What is the Environmental Protection Agency, and should we worry about it?

Associated Press

US President Donald Trump may be looking at cutting it’s budget – but what does the agency do?

Associated Press |

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EPA protects the air, land and water of the US.

The former head of US President Donald Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says he expects the new administration to seek big budget and staff cuts for the department. Here’s a look at the EPA.

Why they are and what they do

Created during US President Richard Nixon’s administration in 1970, the EPA carries out laws to protect the environment, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

Following the money

The EPA’s budget was roughly US$8.4 billion in 2016, a five per cent cut from what former US President Barack Obama requested. In addition to management of environmental programmes, EPA funds go to scientific research, grants for states and Native American tribes and clean-ups of spills from sources such as leaky underground storage tanks.

Dealing with the states

States and some local governments have environmental protection departments, too, and the EPA has lots of dealings with them. The agency has the final word on enforcing federal environmental laws but can delegate some tasks to the states. The EPA can revoke state authority if state officials aren’t meeting federal standards.

Cleaning up pollution

The EPA oversees clean-ups that can range from polluted sediment to oil spills. Perhaps its best-known clean-up programme is Superfund, established by Congress in 1980 to clean up hazardous waste sites that often were abandoned.

The officers and the troops

The EPA’s top officer is the administrator, currently Catherine R McCabe, although Trump has chosen former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for the post. The agency has about 15,000 employees in Washington, DC, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle.

Why they're in the crossfire

The EPA is a favourite agency to blame by anyone and everyone. Conservatives and groups representing oil and gas companies, farmers, land developers and other business sectors accuse the agency of imposing tiresome rules that go beyond what the law authorises and of enforcing them without mercy, slowing economic growth and killing jobs. Liberals and environmentalists have the opposite complaint – that the EPA’s rules are too weak to protect the air, land and water, and its staffers are too eager to let companies and people off the hook, worsening conditions that lead to sickness and even death for people and wildlife alike.