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Key Practice Area - Compliance Excellence - Timeline of Key Environmental Legislation
Key Practice Area: Compliance Excellence

Timeline of Key Environmental Legislation

April 2011

The timeline in this section provides an overview of the major environmental events and legislation in the United States, starting with the first Earth Day in 1970.


Environmental, health and safety managers continually deal with changes and updates to standards and regulations. The timeline in this section provides an overview of the major environmental events and legislation in the United States, starting with the first Earth Day celebrated in 1970.


Timeline of Environmental Milestones

  • 1970: 20 million people celebrate the first Earth Day
  • 1970: President Richard Nixon establishes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with the mission to protect the environment and public health
  • 1970: Congress amends the Clean Air Act to set national standards for air quality, auto emission and anti-pollution
  • 1971: Congress restricts lead-based paint in homes and on cribs and toys
  • 1972: EPA bans DDT, a cancer-causing pesticide, and requires review of all pesticides
  • 1972: United States and Canada agree to clean up the Great Lakes, which contain 95 percent of America’s fresh water and supply 25 million people with drinking water
  • 1972: Congress passes the Clean Water Act, limiting raw sewage and other pollutants flowing into lakes, rivers and streams
  • 1973: EPA begins phasing out gasoline
  • 1973: OPEC oil embargo triggers energy crisis, stimulating conservation and research on alternative energy sources
  • 1973: EPA issues its first permit limiting a factory’s polluted discharges into waterways
  • 1974: Congress passes the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing EPA to regulate the quality of public drinking water
  • 1975: Congress establishes fuel economy and tail-pipe emission standards for cars, resulting in the introduction of catalytic converters
  • 1976: Congress passes the Resource Conservation Act, regulating hazardous waste from its production to its disposal
  • 1976: President Gerald Ford signs the Toxic Substances Control Act to reduce environmental and human health risks
  • 1976: EPA begins phase-out of cancer-causing PCB production and use
  • 1977: President Jimmy Carter signs Clean Air Act amendments to strengthen air quality standards and protect human health
  • 1978: Love Canal, NY residents discover contamination from buries leaking chemical containers
  • 1978: Federal government bans chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as propellants in aerosol cans because they destroy the ozone layer
  • 1979: EPA demonstrates scrubber technology for removing air pollution from coal-fired power plants, and the technology becomes widely adopted in the 1980s
  • 1979: Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident near Harrisburg, PA spurs awareness and discussion about nuclear power safety. EPA and other agencies monitor the radioactive fallout
  • 1980: Congress creates Superfund to clean up hazardous waste sites, but polluters are responsible for the most hazardous sites
  • 1981: National Research Council report finds acid raid intensifying in the northeastern U.S. and Canada
  • 1982: Congress passes laws for safe disposal of nuclear waste
  • 1982: The government is forces to buy homes in Times Beach, MO due to Dioxin contamination. The federal government and responsible polluters share the cleanup costs.
  • 1982: The environmental justice movement begins following a PSB landfill protest in North Carolina
  • 1983: Cleanup actions on the Chesapeake Bay begin to rid pollution from sewage treatment plants, urban runoff and farm waste
  • 1983: EPA encourages homeowners to test for gas, which causes lung cancer
  • 1985: Scientists report a giant hole in the earth’s ozone layer opens each spring over Antarctica
  • 1986: Congress declares the public has a right to know when toxic chemicals are released into air, land and water
  • 1987: U.S. signs the Montreal Protocol, pledging to phase-out CFC production
  • 1987: Medical and other waste washes up on shores and closes beaching in New York and New Jersey
  • 1987: EPA’s "Unfinished Business” report compares relative risk of environmental challenges for the first time
  • 1988: Congress bans ocean dumping of sewage sludge and industrial waste
  • 1989: Exxon Valdez spills 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound and is fined $1 billion for the spill
  • 1990: Congress passes Clean Air Act amendments requiring states to demonstrate progress in air quality improvements
  • 1990: EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory tells which pollutants are being released from specific facilities in communities
  • 1990: President George Bush signs the Pollution Prevention Act, emphasizing the importance of preventing –not just correcting-environmental damage
  • 1990: President George Bush signs the National Environmental Education Act, showing the importance of environmental education for scientifically sound, balanced and responsible decisions
  • 1991: Federal agencies begin using recycled content products
  • 1991: EPA launches voluntary industry partnership programs for energy efficient lighting and reducing toxic chemical emissions
  • 1992: EPA launches the ENERGY STAR® Program to help consumers identify energy efficient products
  • 1993: EPA reports secondhand smoke contaminates indoor air, posing health risks for nonsmokers
