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Learn the Lingo

A number of laws serve as U.S. EPA's foundation for protecting the environment and public health. Here are some of the major laws.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) is the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. Among other things, this law authorizes U.S. EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to protect public health and public welfare and to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. Under the CWA, U.S. EPA has implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry. Water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters were also set.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act otherwise known as CERCLA or Superfund -- provides a Federal Superfund to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites as well as accidents, spills and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. Through CERCLA, U.S. EPA was given power to seek out those parties responsible for any release and assure their cooperation in the cleanup.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) gives U.S. EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the "cradle-to-grave." This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA also set forth a framework for the management of non-hazardous solid wastes. The 1986 amendments to RCRA enabled U.S. EPA to address environmental problems that could result from underground tanks storing petroleum and other hazardous substances.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was established to protect the quality of drinking water in the U.S. This law focuses on all waters actually or potentially designed for drinking use, whether from above ground or underground sources. The Act authorizes U.S. EPA to establish minimum standards to protect tap water and requires all owners or operators of public water systems to comply with these primary (health-related) standards.