Looking back, 1969 marked the dawn of a new era. Man had been to the moon. We were making all kinds of strides in science and technology. It was time to look inward at our impact on the planet. At that time, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This act declared the government to be a “protector of earth, air, land and water” and it would “create and maintain conditions under which man and nature (could) exist in productive harmony,” and to “assure for all American safe, healthful, productive, esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.”
Ever since then, any agency planning a building project had to submit a report. These are now called “environmental impact reports.” They assess the ways the building will impact the surrounding environment including the impact on wildlife.
NEPA was just the beginning. Former president Nixon decided to establish an autonomous regulatory body to oversee enforcement of environmental policy, sort of like the nature police. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was born.
Their duties included “federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection.”
Nixon stated that he had “become further convinced that 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. It is,” he said, “literally now or never.”
In 2010, the EPA celebrated its 40th birthday. It was a celebration and a time to look back over all they accomplished. It was also a time to renew their energy and vitality in the fight for our collective environment.
The year 1970, along with establishment of the EPA, saw the nation’s first Earth Day. It set the momentum for the accomplishments to follow. In 1973, the EPA banned DDT. In 1974, they passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. In 1976, they passed the Toxic Substances Control Act. 1980 saw the creation of the Superfund Program. Ocean dumping was banned in 1988 and the Pollution Prevention Act was passed in 1990. From 1992-1996, the EPA launched Energy Star and passed the Food Quality Protection Act. In 2009, a new smog emissions policy was set. In 2010, the EPA responded to the BP oil spill with a cleanup initiative. 2011 saw the EPA tackle the issue of greenhouse gasses.
On July 17, 2013, the EPA renamed its headquarters the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building, after former president Bill Clinton. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is led by Gina McCarthy, and under her the vital work goes on.