  • 1993: A cryptosporidium outbreak in drinking in Milwaukee, WI sickens 400,000 people and kills more than 100
  • 1993: President Bill Clinton directs the federal government to use its $200 billion annual purchasing power to buy recycled and environmentally preferable products
  • 1994: EPA launches the Brownfields Program to clean up abandoned, contaminated sites to return them to productive use
  • 1994: EPA issues new standards for chemical plants to reduce toxic air pollution by more than half a million tons each year-the equivalent of taking 38 million vehicles off the road annually
  • 1995: EPA launches an incentive-based acid rain program to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions
  • 1995: EPA requires municipal incinerators to reduce toxic emission by 90 percent from 1990 levels
  • 1996: Public drinking supplies are required to inform customers about chemicals and microbes in their water, and funding is made available to upgrade water treatment plants
  • 1996: EPA requires that home buyers and renters to be informed about lead-based paint hazards
  • 1996: President Bill Clinton signs the Food Quality Protection Act to tighten standards for pesticides used to grow food, including special protections to ensure that foods are safe for children
  • 1997: An Executive Order is issued to protect children from environmental health risks, including childhood asthma and lead poisoning
  • 1997: EPA issues new air quality standards for smog and soot, an action that improves air quality for 125 million Americans
  • 1998: President Bill Clinton announces the Clean Water Action Plan to continue making waterways safe for fishing and swimming
  • 1999: President Bill Clinton announces new emissions standards requiring cars, sport utility vehicles, minivans and trucks to be 77 to 95 percent cleaner than in 1999
  • 1999: EPA announces new requirements to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas
  • 2000: EPA establishes regulations requiring more than 90 percent cleaner heavy duty highway diesel engines and fuel
  • 2000: National Performance Track program in launched to recognize facilities that exceed legal requirements to make measurable environmental progress
  • 2002: President George W. Bush signs the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act to reclaim and restore thousands of abandoned properties
  • 2002: Clear Skies Initiative and alternative regulations are proposed to keep a "cap and trade” system to reduce SO₂ emissions by 70 percent and NOx emissions by 65 percent below current levels
  • 2003: EPA proposes the first-ever mercury emissions regulations on power plants
  • 2003: EPA provides funds for more than 4,000 school buses to be retrofitted through the Clean Bus USA program, removing 200,000 pounds of particulate matter from the air over the next 10 years
  • 2004: New, more protective, 8-hour ozone and fine particulate standards go into effect across the nation
  • 2004: President George W. Bush proposes the Clean Air Rules of 2004 that will make people healthier and helps protect the future air supply
  • 2004: EPA requires cleaner fuels and engines for off-road diesel machinery such as farm or construction equipment
  • 2005: EPA issues the Clean Air Act Interstate Rule to achieve the largest reduction in air pollution in more than a decade, by permanently capping SO₂ and NOx emissions in the eastern US
  • 2005: National Performance Track program reaches 400 members
  • 2006: EPA’s WaterSense program is created to protect the future water supply with practical ways to use less water
  • 2006: EPA issues the Ground Water Rule to reduce the risk of contamination in public water systems that use ground water
  • 2007: BP Products North America, Inc. agrees to pay the largest criminal fine to date for air violations, including a $62 million criminal fine plus $400 million on safety upgrades. The penalty was for a 2005 refinery explosion that killed 15 and the 2006 oil spill on the Alaskan tundra, which violated the Clean Air and Water Acts
  • 2008: Stronger lead standards require a tenfold decrease in lead levels
  • 2009: President Barack Obama announces a program that sets the nation’s first-ever greenhouse gas emission standards for cars
  • 2009: President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order recognizing the Chesapeake Bay as a national treasure and calling the federal government to lead a renewed effort to restore and protect it and its watershed
  • 2010: EPA proposes stricter health standards for smog
  • 2010: The BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico explodes, killing 11 workers and releases about 4.9 million barrels of crude oil, the largest spill in U.S. history
  • 2010: President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order forming the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which will coordinate efforts to implement restoration programs and projects in the region
  • 2010: EPA finalizes a run on the greenhouse gas reporting requirements for facilities that use geologic sequestration
  • 2010: EPA establishes a Chesapeake Bay "pollution diet” to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from the surrounding area to put needed pollution controls in place by 2025
  • 2011: EPA proposes a national standard for mercury pollution from power plants, requiring many to install pollution control technologies to cut emissions. The standard is projected to prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency

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