EPA was established in 1970 in response to growing concerns about unhealthy air, polluted rivers, unsafe drinking water, endangered species, and waste disposal. Congress gave EPA responsibility for implementing an ambitious set of federal environmental laws. The laws have grown in number and broadened in scope over time, and the Agency's administrative and programmatic structure has evolved to mirror these legislative responsibilities.
Over the past two decades, the implementation of federal laws has contributed to improvements in environmental quality in this country. In virtually every American city, the air is cleaner than it was 25 years ago. Water quality in thousands of miles of rivers and streams is much improved. Hundreds of hazardous waste sites are being cleaned up, and the use of several especially hazardous chemicals has been restricted or banned entirely. The United States is proud of this record of environmental accomplishment, and EPA is proud of the role it has played.
Still, as the end of the 20th century draws near, it is clear that the environmental policies and programs that served so well in the past will not be as effective in the future. Over the past quarter century, scientific understanding of the environment has improved. Because of technological advances, new options are available for solving old problems. Some new problems, like the cumulative effects of multiple pollutant exposures on people, are just beginning to be understood -- they are not so obvious as past problems, nor are the solutions as apparent.
EPA's past experience with environmental policy has given the Agency a better sense of what works to protect the environment, and what does not work. For example, the command-and-control regulations that played such an important role during the Agency's first 20 years have proven to be blunt instruments - - overcontrolling in some instances, undercontrolling in others. As a consequence, EPA is beginning to look at new, non-regulatory mechanisms for protecting the environment, mechanisms that build on regulatory requirements but go beyond them by encouraging voluntary actions as well.
EPA's emphasis on integrated, cross-media programs that target geographical areas is growing. In the past, the Agency's division into air, water, and land programs led EPA to overlook both the cross- media effects of some pollution problems and the potential for new kinds of cross-media effects of some pollution problems and the potential for new kinds of cross-media programs. The Agency now is beginning to tailor its programs to meet the environmental needs of specific places. These "customized" programs are combining traditional enforcement of environmental law with a new commitment to voluntary pollution prevention.
In short, as EPA prepares for a future that will bring new, unanticipated problems and the need for more creative solutions, it is committing itself to new ways of protecting the environment. While renewing its dedication to traditional environmental goals, the Agency recognizes that the achievement of those goals demands innovation and flexibility.
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