Sample Research Paper on Environmental policies in USA

Environmental policies in the USA


Globally, the environment is a major concern. This includes the risk of stratospheric ozone exhaustion, climate change, and losing some species because of natural habitats damage with more weight in forestry. A great concern on the depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere has seen efforts from the international community to reduce the use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons – the major chemicals responsible for this depletion. The U.S. has been in the front line in developing both the scientific and economic foundations through which the issue can be addressed. The U.S. is one of the signatories to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for a faster reduction in the use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons (Hahn, p.306). Globally, nations are trying to come up with a set of policies, which will address this menace. With respect to this global climatic change, the U.S. government started an aggressive research plan with an estimated out. ays of $954 million by 1991.

The federal government is responsible for regulating activities that have an environmental effect in the U.S. and the primary goal of environmental policy is to protect and maintain the environment for future generations and balance the burden of environmental cost. Many groups in the U.S. have shown great concern about environmental issues. In both national and local elections in the U.S., the aspirants often come up with policies and talk about the environment in their campaigns. Every year, U.S citizens and the corporate sector donate a lot of money to environmental maintenance. At the same time, the Federal government spends billions of dollars in upholding environmental policies and the management of resources. In the recent past, the U.S. has laid a number of measures to reduce the number of pollution and improve the quality of water in various parts. Despite all this, the U.S. continues to struggle to utilize its resources in a safe and sustainable way that preserves its unique environment.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 gives a concise but influential statement of national policy that encourages a productive and promotion of pleasant harmony between the man and his environment. This is known as the beginning of the Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). Furthermore, NEPA also gave the Organic Act for the Council on Environment Quality (CEQ) (Auer et al. 2011, p.136). Generally, the Federal policies on the environment have had an optimistic effect on cleaning of the environment despite the fact that the precise magnitude of this effect is hard to determine. NEPA was established to make sure that the Citizens are informed and are aware of their input into the decision made by agencies that could have an effect on them and the natural environment. The Environment Impact Statements (EISs) are mandated by NEPA to carry out primary projects examining the state of the environment before and after the implementation of the projects.

Major Environmental Concerns

Depositing of acid in form of acid rain is a great concern. This results from sulfur and nitrogen dioxide emissions into the air. The emitted gas travels and lands in another region changing the acidity of the water or land where the acid rainfalls. Acid deposits in the Western U.S. and Northeastern U.S. had serious problems, which forced coal power firms to use high smokestacks. Ozone depletion is another concern. The ozone serves as an obstacle to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were proved to be the major cause of ozone depletion. The EPA banned the use of CFCs in spray cans.

Heat-trapping air pollutants such as carbon dioxide are causing climate change. Since the industrial era, carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere has increased by about 40% mostly from the use of coal, oil, and natural gas. Because of this, global temperatures continue to rise (Engler & Engler, 2013, p. 44). The climatic changes are a big threat to the community and the earth at large. U.S. is amongst the nations that emit carbon dioxide in massive and thus the actions that the U.S. takes are crucial in determining how serious the fight against air pollution is and in slowing down climatic change globally.

The U.S. Environmental Policies History

During the 1800s, the U.S. was in great transition in the usage of its enormous resources. Prairies were converted to cropland and indigenous forests were cut down to pave way for cultivation and industrialization. Similarly, at the same time, a number of animal species were hunted to extinction. The realization and effects of these actions started to be felt and recognized during the 1900s leading to a change of attitudes of the citizens. Leaders and various conservationists such as John Muir started to call for environmental protection and the maintenance of national resources. Due to their campaigns, national forests, parks, and agencies were formed.

During the 1930 crop disaster, U.S. residents became more aware of the environmental issues. Poor farming methods were the main contributors to soil erosion and consequently poverty. As a result, policies that encouraged soil conservation were taken up. Furthermore, research on better ways of disposing of garbage began. In 1970, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established.

U.S. Environmental Policies and Regulations

There are two main policy tools for environmental protection – rules and inducements. In the U.S., the federal government uses rules in form of regulations. The regulations come in terms of designed standards and performance standards. The performance standards provide guidelines specifying the right levels of emissions and give those involved the freedom to device away for meeting these levels. The designed standards provide the exact techniques to be used to meet the performance standards.

Similarly, the federal government can use inducements. In this case, rewards or penalties are used to control those involved. The primary inducements are charge systems and tradable permit systems. Charge system mechanisms include tax incentives – to promote the use of clean and renewable power, emission taxes to deter the release of toxic substances. Tradable permit systems include an auction of pollution rights whereby the set pollution level is divided into units that can be auctioned. Auctioning was undertaken for sulfur dioxide pollution and for greenhouse gases to reduce global warming.

The Clean Water Act

This Act disallows the release of pollutants into waters and it requires sites that release materials into water bodies to have a license to do so. The sites include industries, municipalities, and sewerage systems. On acquiring a license, state and federal agencies ensure that the best practices are used to reduce pollution and any discharge is in compliance with quality water goals and objectives (NDRC, 2013, p.4). The EPA at the national level primarily implements the Act. The EPA gives annual grants to aid in local water projects. The Act has played a major role in cleaning up U.S. waterways. The percentage of waters that do not meet the set standards has reduced distinctly in spite of the increase in the U.S. population. Sewerage management plants have also upgraded their pollution controlling equipment leading to a substantial decrease in their effect on waters.

