and thousands of lives saved. And guess what – all of these safety features came about as a result of regulation. EPA prevents our cities from being engulfed by smog and keeps our water clean and safe to drink, especially for children.

This talk about closing the EPA or any other regulatory agency is reckless, ill-informed, and not supported by the American people. Politicians should look elsewhere in their quest to garner votes.

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