Environmental issues in the United States include climate change, energy, species conservation, invasive species, deforestation, mining, nuclear accidents, pesticides, pollution, waste and over-population. Despite taking hundreds of measures, the rate of environmental issues is increasing rapidly instead of reducing.
Both Conservationism and Environmentalism appeared in political debates during the Progressive Era in the early 20th century. There were three main positions. The laissez-faire position held that owners of private property—including lumber and mining companies, should be allowed to do anything they wished for their property.
The Conservationists, led by President Theodore Roosevelt and his close ally Gifford Pinchot, said that the laissez-faire approach was too wasteful and inefficient. In any case, they noted, most of the natural resources in the western states were already owned by the federal government. The best course of action, they argued, was a long-term plan devised by national experts to maximize the long-term economic benefits of natural resources.
Environmentalism was the third position, led by John Muir (1838–1914). Muir's passion for nature made him the most influential American environmentalist. Muir preached that nature was sacred and humans are intruders who should look but not develop. He founded the Sierra Club and remains an icon of the environmentalist movement. He was primarily responsible for defining the environmentalist position, in the debate between Conservation and environmentalism.
Environmentalism preached that nature was almost sacred, and that man was an intruder. It allowed for limited tourism (such as hiking), but opposed automobiles in national parks. It strenuously opposed timber cutting on most public lands, and vehemently denounced the dams that Roosevelt supported for water supplies, electricity and flood control. Especially controversial was the Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite National Park, which Roosevelt approved, and which supplies the water supply of San Francisco.
The United States is the second largest emitter, after China, of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. The energy policy of the United States is widely debated; many call on the country to take a leading role in fighting global warming. The U.S. is one of only three countries that has not signed up to the Kyoto Protocol.
Since about 26% of all types of energy used in the United States are derived from fossil fuel consumption it is closely linked to greenhouse gas emissions. The energy policy of the United States is determined by federal, state and local public entities, which address issues of energy production, distribution, and consumption, such as building codes and gas mileage advancements. The production and transport of fossil fuels are also tied to significant environmental issues.
Many plant and animal species became extinct in North America soon after first human arrival, including the North American megafauna; others have become nearly extinct since European settlement, among them the American bison and California condor.
The last of the passenger pigeons died in 1914 after being the most common bird in North America. They were killed as both a source of food and because they were a threat to farming. Saving the bald eagle, the national bird of the U.S., from extinction was a notable conservation success.
As of 13 December, 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List shows the United States has 1,514 species on its Threatened list (Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable categories).
Invasive species are a significant problem, some of the most notable being zebra mussels, Burmese pythons, kudzu, brown tree snakes and European starlings. Economic damages are estimated at $120 billion per year.
The most notable accident involving nuclear power in the United States was Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station has been the source of two of the top five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the United States since 1979.
Nuclear safety in the United States is governed by federal regulations and continues to be studied by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The safety of nuclear plants and materials controlled by the U.S. government for research and weapons production, as well those powering naval vessels, is not governed by the NRC.
The anti-nuclear movement in the United States consists of more than eighty anti-nuclear groups which have acted to oppose nuclear power and/or nuclear weapons in the USA. The movement has delayed construction or halted commitments to build some new nuclear plants, and has pressured the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to enforce and strengthen the safety regulations for nuclear power plants. Anti-nuclear campaigns that captured national public attention in the 1970s and 1980s involved the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, Diablo Canyon Power Plant, Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, and Three Mile Island.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was first passed in 1947, giving the United States Department of Agriculture responsibility for regulating pesticides. In 1972, FIFRA underwent a major revision and transferred responsibility of pesticide regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency and shifted emphasis to protection of the environment and public health.
At 760 kg per person the United States generates the greatest amount of municipal waste.
