Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

views updated May 11 2018

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created on December 2, 1970, by executive order of President Richard Nixon to "permit coordinated and effective government action on behalf of the environment." Fifteen different environmental programs from various federal offices were combined and placed under the jurisdiction of the newly created EPA. The EPA was designed to serve as an "umbrella agency" through which most federal environmental laws, regulations, and policies would be administered.


The administrator of the EPA is appointed by the President of the United States and approved by the Senate, along with a deputy administrator, nine assistant administrators, an inspector general, and a general counsel. The inspector general is responsible for investigating environmental crimes, and the general counsel provides legal advice. Within the EPA are four "program" offices. They are 1) Air and Radiation; 2) Water; 3) Pesticides and Toxic Substances; and 4) Solid Waste and Emergency Response. There is also an office for Research and Development which works in coordination with each of the four program offices.

The main office of the EPA, which is located in Washington, D.C., oversees implementation of national environmental laws and programs, directs the EPA's regional offices and laboratories, and submits budget requests to Congress. Research is conducted through the EPA's main office and at its regional field laboratories. There are ten regional EPA offices and field laboratories which work directly with state and local governments to coordinate pollution control efforts. The EPA uses a portion of its federal funding to provide grants and technical assistance to states and local governmental units that seek to prevent pollution.


The EPA's powers and programs are established through legislation passed by Congress. (Such legislation delegating powers to an agency is known as "enabling" legislation.) Today the EPA is charged with the administration of a myriad of federal environmental laws dealing with air and water pollution, drinking water quality, radioactive wastes, pesticides, solid wastes, and noise pollution. Altogether some 18 major laws fall into EPA's "portfolio" (see Environmental Law and Business in this volume). In general, the EPA develops standards or regulations pursuant to environmental statutes; enforces those standards, regulations, and statutes; monitors pollutants in the environment; conducts research; and promotes public environmental education.

The EPA has five main objectives, called "core functions." These include: 1) Pollution Prevention, which is also know as "source reduction"; 2) Risk Assessment and Risk Reduction, which is the task of identifying those issues which pose the greatest risks to human health and the environment and taking action to reduce those risks; 3) Science, Research, and Technology, which involves research designed to develop innovative technologies to deal with environmental problems; 4) Regulatory Development, which involves developing standards for operations of industrial facilitiesincluding, for example, standards for air emissions of pollutants pursuant to Clean Air Act permits and standards for discharge of effluents under Clean Water Act permits; and 5) Environmental Education, which involves developing educational materials and providing grants to educational institutions.


The EPA works closely with state and local governments in their pollution control efforts. During the early 1980s, efforts to "downsize" federal government led the EPA to hand over more responsibility for enforcement of regulatory programs to state and local governments. States are encouraged to pass their own statutes and regulations which meet or exceed the requirements of federal statutes such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, RCRA, and CERCLA. Upon certification by the federal EPA, such states take over day-to-day enforcement of a specific statutory program and of the regulations pertaining to that program. As a result, business people in many states find that their day-to-day contact with enforcement officials regarding environmental statutes and regulations is with a state counterpart to the EPA rather than with the federal EPA itself. However, even when a state has been certified to administer such a program, the federal EPA continues to oversee the state's enforcement activities. It provides assistance to state officials and sometimes participates directly in major enforcement actions against violators of environmental laws.

The EPA also works closely with other federal environmental control agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Coast Guard. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration engages in long-range research on pollution problems, especially problems affecting the ocean and the atmosphere. The EPA works with the Coast Guard on flood control, dredging activities, and shoreline protection. Since 1970, the EPA has worked closely with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), a relatively small executive agency which was created pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Its mission is to advise the president on federal policy and action in the environmental area and to ensure that other federal agencies comply with NEPA. Compliance with NEPA requires all federal agencies to pursue environmentally sound policies and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before undertaking any major action which might significantly affect the environment.

see also Environmental Law and Business


Atriano, Vincent. "EPA Issues New Rules Targeting 'Illegal Competitive Advantage.'" Business First-Columbus. 5 November 1999.

Bukro, Casey. "EPA Chief Ties Ecology to Economy." Chicago Tribune. 13 February 1993.

Cole, Carol. "Bush Backs Budget Cuts at EPA; Democrats Vow to Fight." World Fuels Today. 8 February 2006.

Collin, Robert W. The Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning up America's act. Greenwood Press. 2006.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "About EPA." Available from http://www.epa.gov/epahome/aboutepa.htm. 1 March 2006.

                                 Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                  updated by Magee, ECDI

Environmental Protection Agency

views updated May 23 2018


ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. Following a decade of growing concern about pollution, and less than two months after the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, President Richard M. Nixon proposed creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nixon presented the EPA proposal to Congress as a reorganization plan to consolidate the Federal Water Quality Administration, the National Air Pollution Control Administration, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management, and the Bureau of Water Hygiene, along with certain functions of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Atomic Energy Commission, and various other agencies into one agency. The primary mission of the new agency was to research the adverse effects of pollution and to establish and enforce standards to protect human health and the environment. Congress approved, and on 2 December 1970, the EPA opened its doors.

Nixon chose thirty-eight-year-old Assistant Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus as EPA's first administrator. Dubbed Mr. Clean, Ruckelshaus wasted no time explaining that the EPA's primary obligation was the protection of the environment, not the promotion of commerce or agriculture. Under Ruckelshaus, the EPA first attempted to establish and enforce air quality standards. It also went after water polluters. Immediately, EPA threatened Cleveland—whose Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it had recently caught fire—Detroit, and Atlanta with lawsuits if they did not clean up their waterways. The EPA warned business and local governments that it would use the power of the courts to enforce the nation's environmental laws. Initially, however, the agency's authority was limited because few strong federal environmental laws existed.

