Summary of Key Federal Environmental Statutes Enacted Since 19701

In 1970, Congress established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the enactment of the Reorganization Act of 1970. This act consolidated the various environmental management responsibilities that were previously dispersed throughout the executive branch agencies, for example, Department of Interior (federal land management, mining), the Department of Agriculture (pesticide registration), and the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration (development of scientific and technical information for protecting water quality).

EPA is charged with implementing most of the environmental laws passed by Congress, although some functions still remain with other agencies. For example, the Department of Interior manages federally owned lands and the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration is responsible for workplace exposure to toxic chemicals. In general, EPA's job includes (1) developing the scientific and technical tools for assessing environmental impacts and risks that may accompany society's activities (e.g., disposal of manufacturing wastes, disposal of municipal sewage and solid waste, assessment of automobile and other air pollutants affecting urban populations), (2) publishing regulations that restrict actions that pose unacceptable risks to humans and the environment, and (3) enforcing its regulations through civil and criminal legal actions.

In 1970, Congress also enacted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA effectively required all federal agencies to consider the impacts on the environment before taking any major federal action. NEPA was a key force, philosophically and legally, for all future environmental decision making in the United States. It created a new decision-making process and provided the opportunity for the public to be involved in reviewing all major federal actions.

NEPA requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of all proposed major federal actions such as building dams, leasing federal land for oil exploration, and building interstate highways. NEPA further requires agencies to consider alternatives to the proposed action, analyze the impacts of each, publish the agency's analysis of alternatives and recommended course of action in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and ensure that there is an opportunity for public participation in the review of the EIS through written comments and/ or testimony in public hearings. NEPA specifies a process for reaching a decision. It does not dictate any particular decision.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (FWPCA) established goals for restoring and maintaining the integrity of waters. The FWPCA, now the Clean Water Act (CWA), has been amended several times to put in place several major programs, including (1) technology-based wastewater treatment regulations, (2) requirements for plant-specific wastewater discharge permits and chemical-specific water quality criteria to use as a guide in writing the permits, (3) technology-based requirements for municipal sewage treatment plants and a federally sponsored funding program to assist municipal governments in the construction

'Source material from Environment Statutes, 1990 ed., Government Institutes, Inc., Rockville, Md., 1990.

of sewage treatment plants, (4) area-wide water quality planning programs to ensure that all pollution sources and institutions are considered in water quality protection, and (5) a specially designed program to protect the nation's wetlands.

Congress amended earlier air quality legislation with the Clean Air Act in 1972. These requirements, combined with amendments enacted in 1977 and 1990, cover a very broad array of programs and requirements, including the establishment of ambient air quality standards and the development of state implementation plans for a variety of pollutants, national emissions standards for stationary sources of hazardous pollutants, requirements for ozone protection, motor vehicle emission and fuel standards, and the prevention of significant deterioration of air quality. The 1990 amendments are significant because they encourage the use of market-based principles, including performance-based standards and emission banking and trading, provide a framework for finding a cost-effective combination of fuels and technology to develop alternative clean fuels, promote the use of clean low-sulfur coal and natural gas as well as innovative technologies to clean high-sulfur coal through the acid rain program, sufficiently reduce energy waste and create enough of a market for clean fuels derived from grain and natural gas to cut dependency on oil imports by 1 million barrels a day, promote energy conservation' through an acid rain program that gives utilities the flexibility to obtain needed emission reductions through programs that encourage customers to conserve energy, and establish an important innovative approach to pollution prevention.

The 1990 CAA amendments require that EPA conduct a basic engineering research and technology program to develop, evaluate, and demonstrate nonregulatory strategies and technologies for air pollution prevention. This signals that Congress had added prevention measures to the end-of-pipe treatment approach previously addressed in the statute.

The 1990 CAA amendments also offer other pollution prevention incentives. One of the most widely discussed and challenging is the opportunity for facilities to receive extended compliance periods in exchange for early and increased reductions of their hazardous air pollutants. As a result, industry may find that source reduction measures are a more cost-effective approach to achieving emission standards for hazardous air pollutants.

