United States Environmental Protection Agency

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Environmental Protection Agency
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Agency overview
FormedDecember 2, 1970;50 years ago (1970-12-02)
Headquarters William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building
Washington, D.C., U.S.
38°53′38″N77°01′44″W / 38.8939°N 77.0289°W / 38.8939; -77.0289 Coordinates: 38°53′38″N77°01′44″W / 38.8939°N 77.0289°W / 38.8939; -77.0289
Employees13,758 [1]
Annual budget$9,057,401,000 (2020) [2]
Agency executives
Website www.epa.gov

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an independent executive agency of the United States federal government tasked with environmental protection matters. [4] 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. [5] 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. [5] The current Acting Administrator is Jane Nishida. [6] The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is normally given cabinet rank.

Contents

The EPA has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., regional offices for each of the agency's ten regions, and 27 laboratories. [7] 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.

In 2018, the agency had 13,758 employees. [1] 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. [8]

History

Prelude

Stacks emitting smoke from burning discarded automobile batteries, photo taken in Houston in 1972 by Marc St. Gil [cs], official photographer of recently founded EPA BURNING DISCARDED AUTOMOBILE BATTERIES. (FROM THE SITES EXHIBITION. FOR OTHER IMAGES IN THIS ASSIGNMENT, SEE FICHE... - NARA - 553841.jpg
Stacks emitting smoke from burning discarded automobile batteries, photo taken in Houston in 1972 by Marc St. Gil  [ cs ], official photographer of recently founded EPA
Same smokestacks in 1975 after the plant was closed in a push for greater environmental protection SMOKESTACKS OF THE HOLMES ROAD INCINERATOR, NO LONGER POLLUTE THE ATMOSPHERE. THE PLANT PREVIOUSLY BURNED OLD... - NARA - 557411.jpg
Same smokestacks in 1975 after the plant was closed in a push for greater environmental protection

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. [9] [10] [11] Senator James E. Murray introduced a bill, the Resources and Conservation Act (RCA) of 1959, in the 86th Congress. 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. [12]

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. [13]

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) [14] was modeled on the Resources and Conservation Act of 1959 (RCA). [15] RCA 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. [16] [17] [18] [19]

1970s

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. [9] [20] 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). [9]

Ruckelshaus sworn in as first EPA Administrator. William Ruckelshaus Swearing In as EPA Administrator.jpg
Ruckelshaus sworn in as first EPA Administrator.

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. [21] 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. [22] :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, [22] :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. [11] In its first year, the EPA had a budget of $1.4 billion and 5,800 employees. [22] :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. [22] :9 A major expansion of the Clean Air Act was approved later that month. [23]

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. [24]

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. [25]

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. [26] 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. [27] Jones filed the misdemeanor charges in District Court, alleging violations of the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act. [28]

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). [29] 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. [30] 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. [31] [32]

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. [33] [34]

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. [35] [36] 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. [36]

Congress also enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, significantly amending the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965. [37] 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. [38]

1980s

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. [39]

Anne Gorsuch was appointed EPA Administrator in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. [40] 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. [41] 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. [42] Environmentalists contended that her policies were designed to placate polluters, and accused her of trying to dismantle the agency. [43]

Following mismanagement of the Superfund program, Assistant Administrator Rita Lavelle was fired by Reagan in February 1983. [44] Lavelle was later convicted of perjury. [45] Gorsuch had increasing confrontations with Congress over Superfund and other programs, including her refusal to submit subpoeaned documents. Gorsuch (who had recently remarried, becoming Anne Gorsuch Burford) resigned in March 1983, followed by resignations of most of her other Assistant Administrators. [44] [46] (See Fiscal mismanagement, 1983.) Reagan then appointed William Ruckelshaus as EPA Administrator for a second term. Lee M. Thomas succeeded Ruckelshaus as Administrator in 1985. [40]

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. [47] :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. [36]

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. [47] :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. 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. [48] 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. [49] [50]

1990s

Carol Browner was appointed EPA Administrator by President Bill Clinton and served from 1993 to 2001. [51]

Since the passage of the Superfund law in 1980, a special 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. [52]

Major legislative updates during the Clinton Administration were the Food Quality Protection Act [53] and the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. [54]

Organization

Headquarters of the EPA at the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building EPA HQ - WJ Clinton Building - Main entrance - 2018a.jpg
Headquarters of the EPA at the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building

The EPA is led by the administrator, appointed following nomination by the president and approval from Congress. From February 2017 to July 2018, Scott Pruitt served as the 14th administrator. Pruitt was succeeded by Andrew R. Wheeler, who served until January 2021.

