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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Facts about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Definition and Summary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Summary and definition:
 In 1970 Congress reacted to increasing public concern about the impact that human activity could have on the environment by creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An extension to the 1963 Clean Air Act was made in 1970, during the presidency of Richard Nixon, and the same year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed.

The EPA was established via Reorganization Plan No. 3, an executive order submitted to Congress on July 9, 1970 by President Nixon. The role of the EPA is to enact control programs, collect data and conduct research into the prevention of pollution, the ecosystem and global change.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
This article is in two parts providing the Goals, Purpose and Function and the History and Origins of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) providing an interesting overview for kids.

EPA Facts for kids: Goals, Purpose and Function of the EPA

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was designed to control air pollution on a national level, moving far more aggressively to regulate air quality at a pace acceptable to public demands. The Clean Air Act of 1970 established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to curb pollution.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 resulted in the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA was authorized via Reorganization Plan No. 3, an executive order submitted to Congress on July 9, 1970 by President Nixon and established on December 2, 1970.

The reason the EPA was established was to consolidate federal research into one agency to ensure environmental protection.

The purpose of the EPA was to enact control programs, collect data and conduct research into the prevention of pollution, the ecosystem and global change. It is the responsibility of the EPA to write and enforce regulations based on laws passed by Congress.

The 1970 Clean Air Act required that the EPA identified and set standards for pollutants identified as harmful to the environment and human health. 'Primary standards' set limits to protect public health and 'Secondary standards' set limits to protect against public welfare effects, such as damage to vegetation or crops

The 1970 law required that the EPA set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six common air pollutants, (also known as "criteria pollutants"). The Six Common Air Pollutants, or "criteria pollutants" are:

  • Carbon monoxide

  • Nitrogen dioxide

  • Ground-level Ozone

  • Sulfur dioxide

  • Particulate matter (a complex mixture of extremely small particles in soot, smoke, dirt and liquid droplets with an aerodynamic size less than 10 micrometers)

  • Lead

The hazards to public health caused by lead had long been recognized but the 1970 law required a 'Leaded gasoline phase down' aimed at phasing out leaded gas by the mid-1980s. This was one of the most important environmental health initiatives ever to be established.

The EPA calculates the "Air Quality Index" (AQI) for five of the major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. If the air in a specific region  has pollution levels a "Code Orange" or "Code Red" air quality condition is in effect.

Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 focused on further reducing air pollutant emissions and addressing continuing concerns about air pollution. In the 1990 law Congress also recognized that Native American Indian Tribes have the authority to implement air pollution control programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works with industries and all levels of government to stop polluting the Earth and to save energy.

The EPA is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by Congress. Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C. with regional offices for each of the agency's ten regions. The EPA currently has 27 research laboratories.

The EPA began regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) from mobile and stationary sources of air pollution for the first time on January 2, 2011

The EPA develops and enforces regulations that span many environmental issues, from greenhouse gases, acid rain reduction to wetlands restoration.

Air Pollution: Air Pollution is caused by human activities such as driving automobiles, burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels and manufacturing chemicals. The EPA tackles issues and monitors levels of pollutants such as Acid Rain, Air Quality, Climate Change, Haze & Visibility, Indoor Air Quality, Ozone Depletion, Radiation, Smog, Fine Particles, Toxic Air Pollutants and automobiles and engines

The EPA also investigates and researches the pollutant effects of mercury, asbestos, animal waste and animal feeding.

The EPA encourages international cooperation on major issues such as Climate Change, Conservation, Endangered Species, Wildlife, and Marine Life.

Emergency Management: The EPA involvement in Emergency Management includes environmental disasters caused by oil spills and the accidental spillage of hazardous substances and advice on prevention, control, and countermeasures. 

Land and Cleanup: The storage of petroleum or hazardous substances are monitored to meet federal regulations and state regulations and prevent contamination. The EPA conducts and supervises investigations and clean-up actions sites where oil or hazardous chemicals have been spilt.

Pesticides: The EPA is authorized to register pesticides for use in the United States and conducts research into tolerance levels and the effects of pesticides on the quality of food, human health, wildlife and Endangered Species.