The total U.S. population crossed the 100 million mark around 1915, the 200 million mark in 1967, and the 300 million mark in 2006 (estimated on Tuesday, October 17). The U.S. population more than tripled during the 20th century — a growth rate of about 1.3 percent a year — from about 76 million in 1900 to 281 million in 2000. This is unlike most European countries, especially Germany, Russia, Italy and Greece, whose populations are slowly declining, and whose fertility rates are below replacement.
Population growth is fastest among minorities, and according to the United States Census Bureau's estimation for 2005, 45% of American children under the age of 5 are minorities. In 2007, the nation’s minority population reached 102.5 million. A year before, the minority population totaled 100.7 million. Hispanic and Latino Americans accounted for almost half (1.4 million) of the national population growth of 2.9 million between July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006.
Based on a population clock maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau, the current U.S. population, as of 5:55 GMT (EST+5) 27 April 2012 is 316,237,337. A 2004 U.S. Census Bureau report predicted an increase of one third by the year 2050. A subsequent 2008 report projects a population of 439 million, which is a 44% increase from 2008.
Today, the organized environmental movement is represented by a wide range of organizations sometimes called non-governmental organizations or NGOs. These organizations exist on local national and international scales. Environmental NGOs vary widely in political views and in the amount they seek to influence the government. The environmental movement today consists of both large national groups and also many smaller local groups with local concerns. Some resemble the old U.S. conservation movement - whose modern expression is the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society and National Geographic Society - American organizations with a worldwide influence.
The question of whether to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been an ongoing political controversy in the United States since 1977. As of 2017, Republicans have attempted to allow drilling in ANWR almost fifty times, finally being successful with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.ANWR comprises 19 million acres (7.7 million ha) of the north Alaskan coast. The land is situated between the Beaufort Sea to the north, Brooks Range to the south, and Prudhoe Bay to the west. It is the largest protected wilderness in the United States and was created by Congress under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. Section 1002 of that act deferred a decision on the management of oil and gas exploration and development of 1.5 million acres (610,000 ha) in the coastal plain, known as the "1002 area". The controversy surrounds drilling for oil in this subsection of ANWR.
Much of the debate over whether to drill in the 1002 area of ANWR rests on the amount of economically recoverable oil, as it relates to world oil markets, weighed against the potential harm oil exploration might have upon the natural wildlife, in particular the calving ground of the Porcupine caribou. In their documentary Being Caribou the Porcupine herd was followed in its yearly migration by author and wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer and filmmaker Leanne Allison to provide a broader understanding of what is at stake if the oil drilling should happen, and educating the public.
In 2014, President Barack Obama proposed declaring an additional 5 million acres of the refuge as a wilderness area, which would put a total of 12.8 million acres (5.2 million ha) of the refuge permanently off-limits to drilling or other development, including the coastal plain where oil exploration has been sought.In 2017, the Republican-controlled House and Senate included in tax legislation a provision that would open the 1002 area of ANWR to oil and gas drilling. It passed both the Senate and House of Representatives on December 20, 2017. President Trump signed it into law on December 22, 2017.Ballast water regulation in the United States
Ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of biological materials, including plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria. These materials often include non-native, nuisance, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems. Ballast water discharges are believed to be the leading source of invasive species in U.S. marine waters, thus posing public health and environmental risks, as well as significant economic cost to industries such as water and power utilities, commercial and recreational fisheries, agriculture, and tourism. Studies suggest that the economic cost just from introduction of pest mollusks (zebra mussels, the Asian clam, and others) to U.S. aquatic ecosystems is more than $6 billion per year.The zebra mussel, native to the Caspian and Black Seas arrived in Lake St. Clair in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter in 1988 and within 10 years spread to all of the five neighbouring Great Lakes. The economic cost of this introduction has been estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at about $5 billion.
Congress passed the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (NISA) in an attempt to control aquatic invasive species. The Coast Guard issued ballast water regulations, pursuant to NISA, in 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued discharge permits for controlling ballast water under Clean Water Act authority.Basin F
Basin F was constructed by the United States Army in 1956 at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, to provide for the disposal of contaminated liquid wastes from the chemical manufacturing operations of the Army and its lessee Shell Chemical Company.