Despite the successes of the Act, many challenges linger especially on the unaddressed sources of water pollution. Headstream and wetlands lack comprehensive protection under the Act in spite of the fact that they contribute a lot to the supply of drinking water.  The coal mining practices contribute to water pollution particularly to contamination of downstream waterways. The EPA proposes policies for regulating cooling water intake structures though the rule is weak for protecting the aquatic environments.

The Clean Air Act

The quality of air in the U.S. has improved tremendously since the 1960s though much more needs to be done as air pollution continues to be a threat to the health of many Americans. The Act was enacted in 1970. The act mandates the EPA to control the emissions of air pollution that threatens the health of American citizens. The Act has considerably minimized air pollution with a 40% drop of the six major pollutants between 1990 and 2008. In 2012, EPA concluded a new policy that sets new emission limits for soot. The Clean Air Act wants National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to be revised in a five years interval to a level that is satisfactory to human health protection. Furthermore, EPA finalized the revision of toxic air pollution standards reducing mercury, acid gases, and toxic metals from industries. Mercury affects brain growth in both children and unborn (NDRC, 2013, p.7).

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is responsible for controlling the carbon air pollution from industries and vehicles. In 2012, EPA provided carbon pollution standards for new power plants (Hahn, p.335). The NRDC has proposed a flexible guideline in which EPA would be able to set standards for each state that reflects the state’s existing mixture of coal and gas generated.

Clean Energy

Clean, reliable, and renewable energy supports domestic growth and stabilizes the economy while minimizing dependency on fossil fuels that contribute to various forms of pollution. For instance, wind energy cuts releasing of about 65 million tons of carbon dioxide, 75,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide, and 50,000 metric tons of nitrogen oxide annually. The federal government has utilized a number of policies to promote the use of clean energy though more needs to be done (NDRC, 2013, p.10).  Some of the regulations include the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, and the Energy Improvement and Extension Act (EIEA) of 2008.

Under the EPACT, tax incentives have been availed to those corporations and individuals who meet the set efficiency standards in constructing commercial, residential, and industrial sites. The federal tax policy of clean energy tax incentives has played a greater role in the development and adoption of renewable energy. The clean energy tax incentives, Production tax incentives, investment tax incentives, and modified accelerated cost recovery system are included with all of them promoting the production of clean energy. The Department of Energy (DOE) provides loan guarantees to aid the corporate sector access financial backing when developing new technologies that are friendly to the environment such as renewable manufacturing and installation of renewable power sources.

Despite the growth in the use of renewable energy, about 87% of U.S. power is from fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Environmental contamination by fossil fuel emissions is connected to a number of health disorders such as asthma, cancer, and heart attacks. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the cost of health problems arising from fossil fuel is more than $120 billion annually (Drummond, 2010, p. 423). Subsidies given to coal, oil, and gas discourage newer and cleaner energy sources and it is a misplaced priority from an environmental protection perspective.

The Nuclear Energy

            About 19% of total U.S. electricity is from nuclear power. The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954 gives guidelines in the use of nuclear-related materials. The Act requires that a civilian using nuclear material obtain a permit. The Act also gives power to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to put in place standards that govern the use of nuclear power for the protection of health and safety reasons and enforce them to reduce danger. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act gives the federal government the sole responsibility of disposing of nuclear waste. The Act provides a way of establishing a permanent, deep geologic repository for high-level wastes and spent nuclear fuel.


The U.S has a wide variety of plants and animals. However, they are endangered by human activities. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 prohibits taking of species categorized as endangered and gives a guideline for recovering such species and restoration of their habitat. This has saved a number of species such as the gray wolf and whooping crane. Since the Act was enacted, only 10 out of thousands of plants and animals put under this category have gone extinct (Auer et al. 2011, p.145). There is a threat of overfishing specifically at the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. To counter this, the NRDC advocates for the prevention of destructive practices by setting annual fishing quotas. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) estimates that the renovation of fish stocks will increase fishing revenue by about $2.2 billion annually. The National Ocean Policy (NOP), was established in 2010 and it enhances coordination among the federal agencies to oversee ocean activities and foster protection of ocean resources.

The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FOARAM) of 2009, created a program for researching and monitoring ocean acidification at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The ocean absorbs almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions developing carbonic acid, acidifying the ocean more. This is a big threat to sea creatures.


It is the responsibility of every person to protect the environment. However, the government has more responsibility to regulate how the environment can be protected and maintained. Politicians always promise to come up with policies that bring harmony between humans and the environment. Pollution is the primary threat to the environment. Emissions of greenhouse gases from industries have contributed to global climatic changes, the release of effluent to waterways can be a big threat to clean water and the life of aquatic creatures. Congress has enacted a number of Acts to regulate various industries in an effort to protect the environment. The EPA is mandated by most of these Acts to set up the standards for emission of various gases and release of effluent.

The international community has also joined hands to devise ways of reducing contamination of the environment. Various agreements such as the Montreal Protocol have been reached to protect the environment.


Auer, M., Richards, K., Seesholtz, D., Fischer, B., Freitag, C., & Grice, J. (2011). The U.S.

Forest Service and Its Responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act: A Work Design Problem. Public Organization Review11(2), 135-153.

Drummond, W. J. (2010). Statehouse Versus Greenhouse. Journal of the American Planning

Association76(4), 413-433.

Engler, M., & Engler, P. (2013). Climate of Change. Dissent (00123846)60(3), 39-46

Hahn R .W. (n.d). United States Environmental Policy: Past, Present, and Future. 34.305-348.

NRDC, (2013).Policy Basics: An Introduction to Federal Environmental Policy. 2-38.

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