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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was officially formed December 2, 1970 as a result of a law passed by the Nixon administration. The result was a defined branch of the federal government that would be responsible for maintaining clean air, land, and water and regulating pollutants in the environment. It employs more than 18,000 people across the country.


The Environmental Protection Agency is the primary federal agency in charge of creating and enforcing regulations that put environmental laws into practice. Generally, the agency determines the appropriate regulations through research, then designates regional, state, and tribal branches of the EPA with the tasks of implementing, monitoring, and enforcing the regulations at a local level.

The EPA also provides money to state and local environmental programs to focus on local environmental improvements or environmental education. Additionally, the agency itself undertakes national programs, also aimed at environmental improvement and education (#About EPA).

The EPA itself cites Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, as the significant environmental influence that led to the creation of the EPA (#EPA History). In this same article, "The Birth of the EPA," author Jack Lewis further suggests that the EPA developed from concern about environmental degradation as it affects the human population, noting that Carson's influence came not so much from the idea of a "silent spring" - the disappearance of birds due to the harmful effects of DDT - as from the health problems that such toxins could cause for humans (#EPA History).


The stated goal of the EPA is "To protect human health and the environment." (#About EPA)


The EPA has a many projects, including localized research projects and work with tribal conservation. The organization's most far-reaching and well-developed programs are, arguably, as follows:

  • Brownfields- Brownfields are polluted, often abandoned or underused areas of land that could otherwise be used for public or private purposes. The EPA legally defines brownfields as "real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant" (#Brownfields Definition). The EPA offers Brownfields Grants to assist in the cleanup of such areas, so that they may meet EPA safety standards and be returned to citizen use. The EPA views the brownfields project as one of its significant successes, citing the creation of over 25,000 jobs on former brownfield land since the program's creation in 1995 (#About Brownfields).
  • Clean School Bus USA - This is one of the EPA's newest programs and began in 2007. This program is meant to simultaneously curb the emissions of diesel school buses while lessening child exposure to the buses' exhaust. Clean School Bus USA focuses on reducing school bus emissions by replacing and upgrading buses and using cleaner fuels. The program also focuses on decreasing school bus idling (#Clean School Bus USA).
  • Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program - This program tests different technologies to determine their effectiveness at decreasing diesel emissions in vehicles. It allows manufacturers to provide tested federal support to their reduction claims, while simultaneously assuring the federal government that manufacturers' claims are accurate. If the tested technology is proven to reduce emissions, the product is placed on the EPA's Verified Technology List, making it usable in engine retrofit programs (#Diesel Retrofit Technology Verification).
  • Energy Star - This program, run jointly with the U.S. Department of Energy, makes it easy for consumers to choose energy-efficient products. Home technologies that pass strict energy efficient standards are designated with an Energy Star logo, and are marketed as an environmentally-friendly way to lower energy bills (#About Energy Star).
  • National Estuary Program - This program focuses on enhancing and recovering estuaries throughout the United States. The National Estuary Program is an umbrella organization of twenty-eight smaller projects that focus on specific estuaries. Each project must develop a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan as a means of outlining improvement and maintenance measures (#National Estuary Program).


Major Policy Acts

  • Clean Air Act - In 1970, the Clean Air Act went from being under state jurisdiction to being administered by the EPA. This amendment made the EPA responsible for setting and enforcing national standards of air pollution. The Act has been further amended several times, with the most recent amendment taking place in 1990. The Clean Air Act was strengthened with the creation of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which allow the EPA to set maximum concentration levels of six major pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, Lead, and particulate matter. Pollution levels are monitored at the local level, with every major city having at least one monitoring location. If states or cities exceed the pollution standards, the EPA can require the local or state governments to fund appropriate pollution reduction strategies (#ELC Clean Air Act).
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) & Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) - CERCLA was amended by SARA in 1986 to strengthen and expand the Superfund program, which allows the EPA to respond to uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The EPA can hold a "potentially responsible party" (PRP) liable for the hazardous waste pollution, even if the resulting contamination was unintentional. Generally, a PRP must pay for clean-up of the site. While PRPs can contest their responsibility, the burden of proof rests on them. The EPA has the right to charge as many owners or previous owners of a Superfund site as it deems necessary, although any residential owners cannot be charged for cleanup unless they have been found to be specifically involved in the emission of hazardous wastes (#Superfund FAQs).
  • Clean Water Act - This act, passed in 1972, allows for the regulation of pollutants emitted into surface water. The Clean Water Act, however, does not require states to enforce water quality standards in groundwater. Rather, the CWA focuses on limiting surface water pollution by regulating point-source pollution, funding the creation of water treatment facilities, and, recently, developing voluntary programs in an effort to lessen non-point runoff (#Introduction to the Clean Water Act).


Office of the Administrator & Regional Offices

Agency Administrator: Lisa Jackson
Deputy Administrator: Scott Fulton

The Agency Administrator, the head of the EPA, is appointed by the President of the United States. The Office of the Administrator is located at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. (#Office of the Administrator).

The EPA has ten regional offices:

  • Region 1 - Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont. Headquarters in Boston, MA. Regional Administrator: Robert W. Varney. Website:
  • Region 2 - New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands. Headquarters in New York, NY. Regional Administrator: Alan J. Steinberg. Website:
  • Region 3 - Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia. Headquarters in Philadelphia, PA. Regional Administrator: Donald Welsh. Website:
  • Region 4 - Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee. Headquarters in Atlanta, GA. Regional Administrator: J.I. Palmer, Jr. Website:
  • Region 5 - Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin. Headquarters in Chicago, IL. Regional Administrator: Mary Gade. Website:
  • Region 6 - Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas. Headquarters in Dallas, TX. Regional Administrator: Richard E. Greene. Website:
  • Region 7 - Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska. Headquarters in Kansas City, KS. Regional Administrator: John B. Askew. Website:
  • Region 8 - Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming. Headquarters in Denver, CO. Regional Administrator: Robert E. Roberts. Website:
  • Region 9 - Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, South Pacific Territories. Headquarters in San Francisco, CA. Regional Administrator: Wayne Nastri. Website:


Current Events

  • EPA head continues to be uncertain when his agency will be prepared to declare whether or not vehicle green house gases need to be regulated. See full Forbes article.
  • Congress investigates possible conflicts of interest involving parties that advise EPA. See full Associated Press article.


Teaching Resources

EPA Teaching Center.



Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. About Energy Star. Accessed 06/26/07.

Environmental Literacy Council. Information on the Clean Air Act. ELC Clean Air Act. Updated 06/07/07. Accessed 06/22/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. About EPA. Updated 05/10/07. Accessed 06/19/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. About EPA Regions. Updated 09/06/06. Accessed 06/19/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Brownfields Cleanup and Development. About Brownfields. Updated 06/30/06. Accessed 06/26/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Brownfields Definition. Updated 06/30/06. Accessed 06/26/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Clean School Bus USA. Updated 05/02/07. Accessed 06/26/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Cleanup Enforcement Superfund FAQs. Updated 03/26/2006. Accessed 06/22/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Diesel Retrofit Technology Verification. Updated 06/19/07. Accessed 06/26/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. EPA History. "The Birth of EPA." 1985. Accessed 06/18/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Timeline. Accessed 06/18/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Exchange Network & Grant Program. Updated 05/24/07. Accessed 06/26/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. National Estuary Program. Updated 06/05/07. Accessed 06/26/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Office of the Administrator. Updated 05/24/07. Accessed 06/19/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Watershed Academy Web. Introduction to the Clean Water Act. Updated 03/13/03. Accessed 06/22/07.

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