Agencies, Regulatory

There are large numbers of federal and state agencies in the United States that have been authorized by Congress or state legislatures to implement and enforce environmental laws. As a general matter, environmental regulatory agencies are responsible for establishing maximum allowable levels of pollutants in air, water, and soil to protect human health and the environment, and for developing programs to achieve such levels of protection. Most environmental regulatory programs are carried out through permitting programs under which releases of pollutants are allowed provided they meet established standards or limits, and other conditions imposed by the regulatory agency.

On the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary regulatory agency responsible for pollution control. It was created in 1970 as an outgrowth of the environmental movement in the United States during the 1960s, although at that time a number of federal environmental programs already existed. These programs were scattered throughout several different federal agencies. The creation of the EPA was an attempt to consolidate these environmental programs under the control of one agency with clear-cut responsibility for environmental protection. The EPA is funded through congressional appropriation; it carries out wide-ranging duties related to environmental protection, including researching the causes and effects of specific environmental problems; regulating air pollution, water pollution, solid and hazardous waste disposal, pesticides and toxic substances; providing oversight of states that have assumed responsibility for federal environmental programs; and enforcing environmental laws.

In addition to federal environmental regulation, virtually every state has an agency responsible for pollution control. Many of these state agencies were established by state legislatures shortly after the creation of the EPA. State environmental agencies may receive their funding from a variety of sources, including legislative appropriation, property taxes, and grants from the EPA and other federal agencies. The extent and type of state regulation can vary widely. Some states, such as California, New Jersey, and Michigan, have very extensive pollution control programs, whereas others have minimal programs. The nature of such programs depends in large part on the kind of environmental issues facing the state and their magnitude, the size of the state, the economy of the state, and the political leanings of state residents. For example, California, a large progressive state with serious air quality problems, has extensive regulatory programs, particularly in the area of air pollution control. One California regulatory agency is the California Air Resources Board, a part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, which develops and implements regulations to reduce emissions from motor vehicles. Some states have all or most of their pollution control responsibilities concentrated in one agency, often called a state Department of Environmental Protection or Department of Environmental Quality. Pollution control responsibilities in other states may be shared by a number of agencies, including public health agencies, natural resources agencies, and fish and wildlife agencies, or in media-specific agencies such as California's Department of Water Resources.

In the case of many EPA regulatory programs, the EPA designs the programs and then delegates their implementation and enforcement to state agencies. In fact, this is true of the majority of federal environmental laws administered by the EPA. Most of the major permitting programs that the EPA oversees, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, contain specific provisions authorizing it to delegate administration of the programs to those states that have permitting systems which meet the minimum federal criteria. Through such delegation, the EPA limits its role to designing regulatory programs and issuing the rules to carry them out. EPA enforces regulations only in those states that have not adopted programs meeting federal standards. Even when the EPA delegates a program to a state, though, it maintains an oversight role, having the authority to enforce permit requirements and veto state permits.

Outside of the United States, many other developing countries, particularly in the West, have agencies responsible for environmental protection that are very similar in structure and scope to the EPA. For example, Germany, France, and Great Britain all have national environmental agencies with primary responsibility for the regulation of air and water pollution, and public and hazardous waste disposal.



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Information Resource Management. (1995/1996). United States Environmental Protection Agency, Access EPA 220-B-95-004.

Lovei, Magda, and Weiss, Charles, Jr. (1998). Management and Institutions in OECD Countries: Lessons from Experience. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Moya, Olga L., and Fono, Andrew L. (2001). Federal Environmental Law: The User's Guide, 2nd edition. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company.

Rodgers, William H., Jr. (1994). Environmental Law, 2nd edition. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company.

Internet Resources Environmental Professional's Homepage. "State Pollution Control Agencies." Available from .

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site. Available at .

Mary Jane Angelo

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