Offices

Regions

The administrative regions of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Regions of the United States EPA.svg
The administrative regions of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Creating 10 EPA regions was an initiative that came from President Richard Nixon. [70] 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.

The Environmental Protection Agency can only act pursuant to statutes—the laws passed by Congress. Appropriations statutes authorize how much money the agency can spend each year to carry out the approved statutes. The agency has the power to issue regulations. A regulation interprets a statute, and EPA applies its regulations to various environmental situations and enforces the requirements. The agency must include a rationale of why a regulation is needed. (See Administrative Procedure Act.) Regulations can be challenged in federal courts, either district court or appellate court, depending on the particular statutory provision. [72]

EPA has principal implementation authority for the following federal environmental laws:

There are additional laws where EPA has a contributing role or provides assistance to other agencies. Among these laws are:

Programs

A bulldozer piles boulders in an attempt to prevent lake shore erosion, 1973 A BULLDOZER PILES BOULDERS IN AN ATTEMPT TO PREVENT LAKE SHORE EROSION - NARA - 547031.jpg
A bulldozer piles boulders in an attempt to prevent lake shore erosion, 1973

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. [73]

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. [74]

Core programs

Air quality and radiation protection

Ambient standards
Stationary air pollution source standards
Mobile source standards
  • Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards, Aircraft Emission Standards, and Clean Fuel Vehicles
  • The air pollution testing system for motor vehicles was originally developed in 1972 and used driving cycles designed to simulate driving during rush-hour in Los Angeles during that era. Until 1984 the EPA reported the exact fuel economy figures calculated from the test. [ citation needed ] 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 [75] 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. In December 2006 the updated testing methodology was finalized to be implemented in model year 2008 vehicles and set the precedent of a 12-year review cycle for the test procedures. [76]
    • In February 2005, EPA launched a program called "Your MPG" 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 with the original EPA test results. [77]
    • The EPA conducts fuel economy tests on very few vehicles. "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." [78] Two-thirds of the vehicles the EPA tests themselves are randomly selected and the remaining third is tested for specific reasons.
    • Although originally created as a reference point for fossil-fueled vehicles, driving cycles have been used for estimating how many miles an electric vehicle will get on a single charge. [79]
Radiation protection

The Radiation Protection Program comprises seven project groups. [80]

  1. Radioactive Waste Management [81]
  2. Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs [82] Protective Action Guides And Planning Guidance for Radiological Incidents: EPA developed a manual as guideline for local and state governments to protect the public from a nuclear accident, [83] the 2017 version being a 15-year update.
  3. EPA's Role in Emergency Response – Special Teams [84]
  4. Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM) Program [85]
  5. Radiation Standards for Air and Drinking Water Programs [86]
  6. Federal Guidance for Radiation Protection [87]

Water quality

Science and regulatory standards
  • The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program addresses water pollution by regulating point sources which discharge to US waters. Created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act, the NPDES permit program authorizes state governments to perform its many permitting, administrative, and enforcement aspects. [88] As of 2018, EPA has approved 47 states to administer all or portions of the permit program. [89] EPA regional offices manage the program in the remaining areas of the country. [88] The Water Quality Act of 1987 extended NPDES permit coverage to industrial stormwater dischargers and municipal separate storm sewer systems. [90] In 2016, there were 6,700 major point source NPDES permits in place and 109,000 municipal and industrial point sources with general or individual permits. [30]
  • Effluent guidelines (technology based standards) for industrial point sources and Water quality standards (risk-based standards) for water bodies, under Title III of the CWA
  • Nonpoint source pollution programs
  • The CWA Section 404 Program regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States. Permits are to be denied if they would cause unacceptable degradation or if an alternative doesn't exist that does not also have adverse impacts on waters. [30] Permit holders are typically required to restore or create wetlands or other waters to offset losses that can't be avoided.
  • EPA ensures safe drinking water for the public, by setting standards for more than 148,000 public water systems nationwide. 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 [91] in a section entitled Envirofacts. [92] Despite mandatory reporting certain readings exceeding EPA MCL levels may be deleted or not included. [93] [94] In 2013, an EPA draft revision relaxed regulations for radiation exposure through drinking water, stating that current standards are impractical to enforce. The EPA recommended that intervention was not necessary until drinking water was 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 was 27,000 times the prior EPA limit of 3 picocuries per liter for long term exposure. [95]
Infrastructure financing
  • The CWA State Revolving Loan Fund Program provides grants to states which, along with matching state funds, are loaned to municipalities for wastewater and "green" infrastructure at below-market interest rates. [30] These loans are expected to be paid back, creating revolving loan funds. Through 2014, a total of $36.2 billion in capitalization grants from the EPA have been provided to the states' revolving funds. [30] The revolving fund replaced the Construction Grants Program, which was phased out in 1990.
  • The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund provides financial assistance to local drinking water utilities.