Major Environmental Legislation

This soon changed. The Clean Air Act of 1970 (CAA), signed into law only a month before the EPA began operations, gave the EPA significant new powers to establish and enforce national air quality standards and to regulate air pollution emitters from smokestacks to automobiles. To take just one of many examples, under the CAA, the EPA began phasing out leaded gasoline to reduce the amount of poisonous lead in the air. The Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA) did for water what the CAA had done for air—it gave the agency dramatic new authority to establish and enforce national clean water standards. Under these laws, the EPA began an elaborate permitting and monitoring system that propelled the federal government—welcome or not—into almost every industry in America. The EPA promised industry a chance to make good faith efforts to implement the new standards, but warned that federal enforcement actions against violators would be swift and sure.

The EPA also took quick action under other new environmental laws. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1972 (FIFRA) authorized the agency to regulate a variety of chemicals found in pesticides. Under its authority, the EPA banned the use of DDT, once viewed as a miracle chemical and sprayed in neighborhoods across America to stop the spread of malaria by killing mosquitoes, but later discovered to cause cancer and kill birds. The use of DDT had driven many avian species, including the bald eagle, to the brink of extinction and had inspired Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring (1962), which many credit as the clarion call for the modern environmental movement. In 1974, the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) supplemented the CWA by granting the EPA power to regulate the quality of public drinking water.

The EPA's regulatory powers, however, did not stop with air, water, and pesticides. In 1976, Congress passed the Resource, Conservation, and Recovery Act (RCRA), which authorized the agency to regulate the production, transportation, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes. That same year, Congress passed the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), authorizing the EPA to regulate the use of toxic substances. Under TSCA, the EPA, for example, began the phase out of cancer-causing PCB production and use. The leaking of chemical containers discovered at Love Canal, New York, in 1978 drew the nation's attention to the problem of hazardous and toxic wastes already disposed of unsafely in sites across the country. To address this problem, Congress in 1980 enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Recovery Act (CERCLA), which provided a federal Superfund for hazardous waste cleanup and authorized the EPA to identify contaminated sites and go after those responsible for the contamination.

The EPA's Tasks

The Superfund measure was the last major environmental law passed by Congress during the twentieth century. Although Congress passed other important environmental legislation after 1980 and added important amendments to existing laws, CAA, CWA, SDWA, FIFRA, RCRA, TSCA, and CERCLA defined the basic parameters of EPA's regulatory powers. And the agency has since had its hands full. For example, each law required the EPA to identify any substance found in air, water, drinking water, pesticides, buildings, and waste—almost any substance found in the environment—that might be harmful to human health or the environment. The EPA then has had to identify how these substances do harm and at what doses. This has involved scientific investigation of gargantuan proportions, and the EPA is far from finished with the process.

The environmental laws have also required the EPA to determine threshold levels of regulation, another colossal task, and one that has involved more than just science. Often without much guidance from Congress, the agency has had to make difficult decisions about acceptable risks. Is a single death in one million acceptable? One in 100,000? One in 10,000? Despite its mission, politics and reality have dictated that economics play an important part in the EPA's regulatory scheme. Some substances are harmful at any level, but banning them entirely would cause catastrophic economic disaster, and in some cases would require devolutionary, and generally unacceptable, changes in the structure of modern society. The EPA's science, therefore, has always been tempered by economic and political reality.

Expanding Authority

That said, the EPA's regulatory role continued to grow during the 1980s, despite the conservative administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Following a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, the EPA began to monitor nuclear waste and fallout (though other agencies have the primary power to regulate nuclear waste). Hazardous waste leaks at Times Beach, Missouri, in 1982 accelerated the EPA's regulation of dioxins. A year later, cleanup action of the Chesapeake Bay prompted the agency to begin regulating pollution from so-called "non-point" sources, primarily urban and agricultural runoff. In 1985, scientists discovered a hole in the earth's ozone layer, and after the signing of the Montreal Protocol two years later, the EPA began regulating the phase out of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled eleven million gallons of crude oil in Alaska's Prince William Sound. The EPA fined the Exxon Corporation $1 billion, the largest criminal environmental damage settlement in history.

During the 1990s, the EPA continued its attempt to fulfill its obligations under existing laws, and responded to the requirements of new laws and to the exigencies of environmental disaster and scientific discovery. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 forced the EPA to focus on the prevention—not just the correction—of environmental damage. In 1991, the agency created a voluntary industry partnership for energy efficient lighting and for reducing toxic chemical emissions, and a year later the agency began the Energy Star program to help consumers identify energy efficient products. In 1994, President William Clinton ordered the EPA to make environmental justice part of its mission, meaning that it would have to be certain that its regulations did not have a disparate impact on minority and low-income groups. On an old front, the EPA launched new initiatives, battling secondhand smoke in the name of indoor air pollution and creating a market-based permit trading program to reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain. By the end of the decade, it faced many new challenges, including a rapidly depleting ozone layer and global warming.

By the year 2000, the EPA had become the federal government's largest regulatory agency. It wielded a budget of nearly $8 billion and employed more than eighteen thousand people. Its ever-growing number of rules had cost the regulated community $180 billion at the twentieth century's end. The EPA's growth earned the agency many enemies in industry and among conservative politicians. It has even clashed with traditionally liberal political interests, like labor unions that fear environmental regulations will cost jobs and minority groups who resent the fact that too often environmental regulation has meant locating polluting industries and hazardous waste sites in low-income, predominantly minority communities, which have little political clout. The EPA has also received almost unending criticism from environmental groups, which believe that it has not done enough.

