Community//

EPA: Then and Now

Ever wonder how one of the most controversial federal agencies came to be? This is the story of the Environmental Protection Agency.


Author’s Note: Below is a research essay due for a class in December 2016. At the time, there was much controversy over President Donald Drumpf’s decision to appoint Myron Ebell as the head of the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. Many other changes have happened since December 2016, but the majority of the paper still stands as an educational resource. Pictures have been added and are not included in the Works Cited page.

With President Donald Drumpf’s cabinet picks, much of the country is asking themselves, “Did we make a mistake?” Some specific controversy surrounds Drumpf’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency pick, Myron Ebell, who plans to significantly reduce the EPA’s policy in the fight against climate change.

Many citizens have come up in arms, stating that EPA must be the head of the fight against climate change in the United States. It is important, however, to examine historical precedence to see just how much the EPA can flex in policy power and how much or how little the EPA serves states nationally. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aims to protect human health and the environment through policy regulation at the local, state, and federal levels of government. The EPA’s history, major policy implementations, and specific case studies highlight the major intergovernmental progress the agency has made since its creation in 1970.

History

President Richard Nixon signing the Environmental Protection Agency into existence

The Environmental Protection Agency, since its inception on December 2, 1970, has ebbed and flowed throughout all levels of government as one of the most influential regulator agencies in the United States. Topics such as the EPA’s checks and balance system, funding, implementation, and more affects how public administration is viewed today. The Environmental Protection Agency provides insight on how intergovernmental relationships, political accountability, and effective managerial implementation of policy can affect everyday lives of citizens. The EPA’s historical actions provide insight on how public administration can both help and fail the public sector. The Environmental Protection Agency aims to protect human health and the environment through governmental regulation at the local, state, and federal levels of government. The EPA’s history, major policy implementations, and specific case studies highlight the major intergovernmental progress the agency has made since its creation in 1970.


For example, in 2008, local Knoxville public administrators had to work significantly with the national sector of the Environmental Protection Agency due to a 1.1 billion US gallon coal ash spill that seeped into over 300 acres of neighborhoods in Kingston, Tennessee. The EPA held hearings to determine whether or not coal ash should be reclassified as a “hazardous” waste. Research into different public administration theories provide analysis on how effective public implementation has changed in the EPA over the years.

The Environmental Protection Agency was originally created as a subset of agencies that were in response to public concern about human activity’s impact on the environment. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, policies such as the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 were pushed through Congress in response to concerns about humans’ impact on the environment. On December 2, 1970, President Nixon signed an executive order that effectively formed the Environmental Protection Agency. This order was soon ratified by both the House and the Senate’s committee hearings. The EPA’s goals are to protect human health and the environment through the enforcement, sanction, or mandate of regulation based on environmental laws passed by Congress; these mandates are solely completed through intergovernmental relations either locally, tribally, or state-wide. The EPA currently functions with a head quarters in Washington DC, offices in ten regions across the US, and a total of 27 laboratories. The Environmental Protection Agency mission is to “protect human health and the environment” (Environmental Protection Agency). Since its inception in 1970, the EPA has been tasked with spreading broad goals across every local government within the US. The EPA has clout over state and local governments in the form of fines, sanctions, and mandates (Environmental Protection Agency). The EPA continuously tries to enforce mandates that come from laws passed in Congress, and issue fines and breaches of sanctions which could result in jail time.

However, there are many arguments that point out that the EPA may be protecting companies discriminatorily (Ireton, “EPA Business Ownership Representation), (Fisberg, “Companies, Technology & Environment”). For example, some former journalists see the EPA as the “polluter’s protection agency” by protecting the pesticide industry rather than public health (Vallianatos and Jenkins, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA). In its first fiscal year of 1970, there were a little over 4,000 employees in their workforce. The peak employee workforce was in 1999 under Bill Clinton at 18,100, and has decreased slightly over the years to currently a little over 15,300 employees in the EPA’s workforce. The agency tends to hold a more liberal stance in the public administration world with its claim that creating more government regulation inherently creates more jobs, as they wrote in a 2011 court brief (Powers), (“Will the EPA Stifle Growth?”).

