Air and Water Resource and Solid Waste Management

SIC 9511

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes government agencies primarily engaged in regulation, planning, protection, and conservation of air and water resources; solid waste management; water and air pollution control and prevention; flood control; drainage development and consumption of water resources; coordination of these activities at intergovernmental levels; research necessary for air pollution abatement, and control and conservation of water resources. Water systems are classified in SIC 4941: Water Supply. Sewage and refuse systems and other sanitary services are classified in SIC 4950: Sanitary Services. Irrigation systems are classified in SIC 4971: Irrigation Systems.

Industry Snapshot

Management of air and water resources and regulation of solid waste disposal is a broadly distributed function at all levels of municipal, state, and federal government. This category includes agencies within most Cabinet-level departments of the federal government, most notably the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Defense. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became the lead federal agency involved in air and water resource and solid waste management when it was created in 1970. The total EPA budget requested for 2011 $10 billion.

The EPA is an independent agency of the executive branch of the federal government that is charged with implementing environmental legislation passed by Congress, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as "Superfund." Beginning in the early 1990s, the EPA focused on researching and establishing standards for acceptable levels of pollution, while delegating implementation to state environmental protection agencies. The EPA also administered low-interest loan and grant programs to encourage state compliance with federal antipollution legislation. In the early 2000s, the EPA continued in its commitment to protect the nation's land and keep its air and water clean. This was accomplished by a variety of initiatives, including Clean School Bus USA, which sought to lower emissions from school buses. In addition, the agency played a lead role in protecting U.S. water supplies and the chemical industry from the increased threat of terrorism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The EPA was also deeply involved when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April 2010, releasing some 205 million gallons of oil into the ocean before being capped in July. The spill was the largest in U.S. history, and the threat to wildlife and the environment in the area of the accident was a top concern for the EPA throughout 2010. Cleanup efforts, the cost for which oil company BP was responsible, continued into 2011.

Organization and Structure

The EPA is organized principally along media lines. It includes an Office of Water, which administers wastewater, ground water, and drinking water programs; an Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, which administers solid waste and toxic waste programs, including hazardous waste cleanup; an Office of Air and Radiation, which administers air-quality programs, including clean air and automobile exhaust reduction efforts; and an Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, which administers the agency's chemical pollution control programs.

In addition, the EPA also is organized functionally and geographically. It includes an Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Office of Research and Development, Office of the General Counsel, and several administrative divisions that support the media program offices. The EPA also operates 10 regional divisions that mirror the national organizational structure. The EPA is headed by an administrator nominated by the president and confirmed by Congress. In 2010 Lisa Jackson was serving in this position.

Background and Development

In 1899, Congress passed the Refuse Act, the first significant federal legislation directed at controlling the pollution of natural resources. The Refuse Act made it illegal to discharge "any refuse matter . . . other than that flowing from streets and sewers and passing therefrom in a liquid state" into any navigable waters of the United States unless authorized by the secretary of the Army. However, the Refuse Act was seldom enforced, and the federal government did little to control pollution for the next 60 years. For the first half of the twentieth century, pollution was considered primarily an urban problem to be dealt with by local officials. Federal efforts dealt primarily with conservation of wilderness spaces.

National outrage over environmental pollution often was traced to Silent Spring, the classic 1962 book by Rachel Carson that detailed the poisoning of people and nature with pesticides. Congress actually began to take more interest in the environment soon after World War II. In 1948, Congress passed the Water Pollution Control Act, which allowed the federal government to investigate sources of pollution. However, the Justice Department was required to obtain approval from state authorities before bringing suit against polluters. Because major employers were often the worst polluters, states often blocked legal action that could result in a loss of jobs, and the law was generally ineffectual.

In 1955, Congress passed the Air Pollution Control Act, which, for the first time, authorized federal funds to assist states in air-pollution research and technical training. The Act also acknowledged that automobile exhaust was a major source of air pollution. In 1956, Congress revised the earlier Water Pollution Control Act and for the first time gave the Public Health Service the authority to order the clean up of polluted waters. The Act also authorized $500 million over 10 years to help cities build sewage treatment plants and provided $15 million over five years for states to expand their pollution-control agencies.

