What Is the EPA and How Does It Help the Environment?

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect the environment and human health. They protect the air, water and land by working with state, tribal and local agencies to ensure the environmental laws passed by state legislatures, Congress and tribal governments.

Once Congress passes a law, EPA drafts a regulation which clarifies how the law is to be put into effect. They develop an enforcement program and use policies and guidance to assist the community being regulated to implement the regulations.

The laws EPA works with include: regulating industrial waste, controlling the emission and discharge of pollution, cleaning contaminated sites and disseminating public information. EPA has expanded its enforcement by using innovative approaches including an integrated approach to compliance assistance and incentives and civil and criminal enforcement. These compliance incentives help companies find new and creative ways to meet environmental regulations.

Monitoring Compliance

EPA is responsible for monitoring companies to ensure they comply with all necessary regulations. Without this compliance, the laws and regulations will have no effect on the environment. EPA uses several different ways to determine whether a facility is complying with environmental law.

EPA conducts on-site inspections to check permits, ensure procedures are being followed and to determine whether hazardous materials are correctly handled and labeled.

EPA may require routine self-reporting. If this is the case, facilities will monitor their emissions and discharges, and then report the data to the government. Failure to report accurate data will result in fines or other enforcement strategies. EPA can also require a more targeted information-gathering by examining operating logs, financial records and fuel consumption information. Congress allows EPA to gather information in the case of suspected violations.

EPA will investigate facilities when inspections or records suggest there are violations of the law. Tips from workers or the community at large can help identify violations.

EPA also uses remote sensing, including aerial photography an satellite imagery to locate potential hazardous waste sites through dead vegetation, unauthorized landfills, industrial discharge and even density of smoke stack emissions.