The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or U.S. EPA) is an independent agency of the government of the United States of America created by an executive order of President Richard Nixon in 1970 and is part of the executive branch of the government. Its official name is the Environmental Protection Agency and it reports directly to the President. The primary mission of the EPA is to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment (air, water and land) of the nation.

The EPA was established to combine into a single agency many of the existing federal government activities of research and development, monitoring, setting of standards, compliance and enforcement related to protection of the environment.

In 2010, it had a budget of about $10,500,000,000 and a staff of about 17,400 people in headquarters and departmental or divisional offices, 10 regional offices, and over 25 laboratories located across the nation.[1] More than half of EPA's staff members are engineers, scientists and environmental protection specialists, while others have backgrounds in law, public affairs and finance.[2]

The EPA works with other federal agencies as well as state and local governments to develop and enforce environmental regulations. When standards are not met, the EPA can issue sanctions to push states and American Indian tribes to attain environmental quality standards. It also works with industry on pollution prevention and energy conservation programs.[3]


EPA headquarters in Washington, DC
President Richard Nixon, on July 9, 1970, told the United States Congress of his plan to create the EPA by combining parts of three federal departments, three bureaus, three administrations and many other offices into the new single, independent agency to be known as the Environmental Protection Agency.[4] Congress had 60 days to reject the proposal, but Congressional opinion was favorable and the reorganization took place without legislation. On December 2, 1970, the EPA was officially established and began operation under director William Ruckelshaus. The EPA began by consolidating 6550 employees from different agencies into a new agency with a $1.4 billion budget.

From 1970 to 1993, the EPA devoted more of its resources to human health issues than to the protection of natural environment. The limited scope of environmental protection was due to a variety of reasons. An institutional culture favored human health issues because most employees were trained in this area. The views of the agency leaders, who followed politically realistic courses, also played an important part in shaping the EPA's direction. Those supporting ecological issues acquired a new tool in the 1980s with the development of risk assessments so that advocates of ecological protection could use language framed by advocates of human health to protect the environment.

Major laws administered by the EPA

The EPA administers over a dozen major environmental laws including:
  • Clean Air Act[5] [6]
  • Clean Water Act[7]
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund)[8]
  • Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)[9]
  • Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)[10]
  • Oil Pollution Act of 1990
  • Safe Drinking Water Act[11]
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)[12] [13]
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)[14]

Organization of the EPA

The EPA has a number of departments or divisions as well as ten regional offices:
  • Administrator and Deputy Administrator:
    • Office of the Chief Financial Officer
    • Office of the General Counsel
    • Office of the Inspector General
  • Assistant Administrators:
    • Office of Administration and Resources Management
    • Office of Air and Radiation
    • Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
    • Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
    • Office of Environmental Information
    • Office of Environmental Justice
    • Office of International Affairs
    • Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances
    • Office of Research and Development
    • Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
    • Office of Water
  • Regional offices
    • Region 1 (Boston): Serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont & 10 Tribal Nations
    • Region 2 (New York): Serving New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands and 7 Tribal Nations
      Map of the U.S. EPA Regions
    • Region 3 (Philadelphia): Serving Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia
    • Region 4 (Atlanta): Serving Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and 6 Tribes
    • Region 5 (Chicago): Serving Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and 35 Tribes
    • Region 6 (Dallas): Serving Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and 65 Tribes
    • Region 7 (Kansas City): Serving Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and 9 Tribal Nations
    • Region 8 (Denver): Serving Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and 27 Tribal Nations
    • Region 9 (San Francisco): Serving Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and Tribal Nations
    • Region 10 (Seattle): Serving Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Native Tribes

Specific activities

Air Quality Modeling Group

The Air Quality Modeling Group (AQMG), located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, is part of the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards in the U.S. EPA's Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) and provides leadership and direction on the full range of air quality models, air pollution dispersion models[15] and other mathematical simulation techniques used in assessing pollution control strategies and the impacts of air pollution sources.

Drinking Water

The EPA ensures safe drinking water, by setting standards for public water systems in the United States. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA enforces compliance with the standards by states, local governments and water suppliers. The EPA also regulates injection wells so as to protect underground sources of drinking water.

Energy Star

A voluntary program that fosters energy efficiency.

Environmental Impact Studies

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the EPA is responsible for reviewing Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) of projects planned by other federal agencies.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards

The U.S. Clean Air Act, enacted by the U.S. Congress and last amended in 1990, requirea the EPA to set air pollutant concentration limits as National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)[16] for outdoor ambient air pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment.

Oil spill prevention

The EPA mandates and enforces "Spill Prevention Containment and Counter Measures" at oil storage facilities.

Radiation protection

The EPA protects the public from harmful radiation by seven groups of programs:[17]
  • Waste Management Programs
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs
  • EPA Cleanup and Multi-Agency Programs
  • Risk Assessment and Federal Guidance Programs
  • Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Material Programs
  • Air and Water Programs
  • Radiation Source Reduction and Management

The above list of special activities is not all inclusive. The EPA has a great many other special activities.


  1. ^ Fiscal Year 2010: EPA Budget in Brief The staff are referred to as FTE, meaning full-time employees.
  2. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (From the website of the National Press Foundation)
  3. ^ Same as Reference 2.
  4. ^ The Origins of EPA
  5. ^ Clean Air Act (The entire text as of February 24, 2004)
  6. ^ Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990
  7. ^ Public Law 100-4, Water Quality Act of 1987 Latest version of the Clean Water Act.
  8. ^ Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 Full text as amended.
  9. ^ SARA Overview
  10. ^ National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
  11. ^ Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
  12. ^ History of RECRA
  13. ^ Summary of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Includes a link to the full text of the act.
  14. ^ TSCA Statute, Regulations & Enforcement
  15. ^ M.R. Beychok (2005), Fundamentals of Stack Gas Dispersion, Fourth Edition, ISBN 0-9644588-0-2.
  16. ^ National Ambient Air Quality Standards
  17. ^ Radiation Protection Programs