In 1961, the U.S. Surgeon General appointed a Committee on Environmental Health Problems, which recommended establishing an Office of Environmental Health Sciences. The committee also called for extensive study of air and water pollution, urban crowding, food safety, and occupational health hazards from chemical pollutants. That same year, Stewart L. Udall, then secretary of the Interior, wrote The Quiet Crisis, which traced land management from colonial times to 1960. The book opened with a warning: "America today stands poised on a pinnacle of wealth and power, yet we live in a land of vanishing beauty, of increasing ugliness, of shrinking open space, of an over-all environment that is diminished daily by pollution and noise and blight. This, in brief, is the quiet conservation crisis of the 1960s."

Air Quality.
In 1963, Congress passed the first federal Clean Air Act, which gave the Public Health Service responsibility for establishing national air-quality standards, but again, enforcement was limited. The Public Health Service could regulate only interstate air pollution. As Newsweek noted, "If the smell of boiling chicken offal had not wafted across the nearby Delaware line from Maryland, the first prosecution under the Federal Clean Air Act of 1963 never would have gone to trial."

In 1965, Congress moved cautiously to address the problem of automobile emissions by passing the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, which allowed, but did not mandate, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to establish emission standards for new motor vehicles. Later that year, Congress approved an amendment to the Clean Air Act that directed HEW to establish emission standards. Nevertheless, as late as 1966, meteorologists addressing the annual meeting of the Air Pollution Control Association characterized the atmosphere as "a free system, available for use as a dispersive mechanism," and concluded that using the atmosphere for waste disposal "has been the traditional method since the caveman's bonfire, and has been generally successful."

In 1967, Congress passed the Air Quality Act, which required states to establish air-quality control regions that were to deal with common air pollution problems much as regional watersheds would deal with water pollution. The Act also directed HEW to publish research data on the adverse effects of air pollution on health so states could set their own air-quality standards, and it directed the National Center for Air Pollution Control, an agency of HEW, to develop pollution-control techniques.

With the Clean Air Act of 1970, the EPA became responsible for establishing and enforcing national air-quality standards. Those standards were issued in 1972, and cities were given until 1975 to reduce pollutants, including ozone and carbon monoxide, to acceptable levels. The EPA also set auto-emission standards and ordered manufacturers to reduce industrial pollution or shut down their factories. Newsweek reported, "it has become increasingly clear that the nation is committed to the environmental battle in a massive way. And nowhere is the battle being waged more fiercely than in EPA."

However, as the enormity of the clean air challenge became clear, the EPA extended many of its deadlines. Strict enforcement of the air-quality standards could have banished automobiles from many major cities and forced a halt to economic development. In 1977, the agency formalized an "offset" policy that allowed development in areas that did not meet air-quality standards if other industrial sources of air pollution had reduced their emissions and the net effect was an overall improvement. In 1980, Administrator Douglas M. Costle told Business Week that the EPA's history "has been one of trying to catch up with an overly ambitious legislative agenda." EPA action also was often delayed by legal challenges, either from industrial polluters who believed the EPA standards were too strict or from environmentalists who believed the EPA was being too lax.

In 1987, the EPA reported that more than 70 municipalities still failed to meet minimum air-quality standards. In 1990, more than 100 urban areas failed to meet national standards for at least one of six pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, lead, volatile organic compounds, and total suspended particulates. The major cause of urban air pollution continued to be motor vehicle exhaust. Per-vehicle emissions were cut by 90 percent between 1970 and 1990, but the number of vehicles doubled during the same period and Americans were driving more.

In 1990, Congress passed a revised Clean Air Act, which added 189 chemicals to the original list of air pollutants regulated by the EPA. The Act also ordered the agency to reduce air pollution that was being blamed for acid rain, smog, and damage to the ozone. It directed the EPA to propose a strategy to reduce urban cancer risk from air pollutants by 75 percent and required the EPA to ban production of the five worst ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by 2000.

When fully implemented, the Clean Air Act of 1990 was expected to reduce air-pollution emissions by 56 billion pounds annually, about 224 pounds of pollutants for every person in the United States. All regions of the country were expected to attain national air-quality standards by 2010.

Water Quality.
There also was growing concern in the mid-1960s over water pollution, especially the dumping of municipal sewage. In 1965, Congress passed the Water Quality Act, which provided funds for wastewater treatment demonstration projects at the municipal level. The law also required states to establish minimum water quality standards for portions of interstate waters lying within their borders. The following year, Congress passed the Clean Waters Restoration Act, which provided $3.4 billion in federal aid for cities to construct sewage treatment plants. Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior established a Water Pollution Control Administration to provide federal coordination of pollution-control efforts.

In 1967, Interior Secretary Udall called on detergent makers to eliminate the use of phosphates, which were polluting rivers and lakes. In addition to a film residue, studies showed that phosphates contributed to eutrophication, the process by which freshwater lakes eventually became clogged with organic material, causing fish and other marine life to die. Although Udall had no authority to force compliance, several communities and states responded by banning phosphates.

Ironically, many of the first substitutes developed by detergent makers were more harmful to humans and the environment than phosphates. Eventually, environmentalists also came to agree that sewage was probably more to blame for eutrophication than phosphates, but the controversy over phosphates illustrated that people were concerned about water pollution and were willing to suffer some inconvenience to combat the problem.

National Environmental Policy Act.
In 1967, a HEW task force urged Americans "to think of their planetary home as a kind of huge spacecraft." "For thousands of years," the task force said, "man has treated this planet as a dumping ground, boundless in its ability to absorb insults." The task force also urged the government to establish a Council of Ecological Advisors to create a national policy on environmental management.

Two years later, President Richard Nixon created a Cabinet Committee on Environmental Quality, headed by Dr. Lee A. DuBridge, then director of the Office of Science and Technology. Nixon also asked Roy Ash, the founder of Litton Industries who was then heading a task force on executive organization, to consider whether all federal environmental activities should be consolidated in one agency.

As 1969 came to a close, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which was to have a far-reaching effect. Barely five pages long, the Act directed the president to establish a permanent three-person Council on Environmental Quality and declared "a national policy that will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment and enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation."

The National Environmental Policy Act clearly positioned the federal government as the protector of the environment. It also required federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact statement before taking any major action that could conceivably harm the environment. Although NEPA did not prevent federal agencies from going ahead with those actions, it ensured that they knew and acknowledged the consequences. Environmental impact statements would become a major weapon in public and private efforts to protect the environment.

Environmental Protection Agency.
Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act on January 1, 1970, and pledged his administration to a "now or never" fight against pollution. Nixon declared, "The 1970s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters, and our living environment." On February 10, 1970, Nixon presented Congress with a 37-point proposal for cleaning up the environment, including a request for $4 billion to construct municipal wastewater treatment facilities, the establishment of national air-quality standards, stringent guidelines on motor-vehicle emissions, and an end to the dumping of wastes in the Great Lakes.

However, Nixon stopped short of endorsing the creation of an independent agency within the executive branch to deal with environmental problems, as many congressional leaders were then urging. As the New York Times reported, "A formidable obstacle to an integrated attack on environmental problems is the absence of centralized responsibility. More than a dozen departments and agencies are involved in various environmental programs." The newspaper noted that Senator Edmund Muskie "would rectify this situation by setting up an independent agency . . . that would be a 'watchdog agency to exercise the regulatory functions associated with environmental protection.'"

By mid-summer, the Ash committee on executive organization had also joined the call for an independent agency, and on July 10, 1970, Nixon announced that he would create two new organizations within the executive branch. One, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, would be a part of the Department of Commerce and be responsible for scientific research involving the atmosphere and oceans. The other, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), would be an independent agency and consolidate all federal pollution control activities.

Both the Senate and House held hearings on the proposed EPA during the summer of 1970. The only serious objection was raised by Representative John Dingell, who wanted to create a Cabinet-level Department of Environmental Quality.

