United States Environmental Protection Agency
The “EPA” or “Environmental Protection Agency” was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States, to protect human health and the environment. The EPA created and instilled laws in the United States to highlight the growing concerns of climate change in our environment. Although headquarters occupy one office in Washington D.C., the EPA has ten regional offices that govern different units that consist of several states. The EPA is concerned about the quality of air, land, water, and life of all living organisms. It enacts laws and promotes sustainable green living to counteract the damage of climate change and to preserve life and the environment that surrounds it.
In the 1960’s, attention toward the growing concerns of environmental pollution were being drawn to the public. The public became aware of the harm pesticides and other pollutants were causing to the environment and their health through publications at the time such as, Rachel Carson’s novel Silent Spring. Activists began to arise, striving for a clean and sustainable future for the country.
To start of the 1970’s, president Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act. The NEPA had three main objectives and those were to: gather intelligence on ecosystems and important natural resources, to halt and reverse the damage caused to the environment as well as public health, and promote a mutually beneficial and productive environment for man and nature. The 22nd of April in 1970 marked the first earth day, which consisted of around 20 million Americans spending the day outside celebrating environmental reform.
On December 2, 1970, president Richard Nixon signed an executive order that thereby established the Environmental Protection Agency which is led by a presidentially appointed administrator. It was decided that an independent agency was necessary in order to avoid bias other bodies of government may have in decision making. The EPA was formed from multiple programs from different departments. The department of Health, Education, and Welfare transferred some parts of the Bureau of Radiological Health, the bureaus of Water Hygiene, as well as the National Air Pollution Control Administration. The EPA also gained control of regulating the tolerance levels of pesticides from the Food and Drug Administration. Some functions of the Department of the Interior were delegated to the EPA such as: the Federal Water Quality Administration and some of its research responsibilities towards pesticides. The EPA took control of setting radiation standards and criteria from the Atomic Energy Commission and the Federal Radiation Council. The Department of Agriculture handed over pesticide registration to the EPA.
There are many offices that correspond to different regions.
- Office of the Administrator (OA)
- Office of Administration and Resources Management (OARM)
- Office of Air and Radiation (OAR)
- Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP)
- Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO)
- Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA)
- Office of Environmental Information (OEI)
- Office of General Counsel (OGC)
- Office of Inspector General (OIG)
- Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA)
- Office of Research and Development (ORD)
- Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM)
- Office of Water (OW)
The EPA separated the US into ten different regions, each region consisting of several states. These regions are as followed:
- UNIT 1: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
- UNIT 2: New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight tribal nations
- UNIT 3: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia
- UNIT 4: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and 6 Tribes
- UNIT 5: Illinois, Indiana,Michigan, Minnesota,Ohio, Wisconsin and 35 Tribes
- UNIT 6: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribal Nations
- UNIT 7: Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Nine Tribal Nations
- UNIT 8: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota , South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and 27 Tribal Nations
- UNIT 9: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Island and 148 Tribes
- UNIT 10: Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington
Each region is responsible for the actions of in enforcing regulations and acts set in place by the EPA for the locations it contains.
Air quality can be affected by pollution emitted from stationary sources, mobile sources, and natural forces. Stationary sources such as factories, power plants, smelters and smaller sources such as dry cleaners and degreasing operations release the most pollution into the air. Following stationary sources, mobile sources emit pollution into the air. Mobile sources include cars, buses, planes, trucks, and trains. Finally, naturally occurring sources from windblown dust and volcanic eruptions emit the least amount of pollution but are still contributors.
The Clean Air Act
The EPA released The Clean Air Act in 1990 that set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) based on pollutants that are commonly found in outdoor air. The Clean Air Act has two types of national air quality standards, primary standards and secondary standards. The Primary Standards protect public health by setting limits, including the health at risk population (children, older adults, or individuals with pre-existing health conditions). The Secondary Standards protect the public welfare by setting limits, including the protection against vision impairment, damage to animals, crops or buildings. There is periodic review done on The Clean Air Act’s standards. During each review there is planning, an Integrated Science Assessment, Risk/Exposure Assessment, and a Policy Assessment. The Clean Air Act brought about substantive changes especially to the automobile industry, America’s leading source of pollution. Deadlines for reducing emission levels were set in place specifically for hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide levels.
Land quality can be affected by human activity such as building underground storage tanks, hydraulic fracturing and the use of landfills. The building of underground storage tanks is harmful to the land quality due to the risk of faulty installation or inadequate operation or maintenance procedures causing these UST to release their contents into the environment, which normally contains hazardous substances. Hydraulic fracturing is also a concern when discussing land quality because natural gas extraction should not come at the expense of public health and the environment. The EPA works with states to improve their scientific understanding of hydraulic fracturing, providing regulatory clarity with respect to existing laws, and using existing authorities where appropriate to enhance health and environmental safeguards. Lastly, land is affected by landfills. Landfills are useful facilities to dispose of waste but they must follow regulations to maintain the quality of the land. For example, solid waste landfills must be designed following specific guidelines in order to protect the environment from contaminants entering the solid waste stream. The EPA monitors this concern with the landfill siting plan, which prevents the placement of landfills in environmentally-sensitive areas.
