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Environmental Protection Agency

Overview

The following provides an overview of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its programs related to transportation. Topics include the following:

Background

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to develop and enforce regulations that implement environmental laws enacted by Congress. The agency is responsible for researching and setting national standards for a variety of environmental programs, and delegates to states and tribes the responsibility for issuing permits and for monitoring and enforcement. Where national standards are not met, EPA can issue sanctions and take other steps to assist the states and tribes in reaching the desired levels of environmental quality.

Other agency priorities include the following:

Financial assistance:  In recent years, between 40 and 50 percent of EPA's enacted budgets have provided direct support through grants to State environmental programs. EPA grants to States, non-profits and educational institutions support high-quality research that will improve the scientific basis for decisions on national environmental issues and help EPA achieve its goals.

Environmental research: At laboratories located throughout the nation, the Agency works to assess environmental conditions and to identify, understand, and solve current and future environmental problems; integrate the work of scientific partners such as nations, private sector organizations, academia and other agencies; and provide leadership in addressing emerging environmental issues and in advancing the science and technology of risk assessment and risk management.

Voluntary partnerships and programs: The Agency works through its headquarters and regional offices with over 10,000 industries, businesses, non-profit organizations, and state and local governments, on over 40 voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts. Partners set voluntary pollution-management goals; examples include conserving water and energy, minimizing greenhouse gases, slashing toxic emissions, re-using solid waste, controlling indoor air pollution, and getting a handle on pesticide risks. In return, EPA provides incentives like vital public recognition and access to emerging information.

Environmental education: EPA advances educational efforts to develop an environmentally conscious and responsible public, and to inspire personal responsibility in caring for the environment.

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Transportation-Related Programs

Transportation projects are subject to numerous environmental laws and regulations, many of which are implemented by EPA. (See Summary of Environmental Laws Affecting Transportation).  Federal and state transportation officials work closely with EPA to meet both environmental protection and mobility goals.  Some of the major transportation-related programs and issues overseen by EPA include the following:

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NEPA

FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration use the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to evaluate impacts associated with each individual transportation project.

NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet this requirement, federal agencies prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Like other federal agencies, EPA prepares and reviews NEPA documents.  However, EPA has a unique responsibility in the NEPA review process. Under Section 309 of the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review and publicly comment on the environmental impacts of major federal actions including actions which are the subject of EISs.  If EPA determines that the action is environmentally unsatisfactory, it is required by Section 309 to refer the matter to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

EPA focuses on three main areas regarding NEPA compliance:

  • coordinating EPA's review of all Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) prepared by other federal agencies;
  • maintaining a national EIS filing system and publishing weekly notices of EISs available for review and summaries of EPA's comments; and
  • assuring that EPA's own actions comply with NEPA and other environmental requirements.

Also, in accordance with a Memorandum of Agreement between EPA and CEQ, EPA carries out the operational duties associated with the administrative aspects of the EIS filing process.  The Office of Federal Activities in EPA has been designated the official recipient in EPA of all EISs prepared by federal agencies.

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Air Quality

EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) works to reconcile the transportation sector with the environment by advancing clean fuels and technology, and working to promote more liveable communities.  OTAQ is responsible for carrying out laws to control air pollution from motor vehicles, engines, and their fuels.  Mobile sources include: cars and light trucks, large trucks and buses, farm and construction equipment, lawn and garden equipment, marine engines, aircraft, and locomotives.  Activities include characterizing emissions from mobile sources and related fuels; developing programs for their control, including assessment of the status of control technology and in-use vehicle emissions; carrying out a regulatory compliance program, in coordination with the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, to ensure adherence of mobile sources to standards; fostering the development of State Motor Vehicle Emissions Inspection and Maintenance Programs; and implementing programs for the integration of clean-fueled vehicles into the market.

OTAQ provides resources on topics including the following:

EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation provides a wealth of information on a wide range of air quality topics including the following:

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Water Quality

EPA’s Office of Water (OW) is responsible for implementing the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and portions of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Ocean Dumping Ban Act, Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, Shore Protection Act, Marine Plastics Pollution Research and Control Act, London Dumping Convention, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and several other statutes. Our activities are targeted to prevent pollution wherever possible and to reduce risk for people and ecosystems in the most cost-effective ways possible.

EPA staff depend on many others, including the ten EPA Regions, other federal agencies, state and local governments, Indian tribes, the regulated community, organized professional and interest groups, land owners and managers, and the public-at-large. OW often provides guidance, specifies scientific methods and data collection requirements, performs oversight and facilitates communication among those involved. As soon as OW and Regional staff have helped the states and Indian tribes to build the capacity, many water programs are delegated to them to implement.

Primary issue areas related to transportation include regulation and permitting of wetlands, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) regulations and permitting requirements, total maximum daily load determinations, and stormwater runoff.  These areas are overseen by EPA’s Office of Water through the Wetlands, Oceans, & Watersheds program office. Program areas include Watersheds, Wetlands, Oceans, Coasts, & Estuaries, Lakes, Monitoring & Assessment, TMDLs, Polluted Runoff, and Volunteers.

EPA’s Office of Water oversees the following programs:

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AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials)
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