There are a number of different state and federal environmental laws that have been enacted through legislative action, as well as governmental agency actions. Congress has authorized many federal agencies, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, to inspect environmental issues and enforce federal environmental regulations and laws.
Environmental law specifically refers to the body of local, state, national, and international laws and regulations governing:
- Natural resources;
- Animal rights; and
- Environmental conservation.
Previously, environmental laws were largely based on nuisance principles. An example of this would be regulations addressing obnoxious smells coming from contaminated land or water. Currently, environmental laws and regulations as the environmental policy of the United States are intended to protect the environment and preserve it for the future, without “undue interference in business and commerce.”
According to U.S. law, regulations and inducements are used to carry out this policy. Inducements are motivations, either positive or negative, intended to influence people and groups of people in carrying out environmental policy.
Other LegalMatch articles on environmental law subjects include:
What Are The Most Significant Environmental Laws?
In addition to laws specifically associated with the environment, there are other laws that, while not specifically about the environment, have an impact on it. Some examples of such laws include:
- The Clean Air Act: The Clean Air Act (“CAA”) is a federal law regulating air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. This law authorizes the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) in order to protect public health and public welfare, as well as to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants;
- The Clean Water Act: The Clean Water Act (“CWA”) regulates discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States, as well as quality standards for surface waters. The foundation of the CWA was enacted in 1948, called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act; the Act was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972. Under the CWA, the EPA has implemented pollution control programs including setting wastewater standards for industry, and developing national water quality criteria recommendations for pollutants in surface waters; and
- CERCLA (Superfund-Cleanup of Contaminated Sites): A superfund site is any land in the United States that has been contaminated with such a considerable amount of waste and pollution, that the EPA has ordered the land to be cleaned as it poses a risk to human health. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (“SARA”) give the EPA the power to assess the amount of danger that a piece of land poses to people’s health. They may also put it on a National Priorities List for clean-up, and set up a short-term or long-term cleaning project.
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;
- Forests; and
- Things that people consume.
In addition to federal laws, environmental laws are enacted at the state and local level. An example of this would be how most states also have their own environmental regulatory agencies, and agencies for regulating natural resources.
What Are The Most Significant Environmental Regulations?
Regulations are rules made by government agencies which affect the way we address environmental policy. The most prominent environmental regulations would be those of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”).
The EPA is authorized by Congress to write regulations, in cooperation with the laws, which help to outline details and procedures that could be absent from the laws themselves. A variety of other agencies are responsible for regulating specific activities. An example of this would be how the United States Forest Service oversees matters relating to national forests.
Environmental laws are intended to regulate the many aspects of business and public use. The definitive concerns of environmental law include:
- Air quality;
- Water quality;
- Waste management;
- Contaminant cleanup;
- Chemical safety; and
- Hunting and fishing.
While many of the above largely address businesses, issues associated with hunting and fishing are meant for the consumer. However, they can also impact businesses if they wish to dam a body of water which would impact fish migration, or build on conservation or hunting lands.
What Are Environmental Violations? What Is Environmental Contamination?
Environmental violations are activities or conditions which fail to comply with environmental laws and/or regulations. Some examples of environmental violations 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.
Some activities that constitute environmental emergencies include oil and chemical spills. Environmental contamination refers to the introduction of toxic substances into an environment, or chemicals or wastes in a quantity that damages the environment and renders it unsuitable for its next intended purpose.
It is important to note that this can include contamination that is not generally toxic, such as salt. An example of this would be how salt has been poured into a person’s property, essentially rendering it useless for farming. The salt is not removable, and can last for hundreds of years. As such, the contamination is so great that it is impossible to recover, which renders it unusable.
Contaminated property or sites are lands that have been contaminated by any environmental violations. 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 attempts to track contaminated sites across the United States, as well as oversee the cleanup of the sites.
Environmental violations are civil in nature, meaning that they are enforced through lawsuits in civil court, and not criminal court. Penalties for environmental violations are generally monetary in nature, and particularly extreme violations may result in criminal penalties.
Violations of environmental law are also enforced by various agencies, and these agencies may hold administrative hearings in order to decide on matters of environmental violations. You should be prepared to present evidence and environmental reports, as generally required by the EPA or local government. If you are found guilty of contamination and/or violations, you should also be prepared to begin the clean-up process.
It is important to note that trying to further hide these violations will only result in more serious consequences and criminal penalties.
Do I Need An Environmental Lawyer?
For the most part, environmental violations are civil in nature, meaning that they are enforced via lawsuits in civil court, not criminal court. The primary penalties for environmental violations are monetary in nature. Fines can be extremely high in the case of large violations, and particularly extreme violations may lead to criminal penalties.
Violations of environmental law are also enforced by agencies, and agencies may hold administrative hearings to decide on matters of environmental violations.
You should be prepared to gather your evidence and environmental reports, as typically required by the EPA or local government. If you are guilty of contamination/violations, then be prepared to begin the clean-up process.
Trying to further hide the violations will only result in 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.