Environmental Law

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is Environmental Law?

There are a number of different state and federal environmental laws that have been enacted through legislative action, as well as governmental agency actions. Several federal agencies, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, are authorized by Congress to inspect and enforce environmental laws and regulations.

Specifically, environmental law refers to the laws and regulations governing:

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

In the past, environmental laws were largely based on nuisance principles. A good example of this would be regulations that address obnoxious smells coming from contaminated land or water. Environmental laws and regulations are currently designed to protect the environment and preserve it for the future without interfering with business and commerce.

Regulations and inducements are used to carry out this policy under U.S. law. Inducements are positive or negative motivations intended to influence people and groups of people in carrying out environmental policy.

Regulating Environmental Law Issues

There are many different state and federal environmental laws. Congress has authorized many federal agencies to investigate environmental matters and enforce federal environmental regulations and laws.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commonly investigates and enforces federal environmental laws. Several states have environmental laws specific to their regional needs, and state agencies enforce them. Here are a few environmental provisions:

  • The Clean Water Act: Congress passed the Clean Water Act to regulate and prosecute those who pollute the water. Specifically, the Clean Water Act makes it illegal to discharge pollutants into any navigable water without a special permit. Both the EPA and private citizens can prosecute an individual or business for discharging pollutants into water.
  • The Clean Air Act: Congress passed the Clean Air Act to regulate air emissions from certain sources. The EPA has set various standards for the acceptable level of emissions from these sources. The EPA has set air emission guidelines specific to various regions throughout the country.
  • Hazardous Clean-up (CERCLA): If there are environmental hazards on the property requiring a cleanup, both present and past owners can be held responsible for the cleanup costs under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA): Under CERCLA, a federal superfund was created to control and clean up hazardous waste sites, spills and other polluted lands.
  • Innocent Owner: CERCLA offers an innocent owner defense. Under CERCLA, if an owner made all reasonable inquiries into the past use of the land and did not find anything that would make her think that the land may have been the site of a hazardous waste spill, disposal, or accident, a court will not find the owner liable for the cleanup.

Other examples of significant environmental laws include:

  • 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.

While there are many other laws affecting the environment, those listed show what environmental law is intended to protect:

  • The land;
  • Water;
  • Animals;
  • Forests; and
  • Things that people consume.

Environmental laws are also enacted at the state and local levels in addition to federal ones.

Several states have their own environmental regulatory agencies, as well as agencies that regulate natural resources.

What Are the Most Significant Environmental Regulations?

Government regulations are rules that govern how environmental policy is addressed. The most prominent environmental regulations would be those of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”).

Congress authorizes the EPA to write regulations that outline details and procedures that may not be included in the laws. Other agencies regulate specific activities. A good example of this would be how the United States Forest Service manages national forests.

Environmental laws regulate business and public use. Among the definitive concerns of environmental law are:

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

While many of the above concerns businesses, hunting and fishing issues are meant for consumers. Nevertheless, dams can also affect businesses if they wish to build on conservation or hunting lands or dam a body of water that would impact fish migration.

What Are Environmental Violations? What Is Environmental Contamination?

Activities or conditions that violate environmental laws or regulations constitute environmental violations. Here are some examples of environmental violations:

  • 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.

Oil spills and chemical spills are examples of environmental emergencies. The term “environmental contamination” refers to the introduction of toxic substances, chemicals, or waste into the environment in a quantity that damages the environment.

This can include contamination that is not generally toxic, such as salt. A good example would be salt being poured into someone’s property, essentially rendering it unusable for farming. It can last hundreds of years and is not removable. Thus, the contamination is so severe that it cannot be recovered, making it useless.

Any land that an environmental violation has contaminated is considered contaminated property or site.

Examples include:

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

The EPA monitors contaminated sites throughout the country and oversees their cleanup.

Environmental violations are civil in nature, meaning that they are enforced through civil lawsuits, not criminal proceedings. Environmental violations usually result in monetary penalties, and especially extreme violations may result in criminal charges.

Many agencies enforce environmental law violations, and these agencies may hold administrative hearings to decide on matters of environmental violation. The EPA or local government may require you to present evidence and environmental reports. You should also prepare to begin the cleanup process if you are found guilty of contamination or violations.

Further hiding these violations will only lead to more serious consequences and criminal penalties.

Should I Consult an Environmental Attorney?

Many environmental laws are specific to a region, state and type of industry. A government lawyer can help you sift through all the laws and determine which applies to your land or project. An environmental attorney can also help you to comply with the various environmental laws. In addition, an environmental lawyer can assist you if the EPA is investigating or prosecuting you.

The majority of environmental violations are civil in nature, which means that they are enforced through civil courts, not criminal courts. Penalties for environmental violations are primarily monetary. Large violations can result in extremely high fines, and particularly extreme violations can result in criminal penalties.

In addition to enforcing environmental law, agencies may also hold administrative hearings to resolve violations.

As the EPA or local government requires, you should gather your evidence and environmental reports. Be prepared to begin the cleanup process if you are guilty of contamination/violations.

Further hiding the violations will only lead to more serious consequences and criminal penalties.

Whether you are a concerned citizen or a business who is seeking advice on an environmental issue, you should consult with an environmental government lawyer who can help you achieve your objectives.

LegalMatch can help you find the right government lawyer for all of your needs.


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer