United States Environmental Protection Agency Explained

Agency Name:Environmental Protection Agency
Formed:December 2, 1970
Employees:17,384 (2010)
Budget:$10.486 billion (2010)[1]
Chief1 Name:Lisa P. Jackson
Chief1 Position:Administrator

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or sometimes USEPA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.[2] The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon submitted a reorganization plan to Congress and it was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate.[3] The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by Congress. The current administrator is Lisa P. Jackson. The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is normally given cabinet rank. The agency has approximately 17,000 full-time employees.[4]


The EPA employs approximately 17,000 people, and engages many more on a contractual basis. More than half of EPA human resources are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; other groups include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists.

EPA offices include:

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 Native American 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.


On July 9, 1970, citing rising concerns over environmental protection and conservation, President Richard Nixon transmitted Reorganization Plan No. 3 to the United States Congress by executive order, creating the EPA as a single, independent agency from a number of smaller arms of different federal agencies. Prior to the establishment of the EPA, the federal government was not structured to comprehensively regulate environmental pollutants.

The EPA began regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) from mobile and stationary sources of air pollution under the Clean Air Act (CAA) for the first time on January 2, 2011. Standards for mobile sources have been established pursuant to Section 202 of the CAA, and GHGs from stationary sources are controlled under the authority of Part C of Title I of the Act. See the page Regulation of Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act for further information.

EPA offices

EPA 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.

Related legislation

The legislation here is general environmental protection legislation, and may also apply to other units of the government, including the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.




Endangered species

Hazardous waste


Energy Star

See main article: Energy Star. In 1992 the EPA launched the Energy Star program, a voluntary program that fosters energy efficiency.


EPA administers the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) (which is much older than the agency) and registers all pesticides legally sold in the United States.

Environmental Impact Statement Review

EPA is responsible for reviewing Environmental Impact Statements of other federal agencies' projects, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative

Through the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative (SDSI),[6] EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) recognizes environmental leaders who voluntarily commit to the use of safer surfactants. Safer surfactants are the ones that break down quickly to non-polluting compounds and help protect aquatic life in both fresh and salt water. Nonylphenol ethoxylates, commonly referred to as NPEs, are an example of a surfactant class that does not meet the definition of a safer surfactant.

The Design for the Environment has identified safer alternative surfactants through partnerships with industry and environmental advocates. These safer alternatives are comparable in cost and are readily available. CleanGredients[7] is a source of safer surfactants.

Fuel economy

Manufacturers selling automobiles in the USA are required to provide EPA fuel economy test results for their vehicles and the manufacturers are not allowed to provide results from alternate sources. The fuel economy is calculated using the emissions data collected during two of the vehicle's Clean Air Act certification tests by measuring the total volume of carbon captured from the exhaust during the tests.

The current testing system was originally developed in 1972 and used driving cycles designed to simulate driving during rush-hour in Los Angeles during that era. Prior to 1984 the EPA reported the exact fuel economy figures calculated from the test. 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[8] 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. The updated testing methodology was finalized in December, 2006 for implementation with model year 2008 vehicles and set the precedent of a 12 year review cycle for the test procedures.[9]

In February 2005, the organization 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 the original EPA test results.

It is important to note that the EPA actually conducts these tests on very few vehicles. "While the public mistakenly presumes that this federal agency is hard at work conducting complicated tests on every new model of truck, van, car, and SUV, in reality, 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."[10] Two-thirds of the vehicles the EPA tests themselves are selected randomly, and the remaining third are tested for specific reasons.

Although originally created as a reference point for fossil fuelled vehicles, driving cycles have been used for estimating how many miles an electric vehicle will do on a single charge.[11]

Air quality

The Air Quality Modeling Group (AQMG) is in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) and provides leadership and direction on the full range of air quality models, air pollution dispersion models[12] [13] and other mathematical simulation techniques used in assessing pollution control strategies and the impacts of air pollution sources.

The AQMG serves as the focal point on air pollution modeling techniques for other EPA headquarters staff, EPA regional Offices, and State and local environmental agencies. It coordinates with the EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) on the development of new models and techniques, as well as wider issues of atmospheric research. Finally, the AQMG conducts modeling analyses to support the policy and regulatory decisions of the EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS).