Land, Waste and Cleanup

  • Regulation of solid waste (non-hazardous) and hazardous waste under RCRA
  • Regulation of Underground Storage Tanks . The underground storage tank (UST) program was launched in 1985 and covers about 553,000 active USTs containing petroleum and hazardous chemicals. Since 1984, 1.8 million USTs have been closed in compliance with regulations. [38] 38 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico manage UST programs with EPA authorization. [96] When the program began, EPA had only 90 staff to develop a system to regulate more than 2 million tanks and work with 750,000 owners and operators. The program relies more on local operations and enforcement than other EPA programs. [97] It is primarily implemented by states, tribes, and territories. [38] Today, the program supports the inspection of all federally regulated tanks, cleans up old and new leaks, minimizes potential leaks, and encourages sustainable reuse of abandoned gas stations. [38]
  • Hazardous site cleanup. In the late 1970s, the need to clean up sites such as Love Canal that had been highly contaminated by previous hazardous waste disposal became apparent. However the existing regulatory environment depended on owners or operators to perform environmental control. While the EPA attempted to use RCRA's section 7003 to perform this cleanup, it was clear a new law was needed. In 1980, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, nicknamed “ Superfund .” This law enabled the EPA to cast a wider net for responsible parties, including past or present generators and transporters as well as current and past owners of the site to find funding. The act also established some funding and a tax mechanism on certain industries to help fund such cleanup. The latter was not renewed in the 1990s, which means funding now comes from general appropriations. Today, due to restricted funding, most cleanup is performed by responsible parties under the oversight of the EPA and states. As of 2016, more than 1,700 sites had been put on the cleanup list since the creation of the program. Of these, 370 sites have been cleaned up and removed from the list, cleanup is underway at 535, cleanup facilities have been constructed at 790 but need to be operated in the future, and 54 are not yet in cleanup stage. [39]
  • The RCRA Corrective Action program is a federal and state cleanup program. Established by RCRA, it requires that facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous wastes investigate and clean up hazardous releases at their own expense. [38] For this purpose, the EPA has developed guidance and policy to assist facilities. It is largely implemented through permits and orders. [98] As of 2016, the program has led to the cleanup of 18 million acres of land, of which facilities were primarily responsible for cleanup costs. [38] The goal of EPA and states is to complete final remedies by 2020 at 3,779 priority facilities out of 6,000 that need to be cleaned up according to the program. [38]
  • The Land Disposal Restrictions Program sets treatment requirements for hazardous waste before it may be disposed of on land. EPA began issuing treatment methods and levels of requirements in 1986 and these are continually adapted to new hazardous wastes and treatment technologies. The stringent requirements it sets and its emphasis on waste minimization practices encourage businesses to plan to minimize waste generation and prioritize reuse and recycling. From the start of the program in 1984 to 2004, the volume of hazardous waste disposed in landfills had decreased 94% and the volume of hazardous waste disposed of by underground injection had decreased 70%. [38]
  • EPA's oil spill prevention program includes the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) and the Facility Response Plan (FRP) rules. The SPCC Rule applies to all facilities that store, handle, process, gather, transfer, 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. It mandates a written plan for facilities that store more than 1,320 gallons of fuel above ground or more than 42,000 gallons below-ground, and which might discharge to navigable waters (as defined in the Clean Water Act) or adjoining shorelines. Secondary spill containment is mandated at oil storage facilities and oil release containment is required at oil development sites. [99]