The EPA is bounded by both the current presidential executive orders and any laws passed through Congress. This provides a checks and balances system in order to theoretically maintain the accountability of the EPA as a whole. However, the EPA does not always meet its burden in the eyes of the citizens.

A political cartoon summarizing the 2003 SC case MA v. EPA

For example, the 2003 Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency hinges on the idea that the EPA failed its mission to protect citizens against harmful pollutants due to a failure in the checks and balances system (Barnet, “Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency: Checks and Balances in Disarray”).

The head administrator of the EPA tends to be appointed as a Cabinet position for the president. Although this may be the president’s way of keeping close ties with the agency’s actions, some argue that this action compromises the accountability of the agency as a whole (Emison and Morris, True Green: Executive Effectiveness in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). There are multiple timeframes in which the EPA has implemented controversial policies including fiscal management concerns in 1983, 9/11 intergovernmental corruption charges, and even locally in 2011 after the TVA spilled millions of gallons of coal ash in residential areas. These failures can be attributed to a poor management style by failing to enforce strict enough internal controls (Mintz, Enforcement at the EPA: High Stakes and Hard Choices). The EPA has almost always received a fair portion of discretionary federal spending money. In its first fiscal year, the EPA’s budget was a little over one billion dollars. During Nixon’s presidency, the EPA’s budget during 1974 dropped to a mere 518 million, but after 1987, has steadily increased to a current budget of 8.1 billion annually. The budget tends to fluctuate depending on political climate, health of the economy, and public pressure (Environment Protection Agency), (Hun, “EPA: Funding and Pollution Problems Persist”).

The EPA tends to focus on five major subjects within public health and the environment. Therefore, the agency tends to tailor its regulation and policy based around these five influences. Public opinion and private business has a significant hand influencing regulation within the EPA. The EPA tends to take moderate policy that assuages both the private and public sector, but tends to anger a good portion of both (U.S. National Research Council), (Sass, “Vinyl Chloride: A case Study of Data Suppression and Misrepresentation”).

US Citizens protesting EPA funding cuts

The EPA is one of the most heavily checked and balanced agencies within the US Federal Government (Adams, “Can the Clear Skies Initiative Reduce the Coordination Failures in New Source Review and Cooperative Federalism under the Clean Air Act”). The EPA must not only be internally regulated by itself, but also have regular audits from both the executive branch and the legislative branch. The President appoints (and can terminate) the head administrator of the EPA, while Congress passes laws under which the EPA must follow guidelines for their own policy (Environmental Protection Agency).

Like most federal agencies, there are political factors that change how regulation under the EPA is passed. The biggest example was under Bush Jr.’s administration during the aftermath of 9/11 when the Bush campaign pushed the EPA to lower air pollutant levels in the monthly report (US Congress, EPA’s Response to 9/11 and Lessons Learned), (Sass, “Vinyl Chloride: A Case Study of Data Suppression and Misrepresentation). Almost every regulation that the EPA enforces will at some point go through every level of government, whether it be local, state, tribe, or national. It is an important goal of the agency to be effective when enforcing regulations to different levels of government.

Case Example: Kingston Coal Ash Spill

From the ground days after the Kinston Coal Ash Spill

There are many examples of the federal headquarters going to different areas around the nation due to an environmental emergency (Mathis, “Local Residents’ Experience of the Coal Ash Spill in Kingston, TN”). At 1am on December 22th, 2008, approximately 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash spilled into the Emory river, travelled onto shore, and eventually buried around 100 residential homes, totaling over 300 acres of land. The spill occurred after a break in one of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s fossil plant, and is historically the largest coal ash spill in US history. In early January 2009, water levels already showed significantly high levels of toxic metals, like arsenic.

Within 24 hours, the EPA communicated an estimate of three to six months of clean up would be necessary. However, six months after the spill, only 3% of the coal ash had been cleaned away. The EPA held public hearings to determine whether the agency should reclassify coal ash as a hazardous waste. Although the majority of the public demanded the reclassification, private businesses claimed it would put them out of business (Liska, “Chaos Theory, Self-Organization, and Industrial Accidents: Crisis Communication in the Kingston Coal Ash Spill”). In addition to cleanup, the EPA released an official statement to the TVA:

“On February 4, 2009, EPA, pursuant to Executive Order 12088, and TDEC issued a letter to TVA in which EPA provided notice to TVA that EPA considers the release to be an unpermitted discharge of a pollutant in contravention of the Clean Water Act” (Mathis).

