Epa50 2

EPA Celebrates 50 Years in Service to the Planet

Dec. 3, 2020
Since 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made significant progress in protecting the nation’s water, cleaning up our air and land, and safeguarding human health.


WASHINGTON (December 2, 2020) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrates 50 years of protecting human health and the environment in the United States, on tribal lands, and around the world. As part of the 50th anniversary commemoration, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler hosted an event at EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he unveiled the new Ruckelshaus Conference Center in honor of EPA’s first administrator, the late William D. Ruckelshaus, and highlighted the many accomplishments of the EPA over the past 50 years.

“EPA has delivered on our mission to protect human health and the environment for every American, regardless of their zip code,” said EPA Administrator Wheeler. “Since 1970, air pollution has fallen more than 77 percent, down at least 7 percent in the last 4 years alone. Under the Trump Administration, our nation’s air, water and land are the cleanest and safest they have been in our lifetimes. This is something to celebrate.”

Since 1970, EPA has made significant progress in protecting the nation’s water, cleaning up our air and land, and safeguarding human health. Historic milestones include setting the nation’s air quality standards to protect human health, regulating the quality of public drinking water, creating the Superfund program to clean up hazardous waste sites, protecting children from exposure to lead-based paint, and recently, launching the first ever United States Federal Strategy for Addressing the Global Issue of Marine Litter and new, modern National Recycling Goal of 50% by 2030.   

Over the past year, EPA has highlighted 50 years of progress through monthly themes featuring the work of numerous EPA programs that have led to positive environmental outcomes for our nation and improved processes to better serve the public. Here is a recap of some of the accomplishments highlighted throughout the year: 

Office of Water

“Over the last 50 years, EPA and its partners have done an outstanding job working together to protect public health, restore America’s water resources, build water infrastructure, and support the water economy,” said David Ross, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water. This progress is exemplified by the improvement in protecting our nation’s drinking water. Before EPA, 40 percent of drinking water systems failed to meet even the most basic health standards while today, EPA has standards for more than 90 contaminants and 92% of community water systems meet all health-based standards.

Looking ahead, under an Executive Order signed by President Trump in October, the agency is poised to further accelerate progress by modernizing America’s water infrastructure, improving the nation’s water resource management, and creating opportunities for American water workers.

Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

For more than 50 years, EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention has taken action to advance chemical safety across the country. “Thanks in part to EPA’s extensive efforts over the past 50 years, we have greater awareness of the chemicals being used in our communities, we have put in place more safeguards than ever, and we have seen exposure to toxic pollution significantly decrease,” said Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, EPA Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. 

Notable achievements include the recovery of the nation’s bald eagle population thanks to EPA’s 1972’s cancellation of virtually all uses of DDT and cutting the amount of lead in children’s blood by 95% as a result of multiple federal laws and regulations, including EPA’s Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992. Today, EPA remains on the forefront addressing the country’s largest public health and environmental challenges. Since the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency in January, EPA has worked to ensure that Americans are aware of and have access to effective surface disinfectant products to use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. EPA’s pesticides program continues to protect public health and the environment while promoting a safe, abundant, affordable food supply.

In 2020, EPA registered over 17 new active ingredients, most of which were classified as reduced-risk pesticides, and nearly 200 new uses of existing pesticides, providing growers with the tools they need to protect the country’s food supply. The agency has also continued aggressive implementation of the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act. Over the past four years, the agency has set up the processes, policies, and resources to review the over 41,000 existing chemicals in the marketplace today and any new chemicals that companies want to bring to market.

Through tireless efforts, expert career staff have taken the necessary time to do this work in a way that increases transparency, produces high-quality assessments using sound science, and ensures that Americans are protected from unreasonable risks. This work will benefit public health and the environment and facilitate innovation in chemistry for years to come.

Office of Air and Radiation

For 50 years, the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) has worked across all levels of government and with private partners to protect our nation’s air.  “Today, our national air quality is the cleanest since we started recording,” said Anne Austin, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. “From 1970 to 2019, emissions of six key pollutants have dropped 77%, while the economy has grown 285% - proving that clean air policies and a robust economy can go hand in hand.” 

