|Formed||December 2, 1970|
|Headquarters||William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an independent executive agency of the United States federal government tasked with environmental protection matters. President Richard Nixon proposed the establishment of EPA on July 9, 1970; it began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate. The agency is led by its administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. The current administrator is Michael S. Regan. The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is normally given cabinet rank.
The EPA has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., regional offices for each of the agency's ten regions and 27 laboratories. The agency conducts environmental assessment, research, and education. It has the responsibility of maintaining and enforcing national standards under a variety of environmental laws, in consultation with state, tribal, and local governments. It delegates some permitting, monitoring, and enforcement responsibility to U.S. states and the federally recognized tribes. EPA enforcement powers include fines, sanctions, and other measures. The agency also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.
The agency's budgeted employee level in 2022 is 14,581. More than half of EPA's employees are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; other employees include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists.
Many public health and environmental groups advocate for the agency and believe that it is creating a better world. Other critics believe that the agency commits government overreach by adding unnecessary regulations on business and property owners.
Beginning in the late 1950s and through the 1960s, Congress reacted to increasing public concern about the impact that human activity could have on the environment. Senator James E. Murray introduced a bill, the Resources and Conservation Act (RCA) of 1959, in the 86th Congress. The bill would have established a Council on Environmental Quality in the Executive Office of the President, declared a national environmental policy, and required the preparation of an annual environmental report.
The 1962 publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson alerted the public about the detrimental effects on the environment of the indiscriminate use of pesticides.
In the years following, similar bills were introduced and hearings were held to discuss the state of the environment and Congress's potential responses. In 1968, a joint House–Senate colloquium was convened by the chairmen of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Senator Henry M. Jackson, and the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Representative George P. Miller, to discuss the need for and 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.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) was modeled on the 1959 RCA bill. President Nixon signed NEPA into law on January 1, 1970. The law created the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of the President. 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).
On July 9, 1970, Nixon proposed an executive reorganization that consolidated many environmental responsibilities of the federal government under one agency, a new Environmental Protection Agency. This proposal included merging pollution control programs from a number of departments, such as the combination of pesticide programs from the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of the Interior.: 5 After conducting hearings during that summer, the House and Senate approved the proposal. The EPA was created 90 days before it had to operate,: 11 and officially opened its doors on December 2, 1970. The agency's first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, took the oath of office on December 4, 1970.
EPA's primary predecessor was the former Environmental Health Divisions of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), and its creation caused one of a series of reorganizations of PHS that occurred during 1966–1973. From PHS, EPA absorbed the entire National Air Pollution Control Administration, as well as the Environmental Control Administration's Bureau of Solid Waste Management, Bureau of Water Hygiene, and part of its Bureau of Radiological Health. It also absorbed the Federal Water Quality Administration, which had previously been transferred from PHS to the Department of the Interior in 1966. A few functions from other agencies were also incorporated into EPA: the formerly independent Federal Radiation Council was merged into it; pesticides programs were transferred from the Department of the Interior, Food and Drug Administration, and Agricultural Research Service; and some functions were transferred from the Council on Environmental Quality and Atomic Energy Commission.
Upon its creation, EPA inherited 84 sites spread across 26 states, of which 42 sites were laboratories. The EPA consolidated these laboratories into 22 sites.
In its first year, the EPA had a budget of $1.4 billion and 5,800 employees.: 5 At its start, the EPA was primarily a technical assistance agency that set goals and standards. Soon, new acts and amendments passed by Congress gave the agency its regulatory authority.: 9 A major expansion of the Clean Air Act was approved in December 1970.
EPA staff recall that in the early days there was "an enormous sense of purpose and excitement" and the expectation that "there was this agency which was going to do something about a problem that clearly was on the minds of a lot of people in this country," leading to tens of thousands of resumes from those eager to participate in the mighty effort to clean up America's environment.
When EPA first began operation, members of the private sector felt strongly that the environmental protection movement was a passing fad. Ruckelshaus stated that he felt pressure to show a public which was deeply skeptical about government's effectiveness, that EPA could respond effectively to widespread concerns about pollution.
