Protecting the Environment: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

July 9, 1970 was the birth of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered by President Nixon | Courtesy of Wikipedia

As our society continues to grow and increase in population, more and more people use the earth’s resources. The use of these resources affects the land, water, air, and even human life. Taking advantage of these resources can lead to negative effects on one’s health or on the condition of our environment. Because of this, restrictions are created to sustain the earth and its resources. While concern for the environment has been decades in the making, it was not until 1970 that the environment received its most powerful ally in the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The events that led up to the establishment of the EPA were influenced by the involvement and actions of a series of Presidents. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first presidents to recognize the importance of focusing on environmental issues. The four main issues he focused on were: reforestation, topsoil erosion, conservation of resources, and water pollution. President Kennedy was another president to address environmental issues. One of his best decisions was in appointing Stewert L. Udall as Secretary of Interior. Udall worked with Congress to bring investments to National Parks and other recreational areas. This was to promote awareness to the public on conserving the environment. President Johnson and his wife were also involved in environmentalism. Ladybird Johnson was involved in a campaign called “Beautify America,” which sought to clean up the environment. Environmental groups were formed, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and Friends of the Earth. In 1968, there was a law that prevented construction to take place around any system associated with the Grand Canyon. After that, President Johnson established the National Wild and Scenic River System. Finally, President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These were all contributing steps that resulted in the establishment of the EPA.1

The polluted air “smog” in New York City | Courtesy of Walter Albertin

In 1970, President Nixon submitted an Executive Order to create the Environmental Protection Agency. The purpose of this agency was to inform the public with information about the environment and to set regulations in order to protect it. This included the protection of water, air, land, and human life since the environment effects our health as well.2 During the 1960’s, there was great need for environmental regulations; however, there were other agencies that had existed for that purpose. These agencies were not as organized and as consistent in regulating the environment as the EPA.3 The air in major cities in the 1960s became more contaminated as air pollution increased. In 1963, there was an increase in smog in the atmosphere in New York, which caused four hundred people to die from these atmospheric conditions.4 Another environmental incident occurred in California where an oil spill covered four hundred square miles of the Pacific coastline with slime that killed hundred of animals, including many birds.5 These were but two events of many that displayed how the environment was affected by human activity. This led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. However, before the EPA was formed, there were a few agencies that already existed, such as the Environmental Quality Council, established by President Nixon in 1969. This then allowed Congress to pass the  Environmental Policy Act of 1969. President Nixon then formed the EPA one year later to take more responsibility over the smaller environmental agencies.6  By 1979, twenty-seven new environmental laws and regulations were formed from the EPA, some of which included the Resource Recovery Act, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.7

A woman participating in the Love Canal Protest | Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Environmental Protection Agency is separated into ten regions in the United States, each of which is responsible for environmental oversight in three to five states. The purpose of this is so that each region is able to supervise individual states to make sure regulations and laws are enforced. In some cases, the EPA has been sued. Industries would sue the EPA if regulations seemed impossible to meet. Environmentalists sued the EPA as well because they felt the agency was making slow progress in environmental sustainability. The EPA enforced “Clean Up” regulations, where polluting industries would be required to clean up or reduce the pollution they caused in productions. For example, Love Canal in New York was a target for clean up regulations. A chemical company was responsible for restoring and cleaning Love Canal, since it had contaminated the canal with waste and other chemicals. New York had declared this incident as a health emergency in 1976. The intentions of these regulations was not only to keep water clean, but to protect people from contamination.8 A goal of the Environmental Protection Agency was to inform the public about the environment and how their everyday lifestyles affect the earth. The EPA in the 1990’s changed from focusing on environmental regulations and laws, to figuring out ways to prevent pollution and contamination.9

The Environmental Protection Agency helps to save our environment from the negative impacts of human activity. President Nixon’s choice in establishing the agency was a great idea because if it had not been created, the condition of our environment would have become worse. The EPA has also spread awareness to other countries that do not have environmentally-regulated industries on how we must protect our earth for later generations to come.

