The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, was founded on the premise to “protect human health and the environment” in 1970 under the Nixon administration (U.S Environmental Protection Agency). Since then, the federal government agency has put legislation and programs into action concerning our environment and our nations’ health. With the constant change in climate, population, and issues, the EPA has had to adapt to a growing concern from the public. The EPA’s mission has remained to promote a healthy and safe environment, and they have initiated several programs nationwide to provide consumers with energy conserving products to reduce waste and conserve resources in America. Although the EPA’s intention has been centered on the well being of the country from the start, the agency has received opposing opinions and controversy. Discussed in this paper will be three critical issues the EPA regulates, three voluntary programs put into action by the EPA, and some major conflicts the agency has faced since its introduction.
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Before the creation of the EPA, the federal government had no regulating control over environmental pollutants. Concerns of pollution sparked national attention after the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Time magazine described the Cuyahoga as the river that “oozes rather than flows” and in which a person “does not drown but decays” (Great Lakes). Sending concern throughout the country about toxic waste and pollution, the Cuyahoga River incident began a chain of legislation including the Clean Water Act, and later the founding of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the smaller Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Water Act became the “primary federal law” in the United State’s battle with water pollution (Clean Water Act). The Cuyahoga River incident and legislation that followed was only the beginning of the government’s involvement and concern with the environment. Before 1969 was Rachel Carson’s research of the dangers of pesticides to our environment which she published in her book Silent Spring in 1962. The biologist warned against the effects of DDT, a synthetic pesticide. Carson’s early introduction of the dangers of pollution didn’t spark public interest until the later 1960’s after the Cuyahoga River incident. The American public began to react to the issue of pollution on the earth and by 1970 more than 50% of Americans were rating pollution a top issue (Harmon 34). Legislation continued to be passed in the late 1960’s, including the Air Quality Act of 1967 which “provided federal guidelines for monitoring and guarding the quality of air we breathe”, but no national standards were set (Harmon 34). The government began to take control. In 1969, under the Nixon administration, President Richard M. Nixon created the Environmental Quality Council; a panel that would address pollution concerns and advise him the necessary actions. This was another step forward for government control of environmental pollution. Shortly after, Nixon signed Congress’ National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The act required planners of new construction to review and study the environmental impacts of their projects. This led to the installation of the Environmental Protection Agency, collaborating smaller government programs and bureaus with different environmental concerns. Under a single umbrella agency, the EPA could now tackle the nation’s environmental issues. Following the passage of NEPA, the United States experienced its first “Earth Day” on April 22, 1970. Millions of Americans participated in demonstrations across the country to draw attention to the environmental problems. Soon after, local and state organizations were created to find solutions to the growing issue. The federal government also got its big break for environmental control when Nixon proposed the Reorganization Plan No. 3 to combat the fact that “our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food” (Reorganization Plan). The Plan organized various aspects of existing federal departments including the Department of the Interior and the Department of Health to create a collaborated federal effort to “establish and enforce environmental protection standards, conduct environmental research, provide assistance to others combating environmental pollution, and assist the CEQ in developing and recommending to the President new policies for environmental protection” (Lewis). The Environmental Protection Agency proved a great move in the direction toward environmental awareness and protection for years to come.
When Nixon created the EPA, he appointed William D. Ruckelshaus as the first head of the agency in 1970. Since then, a total of 12 administrators have led the EPA; including the current administrator Lisa P. Jackson who took over in 2009. Jackson was nominated in 2008 by Barack Obama for her experience in the field. Prior to her role as administrator, Jackson worked 16 years for the EPA, Chief of Staff in New Jersey during John S. Corzine’s term, and also the Commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Jackson was appointed in January of 2009, where she promised “as Administrator, I will ensure EPA’s efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency. By keeping faith with these values and unleashing innovative, forward-thinking approaches – we can further protect neighborhoods and communities throughout the country” (Jackson). As Administrator, Jackson stated seven priorities after her first year; “taking action on climate change, improving air quality, assuring safety of chemicals, cleaning up EPA’s committees, protecting America’s waters, expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for environmental justice and building strong state and tribal partnerships” (Jackson).
The major issues the EPA tackles include air pollution, climate change, environmental emergencies, green living, health and safety, land and clean up, pesticides chemicals and toxics, waste, and water pollution. The three discussed will be air pollution, water pollution, and hazardous waste and toxins.
Air pollution was a growing concern before the creation of the EPA, but since then the agency has passed legislation and founded programs to control this growing threat. EPA’s mission on air pollution is “to protect and improve air quality in order to avoid or mitigate the consequences of air pollution’s harmful effects” (Learn the Issues: Air). Among the first legislation pushed by the EPA was The Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act is “the law that defines EPA’s responsibilities for protecting and improving the nation’s air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer” (Clean Air Act). Initially created in 1963, the act has experienced its changes in 1970 and 1990 with the change in climate. The Clean Air Act was a serious step in the right direction for government involvement with the environment. By addressing air pollution, the EPA could enact standards ensuring the issue was under control. The amended Clean Air Act in 1990 proposed solutions for addressing acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollution. This included vehicle emissions in which the EPA had to set control standards for. The Clean Air Act also required the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six common air pollutants. The six include ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and lead. “Of the six pollutants, particle pollution and ground-level ozone are the most widespread health threat” according to the EPA (Six Common Air Pollutants). These severe pollutants are called “criteria” pollutants according to the because of their regulation of the human-health and/or environmentally based “science-based guidelines for setting permissible levels” (Six Common Air Pollutants).
