Environmental Law: An Overview
A variety of protections with the goal of protecting the environment. Environmental law is a “belt-and-suspenders” collection of laws that work together and often overlap in areas.
Federal Law: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed in 1970 along with the Environmental Quality Improvement Act, the National Environmental Education Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The main objective of these federal enactments was to assure that the environment be protected against both public and private actions that failed to take account of costs or harms inflicted on the eco-system.
The EPA is supposed to monitor and analyze the environment, conduct research, and work closely with state and local governments to devise pollution control policies. NEPA (really enacted in 1969) has been described as one of Congress's most far reaching environmental legislation ever passed. The basic purpose of NEPA is to force governmental agencies to consider the effects of their decisions on the environment.
Major Federal Laws:
Endangered Species Act (ESA): The goal is first to prevent extinction of endangered plants and animals, and second to recover these populations by preventing threats to their survival.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): A “cradle-to-grave” system of preventing pollution. This uses a manifest system to ensure that waste is properly disposed of, and thus not dumped into the environment.
Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA): Also known as the “superfund” this statute is aimed at cleaning up already polluted areas. This statute assigns liability to almost anyone associated with the improper disposal of hazardous waste, and is designed to provide funding for clean up.
Clean Air Act (CAA): The CAA is designed to protect air quality by regulating stationary and mobile sources of pollution.
Clean Water Act (CWA): The CWA protects water by preventing discharge of pollutants into navigable waters from point sources.
Common Law Protections: Common law protections allow a land-owner who’s land is being polluted to sue the polluter. A landowner may sue under a theory of trespass (a physical invasion of the property) or nuisance (an interference with the landowner’s enjoyment of his property). Each of theses theories will include an element of reasonableness – there will be no recovery if the neighbor is making a reasonable use of the land. Reasonableness will depend on the facts of the specific case.
Additionally, an action may be brought under public nuisance where the suit is brought by a public entity if it is the public that is harmed (rather then a uniquely harmed individual).
State Law: State laws also reflect the same concerns and common law actions which allow adversely affected property owners to seek a judicial remedy for environmental harms. Although laws on the state level vary from state to state, many of them mirror the federal laws (allowing an additional forum for aggrieved landowners) or codify the common law actions. Additionally, state laws may require a higher level of protection then federal law.
menu of sources
U.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes
- 7 U.S.C., Chapter 6 - Insecticides and Environmental Pesticide Control
- 16 U.S.C. -Conservation
- 22 U.S.C. § 274a - International Biological Program for the Earth's Ecology
- 22 U.S.C. § 2151p - International Environmental and Natural Resources
- 22 U.S.C. § 2151p-1 - Tropical Forests
- 22 U.S.C. § 2151q - Endangered Species
- 26 U.S.C., Chapter 38 - Environmental Taxes
- 33 U.S.C., Chapter 9 - Protection of Navigable Waters
- 33 U.S.C., Chapter 26 - Clean Water Act
- 33 U.S.C., Chapter 27 - Ocean Dumping
- 33 U.S.C., Chapter 33 - Prevention from Pollution from Ships
- 33 U.S.C., Chapter 40 - Oil Pollution
- 42 U.S.C. § 300g-1 - National Drinking Water Regulations
- 42 U.S.C., Chapter 23 - Atomic Energy
- 42 U.S.C., Chapter 55 - National Environmental Policy
- 42 U.S.C., Chapter 65 - Noise Pollution
- 42 U.S.C., Chapter 73 - Development of Energy Sources
- 42 U.S.C., Chapter 82 - Solid Waste Disposal
- 42 U.S.C., Chapter 85 - Clean Air Actl
- 42 U.S.C., Chapter 103 - Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
- CRS Annotated Constitution
Code of Federal Regulations
- 40 C.F.R. - Protection of Environment
Federal Judicial Decisions
- U.S. Supreme Court:
- U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals: Recent Environmental Law Decisions
State Statutes and Regulations
- Dealing with Natural Resources
- Dealing with Water
- State Environmental Regulations
- Uniform Laws:
- Uniform Transboundary Pollution Reciprocal Access Act (adopted by Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, and Wisconsin)
- Uniform Conservation Easement Act (adopted by Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming)
State Judicial Decisions
- N.Y. Court of Appeals:
- Appellate Decisions from Other States
Conventions and Treaties
- Dealing with Biodiversity
- Dealing with Marine and Coastal Areas
- Dealing with Other Environmental Topics
Key Internet Sources
- Federal Agencies:
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of the Interior
- US Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture
- National Resources Conservation Service of the Department of Agriculture
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce
- Office of Environmental Management of the U.S. Department of Energy
- ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
- Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide
- Elsevier Environmental Directory
- Policy Instruments Database
- ECOGopher (Environment)
- Environmental Law Institute
- National Association of Environmental Law Societies
Useful Offnet (or Subscription - $) Sources
- Good Starting Point in Print: William H. Rodgers, Jr., Hornbook on Environmental Law, West Group, 2nd ed. (1994)