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The United States Environmental Philosophy and Ethics

The United States Government Environmental Ethic

Environmental ethics refers to the philosophical discipline that studies the moral relationship of mankind, the value and moral status of the environment together with its non-human aspects. The ethics of the environment emerged as an academic discipline in the 1970s when the world leaders began questioning and rethinking the relationship of human beings and the natural environment, and how the latter was under consistent threat of depletion by the former. As human beings become more and more educated and developed in terms of political, social, and economic spheres, their activities impose far-reaching effects on the environment which is, in fact, the basis of their own survival.

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Less focus has been paid to environmental conservation even though the environment is the main source of all aspects of human strength. This is what prompted the word leadership, particularly the United States government, to spearhead initiatives to propagate the ethics of the environment and sensitize the public about the need to honor and protect the moral status of the environment. Failure by human beings to recognize this fact is tantamount to putting the source of their livelihoods to jeopardy yet they always strive to make their lives better day by day.

It is important to admit that human endeavors such as farming and industrial activities have largely been the major cause of environmental degradation that has hitherto posed numerous climatic inconsistencies. The US has a strong adherence to an anthropocentric environmental ethic which is evident from its national policies, strategic goals, and mission statements of environmental agencies. These demonstrate the mandate and the government’s good will to value and manage its natural resources for the benefit of its citizens.

For a deep understanding and clarification of this hypothesis, this paper provides a background of environmental ethics, analysis of the US policy on the environment as outlined in the law, the outline of US environmental agencies, and a thorough review and analysis of US environmental policy and environmental agency mission statements and strategic goals to identify and confirm the US government’s environmental ethic.


To foster a comprehensive understanding of the US governmental ethic, the essay will dwell specifically on unveiling the background of several US environmental agencies as well as the major statutory laws enacted under their jurisdiction. These concepts are essential for people to recognize ideologies that the US policy is based on, and the documents of environmental agency guidance. Individual examination of every government agency on the environment is crucial in fostering the understanding of the general environmental ethic of the United States.

Environmental Ethics

There are divergent ways of viewing the role of human beings in the natural environment. Similarly, there are equally varied philosophies that outline what has to be valued and the underlying reasons for valuing it. Environmental ethics is a system-oriented towards enhancing the understanding of the value of nature, its origin, and the subsequent location of the value in question. The value of nature may be instrumental or non-instrumental depending on an individual’s perception (Kopnina, 2012).

It can be instrumental if it is believed to be of great use to the community; for instance, forests being the prime source of wood for building homes, a shelter for animals, wind-breaking, or water due to its ability to power hydroelectric turbines. Value is attached to them since they are useful to human beings in a series of ways. However non-instrumental value, which is also known as intrinsic value, is attributed to something in the sense that it is valuable by itself (Kopnina, 2012). It, therefore, puts forth the question as to whether human beings value the environment for what it is or because of its usefulness to humans.

This further categorizes the founders of intrinsic value into value subjectivists and value objectivists. Whereas the former may believe that intrinsic value is assigned by humans, the latter holds a belief that intrinsic value was present on the earth even before the start of human evolution (Sessions, 1987). Virtually all components of the ecosystem are considered to possess intrinsic value no matter what their relation to human beings is. Based on this fundamental fact, the US government and its agencies have taken the initiative to rise to the occasion by enacting crucial statutory laws which are aimed at enhancing and sustaining environmental ethic disregarding the value attributed to it by humans. Some of the major statutes are mentioned below.

The US Government Environmental Policy

In an attempt to ensure absolute consolidation of the government’s philosophy on environmental ethics, and as a way of galvanizing support from all sectors of the country in environmental conservation, the U.S government formulated various statutes and laws to serve that purpose. The good thing with laws is that they are very clear and consistent for a period as opposed to mere political rhetoric. Various government agencies had to take responsibility for ensuring that those laws are well implemented in order to achieve expected results. They are also required to provide desired leadership at the national and state level to enforce environmental policies and ensure compliance with the nation's leading resource management and conservation agency.

Clean Air Act (CAA)

Some of the major statutes are the clean air act (CAA) which is entrusted with the authority over EPA. Through its initiative, EPA is expected to establish mobile source limits, ambient air quality standards, hazardous air pollutant emission standards, significant deterioration requirements, and standards for new pollution sources (Fairbanks, 2010). It identifies the areas that are deficient of ambient air quality standards that are set by the act to put mechanisms of reducing acid rain through a cap and trade program as well as phasing out substances that are responsible for the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer of the earth (Fairbanks, 2010).

