Environmental law is the area of federal law established to protect the natural environment in which we live. This includes ensuring the health and safety of the plants, animals, and people in the United States. In 1970, the federal government established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce environmental law established by the government. This agency was created in response to public demand for cleaner air, water, and land.
Also in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed by the legislature. This was the first environmental law developed in the United States. It set forth a broad national environmental policy that would prevent or eliminate environmental damage, enrich our understanding of the environment, ecology, and natural resources, and create a Council on Environmental Quality.
The Clean Air Act was also enacted in 1970. This environmental law regulates air emissions from stationary, mobile, and area sources to ensure air quality. This law also gives the EPA the authority to establish the National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect people and the environment from harmful air pollutants. The Clean Air Act also includes the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. This standard controls air emission levels of harmful toxins like benzene. In 1977, the EPA responded to reports that benzene exposure significantly increased one's risk of developing leukemia by adding benzene to the list of toxic air pollutants. Oil refineries and other industrial operations must comply with federal and state environmental law in regards to benzene emissions.
The Clean Water Act was originally contained within the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1977. This environmental law was enacted in response to growing public awareness and concern about water quality. This law gives the EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs and to set water quality standards. These standards establish the maximum level of toxic pollutants admissible in surface waters based on what levels are considered safe for humans, animals, and plant life.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was passed in 1976. This environmental law gave the EPA the authority to control hazardous wastes at all stages of its existence, including generation, transport, treatment, storage, and disposal. For example, industrial manufacturers are required to store used oil in good condition containers and tanks. Coke oven operations are also regulated under this environmental law, which requires bi-annual reports of coke oven battery handling. This is required to control toxic emission of benzene. Benzene became a regulated hazardous waste product under the RCRA in 1990.
There are dozens of other environmental laws that regulate pollutants, hazardous substances, animal and plant conservation, food quality, drinking water quality, and much more. When any entity is found in violation of an environmental law, the EPA has the authority to investigate the violations and seek prosecution against that party.
The Clean Water Act is an environmental law that was enacted by the federal government in 1972. With its initial passage, this law was actually called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. In 1977, the environmental law was amended and came to be known as the Clean Water Act. This law was passed as a response to growing public awareness and concern about the pollutants in our nation's water.
The Clean Water Act provided the broad structure for water pollutant regulation in the United States. It gave the Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970, the authority to develop and implement pollution control programs and set wastewater standards. The Clean Water Act made it illegal for any party to release any contaminant into navigable waters without a permit. Under the Clean Water Act, sewage treatment plants were constructed to reduce pollution from nonpoint sources.
In 1981, the Clean Water Act was amended to further improve the capabilities of these treatment plants. In 1987, the law changed again and the sewage treatment funding component of the Clear Water Act was replaced with the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This new funding strategy was aimed at building EPA-state partnerships.
The Clean Water Act focuses primarily on surface waters throughout the United States. The EPA utilizes a number of regulatory and non-regulatory tools to enforce the Clean Water Act. This Act does not directly address ground water or water quantity concerns. The goals of the Clean Water Act are to drastically reduce pollutant discharges into surface water, administrate the financing of wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff.
In addition to protecting people from hazardous pollutants in the water, the Clean Water Act also protects aquatic life, namely shellfish. When toxins in the water are too high, the shellfish and other plant and animal life are poisoned by these pollutants. When people consume these creatures as food, they can also be exposed to harmful levels of toxic chemicals. There are a number of toxic pollutants which are regulated by the Clear Water Act.
Benzene, a chemical known to cause leukemia, has been listed as a toxic water pollutant for decades. Under the Clean Water Act, industrial operations must limit their discharge of benzene into surface waters and other environments. The established maximum level of benzene admissible in surface water is based on fish/shellfish and water consumption.
According to the EPA, more than 1000 industrial facilities release benzene into our air and water supplies every year. Over 19,000 pounds of benzene were released into surface waters in 2001 alone. While the EPA requires compliance with the Clean Water Act, many industrial operations choose profit over environmental and consumer safety. If you would like to learn more about the Clean Water Act, please contact us to speak with a qualified and experienced attorney in your area.
The Clean Air Act was originally enacted by the federal government in 1963. The version of the Clean Air Act upon which our national air pollution control program is based was enacted in 1970. Then, in 1990, the Clean Air Act was amended to adjust its scope and objectives. When the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990, the goal of was to reduce air pollutants by 65 billion pounds each year by the year 2005.
There are two types of air pollutants that are regulated by the Clean Air Act. There are six •criteria• pollutants which are regulated by the Clean Air Act: ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and particulate matter. These are found in larger quantities, especially in more populated areas of the United States. Industrial activities, motor vehicles, and a range of human activities can all contribute to the discharge of these pollutants into the air. Based on health risk studies, the EPA creates standards for the admissible levels of these pollutants in the air.
The second category of air pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act includes hundreds of hazardous materials called "air toxics." Some of these are cancer causing and all of them are immediately dangerous to humans. Benzene is a potent air toxic that has been regulated under the Clean Air Act for years. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Benzene accounts for two percent of the material in gasoline sold in the United States. Gasoline is the source of 85 percent of human exposure to benzene. Industrial activities are also a major source of benzene emissions and, thus, human exposure.
When an area fails to comply with Clean Air Act standards, the area is said to be in "non-attainment." Non-attainment is further broken down into five classes based on how much effort and expense it will take to reach Clean Air Act compliance. The Clean Air Act uses this classification to determine compliance requirements. States play a large role in facilitating clean up in areas of non-attainment.
The EPA also sets maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA evaluates pollution prevention and control methods to develop industry standards. The Clean Air Act includes incentives for early industry compliance with air emission standards.
The Clean Air Act contains methods of enforcing these standards. People who violate the provisions of the Clean Air Act may receive citations, fines, and even jail time. Citizens can sue violators of the Clean Air Act independent of the EPA or can sue to prompt regulatory action. In some situations, the EPA can fine violators without going through the court system to speed up compliance and reduce costs.
In 2001 alone, five million pounds of benzene was released into our air and water. While laws like the Clean Air Act are meant to reduce the number of pollutants in our environment, many industrial entities choose corporate profit over compliance with environmental law. If you would like to learn more about the Clean Air Act, please contact us to speak with a knowledgeable and qualified attorney in your area.