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What Is Environmental Law?

Environmental law protects our natural resources and regulates the businesses impacting those resources. This includes resources considered valuable to humans, like water and minerals. It also includes endangered species and public lands. Environmental laws impact businesses as well as individuals.

This article discusses what environmental law attorneys do and who enforces environmental laws. It also covers common environmental law terms and their meanings. Finally, the article discusses practice areas related to environmental law.

What an Environmental Law Attorney Does

An environmental lawyer's job description can include many things. An environmental attorney deals with:

  • Environmental laws, including those that protect air quality, clean water, and wetlands
  • Zoning regulations
  • Other related laws and regulations

Some environmental attorneys work to enforce or strengthen environmental regulations or environmental policy. They may represent clients (or even endangered species) injured by environmental damage or climate change. They focus on environmental justice and advocacy initiatives. These attorneys often concern themselves with sustainability issues.

Other environmental attorneys work full-time as in-house or general counsel for businesses or other entities. They may help with compliance or defend against lawsuits alleging environmental damage. These attorneys may defend their clients against claims of harmful emissions or air pollution violating the Clean Air Act, for example.

Who Enforces Environmental Laws?

Environmental legislation in the U.S. is enforced mainly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a regulatory body. The goal of the EPA, a federal government agency, is to protect human health and the environment. The EPA (and some state agencies) have the authority to institute administrative actions to investigate environmental complaints. These actions don't involve a judicial court process.

Other federal agencies also have jurisdiction over environmental concerns. These include the Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), among others.

Suppose you sustain personal injuries you believe resulted from an environmental regulation violation. You can seek the legal services of an environmental lawyer. The U.S. Department of Justice can also bring suits on behalf of the EPA against companies or others for violating an environmental law.

Environmental Law Terms To Know

There are many commonly used terms in the field of environmental law. Some of these terms are discussed below.

  • Brownfields: These are abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities. Their expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.
  • CERCLA: The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) is commonly referred to as "Superfund." CERCLA levies a tax on polluting industries to pay for cleanup costs.
  • Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): This is a set of rules published in the Federal Register by departments and agencies of the federal government. The CFR is divided into 50 titles representing broad areas subject to federal regulation.
  • Federal Register: This is a daily publication U.S. administrative agencies use to publish their rules and regulations. The Register includes proposed rules and regulations for public comment.

Practice Areas Related to Environmental Law

Several other areas of law relate to or overlap with environmental law. Click on the links below to learn more.

  • Business and Commercial Law: This area of law sometimes overlaps with environmental law. Suppose an art business that uses oil-based paints uses a vendor to dispose of contaminated wastewater. The disposal is an environmental issue. The vendor's contract is a business law matter.
  • Land Use and Zoning: Suppose a business owner wants a building variance but the building project is also LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. The building variance is a land use or zoning matter. The LEED certification implicates an environmental law issue.
  • Toxic Torts: A toxic tort is a specific type of injury case arising from exposure to hazardous substances. Hazardous waste and dangerous substances affect the environment directly. So, toxic torts and environmental law are often intertwined.

Contact an Environmental Lawyer Today

Do you have legal issues requiring the assistance of an environmental law attorney? Contact an environmental lawyer today to get answers to your questions and legal advice. An environmental attorney can help you with regulatory compliance, as well.

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