Many processes that industrial corporations use to create power and manufacture new products allow great innovation, but they have also loosed many pollutants into the world. After observing the effects of burning fossil fuels, the United States government saw the need to regulate the pollution created by power plants and manufacturing facilities. The result: the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. This brief history of the EPA navigates the agency’s evolving role in the U.S.
The U.S. passed the Clean Air Act in 1970. The Clean Air Act was vital for several reasons—namely, it established the EPA and empowered it to mitigate industrial and vehicular pollutant emission, consolidating a job several federal departments shared before its creation. Rather than create their own laws, the states could then look to the EPA for federal environmental standards.
Expanded Role: 1972 to the 1990s
The EPA quickly gained more expansive powers. In 1972, Congress added the Clean Water Act to the EPA’s role. This tasked the agency with ensuring high water quality and gave it the ability to preserve threatened wetland areas. In 1977 and 1990, the Clean Air Act received amendments geared towards limiting noise pollution and strengthening the EPA’s ability to regulate industries airborne emissions. In the 1980s, during the Cold War, the EPA gained regulatory power over nuclear waste disposal.
Climate Change: The 21st Century
The current phase in the brief history of the EPA deals with the growing responsibility of climate change oversight and regulation. By the end of the 1990s, concerns about how human action affected the environment had begun to emerge. These concerns continue to magnify in the 21st century, and the EPA has taken measures to address the issue. The agency now regulates six major greenhouse gases, performs inspections in industrial facilities for a wide range of factors, and continues to plan new means of lowering vehicular emissions.