You Won’t Believe What the United States Looked Like Before the EPA

In recent years, politicians have proposed numerous cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency that would “slash its workforce by almost 3,000 employees and its budget by $2 billion.” To understand why people are so concerned about the future of the EPA after the proposed cuts, we must first look at the condition of the U.S. before the EPA was created. Luckily, the EPA provides an easy way to do that in the form of the Project Documerica archive.

Project Documerica was launched in 1972 as a way to document the state of the American environment. Similar to projects launched by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, the project sent 70 well-known photographers to document America and its people in both natural and urban areas across the country.

These images are some of the most stirring in the Project Documerica collection. They spell out just why the EPA was so necessary in the first place and the perils of protecting our lands and waters.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in April 2017. It has been updated throughout.