Quality (CEQ) recently issued guidance to the federal agencies and requested plans on incorporating sustainability into their operations. Given the time line of this NRC report, the CEQ submissions could not be factored in.

The 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) declared that the “continuing policy of the Federal Government” is to “create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations” (42 U.S.C. 4331(a)). That policy expresses what is now described as sustainable development. Meeting the goal of sustainable development requires an integration of social, environmental, and economic policies, necessitating interdisciplinary coordination among federal agencies with varying missions to address this goal. International acceptance of sustainable development was spurred by the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, of which former EPA administrator, William D. Ruckelshaus, was a member (WCED 1987). Lead author of this report, Jim MacNeill, has recognized progress in institutionalizing sustainable development; however, he notes that “the need for a global transition to more sustainable forms of development, especially in the energy field, is far more urgent today than it was in 1987” when the report first issued a call for such a transition (OECD 2007). In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the United States and other countries endorsed a global plan of action for sustainable development and a set of principles to guide that effort (UNCED 1992a,b).


As explained more fully in Chapter 2, EPA was created in 1970 to consolidate many activities that were previously administered by several agencies. Many of the statutes administered by the new agency were intended to protect both human health and the environment from the adverse effects of pollution.1 In spite of its name, EPA has never focused only on environmental protection.

Today, the agency’s primary goals set forth in its 2011–2015 strategic plan (EPA 2010) are the following:

  • Take action on climate change and improving air quality.
  • Protect U.S. waters.
  • Clean up communities and advance sustainable development.
  • Ensure the safety of chemicals and prevent pollution.
  • Enforce environmental laws.


1 See www.epa.gov/lawsregs/laws for summaries of laws and Executive Orders that the EPA is charged with administering.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement