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The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of environmental quality assessment activities in the United States. The topic is extremely broad and complex; this paper only touches on a limited number of issues and initiatives.


The rapid growth of the American society has brought with it the concomitant pollution of the environment. By the early 1960s it was apparent that additional government regulation was needed to deal with the growing levels of detectable anthropogenic pollution in our ambient environment. The United States Congress passed the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4341). This landmark legislation was the precursor to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The NEPA required that the executive branch create the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to formulate and recommend national policies to promote the improvement of the quality of the environment. Additional responsibilities were provided by the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970 (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.).

The CEQ has statutory responsibility for overseeing the implementation of NEPA. The Council also develops and recommends to the President national policies that further environmental quality; performs continuing analysis of changes or trends in the national environment; reviews and appraises programs of the federal government to determine their contributions to sound environmental policy; conducts studies, research, and analyses relating to ecological systems and environmental quality; and assists the President in the preparation of the annual environmental quality report to Congress.

In its annual report, CEQ uses data obtained from a number of federal agencies to report on:

  1. the status and condition of the major natural, man-made, or altered environmental classes of the nation, including, but not limited to, the air, the aquatic (including marine, estuarine, and fresh water) and the terrestrial environment (including, but not limited to, the forest, dry land, wetland, range, urban, suburban, and rural environment);

  2. current and foreseeable trends in the quality, management, and utilization of such environments and the effects of those trends on the social, economic, and other requirements of the nation;

  3. the adequacy of available natural resources for fulfilling human and economic requirements of the nation in light of expected population pressures;

  4. a review of the programs and activities (including regulatory activities) of the federal government, the state and local governments, and nongovernmental entities or individuals with particular reference to their effect on the resources; and

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