The Agency's Achievements

Despite its opponents and critics, the EPA has met with much success. In 2000, the air was much cleaner than it was in 1970—lead levels alone had decreased 98 percent—despite the fact that there were more cars on the road and the nation was more industrialized. Because of EPA regulations, in 2002 cars polluted 95 percent less than they did in 1970. As for water, the agency regulated pollution from 43,000 industrial facilities, preventing one billion pounds of toxics from entering the waterways each year. In 1972, one-third of the nation's waters were safe for fishing and swimming; in 2001, two-thirds were. The EPA's regulation of hazardous and toxic chemicals has saved innumerable human lives and has rescued whole species from the brink of extinction. The ban on DDT, for example, led directly to the recovery of the bald eagle, which in 1999 was removed from the endangered species list. By 2000, the EPA had led or coordinated the cleanup of half of the nation's thirteen hundred Superfund sites, and had a panoply of regulations in place to safeguard human health and the environment from hazardous wastes.


Cannon, Jonathan Z. "EPA and Congress (1994–2000): Who's Been Yanking Whose Chain?" Environmental Law Reporter 31 (August 2001): 10942–10956.

Hays, Samuel P. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics, 1955–1985. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Landy, Marc K., Marc J. Roberts, and Stephen R. Thomas. The Environmental Protection Agency: Asking the Wrong Questions from Nixon to Clinton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Lofton, James. "Environmental Enforcement: The Impact of Cultural Values and Attitudes on Social Regulation." Environmental Law Reporter 31 (August 2001): 10906–10917.

Romine, Melissa. "Politics, the Environment, and Regulatory Reform at the Environmental Protection Agency." Environmental Law 6 (1999): 1.

Shannon C.Petersen

See alsoAir Pollution ; Clean Air Act ; Clean Water Act ; Conservation ; Endangered Species ; Exxon Valdez ; Global Warming ; Insecticides and Herbicides ; Love Canal ; Ozone Depletion ; Silent Spring ; Superfund ; Times Beach ; Toxic Substance Control Act ; Water Pollution .

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in July of 1970, a landmark year for environmental concerns, having been preceded by the passing of the National Environmental Policy Act in January and the first Earth Day celebrations in April. President Richard Nixon and Congress, working together in response to the growing public demand for cleaner air, land, and water, sought to create a new agency of the federal government structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants that endanger human health and degrade the environment . The EPA was charged with repairing the damage already done to the environment and with instituting new policies designed to maintain a clean environment.

The EPA's mission is "to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment." At the time the EPA was formed, at least fifteen programs in five different agencies and cabinet-level departments were handling environmental policy issues. For the EPA to work effectively, it was necessary to consolidate the environmental activities of the federal government into one agency. Air pollution control , solid waste management , radiation control, and the drinking water program were transferred from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (currently known as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ). The water pollution control and pesticides research programs were acquired from the U.S. Department of the Interior . Registration and regulation of pesticides was transferred from the U.S. Department of Agriculture , and the responsibility for setting tolerance levels for pesticides in food was acquired from the Food and Drug Administration . The EPA also took over from the Atomic Energy Commission the responsibility for setting some environmental radiation protection standards and assumed some of the duties of the Federal Radiation Council. For some environmental programs, the EPA works with other agencies: for example, the United States Coast Guard and the EPA work together on flood control, shoreline protection, and dredging and filling activities. And, since most state governments in the United States have their own environmental protection departments, the EPA delegates the implementation and enforcement of many federal programs to the states.

The EPA's headquarters is in Washington DC, and there are ten EPA regional offices and field laboratories. The main office develops national environmental policy and programs, oversees the regional offices and laboratories, requests an annual budget from Congress, and conducts research. The regional offices implement national policies, oversee the environmental programs that have been delegated to the states, and review Environmental Impact Statements for federal actions. The field laboratories conduct research, the data from which are used to develop policies and provide analytical support for monitoring and enforcement of EPA regulations, and for the administration of permit programs.

The administrator of the EPA is appointed by the President, subject to approval by the Senate. The same procedure is used to appoint a deputy administrator, who assists the administrator, and nine assistant administrators, who oversee programs and support functions. Other posts include the chief financial officer, who manages the EPA' budget and funding operations, the inspector general, who is responsible for investigating environmental crimes, and a general counsel, who provides legal support.

In addition to the administrative offices, the EPA is organized into the following program offices: The Office of Air and Radiation, the American Indian Environmental Office , the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the Office of Environmental Justice, the Office of Environmental Information, the History Office, the Office of International Affairs, the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, the Office of Research and Development, the Science Policy Council, the office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, and the Office of Water.

The current EPA Administrator, elected by President George W. Bush, is Christie Whitman, formerly Governor of New Jersey, who was sworn in on January 31, 2001. Whitman's official administrative philosophy is that environmental goals are compatible with and are connected to economic goals, and that relationships between citizens, policy makers, and private sector must be strengthened. The nomination of Linda J. Fisher to the post of EPA Deputy Administrator was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 24, 2001. Fisher, who formerly practiced law in Washington DC and has served as Vice President and Corporate Officer at the Monsanto Co. in St. Louis MO, is Whitman' top managerial and policy assistant.

