Environmental protection starts with the government, which oversees programs on the federal, state, and local levels. Regulators enforce environmental laws and supervise operations and situations to determine how the environment is being impacted, to what extent, and what remedial actions are needed.
The EPA employs scientists, engineers, policy analysts, and lawyers. Not only does this agency help to enact and enforce environmental laws, it performs research and prepares policy. The EPA is responsible for protecting human health and the environment by supporting laws and defending and maintaining the quality of the air, water, and land.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitors and enforces illegal trade, habitat destruction, and environmental contamination of wildlife habitats. Through its office of law enforcement, it works to protect endangered and threatened species by monitoring trade routes and breaking up illegal trade rings; using forensic technologies to investigate crimes involving wildlife; training other federal, state, and local agencies; and distributing information to educate the public. It also works to combat invasive species and restore native habitats.
Many federal government employers categorize positions by General Schedule (GS) levels. Job openings are identified by GS level, so when applying for a position, you may be asked to supply your GS level. If you've never been employed by the federal government, you won't have a GS level and will have to estimate your own level based on categorical information provided by the agency.
The U.S. Department of State heads the Office of Environmental Policy, which works on a global level to institute policy geared toward worldwide impacts on air quality, toxic chemicals and pesticides, hazardous waste, conversion of critical habitat, and invasive species. This multilateral department works with organizations such as the United Nations and World Bank to develop policies that will protect the environment and afford sustainability for all cultures. While not an enforcement agency, the State Department works with other nations to ensure that the environment is protected by following agreed-upon policies.
Other departments and agencies that dabble in the environment include the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (www.eere.energy.gov). These offices administer alternative energy programs and provide information to consumers and businesses on solar, biomass, and other renewable options.
States operate their own environmental programs if their laws meet or exceed federal legislation. Many states have their own environmental protection division, public health department, and wildlife commission.
Working for state or even local agencies includes inspecting facilities for environmental compliance, reviewing permit applications and issuing permits, and even educating the public on environmentally sound practices. Facilities likely to be permitted and inspected include water treatment plants, landfills and incinerators, and industries.