The EPA officially came into existence on December 2, 1970, with 6,673 employees and a budget of $1.28 billion. It assumed the environmental responsibilities of 63 existing agencies, including the National Air Pollution Control Administration, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management, the Bureau of Water Hygiene, the Air Quality Advisory Board, portions of the Bureau of Radiological Health, and the pesticide control functions of the Food and Drug Administration--all previously part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

From the Department of the Interior, the EPA also gained responsibility for the Federal Water Quality Administration, Water Pollution Control Advisory Board, Gulf Breeze (Florida) Biological Laboratory managed by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, and pesticide research functions of the Fish and Wildlife Service. The EPA also assumed responsibility for setting environmental radiation standards from the Atomic Energy Commission, the pesticides registration program from the Department of Agriculture, all functions of the Federal Radiation Council, and the study of ecological systems from the Council on Environmental Quality, which continued in existence as a statutory agency.

Nixon nominated William D. Ruckelshaus, then an assistant attorney general, to head the EPA. He was confirmed by Congress on December 2, 1970, and sworn in as EPA administrator on December 4, 1970. Ruckelshaus, who guided the EPA from 1970 to 1973 and again from 1983 to 1985, later recalled that Nixon created the EPA "because of public outrage about what was happening to the environment. Not because Nixon shared that concern, but because he didn't have any choice. People have often said, isn't that a terrible motive. But that's the way democracy is supposed to work."

Enforcement.
Seven days after becoming EPA administrator, Ruckelshaus delivered a speech to the annual Congress of Cities at which he announced that Atlanta, Detroit, and Cleveland were being given 180 days to stop violating federally sponsored state water quality standards. Although Ruckelshaus preferred negotiated settlements, the three cities were woefully behind on previous commitments to stop using waterways as waste dumps, and he made it clear that the EPA would be willing to call in the Department of Justice if the cities did not comply. In Ruckelshaus' words, the EPA would be the "gorilla in the closet" to support state regulators who were attempting to enforce pollution-control laws. Although the cities were outraged by the EPA's move, they were forced to comply.

The EPA referred 152 cases to the Department of Justice in 1971, but perhaps the most critical was that against Armco Steel. In September, several months after receiving the case, a federal district court judge found Armco guilty of dumping half a ton of toxic chemicals into the Houston Ship Canal on a daily basis. The judge ordered Armco to desist, which would have forced the company to shut down its blast furnaces. Armco responded by complaining to the White House, which tried to pressure the EPA into agreeing to a compromise. However, the Washington Star published a story about Armco's contributions to President Nixon's election campaign, which embarrassed the White House into backing down, and Armco agreed to install pollution-control equipment.

Another highly publicized battle of wills took place between the EPA and U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana. In 1971, U.S. Steel agreed to replace its open-hearth furnaces with more modern equipment to reduce air pollution. But when the company failed to meet an EPA deadline, the agency ordered U.S. Steel to close down its last open-hearth furnace or pay a $2,300-a-day fine. Vowing never to "pay tribute to the government," U.S. Steel shut down the furnace, which put 500 people out of work. The EPA refused to rescind its order, and John Quarles, then EPA deputy administrator, told Newsweek, "In this job, you either stare down companies like U.S. Steel or lose the entire program." In 1976, Newsweek reported the air over Gary, "once the classic example of massive industrial pollution . . . just about meets national standards designed to protect public health."

In 1972, Congress passed major revisions to the 1965 Water Pollution Control Act that made the EPA responsible for eliminating all discharge of pollutants into navigable streams and waterways by 1985. The Water Pollution Control Act also established a National Commission on Water Quality to study the technical, economic, social, and environmental ramifications of meeting the mandate. The commission issued its report in 1976, which led to the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1977. The Clean Water Act of 1977 strengthened controls on some toxic pollutants, but it also extended the deadlines for achieving water-quality standards.

In 1987, Congress again amended the Clean Water Act, extending federal aid for the construction of municipal sewage treatment facilities. However, the grant program was phased out in 1991 and replaced with state-managed revolving loan funds.

