Here are 10 landmark acts and programs that the EPA has implemented over the years to help make the country more energy efficient and more environmentally safe. [Read the full story on what life would be like without the EPA]
Clean Water Act of 1972
But now, there are consequences to polluting water. The Clean Water Act (CWA) ensures that people and industries don't contaminate American waters with substances that are harmful to human health or wildlife. If a company does have polluted wastewater, it can apply for a permit through the EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).
The Clean Water Act also enables partnerships — it made it possible for the United States and Canada to sign the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act of 1990, which required the two countries to reduce certain toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes, the EPA said.
Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974
In addition to sustaining clean drinking water, the office restores and protects oceans, watersheds and other aquatic ecosystems with the goal of guarding the health of humans and wildlife and promoting recreational activities, such as fishing.
The office also monitors for the improper disposal of chemicals, animal waste and pesticides, as well as any wastes injected underground and naturally occurring substances that may be harmful, including Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's disease, the office said.
Clean Air Act of 1970
The EPA also worked with states to develop improvement plans specific to their regions. However, because so many states missed their deadlines, the act was amended in 1977 and 1990 to set new goals for achieving NAAQS, the EPA said.
These laws apply to "major sources" of pollution, which can emit 10 tons or more per year of a hazardous air pollutant, or 25 tons or more per year of multiple hazardous air pollutants.
CAA programs have decreased levels of six common pollutants, including particles, ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, all while the U.S. economy grew, the EPA said.
Superfund Redevelopment Initiative
But it took two more acts — the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976 and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act in 1980 — before the EPA got the go-ahead to manage cleanup at Superfund sites — the nation's most hazardous waste sites, the agency said.
Several toxic disasters propelled these acts forward: In 1977, a series of chemical reactions ignited a chemical-waste treatment facility in Bridgeport, New Jersey, killing six and hospitalizing 35; in 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared a state of emergency at Love Canal, New York, after people reported having skin rashes, miscarriages and birth defects; and in 1980, toxic waste burst into flames at a waste storage facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the EPA said.
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1996
Rigorous testing, according to the EPA. The agency evaluates new pesticides before they can enter the market, and re-evaluates existing pesticides regularly to make sure they are still safe to use, the agency said.
Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program of 1990
Some of the places that report their emissions to the program include power plants, petroleum and natural gas systems and landfills.
"The data are also being used to inform regulatory actions and voluntary emission reduction efforts," the EPA said.
National Listing of Fish Advisories
"These contaminants accumulate in fish tissue at concentrations many times higher than concentrations in the water and can persist for years in sediments, where bottom-dwelling creatures eat them and pass them to larger fish," the EPA said.
The number of safe-eating guidelines has risen from 20 in 1993 to 1,040 in 2011, the EPA reported.
The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000
The act also provides grants to help local governments "protect beachgoers from contaminated water at coastal beaches," with beach monitoring and notification programs, the EPA said.
For instance, EPA grants fund the Florida Healthy Beaches Program, which posted 153 water-quality advisories in 2016, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
"In case you need a reminder of why water quality monitoring is important: During Hurricane Sandy, 172 million gallons of waste spilled into Tampa Bay and adjacent waterways," Holly Parker, a regional manager at the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental nonprofit, wrote in the Tallahassee Democrat. "In May 2016, more than 1 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Banana River in Brevard County. In June 2016, 800 gallons of raw sewage spilled in Mexico Beach in Bay County."
The EPA began Energy Star as a voluntary labeling program in 1992 with the goal of helping consumers decrease greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012, Energy Star helped save businesses, organizations and consumers $24 billion, the EPA said.
[Read the full story on what life would be like without the EPA]