George Washington Bridge through heavy smog in New Jersey and New York.Heavy smog across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan to New JerseyPhoto: EPA

Burning automobile batteries! Toxic runoff! Smog thick as Zach Galifianakis‘s mighty beard!

It’s 2010, and this is the world we would have inherited had not President Richard M. Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into law forty years ago today.

A trove of images released by the EPA to commemorate the agency’s 40th anniversary depicts the world of the 1960’s, a time when China-like levels of environmental degradation were widespread across America. At a time when the powers of the EPA are once again under assault, it’s worth contemplating the alternative to a government capable of acting in the people’s interests to prevent environmental destruction: urban environments so polluted that their sorry state was a precipitating factor in America’s flight to the suburbs.

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Hit the “next” button, below, to roll through a gallery of what was – and could have been.

 

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Pollution from the burning of discarded automobile batteries in Houston, Texas.Pollution from the burning of discarded automobile batteries in Houston, Texas. Today, nearly 90 percent of automobile batteries are recycled.Photo: EPA

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Auto emission inspection station in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.Auto emission inspection station in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.EPA

 

 

Illegal Dumping at Hunter's Point Creek, near the John F. Kennedy Airport.Illegal Dumping at Hunter’s Point Creek, near the John F. Kennedy Airport.Photo: EPA

 

 

A barge full of ashes from an incinerator plant, destined for ocean dumpingA barge full of ashes from an incinerator plant, destined for ocean dumping.Photo: EPA

 

 

Tagged stop signs in Hendrysburg, Ohio.Tagged stop signs in Hendrysburg, Ohio.Photo: EPA

 

 

New York City Incinerator Plant at Gravesend Bay.New York City incinerator plant at Gravesend Bay.Photo: EPA

 

 

Sign on a water pollution control plantCity, state and federal agencies work together to build a water pollution control plant in Spring Creek, Queens, New York.Photo: EPA

 

 

a polluted riverWater pollution in the Androscoggin River from the International Paper Company Mill in Jay, MainePhoto: EPA