Clean Water Act (CWA)

The second statute is the Clean Water Act (CWA) which authorizes the regulation as well as the implementation of necessities that govern industrial effluents into the US waters. It also advances the financial boost required to facilitate the construction and maintenance of wastewater treatment plants (the United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). In line with this, there is the Ocean Dumping Act whose focal point is to regulate the international disposal materials into the waters of the ocean and authorize the required research on the related subject. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is another statute whose prerogative is to authorize EAP to establish primary water standards. It should also have control over the disposal processes of underground injection as well as administer the program of groundwater control.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

Similarly, the government came up with the Solid Waste Disposal Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to govern the disposal of solid and hazardous wastes, and adopt corrective actions to address the issue of erroneous practices of waste management. In relation to this, there is the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) whose main focus is on the cleanup exercise of the contamination which is a result of the prior release of perilous substances, but which apparently excludes petroleum as it is principally encapsulated under the Oil Pollution Act. Furthermore, necessary adjustments to the Solid Waste Disposal Act were made to precisely address the cleanup of petroleum products that leak from the storage tanks that are permanently fixed underground, and are not covered by CERCLA.

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

On the other hand, the government is credited with the enactment of the Federal Insecticide Rodenticide and Fungicide Act (FIFRA) and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Through these amalgamated acts, the government regulates commercial chemicals with the objective of mitigating the risks both to the environment and human health (Fairbanks, 2010). Related to these is the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) that authorizes the formulation and implementation of various relevant mechanisms that are envisaged to enhance the prevention of pollution through the reduction of means that generate pollutants from the original source.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)

Lastly, the government enacted a statute of Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). This statute advocates for the industrial reporting of toxic effluents and encourages the emergency response planning for chemicals. These are the guiding statutes delegated to EPA courtesy of Congress, through which EPA implements its underlying mandate of environmental conservation and which provide parameter within which the agency runs its affairs in a legitimate, just and ethical manner.

The US Environmental Agencies

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the United States Forest Service (USFS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are some of the major environmental agencies that are endowed with the responsibility of running the US environmental programs. Their scope of coverage ranges from forests, wildlife, and aquatic organisms to lands, atmosphere, and oceans (United States Forest Service, 2007).

The primary agency of US environmental protection, which sets regulatory standards and policies that can overlap the boundaries of other agencies, is EPA. Initially, these agencies were responsible for the management of natural resources in the United States or partly some commercial activities related to the environment. However, as time went by, their roles had to also be adjusted to keep pace with the ever-growing dynamic environmental concerns. This reveals how environmental ethic has evolved in the US over the years.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The BLM was initiated and tasked to deal with the land and livestock industry. It was created as an amalgamation of two other agencies; the General Land Office and the US Grazing Service, which performed distinct roles related to the environment. Similarly, the USFS was created as an auxiliary arm of the US Department of Agriculture, principally to provide the nation with water and timber. The USFWS has been established as the US Fish Commission and deals with the sustainment of an important national food source. Finally, the NOAA, which evolved out of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey of 1807, Weather Bureau of 1870, and Bureau of Commercial Fisheries of 1871, was established in 1970 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015).

National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)

As these agencies began to protect and conserve different aspects of the environment that they were responsible for, awareness about environmental ethics began to evolve tremendously. The agencies became vigorous after President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) on December 2, 1970, which established the EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). The concern for the environment then mounted prompting the US environmental agencies to shift focus from transitioned primarily resource management to conserving and protecting the environment, as well as managing the US natural resources.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a series of project services to protect the public from the harm caused by radiation. These programs include radioactive waste management, emergency preparedness, and response programs, protective action guides, and planning guidance for radiological incidents (Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). Besides, through EPA the government initiated the fuel economy policy according to which all automobiles across the country are required to undergo the fuel economy test as a prerequisite to operate on civil infrastructure.

The Air Quality Modeling Group (AQMG)

The Air Quality Modeling Group (AQMG) spearheads actions on the full range of air quality models. The Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule apply to all entities that process, refine, transfer, store, gather, distribute, consume or use oil and or oil products (Ferkany, 2011). Water sense is another very crucial program of EPA which is made to encourage water efficiency throughout the country via affixing of special labels on all consumer products.

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The US Environmental Agency Mission Statements and Strategic Goals

The United States has outstanding policies that promote environmental ethics. This is exhibited in the missions and strategic goals of the agencies that are tasked to promote environmental issues in the country. The aforementioned US environmental agencies drafted the mission statements and various strategic goals that would guide their organizations and declare their value systems in a bid to support the US national environmental policy.

The EPA mission statement concisely outlines a dual mission, which is to limit risks to human health and protect the environment (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015). This statement is categorical about its environmental ethic; specifically, addressing the significance of conserving the environment for natural resources, human growth, economic benefits, and health is wise. It also ensures the diversity, sustainability, and economic productivity of communities and ecosystems.

