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  1. Key Federal Environmental Laws

Key Federal Environmental Laws

Jonathan Feniak, Esq., MBA

By Jonathan Feniak, Esq., MBA

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    A series of federal laws have been established to protect the health of our environment, from the air we breathe to the water we drink and beyond. These laws help to keep ecosystems clean, protect us from toxins, and help to keep endangered species from going extinct. Over time, as more environmental concerns have been identified, more laws have been passed at the federal level to keep us and the planet safe.

    The Clean Air Act

    The Clean Air Act is a law that was created to protect and improve the air quality in the United States. This federal law regulates emissions from vehicles, factories, and other sources, aiming to reduce the amounts of soot, smog, and harmful chemicals in the air.

    • The Clean Air Act was initially passed in 1963, but it has been amended many times since.
    • The most recent amendments to the Clean Air Act, enacted in 1990, focused on ozone depletion and acid rain as well as vehicle emissions.
    • It was one of the first major environmental laws in the United States.

    The Clean Water Act

    The Clean Water Act is the primary federal law regulating water pollution. It establishes water quality standards and regulates discharges into waterways.

    • The Clean Water Act was based on the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, a 1948 law.
    • Sweeping changes to this earlier law were enacted in 1972, and the resulting legislation became known as the Clean Water Act.

    The Toxic Substances Control Act

    The Toxic Substances Control Act was created in response to massive growth in the chemical industry, which began rapidly developing new chemicals with very limited oversight. This law gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to test and regulate chemicals that are considered to pose an unreasonable risk to the environment and human health.

    • The TSCA was signed into law in 1976 by President Gerald Ford.
    • This law arose from concerns about DDT, a pesticide widely used during World War II that was later found to be an environmental and human health hazard, and PCBs, industrial chemicals that can accumulate in the food chain, ending up in fish that people eat.
    • The TSCA was also prompted in part by the investigation of illnesses and birth defects in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York. The illnesses were linked to toxic waste that had been buried there before homes and a school were constructed on top.
    • Toxic substances that are regulated by this legislation include lead, mercury, and formaldehyde.

    The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

    This legislation was established to protect the safety of the drinking water supply by setting national water quality standards that limit the amounts of contaminants that may be present.

    • The Safe Drinking Water Act was originally passed in 1974 and significantly amended in 1986 and 1996.
    • The SDWA applies to public water supplies that serve at least 25 people or 15 service connections.

    The Noise Control Act

    The Noise Control Act is a national law that exists to protect people from the harmful effects of exposure to excessive noise. Noise pollution can lead to hearing loss, sleep disruptions, and heightened stress levels that can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. Excessive noise can also be bad for a person's mental health.

    • The Noise Control Act was passed in 1972.
    • This law regulates many sources of noise, such as aircraft and motor vehicles.

    The Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    The Endangered Species Act is a national law that obligates federal and state governments to protect endangered and threatened species and the places where they live. It protects endangered species from going extinct as a consequence of economic growth.

    • This law was passed in 1973 and establishes a process for identifying species that are endangered or threatened. It also includes guidelines for helping to increase the populations of these species.
    • Since its implementation, the ESA has been credited with saving or significantly improving the status of hundreds of species.

    Small Business Environmental Assistance Programs (SBEAP)

    Small Business Environmental Assistance Programs were established by the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. SBEAPs include state-run programs aimed at helping small businesses to understand and comply with environmental laws.

    • SBEAPs may provide on-site consultations for businesses, training workshops, or referrals to other consultants as needed.
    • These programs help to protect the environment and help small businesses to avoid fines and other potential penalties.

    The National Environmental Policy Act

    The National Environmental Policy Act is sometimes referred to as the Magna Carta of environmental law because of its broad scope and influence on environmental decision-making. It was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970 and requires federal agencies to consider the potential environmental impacts before making decisions.

    • The NEPA was the first law to create a broad national framework for environmental protection, rather than focusing on one specific environmental issue.
    • This law also mandates that the public have the opportunity to be involved in the environmental review process for federal projects.

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