The Council on Environmental Quality, an advisory body contained within the Executive Office of the President, was established by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which mandated an assessment of environmental impact for every federally funded project. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created in 1970, is an independent body with primary regulatory responsibility in the fields of air and noise pollution, water and waste management, and control of toxic substances. Other federal agencies with environmental responsibilities are the Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service within the Department of Agriculture, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In addition to the 1969 legislation, landmark federal laws protecting the environment include the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 and 1990, controlling automobile and electric utility emissions; the Water Pollution Act of 1972, setting clean-water criteria for fishing and swimming; and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, protecting wildlife near extinction. A measure enacted in December 1980 established a $1.6-billion "Superfund," financed largely by excise taxes on chemical companies, to clean up toxic waste dumps such as the one in the Love Canal district of Niagara Falls, N.Y. In 2003, there were 1,232 hazardous waste sites on the Superfund's national priority list.
In 2003, the 2004 expenditure estimate for the Environmental Protection Agency was $7.6 billion. The EPA employed 17,850 workers.
The most influential environmental lobbies include the Sierra Club (founded in 1892; 700,000 members in 2003) and its legal arm, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Large conservation groups include the National Wildlife Federation (1936; over 4,000,000), the National Audubon Society (1905; 600,000), and the Nature Conservancy (1917; 1,000,000). Greenpeace USA (founded in 1979) has gained international attention by seeking to disrupt hunts for whales and seals.
Among the environmental movement's most notable successes have been the inauguration (and mandating in some states) of recycling programs; the banning in the United States of the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT); the successful fight against construction of a supersonic transport (SST); and the protection of more than 40 million hectares (100 million acres) of Alaska lands (after a fruitless fight to halt construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline); and the gradual elimination of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) production by 2000. In March 2003, the US Senate narrowly voted to reject a Bush administration plan to begin oil exploration in the 19 million acre (7.7 million hectare) Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Outstanding problems include acid rain (precipitation contaminated by fossil fuel wastes); inadequate facilities for solid waste disposal; air pollution from industrial emissions (the United States leads the world in carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels); the contamination of homes by radon, a radioactive gas that is produced by the decay of underground deposits of radium and can cause cancer; runoffs of agricultural pesticides, pollutants deadly to fishing streams and very difficult to regulate; continued dumping of raw or partially treated sewage from major cities into US waterways; falling water tables in many western states; the decrease in arable land because of depletion, erosion, and urbanization; the need for reclamation of strip-mined lands and for regulation of present and future strip mining; and the expansion of the US nuclear industry in the absence of a fully satisfactory technique for the handling and permanent disposal of radioactive wastes.