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The EPA and Early Environmental Policy

Hello all,

Happy March!

In this month's issue, we are continuing our coverage of environmental policy by diving into some of the biggest policies at the beginning of the modern environmental movement. In these issues we are focusing on milestone policies– those that mark a significant change or development in the field. Today we are covering 1970-1974, a short period of time with a lot of heavy hitters. With public attention newly fixed on environmental advocacy thanks to Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, the 1970s opened with 20 million Americans turning out in protest at the first ever Earth Day, signaling that environmental protection was now a mainstay in American politics. From that point on, we see the formation of some of the most important policies to date.

1970- Richard Nixon forms the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

As we discussed last week, the American environmental consciousness rose to prominence in the 1960s, coming fully into the political realm in 1970. According the the EPA, “as a result of heightened public concerns about deteriorating city air, natural areas littered with debris, and urban water supplies contaminated with dangerous impurities,” President Richard Nixon wrote a 37 point message to the House of Representatives and the Senate where he requested, “...four billion dollars for the improvement of water treatment facilities; asking for national air quality standards and stringent guidelines to lower motor vehicle emissions; and launching federally-funded research to reduce automobile pollution.” (OA US EPA, The Guardian). Nixon also created a council to consider how to organize federal government programs and put his points into action (OA US EPA, The Origins of EPA). Following council recommendations, Nixon put forth a plan to Congress to consolidate the environmental responsibilities of the federal government into one agency, the EPA. This proposal was accepted and the EPA opened its doors on December 2nd, 1970.

1970- Clean Air Act (CAA)

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was one of the first federal policies to be passed following the formation of the EPA, speaking to the concern many Americans felt about the “​​dense, visible smog in many of the nation's cities and industrial centers” and the connection between air pollution and public health (OAR US EPA, Clean Air Act Requirements and History). Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has to establish air quality standards for six common pollutants– ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead. States are then required to adopt plans or policies to reach these quality standards, which includes managing emissions that might move across state lines (OAR US EPA, Clean Air Act Requirements and History). Additionally, the CAA regulates vehicle exhaust and pollution from industrial plants.

1972- Clean Water Act (CWA)

The basis of the Clean Water Act comes from the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which was responding to the economic and cultural boom following the end of World War II (“History of the Clean Water Act”) The CWA allows the EPA to protect the lakes, streams, rivers, and bays throughout the country by standardizing water quality, managing single point pollution and regulating the discharge of industry pollutants into these bodies of water (OP US EPA, Summary of the Clean Water Act) Many believe that the CWA does not do enough to protect American waterways, saying that, “ still doesn’t address some critical polluters, including nonpoint source pollution, which includes runoff, drainage and other pollution that’s not directly held responsible by one source.” (“History of the Clean Water Act”)

1972- Ocean Dumping Act (ODA)

The Ocean Dumping Act, also known as The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), “prohibits dumping into the ocean material that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment.”(OA US EPA, EPA History) The act also allows the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers to regulate any ocean dredging permits, as according to EPA standards. The ODA is part of one of the first international agreements to protect marine life from the effects of human activity (OW US EPA, Learn about Ocean Dumping).

1974- Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) allows the EPA to protect the quality of drinking water throughout the country (OP US EPA, Summary of the Safe Drinking Water Act). The EPA regulates quality by holding all public drinking water to the legally enforceable standards known as the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR). The NPDWR limits the acceptable level of contaminants which include microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals and radionuclides (OW US EPA, National Primary Drinking Water Regulations). The NPDWRs are regulated due to public health concerns should they be ingested. The EPA also has Secondary Drinking Water Regulations and list of unregulated contaminants that many states adopt as part of their water regulation, however these are technically non-enforceable guidelines (OW US EPA, Drinking Water Regulations and Contaminants).

Many of these regulations are household names today; in fact it seems like a no-brainer that this sort of thing would be regulated and protected. However, during this time the creation of the EPA and the resulting actions were a BIG deal. This will continue to be a theme as we make our way through environmental policy in the US. Tune in at the end of this month for our review of 1975-1979!



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