Everyday environmental laws: How the EPA fits into the urban grid

11 Sep

Summer Science explained:

Summer Science explained is a new blog series on Layman’s Terms Media. Each week, phenomena that are unique to summer time will be broken down and explained. I am currently taking suggestions for topics, so if there is something you’ve always wondered about feel free to contact me and pitch an idea!

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Environmental laws in the United States help protect us every day. While they are not flawless, and are always improving, we may take for granted how much they affect our lives. In a way, the protect us from ourselves.

As a high-consuming society we produce a ton of waste (well, millions of tons) and this waste can be dangerous if not monitored and controlled in a systematic manner. For this reason we have these laws to thank for one of the most vital life sources: clean drinking water.

My environmental health professor, Dr. Joseph Delfino used a hand-drawn version of the urban grid below in class to stress this point. I simply made a computerized version of it, but it was his idea. I asked him if I could post a similar version and write a post explaining how they connect to us in our every day lives.  With his permission, here it is!

How we experience environmental laws

How we experience environmental laws

 

What are environmental laws?

Environmental laws include every type of environmental protection that derives from:

  • U.S. and state constitutions
  • Federal and state statutes and constitutions and local ordinances
  • Regulations published by federal, state and local agencies
  • Presidential executive orders
  • Court decisions interpreting these laws
  • Common law

What the acronyms stand for:

SDWA: Safe Drinking Water Act

Who doesn’t want to drink water that is safe? I may be an adrenaline junkie but I don’t think using the word “dangerous” to describe a vital life source sounds appealing to me. This law is meant to ensure that our drinking water poses only a minimal risk to our health.

Florida SUPER (State Underground Petroleum Environmental Response) Act

The gas you pump in your car is typically stored underground, the same place where our water comes from. If the storage tanks are damaged or start leaking for any reason, there is a risk of petroleum leaking into the water we drink. The purpose of this act is to identify areas in the state that may be contaminated and take steps to minimize health risks and get drinkable water to that community through new treatment centers or alternative sources.

CWA: Clean Water Act

Most of the things we own were probably at a factory of some sort before they were in our possession. These factories all produce waste that needs to be disposed of properly. The Clean water Act ensures that these factories, and any other businesses that release pollutants abide the wastewater standards enforced by the law as well as obtain a permit before releasing any pollutant into navigable waters.

RCRA: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

The factories I was talking about in the last law also may have  solid or hazardous waste (waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health) they need to dispose of properly. This law makes sure that waste is tracked “from cradle to grave” or from the source to the hazardous waste storage site.

CERCLA (Superfund): Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act

This act helps with financial support for cleaning up old and abandoned waste sites as well as spills, accidents and any other major pollutants released into the environment by providing a “superfund.” But, this fund isn’t infinite and if the source of the pollution can be identified, the parties responsible will also be picking up the bill for the cleanup.

Now that I have you filled in about what the laws are and what they do (please refer to the links for a more in-depth explanation) I decided to go back in time to the fourth grade and give poetry another try. After days and days of academic writing, I decided to have some fun. Point of clarification: the cheesiness is well intended.

A girl who thinks too much about water

I live in the countryside my water comes from a well

Until last week, it was as clean as I could tell. 

But then I got sick and it wasn’t very pretty,

I packed my bags and moved to the city. 

My well water wasn’t protected since it wasn’t a municipal source

Ah! Municipal water is protected by the SDWA, of course!

It comes from the ground, the river to the plant to get treated.

Driving to school now, my car has overheated!

Oh, wait. The tank is on E!

I shake my head. This always happens to me.

I look across the street, a station is found.

As I walk, I think “Is fuel stored underground?”

It is, but what if something goes wrong?

If a tank leaks, to the city will it flow along?

If it does, not to stress

The Florida Super Act will put the issue to rest. 

But what about the factories? And all of the waste?

Can it get into my water too? I start to pace.

Aha! The waste tracked is from “cradle to grave” 

I stop and ponder. Oh, right the RCRA

But, what about the waste that gets away, can it seep into my water?

No, worries. The CWA takes care of that bother.

Eventually any abandoned waste sites will be sanitized

and the party responsible for the pollution will be fined. 

If no culprit is found, CERCLA says the EPA can tap into the “superfund” money

The money’s not infinite, so its not a matter so funny. 

These laws and regulations are not a one-stop solution, 

But they help prevent chaos, bad health and pollution. 

 

Ok, I know. I forewarned you about the cheesiness. But, I hope you now have a better understanding of some of the main environmental laws that protect us every day.

 

 

 

 

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