Environmental Protection Agency

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an independent agency of the U.S. government to protect the natural resources (e.g., air, water and land) and endangered species. It was created by President Richard Nixon in 1970 and is part of the executive branch of the government.[1] EPA reports directly to the president. The primary mission of the EPA is to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment (air, water and land) of the nation. The EPA was established at atime of new awareness of the environment, with the goal of combing into a single agency many of the existing federal government activities of research and development, monitoring, setting of standards, compliance and enforcement related to protection of the environment.

Conservatives have been skeptical of the agency's liberal political agenda.

It tries to play a mediating role in the debates between Conservation and environmentalism.


Kraft (2000) examines the rise and evolution of environmental politics since the 1960s. Originating as a movement built around the conservation of natural resources and an attempt to stave off air, water, and land pollution, environmentalism evolved into a much more sophisticated control regime, one that employed the Environmental Protection Agency to slow environmental degradation.

President Richard Nixon, on July 9, 1970, told Congress of his plan to create the EPA by combining parts of three federal departments, three bureaus, three administrations and many other offices into the new single, independent agency to be known as the Environmental Protection Agency. By the law at the time, Congress had 60 days to reject the proposal, but opinion was favorable and the reorganization took place without legislation. On December 2, 1970, the EPA was officially established and began operation under director William Ruckelshaus. The EPA began by consolidating 6550 employees from different agencies into a new agency with a $1.4 billion budget.

Kraft (2000) notes that despite its limited charter from 1970, over time EPA has expanded its regulatory function and jousted with the forces of business and economic development. Kraft considers the next major transition in environmental policy to be the process of insuring the "sustainability" of resources through a coalition of interests ranging from policymakers to business leaders, scholars, and individual citizens. At the turn of the 21st century, these often competing groups were wrestling with disparate environmental, economic, and social values.

Russell (1997) shows that from 1970 to 1993, the EPA devoted more of its resources to human health issues, notably cancer prevention, than to the protection of nonhuman species. The limited scope of environmental protection was due to a variety of reasons. An institutional culture favored human health issues because most employees were trained in this area. The emphasis on cancer came from the legal division's discovery that judges were more persuaded by arguments about the carcinogenicity of chemicals than by threats to nonhumans. The views of the agency leaders, who followed politically realistic courses, also played an important part in shaping the EPA's direction. Those supporting ecological issues acquired a new tool in the 1980s with the development of risk assessments so that advocates of ecological protection could use language framed by advocates of human health to protect the environment.

Major laws administered by the EPA

The EPA administers over a dozen major environmental laws including:[2]

  • Clean Air Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund) and Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)
  • Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
  • Oil Pollution Act of 1990
  • Safe Drinking Water Act
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act and Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)


Since 2000 the budget has held fairly steady at $7.6 to $8.4 billion (with no adjustment for inflation). In terms of objectives, 13% is budgeted for clean air and global climate change, 36% for clean and safe water, 24% for land preservation and restoration, 17% for healthy communities and ecosystems, and 11% for compliance and environmental stewardship.[3] In 2008 it has a staff of about 18,000 people in headquarters and departmental or divisional offices, 10 regional offices, and over 25 laboratories located across the nation. More than half of the staff are engineers, scientists and environmental protection specialists. The others include legal counsel, financial, public affairs and computer specialists.

Global Warming

The EPA has ruled that CO2 is a health hazard and it is widely anticipated that the ruling will lead to legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions. The Competitive Enterprise Institute reported findings that countered EPA claims. The report was suppressed from public knowledge and the likely reason was politically motivated.[4]

Greenhouse gases

In December 2009 the EPA officially declared that six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, "threaten the health and welfare of the American people". The decision could open the way for the Obama administration to impose its own curbs on emissions, although Congress may have the final say.

