Since its formation in 1970, EPA has played a leadership role in developing many fields of environmental science and engineering, from ecology to health sciences and environmental engineering to analytic chemistry. EPA has performed, supported, and stimulated academic research; developed environmental education programs; supported regional science initiatives; supported the development and application of new technologies; and, most important, enhanced the scientific information that creates a basis for regulatory decisions (NRC 2000, 2003; Collins et al. 2008; Darnall et al. 2008; Kyle et al. 2008; Sanchez et al. 2008; NRC 2011). The broad reach of EPA science has also influenced international policies and guided state and local actions. Some examples of traditional EPA science-based and engineering-based initiatives are identifying emerging ecologic and health problems, monitoring trends in ecologic systems and pollution, identifying human health hazards, measuring and modeling population exposures, developing pollution-control technologies, supporting health-based enforcement and standard-setting, tracking environmental improvement, and incorporating green chemistry concepts and pollution prevention solutions.
Environmental Protection Agency Successes
EPA has successfully contributed to the reduction of pollution and improved public health, human welfare, and environmental and ecosystem quality. Its success has stemmed largely from the establishment and enforcement of its regulatory programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act; the Clean Water Act; the Clean Air Act; the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (also known as Superfund); the Toxic Substances Control Act; and other statutes. Such success would not be possible without scientific and engineering support within the agency and outside by universities, colleges, and partnering agencies and companies. An example of EPA’s success involves the regulation of air pollutants. Many conventional air pollutants have been dramatically reduced over a 20-year period (Figure 1-2)—a demonstration of the remarkable success that the United States has achieved by amending and enforcing the Clean Air Act. It is expensive to implement the Clean Air Act, but it has resulted in improved economic welfare, including better health, improved labor productivity, and less morbidity and mortality due to air pollution (EPA 2011b).
As shown in Table 1-1, there have been large declines in the emissions of nitrogen oxide gases, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and particulate matter smaller than 10 μm in diameter and smaller than 2.5 μm in diameter over the last 30 years. Despite a doubling of the US gross domestic product during that period and large increases in vehicle-miles traveled, population, energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions, regulation of the transportation and industrial sectors has reduced emissions of conventional air pollutants and brought about cleaner air (see Figure 1-2).