The Environmental Protection Agency, created by Republican President Richard Nixon, celebrates its 40th birthday today under a dark cloud of GOP threats to rein in its regulatory and enforcement capabilities. De-fund the EPA is a popular slogan among hard-right zealots.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote an op-ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal taking on special interests that have “spent millions of dollars making the case that we must choose the economy or the environment, attacking everything from removing lead in gasoline to cleaning up acid rain. They have consistently exaggerated the cost and scope of EPA actions, and in 40 years their predictions have not come true.”

She hit it out of the park.

That same old tired line of attack of economy vs. environment was heard in Washington yesterday as incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner promised to drop the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that was established by Nancy Pelosi three years ago. Said Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel, “The Select Committee on Global Warming was created by Democrats to simply to provide political cover to their job–killing national energy tax.”

The old job-killing cliché has been lobbed at the EPA for the past four decades, a period in which U.S. GDP rose 207 percent.

Chaired by Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, the Committee played a key role in getting the first-increase in auto/truck gas efficiency standards in 32 years and obtaining $90B in investment in clean energy projects under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Global warming matters will now be divvied up between the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Natural Resources Committee and generally disregarded under new GOP chairmen.

For instance, Texas Rep. Joe Barton, who has called climate change science “pretty weak stuff” and once noted that the Vikings and British fared pretty well by adapting during the “Little Ice Age,” takes over for California’s Henry Waxman at Energy and Commerce.

Said Barton in '09: “During the Little Ice Age, both the Vikings and the British adapted to the cold by changing. I suppose that one possible adaptation response of Viking retrenchment and British expansion is that we’re conducting the hearing today in English instead of Norwegian.” Barton seems to suggest that America adapt to global warming by stocking up on suntan lotion and Bermuda shorts.

Flames in the Cuyahoga River

Jackson noted that prior to the EPA, smog choked Los Angeles, a toxic waste time bomb ticked under New York’s Love Canal and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River burst into flames. Though Forbes has just dubbed Cleveland, “America’s most miserable city,” the city boasts of drinking water cleaner than a premium brand of bottled water, according to Jackson.

Since the population of people, cars and power plants has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, EPA’s accomplishment of cutting pollution is especially impressive. As the nation recovers from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, Republicans should remember it was not excessive environmental regulation that triggered The Great Recession. It was quite the opposite. Lax financial oversight was a big reason for the doldrums. Rolling back EPA regulations could set the stage for an environmental disaster.

Jackson looks forward to another 40 years of EPA success. She urges “Congress and the American people to focus on results from common-sense policies, not inaccurate doomsday speculations.” In establishing the EPA, President Nixon said “the 1970s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its water, and its living environment.”

Will the Republican Congress used the new decade to turn back the clock on 40 years of environmental progress?