One of the major activities of the EPA is the management of Superfund sites. For many years, uncontrolled dumping of hazardous chemical and industrial wastes in abandoned warehouses and landfills continued without concern for the potential impact on public health and the environment. Concern over the extent of the hazardous-waste-site problem led Congress to establish the Superfund Program in 1980 to locate, investigate, and clean up the worst such sites. The EPA' Office of Emergency and Remedial Response (OERR) oversees management of the program in cooperation with individual states. When a hazardous-waste site is discovered, the EPA is notified. The EPA makes a preliminary assessment of the site and gives a numerical score according to Hazard Ranking System (HRS), which determines whether the site is placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). As of May 29, 2002, 1221 sites were listed on the final NPL, with 74 new sites proposed, 812 sites were reported to have completed construction, and 258 sites had been deleted from the list. The final NPL lists Superfund sites in which the clean-up plan is under construction or ongoing. NPL proposed sites include sites for which the HRS indicates that placement on the final NPL is appropriate. Among currently proposed NPL sites are Air Force Plant 85 near Columbus OH (coal deposits leaching sulfuric acid , ammonia, and heavy metals ), Blackbird Mine in Lemhi ID (high levels of arsenic , copper , cobalt, and nickel in surface water and sediments of Meadow and Blackbird Creeks downstream from mining tunnels and waste-rock piles), the Omaha Lead site in Omaha, NE (lead contaminated soil near populated areas and wetlands ) and the Libby Asbestos site in Libby, MT (heavy asbestos exposures and chromium, copper, and nickel deposits near wetlands and fisheries). A final NPL site is deleted from the list when it is determined that no further clean up is needed to protect human health or the environment Finally, under Superfund's redevelopment program, former hazardous-waste sites have been remade into office buildings, parking lots, or even golf courses to be re-integrated as productive parts of the community.

The offices and programs of the EPA recognize a set of main objectives, or "core functions." These core functions help define the agency's mission and provide a common focus for all agency activities. The core functions are:

  • Pollution Preventiontaking measures to prevent pollution from being created rather than only cleaning up what has already been released, also known as source reduction
  • Risk Assessment and Risk Reductionidentifying problems that pose the greatest risk to human health and the environment and taking measures to reduce those risks
  • Science, Research and Technologyconducting research that will help in developing environmental policies and promoting innovative technologies to solve environmental problems
  • Regulatory Developmentdeveloping requirements such as operating procedures for facilities and standards for emissions of pollutants
  • Enforcementassuring compliance with established regulations
  • Environmental Educationdeveloping educational materials, serving as an information clearinghouse, and providing grant assistance to local educational institutions

Many EPA programs are established by legislation enacted by Congress. For example, many of the activities carried out by the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response originated in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Among other laws that form the legal basis for the programs of the EPA are the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, which represents the basic national charter of the EPA, the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1977, the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986, and the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) of 1990. It is through such legislation that the EPA obtains authority to develop and enforce regulations. Environmental regulations drafted by the agency are subjected to intense review before being finalized. This process includes approval by the President's Office of Management and Budget and input from the private sector and from other government agencies.

Public concern over the environmental changes with time, and the EPA alters its policy priorities in response. For example, in answer to growing concern regarding environmental impact to children's health, the Office of Chil dren's Health Protection (OCHP) was created in May 1997. On February 14, 2002, President George W. Bush announced the Clear Skies Initiative, which contain the farthest reaching legislative changes to the Clean Air Act since 1990.

Growing public concern about water pollution led to a landmark piece of legislation, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, amended in 1977 and commonly known as the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act gives the EPA the authority to administer pollution control programs and to set water quality standards for contaminants of surface waters. October 18, 2002, marks the thirtieth Anniversary of the enactment of the Clean Water Act. In continuing support of the goals of this Act, Congress has proclaimed 2002 as the "Year of Clean Water."

As part of its mission as an information clearing house, the EPA maintains an excellent web site at <http://www.epa.gov> with countless links to supporting information of all kinds. The web site also includes Spanish translations of many documents, and links to children's activities.

[Teresa C. Donkin ]



Environmental Management. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, October 1991.

Keating, B., and D. Russell. "Inside the EPA: Yesterday and Today...Still Hazy After All These Years." E Magazine 3 (August 1992): 3037.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Laws and Regulations. Clean Water Act. March 26, 2002 [cited July 10, 2002]. <http://www.epa.gov/region5/water/cwa.htm>.

U.S. Environmental Protection Web Site. [cited July 10, 2002]. <http://www.epa.gov>.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

views updated Jun 27 2018

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the U.S. government that employs over 17,000 people, more than half of whom are engineers, scientists, and policy analysts. The agency is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and maintains 10 regional offices and over a dozen laboratories. Established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon (1913–1994) with the approval of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, it was charged with reducing pollution and protecting the environment. In recent years it has been embroiled in controversy as the presidential administration of George W. Bush (1946–), which has opposed both domestic and international legal limits on the emission of greenhouse gases, has used its authority to weaken the EPA's official position on global climate change.

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

The EPA was established by President Richard Nixon's Reorganization Plan Number 3 (July 9, 1970) in response

to the rapidly growing environmental movement. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, drew some 20 million participants and has been credited with influencing the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and Nixon's decision to create the EPA. Nixon's Reorganization Plan required the new agency to establish and enforce environmental protection standards, conduct research on pollution and on methods for controlling it, and provide grants and technical assistance to help others control pollution of the environment. The EPA was officially created on December 2, 1970, after Nixon's Reorganization Plan was cleared by hearings in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

Since that time, the EPA has defined numerous regulations, funded research, and given grants to university groups to study pollution and other aspects of the environment. As of 2007, its administrator was Stephen L. Johnson (1951–), appointed by President George W. Bush on January 26, 2005.

In 2003 and 2007, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) produced reports analyzing the costs and benefits of federal environmental regulations. Both reports found that the benefits, measured in dollars, exceeded the costs. In its 2007 report, the OMB found that the costs of the previous 10 years of EPA regulation had been $39–$46 billion while the benefits had been $98–$480 billion. Costs include more expensive cars and other machinery including pollution-reduction features, costs of waste containment and proper disposal, and other pollution-reducing measures. Benefits include reduced medical costs, reduced damage to buildings and forests from acid rain, and more.

