The state must protect the environment. The state hence makes environmental law for this purpose. The environmental law in the USA can be entrenched in untimely common law doctrines like the law of nuisance and the public trust doctrine. The initial environmental law in the USA was the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The majority of the environmental statutes were then initiated from the 1960s to the early 1980s. The federal government makes federal laws about the entire of the USA. The state and local governments may create particular laws for their respective jurisdictions. Apart from these regulations, environmental law is also derived from judicial decisions and common law.
Federal regulations are the law and regulations made to protect and develop the environment at the federal level by the U.S. Congress. Congress has legislated and amended many environmental laws since 1963. These laws predominantly aim to reduce pollution and environmental impacts through emission standards, operating requirements, environmental management practices, etc. The following are the critical environmental laws made at the federal level:
Clean Water Act (CWA): This act regulates the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters and controls the water quality.
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA): This act regulates the public drinking water supply and systems.
Clean Air Act (CAA): This act checks the air quality and air pollution from both stationary and mobile sources.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA): This act provides a framework to investigate, assess, and clean the polluted properties and recover the cleaning costs from the parties responsible for the pollution.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): This act regulates hazardous waste management from generation to the point of disposal.
Endangered Species Act: This act aims at protecting endangered species and their habitats.
National Environmental Protection Act: This act assesses the environmental impacts of significant federal actions (a federal industrial project, for example). This act also establishes the Environmental Protection Agency.
State and Local Regulations
State and local regulations are the regulations and laws made at the state and local level to protect and develop the environment by the respective governments. Much environmental protection has been adopted into the state and local politics other than at the national level. State and local governments are responsible for the execution and almost all the enforcement of the national environmental laws. State and local governments have also enacted innumerable laws concurrent to the federal laws. The state and local governments may adopt more stringent laws than federal laws unless prohibited by the federal laws. Also, federalism has played an active role in shaping and forming environmental law in the USA. Many laws at the federal level adopt cooperative federalism mechanisms in which the environmental programs are administered through coordination between the federation and the states.
Judicial Decisions and Common Law
Although the federal, state and local regulations for the environment are the primary sources of environmental law in the USA, judicial decisions and common law also provide ancillary sources. The law from judicial decisions and typical law start where the federal, state and local regulations end. The federal and state courts have played an active role in the evolution of environmental law in the USA. The courts have particularly aided in the practical application of the environmental laws in the interests of the environment. The case of Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. Federal Power Commission is considered to be one of the oldest and important environmental causes. This case helped stop the construction of a power plant on Storm King Mountain in New York State. This case is viewed as the birth of environmental litigation and also the trigger for the legislation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Also, the common law of torts forms an essential source of environmental laws. Before the passage of the environmental laws, the cases were resolved according to common law only. Doctrines of nuisance, trespass, strict liability and the public trust doctrine have been adopted into the environmental law and are still relevant independently.
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