Chemicals and Toxics

  • EPA regulates pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Food Quality Protection Act. [32] The agency assesses, registers, regulates, and regularly reevaluates all pesticides legally sold in the United States. A few challenges this program faces are transforming toxicity testing, screening pesticides for endocrine disruptors, and regulating biotechnology and nanotechnology. [32]
  • TSCA required EPA to create and maintain a national inventory of all existing chemicals in U.S. commerce. When the act was passed in 1976, there were more than 60,000 chemicals on the market that had never been comprehensively cataloged. To do so, the EPA developed and implemented procedures that have served as a model for Canada, Japan, and the European Union. For the inventory, the EPA also established a baseline for new chemicals that the agency should be notified about before being commercially manufactured. Today, this rule keeps the EPA updated on volumes, uses, and exposures of around 7,000 of the highest-volume chemicals via industry reporting. [36]
  • The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a resource established by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act specifically for the public to learn about toxic chemical releases and pollution prevention activities reported by industrial and federal facilities. [36] TRI data support informed decision-making by communities, government agencies, companies, and others. [100] Annually, the agency collects data from more than 20,000 facilities. [36] The EPA has generated a range of tools to support the use of this inventory, including interactive maps and online databases such as ChemView. [36]

Enforcement

Additional programs

Past programs

OSV Bold docked at Port Canaveral, Florida OSV Bold.jpg
OSV Bold docked at Port Canaveral, Florida

Controversies (1983–present)

Fiscal mismanagement, 1983

In 1982 Congress charged that EPA had mishandled the $1.6 billion Superfund program and demanded records from EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch. She refused and became the first agency director in U.S. history to be cited for contempt of Congress. EPA turned the documents over to Congress several months later, after the White House abandoned its court claim that the documents could not be subpoenaed by Congress because they were covered by executive privilege. Six congressional committees were investigating the Superfund program, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was exploring whether documents had been destroyed. [47] :4 Gorsuch resigned her post in 1983, citing pressures caused by the media and the congressional investigation. [119] Critics charged that the EPA was in "a shambles" at that time. [120]

TSCA and confidential business information, 1994 (or earlier)–present

TSCA enables the EPA to require industry to conduct testing of chemicals, but the agency must balance such requirements with obligations to provide information to the public and ensure the protection of trade secrets and confidential business information (the legal term for proprietary information). Arising issues and problems from these overlapping obligations have been the subject of multiple critical reports by the Government Accountability Office. How much information the agency should have access to from industry, how much it should keep confidential, and how much it should reveal to the public is still contested. For example, according to TSCA, state officials are not allowed access to confidential business information collected by the EPA. [36]

Political pressure and scientific integrity, 2001–present

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. [121]

EPA research has also been suppressed by career managers. [122] 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". [123] EPA subjects employees who author scientific papers to prior restraint, even if those papers are written on personal time. [124]

EPA employees have reported difficulty in conducting and reporting the results of studies on hydraulic fracturing due to industry [125] [126] [127] and governmental pressure, and are concerned about the censorship of environmental reports. [125] [128] [129]

In February 2017, U.S. representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) sponsored H.R. 861, a bill [130] to abolish the EPA by 2018. According to Gaetz, "The American people are drowning in rules and regulation promulgated by unelected bureaucrats. And the Environmental Protection Agency has become an extraordinary offender." The bill was co-sponsored by Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Steven Palazzo (R-Ms.) and Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.). [131]

Fuel economy, 2005–2010

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. [132]

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. [133] 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. [134] [135] [136] 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. [137] It was reported that Stephen Johnson ignored his own staff in making this decision. [138]

After the federal government had bailed out General Motors and Chrysler in the Automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox was released with an EPA fuel economy rating abnormally higher than its competitors. Independent road tests [139] [140] [141] [142] found that the vehicle did not out-perform its competitors, which had much lower fuel economy ratings. Later road tests found better, but inconclusive, results. [143] [144]

Mercury emissions, 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. [145] [146] The EPA had suppressed a study it commissioned by Harvard University which contradicted its position on mercury controls. [147] 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. [148] 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. [149] 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. [150]

In response, EPA announced plans to propose such standards to replace the vacated Clean Air Mercury Rule, and did so on March 16, 2011. [151]

Climate change, 2007–2017

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. 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. [152]

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. [153]

On April 28, 2017, multiple climate change subdomains at EPA.gov began redirecting to a notice stating "this page is being updated." [154] The EPA issued a statement announcing the overhaul of its website to "reflect the agency's new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt." [155] The removed EPA climate change domains included extensive information on the EPA's work to mitigate climate change, as well as details of data collection efforts and indicators for climate change. [156]