There are water quality standards that the EPA has approved or are otherwise in effect due to the Clean Water Act. These standards vary for state, territorial, and authorized tribal water. Water quality standards are a piece of the foundation in controlling pollution. There are goals of a lake, stream, or other water body that are designated by the beneficial uses. Examples of beneficial uses are swimming, aquatic habitat, fishing and others. Water quality standards set criteria to protect those uses.
The EPA is also involved in many programs to keep all bodies of water clean and safe. For coastal territories, the EPA works with the states to establish standards that will protect aquatic life and human health. The Clean water act and other laws help the EPA counteract offshore drilling activities, discharges from cruise lines, and ocean dumping that contaminate our waters.
The Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulated discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and set quality standards in place for surface waters. Pollution control programs have been implemented such as wastewater standards for industry purposes as well as quality standards for contaminants in surface water. The Clean Water Act also helped the discharge of pollutants into waters by constructing sewage treatment plants. This Act is implemented by the Office of Water who is also responsible for implementing The Safe Drinking Water Act. Both acts are in place to ensure clean drinking water, restoration and maintenance of oceans, watersheds, and their aquatic ecosystems to protect human health, support economic and recreational activities, and provide healthy habitat for fish, plants and wildlife.
Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 was put in effect by the EPA to protect the quality of drinking water. The law focuses on both underground and aboveground sources. The standards for quality of drinking water in the United States are called the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations or known as, “maximum contaminant levels”. These levels are determined to protect against contaminants that are a risk to human health. There are also secondary standards in place to protect the quality of drinking water. These Standards are called Secondary Drinking Water Regulations or “secondary maximum contaminant levels”. These standards are more so guidelines for aesthetic purposes such as color, odor and smell that pose no risk to humans if consumed. The Safe Drinking Water Act protects drinking water in the United States from Microorganisms, Disinfectants, Disinfection Byproducts, Inorganic Chemicals, Organic Chemicals, and Radionuclides.
The EPA advocates converting waste into reusable materials as well as lowering the total amount of waste produced. This is done through means of composting, recycling, and waste prevention. Composting is the process of gathering organic waste and allowing it to break down naturally. This is done in order to create a natural fertilizer for agricultural uses. Many useful resources that are recycled include: various metals, glass, plastic, and paper. This reduces the production needs for these materials. Waste prevention is the steps the EPA takes to plan production to result in less waste in the future, as well as lower the toxicity of the waste.
Animals, birds, fish, plants, and other living organisms are at a risk of becoming endangered or possibly even extinct. The endangerment and extinction of animals is caused by habitat fragmentation and anthropogenic pollution. Animals are becoming endangered and extinct due to the destruction of their habitats for room to build and clearing land for crops and roads. This destruction for production purposes is called habitat fragmentation. The endangerment and extinction of animals can also be caused by anthropogenic pollution. Humans alter the atmosphere and land by burning non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels and also by filling landfills with loads of trash. The pollution from these human activities contaminates both soil and water which leads to the habitats of animals being destroyed and endangerment and extinction of animals.
Endangered Species Protection Program
The Endangered Species Program is responsible for carrying out the Endangered Species Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The program is also responsible for determining if a product, such as pesticides, can be labeled for a specific use. The EPA does this by determining whether the product will be harmful to species in the habitat it is being used in. As of now, the Endangered Species Protection Program is working to mitigate the list of 1,300 species that are considered threatened or endangered in the U.S according to the Endangered Species Act.
Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was to help conserve threatened and endangered plants, animals, and their habitats to avoid extinction. This act was to help ensure that federal agencies, wildlife agencies and fisherie agencies actions would not jeopardize the existence of any species or result in the destruction of critical habitats. The Endangered Species Act also protects from the “taking” of any endangered wildlife.
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1996 was to provide regulations for the distribution, sales, and use of pesticide. All pesticides must be registered by the EPA and they must not “cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment”. These adverse effects include (1) any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide, or (2) a human dietary risk from residues that result from a use of a pesticide in or on any food inconsistent with the standard under section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Major climate change is caused by the the excessive amounts of greenhouse gas that is released into the atmosphere. The greenhouse gases are trapping heat which is heating up the Earth’s surface causing climate change. The increase in release of greenhouse gas is directly proportional to human activities such as burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Climate change affects agriculture and fisheries because both are dependent on specific conditions of climate. With warmer surface temperatures there also comes warmer water temperatures which disrupts ecosystems by displacing habitats. Climate changes make it harder to grow certain crops, raise livestock, or to catch fish in the same place. Climate change is also affecting the coastal areas. Climate change is likely to worsen existing problems coasts already face such as erosion, sea level rise, increases in precipitation, warmer ocean temperature and coastal flooding. The EPA is taking major steps towards climate change with the Clean Power Plan.
