Environmental Protection Agency

Environmental Protection Agency in the United States

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Environmental Law

The primary agency for overseeing environmental compliance in the United States. It was created in 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon in Reorganization Plan No. 3, which transferred to it the powers of fifteen agencies and parts of agencies. The EPA started with a staff of 6,000 employees and a budget of $455 million.

The EPA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and also has ten regional offices. It is headed by an administrator, appointed by the president. Assistant administrators supervise various organizations within the agency, such as the Office of Air and Radiation, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Monitoring, and the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Because of its origin, the EPA is an executive agency, not an independent one. Discussions of elevating it to cabinet status have been going on for a decade, but no change has resulted. Instead, most of the EPAs influence comes from the regional offices. Each has a regional administrator, appointed in consultation with the senior senator and governor of the state where the office is located. Although policy is set in D.C., implementation of the programs comes from the regions. The regional offices also enforce the law and work closely with states within their regions.

Though statutes have added responsibilities to the original charter of the combined agencies, the structure of the EPA continues to reflect the segments into which its work was originally divided. For example, pesticide and toxic functions are separate from water, and even water is divided into pieces: groundwater is detached from surface water. These divisions make it difficult for the EPA to assess compliance and complicate industry’s dealings with the agency. The EPA has been drifting toward what is called multimedia enforcement, in which violations involving air can be combined with hazardous waste or water complaints. Total integration of the programs, however, seems unlikely.

Once the EPA was founded, environmental laws were pushed through Congress. Inherited responsibilities faded in comparison to the new mandates. For example, the EPA had only 120 days after it began to churn out regulations.

The blackest days for the EPA occurred during Ronald Reagan’s administration. An avowed opponent to regulation, Reagan appointed people to environmental posts who were sympathetic to his point of view. In 1981 he appointed Anne Burford [see Burford, Anne Gorsuch] as EPA administrator, and she filled other high-level positions in the agency with political appointees.

Under Reagan, the EPA’s enforcement efforts ground to a halt; the creation of regulations were slowed to a crawl. Furthermore, he slashed the budget of the agency until even Burford complained: the EPA lost 29 percent of its budget and a quarter of its staff during Reagan’s first two years.

In 1983, Congress began an investigation of the EPA and alleged abuses, focusing on the program funded to clean up hazardous waste sites. It found evidence of private, illegal meetings with industry, settlements that covered only minor portions of cleanups at hazardous waste sites, and other misconduct. See Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

When the congressional hearings were finished, Rita Lavelle (head of the Superfund office) was sentenced to six months in jail for perjury. Anne Burford resigned, along with twenty other people she brought in. Reagan swiftly appointed William Ruckelshaus, who had been the first administrator of the EPA. He worked to bring the agency back to a level of competency and pride.

The EPA has functioned for more than twenty years. Even though many federal programs have been assumed by the states, its workload increases with every environmental statute Congress enacts.

Introduction to Environmental Protection Agency

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the United States government, responsible for protecting the environment and maintaining it for future generations. It was established in 1970. The EPA superseded and assumed most of the activities of the former Environmental Health Service. Specifically, its aim is to control and diminish air and water pollution, noise pollution, and pollution by radiation, pesticides, and other toxic substances.

The agency has established federal standards for air quality that limit the quantities of hazardous pollutants from industrial emission. It works with state and local governments to determine and enforce safer pollution levels. It conducts research to identify and regulate noise sources and also to refine techniques of solid waste disposal and reuse. The agency’s efforts in the area of water pollution include establishment of water quality standards, regulation of regional water pollution controls and water supply methods, and scientific research into the effects of chemical and other contaminants. An especially important aspect of the EPA’s work involves protection of the population from radiation: a national inspection program for monitoring radiation levels in the environment and the enforcement of rigid standards for disposal of hazardous wastes. The agency also regulates the handling and control of chemical substances deemed hazardous. In particular, the use of pesticides is closely scrutinized; the agency sets tolerance levels for those used around foodstuffs and carefully monitors residue levels in food, humans, and wildlife.

In the late 1980s the EPA expanded its mission to include problems of global warming and environmental change. It created a Climate Change Division to develop research into the impact of increased carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere. The EPA also initiated an Ecological Mapping Program (EMAP) to delineate vegetational patterns in the U.S. and, in 1990, established a grant program to improve environmental education.” (2)

Legal Materials

The EPA is the primary Federal agency regulating pollution in the United States of America. The EPA web site provides a great deal of information about the agency and its various programs. For assistance with EPA materials, contact one of the EPA libraries.

