History of US Environmental Regulation
Current US Environmental Framework
Summary of Main US Environmental Laws
Case Study: Water Resources in the USA
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History of Environmental Regulations in the USA

The figure below clearly shows that the number of environmental laws has increased over the last century with a significant rise during the 1960s and 1970s. Note that EPA was formed in 1970. Before that several federal agencies were responsible for the different laws. It is therefore important to evaluate what these laws mean for the various segments of our society, and the environmental benefits that resulted.

INSERT FIGURE showing exponential trend in environmental laws over last century

Based on the passage of these environmental laws, the following trend is evident:

Overall Environmental Impacts
1969 National Environmental Policy Act
1970 Formation of the EPA
1973 Endangered Species Act

Water and Air Pollution
1972, 1977, 1987 Clean Water Act
1974, 1986, 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act
1970 , 1977, 1990 Clean Air Act

Solid and Hazardous Wastes
1976, 1984 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
1980, 1986 Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and
Liability Act

As shown, the passage of environmental laws evolved as environmental problems became evident. Where did industry develop in the USA? Along the rivers and lakes for several reasons: transportation routes, water supply, and wastewater disposal. Industry uses vast amounts of water for its process. Initially wastewater, along with the impurities from the treatment process, was discharged to rivers and lakes. Water pollution became evident as urban centers grew. The Cuyhoga river in Cleveland Ohio even caught on fire during the 1950s. As a result of the evident pollution, water regulations were strengthened and this made it more expensive to discharge wastewater to water bodies. As a result, the new "sink" for pollution became the air. Ways were found to discharge the pollutants to the air either directly or via the evaporation of contaminated wastewater. These practices along with the air pollution associated with urban areas became evident in the 1950s and 1960s. It is said that in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, a man would leave for work in the morning with a white shirt on and return for lunch with the collar blackened from the soot in the air. Air pollution regulations were strengthened during the same period as the water pollution regulations. The last cheap "sink" for pollution was then the land. Waste products were placed in lagoons or buried underground. For a while these waste problems were not evident, however eventually contaminants were transported in the subsurface to areas where they were now evident. As contaminated waste sites were found and people complained of health effects, these land disposal problems became evident. As such, regulations governing land disposal were passed in the late 1970s and 1980s.

  ©Copyright 2003 Carnegie Mellon University
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 9653194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.