The AQMG is located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Oil pollution

SPCC: Spill Prevention Containment and Counter Measures. Secondary Containment mandated at oil storage facilities. Oil release containment at oil development sites.


See main article: WaterSense. The WaterSense program is designed to encourage water efficiency through the use of a special label on consumer products. Products include high-efficiency toilets (HETs), bathroom sink faucets (and accessories), and irrigation equipment. WaterSense is a voluntary program, with EPA developing specifications for water-efficient products through a public process and product testing by independent laboratories. The program was launched in 2006.[14]

Drinking water

See main article: Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA ensures safe drinking water for the public, by setting standards for more than 160,000 public water systems throughout the United States. 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.

Radiation Protection

EPA has following seven groups of projects to protect public from nuclear contamination.[15]

Protective Action Guide

EPA developed the manual[16] to provide guideline for local and state governments to protect public from nuclear accident.

Research vessel

See main article: USNS Bold (T-AGOS-12). On March 3, 2004, the United States Navy transferred USNS Bold, a Stalwart class ocean surveillance ship, to the EPA, now known as OSV Bold. The ship previously used in anti-submarine operations during the Cold War, is equipped with sidescan sonar, underwater video, water and sediment sampling instruments, used in study of ocean and coastline. One of the major missions of Bold is to monitor sites where materials are dumped from dredging operations in U.S. ports for ecological impact.[17]

Advance identification

Advance identification, or ADID, is a planning process used by the EPA to identify wetlands and other bodies of water and their respective suitability for the discharge of dredged and fill material. The EPA conducts the process in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local states or Native American Tribes. As of February 1993, 38 ADID projects had been completed and 33 were ongoing.[18]


There has been political controversy over whether environmental regulations increase or decrease national employment.[19] [20] [21] [22]

Air quality standards review

Since its inception the EPA has begun to rely less and less on its scientists and more on non-science personnel. EPA has recently changed their policies regarding limits for ground-level ozone, particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and lead. On March 12, 2008, the federal government of the United States reported that the air in hundreds of U.S. counties was simply too dirty to breathe, ordering a multi-billion dollar expansion of efforts to clean up smog in cities and towns nationwide.[23]

Fuel economy

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 at the last minute the EPA delayed its release.

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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26] It was reported that Stephen Johnson ignored his own staff in making this decision.

After the federal government bailed out General Motors and Chrysler in the Automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010, the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox was released with EPA fuel economy rating abnormally higher than its competitors. Independent road tests[27] [28] [29] [30] found that both vehicle did not out-perform its competitors, which had much lower fuel economy ratings. Later road tests[31] [32] found better, but inconclusive, results.

Global warming

In June 2005, a memo revealed that Philip Cooney, former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, had personally edited documents, summarizing government research on climate change, before their release.[33] Cooney resigned two days after the memo was published in The New York Times. Cooney said he had been planning to resign for over two years, implying the timing of his resignation was just a coincidence. Specifically, he said he had planned to resign to "spend time with his family."[34] One week after resigning he took a job at Exxon Mobil in their public affairs department.[35]

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. U.S. law clearly stated that the final decision was the EPA administrator's, not President Bush's. 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.


In 2004, the Agency began a strategic planning exercise to develop plans for a more virtual approach to library services. The effort was curtailed in July 2005 when the Agency proposed a $2.5 million cut in its 2007 budget for libraries. Based on the proposed 2007 budget, the EPA posted a notice to the Federal Register, September 20, 2006 that EPA Headquarters Library would close its doors to walk-in patrons and visitors on October 1, 2006.[36] The EPA also closed some of its regional libraries and reduced hours in others,[37] using the same FY 2007 proposed budget numbers.

On October 1, 2008, the Agency re-opened regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City and the library at its Headquarters in Washington, DC.[38]

In June 2011, the EPA Library Network published a strategic plan for fiscal years 2012-2014.

Mercury emissions

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.[39] [40] The EPA had suppressed a study it commissioned by Harvard University which contradicted its position on mercury controls.[41] The suit alleges that the EPA's rule allowing exemption from "maximum available control technology" was illegal, and additionally charged that the EPA's system of pollution credit trading allows power plants to forego reducing mercury emissions.[42] 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.[43]

9/11 air ratings

See main article: EPA 9/11 pollution controversy.

