Major Us Environmental Laws

As we saw in the previous section, there were many factors that led to legislative environmental action by the Federal government. Twelve major environmental laws were passed from the 1960s to 1990. These are listed in Table 11.1 by year of passage and include names that should be familiar to anyone with environmental interests. But how does an environmental law come about? The following gives a relative simply path for the formation of a law. Generally, a member of Congress proposes a bill, and then the bill is discussed, debated, and, if necessary, revised. If both houses of Congress approve the bill, then the President has the option to approve or veto it. If approved, the new law is called an act, and the text passed by Congress is known as a public statute. Once an act is passed and signed by the President, the House of Representatives standardizes the text which it publishes in the U.S. Federal Register (www.epa.gov/epahome/laws.htm).

Yet the laws themselves do not, and indeed cannot, contain all the details required for their implementation. Laws give a Federal agency the power to regulate, and then a specified agency must then develop regulations that set specific rules about what is legal and what is not legal. For example, the Clean Air Act gave EPA the power to regulate sulfur dioxide, but EPA scientists had to determine what level (emission concentration) was safe. This latter process, the defining of what is safe and how to monitor it, is a monumental task and in many cases it takes years to actually enact a regulation after the law has been passed.

Many interested parties provide information to lawmakers during the early and later stages of a law and regulation. Industry certainly has vested economic inter-

TABLE 11.1. Summary and Timeline of the Major Twelve Environmental Laws

1947

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

1955

Clean Air Act (CAA)

1969

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

1965

Solid Waste Disposal Act

1970

Clean Air Act (CAA)

1970

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

1972

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

1972

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA)

1974

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

1976

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

1976

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

1976

Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA)

1977

Clean Air Act Amendments

1977

Clean Water Act Amendments

1980

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund)

1984

Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA)

1986

Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments

1986

Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)

1987

Clean Water Act Amendments

1990

Oil Pollution Act

1990

Pollution Prevention Act

1990

Clean Air Act Amendments

ests in any environmental regulation and can contribute significantly to the formation or blockage of a law and the setting of standards of a regulation. This industry involvement is often a source of controversy. The most famous recent case is the Energy Task Force formed by Vice President Dick Cheney, for which the list of members was kept from the public. Some claim that this represents an attempt to hide industry influence on the task force, and this has resulted in a major legal fight for Freedom of Information seekers. Likewise, environmental organizations, who see themselves as politically defending the health of the public and the environment, attempt to influence the formation, structure, and passage of laws and regulations. Some of the most influential environmental organizations are shown in Table 11.2.

Laws in the United States can essentially be formed by two avenues: either (a) as statutes and regulations formed by Congress and the President or (b) by case law, under which industry, citizens, or groups file suit in order to question or attempt to clarify a law. In case law, a plaintiff who feels a private or civil wrong or injury has been committed may claim that a "tort" has been committed and ask the court to provide a remedy in the form of an action for damages. The alternative to a tort is a "nuisance claim," for cases of alleged unreasonable or unlawful use by an industry or person of their property or injury to the rights of another person or group. Examples of judicial clarification include court cases from both sides (industry and environmental organizations). Industry can sue, stating that a regulation by EPA is

TABLE 11.2. Major U.S. Environmental Organizations

Organization

Founded

Sierra Club

National Audubon Society

National Parks and Conservation Association

Izaak Walton League

Wilderness Society

National Wildlife Federation

Environmental Defense Fund

Friends of the Earth

National Resources Defense Council

Greenpeace (worldwide)

1892 1905 1919 1922

1935

1936 1967 1970

1970

1971

outside the intent of the law passed by Congress, and citizens or groups can sue EPA or an industry, stating that they are not following established regulations. Both types of action, statute and case law, have been instrumental in the formation of our environmental regulations.

In the remainder of this section, we will look at brief summaries of major environmental laws, with some interpretations as needed. Summaries for some of the relatively simpler laws are very short, while others deserve more discussion to attain a true appreciation of their intent. We will start in chronological order for the laws shown in Table 11.1.

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