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What is the EPA?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a government agency concerned with the American environment and its impact on human health. It was founded in 1970 under Richard Nixon in response to growing environmental concerns among Americans, and often works with other agencies to achieve optimal results. The EPA is responsible for establishing and enforcing environmental standards under measures like the Clean Air Act, and employs 18,000 people all over the United States to support its aims. In addition, the EPA carries out research, helps to fund education initiatives, and helps to support voluntary pollution reduction schemes around the United States.

The EPA is often primarily thought of as a regulatory agency. In addition to formulating important environmental regulations to establish pollution standards and cleanup programs, however, the EPA also enforces them with the assistance of a large team of field agents. The EPA also enforces certain aspects of other legislation which pertain to the American environment, and has a large staff of lawyers and other legal professionals to ensure that it acts properly and within the law. Any industry which has the potential to emit pollutants is subject to EPA regulation and inspection, and many industries work with the EPA to maintain high environmental standards.

In addition, the EPA funds private research programs through grants and also carries out extensive research of its own, supported by labs across the nation and well trained scientists who are about the environment. EPA research supports proposed regulations and also helps the Agency learn more about the environment and the fragile relationships that keep it stable. Using this research, the EPA performs public education programs about issues like dumping waste, airborne pollutants, and environmental contamination.

Numerous programs are supported by the EPA including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), better known to most Americans as Superfund. A Superfund site is designated as a toxic waste site which has been abandoned and requires cleanup, and the EPA will either undertake cleanup action or prosecute the responsible party so that the cleanup is paid for. The Superfund program began in 1980, in response to a large number of abandoned sites around the country which were determined to be highly toxic, including former factories, mines, and dumps.

To assist it in carrying out its goals, the EPA maintains an extensive list of pollutants, their effects on human health and the environment, and acceptable levels at which they can be found. When the EPA investigates a site, soil, air, and water samples are taken to determine which pollutants may be present and in what amounts, and after this determination is made, an action plan is established for cleanup, if necessary. The EPA also works to reduce the overall amount of pollution and unsafe practices in the United States so that future generations can enjoy clean air, clean water, safe places to live and work, and a beautiful natural environment.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon287118 — On Aug 23, 2012

Who controls and funds the EPA?

By anon174472 — On May 10, 2011

Bunch of governmental morons and parasites.

They only exist to enforce government power over people.

Is there any thinking person able to explain why one needs permission from government thieves to convert gasoline car to less polluting liquid gas--propane.

Even idiots who call themselves Ivy League tenured scientists know about it. Exception- unless infected with mad Demo-liberal virus. --Marek

By anon166462 — On Apr 08, 2011

The EPA is needed to protect both the environment and us. Both have been damaged by companies that had no regulations.

By anon161164 — On Mar 18, 2011

to #6: that may be true but unless you want to have health problems and defects which could be fatal, then by all means, go ahead.

By anon149838 — On Feb 05, 2011

Improve EPA because I have the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Companies should not be permitted to damage my health to improve their profits.

By anon114383 — On Sep 28, 2010

disband the epa! it's useless and a socialist plan to screw up our Constitutional right to do business

in a free market society.

Bring back DDT! It's effective, cheap and it works!

By anon53353 — On Nov 20, 2009

to #1: yes the EPA does control the use of pesticides in restaurants.

By anon539 — On Apr 27, 2007

Does the EPA control pesticides use in restaurants?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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