This category includes government agencies primarily engaged in regulation, planning, protection, and conservation of air and water resources; solid waste management; water and air pollution control and prevention; flood control; drainage development and consumption of water resources; coordination of these activities at intergovernmental levels; research necessary for air pollution abatement, and control and conservation of water resources. Water systems are classified in SIC 4941: Water Supply. Sewage and refuse systems and other sanitary services are classified in SIC 4950: Sanitary Services. Irrigation systems are classified in SIC 4971: Irrigation Systems.
Air and Water Resource and Solid Waste Management
Management of air and water resources and regulation of solid waste disposal is a broadly distributed function at all levels of municipal, state, and federal government. This category includes agencies within most Cabinet-level departments of the federal government, most notably the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Defense. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became the lead federal agency involved in air and water resource and solid waste management when it was created in 1970. The total budget for the EPA was set at $7.6 billion for 2003.
The EPA is an independent agency of the executive branch of the federal government that is charged with implementing environmental legislation passed by Congress, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as "Superfund." Beginning in the early 1990s, the EPA focused on researching and establishing standards for acceptable levels of pollution, while delegating implementation to state environmental protection agencies. The EPA also administered low-interest loan and grant programs to encourage state compliance with federal antipollution legislation. By the early 2000s, the EPA continued in its commitment to protect the nation's land and keep its air and water clean. This was accomplished by a variety of initiatives, including Clean School Bus USA, which sought to lower emissions from school buses. In addition, the agency played a lead role in protecting U.S. water supplies and the chemical industry from the increased threat of terrorism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The EPA is organized principally along media lines. It included an Office of Water, which administered wastewater, ground water, and drinking water programs; an Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, which administered solid waste and toxic waste programs, including Superfund hazardous waste cleanup; an Office of Air and Radiation, which administered air-quality programs, including clean air and automobile exhaust reduction efforts; and an Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, which administered the agency's chemical pollution control programs.
In addition, the EPA also is organized functionally and geographically. It includes an Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Office of Research and Development, Office of the General Counsel, and several administrative divisions that support the media program offices. The EPA also operates 10 regional divisions that mirror the national organizational structure. The EPA is headed by an administrator nominated by the president and confirmed by Congress. Christie Whitman, formerly the governor of New Jersey, was chosen by the administration of President George W. Bush to lead the EPA in January 2001. However, she planned to resign as of June 27, 2003.
In 1899, Congress passed the Refuse Act, the first significant federal legislation directed at controlling the pollution of natural resources. The Refuse Act made it illegal to discharge "any refuse matter … other than that flowing from streets and sewers and passing therefrom in a liquid state" into any navigable waters of the United States unless authorized by the secretary of the Army. However, the Refuse Act was seldom enforced, and the federal government did little to control pollution for the next 60 years. For the first half of the twentieth century, pollution was considered primarily an urban problem to be dealt with by local officials. Federal efforts dealt primarily with conservation of wilderness spaces.
National outrage over environmental pollution often was traced to Silent Spring, the classic 1962 book by Rachel Carson that detailed the poisoning of people and nature with pesticides. Congress actually began to take more interest in the environment soon after World War II. In 1948, Congress passed the Water Pollution Control Act, which allowed the federal government to investigate sources of pollution. However, the Justice Department was required to obtain approval from state authorities before bringing suit against polluters. Because major employers were often the worst polluters, states often blocked legal action that could result in a loss of jobs, and the law was generally ineffectual.
In 1955, Congress passed the Air Pollution Control Act, which, for the first time, authorized federal funds to assist states in air-pollution research and technical training. The Act also acknowledged that automobile exhaust was a major source of air pollution. In 1956, Congress revised the earlier Water Pollution Control Act and for the first time gave the Public Health Service the authority to order the clean up of polluted waters. The Act also authorized $500 million over 10 years to help cities build sewage treatment plants and provided $15 million over five years for states to expand their pollution-control agencies.
In 1961, the U.S. Surgeon General appointed a Committee on Environmental Health Problems, which recommended establishing an Office of Environmental Health Sciences. The committee also called for extensive study of air and water pollution, urban crowding, food safety, and occupational health hazards from chemical pollutants. That same year, Stewart L. Udall, then secretary of the Interior, wrote The Quiet Crisis, which traced land management from colonial times to 1960. The book opened with a warning: "America today stands poised on a pinnacle of wealth and power, yet we live in a land of vanishing beauty, of increasing ugliness, of shrinking open space, of an over-all environment that is diminished daily by pollution and noise and blight. This, in brief, is the quiet conservation crisis of the 1960s."
In 1963, Congress passed the first federal Clean Air Act, which gave the Public Health Service responsibility for establishing national air-quality standards, but again, enforcement was limited. The Public Health Service could regulate only interstate air pollution. As Newsweek noted, "If the smell of boiling chicken offal had not wafted across the nearby Delaware line from Maryland, the first prosecution under the Federal Clean Air Act of 1963 never would have gone to trial."
In 1965, Congress moved cautiously to address the problem of automobile emissions by passing the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, which allowed, but did not mandate, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to establish emission standards for new motor vehicles. Later that year, Congress approved an amendment to the Clean Air Act that directed HEW to establish emission standards. Nevertheless, as late as 1966, meteorologists addressing the annual meeting of the Air Pollution Control Association characterized the atmosphere as "a free system, available for use as a dispersive mechanism," and concluded that using the atmosphere for waste disposal "has been the traditional method since the caveman's bonfire, and has been generally successful."
In 1967, Congress passed the Air Quality Act, which required states to establish air-quality control regions that were to deal with common air pollution problems much as regional watersheds would deal with water pollution. The Act also directed HEW to publish research data on the adverse effects of air pollution on health so states could set their own air-quality standards, and it directed the National Center for Air Pollution Control, an agency of HEW, to develop pollution-control techniques.