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Environmental Law

Resources for researching U.S. Environmental Law in the library and online


The federal government has passed many statutes intended to protect the natural environment and remediate any harm that has already occurred. Many of these statutes give authority to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate various actions related to the environment. Other federal departments and agencies have their own environmental regulations as well.


The EPA’s website has a tremendous amount of information related to environmental law, including summaries and links to federal statutes, technical and scientific data, environmental news, compliance information, and subject guides intended to make the law more comprehensible.

Other Federal Regulators

While the EPA is the largest player in environmental law, many other departments and agencies have the authority to regulate environmental policy or collect important environmental data.  These include:

Federal Regulations allows visitors to view and comment on regulations that are under consideration, as well as those whose comment period has closed. Regulations can be searched by agency, document type, and subject matter, as well as by keyword.

If you are interested in commenting on proposed legislation, the following is a useful guide to maximizing your impact:

The Art of Commenting: How to Influence Environmental Decisionmaking with Effective Comments
LAW COURSE RESERVE 2nd floor  KF 3775 .Z9 M85 2013

Major Federal Laws

The EPA site includes a list of the laws and executive orders that grant the EPA authority, and gives summaries of each. Some of the most important laws are outlined below.

Act Citation Purpose
Clean Air Act (CAA) 42 U.S.C. §7401 et seq. (1970) Regulates air emissions
Clean Water Act (CWA) 33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972) Regulates discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund) 42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq. (1980) Provides a federal "Superfund" to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites
Endangered Species Act (ESA) 16 U.S.C. §1531 et seq. (1973) Protects threatened and endangered plants and animals and their habitats
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 42 U.S.C. §4321 et seq. (1969) Requires all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) 42 U.S.C. §6901 et seq. (1976) Governs the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) 42 U.S.C. §300f et seq. (1974) Regulates the quality of drinking water in the U.S.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) 15 U.S.C. §2601 et seq. (1976) Regulates testing, record-keeping, reporting, and use of chemical substances.

Proposed Legislation

Congressional Committees are great sources of information about current and proposed environmental legislation:

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