The burning Cuyahoga River in 1969 had led to a national outcry. In December 1970 a federal grand jury investigation led by U.S. Attorney Robert W. Jones began, of water pollution allegedly being caused by about 12 companies in northeastern Ohio. It was the first grand jury investigation of water pollution in the area. The attorney general of the United States, John N. Mitchell, held a press conference on December 18, 1970, referencing new pollution control litigation, with particular reference to work with the new Environmental Protection Agency, and announcing the filing of a lawsuit that morning against the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation for discharging substantial quantities of cyanide into the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland. Jones filed the misdemeanor charges in District Court, alleging violations of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899.
Partly based on such litigation experience, Congress enacted the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, better known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA established a national framework for addressing water quality, including mandatory pollution control standards, to be implemented by the agency in partnership with the states. Congress also amended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in 1972, requiring EPA to measure every pesticide's risks against its potential benefits.
In 1973 President Nixon appointed Ruckelshaus to the position of Deputy Attorney General. Russell E. Train was appointed to be the next EPA Administrator.
Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, requiring EPA to develop mandatory federal standards for all public water systems, which serve 90% of the US population. The law required EPA to enforce the standards with the cooperation of state agencies.
In October 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which, like FIFRA, related to the manufacture, labeling and usage of commercial products rather than pollution. This act gave the EPA the authority to gather information on chemicals and require producers to test them, gave it the ability to regulate chemical production and use (with specific mention of PCBs), and required the agency to create the National Inventory listing of chemicals.
Congress also enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, significantly amending the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965. It tasked the EPA with setting national goals for waste disposal, conserving energy and natural resources, reducing waste, and ensuring environmentally sound management of waste. Accordingly, the agency developed regulations for solid and hazardous waste that were to be implemented in collaboration with states.
President Jimmy Carter appointed Douglas M. Costle as EPA Administrator in 1977.
To manage the agency's expanding legal mandates and workload, by the end of 1979 the budget grew to about $5.4 billion and the workforce size increased to about 13,000.
In 1980, following the discovery of many abandoned or mismanaged hazardous waste sites such as Love Canal, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, nicknamed “Superfund.” The new law authorized EPA to cast a wider net for parties responsible for sites contaminated by previous hazardous waste disposal and established a funding mechanism for assessment and cleanup.
Anne Gorsuch was appointed EPA Administrator in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. Gorsuch based her administration of EPA on the New Federalism approach of downsizing federal agencies by delegating their functions and services to the individual states. She believed that 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. Environmentalists contended that her policies were designed to placate polluters, and accused her of trying to dismantle the agency.
Following her mismanagement of the Superfund program, Assistant Administrator Rita Lavelle was fired by Reagan in February 1983. Lavelle was later convicted of perjury. Gorsuch had increasing confrontations with Congress over Superfund and other programs, including her refusal to submit subpoenaed documents. Gorsuch was cited for contempt of Congress and the White House directed EPA to submit the documents to Congress. Gorsuch (who had recently remarried, becoming Anne Gorsuch Burford) resigned in March 1983, followed by resignations of her Deputy Administrator and most of her Assistant Administrators. Reagan then appointed William Ruckelshaus as EPA Administrator for a second term. Lee M. Thomas succeeded Ruckelshaus as Administrator in 1985.
In April 1986, when the Chernobyl disaster occurred in Ukraine, the EPA was tasked with identifying any impacts on the United States and keeping the public informed. Administrator Lee Thomas assembled an interagency team, including personnel from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Energy to monitor the situation. They held press conferences for 10 days.: 9 That same year Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, which authorized the EPA to gather data on toxic chemicals and share this information with the public.
EPA also researched the implications of stratospheric ozone depletion. Under Administrator Thomas, EPA joined with several international organizations to perform a risk assessment of stratospheric ozone, which helped provide motivation for the Montreal Protocol, which was agreed to in August 1987.: 14
In 1988, during his first presidential campaign, George H. W. Bush was vocal about environmental issues. Following his election victory, he appointed William K. Reilly, an environmentalist, as EPA Administrator in 1989. Under Reilly's leadership, the EPA implemented voluntary programs and initiated the development of a "cluster rule" for multimedia regulation of the pulp and paper industry. At the time, the environment was increasingly being recognized as a regional issue, which was reflected in 1990 amendment of the Clean Air Act and new approaches by the agency.
In 1992 EPA and the Department of Energy launched the Energy Star program, a voluntary program that fosters energy efficiency.
