EPAPhoto: USDA Forest ServiceOver the past few months, several members of Congress have tried to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce pollution. They especially want to stop the agency from cutting the emissions that cause climate change.

While these efforts benefit polluters, they do not reflect the wishes of the American people — the vast majority of whom see the EPA as one of our best tools for holding polluters accountable.

A new poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp/Infogroup for NRDC found that 82 percent of Americans support the work of the EPA. And 73 percent support protecting the EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and other major industrial polluters.

Interestingly, support for the EPA was strong across party lines: 71 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Democrats back the agency.

This multi-partisan support reminds me of another time in politics. In 1990, President Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments, which contained the first air pollution cap-and-trade program and which the EPA administers. Before it landed on the president’s desk, it passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 401-25 and the Senate by 89-10.

Back then, lawmakers were more willing to place Americans’ health concerns over polluters’ desire to dump garbage in our environment for free. And the EPA was the agency that could help get the job done. It still is today.

I am not surprised the American people value the EPA. I just got back from a trip to China, and anyone who has seen or heard about the pollution there would never agree to limit the power of the EPA. The smog was so thick, I couldn’t see the sun for a week, never mind the skyscrapers a mile away, and my eyes and throat burned most of the time. Americans know that but for the grace of the Clean Air Act, we would be breathing in the same toxic clouds.

Americans know that the EPA makes real, concrete improvements in our lives.  After all, it has prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths. It reduced the smog that causes heart and respiratory disease, phased out the CFCs that contribute to skin cancer, and removed the lead from gasoline that was causing neurological damage and lowering children’s IQ.

Polluting industries fiercely opposed each one of these efforts to make our air safer to breathe. Without the EPA holding firm and backing their programs with the best scientific evidence available, we wouldn’t have achieved the public health gains of the past few decades.

Americans know that most polluters won’t cut their dirty emissions voluntarily. That is why seven out of ten people polled said they agreed with the statement: “If Congress blocks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities and other major industrial polluters, it would send the wrong message to polluters, namely, that Congress isn’t willing to hold polluters accountable.”

In the wake of the BP oil disaster and the mortgage and banking meltdown, Americans realize that it helps to have a line of defense between our families and those companies that think only of their profit margins, consequences be damned.

When it comes to toxins and noxious gases in our air, sewage in our water, and carbon in our atmosphere, the EPA provides that line of defense, and Americans count on the agency for assessing health risks.

The poll found that 83 percent of people think scientists and other experts at the EPA are “the most qualified to make decisions about how best to safeguard the American public when dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and other major pollutants,” compared to 9 percent of Americans who said Congress should make such decisions.

The EPA has a 40-year track record of protecting our health. It isn’t a perfect agency, but it has consistently pushed polluters to clean up their messes. Americans value what it has achieved, and, as the poll shows, they expect the agency to do the same to curb the pollution that causes climate change.