The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or USEPA) is a federal government agency initiated by President Richard Nixon. Nixon signed an executive order in December of 1970 and the EPA was born. The purpose of the EPA is to protect the environment by setting regulations and enforcing laws passed by Congress. The EPA is not a cabinet department, but the leader is usually given the power of a cabinet position. The EPA's plan “identifies the measurable environmental and human health outcomes the public can expect from EPA and describes how we intend to achieve those results.” Here are five reasons why we need the EPA in our lives:
1. To make sure companies dispose of their hazardous waste properly
Before the EPA, American environmental tragedies such as Love Canal turned families' lives upside down. Love Canal was an abandoned canal project off the Niagara River, which is about four miles south of Niagara Falls. This unfinished canal was used by Hooker Chemical Company as a dump for chemical waste from 1942 to 1953. When Hooker Chemical Company was finished dumping into the canal, there were around 21,000 tons of toxic chemicals in the area. The company covered the 16-acre chemical landfill with clay and dirt before selling it to Niagara Falls Schools with a warning of the toxins in the area. When the school was built right near the chemical dump, children attending the school and families living in the area acquired many diseases and illnesses. In 1976, after years of issues and complaints, the city and county finally started an investigation. The study by Calspan Corporation found that the canal area had toxic chemical residues in the air and sump pumps in many homes, which are commonly found in basements.
2. The Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act regulates the levels of many toxic substances in the air such as mercury and arsenic. One of the most influential updates to the act was in 1990 when the EPA was allowed to regulate and reduce a number of sulfur dioxide emissions, which is one of the main causes of acid rain (from power plants).
3. The Clean Water Act
In 1972, the Clean Water Act was enacted and gave the EPA authorization to set national standards for water and to make sure all cities and companies complied. The main problems weren’t just companies dumping wastes into rivers and lakes. Before 1970, many cities dumped sewage into waterways with very little or no treatment; therefore, waterways were highly contaminated causing fish kills and algae blooms.
4. To control climate change
Climate change has been evident since the mid to late 20th century with evidence such as sea levels rising, global temperature increases, warming of oceans and shrinking ice sheets. All of this entails changes in rainfall, flooding, droughts and more frequent and severe heat waves. These events surrounding climate change are caused by increased releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere mainly produced as a waste product of fossil fuel energy. Other causes of climate change also include greenhouse gasses such as methane from agricultural pollution, especially in livestock production.
5. We need to protect the Earth for future generations
When thinking about the future of our planet, it is important to remember that if every person on the planet lived like an American, we would need the amount of resources from five planets to sustain our lifestyles. With our ever-changing planet, worries arise when human-caused changes in climate are doubted. As Americans, our over-consumption, "quantity over quality" methods of production and throw-away practices need to be regulated in order to reverse major environmental mistakes of the past.
Earth’s history dates back about 4 billion years. Humans have only been around for about 200,000 years and we have made a large impact on the environment. With more than 7 billion people on the planet, questions about sustainability come into play. There has been so much environmental change in such a short period of time that scientists are calling this time the Anthropocene or “the age of humans.” This new geologic age encompasses the rise of the usage of fossil fuels, industrialization of agriculture, and urbanization of over half of the world’s population. There have been many changes in Earth’s history — the continents shifted, animals went extinct and climates changed. What is most worrisome about this geologic age is that humans are a large driving force in Earth’s recent changes. We are literally shaping the future of our planet, and we have to decide what we want things to be like in the years to come. We can be the change.