The EPA has funded research on climate change, has collected basic data on greenhouse-gas emissions (published, for example, in its Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990–2002), and places information about global climate change on its Web site, which refers the reader to the latest (2007) report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is, therefore, officially aligned with the mainstream scientific view of present-day climate change. However, the EPA is subject to political control from the White House, whose Office of Management and Budget must approve all new federal regulations and standards. Under the Bush administration, the EPA has been accused of foot-dragging on the regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions and altering official documents to downplay the dangers of global climate change.

Impacts and Issues

Weakening of Climate Change Reports

In 2001, the Bush White House appointed Philip A. Cooney as its chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the group that defines White House policies on environmental issues. Before receiving the appointment, Cooney held the position of “climate team leader” at the American Petroleum Institute, an oil-industry group opposing caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. Cooney was also a lobbyist for the group.

In his new position, Cooney had authority to edit reports written by EPA scientists before they were released to the public. Cooney made hundreds of changes to EPA documents, nearly all introducing doubt about the reality and danger of human-caused climate change. He began by adding phrases like “the weakest links in our knowledge,” “a lack of understanding,” “uncertainties,” “considerable uncertainty,” and “perhaps even greater uncertainty” to the Administration's 2002 Climate Action Report to the United Nations. An investigation by the House Oversight Committee later found that Cooney—a lawyer with no scientific training—was given veto power over the statements of working scientists such as the head of the federal Climate Change Science Program Office.


In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced the Energy Star program to promote energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Energy Star encourages companies to produce more efficient home appliances, from dishwashers to lighting. The Energy Star program asserts that households that use less energy help avoid greenhouse-gas emissions associated with electrical power generation. The voluntary labeling program awards an Energy Star designation to products with energy-saving features. To further aid consumers in choosing the most efficient and cost-effective appliances, new appliances are labeled with information on energy use and the average annual cost of operation.

Energy Star has promoted the use of many common energy-saving features such as stand-by settings on computers and better insulation on water heaters and refrigerators. Energy Star also promotes community-wide action, advocating the use of energy-efficient technologies like LED traffic lights and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

In 2001, the European Union adopted the Energy Star program. Proponents of Energy Star assert that better consumer labeling has raised awareness of home energy use and prompted manufacturers to develop and market more energy-efficient products. Critics claim that the qualifications to receive an Energy Star rating should be stricter and better inform consumers of low-energy alternatives. In 2006, Energy Star helped consumers save over $14 billion dollars in utility bills and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through energy conservation.

Cooney made more than 100 edits to the EPA document “Our Changing Planet,” all directed toward downplaying the threat of climate change. In April 2003, he edited the EPA's Draft Report on the Environment, deleting and adding claims. He deleted the sentences “Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment” and “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere as the result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.” He replaced the latter sentence with: “Some activities emit greenhouse gases and other substances that directly or indirectly may affect the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation, thereby potentially affecting climate on regional and global scales.” In an internal memo, senior EPA scientists complained that the Draft Report on the Environment as altered by Cooney “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.”

In 2005, the New York Times reported on the changes Cooney had been making to EPA and other documents. A senior EPA scientist told the New York Times that such manipulation of EPA science “has somewhat of a chilling effect and has created a sense of frustration.” Two days after the New York Times report, Cooney resigned. The following week, he was hired by the public affairs department of the oil company ExxonMobil.

Automobile Emissions

In 2005, a coalition of state governments, environmental groups, and the territory of American Samoa brought a case to federal court in the United States, Massachusetts, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al.. They claimed that the EPA was refusing to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases known to be changing Earth's climate. The EPA, the plaintiffs argued, was required to act to regulate air pollution and was breaking the law by refusing to regulate greenhouse gases.

The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In April 2007, the court ruled against the EPA. “Under the clear terms of the Clean Air Act,” Justice John Stevens wrote in the majority opinion, “EPA can avoid taking further action only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do.” The decision means that the EPA must now evaluate the danger posed by greenhouse gases. If it finds that these gases are a form of air pollution that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare” (in the words of the federal Clean Air Act), it must regulate them.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court did not set any timeline for the EPA to evaluate or regulate greenhouse gases. Therefore, the EPA could remain inactive for an indefinite time without suffering any penalty. Some observers, such as Emma Marris writing in the journal Nature (in April 2007), predicted that no action will be taken until a new presidential administration is inaugurated in January 2009.


ACID RAIN: A form of precipitation that is significantly more acidic than neutral water, often produced as the result of industrial processes.

CLEAN AIR ACT OF 1970: Extension of the 1963 U.S. Clean Air Act that tasked the newly established Environmental Protection Agency with developing and enforcing regulations to reduce air pollution.

GREENHOUSE GASES: Gases that cause Earth to retain more thermal energy by absorbing infrared light emitted by Earth's surface. The most important greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and various artificial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons. All but the latter are naturally occurring, but human activity over the last several centuries has significantly increased the amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in Earth's atmosphere, causing global warming and global climate change.

In October 2007, the EPA announced that it began developing regulations concerning the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2). Geologic sequestration involves capturing the carbon dioxide that results from energy production or industrial activity and isolating it from the atmosphere by permanently storing it deep underground in rock layers. The captured CO2 is injected more than 2,625 ft (800 m) underground, where it becomes super-critical and behaves like a liquid, taking up less space and over time, dissolving in water present in the pore spaces of the rock. The final regulations, to be released in late 2008, are designed to promote and standardize geologic sequestration, and protect underground drinking water reservoirs.

