A Timeline of Major US Environmental Milestones

Have you ever wondered about how the environmental consulting industry took shape? Driven by a series of groundbreaking laws enacted by both state and federal agencies, and beginning in 1916 with the creation of the National Park Service, it is hard to imagine a time and place when and where our most precious natural resources were not protected with a mindset of preservation for future generations. Looking back, we realize how far we have come, paving the way for many other nations across the globe. We hope that this timeline puts our journey into perspective. We will continue to update it as new landmark laws are enacted. Thanks for visiting Apex Companies, and may we all seek to make the world a better place than we found it.

Major US Environmental Milestones

1916
Creation of National Park Service

Creation of National Park Service

National Park Service Organic Act created the National Park Service.

Administration: Woodrow Wilson

1947

Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District created

First air pollution agency in the US.

Administration: Harry S. Truman

1948

Federal Water Pollution Control Act

First major US law to address water pollution.

Administration: Harry S. Truman

1955
National Air Pollution Control Act

National Air Pollution Control Act

First federal legislation involving air pollution. This Act provided funds for federal research in air pollution.

Administration: Dwight D. Eisenhower

1959

California Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board Established

Created to test automobile emissions and set standards.

Administration: Dwight D. Eisenhower

1963

Clean Air Act

First federal legislation regarding air pollution control. Amended in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1977, 1990.

Administration: John F. Kennedy

1964

Wilderness Act

Established the National Wilderness Preservation System, a national network of more than 800 federally-designated wilderness areas.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1965
National Emissions Standards Act

National Emissions Standards Act

Represents an evolving federal framework within which automobile pollution has been regulated.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1965

Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act

Amended the 1963 Clean Air Act and set the first federal vehicle emissions standards, beginning with the 1968 models.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1965
Solid Waste Disposal Act

Solid Waste Disposal Act

Described by the EPA as “the first federal effort to improve waste disposal technology.”

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1967

California Air Resources Board (CARB) Established

CARB (or ARB) is the “clean air agency” in the government of California. The board set emissions standards predating EPA.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1967

Air Quality Act

Amendment to the Clean Air Act. Enacted in order to expand federal government activities and also authorized expanded studies of air pollutant emission inventories, ambient monitoring techniques, and control techniques.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1969

Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act

Generally referred to as the Coal Act, the most comprehensive and stringent Federal legislation governing the mining industry to date.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1969
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

One of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting our environment.

Administration: Lyndon B. Johnson

1970

Reorganization Plan No. 3

Created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by Presidential Executive Order.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1970

Clean Air Act (Extension)

Major rewrite of CAA, setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) Hazardous Air Pollutant standards, and auto emissions tailpipe standards.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1970

Creation of OSHA and NIOSH

The Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act created OSHA and NIOSH.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1970
Environmental Quality Improvement Act

Environmental Quality Improvement Act

Passed to work in conjunction with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1971

Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act

Law covering lead-based paint in Federally associated housing. Amended by Title X in 1992.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1972

Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972

Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to sweeping amendments in 1972 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1972

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

The Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act amended FIFRA in 1972. Also amended by Food Quality Protection Act of 1996.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1972
Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act

Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act

Also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, prohibits dumping into the ocean material that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1973

Endangered Species Act

Provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1974
Safe Drinking Water Act

Safe Drinking Water Act

Established to protect the quality of drinking water in the US. This law focuses on all waters actually or potentially designed for drinking use, whether from above ground or underground sources.

Administration: Richard M. Nixon

1975

Hazardous Materials Transportation Act

Empowered the Secretary of Transportation to designate as hazardous material any “particular quantity or form” of a material that “may pose an unreasonable risk to health and safety or property.”

Administration: Gerald R. Ford

1976

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

Commonly referred to as RCRA, our nation’s primary law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste.

Administration: Gerald R. Ford

1976
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

Provides EPA with authority to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures.

Administration: Gerald R. Ford

1977

Clean Water Act

Amended FWPCA of 1972.

Administration: Gerald R. Ford

1977

Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

Prohibits surface coal mining within the boundaries of any unit of the National Park System.

Administration: Gerald R. Ford

1978

National Energy Conservation Policy Act

Purposes are to provide for the regulation of interstate commerce, to reduce the growth in demand for energy, and to conserve non-renewable energy resources without inhibiting beneficial economic growth.

