The US Environmental Protection Agency

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Introduction

The issue of the environment has gained great significance in countries all over the world over the last few decades. Environmental issues have gained great importance and most nations have taken significant steps to regulate their environmental resources. The US demonstrated its intentions to address environmental issues by establishing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. This agency had far-reaching powers and it was able to implement significant changes in environmental regulation all over the country. Since its establishment, the EPA has undergone various changes and implemented a number of fundamental laws in the interest of the environment. This paper will provide a concise yet informative research into the US Environmental Protection Agency. It will begin by explaining how the agency came to be and document the kind of rulemaking and authority held by the agency. The due process procedures utilized by the agency will also be discussed.

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Formation of the EPA and its Purpose

Historically, the American government did not place great importance in protecting the environment. However, this situation changed in the decades following the end of the Second World War. As the country enjoyed stead and unprecedented economic growth, Americans became more aware of the worsening environmental conditions especially in urban areas. The American environmental consciousness was also awakened by the significant environmental degradation caused by industries. These conditions stimulated the public to advocate for greater governmental intervention to reduce pollution and protect the environment (Payne-Sturges, 2011). This advocacy together with the government’s endeavor to reduce levels of air and water pollution led to a number of important events.

In recognition of the need for overall environmental protection, the US Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969. This act was aimed at providing a means for the Federal government to safeguard the environment and limit pollution. NEPA led to the formation of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which was to collect data on environmental conditions and provide a report to Congress annually on the quality of the environment (Collin, 2006). After reviewing NEPA and the impact it was making on environmental issues, the president was convinced that greater efficiency was needed to achieve the environmental goals of the country. President Nixon therefore presented Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 to Congress. This legislation established the EPA, an agency charged with protecting public health and safeguarding the natural environment. The Executive Order 1110.2 signed by President Nixon established the EPA as the main federal agency taxed with the regulation of the national environment (Payne-Sturges, 2011). While the EPA was established by legislation passed by Congress, it was not formed by enabling a single enabling act, but rather it was a consolidation of a number of Federal agencies that dealt with environmental issues. The EPA is an independent agency and it is empowered to implement environmental laws and regulate environmental conditions. A primary mandate of the EPA is to protect public health by controlling and preventing pollution in the US. According to the National Environmental Policy Act, the EPA is mandated to “assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings” (Collin, 2006, p.2).

A major reason for the creation of the EPA was to bring about better coordination in governmental action with regard to the environment. Before the creation of the agency, the environmental protection activities by the government were carried out by disparate governmental departments and administrative bureaus. Due to the scattering of responsibility for protecting the environment, most of the government-initiated activities were carried out in an inefficient manner. In addition to this, it was hard to monitor the progress made by various activities. EPA is responsible for establishing environmental protection standards and enforcing them in all States (Bergeson, 2012). The EPA was given the responsibility of implementing the various environmental laws in place and creating detailed regulations that would be followed for environmental protection. The second major role of EPA is to engage in environmental research in order to come up with ways to mitigate environmental pollution. Collin (2006) documents that the EPA carries out extensive research on “air pollution, water pollution, safe drinking water, hazardous waste disposal, pesticides, radiation, toxic substances, and wildlife” (p.1). It then offers help to agencies engaged in fighting various forms of pollution in the country. Finally, the EPA works together with the Council on Environmental Quality to develop and recommend policies that will help in environmental protection to the president. These recommendations are formulated after analysis of the current environmental state and the best practices.

Authority of the EPA

The EPA has significant authority since it is an umbrella agency. It therefore has power over other federal and state agencies. The EPA reports directly to the president since it is an autonomous Agency. In spite of the autonomous nature of the EPA, this agency is greatly influenced by the country’s politics. Bergeson (2012) notes that Congress has a significant impact on shaping US EPA programs and priorities. The EPA often emphasizes on the environmental issues that are deemed important by the governing party since the top EPA figures are political appointees. The organizational structure of the EPA is crucial for its efficiency. The EPA contains three major levels, which are the Administrator and Deputy Administrator, Assistant Administrators, and the regional office level. The Administrator heads the EPA and he is appointed directly by the President and confirmed for the position by the US Senate. There are ten regional offices headed by ten regional administrators. These offices cover the whole country and each administrator is responsible for executing the EPA programs within his region. The 10 regional administrators are also appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The ten offices work with State officials, Local officials, and private organizations within the region to ensure compliance with EPA programs and also enforce the regulations set by the Agency.