Toxic Substances: The EPA gathers health, safety and exposure data and establishes testing requirements of Toxic Substances. The agency also regulates the production and distribution of chemicals and controls human and environmental exposure to Toxic Substances

Waste: The EPA regulates household, industrial and hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and investigates the hazards of waste disposal. Its goals are to conserve energy and natural resources by recycling and recovery. The EPA establishes systems for the disposal of hazardous waste develops plans to manage non-hazardous solid waste in landfills. The open dumping of solid waste is strictly prohibited.

Water: The EPA enforces federal clean water and safe drinking water laws. The Safe Drinking Water Act is the main federal law that ensures the quality of drinking water in the United States. The EPA  sets standards for drinking water quality and oversees its distribution and investigates discharges of pollutants to streams and wetlands.

EPA Facts for kids: The Origins and History of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

History: Industrialization in America began during the 1800's with new technology and exciting Industrial Revolution Inventions resulting in the mechanization of industry and transforming the United States from an agricultural to an industrial society.

Industrialization changed the lives of Americans forever, bringing about complex social and economic changes together with environmental degradation.

The latter half of the 19th century ushered in the factory system and the steam locomotive. The process of Industrialization led to the rapid Urbanization of America. Pollution and poor sanitation led to deadly epidemics in the towns and cities due to untreated waste and raw sewage. Pollution was caused as horse waste was left in the streets and the heavy, dense smoke that belched from the factories polluted the air.

The exploitation and mismanagement of natural resources was causing great concerns during the Progressive Movement (1890 - 1920) and advocates of Environmentalism clamored for the protection of natural resources from destruction or pollution.

The 20th century witnessed the rise of the automobile. Between  1909 - 1927 over 15 million Ford Model T vehicles had been sold. 

In 1923 car manufacturers introduced Leaded gas (gasoline spiked with lead) to enhance engine performance. Despite warnings that lead was a “serious menace to public health”  auto makers began to introduce leaded gas to the market and fight mandatory emissions control for their cars.

WW2 was brought to a dramatic and terrifying end as the world watched in horror at the power of the Atomic bomb and the deadly and devastating effects of nuclear explosions on people and the environment.

Following WW2 the concept of ecology, which placed a higher value on esthetics and biology over commerce and efficiency, began to penetrate the public mind.

The 1948 Donora smog alerted the public to the deadly effects of air pollution (ozone is a primary ingredient in urban smog). The 1948 Donora smog was a thick cloud of air pollution formed above the industrial town of Donora, Pennsylvania that killed 20 people and and caused sickness in 6,000 of the town's 14,000 people.

The first Federal legislation addressing air pollution, the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 was passed to provide federal research and technical assistance relating to air pollution control, but preserved the "primary responsibilities and rights of the states and local government in controlling air pollution" Although the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act focused on control, it contained no provisions for the federal government to punish polluters.

The constant fear of a nuclear war during the 1950's and into the 1960's and human damage to the environment fueled the Hippie Counterculture. The hippies rejected mainstream American life and values that were dominated by materialism, consumerism and violence, and turned to a freer lifestyle, living closer the nature.

The new interest in Environmentalism increased with the 1962 publication of 'Silent Spring' by Rachel Carson. The environmental book was about the widespread and indiscriminate pesticide poisoning of nature and man resulted in a public outcry for direct government action.

President Lyndon B. Johnson added the environment to his legislative programs and passed the Clean Air Act of 1963 establishing a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service to provide funding for the research and the cleanup of air pollution.

The Air Quality Act of 1967 was an amendment to the Clean Air Act of 1963. The 1967 amendment put primary responsibility of addressing air quality in the hands of the state and local government - not at national level

In 1968, Morton Hilbert, an environmentalist and professor of public health, together with the U.S. Public Health Service, organized the Human Ecology Symposium, an environmental conference for students to hear from scientists about the effects of environmental degradation on human health.

The highly publicized 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, the largest oil spill in United States waters at the time, resulted in public outrage at the dramatic environmental effects of the crude spill during January and February 1969.

The Santa Barbara oil spill was yet another event that sparked the modern environmental movement in the United States that led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The catastrophic Santa Barbara oil spill, together with the mounting support for the 1969 anti-war movement, inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, Representative Pete McCloskey of California and Morton Hilbert, to organize a large-scale demonstration on behalf of the environment which came to be known as "Earth Day".

The first "Earth Day" was held on April 22, 1970 as an environmental teach-in that "brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform."

The massive grassroots response to Earth Day finally helps to put the environment on the political agenda and the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed by Congress.

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