As originally constructed, Basin F was equipped with a catalytically blown asphalt liner (approximately 3/8-inch (10 mm) thick) covered with a 12-inch (300 mm) protective soil blanket. Basin F had a maximum capacity of 243 million US gallons (920,000 m3) and covered approximately 93 acres (380,000 m2). Throughout the operation of Basin F, the saline concentration increased as water evaporated. The liquid formerly stored in Basin F is very salty water that contains some metals, hydrazine, wastewater, and toxic organics, which are about 1 percent of the liquid.Cancer Alley
Cancer Alley (French: Allée du Cancer) is an area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, in the River Parishes of Louisiana, which contains numerous industrial plants. Locations in this area with clusters of cancer patients have been covered by the news media, leading to the "Cancer Alley" moniker.Deforestation in the United States
Deforestation in the United States is an ongoing environmental issue that attracts protests from environmentalists. Prior to the arrival of European-Americans, about one half of the United States land area was forest, about 1,023,000,000 acres (4,140,000 km2) estimated in 1630. Recently, the Forest Service reported total forestation as 766,000,000 acres (3,100,000 km2) in 2012. The majority of deforestation took place prior to 1910 with the Forest Service reporting the minimum forestation as 721,000,000 acres (2,920,000 km2) around 1920. The forest resources of the United States have remained relatively constant through the 20th century.The 2005 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment ranked the United States as seventh highest country losing its old growth forests, a vast majority of which were removed prior to the 20th century.Downwinders
Downwinders refers to the individuals and communities in the intermountain area between the Cascade and Rocky Mountain ranges primarily in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah but also in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho who were exposed to radioactive contamination or nuclear fallout from atmospheric or underground nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear accidents.More generally, the term can also include those communities and individuals who are exposed to ionizing radiation and other emissions due to the regular production and maintenance of coal ash, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, nuclear waste and geothermal energy. In regions near U.S. nuclear sites, downwinders may be exposed to releases of radioactive materials into the environment that contaminate their groundwater systems, food chains, and the air they breathe. Some downwinders may have suffered acute exposure due to their involvement in uranium mining and nuclear experimentation.Several severe adverse health effects, such as an increased incidence of cancers, thyroid diseases, CNS neoplasms, and possibly female reproductive cancers that could lead to congenital malformations have been observed in Hanford "downwind" communities exposed to nuclear fallout and radioactive contamination. The impact of nuclear contamination on an individual is generally estimated as the result of the dose of radiation received and the duration of exposure, using the linear no-threshold model (LNT). Sex, age, race, culture, occupation, class, location, and simultaneous exposure to additional environmental toxins are also significant, but often overlooked, factors that contribute to the health effects on a particular "downwind" community.Environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been described as the worst environmental disaster in the United States, releasing about 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000 m3) of crude oil making it the largest marine oil spill. Both the spill and the cleanup efforts had effects on the environment.
The oil spill was called the "worst environmental disaster the US has faced" by White House energy adviser Carol Browner. The spill was by far the largest in US history, almost 20 times greater than the usual estimate of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Factors such as petroleum toxicity, oxygen depletion and the use of Corexit are expected to be the main causes of damage.FrackNation
FrackNation is a feature documentary created by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, the directors of Not Evil Just Wrong and Mine Your Own Business, and Magdalena Segieda, that aims to address what the filmmakers say is misinformation about the process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking.
The film looks at the process of fracking for natural gas and seeks to address the concerns surrounding the process that were highlighted in the fracking-critical film Gasland. The film interviews many individuals directly affected by fracking, most of whom support the process.Genetically modified food in the United States
The United States is the largest grower of commercial crops that have been genetically engineered in the world, but not without domestic and international opposition.