Decisions: Lexis has databases for: EPA Administrative Law Judge decisions (ENVIRN;EPALD); EPA Regional Judicial Officer Decisions (ENVIRN;EPARJO); and most EPA documents made available to the public, via the Environmental Law Institute’s Guidance & Policy Document Reporter (ENVIRN;GUIDOC).

To see how EPA decisions have been handled by later decisions and the courts, run the citation through KeyCite on Westlaw.

Enforcement Actions: Docket information is available online and directly from the EPA. See the Cases And Settlements page for more info.

Supplemental Environmental Projects: A party caught in an EPA enforcement action can volunteer to clean up the polluted site as a way of reducing the ultimate penalty. The clean-up is called a “Supplemental Environmental Project” or “SEP.” Information about SEPs is posted posted on the Supplemental Environmental Projects page of the EPA Web site.


The Environmental Protection Agency protects human health and safeguards the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in the executive branch as an independent agency pursuant to Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 (5 U.S.C. app.), effective December 2, 1970. It was created to facilitate coordinated and effective governmental action on behalf of the environment. The Agency is designed to serve as the public’s advocate for a livable

Core Functions and Structure

Air and Radiation

The Office of Air and Radiation develops national programs, policies, regulations, and standards for air quality, emission standards for
stationary and mobile sources, and emission standards for hazardous air
pollutants; conducts research and disseminates information on indoor air
pollutants; provides technical direction, support, and evaluation of regional air
activities; offers training in the ?eld of air pollution control; gives technical
assistance to States and agencies having radiation protection programs,
including radon mitigation programs and a national surveillance and inspection
program for measuring radiation levels in the environment; and provides
technical support and policy direction to international efforts to reduce global
and transboundary air pollution and its effects.


The Office of Water develops national programs, technical policies, and regulations for water pollution control and water supplies; protects
ground water, drinking water, and marine and estuarine habitats; controls pollution
runoff; develops water quality standards and ef?uent guidelines; supports regional
water activities; develops programs for technical assistance and technology
transfer; and offers water quality training. For further information, call 202–564–5700.

Solid Waste and Emergency Response

The Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response provides policy, guidance,
and direction for EPA’s hazardous waste and emergency response programs.
It develops policies, standards, and regulations for hazardous waste
treatment, storage, and disposal; develops and implements programs to prevent
and detect leakage from underground storage tanks and to clean up ensuing
contamination; provides technical assistance in safe waste management;
administers the Brownfields program which advocates for redevelopment and
reuse of contaminated land; and manages the Superfund toxic waste cleanup
program to respond to hazardous waste sites and chemical and oil spill accidents.

Chemical Safety and Pollution

Prevention The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention supports
the public’s right to know about industrial chemicals; prevents pollution through
innovative strategies; evaluates and regulates pesticides and industrial
chemicals to safeguard all Americans; establishes safe levels for pesticide
residues on food; formulates national strategies for control of bioaccumulative,
and toxic substances; and develops scienti?c criteria for assessing chemical
substances, standards for test protocols for chemicals, rules and procedures
for industry reporting, and scienti?c information for the regulation of
pesticides and toxic chemicals.

Research and Development

The Office of Research and Development (ORD) conducts and supports high-quality
research for understanding and resolving the Nation’s most serious environmental
threats. ORD develops methods and technologies to reduce exposures to
pollution and prevent its creation. It prepares health and ecological risk
assessments and makes recommendations for sound risk management strategies in
order to assure that highest risk pollution problems receive optimum remediation.
ORD manages the Science To Achieve Results Program, which awards research
grants to scientists in universities and environmental science students.

Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) manages a national criminal enforcement, forensics, and training program. OECA also manages EPA’s regulatory, site remediation, and Federal facilities
enforcement and compliance assurance programs.

Regional Offices

EPA’s 10 regional offices are committed to the development of strong local
programs for pollution abatement. The Regional Administrators are responsible
for accomplishing, within their regions, the Agency’s national program objectives. They develop, propose, and implement an approved regional program
for comprehensive and integrated environmental protection activities.
For more information, visit the Web site at epa.gov/epahome/where.htm.


Notes and References

  1. Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”
  2. Information about Environmental Protection Agency in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia

See Also

Environmental Law

Further Reading

Environmental Protection Agency: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Environmental Protection Agency. This part provides references, in relation to Environmental Protection Agency, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Environmental Protection Agency by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Environmental Protection Agency and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Environmental Protection Agency or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Environmental Protection Agency and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Environmental Protection Agency. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Environmental Protection Agency should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Environmental Protection Agency when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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