Science Inventory

EPA and a Brief History of Environmental Law in the United States


Kepner, W. EPA and a Brief History of Environmental Law in the United States. International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Las Vegas, NV, June 15, 2016.


This presentation will present a brief history of environmental legislation in the United States and overview several key Public Laws and Federal sector agencies.


There are numerous environmental laws in the United States (US) which provide the common purpose to protect human health and the environment. Most current major environmental statutes were passed in a timeframe from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. On 1 January 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (or NEPA), beginning the 1970s as the environmental decade. Later in that year, President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which consolidated environmental programs from other agencies into a single entity. The legislation during this period concerned primarily first-generation pollutants in the air, surface water, groundwater, and solid waste disposal. As a result of issues concerning acid rain, visibility, and air quality, air pollutants such as particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone were also placed under regulation. The EPA is among the most highly decentralized agencies in the US federal government, operating through 10 regional offices and several support offices such as the Office of Water and the Office of Research and Development. While the EPA is the most comprehensive US environmental agency, virtually all of the Executive Branch’s departments (the US analog to parliamentary ministries) have some area of environmental authority and responsibility. The collective goal of US environmental policy is to protect the environment for future generations while interfering as little as possible with the efficiency of commerce or the liberty of the people and to limit inequity related to environmental costs (also known as environmental justice). Laws written by Congress provide the authority for EPA and the other Federal agencies to write regulations. Regulations explain the technical, operational, and legal details necessary to implement Public Laws. EPA helps regulated entities meet federal requirements, and holds them legally accountable for environmental violations. EPA also issues policy and guidance documents to assist the public and regulated entities.

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 06/15/2016
Record Last Revised: 06/17/2016
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 319430