Environmental Law and Legal Resources

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Environmental law is concerned with preserving and conserving Earth’s natural resources: its air, water, land, wildlife and plant life. The federal government and state government have enacted laws to protect the environment from over development, exploitation, misuse, and abuse. Because ecological systems are not constrained by common state lines or international borders, cooperative laws, treaties and agreements are also in place.

These laws touch every part of daily life, mandating how to properly dispose of common wastes such as used motor oils, batteries, e-waste, and harsh detergents. Environmental laws dictate the seasons when certain wildlife may be hunted, how many and what size fish can be caught and kept, which lands are set aside for wildlife habitat and national parks and forests, and where trees can be logged.

States want to protect their resources and make sure they are not encroached on by the federal government or other states. State laws may be and are allowed to be more stringent than federal laws, and should be consulted along with federal regulations to ensure compliance with prevailing law.

Federal Environmental Agencies, Offices

The following is a comprehensive list of federal departments, agencies, and offices that address environmental issues. The list indicates that the environmental purview is widespread and diverse, with various aspects falling under the direction of offices ranging from the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce to the Department of Agriculture among others.

  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
  • Forest Service
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Department of Commerce
  • National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
  • National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • National Ocean Service
  • National Weather Service
  • Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research
  • Department of Defense
  • Defense Environmental Network & Information Exchange
  • National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence
  • Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense: Installations and Environment
  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Army Environmental Center
  • Department of Energy
  • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
  • Office of Environmental Management
  • Office of Health, Safety and Security
  • Office of Legacy Management
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • National Institutes of Health

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA may be the most recognizable environmental agency on the list. The EPA has responsibility to protect Americans from environmental health risks. To achieve this, the agency oversees:

  • Efforts to reduce environmental risks
  • Enforcement of federal laws protecting human health and the environment
  • Ensuring that environmental protection concerns are considered in national policies addressing natural resources, human health, energy, agriculture, and industry
  • State, local and tribal governments access to information on managing risks to human health and the environment
  • Making communities and ecosystems sustainable and productive
  • The nation’s participation with other nations in efforts to protect the global environment

Environmental Laws

Below are listed several of the more widely known federal laws concerning environmental issues:

  • Clean Air Act – Sets standards for the quality and purity of air
  • Clean Water Act – Establishes standards for water quality and purity, with provisions added to address oil spills
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act – Requires businesses to disclose information on toxic chemicals they release into the air, water, and land
  • Endangered Species Act – Protects endangered and threatened species of fish, wildlife and plants; protects habitats
  • Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act – Regulates contaminants, including pesticides, in food.
  • Federal Land Policy and Management Act – Protects scenic, scientific, historic and ecological values of federal lands
  • Food Quality Protection Act – Ensures compliance with strict standards on pesticide residues in food
  • Fisheries Conservation and Management Act – Applies to management and restoration of U.S. marine fish populations and fish stocks; aims to prevent over harvesting
  • Oil Pollution Act – Requires oil storage facilities and vessels to plan for spill response and provide for rapid attention to oil spills; increased liability for cleanup costs and damage to natural resources
  • Safe Drinking Water Act – Established standards for tap water safety, groundwater protection; provided for publics’ "right to know" about tap water quality

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