United States Environmental Protection Agency - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stacks emitting smoke from burning discarded automobile batteries, photo taken in Houston in 1972 by official photographer of recently founded EPA

Same smokestacks in 1975 after the plant was closed in a push for greater environmental protection

Beginning in the late 1950s[6] and through the 1960s, Congress reacted to increasing public concern about the impact that human activity could have on the environment. A key legislative option to address this concern was the declaration of a national environmental policy.[citation needed] Advocates of this approach argued that without a specific policy, federal agencies were neither able nor inclined to consider the environmental impacts of their actions in fulfilling the agency's mission.[citation needed] The statute that ultimately addressed this issue was the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4347).[7] Senator Henry M. Jackson proposed and helped write S 1075, the bill that eventually became the National Environmental Policy Act. The law was signed by President Nixon on January 1, 1970. NEPA was the first of several major environmental laws passed in the 1970s. It declared a national policy to protect the environment and created a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of the President.[citation needed] To implement the national policy, NEPA required that a detailed statement of environmental impacts be prepared for all major federal actions significantly affecting the environment. The "detailed statement" would ultimately be referred to as an environmental impact statement (EIS).

In 1970, President Richard Nixon proposed an executive reorganization that would consolidate many of the federal government's environmental responsibilities under one agency, a new Environmental Protection Agency. That reorganization proposal was reviewed and passed by the House and Senate.[8] For at least 10 years before NEPA was enacted,[9][better source needed] Congress debated issues that the act would ultimately address.[citation needed] The act was modeled on the Resources and Conservation Act of 1959,[citation needed] introduced by Senator James E. Murray in the 86th Congress.[citation needed] That bill would have established an environmental advisory counsel in the office of the President, declared a national environmental policy, and required the preparation of an annual environmental report.[10][better source needed] In the years following the introduction of Senator Murray's bill, similar bills were introduced and hearings were held to discuss the state of the environment and Congress's potential responses to perceived problems. In 1968, a joint House-Senate colloquium was convened by the chairmen of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs (Senator Henry Jackson) and the House Committee on Science and Astronautics (Representative George Miller) to discuss the need for and potential means of implementing a national environmental policy. In the colloquium, some Members of Congress expressed a continuing concern over federal agency actions affecting the environment.[11]

The EPA began regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) from mobile and stationary sources of air pollution under the Clean Air Act (CAA) for the first time on January 2, 2011. Standards for mobile sources have been established pursuant to Section 202 of the CAA, and GHGs from stationary sources are controlled under the authority of Part C of Title I of the Act. See the page Regulation of Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act for further information.

On July 17, 2013, the EPA renamed its headquarters the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building, after former president Bill Clinton.[12]

Energy StarEdit

Main article: Energy Star

In 1992 the EPA launched the Energy Star program, a voluntary program that fosters energy efficiency.


EPA administers the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) (which is much older than the agency) and registers all pesticides legally sold in the United States.

Environmental Impact Statement ReviewEdit

EPA is responsible for reviewing Environmental Impact Statements of other federal agencies' projects, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Safer Detergents Stewardship InitiativeEdit

Through the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative (SDSI),[26] EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) recognizes environmental leaders who voluntarily commit to the use of safer surfactants. Safer surfactants are the ones that break down quickly to non-polluting compounds and help protect aquatic life in both fresh and salt water. Nonylphenol ethoxylates, commonly referred to as NPEs, are an example of a surfactant class that does not meet the definition of a safer surfactant.

The Design for the Environment has identified safer alternative surfactants through partnerships with industry and environmental advocates. These safer alternatives are comparable in cost and are readily available. CleanGredients[27] is a source of safer surfactants.

Fuel economyEdit

Manufacturers selling automobiles in the USA are required to provide EPA fuel economy test results for their vehicles and the manufacturers are not allowed to provide results from alternate sources. The fuel economy is calculated using the emissions data collected during two of the vehicle's Clean Air Act certification tests by measuring the total volume of carbon captured from the exhaust during the tests.

The current testing system was originally developed in 1972 and used driving cycles designed to simulate driving during rush-hour in Los Angeles during that era. Prior to 1984 the EPA reported the exact fuel economy figures calculated from the test. In 1984, the EPA began adjusting city (aka Urban Dynamometer Driving Schedule or UDDS) results downward by 10% and highway (aka HighWay Fuel Economy Test or HWFET) results by 22% to compensate for changes in driving conditions since 1972 and to better correlate the EPA test results with real-world driving. In 1996, the EPA proposed updating the Federal Testing Procedures[28] to add a new higher speed test (US06) and an air-conditioner on test (SC03) to further improve the correlation of fuel economy and emission estimates with real-world reports. The updated testing methodology was finalized in December, 2006 for implementation with model year 2008 vehicles and set the precedent of a 12 year review cycle for the test procedures.[29]

In February 2005, the organization launched a program called "Your MPG"[30] that allows drivers to add real-world fuel economy statistics into a database on the EPA's fuel economy website and compare them with others and the original EPA test results.

It is important to note that the EPA actually conducts these tests on very few vehicles. "While the public mistakenly presumes that this federal agency is hard at work conducting complicated tests on every new model of truck, van, car, and SUV, in reality, just 18 of the EPA's 17,000 employees work in the automobile-testing department in Ann Arbor, Michigan, examining 200 to 250 vehicles a year, or roughly 15 percent of new models. As to that other 85 percent, the EPA takes automakers at their word—without any testing-accepting submitted results as accurate."[31] Two-thirds of the vehicles the EPA tests themselves are selected randomly, and the remaining third are tested for specific reasons.

Although originally created as a reference point for fossil fuelled vehicles, driving cycles have been used for estimating how many miles an electric vehicle will do on a single charge.[32]

Air qualityEdit

The Air Quality Modeling Group (AQMG) is in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) and provides leadership and direction on the full range of air quality models, air pollutiondispersion models[33][34] and other mathematical simulation techniques used in assessing pollution control strategies and the impacts of air pollution sources.

The AQMG serves as the focal point on air pollution modeling techniques for other EPA headquarters staff, EPA regional Offices, and State and local environmental agencies. It coordinates with the EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) on the development of new models and techniques, as well as wider issues of atmospheric research. Finally, the AQMG conducts modeling analyses to support the policy and regulatory decisions of the EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS).

The AQMG is located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Oil pollutionEdit

SPCC: Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Rule. Applies to all facilities that store, handle, process, gather, transfer, store, refine, distribute, use or consume oil or oil products. Oil products includes petroleum and non-petroleum oils as well as: animal fats, oils and greases; fish and marine mammal oils; and vegetable oils, (including oils from seeds, nuts, fruits, and kernels). Mandates that an SPCC Plan is required for facilities that may reasonably be expected to have a discharge into or upon navigable waters of the United States (as defined in the Clean Water Act)or adjoining shorelines. Secondary Containment mandated at oil storage facilities. Oil release containment at oil development sites.


WaterSense is an EPA program designed to encourage water efficiency in the United States through the use of a special label on consumerproducts. It was launched in June 2006.[35] Products include high-efficiency toilets (HETs), bathroomsinkfaucets (and accessories), and irrigation equipment. WaterSense is a voluntary program, with EPA developing specifications for water-efficient products through a public process and product testing by independent laboratories. The program was launched in 2006.[36]

Drinking waterEdit

EPA ensures safe drinking water for the public, by setting standards for more than 160,000 public water systems throughout the United States. EPA oversees states, local governments and water suppliers to enforce the standards, under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The program includes regulation of injection wells in order to protect underground sources of drinking water. Select readings of amounts of certain contaminants in drinking water, precipitation, and surface water, in addition to milk and air, are reported on EPA's Rad Net web site in a section entitled Envirofacts. In certain cases, readings exceeding EPA MCL levels are deleted or not included[37][38] despite mandatory reporting regulations. A draft of revised EPA regulations relaxes the regulations for radiation exposure through drinking water, stating that current standards are impractical to enforce. The EPA is recommending that intervention is not necessary until drinking water is contaminated with radioactive iodine 131 at a concentration of 81,000 picocuries per liter (the limit for short term exposure set by the International Atomic Energy Agency), which is 27,000 times the current EPA limit of 3 picocuries per liter for long term exposure.[39]

Radiation ProtectionEdit

EPA has following seven groups of projects to protect public from nuclear contamination.[40]

Protective Action Guide

Main article: Protective Action Guide for Nuclear Incidents#Action Plan in USA

EPA developed the manual[41] to provide guideline for local and state governments to protect public from nuclear accident.

There has been political controversy[who?] over whether environmental regulations generally increase or decrease national employment.[44][45][46][47]

The "LT2" Drinking Water ControversyEdit

A recent amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, known as "LT2",[48] mandates costly treatment or burial for open reservoirs. This regulation has come under fire, with allegations that it is the unnecessary and wasteful[49] product of lobbying from corporate interests who stand benefit from ensuing public works contracts [50]

Fiscal MismanagementEdit

EPA director Anne M. Gorsuch resigned under fire in 1983 during a scandal over mismanagement of a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps. Gorsuch based her administration of the EPA on the New Federalism approach of downsizing federal agencies by delegating their functions and services to the individual states.[51] She believed that the EPA was over-regulating business and that the agency was too large and not cost-effective. During her 22 months as agency head, she cut the budget of the EPA by 22%, reduced the number of cases filed against polluters, relaxed Clean Air Act regulations, and facilitated the spraying of restricted-use pesticides. She cut the total number of agency employees, and hired staff from the industries they were supposed to be regulating.[52] Environmentalists contended that her policies were designed to placate polluters, and accused her of trying to dismantle the Agency.[53]

In 1982 Congress charged that the EPA had mishandled the $1.6 billion toxic waste Superfund and demanded records from Gorsuch. Gorsuch refused and became the first agency director in U.S. history to be cited for contempt of Congress. The EPA turned the documents over to Congress several months later, after the White House abandoned its court claim that the documents could not be subpoened by Congress because they were covered by executive privilege. At that point, Gorsuch resigned her post, citing pressures caused by the media and the congressional investigation.[54] Critics charged that the EPA was in a shambles at that time.[55]

Fuel economyEdit

In July 2005, an EPA report showing that auto companies were using loopholes to produce less fuel-efficient cars was delayed. The report was supposed to be released the day before a controversial energy bill was passed and would have provided backup for those opposed to it, but at the last minute the EPA delayed its release.[56]

The state of California sued the EPA for its refusal to allow California and 16 other states to raise fuel economy standards for new cars.[57] EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson claimed that the EPA was working on its own standards, but the move has been widely considered an attempt to shield the auto industry from environmental regulation by setting lower standards at the federal level, which would then preempt state laws.[58][59][60] California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with governors from 13 other states, stated that the EPA's actions ignored federal law, and that existing California standards (adopted by many states in addition to California) were almost twice as effective as the proposed federal standards.[61] It was reported that Stephen Johnson ignored his own staff in making this decision.[62]

After the federal government bailed out General Motors and Chrysler in the Automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox was released with EPA fuel economy rating abnormally higher than its competitors. Independent road tests[63][64][65][66] found that both vehicle did not out-perform its competitors, which had much lower fuel economy ratings. Later road tests[67][68] found better, but inconclusive, results. Palm-based biodiesel and renewable diesel failed to meet the minimum 20% greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings threshold requirement to qualify as renewable fuels under the US Renewable Fuel Standard 2.[69]Palm oil plantations threaten the habitats of the endangered orang-utan and dwarf elephant.[70]

Global warmingEdit

In June 2005, a memo revealed that Philip Cooney, former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, had personally edited documents, summarizing government research on climate change, before their release.[71] Cooney resigned two days after the memo was published in The New York Times. Cooney said he had been planning to resign for over two years, implying the timing of his resignation was just a coincidence. Specifically, he said he had planned to resign to "spend time with his family."[72] One week after resigning he took a job at Exxon Mobil in their public affairs department.[73]

In December 2007, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson approved a draft of a document that declared that climate change imperiled the public welfare—a decision that would trigger the first national mandatory global-warming regulations. Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett e-mailed the draft to the White House. White House aides—who had long resisted mandatory regulations as a way to address climate change—knew the gist of what Johnson's finding would be, Burnett said. They also knew that once they opened the attachment, it would become a public record, making it controversial and difficult to rescind. So they did not open it; rather, they called Johnson and asked him to take back the draft. U.S. law clearly stated that the final decision was the EPA administrator's, not President Bush's. Johnson rescinded the draft; in July 2008, he issued a new version which did not state that global warming was danger to public welfare. Burnett resigned in protest.[74]


In 2004, the Agency began a strategic planning exercise to develop plans for a more virtual approach to library services. The effort was curtailed in July 2005 when the Agency proposed a $2.5 million cut in its 2007 budget for libraries. Based on the proposed 2007 budget, the EPA posted a notice to the Federal Register, September 20, 2006 that EPA Headquarters Library would close its doors to walk-in patrons and visitors on October 1, 2006.[75] The EPA also closed some of its regional libraries and reduced hours in others,[76] using the same FY 2007 proposed budget numbers.

On October 1, 2008, the Agency re-opened regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City and the library at its Headquarters in Washington, DC.[77]

In June 2011, the EPA Library Network published a strategic plan[78] for fiscal years 2012-2014.