A report released by the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in August 2003 claimed that the White House put pressure on the EPA to delete cautionary information about the air quality in New York City around Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Very fine airborne particulates

Tiny particles, under 2.5 micrometres, are attributed to health and mortality concerns,[44] so some health advocates want the EPA to regulate it. The science may be in its infancy, although many conferences have discussed the trails of this airborne matter in the air. Foreign governments such as Australia and most EU States have addressed this issue.

The EPA first established standards in 1997, and strengthened them in 2006. As with other standards, regulation and enforcement of the PM2.5 standards is the responsibility of the state governments, through State Implementation Plans.[45]

Political pressure and Scientific Integrity

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.

EPA research has also been suppressed by career managers. Supervisors at EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment required several paragraphs to be deleted in a 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.".[46] EPA subjects employees who author scientific papers to prior restraint, even if those papers are written on personal time.[47] 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.

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.[48] 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.[49] Studies have also found that poor and minority populations were underserved by the EPA's Superfund program, and that this equity was worsening.[48]

Barriers to enforcing environmental justice

Localization Many issues of environmental justice are localized, and are therefore hard to be addressed by federal agencies such as the EPA. Without significant media attention, political interest, or ‘crisis’ status, local issues are less likely to be addressed on local or federal level. With a still developing sector of environmental justice under the EPA, small, local incidents are unlikely to be solved compared to larger, well publicized incidents.

Conflicting political powers The White House maintains direct control over the EPA, and its enforcements are subject to the political agenda of who is in power. Republicans and Democrats differ in their approaches to, and perceived concerns of, environmental justice. While President Bill Clinton signed the executive order 12898, the Bush administration did not develop a clear plan or establish goals for integrating environmental justice into everyday practices, which in turn affected the motivation for environmental enforcement.[50]

Responsibilities of the EPAThe 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. While the EPA aids in preventing and identifying hazardous situations, it is hard to construct a specific mission statement given its wide range of responsibilities.[51] 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.[52]

Authority of the EPAUnder different circumstances, the EPA faces many limitations to enforcing environmental justice. It 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.[53]

List of EPA administrators

See main article: List of EPA administrators.

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. http://www.epa.gov/budget/2010/2010bib.pdf 2010 EPA Budget p. 5
  2. Web site: Our Mission and What We Do. US EPA. 8 December 2010.
  3. Web site: Public AccessWhen and how was the EPA Created?. U.S. EPA. 6 November 2011.

