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With President Donald Trump’s recent announcement of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation came plenty of talk about perceived failures, possible replacements and the future of the agency.

“I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” Trump tweeted on July 5. “Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”

Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA, which lasted just over one year, saw no lack of criticism, particularly from environmental activists who felt Pruitt and the Trump administration were rolling back on protective measures previously put in place to conserve natural resources and stave off climate change. Others felt Pruitt and his team were “changing the culture of the agency and eliminating government regulations,” according to Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who was quoted in a recent New York Times article.

More than anything, discussions of the agency’s future led to one undeniable conclusion: American citizens are uninformed as to the EPA’s history and current role.


As listed on the EPA’s official website, the agency was created in 1970 under the Nixon administration after nearly a decade of increased concern over the environment. Earlier that year, Nixon had presented a 37-point message to Congress on the environment. Among these points included:

  • A request for $4 billion to improve water-treatment facilities
  • Asking for national air quality standards and guidelines to lower motor vehicle emissions
  • Launching federally-funded research to reduce automobile pollution
  • Approving a National Contingency Plan for the treatment of oil spills

In addition, Nixon had created a special council dedicated to creating federal organizations that would be dedicated to reducing pollution. Taking the recommendations from this council, Nixon announced his plans for a specialized agency to monitor these responsibilities: the Environmental Protection Agency. After Congress approved the proposal that summer, the Agency’s first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, was sworn in on Dec. 4, 1970.


Information courtesy of

October 18, 1972
Congress passes the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, commonly known as the Clean Water Act, to restore and maintain waters by preventing pollution, providing assistance to publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands.
July 30, 1975
Two lawn and garden pesticides, heptachlor and chlordane, are suspended after new studies revealed that about 75 percent of dairy and meat products in the United States contained the chemicals and that virtually every person in the country had residue of the chemical in their bodies.
August 8, 1977
President Jimmy Carter signs the Clean Air Act Amendments to strengthen air quality standards.
December 10, 1980
Congress creates the Superfund Program, holding polluters responsible for cleaning up most hazardous waste sites.
May 16, 1985
A British Antarctic Survey team discovers a 7.3 million square mile ozone hole over Antarctica, marking the first evidence of stratospheric ozone depletion.
June 3, 1992
EPA Administrator William K. Reilly leads the US delegation to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
February 16, 1994
President Clinton issues an executive order that all federal agencies prioritize environmental justice for minorities and low-income population after an EPA report revealed that those populations were exposed more than others to air pollution and other environmental hazards.
August 23, 2005
EPA restores air quality monitoring networks destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and assesses air quality in the hurricane-affected area to ensure public safety.
April 20, 2010
The BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico explodes, killing 11 workers. The resulting release becomes the largest oil spill in American history.
June 25, 2013

President Obama announces a climate change strategy focusing on preparing for the effects of climate change.

Want to learn more? Browse these HEB titles

“Down To Earth: Nature’s Role in American History” by Ted Sternberg, Read

“Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge” by Linda Nash, Read

“The Environment and World History” edited by Edmund Burke III and Kenneth Pomeranz, Read

“Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution, Travel, and Environmental Justice” by Phaedra C. Pezzullo, Read