Over 90% of the spill was cleaned up within 10 months of the incident. At the end of the day, the EPA decided to not reclassify coal ash even though only ten years after the cleanup, 17 site-workers are dead and many more are in failing health. This decision highlights the flexibility of the agency’s power and shows problems with its accountability to the citizens it serves (Liska).

In conclusion, the Environmental Protection Agency is a federal entity that aims to protect public health and the environment through intergovernmental enforcement of regulations. The EPA’s history, major policy implementations, and specific case studies show an overview of on of the largest running agencies in US history.

Mickayla Stogsdill, author

Thanks for reading!

If you’re interested in more research and policy, you can find it here.

You can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook for even more content.

If you would like to reach out personally, my email is <[email protected]>

The entire Works Cited is written below- hope you enjoyed!

Works Cited

Adams, Todd B. “Can the Clear Skies Initiative Reduce the Coordination Failures in New Source Review and Cooperative Federalism under the Clean Air Act.” Tulane Environmental Law Journal. 16.1 (2002): 127–166.

Barnet, Todd. “Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency: Checks and Balances in Disarray.” Penn State Environmental Law Review 17.3 (2009): 329–354.

Eisberg, Neil. “Companies, Technology & Environment.” Chemistry & Industry 3 (2011): 13. Business Source Complete. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Emison, Gerald A., and John C. Morris. True Green: Executive Effectiveness in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lanham: Lexington, 2012. Print.

“EPA’s budget for FY 2013.” Hazardous Waste Consultant. Mar: 2012: 2.11+. Academic OneFile. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Hun, T. “EPA: Funding and Pollution Problems Persist.” Environmental Health Perspectives 111.4 (2003): A206–A209. Print.

Ireton, Donna S. “EPA Business Ownership Representation.” Contract Management. Mar. 2001: 58. General OneFile. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Liska, Curtis, et al. “Chaos Theory, Self-Organization, And Industrial Accidents: Crisis Communication in The Kingston Coal Ash Spill.” Southern Communication Journal 77.3 (2012): 180–197. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Mintz, Joel A. Enforcement at the EPA: High Stakes and Hard Choices, Revised Edition. Revised ed. Austin: U of Texas, 2012. Print.

Mathis, Amy Lynn, “Local Residents’ Experience of the Coal Ash Spill in Kingston, Tennessee: A Phenomenological Study. “ PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2012.

Powers, Doug. “EPA Pushing the Envelope to Prove How Many Jobs New Regulations Could Create.” Michelle Malkin. Daily Caller, 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Sass, Jennifer Beth, Barry Castleman, and David Wallinga. “Vinyl Chloride: A Case Study of Data Suppression and Misrepresentation.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113.7 (2005): 809–812. PMC. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

“US Environmental Protection Agency.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.

U.S. National Research Council. Review of the EPA’s Economic Analysis of Final Water Quality Standards for Nutrients for Lakes and Flowing Waters in Florida. Washington: National Academies, 2012. Print.

United States. Congress. House. The One Year Anniversary on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Ash Slide: Evaluating Current Cleanup Progress and Assessing Future Environmental Goals: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, First Session, December 9, 2009. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2009. Print.

United States. Congress. Senate. EPA’s Response to 9/11 and Lessons Learned for Future Emergency Preparedness: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, United States Senate, One Hundred Tenth Congress, First Session, June 20, 2007. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2011. Print.

Vallianatos, E. G., and McKay Jenkins. Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA. 1st ed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.

“Will EPA Rules Stifle Growth? CERES Sees Jobs Resulting.” The Electricity Journal 24.3 (2011): 2–4. Web.

Author’s Note: All bolded citations indicate that these sources are peer reviewed. All other sources are reputable as well, but mainly contribute historical information to the ideas of the paper, not the public administration analysis section. The peer reviewed sources total eleven (11).

Originally published at medium.com

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.