Important US Environmental Policies (Pt. 2)

2 weeks ago, I started off my list of the top 10 most important environmental policies the US has passed, in chronological order. Today, we’ll be looking at the second half of this list. Keep reading to find out what the rest of the policies are!

6. The Safe Drinking Water Act (1974)

The purpose of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 is to preserve aboveground and underground drinking water quality. Under it, the EPA must set minimum standards for tap water quality and require the owners and operators of public water supplies (defined as “any other system that delivers drinking water to a population of 25 or more people for most of the year” by the EPA) to comply with these standards. Additionally, states must seek permission from the EPA to enact federal drinking water laws while the responsibility of setting the drinking water minimum standards belongs to the national government.

An infographic created by the EPA for their 50th birthday about the Safe Drinking Water Act.

7. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976)

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 allows the EPA to regulate waste management, whether the waste is hazardous or non-hazardous. Under it, the EPA classifies waste as hazardous or not using certain criteria, such as whether it exhibits hazardous characteristics like being toxic or flammable, and then oversees the “generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of wastes,” according to Ballotpedia. Later amendments made to the act additionally mandate that waste be discarded in contaminated lands.  

8. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (1980)

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980 is known for establishing the Superfund program. This national program lets the EPA use their Hazard Ranking System to pinpoint potential sites of pollution and place them on a priority list for regulation when a lack of action is taken by responsible parties or if said parties cannot be found. However, much research about the site must be conducted before it is placed on the priority list, to ensure that only the sites where regulation is needed the most occupy it. While the condition of one of these sites can worsen during the time information is gathered, it’s sure to receive some help once it’s on the list. 

9. The Montreal Protocol (1987)

While the Montreal Protocol of 1987 is an international environmental policy, the United States was one of the 196 nations that ratified it, and one of the most instrumental nations in the policy’s ratification at that. According to the US Department of State, the Montreal Protocol is “a global agreement to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS).” These included chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which, in the 1970s, were found in all sorts of everyday objects used, such as hair spray canisters and air conditioners. This phasing then helped the ozone layer to further prevent harmful ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn, skin cancer, and more, from entering the Earth’s atmosphere. 

A look at the Montreal Protocol’s history, courtesy of the EPA.

The Montreal Protocol has since proved to be extremely successful, with the EPA reporting that it helped Americans born between 1890 and 2010 to avoid about 443 million cases of skin cancer, over 63 million cases of cataracts, and approximately 2.3 million skin cancer deaths, with these numbers being even higher across the globe. In fact, the protocol’s Scientific Assessment Panel estimates that the ozone layer will reach near complete recovery by the mid-21st century with the implementation of the protocol.

10. The Energy Policy Act (2005)

Last, but certainly not least, we have the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which addresses several ways energy is produced in the United States, such as climate change technology, hydrogen, oil and gas, electricity, coal, renewable energy, tribal energy, energy efficiency, nuclear matters and security, hydropower and geothermal energy, vehicles and motor fuels such as ethanol, and energy tax incentives, according to the EPA. 

Passed on August 8, 2005, the act established renewable fuel standards, one of which being to increase the required amount of biofuel that is mixed with gasoline sold in the USA, provides loan guarantees for institutions that develop or employ the use of technologies that avoid the production of greenhouse gases, and so much more. While the act has met criticism that it doesn’t do enough to promote the development of renewable energy sources, it is still an important first step towards moving the nation to more renewable energy sources as a whole.

With the Energy Policy Act, my list comes to a close. I hope you learned a thing or two about our nation’s history of environmental policies; I certainly did! Thank you for reading, and see you next time!

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