Administration: Jimmy Carter

1980

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)

Otherwise known as CERCLA or Superfund, provides a Federal “Superfund” to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment.

Administration: Jimmy Carter

1980
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

Created most of the national parklands in Alaska.

Administration: Jimmy Carter

1980

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act

Enacted to protect fish and wildlife when federal actions result in the control or modification of a natural stream or body of water.

Administration: Jimmy Carter

1982

Nuclear Waste Policy Act

Supports the use of deep geologic repositories for the safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste.

Administration: Ronald Reagan

1986

Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986

These first major amendments were largely intended to increase the pace at which EPA regulated contaminants and to increase the protection of groundwater sources of drinking water.

Administration: Ronald Reagan

1986
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)

Created to help communities plan for chemical emergencies. It also requires industry to report on the storage, use, and releases of hazardous substances to federal, state, and local governments.

Administration: Ronald Reagan

1986

Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)

Amended the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) making several important changes and additions to the program.

Administration: Ronald Reagan

1987

Water Quality Act

Amended FWPCA of 1972.

Administration: Ronald Reagan

1989

Basel Convention

Establishes standards for the transboundary movement of hazardous waste, solid waste, and municipal incinerator ash, including notice to and written confirmation from the receiving country prior to export.

Administration: Ronald Reagan

1989
Montreal Protocol

Montreal Protocol

International treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion.

Administration: Ronald Reagan

1990

Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990

Set new automobile emissions standards, low-sulfur gas, required Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for toxins, and reduction in CFCs.

Administration: George Bush

1990
Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Streamlined and strengthened EPA’s ability to prevent and respond to catastrophic oil spills. A trust fund financed by a tax on oil is available to clean up spills when the responsible party is incapable or unwilling to do so.

Administration: George Bush

1991

Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)

One of the ISTEA chief goals was to develop a National Intermodal Transportation System that is economically efficient and environmentally sound, provides the foundation for the nation to compete in the global economy, and will move people and goods in an energy-efficient manner.

Administration: George Bush

1992
Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act

Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act

Also known as Title X, passed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil.

Administration: George Bush

1993

North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

Approved the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade pact that gradually eliminated most tariffs and other trade barriers on products and services passing between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Administration: William J. Clinton

1994

Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice

Focuses federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations with the goal of achieving environmental protection for all communities.

Administration: William J. Clinton

1996

Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act

Phases out the use of mercury in batteries and provides for the efficient and cost-effective collection and recycling, or proper disposal, of used nickel cadmium batteries, small sealed lead-acid batteries, and certain other batteries.

Administration: William J. Clinton

1996
Food Quality Protection Act

Food Quality Protection Act

Amended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and thus fundamentally changed EPA’s regulation of pesticides.

Administration: William J. Clinton

1996

Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996

Require that EPA consider a detailed risk and cost assessment, and best available peer-reviewed science, when developing these standards.

Administration: William J. Clinton

1997

Kyoto Protocol

Operationalizes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets.

Administration: William J. Clinton

1998

Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21)

Authorizes over $200 billion to improve the Nation’s transportation infrastructure, enhance economic growth, and protect the environment.

Administration: William J. Clinton

2002
California AB 1493

California AB 1493

Sets standards for emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from automobiles and light duty trucks.

Administration: George W. Bush

2002

Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act

Amended the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) by providing funds to assess and clean up brownfields, clarified CERCLA liability protections, and provided funds to enhance state and tribal response programs.

Administration: George W. Bush

2005

Energy Policy Act of 2005

Addresses energy production in the United States, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, oil and gas, coal, Tribal energy, nuclear matters and security, vehicles and motor fuels, hydrogen, electricity, energy tax incentives, hydropower and geothermal energy, and climate change technology.

Administration: George W. Bush

2005

Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)

With guaranteed funding for highways, highway safety, and public transportation totaling $244.1 billion, SAFETEA-LU represents the largest surface transportation investment in our Nation’s history.

Administration: George W. Bush

2007
Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA)

Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA)

Aims to increase US energy security, develop renewable energy production, and improve vehicle fuel economy.

Administration: Barack Obama

2016

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act

Amends the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary chemicals management law.

Administration: Barack Obama

Apex Associated Press (Apex AP) represents contributions from various authors within the Apex professional community.

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