Since the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, EPA has pioneered innovative, successful market approaches for curbing emissions from power plants to address acid rain and reduce air pollution transported across state lines. EPA air standards have also significantly reduced industrial toxic air pollution and, over the past 50 years, dramatically cut dangerous tailpipe emissions from vehicles and engines. Through multiple partnership programs, EPA has made strides in promoting energy efficiency, cutting greenhouse gases, and helping to heal the earth’s protective ozone layer.

EPA is a leading resource in promoting a safe indoor air, helping to reduce exposure to mold, smoke, and radon.  In addition, by setting standards for radiation pollution emissions, and maintaining a robust monitoring system for radiological emergencies, EPA’s air team works to protect public health from radiation pollution and ensure emergency preparedness. 

Learn more about EPA’s air achievements here:

Office of Land and Emergency Management

“Throughout the Agency’s history, EPA’s land programs have worked to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment. I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished to refocus the Agency on these important programs that directly benefit communities across the country,” said Peter Wright, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management. EPA’s land cleanup programs continue to address spills and the impacts of natural disasters, as well as remediating contaminated land and encouraging land reuse and revitalization.

EPA’s work and investments in the cleanup process turn formerly written-off land into community assets across the country and remain an integral component of EPA’s core work. EPA’s land cleanup programs serve as a model for how contaminated land can be addressed and how hazardous materials should be managed to avoid contaminating the land.

Office of Research of Development

For more than 50 years, EPA research has provided the scientific foundation for the Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment. “EPA researchers have continuously developed the data, knowledge, and tools needed to meet our country’s most critical environmental and public health concerns,” said Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, EPA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science and EPA Science Advisor.

Historically, EPA researchers have addressed many major public health concerns, such as lead contamination, air pollution, drinking water quality, and chemical safety. Today, EPA remains at the forefront of investigating emerging environmental challenges, including the mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 in the environment; the impacts of wildfire smoke on air quality, and contamination from widely-used, persistent chemicals such as Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). EPA science is also helping develop innovative monitoring and assessment tools to assist states, tribes and communities as they respond to today’s complex environmental challenges.

Looking ahead to the next 50 years

As EPA closes out our year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary, we’re celebrating future environmental leaders with a look at EPA programs that help foster environmental education among U.S. students, including the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA), Environmental Education (EE) Grants Program, and our long-standing partnership with Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA).

Since the establishment of the original Environmental Education Act of 1970, the PEYA Program has recognized outstanding community-level environmental projects by K-12 students for almost 50 years. Today, as part of the National Environmental Education Act of 1990, PEYA continues to promote awareness of natural resources and encourages positive community involvement. This year, 35 students who worked as a team or individually on 13 projects received the PEYA. Their stewardship projects, conducted in 2019, display a commitment to learning, to protecting natural resources, and to engaging their communities in environmental protection.

In 2020, EPA selected 35 organizations to receive over $3.2M to support environmental projects nationwide under the EE Grants Program. The funding, ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, was given to organizations that provide environmental education activities and programs.  This year’s grantees will conduct project activities in 35 states and Puerto Rico. Through these EE grants, organizations will help expand the public’s awareness of environmental challenges, strengthen their knowledge and understanding of environmental issues, gain skills to identify and help resolve challenges, and increase participation in activities to improve our environment.

EPA's People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Program is an annual, two-phased competition that challenges college and university students to research, develop, and design innovative projects that address environmental protection and public health challenges. Interested student teams can apply for a P3 Phase 1 grant through February 9, 2021.

Tomorrow, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration, EPA is partnering with GSUSA to host two virtual events to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders.

To register for the K-5 event, visit:

To register for the 6-12 event, visit:

Lastly, this year, Administrator Wheeler announced the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate on the creation of an EPA/BSA special award to be awarded as part of a new environmental education awards and recognition program. The EPA-sponsored award will challenge Scouts to learn about, explore, and conserve the world around them as part of an awareness campaign to educate the public about EPA’s accomplishment during its first 50 years and develop the vision for the next 50 years. 

Follow along as we highlight recent student award winners on social media throughout the month with the hashtag #EPAat50.


EPA was established on Dec. 2, 1970, to consolidate into one agency a variety of federal environmental responsibilities including research, monitoring, standard setting, and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection while simultaneously safeguarding human health. The agency’s first administrator, the late William Ruckelshaus, took the oath of office on Dec. 4, 1970.

For more on EPA’s 50th anniversary, visit: