Environmental Protection Agency - 1970



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was officially formed December 2, 1970 as a result of a law passed by the Nixon administration. The result was a defined branch of the federal government that would be responsible for maintaining clean air, land, and water and regulating pollutants in the environment. It employs more than 18,000 people across the country.


The Environmental Protection Agency is the primary federal agency in charge of creating and enforcing regulations that put environmental laws into practice. Generally, the agency determines the appropriate regulations through research, then designates regional, state, and tribal branches of the EPA with the tasks of implementing, monitoring, and enforcing the regulations at a local level.

The EPA also provides money to state and local environmental programs to focus on local environmental improvements or environmental education. Additionally, the agency itself undertakes national programs, also aimed at environmental improvement and education.

The EPA itself cites Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, as the significant environmental influence that led to the creation of the EPA. In this same article, "The Birth of the EPA," author Jack Lewis further suggests that the EPA developed from concern about environmental degradation as it affects the human population, noting that Carson's influence came not so much from the idea of a "silent spring" - the disappearance of birds due to the harmful effects of DDT - as from the health problems that such toxins could cause for humans (#EPA History).


The stated goal of the EPA is "To protect human health and the environment."

Major Policy Acts

  • Clean Air Act - In 1970, the Clean Air Act went from being under state jurisdiction to being administered by the EPA. This amendment made the EPA responsible for setting and enforcing national standards of air pollution. The Act has been further amended several times, with the most recent amendment taking place in 1990. The Clean Air Act was strengthened with the creation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which allow the EPA to set maximum concentration levels of six major pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, Lead, and particulate matter. Pollution levels are monitored at the local level, with every major city having at least one monitoring location. If states or cities exceed the pollution standards, the EPA can require the local or state governments to fund appropriate pollution reduction strategies (#ELC Clean Air Act).
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) & Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) - CERCLA was amended by SARA in 1986 to strengthen and expand the Superfund program, which allows the EPA to respond to uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The EPA can hold a "potentially responsible party" (PRP) liable for the hazardous waste pollution, even if the resulting contamination was unintentional. Generally, a PRP must pay for clean-up of the site. While PRPs can contest their responsibility, the burden of proof rests on them. The EPA has the right to charge as many owners or previous owners of a Superfund site as it deems necessary, although any residential owners cannot be charged for cleanup unless they have been found to be specifically involved in the emission of hazardous wastes.
  • Clean Water Act - This act, passed in 1972, allows for the regulation of pollutants emitted into surface water. The Clean Water Act, however, does not require states to enforce water quality standards in groundwater. Rather, the CWA focuses on limiting surface water pollution by regulating point-source pollution, funding the creation of water treatment facilities, and, recently, developing voluntary programs in an effort to lessen non-point runoff.