Legal Information relating to environmental concerns
Our Earth Mother needs some guardians to protect her interests.
Environmental concerns may be covered by federal, state and local laws and regulations or by international treaties and conventions.
Laws relating to environmental concerns exist at many levels: city, county, state, national and international. This page does not address them all, except in a very general nature. If you are researching a particular issue affecting your area, it is best to first look at your State or Local level to see if there is legislation or regulations that apply to your issue. For eg., in California you might try looking at the California EPA website.
Some General Subjects of Environmental Lawmaking:
- Global Climate Change (Global Warming)
- Loss of Biodiversity (and Endangered Species)
- Air Pollution (Emissions of Greenhouse Gases and Clean Air Act)
- Water Resources - Rights and Regulations
- Illegal Disposal of Waste (Dumping) and Toxification of Earth, Lands and Water Resources
Laws at the U.S. Federal Level
See the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) page on Laws and Regulations for basic information on laws, regulation and compliance. The EPA site also links to a list of federal laws and executive orders.
In regards to the federal Clean Air Act, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling was issued in April 2007, Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007) that held the EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate and set standards relating to greenhouse gases causing global warming and the extreme climate change already in progress. The Wikipedia article linked above provides a useful synopsis and subsequent history of the case.
Examples of our federal laws in the U.S. are the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. There is also the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governing the handling of hazardous waste and its disposal. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is also a tool for dealing with declining wildlife populations, sometimes caused by the use of certain pesticides.
What Can You Do on a Local Level?
On a local level, we can be aware of changes in our local habitat and environment and of the possibilities for renewal and restoration where it is needed. When problems are found, write local or state officials to alert them that you expect a response, attend community meetings to voice your opinions and demand action, and lobby for constructive changes.
Take actions on the environmental issues you are concerned about in your own community. To start, take action in a way you can feel comfortable with, not everyone is a political leader or activist, but there is always something more you can do. For many of us, simply doing more to recycle or eliminate unecessary waste products is a good place to start.
Because it is the activities of mankind that has affected the health of our environment, it is now up to all of us to respond to the harm we have already inflicted on our environment and Mother Nature. Earth's civilizations have sought to industrialize and conform life on this planet to the desires, needs and whims of humans. Initially we knew little about the effects we were creating. But even as we began to understand the damage to our environment caused by our actions (through the studies and research of scientists and our own observations of changes), so many of us have chosen to turn a blind eye, "whistling in the dark" so to speak, unable to change our habits to favor preserving our environment and its health over more immediate, habitual or selfish interests.
The good news is that many more people have now reached a sense of awareness, even if they may not always know what to do about the damage that has already been done. Awareness and acceptance of the true state of our environment, knowledge that in many places on this planet Mother Nature is suffering from sickness we caused, is the first step. We should note that increased awareness was only reached through the determined efforts of individuals and organizations striving to bring about change. Because awareness fuels a desire to take action, the next step is to find something that you can do to help halt further damage or repair damage that has been done locally.
In regards to local and State environmental laws, there is sometimes a relationship or overlap with federal laws. Here is an EPA List of State Programs. There may also be City or County services, agencies, laws and ordinances relating to environmental issues. For eg., see the San Francisco Environment site.
On the International level, the United Nations, formed in 1945, is generally involved in environmental issues through its participation with international Conventions and Conferences held with member nations. International law relating to environmental concerns can be complex and often involves consensus building among member nations (referred to in international law as "states") on how nations should respond to environmental problems, and encouraging nation states to put appropriate laws into place in their own countries to protect the environment and wildlife.
Finding tools of strict enforcement on an international level is rare, but can exist when a treaty has been entered into between nation states. This is because where a treaty exists, it can set forth a structure for jurisdiction and enforcement of what is basically an agreement or contract between its signatories. Other methods of “enforcement” on the international level may be found through attempts to influence public opinion, or to influence nations by imposing economic sanctions against a nation engaging in offensive activity. Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) also play a vital role in influencing public opinion, which can put pressure on a nation to alter otherwise damaging practices relating to the environment.
Because there are no concrete physical borders on this planet, damage to the environment caused by one country can affect us all and inevitably will affect us all. That is why awareness and action on an international level is so important.
Some Links on U.N. and International Info:
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website - https://unfccc.int/2860.php
Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (1998) - Kyoto Protocol pdf doc
International Goals for Encouraging Sustainable Development - see wikipedia article on U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (2012) and the U.N. working group's Proposal for Sustainability Goals.
Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora (Lusaka, 1994) - Text
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (Washington, DC, 1975) - About CITES
Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (New York, 1997) - Text