Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in July 1970 during widespread concern over declining environmental quality. It is charged with repairing damage to the environment and with instituting new policies designed to maintain a clean environment.


The year 1970 marked a turning point for environmental concerns with the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in January 1970, the passage of the Clean Air Act (CAA) Extension of 1970, and the celebration of the first Earth Day in April 1970. President Richard Nixon and Congress responded to the growing public demand for cleaner air, land, and water and created a new agency of the federal government to address the danger of pollution to human health and the environment.

Encased in full-body protective suits, Environmental Protection Agency workers test barrels of waste at a dumping site near Houston, Texas.

Encased in full-body protective suits, Environmental Protection Agency workers test barrels of waste at a dumping site near Houston, Texas.
(Sam Pierson/Science Source)

For some environmental programs, the EPA works with other agencies: for example, the U.S. Coast Guard and the EPA work together on flood control, shoreline protection, and dredging and filling activities. Most state governments in the United States have their own environmental protection departments, so the EPA delegates the implementation and enforcement of many federal programs to the states.


The EPA's headquarters is in Washington, DC, and there are ten regional offices and field laboratories. The main office develops national environmental policy and programs, oversees the regional offices and laboratories, requests an annual budget from Congress, and conducts research. The regional offices implement national policies, oversee the environmental programs delegated to the states, and review Environmental Impact Statements for federal actions. The field laboratories conduct research, the data from which are used to develop policies and provide analytical support for monitoring and enforcement of EPA regulations, and for the administration of permit programs.

The administrator of the EPA is appointed by the president, subject to approval by the Senate. The same procedure is used to appoint a deputy administrator, who assists the administrator, and nine assistant administrators who oversee programs and support functions. Other posts include the chief financial officer, who manages the EPA's budget and funding operations; the inspector general, who is responsible for investigating environmental crimes; and a general counsel, who provides legal support.

In addition to the administrative offices, the EPA is organized into the following program offices: the Office of Air and Radiation; the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution; the Office of Environmental Information; the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, which includes the American Indian Environment Office; the Office of Research and Development; the Office of Water; and the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response; and the Office of Water.

The offices and programs of the EPA recognize a set of main objectives, or core functions. These core functions help define the agency's mission and provide a common focus for all agency activities.

Many EPA programs are established by legislation enacted by Congress. For example, many of the activities carried out by the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response originated in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Other laws that form the legal basis for the programs of the EPA are the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, which represents the basic national charter of the EPA, the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1977, the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986, and the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) of 1990. It is through such legislation that the EPA obtains authority to develop and enforce regulations. Environmental regulations drafted by the agency are subjected to intense review before being finalized. This process includes approval by the president's Office of Management and Budget and input from the private sector and from other government agencies.


One of the major activities of the EPA is the management of Superfund sites. For many years, uncontrolled dumping of hazardous chemical and industrial wastes in abandoned warehouses and landfills continued without concern for the potential impact on public health and the environment. Concern over the extent of the hazardous waste site problem led Congress to establish the Superfund Program in 1980 to locate, investigate, and clean up the worst of these sites. The EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response oversees management of the program in cooperation with individual states. When a hazardous-waste site is discovered, the EPA is notified. The EPA makes a preliminary assessment of the site and gives a numerical score according to the Hazard Ranking System (HRS), which determines whether the site is placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). As of September 2012, just over 1,300 sites were listed on the final NPL. The final NPL lists Superfund sites in which the clean-up plan is under construction or ongoing. NPL proposed sites include sites for which the HRS indicates that placement on the final NPL is appropriate. A final NPL site is deleted from the list when it is determined that no further clean up is needed to protect human health or the environment. Finally, under Superfund's redevelopment program, former hazardous-waste sites have been remade into office buildings, parking lots, or even golf courses to be re-integrated as productive parts of the community.

Research and general acceptance


Ralph Nader.

Ralph Nader.
(APPhoto/Jessica Hill)

Ralph Nader is an activist known for his views on politics, the environment, and consumer safety. He has been a presidential candidate five times. His key environmental issues include: reducing America's reliance on fossil fuels; working to slow down global warming; increasing funding for the National Park System; ending urban sprawl; and advocating for clean air and water.

In 1965, Nader became a household name when he publicy criticized the automobile industry's safety records. His book Unsafe at Any Speed detailed many instances where Nader believed the automobile industry was putting profit margins ahead of consumer safety.

In 1974, Nader formed the Critical Mass Energy Project, a group opposing the nuclear energy movement in favor of alternative energy resources. He also worked with the Clean Water Action Project, passing the Safe Drinking Water Act. He was influential in forming the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency that the EPA may regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The EPA, under the administration of President George W. Bush, asserted that the EPA did not have the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. In 2003, the EPA asserted that, even if it had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, it would refuse to do so. The Court ruled that the EPA not only has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases but that it must do so unless “it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change, or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do.”

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) was implemented July 6, 2011, in order to address the movement of power plant emissions across state lines, thereby increasing ozone and fine particle pollution in those states. The EPA estimates that 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, and 13,000–34,000 premature deaths will be avoided each year due to CSAPR. Other health conditions are also expected to improve with better air quality, as is attendance at work and school due to fewer illnesses.

The EPA provides extensive information for the general public regarding numerous topics related to environmental issues. Topics range from how to protect children's health at school and home; to educational material about radiation, indoor air quality, and pesticides; to health hazards for aging adults.

See also Air pollution ; Clean Air Act (1963, 1970, 1977, 1990 ; Clean Water Act (1972, 1977, 1987) ; Earth Day ; National Environmental Policy Act (1969) ; Food and Drug Administration ; Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ; Water pollution .



Collin, Robert W. The Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning Up America's Act. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

STRIVE: An Environmental Protection Agency Program, 2007–2013. Johnstown Castle Estate: Environmental Protection Agency, 2007.


Environmental Protection Agency. “Learn the Issues: Health and Safety.” September 11, 2012. http://www.epa.gov/gateway/learn/health.html (accessed September 29, 2012).


Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20460, (202) 272-0167, http://epa.gov .

Teresa C. Donkin

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.