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Key Current US Environmental Laws

The Clean Air Act: The oldest and best known of all environmental laws here in the US is the Clean Air Act. It came into being in 1970 and sets out provisions for regulating air emissions within our borders from all potential sources of aerial pollution. The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is responsible for its enforcement. They are also responsible for creating, reviewing and maintaining NAAQS – the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), a set of standards on emissions.

The Clean Water Act: Just seven years after the Clean Air Act, the EPA is also responsible for monitoring and enforcing standards for similar laws designed to ensure our waterways are as clean and as healthy as possible. The provisions of the Clean Water Act means it is illegal for any person or entity to discharge pollutants into navigable waters within the borders and interests of the US without a special permit. 10 years later, the act was modified to include toxic pollutants and funded sewage.

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act: Known as CERCLA, this 1980 Act set to handle a growing problem of abandoned areas of the built environment that held and handled hazardous waste. There were also issues of toxic spills and accidents. CERCLA covers all of these issues and makes available a Federal superfund for cleaning up such spills and mitigating problems. It also grants the EPA powers to locate the responsible people or organization and demand their action (under the Polluter Pays principle) while granting the EPA power to recover costs of all actions.

Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act: EPCRA came into force in 1986. It made provisions for aiding local communities to protect their health and safety of their land, and to ensure neither suffer at the hands of toxic chemicals. It requires states to create and maintain a SERC (State Emergency Response Commission) divided by districts with individual committees (LEPCs) responsible for openness on information regarding chemical hazards in their area.

Endangered Species Act: Nearly every country has one of these now as well as international laws and designations for cross-border co-operation on conservation. This Act came into being in 1973 with the aim of setting out special protections for species at risk of extinction. The idea was to conserve and to increase population numbers – a measure that has mixed success. Risks to such species include overhunting/overfishing or gathering, toxic waste, a changing environment, deforestation and so on.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act: Enacted in 1972, FIFRA is another law enforced by the EPA – then just two years old. Under this Act, they are responsible for the licensing of all pesticides and herbicides in agricultural use, and are empowered to prohibit the sale or other distribution and use of such substances. This power is usually enforced when demonstrated to play an active part in being damaging to health or affecting the survival rates of endangered or threatened species. Farmers and others who need to legitimately acquire pesticides for use must register as buyers and pass an exam.

National Environmental Policy Act: Coming into force in 1969 (one year before EPA’s foundation) NEPA requires Federal government administrations consider the potential environmental consequences before engaging in any Federal government action that might have an environmental impact. This applies to public works such as bridgebuilding, public highways, urban development, oil pipelines on public land and many other projects.

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