The Environmental Protection Agency has the mission of protecting human health and the environment. Since 1970, EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. The EPA leads the nation's environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts.
The EPA works to develop and enforce regulations that implement environmental laws enacted by Congress. EPA is responsible for researching and setting national standards for a variety of environmental programs, and delegates to states and tribes the responsibility for issuing permits and for monitoring and enforcing compliance. Where national standards are not met, EPA can issue sanctions and take other steps to assist the states and tribes in reaching the desired levels of environmental quality.
In recent years, between 40% and 50% of EPA's enacted budgets have provided direct support through grants to State environmental programs. EPA grants to States, non-profits and educational institutions support high-quality research that will improve the scientific basis for decisions on national environmental issues and help EPA achieve its goals.
The Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) which establish acceptable concentrations of six criteria pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.
The first major environmental success of the emissions trading concept was demonstrated in the 1980's U.S. program to phase out lead from motor fuel. This was followed by a highly successful EPA sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions trading program.
The EPA found that carbon dioxide was a "harmful pollutant" on April 17, 2009, thus putting carbon under the Clean Air Act. The move could result in the EPA creating and operating a carbon cap-and-trade market in the United States.