Clean Water: Two short years after the formation of the EPA, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, a modification of the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act, to regulate quality standards for surface waters and stop the discharges of pollutants into rivers, lakes and other waterways.
Clean Air: A few weeks after the EPA was formed, Congress passed the Clean Air Act. Under the new law, the EPA was authorized to set limits on air pollutants like ozone and carbon monoxide, as well as to regulate emissions from factories, power plants and vehicles. State and regional agencies assumed responsibility for carrying out the Clean Air Act at the local level. With its new responsibilities, the EPA set numerous air quality regulations in motion, including controlling auto emissions and banning the use of DDT.
Waste Management: In 1976, the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act became law. Among other things, the law mandated that landfills be closely monitored and enacted America's hazardous waste management program. Since 1970, the U.S. recycling rate has grown from a mere 6.6 percent to 34.1 percent in 2010, according to the most recent EPA data available. Due to increased regulations and recycling, the number of landfills in America has also decreased dramatically, from nearly 8,000 in 1988 to 1,767 in 2002.
Increased Awareness: Since 1970, Earth Day has grown into a global celebration. An estimated 1 billion people in 180 countries participated in Earth Day in 2010. About 77 percent of Americans now say they worry about protecting the environment; this is up from 1970 when the percentage of citizens who cited cleaning up air and water as one of their top three political priorities was at 53 percent.