See Also United States: Climate Policy.



Collin, Robert W. The Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning Up America's Act. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.


Greenhouse, Linda. “Justices Say E.P.A. Has Power to Act on Harmful Gases.” New York Times (April 3, 2007).

Hakim, Danny. “E.P.A. Holds Back Report on Car Fuel Efficiency.” New York Times (July 28, 2005).

Marris, Emma. “Car Emissions Are EPA's Problem.” Nature 446 (April 5, 2007): 589.

Revkin, Andrew C. “Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming.” New York Times (June 8, 2005).

Revkin, Andrew C., and Matthew L. Wald. “Material Shows Weakening of Climate Change Reports.” New York Times (March 20, 2007).

Web Sites

“Climate Change.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. < http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/index.html> (accessed October 2, 2007). “EPA History.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

< http://www.epa.gov/history/index.htm> (accessed October 2, 2007).

Larry Gilman

Environmental Protection Agency

views updated May 09 2018


The purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect and enhance the environment in the present and for future generations to the fullest extent possible under the laws enacted by Congress. The mission of the agency is to control and abate pollution in the areas of air, water, solid waste, noise, radiation, and toxic substances. The mandate of the EPA is to mount an integrated, coordinated attack on environmental pollution in cooperation with state and local governments.

The Environmental Protection Agency was established in the executive branch as an independent agency pursuant to reorganization plan No. 3 of 1970, effective December 2, 1970. The EPA was created to permit coordinated and effective governmental action on behalf of the environment. The EPA endeavors to abate and control pollution systematically, by proper integration of a variety of research, monitoring, standard setting, and enforcement activities. As a complement to its other activities, the EPA coordinates and supports research and antipollution activities by state and local governments, private and public groups, individuals, and educational institutions. The EPA also reinforces efforts among other federal agencies with respect to the impact of their operations on the environment, and it is specifically charged with publishing its determinations when those hold that a proposal is unsatisfactory from the standpoint of public health or welfare or environmental quality. In all, the EPA is designed to serve as the advocate of the public for a livable environment.

Air, Noise, and Radiation Programs

The air quality activities of the agency include development of national programs, technical policies, and regulations for air pollution control; development of national standards for air quality; emission standards for new stationary sources and emission standards for hazardous pollutants; technical direction, support, and evaluation of regional air quality activities; and provision of training in the field of air pollution control. Related activities include study, identification, and regulation of noise sources and control methods; technical assistance to states and agencies having radiation protection programs; and a national surveillance and inspection program for measuring radiation levels in the environment.

Water and Waste Management Programs

The water quality activities of the EPA represent a coordinated effort to restore the waters of the nation. The functions of this program include development of national programs, technical policies, and regulations for water pollution control and water supply; water quality standards and effluent guidelines development; technical direction, support, and evaluation of regional water activities; development of programs for technical assistance and technology transfer; and provision of training in the field of water quality.

Solid Waste Emergency Response Programs

The Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response provides policy, guidance, and direction for the agency's solid waste and emergency response programs. The functions of these programs include development of program policy; development of hazardous waste standards and regulations; enforcement of applicable laws and regulations; guidelines and standards for land disposal of hazardous wastes; analyses on the recovery of useful energy from solid waste; and provision of technical assistance in the development, management, and operation of waste management activities.

Legal and Enforcement Counsel

The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement has the following functions: (1) provides policy direction to enforcement activities in air, water, toxic substances, hazardous and solid waste management, radiation, and noise control programs; (2) plans and coordinates enforcement conferences, public hearings, and other legal proceedings; and (3) engages in other activities related to enforcement of standards to protect the environment of the nation.

Pesticides and Toxic Substances Programs

The Office of Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances is responsible for development of national strategies for the control of toxic substances; criteria for assessing chemical substances, standards for test protocols for chemicals, rules and procedures for industry reporting, and regulations for the control of substances deemed to be hazardous to man or the environment; and evaluation and assessment of the impact of new chemicals and chemicals with new uses to determine the hazard and, if needed, develop appropriate restrictions. It also coordinates with the activities of other agencies under the Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. [1976]) for the assessment and control of toxic substances. Additional activities include control and regulation of pesticides and reduction in their use to ensure human safety and protection of environmental quality; establishment of tolerance levels for pesticides that occur in or on food; monitoring of pesticide residue levels in food, humans, and nontarget fish and wildlife and their environments; and investigation of pesticide accidents.

Research and Development

The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development is responsible for a national research program in pursuit of technological controls of all forms of pollution. It directly supervises the research activities of the national laboratories of the EPA and gives technical policy direction to those laboratories that support the program responsibilities of the regional offices of the EPA. Close coordination of the various research programs is designed to yield a synthesis of knowledge from the biological, physical, and social sciences that can be interpreted in terms of total human and environmental needs. General functions include management of selected demonstration programs; planning for agency environmental quality monitoring programs, coordination of agency monitoring efforts with those of other federal agencies, the states, and other public bodies; and dissemination of agency research, development, and demonstration results.

Major Developments

During the late 1990s, the EPA under the administration of President william jefferson clinton pursued diverse goals with mixed results. One of its most noted efforts involved ambitious enforcement of the Clean Air Act through the New Source Review (NSR) program, which saw the EPA requiring industries to install new anti-pollution equipment. The administration also sued about fifty power companies for violations. But frequently the agency's plans met with resistance and litigation from industry. Plaintiffs successfully challenged EPA regulatory authority over such matters as setting drinking water targets for chloroform, requiring ethanol minimums in reformulated gasoline, and mandating certain regional electric car sales.