The EPA has devised ways to make use of hazardous waste. Some hazardous waste can be used or reused; while some forms of waste may need to go through a reclamation process in order to obtain a usable resources from it. This is determined by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The RCRA notes four different types of wastes. This includes the F-list (non-specific source wastes), the K-list (source-specific wastes), and the P-list and U-list (discarded commercial chemical products). The RCRA also declares a waste hazardous if it is ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic. States are recommended to put in place a proper hazardous waste program with the assistance of the EPA.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from its creation to its disposal, otherwise known as “cradle-to-grave”. More amendments were added in 1984 that were more concerned with waste minimization and ridding of land disposal of hazardous wastes. Some of the other mandates include increased enforcement authority, stringent standards for hazardous waste, and a program for underground storage tanks for hazardous waste.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 was the federal funding to clean up uncontrolled and abandoned hazardous waste sites, spills, and other emergency releases of contaminants into the environment. The EPA’s cleanup enforcement protects human life and the environment by finding those responsible for the waste and getting them to cleanup or reimbursing EPA for the cleanup. This prevents contaminants from getting into our water and soil.
Green living & sustainability
The EPA promotes Green Living by the use of Clean energy. Clean energy includes renewable energy, energy efficiency and efficient combined heat and power. Electricity from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal, and wind generally does not contribute to climate change or local air pollution since no fuels are combusted. The EPA also promotes Green building. Green building means improving the way that homes and homebuilding sites use energy, water, and materials to reduce impacts on human health and the environment. Building a green home means making environmentally-preferable and sustainable decisions throughout the building process-decisions that will minimize the environmental impact of the home while it is being built and over the many years it will be lived in.
Executive Order #13693
Executive Order #13693 goal is to reduce agency direct greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next decade. Simultaneously, This EPA strived to foster innovation, reduce spending, and strengthen the communities in which the Federal facilities operated. Some of the ways the EPA planned to achieve this goal were Sustainable Buildings And Energy management, Water Use Efficiency And management, Pollution Prevention And Waste reduction, Renewable energy and other methods.
Clean Power Plan
On August 3, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency took a major step in reducing carbon emissions from power plants by finalizing new standards. With the new standards in effect, power plants were no longer aloud to dump unlimited amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The Clean Power Plan gave each state their own targets that reduced their carbon footprint. Examples of cutting emissions included investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, natural gas, and nuclear power, and shifting away from coal-fired power. Final rule of the Clean Power Plan was implemented December 22, 2015. Not only did the final rule call for all existing power plants to adopt a clean power plan, it also ruled that carbon pollution standards be set in place for new, modified and reconstructed power plants.
Other closely related articles in this wiki include:
- US EPA, (2015, September 29). Our Mission and What We Do [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved February 9, 2016, from http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/our-mission-and-what-we-do
- US EPA, (2015, November 17). Summary of the Clean Air Act [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-air-act
- US EPA, (2015, October 8). Summary of the Clean Water Act [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act
- US EPA, (2015, October 8). Summary of the Safe Drinking Water Act [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-safe-drinking-water-act
- Pollution and Habitat Destruction: The Human Factors Contributing To Endangerment & Extinction - Video & Lesson Transcript. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://study.com/academy/lesson/pollution-and-habitat-destruction-the-human-factors-contributing-to-endangerment-extinction.html
- US EPA, (2016, January 5). About the Endangered Species Protection Program [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/endangered-species/about-endangered-species-protection-program
- US EPA, (2015, November 16). Summary of the Endangered Species Act [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-endangered-species-act
- US EPA, (2016, January 29). Summary of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-federal-insecticide-fungicide-and-rodenticide-act
- US EPA, (2016, February 23). Coastal Areas Impacts [Overviews & Factsheets,]. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts/coasts.html
- US EPA, (2015, August 6). FACT SHEET: Overview of the Clean Power Plan [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-overview-clean-power-plan
- US EPA, (2015, October 13). Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Compliance Monitoring [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/compliance/resource-conservation-and-recovery-act-rcra-compliance-monitoring
- US EPA, (2016, February 8). Summary of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-comprehensive-environmental-response-compensation-and-liability-act
- US EPA, (2016, March 12). Learn about Greener Living [Collections and Lists]. Retrieved March 22, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/learn-issues/learn-about-greener-living
- US EPA, Executive Order 13693, Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved March 31, 2016, from https://www.epa.gov/greeningepa/executive-order-13693-planning-federal-sustainability-next-decade
- The Clean Power Plan: A Climate Game Changer. (2016, February 10). Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/reduce-emissions/what-is-the-clean-power-plan
Relevant online sources to this wiki article include: