The history of environmental policy in the United States began with the Refuse Act (put in place in 1899), which prohibited dumping of waste or contaminants into waterways. This one policy paved the way for many more pieces of environmental legislation in the United States. In this post, I’m going to go over some of the main and most important pieces of legislation in the United States today, and what they do.
- Clean Air Act (CAA)
The Clean Air Act, passed in 1963 and amended several times over the next 30 years, is an act to control air contamination on a national scale. This act set goals to reduce the amount of various pollutants in the air. Some of the major air pollutants identified by this act are carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone, and particulate matters. The CAA established limits on the emission of each of these pollutants for businesses and also set standards for automobile technology to reduce car emissions.
2. Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Passed in December of 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act ensures clean drinking water for the general public. This act sets standards that water suppliers are required to meet. These standards include the concentration of suspended particles, the maximum allowed concentration of toxic chemicals, and microbiological contaminants.
3. Clean Water Act (CWA)
This act, which is the primary federal law that governs water contamination, aims to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into bodies of water in the United States. The CWA establishes standards for factories as to how much and what kinds of contaminants they are allowed to produce and discharge as a part of their production process.
4. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)/Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)
CERCLA, also commonly referred to as Superfund, was created to identify and provide funding for the cleanup of sites that had been contaminated with hazardous wastes. Funds are provided for both short and long-term cleanup. In addition to removal, CERCLA also emphasizes prevention of further disasters. This act also requires industries to report their emissions regularly, and also established a national contingency plan in case of further environmental disasters.
5. Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts (RCRA)/ Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA)
This act sets protocols for various activities that concern the environment, such as the classification of wastes, or tracking hazardous wastes. Established in 1976, RCRA established standards for things like energy and resource conservation, waste management, and the reduction of the amount of waste generated by various industries.
While this post does outline some of the major acts created to protect the environment, this is by no means a complete list. To read up on other environmental legislation, visit the EPA’s website here.