Carol Browner was appointed EPA Administrator by President Bill Clinton and served from 1993 to 2001. Major projects during Browner's term included:
Since the passage of the Superfund law in 1980, an excise tax had been levied on the chemical and petroleum industries, to support the cleanup trust fund. Congressional authorization of the tax was due to expire in 1995. Although Browner and the Clinton Administration supported continuation of the tax, Congress declined to reauthorize it. Subsequently, the Superfund program has been supported only by annual appropriations, greatly reducing the number of waste sites that are remediated in a given year. (In 2021 Congress reauthorized an excise tax on chemical manufacturers.)
Major legislative updates during the Clinton Administration were the Food Quality Protection Act and the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act.
President George W. Bush appointed Christine Todd Whitman as EPA Administrator in 2001. Whitman was succeeded by Mike Leavitt in 2003 and Stephen L. Johnson in 2005.
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. The EPA had suppressed a study it commissioned by Harvard University which contradicted its position on mercury controls. The suit alleged that the EPA's rule exempting coal-fired power plants from "maximum available control technology" was illegal, and additionally charged that the EPA's system of cap-and-trade to lower average mercury levels would allow power plants to forego reducing mercury emissions, which they objected would lead to dangerous local hotspots of mercury contamination even if average levels declined. 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. In 2008—by which point a total of fourteen states had joined the suit—the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the EPA regulations violated the Clean Air Act. In response, EPA announced plans to propose such standards to replace the vacated Clean Air Mercury Rule, and did so on March 16, 2011.
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 the EPA delayed its release at the last minute.
In 2007 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. EPA Administrator Stephen 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. 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. It was reported that Johnson ignored his own staff in making this decision.
In 2007 it was reported that EPA research was suppressed by career managers. 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". The 2007 report stated that EPA subjected employees who author scientific papers to prior restraint, even if those papers are written on personal time.
In December 2007 EPA Administrator 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. 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.
Further information: Regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act
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.
President Barack Obama appointed Lisa P. Jackson as EPA Administrator in 2009.
In 2010 it was reported that 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.
In 2011-12 some EPA employees reported difficulty in conducting and reporting the results of studies on hydraulic fracturing due to industry and governmental pressure, and were concerned about the censorship of environmental reports.
President Obama appointed Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator in 2013.
In 2014 EPA published its "Tier 3" standards for cars, trucks and other motor vehicles, which tightened air pollution emission requirements and lowered the sulfur content in gasoline.
In 2015 EPA discovered extensive violations by Volkswagen Group in its manufacture of Volkswagen and Audi diesel engine cars, for the 2009 through 2016 model years. Following notice of violations and potential criminal sanctions, Volkswagen later agreed to a legal settlement and paid billions of US dollars in criminal penalties, and was required to initiate a vehicle buyback program and modify the engines of the vehicles to reduce illegal air emissions.
In August 2015, the 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill occurred when EPA contractors examined the level of pollutants such as lead and arsenic in a Colorado mine, and accidentally released over three million gallons of waste water into Cement Creek and the Animas River.
In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, cited research linking glyphosate, an ingredient of the weed killer Roundup manufactured by the chemical company Monsanto, to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In March 2017, the presiding judge in a litigation brought about by people who claim to have developed glyphosate-related non-Hodgkin's lymphoma opened Monsanto emails and other documents related to the case, including email exchanges between the company and federal regulators. According to The New York Times, the "records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services." The records show that Monsanto was able to prepare "a public relations assault" on the finding after they were alerted to the determination by Jess Rowland, the head of the EPA's cancer assessment review committee at that time, months in advance. Emails also showed that Rowland "had promised to beat back an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct its own review."
On February 17, 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator. The Democratic Party saw the appointment as a controversial move, as Pruitt had spent most of his career challenging environmental regulations and policies. He did not have previous experience in the environmental protection field and had received financial support from the fossil fuel industry. In 2017, the Trump administration proposed a 31% cut to the EPA's budget to $5.7 billion from $8.1 billion and to eliminate a quarter of the agency jobs. However, this cut was not approved by Congress. Pruitt resigned from the position on July 5, 2018, citing "unrelenting attacks" due to ongoing ethics controversies.
President Trump appointed Andrew R. Wheeler as EPA Administrator in 2019.