Gold King Mine waste water spill, 2015

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, [157] and accidentally released over three million gallons of waste water into Cement Creek and the Animas River. [158]

Collusion with Monsanto chemical company

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 an article in 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." [159] [160] [161]

Conduct of Administrator Scott Pruitt, 2017

On February 17, 2017, Scott Pruitt was appointed administrator by President Donald Trump. 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. [162] 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. [163] However, this cut was not approved by Congress. [50]

Pruitt resigned from the position on July 5, 2018, citing "unrelenting attacks" due to ongoing ethics controversies. [164]

Environmental justice

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. [165] 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. [166] Studies have also found that poor and minority populations were underserved by the EPA's Superfund program, and that this situation was worsening. [165]

Barriers to enforcing environmental justice

Many environmental justice issues are local, and therefore difficult to address by a federal agency, such as the EPA. Without strong media attention, political interest, or 'crisis' status, local issues are less likely to be addressed at the federal level compared to larger, well publicized incidents.

Conflicting political powers in successive administrations: The White House maintains direct control over the EPA, and its enforcement actions are subject to the political agenda of who is in power. Republicans and Democrats differ in their approaches to environmental justice. While President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, the Bush administration did not develop a clear plan or establish goals for integrating environmental justice into everyday practices, affecting the motivation for environmental enforcement. [167] [ page needed ]

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. "It is difficult to construct a specific mission statement given its wide range of responsibilities." [168] [ page needed ] 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. [169] [ page needed ]

The EPA "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. [170]

Freedom of Information Act processing performance

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. [171]

Scientific integrity official barred from Congressional hearing

On July 17, 2019, the top scientific integrity official from the EPA, Francesca Grifo, was not permitted to testify by the EPA in front of a House committee hearing. The 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. [172]

See also

Related Research Articles

Toxic waste

Toxic waste is any unwanted material in all forms that can cause harm. Many of today's household products such as televisions, computers and phones contain toxic chemicals that can pollute the air and contaminate soil and water. Disposing of such waste is a major public health issue.

Marianne Lamont Horinko served as Acting Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from July 14, 2003 to November 5, 2003 during the first term of President George W. Bush. Prior to this appointment Horinko was Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) at EPA, having been confirmed by the U.S. Senate on October 1, 2001. She continued on as Assistant Administrator until June 1, 2004.

Superfund US federal program to investigate / clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances

The United States federal Superfund law, officially the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), established the federal Superfund program, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The program is designed to investigate and clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances. Sites managed under this program are referred to as "Superfund" sites. There are 40,000 federal Superfund sites across the country, and approximately 1,600 of those sites have been listed on the National Priorities List (NPL). Sites on the NPL are considered the most highly contaminated and undergo longer-term remedial investigation and remedial action (cleanups).

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, is the principal federal law in the United States governing the disposal of solid waste and hazardous waste.

Polluter pays principle

In environmental law, the polluter pays principle is enacted to make the party responsible for producing pollution responsible for paying for the damage done to the natural environment. It is regarded as a regional custom because of the strong support it has received in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union countries. It is a fundamental principle in US environmental law.

United States environmental law

United States environmental law concerns legal standards to protect human health and improve the natural environment of the United States. While subject to criticism at home and abroad on issues of protection, enforcement, and over-regulation, the country remains an important source of environmental legal expertise and experience.

National Priorities List Priority list of hazardous waste sites in the United States

The National Priorities List (NPL) is the priority list of hazardous waste sites in the United States eligible for long-term remedial investigation and remedial action (cleanup) financed under the federal Superfund program. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations outline a formal process for assessing hazardous waste sites and placing them on the NPL. The NPL is intended primarily to guide EPA in determining which sites are so contaminated as to warrant further investigation and significant cleanup.

The Inter-Tribal Environmental Council (ITEC) was set up in 1992 to protect the health of Native Americans, their natural resources and environment. To accomplish this ITEC provides technical support, training and environmental services in a variety of disciplines. Currently, there are over forty ITEC member tribes in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. The ITEC is an example of the Native American Pan-Indian Organizations and Efforts.

