The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is controlled by the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government and does not perform legislative functions. Environmental statutes empower and delegate responsibility to the EPA to develop and enforce regulations. Federal trial and appellate courts interpret environmental legislation and handle regulatory actions.

Limits of Environmental Protection Agency Authority

The EPA and other Federal agencies do not have autonomous power, but can act as representatives for Congress. The agency cannot deviate from its own rules and regulations, nor can it act beyond the scope of the law. If changes to its policy are to be made, a public notice must be posted in the Federal Register. The public has the right to comment on the intentions and actions of the EPA.

The EPA implements federal laws, which promote public health by protecting the air, water, and soil. The agency is responsible for policymaking issues such as toxicity level standards and law enforcement. The EPA sets standards for effluent and disposal allowance limits for normal operating activities in various facilities.

Major Environmental Protection Laws

There are ten major and comprehensive environmental protection laws that the EPA administers:

  • Clean Air Act (CAA)
  • Clean Water Act (CWA)
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA / “Superfund”)
  • Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA)
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
  • Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)
  • Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA)
  • Pollution Prevention Act (PPA).

Regional offices coordinate activities with federal, state, and local governments, industry, and academia to concentrate efforts to address localized issues and programs pertaining to the laws listed above.

Environmental Inspections

The EPA has authority via Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to inspect any facility that currently handles or formerly handled hazardous wastes. The agency has the authority to control a property for an indefinite period of time during an emergency response action. The agency has the power via a court order to search, seize and retain samples, documents, and property from entities involved in environmental offenses. The EPA can work in conjunction with other governmental agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Coast Guard, to gather evidence for its case.

The law requires the EPA to have evidence against the accused party in order to present its case. Only then can the agency submit its case to the Depart of Justice for litigation. When the agency is involved in litigation, the courts decide the validity of the agency’s interpretation of the law. The EPA is responsible for issuing administrative orders and penalties, negotiating settlements, and initiating proceedings. The EPA is the primary enforcer of environmental laws and sets the penalty guidelines.

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