Mercury emissionsEdit

In March 2005, nine states (California, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Mexico and Vermont) sued the EPA. The EPA's inspector general had determined that the EPA's regulation of mercury emissions did not follow the Clean Air Act, and that the regulations were influenced by top political appointees.[79][80] The EPA had suppressed a study it commissioned by Harvard University which contradicted its position on mercury controls.[81] The suit alleges that the EPA's rule allowing exemption from "maximum available control technology" was illegal, and additionally charged that the EPA's system of pollution credit trading allows power plants to forego reducing mercury emissions.[82] Several states also began to enact their own mercury emission regulations. Illinois's proposed rule would have reduced mercury emissions from power plants by an average of 90% by 2009.[83]

9/11 air ratingsEdit

An August 2003 report released by EPA's Inspector General claimed that the White House put pressure on the EPA to delete cautionary information about the air quality in New York City around Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Very fine airborne particulatesEdit

Tiny particles, under 2.5 micrometres, are attributed to health and mortality concerns,[84] so some health advocates want the EPA to regulate it. The science may be in its infancy, although many conferences have discussed the trails of this airborne matter in the air. Foreign governments such as Australia[85] and most EU States have addressed this issue.

The EPA first established standards in 1997, and strengthened them in 2006. As with other standards, regulation and enforcement of the PM2.5 standards is the responsibility of the state governments, through State Implementation Plans.[86]

Political pressure and Scientific IntegrityEdit

In April 2008, the Union of Concerned Scientists said that more than half of the nearly 1,600 EPA staff scientists who responded online to a detailed questionnaire reported they had experienced incidents of political interference in their work. The survey included chemists, toxicologists, engineers, geologists and experts in other fields of science. About 40% of the scientists reported that the interference had been more prevalent in the last five years than in previous years. The highest number of complaints came from scientists who were involved in determining the risks of cancer by chemicals used in food and other aspects of everyday life.[87]

EPA research has also been suppressed by career managers.[88] Supervisors at EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment required several paragraphs to be deleted from a peer-reviewed journal article about EPA's integrated risk information system, which led two co-authors to have their names removed from the publication, and the corresponding author, Ching-Hung Hsu, to leave EPA "because of the draconian restrictions placed on publishing.".[89] EPA subjects employees who author scientific papers to prior restraint, even if those papers are written on personal time.[90] A $3 million mapping study on sea level rise was suppressed by EPA management during both the Bush and Obama Administrations, and managers changed a key interagency report to reflect the removal of the maps.[91] EPA employees have reported difficulty in conducting and reporting the results of studies on hydraulic fracturing due to industry[92][93][94] and governmental pressure, and are concerned about the censorship of environmental reports.[92][95][96]

Environmental justiceEdit

The EPA has been criticized for its lack of progress towards environmental justice. Administrator Christine Todd Whitman was criticized for her changes to President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12898 during 2001, removing the requirements for government agencies to take the poor and minority populations into special consideration when making changes to environmental legislation, and therefore defeating the spirit of the Executive Order.[97] In a March 2004 report, the inspector general of the agency concluded that the EPA "has not developed a clear vision or a comprehensive strategic plan, and has not established values, goals, expectations, and performance measurements" for environmental justice in its daily operations. Another report in September 2006 found the agency still had failed to review the success of its programs, policies and activities towards environmental justice.[98] Studies have also found that poor and minority populations were underserved by the EPA's Superfund program, and that this situation was worsening.[97]

Barriers to enforcing environmental justiceEdit

Localization Many issues of environmental justice are localized, and are therefore hard to be addressed by federal agencies such as the EPA. Without significant media attention, political interest, or 'crisis' status, local issues are less likely to be addressed on local or federal level. With a still developing sector of environmental justice under the EPA, small, local incidents are unlikely to be solved compared to larger, well publicized incidents.

Conflicting political powers The White House maintains direct control over the EPA, and its enforcements are subject to the political agenda of who is in power. Republicans and Democrats differ in their approaches to, and perceived concerns of, environmental justice. While President Bill Clinton signed the executive order 12898, the Bush administration did not develop a clear plan or establish goals for integrating environmental justice into everyday practices, which in turn affected the motivation for environmental enforcement.[99]

Responsibilities of the EPA The EPA is responsible for preventing and detecting environmental crimes, informing the public of environmental enforcement, and setting and monitoring standards of air pollution, water pollution, hazardous wastes and chemicals. While the EPA aids in preventing and identifying hazardous situations, it is hard to construct a specific mission statement given its wide range of responsibilities.[100] It is impossible to address every environmental crime adequately or efficiently if there is no specific mission statement to refer to. The EPA answers to various groups, competes for resources, and confronts a wide array of harms to the environment. All of these present challenges, including a lack of resources, its self-policing policy, and a broadly defined legislation that creates too much discretion for EPA officers.[101]

Authority of the EPA Under different circumstances, the EPA faces many limitations to enforcing environmental justice. It does not have the authority or resources to address injustices without an increase in federal mandates requiring private industries to consider the environmental ramifications of their activities.[102]