The EPA administers nine major federal environmental statutes giving it major power. The EPA’s authority means that it can impose regulations that must be followed by other agencies. The rules and regulations imposed by the EPA are given priority over those of the various agencies and State authorities. Collin (2006) states that due to this wide mandate, the EPA has great authority and this has led to many challenges to EPA’s authority. This opinion is corroborated by Bergeson (2012) who reveals that due to the expansive nature of its authority, the EPA has faced many legal challenges from citizen suits, industry, state governments, and other federal agencies over the years. The agency is empowered to take action to address activities that are believed to pose a risk to the public on behalf of other agencies. For example, the agency has in the recent past taken steps under the Toxic Substances Control Act to strengthen its chemical management program and increase the pace of its efforts to address chemicals that are believed to be harmful to the public (Bergeson, 2012).

The EPA does not have a general charter since it was created by consolidating a number of federal agencies that had specific mandates. For this reason, the EPA implements the various environmental statutes without any comprehensive strategy, but rather on a statute-by-statute basis. The EPA has limited manpower and it cannot monitor all industries and regulated parties on its own. Instead, it relies heavily on the State government to carry out the monitoring and enforcement of the EPA environmental standards. Collin (2006) confirms that the State governments are the primary parties that monitor and enforce the environmental regulations and standards given by the EPA. The EPA uses the data collected by the State government to monitor environmental progress. However, the EPA may become directly involved, especially when a specific industry or regulated party fails to comply with environmental regulations.

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Due Process Procedures Utilized by the agency

The EPA is engaged in rulemaking in matters concerning the environment. When carrying out this task, the EPA begins by making environmental proposals. The proposals made may produce new regulations that will affect the manner in which industries operate. By doing this, the EPA plays a major role in the process of environmental regulation. To begin the rulemaking process, the agency offers a detailed evaluation of the current environmental condition and the proposed action. The EPA then compiles the necessary scientific data and provides a draft of the proposed regulation. The EPA engages the public and interested parties in dialogue concerning environmental proposals. The Federal Register (2013) documents that the EPA expressly solicits public comments on the issues concerning the proposal to ensure that the public interest is considered in new regulations. In some cases, requests can be made for a public hearing to discuss the proposal. Most of the actions proposed by the EPA do not fall under the category of ‘significant regulatory actions’ (The Federal Register, 2013). As such, these regulations can be set and published without involving the White House. However, if the regulation being proposed if considered significant, it has to be subject to review by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB reviews the proposal and sends it to the federal agencies and industry bodies that will be affected by the regulation. These federal agencies provide their input on the regulation. After considering the input of the relevant federal agencies and interested parties, the EPA sets and final regulation and publishes it.

The EPA has to follow some well-articulated rules and procedures in its operations. To begin with, the EPA is required to follow the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the U.S. Constitution. No actions carried out by the agency must therefore be contrary to the NAPA or the US Constitution. The EPA is required to carry out Environmental Assessment analysis to determine the potential environmental impacts that certain industrial activities might cause. This requirement is pursuant to the NEPA (42 USC 4321-4307h) and the CEQ regulations (The Federal Register, 2013).

When the EPA issues rules and regulations, they have to be obeyed since they have the power of law. Failure to comply with the rules and regulations might lead to court action against the defaulting party (Payne-Sturges, 2011). The State and Local governments are supposed to enforce the regulations set by the EPA or even set more stringent regulations to be followed by the businesses under their jurisdiction. In addition to the mandatory rules and regulations, the EPA also issues guidance and best practice recommendations. These are not legally enforceable and the federal agencies concerned decide if they want to comply with the guidance offered or not.

Discussion and Conclusion

The environment has continued to be an issue of great concern for successive US administrations. Researchers agree that pollution, environmental degradation, and ecosystem damage have deleterious effects on the public (Payne-Sturges, 2011). The importance of the EPA has therefore continued to be appreciated for years after the Nixon Administration. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has for the past 4 decades been the main agency through which the Federal government has worked to improve the environmental conditions in the US. The EPA has since its formation made significant accomplishments in the US. This agency has controlled the level of pollution by American industries and decreased pollution to water bodies. It has ensured that toxic hazardous wastes are disposed of in a responsible manner and enhanced air quality.

This paper set out to discuss the EPA with a focus on its formation and the authority of this agency. The paper has revealed that this agency has the most power in matters related to the environment. Its rules and regulations act as mandatory guidelines that have to be implemented by State governments. The research efforts of the agency continue to inform policies adopted by the government to ensure that the US environment is protected for future generations. As the environment continues to face more threats from human activities, it can be expected that the EPA will play an even more pivotal role in the US environmental affairs.

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References

Collin, W.R. (2006). The Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning Up America’s Act. NY: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Bergeson, L. (2012). Old dogs and new tricks: US EPA gets creative with TSCA. Environmental Quality Management, 22(1), 75-82.

Federal Register (2013). Proposed Rules: Environmental Protection Agency. Federal Register, 78(227), 248-256.

Payne-Sturges, D. (2011). Humanizing Science at the US Environmental Protection Agency. American Journal of Public Health, 101(1), 8-12.

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