Under President george w. bush, the EPA shifted its approach on some issues. The agency proposed to roll back its predecessor's air pollution regulations. But the agency backed down after public criticism over its apparent readiness to scuttle standards for arsenic levels in drinking water, and in 2000 it also released data critical of the administration's laissez-faire policy toward global warming. Moreover, in 2001, the EPA continued to pursue the agency's decades-old Superfund case against General Electric Co., seeking to have the company pay for a $360 million project to dredge contaminated sediment from the Hudson River.

The Environmental Protection Agency is available online at <www.epa.gov> (accessed July 18, 2003).

further readings

Adler, Jonathan. 2000. "Courting Trouble at the EPA." The Washington Times (April 14).

"Bush Rollback of Rules Will Keep Maine Air Dirty." 2002. Portland Press Herald (November 26).

Fagin, Dan. 2001. "Turbulent Waters: Battle Rages on Dredging the Hudson." Newsday (February 24).

Paige, Sean. 2002. "Smoldering Sabotage in the EPA Underbrush." The Washington Times (June 26).


Environmental Law; Regulation.

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)

views updated May 08 2018

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded for the specific purpose of protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment. Until the establishment of the EPA in 1970, there were no federal agencies or programs designed to deal with environmental pollution in the United States in a coordinated fashion. The EPA was assigned the unenviable task of reversing pollution that resulted from many years of unregulated environmental practices that preceded the establishment of the EPA.

Even before its inception as an agency within the federal government, it was recognized that no single entity could govern all practices and activities that had significant potential impact on the environment. Thus, the EPA was designed as an interactive agency providing direction, oversight, and assistance to many other agencies and groups whose activities bear directly and indirectly on the quality of the air, water, and land.

The EPA provides advice to the president of the United States on matters of environmental policy, and is charged with the responsibility of establishing and enforcing laws and regulations to control the quality of the environment. The chief officer of the EPA is the administrator who is appointed by the president. EPA employs 18,000 people and operates 17 laboratories across the United States. The country is divided into ten regions, each with its own regional EPA office. The total annual budget for the EPA is nearly $8 billion.

The EPA plays a leadership role in various aspects of environmental science including research, education and environmental evaluation and assessment. EPA works closely with other federal, state and local agencies as well as Native American tribal governments to develop environmental programs and regulations and to enforce existing laws pertaining to air, water, and land quality and purity. There are also a number of voluntary programs administered by the EPA that go beyond laws and regulations to encourage individuals and organizations to prevent pollution and conserve energy.

Research in environmental science is conducted directly by laboratories within the EPA. In addition, EPA serves as a funding source and planning resource for state governments and researchers outside of the agency. Over $1 billion from the overall EPA budget goes to categorical grants to state and local governments. Grants are also made for the purposes of enforcement, response preparedness, information exchange networks, assistance with Native American environmental issues, and counterterrorism.

Cleanup of existing toxic waste facilities remains one of the largest and most difficult tasks for the EPA. The nation's biggest and most technically complex properties affected by toxic waste are prioritized on the National Priorities List to reverse, minimize, or prevent environmental disasters related to toxic waste. These include private and federal properties many of which have been abandoned by their owners. The Superfund was created to fund these complicated and expensive cleanup activities. EPA provides outreach and educational activities for communities surrounding the toxic waste sites to raise awareness of risks, prevention and avoidance strategies, and to promote direct involvement in cleanup activities.

EPA and the Federal Counter-Terrorism program. The EPA supports the federal counter-terrorism program by helping state and local agencies plan for emergencies, training first responders, providing necessary resources in the event of terrorist actions, and coordinating with key federal agencies. Three offices within the EPA participate in the counter-terrorist Program: the Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office (CEPPO), the Office of Emergency and Remedial Response (OERR), and the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR).

Following the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in September, 2001, the EPA assumed responsibility for monitoring air and water purity at ground zero, provided decontamination operations for on-site workers, monitored key pollutants at the Staten Island landfill site, and participated in clean up of sidewalks, streets, and buildings in the surrounding area.



Binns, Tristan Boyer. The Environmental Protection Agency. Woburn, MA: Heineman Publishers, 2002.


United States Environmental Protection Agency. "EPA's Role and Authority in Counter Terrorism" Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention <http://yosemite.epa.gov/oswer/ceppoweb.nsf/content/ct-epro.htm#epa> (February 15, 2003).

. "Protecting Human Health, Safeguarding the Natural Environment" Home Page<http://www.epa.gov/> (February 15, 2003).


Air and Water Purification, Security Issues
Chemical Warfare
Emergency Response Teams
Environmental Issues Impact on Security
FEMA (United States Federal Emergency Management Agency)
Radiological Emergency Response Plan, United States Federal
September 11 Terrorist Attacks on the United States
Water Supply: Counter-Terrorism

Environmental Protection Agency

views updated May 21 2018


In response to a growing environmental movement, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed in 1970 by President Richard Nixon through a Congressionally approved reorganization plan that joined together parts of existing federal agencies, including parts of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). The goal was to centralize federal organizational components involved with protecting human and ecological health from environmental threats. The EPA is responsible, either alone or with other agencies, for administering over twenty federal laws, including the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund Act); the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act; the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; the Safe Drinking Water Act; and the Toxic Substances Control Act. It differs from other federal agencies with health regulatory responsibilities by not having a defining legislative act (e.g., the Food and Drug Act for FDA). The administrator of EPA reports directly to the president and is sometimes unofficially accorded Cabinet status. EPA is organized into programmatic offices responsible for administering one or more of the environmental laws. There also are a number of crosscutting organizational components, including an Office of Research and Development responsible for assuring that EPA's activities are guided by sound science.