  1.  D. T. Kuzmiak, “The American Environmental Movement,” The Geographical Journal vol. 157, no. 3 (Nov 1991): 269-271.
  2.  Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U. S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  3. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U. S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  4. Lily Rothman, “Here’s Why the Environmental Protection Agency Was Created,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017.
  5. Lily Rothman, “Here’s Why the Environmental Protection Agency Was Created,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017.
  6. Lily Rothman, “Here’s Why the Environmental Protection Agency Was Created,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017.
  7. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  8. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
  9. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, 2009, s.v. “U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” by Robert Collin.
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  • To me, this article is one that has stood out the most so far. It is interesting to read about how people like President Nixon and President Roosevelt were to make contributing steps to make the establishment that is known today as EPA. It is eye opening to see how polluted New York was in the 1960’s and how the Environmental Protection Agency responded to this national emergency.

  • I find it so amazing how people strive to make the environment better. But crazy how much we have corrupted it. We the people are so selfish but how else are we supposed to survive? That’s just why we need to watch what goes on and act quick. Melissa is very informative with politics over this article. I am not huge on keeping up with the economy and politics. Which needs to change if I want to help out too.

  • It’s very upsetting knowing about the consequences that we have caused to our own environment. Many people were aware of this and established the Environmental Protection Agency. However, there need to be more awareness because the environment Is still being hurt and destroyed. Global warming has been an issue that is currently being proven by all the very spontaneous and dangerous natural disasters that have been occurring lately. More emphasis is needed and I’m glad this article is published to help.

  • This was a well written article describing what the EPA is. I had never heard of the EPA before and you did a great job informing the reader because now I know why, how and who made it. I am glad they made the EPA because without who knows how bad the pollution would be today. There could have been smog everywhere or global warming could have been happening at a faster rate then it is now.

  • I have really enjoyed this article, especially since I think it is related to a problem that surrounds us today. Without any doubt, global warming is a terrible phenomenon that is caused by us, unfortunately. As the saying goes, you are not aware of what you have until you lose it. For years, scientists and environmentalists have warned us about the consequences of our environmental irresponsibility, they have urged us to change. Although small changes were made, big companies behave in a hypocritical way. It is true, they have left their factories that contaminated a lot. However, they only did this because of the environmental laws and respective sanctions. Worse still, they now invest in countries that do not have environmental sanctions, which makes the manufacture of their products completely harmful to the environment. A thought that only fixes on the monetary gain, a thought that unfortunately is shared by the most powerful man of this country: Donald Trump.

  • Great article, I learned about something crucially important. Your introduction was a perfect build up to what you later expand on. It is no surprise that the government of the United States has been extremely diligent in environmental activism since way back, preserving the earth has always been critical. However, I feel no real change has been done. Of course, agencies have been established, but it seems that weather conditions just worsen. The EPA has to persevere and be strict because the clock is ticking.

  • This was so interesting to read. I’m glad that the Environmental Protection Agency was put together and is still active today. I had no idea that the organization was put together by President Nixon. I know he’s often ridiculed for resigning and for the Water Gate scandal but it’s good and surprising to know that he was somewhat behind the development of the EPA. I think the organization is a continued necessity, especially in the world we live in today.

  • I am glad that regulations began at this time in order to protect the environment. But I do wish more was done and that even more was being done today. I admire that these past presidents took serious consideration into the environment and how humans do take a major toll on it. It is true that we have very much negatively taken an impact on the environment, and it is our responsibility to protect it. I wish current people in power in this country would not neglect the environment and actually respected the earth.

  • It has always bugged me that pollution and things of that nature take such a huge toll on our environment. I wonder how effective EPA has been throughout the years. I wonder what would happen if everyone gained the knowledge of EPA and how pollution harms the environment and animals how different things would be? This is a good article. It brings up a lot of questions about what can be done to help our world.

  • This was a very well written, informative essay. One of the many things I found to be surprising was that this was somewhat recent, it hasn’t been a century since the Agency was created. I also found interesting was that a first lady was taking initiative to resolve an issue present. I had never heard of the man who was appointed as secretary of Interior (a term of which I have never heard of) and that there were a few similar agencies before the official EPA was created.

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