On July 17, 2019, EPA management prohibited the agency's Scientific Integrity Official, Francesca Grifo, from testifying at a House committee hearing. EPA offered to send a different representative in place of Grifo and accused the committee of "dictating to the agency who they believe was qualified to speak." The hearing was to discuss the importance of allowing federal scientists and other employees to speak freely when and to whom they want to about their research without having to worry about any political consequences.
In September 2019 air pollution standards in California were once again under attack, as the Trump administration attempted to revoke a waiver issued to the state which allowed more stringent standards for auto and truck emissions than the federal standards. (In March 2022 the Biden administration allowed California to again set stricter auto emissions standards.)
The EPA is led by the administrator, appointed following nomination by the president and approval from Congress. Michael S. Regan began serving as Administrator on March 11, 2021.
Creating 10 EPA regions was an initiative that came from President Richard Nixon. See Standard Federal Regions.
Each EPA regional office is responsible within its states for implementing the agency's programs, except those programs that have been specifically delegated to states.
Each regional office also implements programs on Indian Tribal lands, except those programs delegated to tribal authorities.
EPA established its major programs pursuant to the primary missions originally articulated in the laws passed by Congress. Additional programs have been developed to interpret the primary missions. Some of the newer programs have been specifically authorized by Congress.
Former Administrator William Ruckelshaus observed in 2016 that a danger for EPA was that air, water, waste and other programs would be unconnected, placed in "silos", a problem that persists more than 50 years later, albeit less so than at the start.
The air quality and radiation protection programs implement the provisions of the Clean Air Act, the Atomic Energy Act, and related laws.
The Radiation Protection Program comprises seven project groups.
In 2019 the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, "a network of academics, developers, and non-profit professionals", published a report which compared EPA enforcement statistics over time. The number of civil cases filed by EPA have gradually decreased, and in 2018 the criminal and civil penalties from EPA claims dropped over four times their amounts in 2013, 2016, and 2017. In 2016 EPA issued $6,307,833,117 in penalties due to violations of agency requirements, and in 2018 the agency issued $184,768,000 in penalties. EPA's inspections and evaluations have steadily decreased from 2015 to 2018. Enforcement activity has decreased partially due to budget cuts within the agency.
Congress enacted laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and CERCLA with the intent of preventing and reconciling environmental damages. Beginning in 2018 under Administrator Andrew Wheeler, EPA revised some pollution standards that resulted in less overall regulation.
Furthermore, the CAA's discretionary application has caused a varied application of the law among states. In 1970, Louisiana deployed its Comprehensive Toxic Air Pollutant Emission Control Program to comply with federal law. This program does not require pollution monitoring that is equivalent to programs in other states.
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. 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. Studies have also found that poor and minority populations were underserved by the EPA's Superfund program, and that this situation was worsening.
In September 2022 EPA announced the creation of a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights that reports directly to the EPA administrator. The new office has an expanded budget and staff with broader responsbilities than under the previous organizational arrangement.
In the latest Center for Effective Government analysis of 15 federal agencies which receive the most Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, published in 2015 (using 2012 and 2013 data, the most recent years available), the EPA earned a D by scoring 67 out of a possible 100 points, i.e. did not earn a satisfactory overall grade.
More than a quarter-century of efforts by some lawmakers and regulators to force the federal government to police the industry better have been thwarted, as E.P.A. studies have been repeatedly narrowed in scope and important findings have been removed
But some members of the chartered SAB are suggesting that the fracking panel revise its recommendation that the agency scale back its planned toxicity testing of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, because of the limited resources and time frame ... Chesapeake Energy supported the draft recommendation, saying that "an in-depth study of toxicity, the development of new analytical methods and tracers are not practical given the budget and schedule limitation of the study."
While environmentalists have aggressively lobbied the agency to broaden the scope of the study, industry has lobbied the agency to narrow this focus
The Times reviewed more than 30,000 pages of documents obtained through open records requests of state and federal agencies and by visiting various regional offices that oversee drilling in Pennsylvania. Some of the documents were leaked by state or federal officials.
Flowback and Produced water ... Chesapeake agrees that an indepth study of toxicity, the development of new analytic methods and tracers are not practical given the budget and schedule limitations of the study ... Wastewater Treatment and Waste Disposal ... Chesapeake believes there was unjustified emphasis on the surface disposal of produced water to treatment plants in the SAB's Review ... Chesapeake disagrees with the inclusion of water distribution network corrosion and burden of analyzing for contaminants by POTW's into the study.