Top 5 Pieces of Environmental Legislation

Study: Water Quality Has Improved But Population Growth, Climate Change Hinder Act's Effectiveness

Most importantly, the act puts the onus on states to develop plans to protect their watersheds from non-point pollution. As opposed to point pollution, such as a factory, which enters the environment from a single location, non-point pollution sources, like a cornfield, cover a large area and are harder to control.

On some levels, the Clean Water Act has been a success. Gone are the days of river fires, and the legislation has stopped countless millions of pounds of pollution from entering our waterways.

However, there's still work to be done.

In 2002, on the 30th anniversary of the act's passage, the EPA found that 39 percent of the rivers, 45 percent of the lakes, and 51 percent of the estuaries monitored were contaminated.

A 2009 comprehensive study conducted by Duke University concluded that while water quality has improved, "population growth, limited jurisdiction, and unforeseen water stressors, such as emerging contaminants and climate change" nevertheless plague the effectiveness of the act.

Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970

On a list with such eco-heavyweights as the Montreal Protocol, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and the Endangered Species Act, this oddly named piece of legislation seems out of place, no?

Think again.

Signed on July 9, 1970, by President Nixon, this ruling gave birth to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A nice little ancillary benefit was that it also established the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Reorganization Plan No. 3 grew out of the National Environmental Policy Act, which Nixon symbolically signed on January 1, 1970—to signify that the 1970s would be the environmental decade.

Six months later, Nixon decided that all the loose ends of the U.S. government's attempt to get ahead of the environmental curve needed to fall to one single, independent organization.

"Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food," said Nixon.

The EPA's success stories are too many too enumerate, but if you want to sample the crème de la crème, here they are.

In the 20 years since the EPA launched the Energy Star program to assist consumers with energy-efficient products, Americans have saved $16 billion on their energy bills.

From 1970 to 1990, lead reductions due to the EPA's Clean Air Act programs prevented 205,000 deaths and the loss of 10.4 million I.Q. points in children.

In terms of smog-pollutants, 2010's cars are 98 percent cleaner than the gas-guzzlers on the road in 1970 when the EPA was born.

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