Meanwhile, in 1974 Congress made the EPA responsible for setting and enforcing drinking water standards for municipal water systems. The Safe Drinking Water Act, amended in 1986 to encompass 105 contaminants commonly found in drinking water, also made the EPA responsible for protecting aquifers from underground contamination. In 1987, the EPA issued standards for drinking water taken from lakes and rivers and released acceptable levels on the first eight contaminants contained in the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, in general, the EPA delegated responsibility for ensuring safe drinking water to state authorities. As of 1997, 71 percent of all rivers in the United States were deemed unsafe recreational areas.

Superfund.
The federal government first became involved with the disposal of solid waste in 1965, when Congress passed the Solid Waste Disposal Act, which channeled money to the states for operating municipal dumps. During the early 1970s, attention turned to the disposal of toxic wastes, which resulted in the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, an attempt to create a "cradle-to-grave management system" for hazardous wastes. The law also established criteria for disposal of solid wastes.

However, in 1978 the nation learned just how ill prepared it was to deal with hazardous wastes when foul-smelling chemicals began seeping into the basements of houses in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York. An investigation showed that the residential complex and a nearby school had been built over an abandoned industrial dump that contained more than 21,000 tons of toxic wastes. The federal government declared a "health emergency" and relocated 237 families.

Another result of Love Canal was the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as Superfund, which put the EPA in the position of policing past acts of pollution as well as preventing future pollution. Under the 1980 law, the EPA was charged with determining who was responsible for dumping toxic wastes and forcing them to clean up the country's worst hazardous waste sites, or for conducting its own clean-up actions and then suing the responsible parties. In 1984, Congress amended the law to bring more than 130,000 small sources of toxic wastes, previously exempted, under EPA jurisdiction. The revised law also covered more than 1 million underground storage tanks, many of which were leaking gasoline or other toxic fluids into the soil.

In 1985, in the largest settlement in EPA history to date, Westinghouse Electric Co. agreed to spend $100 million to clean up six toxic waste sites near Bloomington, Indiana, that were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The EPA also began requiring hazardous waste landfills to monitor the quality of water resources beneath the dumps. However, by the end of 1986, only 13 hazardous waste sites, out of more than 800 identified by the EPA, had been cleaned up under the Superfund program at a cost of $780 million. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, which directed the EPA to clean up at least 375 hazardous waste sites over the next five years and authorized $9 billion for the effort. The law also affirmed the public's right to know by requiring chemical companies to report emission levels to local authorities.

Through 1992, the EPA had identified more than 37,000 potentially hazardous waste sites, with 1,252 placed on the Superfund National Priorities List. However, only about 150 sites had been cleaned up under the Superfund program, with work underway on another 500. More than $3.7 billion had been spent in the effort. As of 1996 one in four Americans lived within 4 miles of a Superfund site. The program did have the effect of forcing would-be polluters to more carefully select waste treatment and disposal methods to limit their future liability, however. As of the 1990s, more than 209 million tons of municipal solid waste were being produced in the United States each year.

Anne Gorsuch.
In 1981, President Reagan appointed Anne M. Gorsuch to head the EPA, which by then had grown to more than 12,000 employees and had a budget exceeding $5 billion. Nicknamed the "Ice Queen" within the agency for her cold managerial style, Gorsuch also angered environmentalists by reaching lenient, out-of-court settlements with industrial polluters. Only 10 cases were referred to the Department of Justice in 1981, leading Newsweek to conclude, "EPA's enforcement of Federal air- and water-pollution laws has slowed to a crawl. . . . After a decade of vigorous enforcement in most areas, [the] EPA seems to be taking a sharp right turn."

The EPA's budget was cut by $30 million between 1981 and 1983, and the hazardous waste enforcement staff was reduced from more than 300 people to about 75. Under Gorsuch, the EPA also was hit with accusations of malfeasance against several high-ranking administrators, including Rita Lavelle, then chief of the toxic waste division, who was seen as being too cozy with the industries she was supposed to be regulating. There were also charges that the EPA had misused more than $50 million earmarked for toxic waste clean up. James Scheuer, then a congressman from New York, told Newsweek, "At best, EPA officials have been sloppy and incompetent. At worst, they may have knowingly looted Superfund."

