Environmental law consists of all legal guidelines that are intended to protect our environment. Much of the environmental legislation in the United States is initiated at the federal level. Various regulatory agencies may then prepare regulations, which define how activity must be conducted to comply with the law. In practice, the terms law, statute, and regulation are often used interchangeably. Regulations are generally more volatile than laws (statutes), of more applicability in determining compliance.
However, to obtain copies of laws or regulations, one must differentiate between statutes (laws) and regulations. Laws can be accessed through their public law number from the U.S. Printing Office and are compiled under the United States Code (USC). Regulations are printed in the Federal Register (FR) and are compiled annually in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
Regulatory compliance is a significant aspect of conducting business today. The scheme of obligations posed by environmental legislation represents two costs: the effort and expenditure required to achieve compliance and the fines, penalties, and liabilities that may be incurred as a result of noncompliance. Whether preparing for environmental audits, developing an emergency response plan, or participating in an environmental impact study, environmental engineers must be conversant in environmental law and environmental policy. Ignorance of regulatory requirements is viewed by federal, state, and local governments as no excuse for noncompliance.
An overview of federal environmental laws is provided in this chapter. The chapter is divided into four sections and an appendix.
Government Agencies and Administrative Law. This section outlines some of the procedures under which laws are developed and applied. It is a "broadbrush" characteriza tion of administrative law which focuses on the practice of government agencies.
Information Laws. This section includes statutes used to gather and disseminate information as a central part of their regulatory schemes. This section includes the National Environmental Policy Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Natural Resource Laws. This section includes statutes such as the Endangered Species Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act which protect habitat and regulate land use.
Pollution Control Laws. Statutes discussed in this section, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act, generally focus on regulating the pollutants which create risk to human health and the environment.
Federal Environmental Protection Agencies. The organization of the Environmental Protection Agency and the addresses and telephone numbers of the headquarters and regional offices and state and territorial agencies are presented in the appendix.
This chapter provides an overview and a general understanding of the key features of the major environmental statutes. The discussions of statutes should pave a way for further, in-depth study into the environmental laws.
It should be noted that environmental laws are dynamic and subject to change, interpretation, and negotiation. Although the following discussions of these federal laws provide important information, the reader is advised to determine if any updates or revisions of these laws are in effect. The information provided on these statutes is no substitute for up-to-date advice from licensed practitioners.
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