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Modern environmental policy in the United States began in the 1960s. Around this time, the environmental movement started to put pressure on the federal government to actively protect the country’s resources and preserve the world’s ecosystems.

The National Environmental Policy Act

After an oil well exploded off the California coast in 1969, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act, a very important law in the history of environmental policy. The law required all federal agencies to conduct an environmental impact statement before taking any action that could affect the environment. The act also created the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Other Key Environmental Laws

Since the National Environmental Policy Act, Congress has passed other laws regulating pollution and cleaning up the environment, as explained in the table on the next page.

 
IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS SINCE 1970

Law

Date

Purpose/Impact

Clean Air Act Amendments 1970 Restricted air pollution and authorized the EPA to enforce air quality standards
Clean Water Act 1972 Set goal of cleaning up waters by 1983
Federal Environmental Pesticide Act 1972 Banned the use of pesticides that are harmful to humans, animals, and crops
Clean Water Act 1974 Set federal standards for drinking water
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act 1976 Encouraged resource conservation and authorized federal control of hazardous waste
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act 1980 Established a “superfund” for cleaning up toxic waste
Clean Air Act Amendments 1990 Required reformulated gasoline to be used in large cities and reduced some gases
Food Quality and Protection Act 1996 Authorized the federal government to regulate the use of pesticides in food production
Chemical Safety Information, Site Security, and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act 1999 Regulated security and risk management plans at chemical and fuel plants
The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act 2002 Provided funds to clean up brownfields (environmentally damaged urban areas)

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