Among these, three goals are directly concerned with human benefit and enforcement of environmental law, whereas two goals specially address air and water quality and their importance. Taking action against climate change and improving air quality is a pertinent goal of the EPA because of the conventional belief that climate change poses a threat to human health, alters cultural resources, ruins economies, and worsens the quality of life.

The EPA also believes that air quality objectives should be enforced to achieve and maintain standards of air pollution to protect humans from the harm that is associated with pollution. Another goal, protecting America’s waters, generates two objectives; the first is to protect human health and the second is to protect and restore watersheds and ecosystems. EPA highly considers watersheds and ecosystems and it is aimed at protecting them as paramount resources for communities and aquatic ecosystems through which it ensures the sustenance of flora and fauna, human economy, recreational, and subsistence resources.

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The EPA’s mission statement and strategic goals provide its anthropocentric ethics, which concerns the influential value of nature to protect and sustain the health of human beings and communities. Besides EPA, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) defines its mission as taking measures to conserve, protect, and enhance the natural resources under their control (Harris, 2011). This is meant to specifically benefit American citizens. The mission is believed to be imperative because American citizens are the ones responsible for establishing their authority and funding the USFWS. The mission statement attaches the USFWS services directly to its benefits to humans, especially the benefactors.

Besides, the USFWS highlights four strategic goals; namely to conserve fish and wildlife, ensure public use and enjoyment, conserve the habitat, and partner with local and state governments (Harris, 2011). This strategic plan highly recognizes the value of ecosystems and categorically reiterates the belief by Americans that habitats should be protected for the sake of future human generations. The USFWS has high regard for nature due to its influential worth and the fact that it is emphatic to an anthropocentric environmental ethic, whose focal point is human customers as expressed in the mission statement and its strategic plan.

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United States Forest Service (USFS)

Furthermore, the mission of the United States Forest Service (USFS) is to maintain the US grasslands and vast forest diversity, health, and productivity to meet its citizens’ needs (United States Forest Service, n.d.). It is worth noting that this is the only US environmental agency whose concern is ‘beauty’ as expressed in its preservation mission but not merely hard resources. Its strategic plan prescribes seven strategic goals, namely:

  • to restore, sustain, and foster the blossoming of US forests and grasslands;
  • to provide and sustain benefits for US citizens;
  • to conserve the open public spaces;
  • to sustain and improve recreational sites;
  • to maintain organizational aptitude;
  • to incorporate US citizens in the forest service programs;
  • to provide the scientific implements for sustainable management of natural resources (United States Forest Service, n.d.).

Furthermore, they affirm the belief that ecosystems are vital for providing important goods and services such as food, wood products, purification of air and water, modifying climate and controlling floods, fostering biodiversity, and sustaining aesthetic value. Both the USFS’ mission and goals are focused on providing resources especially for the needs of Americans, their ethic is, therefore, anthropocentric, because natural resources are highly regarded for their active value to human beings (United States Forest Service, 2007).

In line with this, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manifests its environmental ethic in its mission statement; to sustain US fields for the purpose and recreation of the citizens. BLM strategic goals and objectives are extracted from within the US federal land policy and management act of 1976 that advocates public lands to be well conserved for animal grazing, energy resource, recreation, and timber harvesting (Bureau of Land Management, n.d.).

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The final agency on the environment is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), whose role is to share their knowledge, to identify and understand changes in climate, coasts, and oceans, and to manage and conserve marine ecosystems and resources (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015). The NOAA recognizes the value of sustaining natural ecosystems as the core pillar of human health, prosperity, and well-being.

The further elucidate their future prospective mission by recognizing the significance of preserving future economies; shielding human populations from pernicious pollution, improving human safety and security, and preserving ecosystems as the heritage of human communities and economies (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015). A critical analysis of the above agencies reveals that unlike most developed countries, the United States has strong policies that support environmental ethics. However, the challenge may be in enforcement.


Environmental ethics, just like various other philosophical ideals, is associated with prejudice to one side as it inclines to the other side. Human beings should be cognizant of the fact that all living organisms including plants, animals, and human beings exist with a purpose and that all must peacefully co-exist for there to be continuity of whichever species. They should, therefore, desist from the current selfish mentality of putting themselves over other segments of the environment. It is ridiculous for human beings to be seen as working hard every now and then and claiming to be bettering their living standards yet being notorious of the perpetuation of environmental injustice oblivious of the long-term implications to their own lives.

Governments are charged with a prime responsibility of guiding the public in embracing environmental ethics and creating a safe environment that would ensure continuity of the same culture. This is the only long-lasting solution to the current prevalent adverse effects of environmental degradation such as global warming, climate change, extinction of certain plants, and animal species among others. The federal government should also put efforts to address all hindrances to the proper implementation of the statutes that are enacted with the purpose of ensuring a safe environment for all organisms. Disregarding the magnitude of challenges that the government faces, the buck always stops with it and no excuse is credible.

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