Another major issue addressed by the EPA is water pollution. The agency acknowledges water in coral reefs, drinking water, ground water, lakes, oceans and coastal estuaries, rivers and streams, storm water, wastewater, watersheds, and wetlands. Water is not only used for drinking, it also holds purpose for household needs, recreation, fishing, transportation and commerce. Like air pollution, water pollution was a concern long before the founding of the EPA. However, since its creation, the agency has supported legislation and created programs to keep our limited supply of water on earth clean. The EPA’s mission for water pollution is “[enforcing] federal clean water and safe drinking water laws, [providing] support for municipal wastewater treatment plants, and [taking] part in pollution prevention efforts aimed at protecting watersheds and sources of drinking water” (Water Topics). The EPA issued substantial legislation with the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1970-80’s, which included the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972, expanding on the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1948 and was further amended in the Clean Water Act of 1977 and the Water Quality Act of 1987. The Clean Water Act or CWA as it is referred was introduced around 1972 with the addition of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which is still in existence today. The NPDES permitted a system for regulating “point sources” (EPA NPDES). These point sources included industrial facilities, municipal governments and other government facilities, and some agricultural facilities. By regulating the pollutants from these major sources and homes across the country, the EPA is able to significantly improve the quality of our nation’s water. Another important piece of legislation pushed by the EPA is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) passed in 1974. With “a number of threats to drinking water: improperly disposed of chemicals, animal wastes, pesticides, human wastes, wastes injected deep underground, and naturally-occurring substances” it is no question this act is completely necessary in our country (Safe Drinking Water Act). Amendments were made to the original act including in 1986 and 1996 which required actions to “protect drinking water and its sources: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and ground water wells” (Safe Drinking Water Act). The SDWA affects every single public water system in the country and according to the EPA, there are more than 160,000 public water systems providing water to Americans every day. The EPA and its programs work every day to ensure the safety of our drinking water and the water that surrounds us for our health and well being.
Another huge, and more recent, issue among the EPA is toxic and hazardous waste. As defined by the EPA, hazardous waste is a “liquid, solid, contained gas, or sludge waste that contains properties that are dangerous or potentially harmful to human health or the environment” (Wastes). Because of the introduction of chemicals and engineered unnatural substances and bi-products of industry, the EPA has had to address the growing issue. Major legislation passed concerning hazardous waste was in 1976 with the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, commonly known as RCRA. RCRA was approved by Congress to “to address the increasing problems the nation faced from our growing volume of municipal and industrial waste” (History of RCRA). RCRA provided national standards for “protecting human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, conserving energy and natural resources, reducing the amount of waste generated, and ensuring that wastes are managed in an environmentally-sound manner” (History of RCRA). By creating these standards, the RCRA was able to manage America’s growing waste crisis. To promote this, the RCRA enacted three programs; a solid waste program, a hazardous waste program, and an underground storage tank (UST) program. The RCRA also banned all open dumping of waste and encouraged responsible acts such as source reduction and recycling. The RCRA deals with current and future facilities and has been amended in two occasions; the Federal Facility Compliance Act of 1992 which strengthened enforcement of RCRA at federal facilities, and the Land Disposal Program Flexibility Act of 1996 which provided “regulatory flexibility” for specific wastes (History of RCRA).
The EPA continues to strive to protect and ensure the safety of American citizens and the environment. Over the years, the EPA has created numerous programs, each devoted specific tasks including conserving energy, water, and air quality. These programs address modern issues that have been created recently concerning over-usage and waste of natural materials and energy. “Efficiency” has become a hot topic as programs like Energy Star, Water Sense, and fuel efficient cars have hit the market.