On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This was a rebuke to the Bush administration, which had called for voluntary reduction of the gases.[5]


On 8 February 2008, a federal appeals court struck down a mercury-control plan imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The court ruled that the Bush administration ignored the law when it imposed less stringent requirements on power plants to reduce mercury pollution, which scientists fear could cause neurological problems in 60,000 newborns a year.[6]


An influential early act of the EPA was to ban DDT in the U.S. The reason given was to protect numerous bird species and the harmless insects on which they depend for food.

See also

Further reading

  • Bornyasz, Linda Joy. "Politics of Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency." PhD dissertation U. of Pennsylvania 1999. 194 pp. DAI 2000 60(12): 4581-A. DA9953509 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Bryner, Gary C. Blue Skies, Green Politics: The Clean Air Act of 1990 and Its Implementation (1995).
  • Collin, Robert W. The Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning Up America's Act (2005)
  • DeLong, James. Out of Bounds and Out of Control: Regulatory Enforcement at the EPA (2002) 100pp; libertarian critique excerpt and text search
  • Funke, Odelia. "Struggling with Integrated Environmental Policy: the EPA Experience." Policy Studies Review 1993 12(3-4): 137-161. Issn: 0278-4416 Fulltext: Ebsco
  • Harris, Richard A. and Milkas, Sidney M. The Politics of Regulatory Change: A Tale of Two Agencies. (1989). 334 pp.
  • Hays, Samuel P. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985 (1987).
  • Kamieniecki, Sheldon, and Michael E. Kraft. Business and Environmental Policy: Corporate Interests in the American Political System (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Kraft, Michael E. "U.S. Environmenal Policy and Politics: from the 1960s to the 1990s." Journal of Policy History 2000 12(1): 17-42. Issn: 0898-0306 Fulltext: Project Muse
  • Kraft, Michael E. Environmental Policy and Politics (3rd ed 2006)
  • Lacey, Michael J. ed. Government and Environmental Politics: Essays on Historical Developments Since World War Two (1989)
  • Landry, Marc K. et al., eds. The Environmental Protection Agency: Asking the Wrong Questions: From Nixon to Clinton (1994) case studies on the Ozone Standard, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Clean Air Act (and its impact on the steel industry), the Superfund, Cancer Policy excerpt and text search
  • Lester, James P. Environmental Politics and Policy: Theories and Evidence (2nd ed. 1995)
  • Lieber, Harvey. Federalism and Clean Waters: The 1972 Water Pollution Control Act. (1975). 288 pp.
  • Marcus, Alfred A. Promise and Performance: Choosing and Implementing an Environmental Policy. (1980). 204 pp.
  • O'Leary, Rosemary. Environmental Change: Federal Courts and the EPA (1993).
  • Paehlke, Robert C. Environmentalism and the Future of Progressive Politics (1989)
  • Plater, Zygmunt, et al. Environmental Law and Policy: Nature, Law, and Society (3rd ed. 2004), 1440pp legal cases excerpt and text search
  • Russell, Edmund P., III. "Lost among the Parts per Billion: Ecological Protection at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 1970-1993." Environmental History 1997 2(1): 29-51. Issn: 1084-5453
  • Schoenbrod, David. Saving Our Environment from Washington: How Congress Grabs Power, Shirks Responsibility, and Shortchanges the People. (2005). 320 pp. Argues states and localities should assume many of EPA's roles
  • Whitaker, John C. Striking a Balance: Environment and Natural Resource Policy in the Nixon-Ford Years (1976).
  • annotated bibliography
  • additional books

External links


  1. It was not created by act of Congress. Origins of the EPA: An Agency For The Environment
  2. Environmental Protection Agency, United States Ralph Stuart, Peter Saundry and Sidney Draggan (Contributing Authors); Richard Reibstein (Topic Editor), 2008. Environmental Protection Agency, United States. From the website of the Encyclopedia of Earth. Retrieved January 28, 2008.
  3. See 2009 EPA Budget
  4. EPA’s Proposed Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act Competitive Enterprise Institute
  5. Fox News: High Court Rebukes Bush on Car Pollution
  6. Court strikes down EPA's plan on mercury