Rita Marie Lavelle is a United States and California State Republican political figure. In 1984, Lavelle was convicted on federal charges of perjury related to an investigation into misuse of the United States Environmental Protection Agency's "Superfund" money during her tenure with the agency, and irregularities at the Stringfellow Acid Pits, a major hazardous waste site. The Lavelle incident was labeled "Sewergate" or "Garbagegate" by the newspapers at the time.

Lisa P. Jackson American politician: EPA administrator

Lisa Perez Jackson is an American chemical engineer who served as the administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2009 to 2013. She is the first African-American to have held that position.

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency of the state of Illinois is the primary body concerned with the protection of the environment for the state. The Illinois EPA's mission is "to safeguard environmental quality, consistent with the social and economic needs of the State, so as to protect health, welfare, property and the quality of life."

United States Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division

The United States Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) is one of seven litigating components of the U.S. Department of Justice. ENRD's mandate is to enforce civil and criminal environmental laws and programs protecting the health and environment of the United States, and to defend suits challenging those laws and programs.

Havertown Superfund Superfund site in Pennsylvania

Havertown Superfund is a 13-acre polluted groundwater site in Havertown, Pennsylvania contaminated by the dumping of industrial waste by National Wood Preservers from 1947 to 1991. The state first became aware of the pollution in 1962 and initiated legal action against the owners in 1973 to force them to cleanup the site. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked the site the eighth worst cleanup project in the United States. The site was added to the National Priorities List in 1983 and designated as a Superfund cleanup site in early 1990s. Remediation and monitoring efforts are ongoing and the EPA transferred control of the site to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in 2013.

Title 40 is a part of the United States Code of Federal Regulations. Title 40 arranges mainly environmental regulations that were promulgated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), based on the provisions of United States laws. Parts of the regulation may be updated annually on July 1.

The environmental policy of the United States is a federal governmental action to regulate activities that have an environmental impact in the United States. The goal of environmental policy is to protect the environment for future generations while interfering as little as possible with the efficiency of commerce or the liberty of the people and to limit inequity in who is burdened with environmental costs. As his first official act bringing in the 1970s, President Richard Nixon signed the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law on New Years Day, 1970. Also in the same year, America began celebrating Earth Day, which has been called "the big bang of U.S. environmental politics, launching the country on a sweeping social learning curve about ecological management never before experienced or attempted in any other nation." NEPA established a comprehensive US national environmental policy and created the requirement to prepare an environmental impact statement for “major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the environment.” Author and consultant Charles H. Eccleston has called NEPA, the world's “environmental Magna Carta”.

Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) is the law enforcement arm of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is made up of attorneys, special agents, scientists and other employees.

Solid waste policy in the United States is aimed at developing and implementing proper mechanisms to effectively manage solid waste. For solid waste policy to be effective, inputs should come from stakeholders, including citizens, businesses, community based-organizations, non governmental organizations, government agencies, universities, and other research organizations. These inputs form the basis of policy frameworks that influence solid waste management decisions. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates household, industrial, manufacturing, and commercial solid and hazardous wastes under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Effective solid waste management is a cooperative effort involving federal, state, regional, and local entities. Thus, the RCRA's Solid Waste program section D encourages the environmental departments of each state to develop comprehensive plans to manage nonhazardous industrial and municipal solid waste.

Exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law

There are many exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law: the oil and gas industries are exempt or excluded from certain sections of a number of the major federal environmental laws. These laws range from protecting clean water and air, to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund.

Alabama Plating Company Superfund site

The Alabama Plating Company Superfund site is a former industrial site in Vincent, Alabama. The site covers 6 acres and was used by the Alabama Plating Company as an electroplating facility between 1956-1986. The facility caused contamination of the ground water with hazardous waste containing heavy metals. After assessment by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it was added to the National Priorities List in September 2012 for remedial action. The site cleanup is directed by the federal Superfund program.

Water in Arkansas is an important issue encompassing the conservation, protection, management, distribution and use of the water resource in the state. Arkansas contains a mixture of groundwater and surface water, with a variety of state and federal agencies responsible for the regulation of the water resource. In accordance with agency rules, state, and federal law, the state's water treatment facilities utilize engineering, chemistry, science and technology to treat raw water from the environment to potable water standards and distribute it through water mains to homes, farms, business and industrial customers. Following use, wastewater is collected in collection and conveyance systems, decentralized sewer systems or septic tanks and treated in accordance with regulations at publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) before being discharged to the environment.

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