Washington The Environmental Protection Agency released a mixed "Report on the Environment" Monday that outlined progress in areas from air quality to drinking water but said plenty of problems remained.
While the report assessed environmental matters from water clarity to the ozone hole, it said nothing about climate change.
Sharp disagreements between the EPA and White House became public last week about how the climate issue should be characterized, which prompted the agency to drop the section altogether.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said the long-overdue report attempted to "tell us how far we've come and suggest where we still need to go."
Although progress is mixed in some areas, overall the nation's environment is improving, the two-volume draft report said. For example:
- The air is 25 percent cleaner than it was 30 years ago.
- The water is safer to drink, with better than nine in 10 water systems in the country meeting health standards, up from 79 percent a decade ago.
- Virtually all hazardous waste is either recycled or treated, and the number of Superfund sites -- toxic industrial sites waiting to be cleaned -- continues to decline.
- Factories and businesses are releasing fewer toxic chemicals.
Whitman, who is leaving the EPA this week, acknowledged the picture is far from rosy.
While the air is cleaner, half the population lives in areas where air quality does not meet federal health standards on some days. This puts the elderly, children and those with respiratory ailments at special risk, health experts have said.
The report calls the condition of the nation's estuaries only fair to poor, depending on the region of the country. Wetlands are being lost at the rate of 100,000 acres a year, despite pledges by successive administrations to develop policies to end the decline.
Whitman noted that thousands of waterways, while cleaner, "are still considered impaired, unable to fully sustain aquatic life or safe recreational use." The report notes beach closings have increased.
Also, the nation is producing more garbage than ever. "The increasing volume of waste, along with the growth of sprawl, continues to pose a challenge to our efforts to protect the land," Whitman said.