Environmental law is a body of law which governs the regulation of:

  • Pollution;
  • Natural resources;
  • Animal rights; and
  • Environmental conservation.

Environmental laws include:

  • Local laws;
  • State laws;
  • National laws; and
  • International laws.

What is the Environmental Policy of the United States?

The United States environmental policy is to protect the environment as well as to preserve it for the future without undue interference with business and commerce. In the United States, laws, regulations, and inducements are utilized in order to carry out this policy.

Inducements are motivations, which may be positive or negative, that influence individuals and groups to carry out environmental policies.

What are the Major Environmental Laws?

The number of environmental laws in the United States is extensive. In addition to laws which specifically pertain to the environment, there are other laws which, while they are not specifically about the environment, they still impact it.

Major laws which pertain specifically to the environment include:

  • Clean Air Act;
  • Clean Water Act;
  • CERCLA, or Superfund cleanup of contaminated sites;
  • Endangered Species Act;
  • Energy Policy Act of 2005;
  • Federal Land Policy and Management Act;
  • Food Quality Protection Act;
  • National Environmental Policy Act;
  • National Forest Management Act;
  • Nuclear Waste Policy Act;
  • Ocean Dumping Act;
  • Oil Pollution Act; and
  • Safe Drinking Water Act.

Although there are numerous other laws which affect the environment, those noted above provide an idea of the things environmental laws are intended to protect, including:

  • Land;
  • Water;
  • Animals;
  • Forests;
  • Things that individuals consume; and
  • Other issues of environmental and human health.

In addition to federal laws, environmental laws may also be enacted at the state level and at the local level. The majority of states have their own environmental regulatory agencies as well as agencies for regulating natural resources.

State and federal courts have also played a role in the development of environmental law in the United States.

What are the Major Environmental Regulations?

Regulations are rules which are made by government agencies. These regulations, similar to laws, affect the way individuals deal with environmental policy.

Also similar to laws, there are numerous regulations which impact the environment although they do not specifically mention the environment. The most prominent environmental regulations, however, are those of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Congress authorized the EPA to write regulations, which operate in conjunction with the laws, which help to outline procedures and details which may be absent from the laws themselves. There are also other agencies that are responsible for the regulation of specific activities.

For example, the United States Forest Service oversees matters that relate to national forests.

What Do Environmental Laws Govern?

Environmental laws are utilized to regulate numerous aspects of public and business use. Some of the main concerns of environmental law include:

  • Air quality;
  • Water quality;
  • Waste management;
  • Contaminant cleanup;
  • Chemical safety; and
  • Hunting and fishing.

Although many of the categories noted above are mainly applicable to businesses, issues concerning hunting and fishing are geared towards consumers. However, they can also impact businesses if the business wishes to dam a body of water, which impacts fish migration, or to build on conservation or hunting lands.

What are Environmental Violations?

Environmental violations are conditions or activities which fail to comply with environmental laws or regulations. Examples of environmental violations may include:

  • Illegal hazardous waste dumping;
  • Illegal pesticide use;
  • Burning garbage;
  • Improperly disposing of and removing asbestos;
  • Destruction of wetlands;
  • Unpermitted industrial activity;
  • Releasing particulates into the air; and
  • Illegal automobile emissions.

There are some activities which rise beyond the level of environmental violation and constitute an environmental emergency, including chemical and oil spills.

What is Environmental Contamination?

Environmental contamination involves the introduction of a toxic substance into an environment. It may also occur when a chemical or waste is introduced in a quantity which damages the environment and renders it unsuitable for its next intended purpose.

Environmental contamination may include contamination which is not typically toxic, such as salt. There have been cases where salt has poured into an individual’s property, rendering it useless for farming.

The salt cannot be removed and may last for hundreds of years. In these types of cases, the salt is not really toxic but the contamination is so great that it cannot be reversed, rendering the area unusable.

What is Contaminated Property?

Contaminated sites or contaminated property are lands which have been contaminated by any variety of environmental violations. Events which may cause a site to become contaminated include:

  • Mineral extractions;
  • Accidental spills;
  • Illegal dumping;
  • Waste disposal;
  • Pesticide use;
  • Fertilizer applications;
  • National defense activities; and
  • Acts of nature, for example, hurricanes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempts to track sites which are contaminated across the United States. The EPA also oversees the cleanup of these sites.

What is Environmental Regulation?

Environmental regulations govern a wide variety of areas of law. They include laws which limit or regulate the use of environmental resources or hazardous materials.

In addition, environmental regulations may determine how property is zoned and used. A criminal violation may occasionally occur if an individual or business violates environmental laws.

The following LegalMatch articles provide further information on these as well as other related topics:

What is an Environmental Impact Statement?

An environmental impact statement (EIP) is a report that is prepared by:

  • A business;
  • A government entity; or
  • A private individual.

An EIP discusses the potential impact that a proposed development will have on the local environment. An EIP is typically requested by a local government entity, for example, a planning board in order to determine whether a proposed development should be granted a permit.

What are the Contents of an Environmental Impact Statement?

There are numerous elements which make up environmental impact statements, including:

  • Direct and indirect effects of the project;
  • Interference with other local activities;
  • Energy and resource requirements for potential development;
  • Conservation and reparation potential;
  • Preservation of urban, historic and cultural quality; and
  • Ways to minimize damage.

Do I Need an Environmental Impact Statement?

There are many states which require environmental impact statements prior to any permit or license being granted for a proposed development. A state may also require that these reports be conducted well in advance of the development in order to evaluate the EIP and determine whether or not the permit should be granted.

What is a Landmark?

A historic neighborhood or building may be designated as a landmark by the community. Once a building is designated as a landmark, it cannot change its external appearance without first obtaining a permit from a local planning board.

What if a Building I Own is Designated a Landmark?

An owner of a landmark may be given a reduction in their property tax due to the restrictions which are placed on their property. In addition, an owner of a landmark may be permitted to use their land in other ways that might help to generate revenue which would normally be prohibited.

Should I Consult a Lawyer if I Need an EIP or Own a Landmark?

If you own a landmark or need to prepare an EIP, it may be helpful to consult with a government lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of your rights and your duties related to the landmark or EIP.