  4. Also see U.S. Census Bureau spreadsheet
  5. http://epa.gov/research/ Office of Research and Development
  6. Web site: EPA SDSI Home Page. Epa.gov. 2008-12-22. 2011-07-16.
  7. Web site: CleanGredients Home Page. Cleangredients.org. 2011-07-16.
  8. Web site: Federal Test Procedure Revisions. 1996-10-22. 2009-10-03.
  9. Web site: EPA Fuel Economy. Epa.gov. 2011-07-16.
  10. Web site: The Truth About EPA City / Highway MPG Estimates. 2009-08. 2010-08-19.
  11. News: Previous post Next post. Honda Finds EVs a Perfect Fit | Autopia. Wired.com. 2010-11-17. 2011-07-16.
  12. www.crcpress.com
  13. Air-dispersion.com
  14. EPA. "WaterSense."
  15. http://www.epa.gov/radiation/programs.html Radiation Protection Programs
  16. Web site: EPA Protective Action Guides. PDF. 2011-07-16.
  17. Web site: About the OSV Bold. EPA. EPA 842-F-05-004. 2009-01-17.
  18. Web site: EPA > Wetlands > Wetlands Fact Sheet. Epa.gov. 2006-06-28. 2011-07-16.
  19. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/regulations-create-jobs-too-02092012.html Regulations Create Jobs, Too; Vilified on the campaign trail, government rules often create as many jobs as they kill
  20. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2011-09-05/GOP-freshmen-return-resume-effort-to-roll-back-regulations/50267540/1 GOP freshmen return, resume effort to roll back regulations
  21. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/05/business/economy/a-debate-arises-on-job-creation-vs-environmental-regulation.html A Debate Arises on Job Creation and Environment
  22. phttp://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2011/1122/Is-the-EPA-really-a-jobs-killer Is the EPA really a 'jobs killer'?
  23. http://edition.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/03/12/dirty.air.ap/index.html CNN, March 13, 2008
  24. http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/10/governor-arnie-.html Blog.Wired.com
  25. Web site: Absurdity at the EPA: Denying California emissions plan a new low | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News | Opinion: Editorials. The Dallas Morning News. 2008-01-01. 2009-11-21.
  26. Web site: Text of Letter from Gov. Schwarzenegger and 13 other Governors Regarding U.S. EPA’s Denial of California’s Tailpipe Emissions Waiver Request. Gov.ca.gov. 2009-11-21.
  27. Web site: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox LT2 Full Test and Video. Edmunds InsideLine. 2009-09-29. 2010-02-17.
  28. Web site: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox LT - Short Take Road Test. Jared Gall. Car and Driver. August. 2009. 2010-02-17.
  29. Web site: Drive Report: 26mpg in 2010 Chevrolet Equinox Four-Cylinder. John Voelcker. GreenCarReports.com. 2009-10-27. 2010-02-17.
  30. Web site: Why the Chevy Equinox EPA Mileage Numbers Don't Add Up. Thetruthaboutcars.com. 2011-07-16.
  31. Web site: 2010 Chevrolet Equinox vs. 2011 Kia Sorento, Program #2939. Motorweek. 2010-05-28. 2010-07-06.
  33. http://www.cslproductions.com/scrapbook/NYtimes-bush-global-warming-editor-6-9-05/ U.S. Official Edited Warming, Emission Link - Report
  34. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0612-04.htm White House Official Resigns After Climate Documents Flap
  35. http://www.political-news.org/breaking/11978/ex-white-house-environment-official-joins-exxon.html Ex-White House environment official joins Exxon
  36. http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20061800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/06-7803.htm "Notification of Closure of the EPA Headquarters Library" (pdf)
  37. http://www.peer.org/docs/epa/06_29_6_union_library_ltr.pdf Letter to Appropriations Committee, Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee, June 29, 2006 (pdf)
  38. http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/4a3d7e51caf96c7a85257359003f533e/9665e31d9c19a212852574d500537a10!OpenDocument EPA Newsbrief, October 1, 2008
  39. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A64630-2004Jan30 Proposed Mercury Rules Bear Industry Mark
  40. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61762-2005Feb3.html EPA Inspector Finds Mercury Proposal Tainted
  41. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55268-2005Mar21.html New EPA Mercury Rule Omits Conflicting Data
  42. http://www.waterconserve.info/articles/reader.asp?linkid=40416 States Sue EPA Over Mercury Emissions
  43. http://www.epa.state.il.us/environmental-progress/v32/n1/environmental-progress.pdf Governor Blagojevich and Illinois EPA Propose Aggressive Mercury Controls For Illinois Power Plants
  44. Web site: Reasons Why Particulate Matter (PM) Should be Included in EPA Settlements with Electric Utility Companies. PDF. 2011-07-16.
  45. Web site: PM Standards Revision - 2006 | Particulate Matter | Air & Radiation | US EPA. Epa.gov. 2011-07-16.
  46. Ibid p. 738 note 95.
  47. Ibid p. 736-40.
  48. O’Neil, S. G. (2007). Superfund: Evaluating the Impact of Executive Order 12898. Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 115, Number 7, pgs 1087–1093
  49. Robert. Bullard. Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Regarding Environmental Justice. 2007-07-25. 2008-10-25.
  50. Bullard, Robert. Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007
  51. Rosenbaum, W. A. “Still reforming after all these years: George W. Bush’s new era’ at the EPA. Environmental Policy: New directions for the Twenty-first century. Washington DC: CQ Press, 2003
  52. Burns, Ronald G. Michael J. Lynch, and Paul Stretesky. Environmental Law, Crime, and Justice. New York: LFB Scholarly publishing Inc, 2008
  53. Environmental Justice Coalition (EJC). “Environmental Justice act of 2009.” Environmental Justice Coalition, 2008. EJ Coalition Online:Ejcoalition.Multiply.com