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Home > Law & Legal Topics > Environmental Law

» Environmental Law:
Environmental law is the branch of law related to the impact various events have on the natural or human environment.

Environmental law draws from various sources. This includes federal and state statutes, court cases, and administrative rulings.

The National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA was one of the first major environmental laws. NEPA provides procedural safeguards for all proposals of federal agencies. NEPA requires a detailed statement of environmental impact for proposals for legislation and other major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the environment. NEPA also states a national policy to "encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment." Thus, NEPA is only a procedural law in that it does not provide any rights remedies for environmental issues.

The Endangered Species Act or ESA is another environmental law. The ESA is the prototypical resource conservation legislation. The ESA seeks to protect species and their habitats as well as vegetation and general biodiversity.

The Clean Air Act or CAA is another environmental law. The CAA regulates pollution. It does this by establishing two pollution control strategies. The first is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards or NAAQS. NAAQS establish what the acceptable level for safety is going to be. The second is the State Implementation Plans or SIPs. Under the SIPs framework, the states are responsible for developing and implementing a plan to achieve the NAAQS in their respective geographic boundaries.

The Clean Water Act or CWA is another environmental law. Like the CAA, the CWA implements a complex regulatory scheme. The goal of the CWA is to eliminate all pollution discharges into U.S. waters. This is implemented using a permitting system.

These statutes are enforced by state and federal governments and private citizens. State agencies are primary responsible for CWA and CAA monitoring and regulation. The actual enforcement responsibility depends on whether the violation is brought under state or federal law. Federal agencies focus on creating, approving, and enforcing the framework that the States will use. The local government and police are not usually active participants in the regulatory enforcement process.

Almost all environmental laws include citizen suit provisions. These provisions allow private citizens to commence or continue suits to enforce environmental laws.

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