The Safe Drinking Water Act was amended several times during the 1970s and 1980s to improve the drinking water standard-setting process for consumption of drinking water at the tap. Standards are set considering both the cost and effectiveness of available treatment technologies. The SWDA amendments of 1986 required EPA to promulgate a total of 108 standards for toxic chemicals by 1991. They also require states to develop a program to protect the area around wells (wellheads). This provision was enacted in response to findings by EPA that 8000 drinking water wells in the nation were contaminated by thousands of sources, including land disposal facilities, underground storage tanks, septic systems, underground injection wells, and pesticide and fertilizer applications. The chemicals found are widely used in common products, including plastics, solvents, pesticides, paints, dyes, varnishes, and ink.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was originally enacted in 1947 and has been amended several times to factor in new information and policies on the effects of chemicals on human health and the environment. FIFRA requires manufacturers of pesticides, herbicides, and related chemicals to comply with a registration process (or re-registration process for pesticides registered before 1972), in which the manufacturer must complete batteries of tests to ensure that when used properly a pesticide presents no unreasonable health or environmental risks. EPA is authorized to review test results and prohibit, ban the manufacture of, or limit the use of existing or proposed products.

Over 50,000 pesticides have been registered since FIFRA was originally enacted. However, significant advances in the sciences of toxicology and risk assessment have occurred over the past decade. These advances have led to concern over potential risks from previously reg istered pesticides. Amendments to FIFRA in 1988 require previously registered pesticides to be reregistered under current, stricter procedures.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 includes very broad authorities that require EPA to control the risks from over 65,000 existing chemical substances on the market (other than chemicals regulated under FIFRA) and to regulate the manufacture, processing, distribution, and use of proposed new chemicals. Manufacturers must complete laboratory tests and provide detailed information on the processes used to manufacture each chemical to EPA for review. Based on its review, EPA has the authority to prohibit production, limit use, or ban production of the chemical.

The Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) of 1976, later renamed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), radically changed the role of the federal government in solid waste management. EPA promulgated guidelines in 1979 that prohibited the previously widely accepted practice of open dumping and required the use of sanitary landfill standards to reduce the potential for disease and restrict open access to garbage by humans and animals. Under RCRA, EPA created the nation's first "cradle to grave" hazardous waste management system in which EPA identified the worst industrial wastes (about 2% of all industrial solid waste) and set standards for tracking these wastes from generation to treatment to disposal and for disposal of wastes in landfills.

In 1984, RCRA was amended with the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA). HSWA prohibited the disposal of hazardous wastes on land unless they were first treated using standards set by EPA for best demonstrated available treatment (BDAT) technologies. HSWA also directed EPA to launch a major new program to establish standards for replacing approximately 2 million leaking underground storage tanks containing gasoline and chemical products.

HSWA was the first statute that explicitly shifted national priorities for waste management from end-of-pipe pollution abatement and control to pollution prevention. (Note: The term used in HSWA was "waste minimization.") HSWA directed EPA to study the incentives and barriers to a prevention-based approach because the Congress realized that the end-of-pipe approach of the past was not providing any significant reduction in the amount of waste generated and managed even though the standards for end-of-pipe environmental controls were becoming more strict.

The progress EPA made in the next several years in studying avenues to encourage pollution prevention provided some of the basis for pollution prevention legislation passed in 1990. This is discussed in more detail at the end of this section.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) of 1990 established a landmark environmental program for the cleanup of hazardous substances improperly disposed of on land. The enactment of Superfund was a rude awakening for many U.S. companies. It has led to the discovery of 30,000 potentially contaminated chemical dumps. Superfund established a $9 billion fund to pay for cleanup of sites where responsible parties cannot be found or where they are recalcitrant. However, $9 billion is enough to pay for only a small fraction of the total sites eligible for cleanup. Superfund made companies liable for cleanup costs and damages, including wastes that the companies believed were safely disposed of but that had nevertheless resulted in environmental damages. CERCLA required companies to pay taxes on feedstock raw materials (which were the fundamental source of wastes discovered to be causing damage in the ground) to support the federal cleanup fund. Companies involved in Superfund cleanup found that they pay for improper waste disposal in four ways. They pay for raw materials that became waste, the cost of waste disposal, a feedstock tax to pay for cleanup, and cleanup costs (plus punitive damages in some cases).

