Environmental Law Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Environmental Law, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Environmental Law?

n. a body of state and federal statutes intended to protect the environment, wildlife, land and beauty, prevent pollution or over-cutting of forests, save endangered species, conserve water, develop and follow general plans and prevent damaging practices. These laws often give individuals and groups the right to bring legal actions or seek court orders to enforce the protections or demand revisions of private and public activity which may have detrimental effects on the environment.

History and Meaning of Environmental Law

Environmental law is a set of legal regulations that arose primarily in response to increasing concerns about pollution and the impact of human activity on the natural environment. The origins of environmental law in the United States can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s, a time when issues like air pollution and toxic waste disposal were becoming major public health and environmental concerns. In response, Congress passed several key pieces of legislation, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which form the backbone of modern environmental law.

Environmental law has since expanded to include not just pollution control, but also conservation efforts, such as protecting endangered species and preserving natural habitats. It covers a wide range of environmental issues, from climate change to waste disposal, and is constantly evolving to address new environmental challenges.

Examples of Environmental Law

  1. The Clean Air Act: This federal law, first passed in 1970 and amended in subsequent years, establishes a national framework for controlling air pollution. It sets emissions standards for various pollutants and requires states to develop plans for achieving those standards.

  2. The Endangered Species Act: This federal law, passed in 1973, provides protections for threatened and endangered species and their habitats. It requires federal agencies to consult with biologists to ensure that their activities are not likely to harm species listed under the act.

  3. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act: This federal law, passed in 1976, governs the disposal of hazardous waste. It provides a "cradle-to-grave" system for tracking hazardous waste from its origins to its final disposition, and establishes requirements for safe handling, transportation, and disposal of hazardous waste.

Legal Terms Similar to Environmental Law

  1. Natural resources law: This branch of law focuses specifically on management and protection of natural resources, such as water, minerals, and forests.

  2. Land use law: This branch of law deals with the regulation of land use, from zoning laws to regulations governing the use of public lands.

  3. Energy law: This branch of law covers various aspects of the energy industry, from the regulation of electricity markets to the management of natural gas pipelines.