When a House committee subpoenaed Superfund documents, Gorsuch, at Reagan's direction, claimed executive privilege and refused to provide the information. However, as irregularities within the agency continued to surface, Reagan ordered Gorsuch to cooperate with Congress. He also fired Lavelle and ordered an investigation by the Department of Justice. By February 1983, the EPA was being investigated by six congressional committees, the Department of Justice, and the FBI. Business Week reported, "For all intents and purposes, the Environmental Protection Agency is no longer a functioning federal agency. Like a leaky drum of toxic waste, the infighting and backbiting that have torn the agency since Anne M. Gorsuch took command two years ago are now poisoning the whole operation."

Gorsuch (then known as Anne Burford, after marrying Robert Burford, then head of the Bureau of Land Management) resigned in March. Newsweek reported, "Burford can . . . be faulted for presiding over a wide range of administrative actions that have hamstrung the EPA's effectiveness: a budget cut of more than 30 percent in real dollars since 1980, a 50 percent reduction in research grants and the resignation or firing of so many career officials that critics say EPA has been stripped of considerable expertise. But these policies have been Reagan's, not simply Burford's." In all, a dozen top EPA officials resigned or were fired during the scandal. The EPA also lost about 3,500 employees.

Looking for someone of integrity to restore confidence in the EPA, Reagan tapped William D. Ruckelshaus, who had served as EPA's first administrator from 1970 to 1973. Ruckelshaus left the EPA initially to become acting director of the FBI, but he soon became assistant attorney general. He was fired in 1973 by then-President Nixon for refusing to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation. Since leaving government service, Ruckelshaus had become senior vice president of corporate and legal affairs at Weyerhaeuser Co., a timber and paper-products company. He returned to the EPA on May 5, 1983. Ruckelshaus later said, "What the Burford political appointees had done was terrible. I mean, it was really awful. If anything the press underplayed its seriousness."

Ruckelshaus once said, "There probably isn't enough money in the whole federal budget to do everything Congress assigns to the EPA." However, there was no doubt that the EPA played a significant role in improving the quality of air and water resources in the United States after it was formed in 1970. The EPA was also the lead agency in efforts to address the growing problem of solid waste disposal in the United States, setting standards for municipal dumps as well as toxic waste sites. As EPA Administrator Carol Browner said in 1994, "Perhaps no agency . . . has a greater impact on the lives and the livelihoods of Americans. Citizens across our nation are counting on the EPA to make their lives safer and healthier, and to ensure that economic development and environmental protection go hand in hand."

As the century came to a close, the EPA was making some headway in waste management--more waste was being recycled than disposed of, by a 60/40 ratio. In 1998, the EPA published a report that incorporated data from the National Sewage Sludge Survey (NSSS), the Needs Surveys, and the 1997 Water Environment Federation (WEF). The report estimated that 6.9 million U.S. dry tons of biosolids were generated in 1998. Of this, 60 percent was recycled in the form of fertilizer, compost, or pellets for soil enrichment. The remaining 40 percent was disposed of--50 percent by incineration and about 17 percent by landfill.

In November 1999, the EPA announced new action under the Clean Water Action Plan directed at storm water runoff--one of the greatest sources of water pollution. The runoff is comprised of rain or snow that runs off from city streets, buildings, and construction sites into nearby storm drains. These, in turn, discharge into local streams and waterways. The new rules mandated the issuing of "discharge permits" limiting the storm water runoff permitted by land improvement. In its expanded stage, the program was expected to control the sediment discharges from 97.5 percent of new acreage under development across the country.

With respect to the Clean Air Act, in November 1999 the Justice Department, in an unprecedented action, filed several joint lawsuits against several utilities companies in Midwestern and southern states. The suits charged that the power plants released massive quantities of pollutants into the air--nearly 3 million tons per year--creating smog, acid rain, and soot that would take years to rectify. Such air emissions affect not only human health, but have been linked to forest degradation, reservoir contamination, and deterioration of stone and copper as well. In addition to money damages in the form of fines, which would assist clean-up measures, the department sought to force the utilities to install appropriate air-pollution control technology.