Energy Star, one of the most successful EPA programs, was created in 1992 as a “voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” (History: Energy Star). At its introduction, Energy Star began by labeling computers and monitors. By 1995, however, Energy Star labels were displayed on office equipment and even domestic heating and cooling appliances. In 1996, Energy Star progressed and partnered with the U.S Department of Energy to fully expand its energy efficient label. Saving Americans $18 billion in 2010 alone, Energy Star has become an innovative ally in the energy efficiency market. From dishwashers to light bulbs, Energy Star has created convenient blue energy saving labels for the American consumer. Saving energy isn’t the only reward to using Energy Star products. Consumers who choose Energy Star products receive tax deductions as well as long term savings. According to the EPA, “to rate an Energy Star label the appliances – as well as computers, lighting and about 50 other products – generally use 20 to 30 percent less energy than required by federal standards” (Tugend). By supplying newer, more energy efficient products and appliances, old ones can also be traded out for recycling. By taking away old appliances, Energy Star creates a convenient way to become green in America. Not only are consumers awarded for purchasing Energy Stat labels, but small businesses have also been recognized for efficiency. Annually, the EPA awards small businesses across the country for their energy saving efforts. In 2010, nine businesses were honored the award including AutoFair Companies of Manchester, N.H. and Dagher Engineering of New York, N.Y. According to a statement by the EPA, “through effective energy management practices and innovative efficiency solutions, all nine organizations demonstrate that no matter the size, it is possible to save money and use significantly less energy and to power the buildings where Americans work, play, and learn” (Kika). Energy Star continues to be a huge factor in energy conservation in the U.S today.
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A second program initiated by the EPA is Water Sense. Like Energy Star, Water Sense is a voluntary rather than a regulatory program. A more recent addition to the U.S, Water Sense was introduced in the summer of 2006 to protect the future of the U.S’s water supply. By educating the public on how to efficiently use the limited water available, Water Sense has been successful in conserving resources, limiting consumption, and saving U.S consumers money. Water Sense products include efficient toilets, faucets, and showerheads. Products that bear the Water Sense label are 20 percent more water efficient than the other products in their category. Since its creation in 2006, Water Sense has reported the program “has helped consumers save a cumulative 46 billion gallons of water and $343 million in water and sewer bills” (Program Accomplishments). Water Sense strives to help not only the average American consumer, but also businesses and corporations across the country conserve water. Manufacturers of brands like recent additions KB Homes and Moen have contributed to the Water Sense movement by raising their standards and meeting the Water Sense conservation requirements.
Another vital program initiated by the EPA concerns fuel economy. The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) require labels displaying fuel economy information on new cars and “light-duty” trucks (Fuel Economy). By providing easy to read labels, cars and trucks can be easily compared for maximum miles per gallon efficiency (MPG). The EPA and NHTSA work to update these labels to provide consumers with the simplest energy and environmental comparisons between “all vehicles types including electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and conventional gasoline/diesel vehicles” (Fuel Economy). These labels contain new information “such as ratings on fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, and other air pollutants, onto the label as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007” (Fuel Economy). By providing details like these, consumers can conveniently scan and compare fuel economy and energy use of new cars and trucks to make the most sensible and economical decision.
All three programs; Energy Star, Water Sense, and efforts with fuel economy all prove a step in the right direction for energy conservation and preservation in the U.S. The EPA’s initiative and constant work to create modern and convenient products for the U.S consumer promote a better tomorrow for the environment and the health of our nation.
Although the EPA has contributed tremendously to the preservation of our nation’s climate and health, the agency has been confronted with controversy. One specific instance of this was after the September 11th attacks in Lower Manhattan in New York City. The true air quality and health risks following the attack were disputed among government officials. At the center of it all was EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman. In a news article reporting the controversy it was stated that “In a Sept. 13, 2001, press release, the EPA said the air around the disaster site was relatively safe” (Barrett). This struck controversy after a series of health issues including was called the “Ground Zero illness” flooded victims and officials involved in the 9/11 attacks. The EPA played a “key role” in the nation’s response to the terrorist attacks including “monitoring of air, water and dust for potential environmental hazards, the vacuuming of debris and dust from streets and other outdoor spaces in Lower Manhattan, the manual disposal of hazardous waste from the WTC site, the creation of an online database to report monitoring results to the public and press, setting up wash stations and providing protective equipment for recovery workers, and the development of cleaning and testing programs for indoor residences in Lower Manhattan” (EPA Response to September 11). Despite these efforts, the EPA was still struck with a series of questions and hearings from the government and public as to the true condition of the air quality that September day. Some five to seven years after even the EPA was continued to be questioned as to the condition and experience of their employees and scientists and the condition of their political leadership. In a 60 Minutes special, former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman spoke and defended the EPA and criticized NYC authorities for not enforcing proper safety regulations for the workers.
The Environmental Protection Agency has given new hope to the word “environment” in America. By promoting green living, sustainability, conservation, and preservation, the EPA has given Americans a chance to save the nation for future generations. Initiating programs such as Energy Star, Water Sense and efforts with fuel economy, the EPA has proven they are committed to promoting health and well being in America. Even with rapid chance among the U.S, the EPA has jumpstarted legislation to combat the waste and pollution in the country and on earth. Legislation including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and efforts to reduce hazardous waste has proven the EPA’s success across the nation. Even met by controversy, the EPA has held a tight grip on regulation and conservation throughout the country, and will continue to hold on for future generations. Furthermore, the EPA’s mission has been to protect. An agency dedicated to conservation and preservation has rooted itself in American society. Without the Environmental Protection Agency, not only would America have a bigger mess on their hands, but as our health would be at risk as a nation as well.
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