The protection of the environment has been a legal priority for decades now, and there is a large set of significant federal laws to show for it. Of course, comparatively minor laws and regulations are put into place every day in local jurisdictions. The dozen or so key environmental laws provide a basis for many of the more specific rules, so let’s get familiar with the facets of the main pieces of environmental legislation.
Question: What Are the Main Acts the Public Is Familiar With?
Most people are familiar with the Clean Air Act (1970), the Occupational Safety & Health Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1977) and the Endangered Species Act (1973).
Question: What Other Significant Acts Affect Our Daily Lives?
You may not know it, but there are several other major laws that dictate minute parts of your personal and workplace lives. Many of them have to do with keeping toxic chemicals away from you and preventing them from damaging the environment.
Question: What Provisions Are Contained in the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts?
The Clean Air Act regulates emissions from all sources, both industry-related and automobile-related. This act is meant to protect the environment in fighting acid rain and ozone depletion, but it also was put in place to make the air safer for people to breathe. The Clean Water Act prevents anyone from putting pollutants into navigable water sources without a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency. The act has been amended several times to address specific types of pollutants and their treatment.
Question: Which Acts Have to Do With Toxic Chemicals and Contaminated Sites?
Three of the major federal acts address toxins and keeping them out of soil, groundwater and the air. Here are the related laws to be familiar with:
- The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA): This act from 1980 was the origin of the “Superfund” concept and regulates the process for cleaning up abandoned sites where hazardous pollutants have been spilled or accidentally released. The act allows authorities to find the responsible party and require them to participate in the cleanup effort.
- The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA): In 1986, the CERCLA was reauthorized to continue with its efforts and allowed to modify its previous provisions to reflect updated circumstances.
- The Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) – As part of the SARA, this act was created to help communities prepare for and react safely to emergency situations in which hazardous materials are involved.
Question: Which Acts Pertain to Wildlife?
Most people are familiar with the Endangered Species Act mentioned above. Another law that affects animals is 1972’s Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which dictates that if the use of certain pesticides may be harmful to area wildlife, particularly endangered species, then the EPA can demand that the pesticides not be used. Because of FIFRA, all pesticides used in the United States must be licensed by the EPA.
Of course, one of the oldest acts that addresses environmental protection, 1969’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), could affect animals. NEPA requires the government to consider all environmental impacts that might result from any major federal actions, such as a large infrastructure project.
Question: Why Did So Many Major Environmental Acts Happen in Such a Short Time Period?
Most of the landmark environmental legislation was enacted between 1969 and the mid-1980s. This was a time when the public became concerned about protecting the Earth and its people from environmental dangers. Safe drinking water and breathable air covered two basic necessities, and then conservation and control of hazardous chemicals moved to the forefront of the public’s worries. Remember that Earth Day started in 1970 and so set the stage for major laws from the federal government.
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