What Is The EPA And How Does It Function? - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By David J. Scriven–Young

Every practitioner of environment, energy and resources law will come into contact with the United States Environmental Protection Agency at some point in his or her practice. Therefore, it is important to understand what the EPA is and how it functions.

EPA’s Mission
The EPA is the federal agency responsible for administering the various environmental laws enacted by Congress by implementing regulations, providing guidance materials for industry, and conducting enforcement. The EPA was the creation of the Nixon administration, which declared in 1970 that the agency’s mission was to: establish and enforce environmental protection standards; conduct environmental research; provide assistance to others combatting environmental pollution; assist in developing and recommending to the President new policies for environmental protection.

EPA’s Organization
The EPA is presently headed by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson and organized into offices and regions.

Regional Administrators are responsible for environmental protection within the boundaries of their regions. They are responsible for, among other things, developing, proposing, and implementing regional programs for environmental protection; conducting effective regional enforcement and compliance programs; exercising approval authority for proposed state standards and implementation plans. EPA maintains its regional offices in the following cities: Region 1 in Boston; Region 2 in New York; Region 3 in Philadelphia; Region 4 in Atlanta; Region 5 in Chicago; Region 6 in Dallas; Region 7 in Kansas City; Region 8 in Denver; Region 9 in San Francisco; and Region 10 in Seattle.

The EPA is divided into several offices, including:

  • The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation is responsible for the air activities of the Agency, including development of national air pollution control programs, technical policies, and regulations; and development of emission standards for new stationary sources and hazardous pollutants.
  • The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance’s enforce against non-compliant entities by bringing administrative enforcement actions and referring matters to the U.S. Department of Justice for the prosecution of civil and criminal cases.
  • The Office of Environmental Information ensures that high quality environmental information is available to the Agency for informing decisions, improving information analyses, documenting performance, and measuring success. The office also provides environmental information to other agencies of the federal government, as well as local and state governments, tribes, the regulated community, interest groups and the general public.
  • The Office of General Counsel provides legal opinions, legal counsel, litigation support, and assists in the formulation and administration of the Agency's policies and programs as legal advisor.
  • The Office of Inspector General conducts audits and investigations of the EPA; recommends policies to prevent and detect fraud and abuse; and informs senior management and Congress of serious problems, abuses, and deficiencies.
  • The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Pesticides and Toxic Substances is responsibile for programs and policies for assessment and control of pesticides and toxic substances as well as recommending policies and developing operating programs for implementing the Pollution Prevention Act. This office helps to set priorities for research, monitoring regulatory and information gathering activities relating to implementing the Pollution Prevention Act, pesticides and toxic substances.
  • The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development is the Agency’s principal science advisor and is responsible for the development, direction and conduct of research, including health risk assessments, health effects of contaminants, monitoring systems, and quality assurance.
  • The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response develops guidelines and standards for the land disposal of hazardous wastes and underground storage tanks. The office also provides technical assistance for solid waste management activities and implementation of programs to respond to hazardous waste sites and spills, including oil spills.
  • The Office of the Assistant Administrator for Water provides guidance for the Agency’s water quality, drinking water, groundwater, wetlands protection, marine and estuarine protection, and other related programs.

State EPAs
Many State EPAs (e.g., the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency) have assumed the responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of many federal environmental laws. In addition, state legislatures often enact state–wide environmental laws, and State EPAs implement state-wide environmental regulations that entities must comply with in addition to the federal statutes and regulations.


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About the Author

David J. Scriven–Young is an attorney with the Chicago, Illinois office of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and practices environmental, energy, natural resources, products liability, and mass tort law. He is chair of the Young Lawyers Division Environment, Energy & Resources Committee and YLD Liaison to the ABA Standing Committee on Environmental Law. He can be contacted at dscriven-young@mwe.com or (312) 984-6962.

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