Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency

David M. Bearden, Coordinator
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Claudia Copeland
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy

Linda Luther
Analyst in Environmental Policy

James E. McCarthy
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Linda-Jo Schierow
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970 to consolidate numerous federal pollution control responsibilities that had been divided among several federal agencies. EPA’s responsibilities grew over time as Congress enacted an increasing number of environmental statutes and major amendments to these statutes. EPA’s primary responsibilities include the regulation of air quality, water quality, and chemicals in commerce; the development of regulatory criteria for the management and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes; and the cleanup of environmental contamination. EPA also provides financial assistance to states and local governments to aid them in administering pollution control programs and in complying with certain federal environmental requirements. Several federal statutes provide the legal authority for EPA’s programs and activities. The major provisions of each of the following statutes are briefly summarized in this report, as laid out in existing law as of this writing.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) authorizes EPA to set mobile source limits, ambient air quality standards, hazardous air pollutant emission standards, standards for new pollution sources, and significant deterioration requirements; and to identify areas that do not attain standards.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) authorizes the regulation and enforcement of requirements that govern waste discharges into U.S. waters, and financial assistance for wastewater treatment plant construction and improvements. The Ocean Dumping Act focuses on the regulation of the intentional disposal of materials into ocean waters and authorizes related research. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) authorizes EPA to establish primary drinking water standards, regulate underground injection disposal practices, and administer a groundwater control program.

The Solid Waste Disposal Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) govern the regulation of solid and hazardous wastes, whereas the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) addresses the cleanup of contamination resulting from the release of hazardous substances. CERCLA authorizes the federal government to require the parties responsible for the contamination to pay the cleanup costs. CERCLA established a Superfund Trust Fund to pay for the cleanup when the responsible parties cannot pay or cannot be found. Amendments to the Solid Waste Disposal Act included similar liability provisions for the cleanup of petroleum leaked from underground storage tanks, not covered under CERCLA, and established a Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund to clean up abandoned sites with petroleum contamination.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) require regulation of commercial chemicals to reduce risks to human health and the environment. The Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) authorizes various mechanisms intended to prevent pollution by reducing the generation of pollutants at the point of origin. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requires industrial reporting of toxic releases and encourages chemical emergency response planning.

Although Congress enacted certain facets of some of the above statutes prior to EPA’s formation in 1970, most of the statutory authorities of the agency were enacted after that time and have been expanded through major amendments. Congress has assigned EPA the administration of a considerable body of law and associated programs and activities. This report is not comprehensive in terms of summarizing all laws administered by EPA, but covers the major, basic statutory authorities underlying the agency’s programs and activities.

Date of Report: October 8, 2010
Number of Pages: 123
Order Number: RL30798
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.