Monsanto, based in Creve Coeur, Missouri in the United States, is the leading producer of genetically engineered seed; it sells 90% of the world's GE seeds.Great Lakes Areas of Concern
Great Lakes Areas of Concern are designated geographic areas within the Great Lakes Basin that show severe environmental degradation. There are a total of 43 areas of concern within the Great Lakes, 26 being in the United States, 17 in Canada, with five shared by the two countries.
The Great Lakes, the largest system of fresh water lakes in the world, are shared by the United States and Canada. They make up 95% of the surface freshwater in the contiguous United States and have 10,000 miles of coastline (including connecting channels, mainland and islands)—more than the contiguous United States' Pacific and Atlantic coastlines combined. The lakes are a system of transport and shipping, as well as a place of recreation.Hazardous waste in the United States
Under United States environmental policy, hazardous waste is a waste (usually a solid waste) that has the potential to:
cause, or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness; or
pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed.Many types of businesses in the United States generate hazardous waste. Some are small businesses that may be located in a community. For example, dry cleaners, automobile repair shops, hospitals, exterminators, and photo processing centers all generate hazardous waste. Some hazardous waste generators are larger companies like chemical manufacturers, electroplating companies, and oil refineries. In the United States, hazardous wastes generated by commercial or industrial activities may be classified as "listed" hazardous wastes or "characteristic" hazardous wastes by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a facility that treats, stores or disposes of hazardous waste must obtain a permit for doing so. Generators of and transporters of hazardous waste must meet specific requirements for handling, managing, and tracking waste. Through the RCRA, Congress directed the EPA to create regulations to manage hazardous waste. Under this mandate, the EPA developed strict requirements for all aspects of hazardous waste management including the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. In addition to these federal requirements, states may develop more stringent requirements or requirements that are broader in scope than the federal regulations.
EPA authorizes states to implement the RCRA hazardous waste program in lieu of the federal program. For states to receive authorization, they must maintain standards that are equivalent to and at least as stringent as the federal program. Implementation of the authorized program usually includes activities such as permitting, corrective action, inspections, monitoring and enforcement.Invasive species in the United States
Invasive species are a significant threat to many native habitats and species of the United States and a significant cost to agriculture, forestry, and recreation. The term "invasive species" can refer to introduced or naturalized species, feral species, or introduced diseases. There are many species that are invasive. Some species, such as the dandelion, while non-native, do not cause significant economic or ecologic damage and are not widely considered as invasive. Overall, it is estimated that 50,000 non-native species have been introduced to the United States, including livestock, crops, pets, and other non-invasive species. Economic damages associated with invasive species' effects and control costs are estimated at $120 billion per year.Landfills in the United States
Municipal solid waste (MSW) – more commonly known as trash or garbage – consists of everyday items people use and then throw away, such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps and papers. In 2010, Americans generated about 250 million short tons (230 Mt) of trash. In the United States, landfills are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states' environmental agencies. Municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLF) are required to be designed to protect the environment from contaminants that may be present in the solid waste stream.
Some materials may be banned from disposal in municipal solid waste landfills including common household items such as paints, cleaners/chemicals, motor oil, batteries, pesticides, and electronics. These products, if mishandled, can be dangerous to health and the environment. Safe management of solid waste through guidance, technical assistance, regulations, permitting, environmental monitoring, compliance evaluation and enforcement is the goal of the EPA and state environmental agencies.Lead-based paint in the United States
Lead-based paint was widely used in the United States, because of its durability. The United States banned the manufacture of lead-based house paint in 1978 due to health concerns.