Superfund was amended in 1986 with the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). SARA strengthened all of the major portions of the cleanup program, forced federal facilities to comply with the law to the same extent as any other facility, and reauthorized the cleanup fund and the feedstock tax on industry to support the fund.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA, also known as Title III of SARA) was also enacted in 1986. The enactment of EPCRA stems directly from an incident involving the chemical release of methyl isocyanate from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984 that killed thousands of nearby residents and the release of methylene chloride and aldicarb from a chemical plant in Institute, West Virginia, in 1985. EPCRA mandates that states and local communities prepare for chemical emergencies, requires facilities to notify their states and communities of the presence of an extremely hazardous substance and to report spills or releases of such substances immediately, and requires facilities to report annually on the amounts of certain hazardous chemicals produced, used, and stored within the facility if that amount exceeds a specified amount.

Facilities must also report to EPA annually on the amount of certain toxic chemicals they release to the air, land, and water. EPA compiles this information in a publicly accessible database called the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and publishes an annual report describing the reported releases. The TRI has had a very significant impact on the way industry views its environmental responsibilities and accountability to the public.

The Pbllution Prevention Act (PPA) of 1990 moved the government significantly forward in its commitment to change the way it manages environmental protection. The PPA established a national policy that pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible; and disposal or other release into the environment should be employed only as a last resort and should be conducted in an environmentally safe manner.

The PPA requires EPA to consider pollution prevention in its rule-making activities, provide grants to states for technical assistance to businesses seeking pollution prevention opportunities, and manage a computerized technical information clearinghouse on pollution prevention technologies that is available to the public. The PPA also requires facilities that are required to report releases to the environment under EPCRA (Title III of SARA) to also report their progress in pollution prevention to EPA each year, and requires EPA to issue a report to Congress every two years that describes the nation's progress in pollution prevention.

EPA is also charged with administering several other environmental statutes, which for the sake of brevity are not described here. These include

The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 The Noise Control Act of 1972

The Radon Gas and Indoor Air Quality Research Act of 1986 The Asbestos Information Act of 1988

B. Environmental Regulations

Most federal environmental statutes set broad goals and timetables for achieving these goals. EPA is charged with the task of developing regulations that implement the law.

The regulatory development process is described in this chapter to emphasize the important opportunity for the engineering community and for individuals and companies to participate in the process and potentially contribute to the outcome of individual regulations.

The overall process for developing, proposing, and promulgating regulations is set forth in the Administrative Procedures Act, a statute that applies to all federal agencies. There are two basic but complex steps in the process. The first step covers the development of a proposed regulation. EPA first determines what policy, economic, and technical factors are relevant to the decision at hand and then generally proceeds with extensive engineering, toxicological, economic, and other studies necessary to arrive at a proposed approach. At the completion of its studies, EPA proposes a regulation and solicits public comment on the methods and rationale used in its proposal.

The second major step includes completing whatever additional studies may be necessary to adequately respond to public comments, incorporating relevant new information that may affect the outcome, and promulgating a final regulation. It generally takes at least two years to develop and promulgate a regulation, depending on the complexity of the issues involved.

Each proposed and final regulation is published in the Federal Register (FR), a daily government publication dedicated entirely to notifying the public of regulatory developments. A compendium of all environmental regulations promulgated by EPA is found in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR).

In addition to the regulations, EPA frequently publishes supplemental guidance that provides additional technical or procedural information relevant to understanding the compliance requirements of the regulation.

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