US Environmental Policy and Current Issues

Sarah Patterson

Evolution of Environmental Policies

Environmental policy came about in the U.S. in the early 1900s. The first trend of policies focused on regulation of contaminants and pesticides. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act passed in 1938 and 1947. These two acts regulated the distribution and contamination of pesticides. The next era began with the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970 which mandated that federal agencies asses their environmental impacts. This led to many new policies and amendments that governed clean air, clean water, coastal protection, animal protection, land protection, resource protection, and toxic substance control. The government created all of these acts in the 19070s. This was the biggest trend of environmental policies in the United States with a large number of policies and amendments passed. These polices began to address the issue of the coast and its wildlife. The next set of policies dealt with planning and clean up. This includes the “Superfund” act, which requires cleanup of toxic waste sites, the Oil Pollution Act, which makes oil companies liable for cleanup and damages, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know-Act, which requires companies to release information about toxic chemical output into the environment.

There were many impactful people in the environmental movement, first and for most is Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson was one of the first people to call attention to environmental issues, especially the spray of pesticides. She spoke out against the chemical industry and the government, with the public on her side. Congress outlawed DDT, a pesticide that Carson brought awareness too, in 1972.  Stewart Udall was another important figure in environmental policy. He was the Secretary of the Interior during JFK and Lyndon B Johnson’s presidency, and he pushed for environmental legislation. He played a large role in the addition of several national parks, coasts, lakes, and wildlife refuges. He also pushed for the Clean Air and Water Acts, and wildlife protection policies. Stewart Brand informs the public on sustainable living and encourages “organic living”. The first Earth Day, coordinated by Denis Hayes in 1970, brought national attention to environmental issues. Hayes also organized a political movement to remove Congress members with against environmental policy. President Jimmy Carter later appointed Hayes as the head of the Federal Solar Energy Research Institute. President Richard Nixon played a large role in the environmental policy movement. He was in office from 1969-1974, when the government passed some of the most environmental legislation. He formed the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and passed the National Environmental Policy Act, which federal agencies had to make environmental impact reports public. Nixon also passed the Clean Air and Water Acts, and many wildlife protection policies. Environmental policy has come a long way since the early 1900s, but there is still a lot of policy change that needs to be done in the environmental movement.

A Current Issue that Needs to be Addressed: The Dead Zone

dead zone

The Hypoxic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, also known as the Dead Zone, is a growing problem in the Gulf. Hypoxia refers to the low oxygen content of the water in the gulf, which can no longer support marine life. Hypoxia occurs naturally in deep water areas, but hypoxic zones in shallow areas are a result of human interactions. “Dead zones occur when fertilizer runoff clogs waterways with nutrients…” which depletes the oxygen in the water, according to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The “man-made” Hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the second largest in the world, and has been receiving attention lately. The Dead Zone is a problem for locals along the coast because it effects the fishing industry and other wildlife industries. Each year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or the NOAA, releases a report on the Hypoxia levels in the Dead Zone and the effects tha it could have on the environment. “The reports clearly show the potential for environmental impact resulting from low dissolved oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico”, according to the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association. New policies need to be made in an effort to address the Dead Zone that is in the Gulf. On a large scale, the government needs to enact more policy on climate change, which will intern lead to a smaller hypoxic zone. But also, more specific policy on fertilizer and chemical outputs and other causes of the Hypoxic Zone need to be addressed as well.


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