What is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in December 1970 by an executive order of United States President Richard Nixon. The EPA is an agency of the United States federal government whose mission is to protect human and environmental health. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the EPA is resposible for creating standards and laws that promoting the health of individuals and the environment.

BREAKING DOWN Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA was established in response to widespread public environmental concerns that gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960s. The EPA seeks to protect and conserve the natural environment and improve the health of humans by researching the effects of and mandating limits on the use of pollutants. The EPA regulates the manufacturing, processing, distribution and use of chemicals and other pollutants. In addition, the EPA is charged with determining safe tolerance levels for chemicals and other pollutants in food, animal feed and water. The EPA is able to enforce its findings through fines, sanctions and other procedures. Under the Obama administration, the EPA began to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, automobiles and other contributors to climate change.

EPA Programs

The EPA oversees a number of programs intended to promote energy efficiency, environmental stewardship, sustainable growth, air quality and pollution prevention. These programs include:

  • The EPA Safer Choice program (formerly Design for the Environment), a product-labeling program that allows consumers to select the chemically-safest products available, without sacrificing function or quality;
  • The Energy Star program, which helps consumers choose energy-efficient appliances;
  • The Smart Growth program, which supports sustainable community development;
  • WaterSense, which encourages efficiency in water use via high-efficiency toilets, faucets, and irrigation equipment; and
  • The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which regulates the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters.

The EPA also runs programs to prevent, control, and respond to oil spills; control air pollution and forecast air pollution levels; and foster the manufacture of more fuel-efficient vehicles. The EPA works to enforce laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the National Environmental Education Act and the Clean Water Act, some of which predate the formation of the agency itself.

The EPA is also responsible for the detection and prevention of environmental crimes, monitoring pollution levels, and setting standards for the handling of hazardous chemicals and waste.