Culture and Society

What does the Environmental Protection Agency actually do?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces environmental legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, and it introduces and administers various programs designed to protect the environment. Often, while the law itself stipulates which environmental standards should be achieved and in what timeframe, it is the EPA that devises the exact plan for attaining on those goals. For example:

    • Early in its existence, the EPA was charged with enacting and enforcing broad environmental clean-up laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA), the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act of 1972 and many other fundamental pieces of environmental legislation.
    • Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990, mandating a reduction in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The EPA instituted the Acid Rain Program (ARP) to reduce NOx and a cap-and-trade program to reduce SO2.
    • The EPA runs the Energy Star program (in cooperation with the Department of Energy). This program encourages consumers to buy energy efficient appliances and homes by reviewing and rating the energy efficiency of these products. Energy Star is also instrumental in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
    • The EPA's Asbestos Program offers information about how to check for asbestos, and how to manage the risks it poses.

    Sometimes, the EPA must also respond to environmental emergencies. In the 1970s, residents of the city of Love Canal, N.Y., began reporting alarming environmental conditions. Puddles of toxic waste had been observed throughout the area, and although no one knew why, the city had begun to experience an unusually high rate of birth defects, miscarriages and elevated white-blood-cell counts. It turned out that much of the city was built on or near a former chemical dump site that had been owned by the Hooker Chemical Company. Though the dump had been covered over with a layer of clay, over the years, torrential rains washed away the clay buffer, exposing the toxic chemicals. President Jimmy Carter authorized funding to relocate the town's residents. A short time later, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) initiated Superfund to enable the EPA to evacuate polluted areas, go after polluters and implement emergency removal actions.

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