In 2003, the Bush administration introduced the Clear Skies Act to Congress. This major legislation sought to reduce power-plant pollution by approximately 70 percent. More specifically, the EPA explained that Clear Skies would involve a mandatory, market-based program that "would dramatically reduce and cap emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX), and mercury from electric power generation." The agency claimed that this legislation would build on and outperform the existing Clean Air Act by delivering health benefits in a more expedient and cost-effective manner. Clear Skies promised to "deliver unprecedented emissions reductions nationwide from the power sector without significantly affecting electricity prices for American consumers" and "deliver certainty and efficiency, achieving environmental protection while supporting economic growth."

In addition to supporting President Bush' Clear Skies legislation, the EPA was involved in other initiatives to improve air quality in the early 2000s. President Bush was supportive of using hydrogen as an energy source and requested $1.2 billion to research the development of cost-effective and efficient hydrogen fuel cells. Along these lines, in 2003 the EPA partnered with UPS and DaimlerChrysler to test medium-duty, zero-emission vehicles powered by hydrogen in real-world scenarios. The program, based at the EPA's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, involved the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Dodge Sprinter van and sought to "continue evaluating fuel cell vehicle attributes such as fuel economy and driving performance under varying weather conditions."

In May of 2003, the EPA announced a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create a forecasting tool for predicting national air quality. High levels of ozone--a clear gas that forms when sunlight reacts with air pollutants--can adversely affect individuals with asthma or other pulmonary conditions. The EPA-NOAA partnership involved the creation of a numeric Air Quality Index used to inform the public about the levels of ozone and particulate matter in the air, thus providing them with information that can be used to determine whether outdoor activities pose a health risk.

The EPA also was involved in ensuring the safety and security of the nation's water supply in the early 2000s. Following the terrorist attacks against the nation on September 11, 2001, the circulation of mail tainted with deadly anthrax bacteria, and the U.S.-led war with Iraq in 2003, the United States was on heightened alert for terrorist activity. One month after the September 11 attacks, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman attempted to quiet public fears about the possibility of tainted water supplies, explaining that security at national reservoirs had been increased and that the likelihood of water supplies being compromised was low, given the large quantities of contaminants that would be needed. In addition, Whitman explained that the EPA had been working closely with the FBI so that local law enforcement agencies were informed of measures they could take to bolster security. By April of 2004, the EPA's Office of Water had released suggested guidelines that states could use for protecting water supplies and sanitary systems. According to the EPA, the guidelines corresponded with the color-coded advisory system used by the Department of Homeland Security to inform the nation about terrorist attack risk levels.

Current Conditions

In 2009 the United States generated 243 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), or about 4.34 pounds per person a day, according to the EPA. About 61.3 million tons of this was recycled, in addition to another 20.8 million tons used for composting. The recovery rate for recycling (including composting) thus was 33.8 percent in 2009, up from 33.4 percent in 2008. The total MSW was comprised of paper and paperboard (28.2 percent), food scraps (14.1 percent), yard trimmings (13.7 percent), and plastics (12.3 percent), with the remainder distributed among glass, wood, metals, rubber, textiles, and other. Of MSW that was recycled, 29.5 percent was containers and packaging, 22 percent was nondurable goods, 19.2 percent was durable goods, 13.7 percent was yard trimmings, 14.1 percent was food scraps, and 1.5 percent was other materials.

In addition to increasing recycling, another of the EPA's focus points as the 2010s began was reducing auto emissions. In 2011 the EPA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pondered legislation regarding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards for vehicles manufactured beginning in 2017. According to Four Wheeler magazine, some possible approaches to meeting the new standards included "relying on hybrid-electric vehicles and advanced gasoline engines to a combined fleet of hybrid/electric/gasoline-electric vehicles." The government predicted that such a move would increase car prices by several thousand dollars but that the consumer would save in fuel costs over time. The EPA's actions in the area of auto emissions as well as other issues were a point of controversy in the United States, as Americans sought to protect their environment at an affordable price.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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...Pollutant Interactions with Air, Water, and Soil (Fourth Edition...textbook and major information resource on environmental issues...It covers topics such as air quality, solid and hazardous waste management, water pollution, drinking water...

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