EPA at 50: Celebrating 50 Years of Environmental Protection

While Bryan Adams was picking up his first real six-string in the summer of 1969, President Richard Nixon was working to establish the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) – an advisory group to coordinate government action against a growing trend of environmental degradation sweeping the nation. With Congress’ passage of the National Environmental Policy Act by the end of the same year, the country saw its first framework for protecting the environment on a national scale. By 1970, the public interest in environmental matters grew exponentially in step with a flurry of Federal environmental protection activities. A year after the formation of the CEQ, the Administration argued to Congress that “the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action”  – effectively paving the way for establishing the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency on December 2, 1970. The agency’s first Administrator, William Ruckelshaus*, would take the oath of office two days later, on December 4, 1970. *Fun Fact: Ruckelshaus was the only EPA Administrator to serve twice!

EPA’s history with water starts with clean water initiatives born out of the Cuyahoga River fire in Ohio, which turned the public spotlight on water pollution issues during EPA’s formative years. It wouldn’t be long before attention shifted to drinking water. Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974, and subsequent amendments in ’86 and ’96, which authorized EPA to set national standards to protect drinking water from sources of contamination.

Today, the US enjoys one of the safest drinking water supplies in the world. The EPA sets limits on 94 contaminants in drinking water, and is responsible for overseeing more than 150,000 public water systems that serve close to 90% of the American public.

ASDWA appreciates the opportunity to partner with the EPA on behalf of our members in the state drinking water program to improve drinking water quality continually.

Water, however, is only part of EPA’s storied history. Click on the timeline widget to the right to browse through EPA’s accomplishments over the years. Visit EPA at 50 for more.

Happy 50th birthday, EPA!