Lead has long been considered to be a harmful environmental pollutant. Cited cases of lead poisoning date back to the early 20th century. In the July 1904 edition of its monthly publication, paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams reported the dangers of paint containing lead, noting that a French expert had deemed lead paint "poisonous in a large degree, both for the workmen and for the inhabitants of a house painted with lead colors."Congress banned the use of lead-based paint in residential structures and environments in 1971, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission followed with implementing regulations, effective in 1978. Additional regulations regarding lead abatement, testing and related issues have been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Much of the government's response to the lead public health problems in the 1970s can be credited to the work of epidemiologist and pediatrician Philip J. Landrigan, who conducted detailed studies of lead poisoning near lead refineries, as well as the effects of lead in gasoline.In 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Louis Wade Sullivan, called lead the "number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States." Humans are exposed to lead in many ways. These can be through air, drinking water, food, contaminated soil, deteriorating paint, and dust. Airborne lead enters the body by breathing or swallowing lead particles or dust once it has settled. Old lead-based paint is the most significant source of lead exposure in the U.S. Most homes built before 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. Some homes built as recently as 1978 may also contain lead paint.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics monitors blood lead levels in the United States. Experts use a new level based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood (when compared to children who are exposed to more lead than most children). Currently that is 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.Litter in the United States
Litter in the United States is an environmental issue and littering is often a criminal offense, punishable with a fine as set out by statutes in many places.
Litter laws, enforcement efforts, and court prosecutions are used to help curtail littering. All three are part of a "comprehensive response to environmental violators", write Epstein and Hammett, researchers for the United States Department of Justice. Littering and dumping laws, found in all fifty United States, appear to take precedence over municipal ordinances in controlling violations and act as public safety, not aesthetic measures. Similar from state-to-state, these laws define who violators are, the type or "function" of the person committing the action, and what items must be littered or dumped to constitute an illegal act. Municipal ordinances and state statutes require a "human action" in committing illegal littering or dumping, for one to be "held in violation." Most states require law enforcement officers or designated, authorized individuals, to "...witness the illegal act to write a citation." Together, prosecutions and punitive fines are important in fighting illegal littering and dumping.
A significant portion of litter along roadways in the U.S. is now being attributed to improperly tarped vehicles such as open-bed vehicles as well as trash and recycling collection vehicles that have not been properly secured.A national survey of United States prosecutors noted the most important factor in prosecuting an offense was the "degree of harm" a violation posed and the "criminal intent" of the offender. America's most prosecuted littering offense involve illegal hazardous waste disposals. Civil and criminal fines are the "most common strategy governments use to control environmental behaviors." Most offenders settle outside of court. For small littering, a monetary penalty and/or a specified number of hours picking up litter or community service is the typical punishment. Going to jail for a littering/dumping conviction is rare.
For example, in California the punishment for first-time littering starts at a $100 fine and eight hours of picking up roadside litter. A defendant's third offense and all subsequent offenses are punished with a minimum penalty of a $750 fine and 24 hours of litter cleanup (per offense). Such penalties are often prominently posted on roadside signs.
In Idaho, the Comprehensive Litter Prevention and Abatement Act was signed into law in 2006. Litterers can be fined up to $180 when including a subcharge of US$80 and be ordered to clean a littered area in the community.In Washington State, the littering of (especially lit) cigarettes can incur a fine of up to $500. During the summer months, drought-like conditions and tinder-dry forests, lit or smoldering debris have started many wildfires. State litter surveys have shown that an average of 352 pounds of litter is picked up for every mile of highway including about 3,000 cigarette butts. In 2002, some 350 car accidents involved litter or road debris.In the state of Oregon, throwing a lighted cigarette or other tobacco product is a Class B misdemeanor,
and is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and 5 years in prison. This is in addition to penalties for "placing offensive substances in waters, on highways or other property" which is a Class A misdemeanor and carries with it a maximum fine of $6,250 and 10 years in prison.Northern Rocky Mountain wolf
The northern Rocky Mountain wolf (Canis lupus irremotus) is a subspecies of gray wolf native to the northern Rocky Mountains. It is a light-colored, medium to large-sized subspecies with a narrow, flattened frontal bone. The subspecies was initially listed as Endangered on March 9, 1978, but had the classification removed in the year 2000 due to the effects of the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan. On August 6, 2010, the northern Rocky Mountain wolf was ordered to be returned under Endangered Species Act protections by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in a decision overturning a previous ruling by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They were later removed on August 31, 2012 from the list because of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming meeting the population quotas for the species to be considered stable. This wolf is recognized as a subspecies of Canis lupus in the taxonomic authority Mammal Species of the World (2005).Snail darter controversy
The snail darter controversy involved the delay of the construction of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River in 1973. On August 12, 1973, University of Tennessee biologist and professor David Etnier discovered the snail darter in the Little Tennessee River while doing research related to a lawsuit involving the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The lawsuit stated that the Tellico Reservoir, to be created by Tellico Dam, would alter the habitat of the river to the point of wiping out the snail darter. The NEPA lawsuits slowed the construction of the Tellico Dam but did not stop it.Stephanie Hallowich, H/W, v. Range Resources Corporation
Stephanie Hallowich and Chris Hallowich, H/W, v. Range Resources Corporation, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream, MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P., MarkWest Energy Group, L.L.C., and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was a case in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Civil Division). The trial was held in August 2011.
