An Overview of Federal Environmental Laws

Over the past half century, the federal and state governments have become increasingly involved in protecting the environment. Many experts believe that environmental laws are necessary because without them individuals and businesses do not have the financial or personal motivation to follow environmentally friendly policies. One person or business alone does not make a big difference and it often costs more to follow an environmentally friendly policy than not to follow such a policy. Therefore, the government has stepped in and required certain parties to follow certain environmentally friendly rules.
Some of the most important federal environmental laws include the:
·         Clean Air Act: The Clean Air Act was enacted several decades ago and significantly amended in 1990. It controls what may be emitted into the air. The law was enacted to protect the nation’s air resources and public health. Approximately 380 different pollutants are regulated by the Act. The Act seeks to protect the air, the ozone layer and to reduce acid rain by controlling what is emitted from motor vehicles, businesses, and other possible polluters.
·         Clean Water Act: The Clean Water Act was originally called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act when it was enacted in 1972. It has been significantly amended several times over the past few decades and has five major provisions. Those provisions address: (1) direct discharges from point sources, such as wastewater from businesses; (2) indirect discharges of wastewater into sewer systems; (3) stormwater discharges; (4) preventing and managing oil spills that could affect water supplies; and (5) special provisions for dredge and fill materials and wetlands.
·         Energy Policy Act: The Energy Policy Act addresses energy production, efficiency and distribution in the United States.
·         Endangered Species Act: The Endangered Species Act allows the federal government to protect endangered plants, animals and habitats.
·         Safe Drinking Water Act: Every public water system in the country that serves more than 25 people must comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law regulates what can be found in drinking water and protects water sources.
·         Oil Pollution Act: The Oil Pollution Act was enacted in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill to provide the federal government with more authority to prevent and respond to large oil spills.
·         Toxic Substances Control Act: This law passed in the mid-1970s and amended over the years allows the federal government to evaluate and control chemicals, respond to asbestos hazards, assist in reducing radon, and deal with the dangers of lead paint.
Additionally, states may pass their own laws regarding environmental issues. For example, some coastal states have more stringent oil drilling regulations than others and other states have tighter regulations about what may be emitted in the air or acceptable levels of toxins found in drinking water.
The penalties for not complying with state and federal environmental laws can be significant not only for our environment but also financially for the individual or business found to have broken the law. Therefore, it is important to understand all of the environmental laws that are applicable to you and to take the necessary steps to comply with the laws.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

Additional Environmental Law Articles

Search LawInfo's Environmental Law Resources