Protecting the Environment: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

July 9, 1970 was the birth of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered by President Nixon | Courtesy of Wikipedia

As our society continues to grow and increase in population, more and more people use the earth’s resources. The use of these resources affects the land, water, air, and even human life. Taking advantage of these resources can lead to negative effects on one’s health or on the condition of our environment. Because of this, restrictions are created to sustain the earth and its resources. While concern for the environment has been decades in the making, it was not until 1970 that the environment received its most powerful ally in the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The events that led up to the establishment of the EPA were influenced by the involvement and actions of a series of Presidents. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first presidents to recognize the importance of focusing on environmental issues. The four main issues he focused on were: reforestation, topsoil erosion, conservation of resources, and water pollution. President Kennedy was another president to address environmental issues. One of his best decisions was in appointing Stewert L. Udall as Secretary of Interior. Udall worked with Congress to bring investments to National Parks and other recreational areas. This was to promote awareness to the public on conserving the environment. President Johnson and his wife were also involved in environmentalism. Ladybird Johnson was involved in a campaign called “Beautify America,” which sought to clean up the environment. Environmental groups were formed, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and Friends of the Earth. In 1968, there was a law that prevented construction to take place around any system associated with the Grand Canyon. After that, President Johnson established the National Wild and Scenic River System. Finally, President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These were all contributing steps that resulted in the establishment of the EPA.1

The polluted air “smog” in New York City | Courtesy of Walter Albertin

In 1970, President Nixon submitted an Executive Order to create the Environmental Protection Agency. The purpose of this agency was to inform the public with information about the environment and to set regulations in order to protect it. This included the protection of water, air, land, and human life since the environment effects our health as well.2 During the 1960’s, there was great need for environmental regulations; however, there were other agencies that had existed for that purpose. These agencies were not as organized and as consistent in regulating the environment as the EPA.3 The air in major cities in the 1960s became more contaminated as air pollution increased. In 1963, there was an increase in smog in the atmosphere in New York, which caused four hundred people to die from these atmospheric conditions.4 Another environmental incident occurred in California where an oil spill covered four hundred square miles of the Pacific coastline with slime that killed hundred of animals, including many birds.5 These were but two events of many that displayed how the environment was affected by human activity. This led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. However, before the EPA was formed, there were a few agencies that already existed, such as the Environmental Quality Council, established by President Nixon in 1969. This then allowed Congress to pass the  Environmental Policy Act of 1969. President Nixon then formed the EPA one year later to take more responsibility over the smaller environmental agencies.6  By 1979, twenty-seven new environmental laws and regulations were formed from the EPA, some of which included the Resource Recovery Act, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.7

A woman participating in the Love Canal Protest | Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Environmental Protection Agency is separated into ten regions in the United States, each of which is responsible for environmental oversight in three to five states. The purpose of this is so that each region is able to supervise individual states to make sure regulations and laws are enforced. In some cases, the EPA has been sued. Industries would sue the EPA if regulations seemed impossible to meet. Environmentalists sued the EPA as well because they felt the agency was making slow progress in environmental sustainability. The EPA enforced “Clean Up” regulations, where polluting industries would be required to clean up or reduce the pollution they caused in productions. For example, Love Canal in New York was a target for clean up regulations. A chemical company was responsible for restoring and cleaning Love Canal, since it had contaminated the canal with waste and other chemicals. New York had declared this incident as a health emergency in 1976. The intentions of these regulations was not only to keep water clean, but to protect people from contamination.8 A goal of the Environmental Protection Agency was to inform the public about the environment and how their everyday lifestyles affect the earth. The EPA in the 1990’s changed from focusing on environmental regulations and laws, to figuring out ways to prevent pollution and contamination.9

The Environmental Protection Agency helps to save our environment from the negative impacts of human activity. President Nixon’s choice in establishing the agency was a great idea because if it had not been created, the condition of our environment would have become worse. The EPA has also spread awareness to other countries that do not have environmentally-regulated industries on how we must protect our earth for later generations to come.

  1.  D. T. Kuzmiak, “The American Environmental Movement,” The Geographical Journal vol. 157, no. 3 (Nov 1991): 269-271.
  2.  Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U. S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  3. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U. S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  4. Lily Rothman, “Here’s Why the Environmental Protection Agency Was Created,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017.
  5. Lily Rothman, “Here’s Why the Environmental Protection Agency Was Created,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017.
  6. Lily Rothman, “Here’s Why the Environmental Protection Agency Was Created,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017.
  7. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  8. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  9. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
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41 Comments

  • The EPA is an essential component in conserving and protecting the environment. It is a shame that funds towards this agency were cut during Trump’s presidency. i feel as if many people overlook their efforts in which are only towards the greater good of the American people. This agency should be top priority for the government, especially in the next 50 years.

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