What is the EPA?

I thought I would write about the history and purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency. The truth is that I didn’t know much about it, so I thought sharing the information here would be helpful to people who may not understand what the EPA is and what it does.

In a previous column, I wrote about the origins of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970. Earth Day helped form the modern idea of environmentalism that we know today. The EPA was born on Dec. 2, 1970. It can be reasoned that these two dates in history were direct reactions to Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic "Silent Spring." Her book informed the public of the widespread poisoning of nature and humans by pesticides, which prompted the public to demand direct government action to protect the environment. Her book provoked politicians to become aware of the political advantages to including environmental issues in their speeches and legislation. Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson incorporated the issue and President Nixon was also eager to include the environment as one of his issues when he was elected in 1968.

In his first year in office (1969) President Nixon established the Environmental Quality Council and the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality. The following year, Nixon decided to consolidate into one agency the mission of ensuring environmental protection, which became the EPA.

The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. When Congress writes environmental law, the EPA implements it by writing regulations. The EPA also sets national standards and helps states meet these standards. The EPA enforces their regulations and helps companies understand the requirements. These regulations involve issues such as acid rain, mold, asbestos, climate change, air and water quality, and more. The EPA’s role in climate change is more vital than ever. As I wrote in a previous column, 2016 has a 99 percent chance of being the warmest year on record, beating 2015 which was previously the warmest on record.

Furthermore, about half of the EPA’s budget goes into grants for state environmental programs, non-profits, education, institutions and others. In fact, the EPA has played a major role in keeping the Cleveland harbor and Cuyahoga River clean. During rain storms, debris is pushed through storm drains and into the city’s waterways. The debris then floats downstream from the upper Cuyahoga River and its tributaries, and into the ship canal and North Coast Harbor.

The currents and wind push the debris into large piles or mats that float and get stuck against walls or in marinas. These debris piles are not only unsightly, birds get entangled in them. In 2012, the EPA granted the Cleveland Port Authority $425,000 for the purchase of two boats, named Flotsam and Jetsam. These debris-cleaning boats grab tree limbs, car tires, Styrofoam cups, bottles, cans, etc. from the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland harbor. Flotsam carries a mini-excavator with a shovel to scoop debris, and then loads it into Jetsam for disposal.

Prior to Flotsam and Jetsam, there was no way to remove this debris, and eventually it would get pushed out into the lake and pollute another city along the shore. Now, Flotsam and Jetsam remove the debris, improving the aesthetics and creating safer waterways for recreational and commercial boating. Every year, Flotsam and Jetsam remove between 20 and 40 dump trucks worth of debris. During their first year, the boats removed over 240 tons of debris. This fantastic program would not have been possible without the EPA!

The EPA does far more than I have written about today, but I think this is a good overview of its purpose, and how the EPA is here to protect human health and the environment in the United States, and in our own community! As citizens, we must help ensure its continued success.

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Volume 8, Issue 24, Posted 10:09 AM, 12.13.2016