Army Corps of Engineers: This branch of the U.S. Army has responsibility for maintaining the navigability of U.S. rivers and harbors and for implementing flood control projects over much of the United States. Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps of Engineers also has the authority to review and issue permits to modify or destroy wetlands. The debate over the scope of federal power has called into question whether the Corps will continue to have jurisdiction over many of the wetlands it has traditionally regulated.
Council on Environmental Quality: CEQ is part of the Executive Office of the President. It has authority over environmental impact statements that are conducted to review the potential environmental impact of federal activities. CEQ also is the arbiter of disputes between federal agencies on environmental issues.
Design Standard: “Design standards” specify how a certain plant, piece of equipment, or pollution control mechanism should be designed. Environmental regulations can be based on design standards – for example, a regulation requiring smokestacks to be a certain height. (See also “Performance Standard”).
Endangered Species: An endangered species is a type of plant or animal that is in danger of becoming extinct – no longer existing in the wild. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted to protect against species extinction. Under the ESA, an endangered species is one that is in danger of becoming extinct in all or a significant part of its range. One of the main causes of species endangerment is the destruction of habitat – the natural homes of plant and animal species.
Environmental Protection Agency: EPA is an executive branch agency that implements most of the federal environmental laws. Run by an administrator who is appointed by the President, EPA has approximately 18,000 employees and an annual budget of roughly $7.5 billion.
Health-Based Standard: Some statutes direct that EPA establish standards based solely on what is required to protect human health. For example, under the Clean Air Act, EPA must set ambient air quality standards at a level “requisite to protect human health” with an “adequate margin of safety.” In setting a health-based standard, EPA is not supposed to consider other issues, such as how much it will cost to achieve that level of control or whether the technology exists to do so; state implementation plans consider these factors. (See also “State Implementation Plan” and “Technology-Based Standard”).
Mountain-Top Removal Mining: There are several types of mining. Sub-surface or “hard-rock” mining involves digging deep shafts into the ground to remove the mineral. Surface mining or “strip-mining” involves stripping away all of the land covering the mineral, and can cause severe damage to the land and limit its subsequent use. A particularly destructive form of surface mining is known as mountain-top removal, in which entire tops of mountains are dynamited and the waste dumped in nearby valleys and streams.
National Ambient Air Quality Standards: Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set uniform national ambient air quality standards, or NAAQS, for certain specified air pollutants that are dangerous to public health or welfare. For example, EPA has specified that ambient air should contain no more than a given concentration of carbon monoxide. To implement this standard, the states must prepare a State Implementation Plan (SIP) that details the steps they will take to ensure that air quality meets the federal NAAQS.
Nonpoint Source: Nonpoint source pollution does not have a single point or origin, but rather comes from diffuse sources. Examples are lawn chemicals, agricultural pesticides, or oil residues on streets and parking lots that rainwater washes away, thus polluting rivers and streams. (See also “Point Source”).
Performance Standard: Performance standards set an objective performance level that must be met, without specifying how this is to be achieved. For example, such a standard may impose emission limits that specify the amount and type of pollutant that may be discharged. Unlike design standards, which mandate the use of a particular design or technology, emission standards allow regulated entities to utilize any technology or design they choose to meet the emission limit. (See also “Design Standard”).
Point Source: Point source pollutants are discharged from a fixed and stationary location, such as a pipe, channel or ditch. (See also “Nonpoint Source”).
State Implementation Plan: Under the Clean Air Act, EPA sets national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), while states are responsible for deciding precisely how to achieve the standards, subject to review and approval by EPA. State implementation plans are EPA-approved state plans that detail how the state will ensure its air quality will comply with the NAAQS. (See also “Delegation”).
Technology-Based Standard: Technology-based standards are based on the level of pollution control that can be achieved with existing control technology for emissions to air, water, or land. (See also “Health-Based Standard”).
Threatened Species: A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. (See also “Endangered Species”).
Water Quality Standard: Under the Clean Water Act, the states establish “water quality standards” based on guidelines issued by EPA. The state water quality standards set limits on the concentration of pollutants permitted in different categories of water depending on their designated use. In other words, states designate water bodies for particular uses – such as public drinking water, recreational, or agricultural use – and assign corresponding pollution limits to each category. State water quality standards must be approved by EPA.
Wetland: Wetlands are land areas that are at least partially covered with water for all or part of the year, such as bogs, marshes, swamps, and land areas along lakes, rivers and streams. The Federal regulatory program hinges on the presence of three factors — presence of water, waterlogged soils, and vegetation — for determining the existence of a wetland. Wetlands are important because they provide crucial wildlife habitat, improve water quality, control floods, and provide recreational opportunities.
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