Under EPA oversight, there has been a substantial reduction in overt pollution. Urban air is visibly cleaner, the nation's rivers and beaches are now more swimmable and fishable; there is much less illegal dumping of hazardous wastes; recycling of household and industrial products is increasing; and it is far less likely that a manufactured chemical will be toxic to humans or to ecosystems. Yet many problems remain and new ones have developed, such as global climate change, the impact of loss of wetlands, the recognition of subtle biological effects of pollutants such as endocrine disruption, and the need for international harmonization of risk assessment and management practices in a global economy.

EPA's activities often have been controversial. Its first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, was brought back in 1983 after President Ronald Reagan's initial choice became a political liability and a senior EPA official was jailed for perjury. An area of tension within EPA is its role in public health, including its relations with federal public health agencies that also have roles in environmental protection. This tension is mirrored within the many states that have environmental protection agencies separate from their health departments. The number of USPHS commissioned officers with EPA has dropped precipitously in both absolute and relative amounts. Recent administrators have attempted to move EPA from legalistic command-and-control management strategies toward more of a partnership with stakeholders, including other federal and state agencies.

Particularly challenging for the future EPA is the increasing evidence of the linkage between ecosystem and human health. Relatively low levels of fine acidic particulates are the cause both of barren lakes through acid rain and increased mortality and morbidity in humans; endocrine disruptors affect reproductive endpoints in amphibians and in humans; and alterations in ecosystems caused by global climate changes alter human disease vectors. Another major challenge will be to apply legal definitions related to protection of susceptible populations to new information about more subtle susceptibility factors obtained through the unraveling of the human genome.

Bernard D. Goldstein

(see also: Acid Rain; Ambient Air Quality [Air Pollution]; Ambient Water Quality; Clean Air Act; Clean Water Act; Climate Change and Human Health; Ecosystems; Endocrine Disruptors; Hazardous Waste; Risk Assessment, Risk Management; Toxic Substances Control Act; United States Public Health Service [USPHS] )


Environmental Protection Agency. About the EPA. Available at http://www.epa.gov.

Goldstein, B. D. (1988). "EPA as a Public Health Agency." Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 8:328334.

Environmental Protection Agency

views updated May 17 2018


In December 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established as an independent agency. Reorganization Plan #3 of 1970 consolidated fifteen components from five agencies for the purpose of grouping all environmental regulatory activities under a single agency. Most of these functions were housed in the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

The purpose of the EPA is to ensure that all Americans and the environment in which they live are safe from health hazards. The EPA has a number of goals: clean air, clean and safe water, safe food, preventing and reducing pollution, water management and restoration of waste sites, redirection of international pollution, and credible deterrents to pollution. Also, the EPA engages in education about pollution and its environmental risks.

The first four goals deal with the immediate environment of people: clean air; clean and safe water; safe food; and preventing pollution and reducing risks in our environment. The remaining goals deal with education, the clean-up of existing pollution, and efforts in the global arena. They involve better water management, the reduction of cross-border environmental risks, the expansion of Americans' right to know about their environment, sound service, improved understanding of environmental risks, credible deterrents to pollution, and greater compliance with the law and effective management.

In addition to these goals, the EPA has adopted a number of principles to guide management in establishing priorities. These guidelines are to reduce environmental risks, to prevent pollution, to focus on children's health, to establish partners with local governments, to maximize public participation, to emphasize community-based solutions, to work with Indian tribes, and to choose cost-effective solutions. The EPA also is engaged in ongoing educational programs, which emphasize the community's right to know about its environmental risks.

The EPA has to enforce fifteen or more statutes or laws, including the Clean Air Act; the Clean Water Act; the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; the Endangered Species Act; the Pollution Prevention Act; and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticides Act. The EPA also enforces other laws dealing with pollution and toxic substances.

The EPA has had some major successes since its inception. In the area of air quality: (1) More than half of the large cities now meet air-quality standards; (2) emissions of common air pollutants have dropped by an average of 24 percent; and (3) blood lead levels in children have declined by 75 percent. In the area of water quality: (1) 60 percent of the nation's waterways are safe for fishing and swimming; (2) ocean dumping has been banned; and (3) standards for wastewater have been established for fifty industries. In the area of toxic and pesticide management: (1) DDT has been banned; (2) safer pesticides have been introduced; and (3) toxic emissions have been reduced by 39 percent. Finally, the EPA has been able to

set many standards covering a wide range of pollutants. More information is available from the EPA at Araiel Rios Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20460, (202)260-2090, or http://www.epa.gov.

see also Green Marketing


Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2005). "EPA's Mission." Retrieved October 18, 2005, from http://www.epa.gov/epahome.

EPA. "Frequently Asked Questions" (2005). Retrieved October 18, 2005, from http://www.epa.gov/history. 1999.

EPA. "Research Programs." (2005) Retrieved October 18, 2005, from http://www.epa.gov/epahome/program2.htm.

"About EPA" (2005) Retrieved October 18, 2005, from http://www.epa.gov/epahome/aboutepa.htm.

Val Hinton

Mary Jean Lush


views updated Jun 11 2018

EPA educational priority area
• Med. eicosapentaenoic acid (cholesterol-reducing fatty acid)
• Physics electron-positron annihilation
• Physics electron probe analyser
• Emergency Powers Act
• Employment Protection Act
• energy-performance assessment
• (USA) Environmental Protection Agency
• European Productivity Agency

Environmental Protection Agency

views updated May 14 2018

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) US federal government agency. It was created (1970) to reduce and control pollution by a variety of research, monitoring and enforcement activities. The EPA coordinates and supports research and antipollution activities.

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Environmental Protection Agency

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Environmental Protection Agency