Chris Hallowich and his wife Stephanie Hallowich operated a farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. They sued Range Resources Corporation, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream, MarkWest Energy, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for compensation for "health and environmental impacts" from "natural gas development operations".
In the settlement, the plaintiffs received $750,000 from the sale of their home for the purchase of a home elsewhere, but were required to abstain, along with their two minor children, from ever again discussing hydraulic fracturing or Marcellus Shale. The filed Washington County court documents  in the case show that the Hallowich family was represented by Peter M. Villari, Esq. and Robert N. Wilkey, Esq. of Villari, Brandes, Kline,P.C., a litigation firm located in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. The case received significant international notoriety concerning the issue of First Amendment rights as it relates to confidential settlement agreements, gag-orders, and the constitutional rights of minors within the scope of the natural gas drilling industry, operations, and civil litigation. On March 20, 2011, Judge Debbie O'Dell-Senaca, issued an Order and Opinion, reversing a prior trial court's order to seal the settlement dockets, and ordering that the Court record, including the settlement documents be unsealed. Many of the Defendants in the case subsequently appealed, seeking to keep the settlement documents sealed. Eventually, the settlement documents in the Hallowich case were restored and made publicly available.Superfund
Superfund is a United States federal government program designed to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants. Sites managed under this program are referred to as "Superfund" sites. It was established as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). It authorizes federal natural resource agencies, primarily the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states and Native American tribes to recover natural resource damages caused by hazardous substances, though most states have and most often use their own versions of CERCLA. CERCLA created the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The EPA may identify parties responsible for hazardous substances releases to the environment (polluters) and either compel them to clean up the sites, or it may undertake the cleanup on its own using the Superfund (a trust fund) and costs recovered from polluters by referring to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Approximately 70% of Superfund cleanup activities historically have been paid for by parties responsible (PRPs). The exceptions occur when the responsible party either cannot be found or is unable to pay for the cleanup. Through the 1980s, most of the funding came from a tax passed on to the consumers of petroleum and chemical products. However, this tax was not renewed in 1990, shifting the burden of the cost to general appropriations and PRPs, the latter reflecting the polluter pays principle. Since 2001, most of the funding for cleanup of hazardous waste sites has been taken from taxpayers generally, irrespective of polluting. Despite the name, the program has suffered from under-funding, and Superfund cleanups have decreased to a mere 8 in 2014, out of over 1,200. As a result, the EPA typically negotiates consent orders with PRPs to study sites and develop cleanup alternatives, subject to EPA oversight and approval of all such activities.
The EPA and state agencies use the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) to calculate a site score (ranging from 0 to 100) based on the actual or potential release of hazardous substances from a site. A score of 28.5 places a site on the National Priorities List, eligible for long-term remedial action (i.e., cleanup) under the Superfund program. As of August 9, 2016, there were 1,328 sites listed; an additional 391 had been delisted, and 55 new sites have been proposed.
Environmental issues in the United States
Environmental issues in North America