Environmental Protection Agency

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Environmental Protection Agency

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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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