History of Environmental Policy in the United States

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The term environmental policy describes a set of rules, regulations, and laws that are enacted to protect the environment to ensure its sustainability. Environmental policies are used to protect different aspects of the environment such as wildlife, water, air and other natural resources in the ecosystem (Lars 98). The policies have existed in the United States for a long period of time and they have significant historical impacts. This study highlights the historical aspect of environmental policies in the United States.

Historical Policy on Environment

To properly understand the historical environmental policy in the United States, it is cardinal to highlight their brief history. Development of the environmental policies in the United States can be traced back to the onset of 1899 when the country enacted its first environmental law that was aimed at protecting rivers and harbors. In the year 1900, United States adopted another environmental law that was known as the Clean Water Act (Orsi 77). The main aim of the act was to safeguard natural water sources such as rivers, lakes, seas and, streams. In the year 1918, the country adopted another policy known as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was meant to protect the birds in the ecosystem and in particular the birds that were constantly migrating from the US to other countries (Rushefsky 210).

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In the year 1948, the government enacted the Clean Water Protection Act that was meant to protect water sources against chemical pollution. The following year, the government adopted another act that was meant to inhibit air pollution. The policy on air protection was later modified to accommodate other requirements. For instance, in the year 1967 the policy was sub-divided to ensure improvement in air quality through regular monitoring of air pollution standards. On solid waste management, the government enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to control the disposal of hazardous and solid waste (Myllntaus & Mikko 189). From 1972 to 2003, the US government enacted several environmental acts that not only conserved the environment, but also promoted consumer protection. For instance, the Consumer Protection Act that was enacted in 1974 ensured that manufactured products were environmentally safe and fit for human consumption (Orsi 77).

The most important historical policy on the environment was the National Environmental Policy Act, which was one of the most effective environmental policies due to the fact that it promoted environmental protection on a broad national structure. Also the policy adoption enabled the US government to create an environmental authority, which was later known as EPA (Lars 98). The body was to oversee the activities and requirements of NEPA. The policy also enabled the US government to strengthen other laws, which included regulations on disposal of toxic substances, the Clean Water Act, policy on wetlands and water resources and, policy on conservation and recovery of resources (Myllntaus & Mikko 189).

NEPA also enhanced environmental protection by ensuring that all the activities of the government and private organizations embraced environmental awareness and responsible use of the natural resources. It also ensured that decisions to fund and permit various government projects must consider the environmental impacts of projects. EPA as the body created under the policy to facilitate environmental protection conducted surveys, researches, and different studies on environmental issues. The organization collected information on a continuous basis that was useful in monitoring environmental trends (Orsi 77).

The Effectiveness of the U.S Environmental Policies in The Past

The effectiveness of US environmental policies in the past can be attributed to the significant steps made by the government in protecting natural resources and other environmental elements. For instance, policies that were adopted in the early years of 1900s such as the Refuse Act and the Clean Water Act greatly contributed to the protection of water sources and soil (Lars 98). The policies were also effective in controlling air pollution and improving the quality of air in the ecosystem. The establishment of the Air Pollution Control Act enabled the government to control and prevent possible causes of pollution in various sectors of the economy. The effectiveness of the policy was also manifested in its role to promote research and environmental survey studies (Myllntaus & Mikko 189).

The federal government also played a foreground role in enhancing the effectiveness of the environmental policies through amendments and the establishment of various provisions under the environmental laws. In the year 1970, various amendments were made that expanded the duties of EPA in ensuring environmental protection (Rushefsky 210). From the amendments, the EPA was given the duty to control activities that caused problems such as depletion of the ozone layer, evaporative emissions, and acid rain. Moreover, agreements between the US government and other states also played an important role in promoting the effectiveness of the environmental laws. For instance, in 1993, the US government signed agreements with other countries within the region of North America such Canada and Mexico to protect the natural resources shared by the three countries. Despite the effectiveness of the environmental policies, it is cognizant to note that changes in the economic environment affected the efficiency of the policies. In addition, the economic activities such as mining and oil exploration greatly reduced the effectiveness of the policies. Finally, oil spillage on natural water bodies and land became a big problem that called for amendments of the policies (Lars 98). Historical oil spillages in America that called for the amendment of the environmental policies include Lakeview Gusher in 1937, Brooklyn oil spill in 1950, and Avila Beach oil spill in 1994. Oil spillage on inland and external water bodies affected the lives of marine animals and other aquatic plants, hence the need for protection through amendments of environmental policies (Fingas 245).

One of the most remarkable amendments was the establishment of Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Rule that was aimed at controlling oil spillage in inland and external water bodies. The amendment also introduced other policies such as Facility Response Plan Rule and National Contingency Plan that were also used to control oil spillage (Orsi 77).

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The effectiveness of the policies had a lot benefits in controlling environmental pollution and conservation of natural resources. For instance, the policies on oil spillage not only prevented pollution of water bodies, but also conserved marine life. Policies on clean air protection and disposal of chemical substances played a great role in preserving the ozone layer (Fingas 245).


Drawing from the historical aspect of the US environmental policies, it is evidence that the government has been committed in promoting environmental conservation. The historical aspect also reveals that environmental policies play an important role in the development of a nation in economic, political, and social aspects.

Works Cited

Fingas, Merv. The Basics of Oil Spill Cleanup. Boca Raton: Lewis Publishers, 2010. Print.

Lars, Petersen. “The Materiality of Everyday Practices in Urban Green space.” Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 33.1 (2013): 80-98. Print

Myllntaus, Timo and Mikko, Saikku. Encountering the Past in Nature: Essays in Environmental History, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2010. Print.

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Orsi, John. “From Horicon to Hamburgers and Back Again: Ecology, Ideology, and Wildfowl Management”. Environmental History Review. 23.1 (2008): 74-77. Print.

Rushefsky, Mark. Public Policy in the United States at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2007. Print.

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