This page provides a brief introduction to major federal environmental laws. In addition to these federal laws there are many state laws (many of which are modeled after their federal counterparts) and numerous local ordinances that deal with environmental issues. Generally, state law compliance requirements equal or exceed their federal counterparts. Many federal environmental laws are implemented and administered by the states under delegations of authority received from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These descriptions are a general overview of the scope of these environmental laws and should not be relied upon by any party as provided in the use limitations that apply to this web site and that are contained in the Disclaimer section below.
Clean Air Act of 1970 (CAA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401, et seq.
The CAA regulates air emissions from area, stationary, and mobile sources. The CAA established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to protect human health and the environment. To facilitate compliance, the CAA also directs the states to develop state implementation plans (SIPs) applicable to appropriate industrial sources and provides for the permitting of these air emission sources.
Clean Water Act of 1977 (CWA), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251, et seq.
The CWA amended the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 (FWPCA) to give the EPA the authority to set technology-based effluent standards on an industry by industry basis. The CWA also requires EPA to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. Under the CWA, it is unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable water without obtaining National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601. et seq.
CERCLA established a fund, known as the Superfund (as the program is more commonly referred to), for the EPA to respond to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances and to clean up the country’s most contaminated sites. CERCLA’s primary mission is to clean up sites that may present a substantial danger to public health, welfare, and/or the environment. CERCLA contains provisions which provide that certain classes ofpotentially responsible parties (PRPs) – owners, operators, generators of hazardous substances and persons who transport hazardous substances to disposal sites – may be liable for the investigation and cleanup or remediation of contaminated sites where there has been a release of hazardous substances. Investigations and cleanups of Superfund sites may be initiated by the EPA, states or by private parties who may seek cost recovery from one or more PRPs.
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 11001, et seq.
EPCRA, or the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) Title III, was enacted to help local communities protect public health, safety, and the environment from chemical hazards. EPCRA requires the states to develop state emergency planning committees (SERCs), which in turn are required to divide their states into state emergency planning districts and appoint a local emergency planning committee (LEPC) for each district. EPCRA requires parties that store certain quantities of hazardous chemicals to file annual reports. Other reporting requirements may be triggered when there are releases of these hazardous chemicals.
Endangered Species Act of 1968 (ESA), 7 U.S.C. § 136; 16 U.S.C. §§ 460, et seq.
The purpose of the ESA is to provide a program to protect threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) maintains a list of endangered and threatened species and is charged with implementing the ESA.
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1972 (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. §§ 136, et seq.
The purpose of FIFRA is to provide federal control of pesticide distribution, sale, and use. FIFRA requires both producers and purchasers of pesticides to register with the EPA.
National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq.
The purposes of NEPA are to declare a national policy that will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between people and the environment; to promote efforts that will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of humankind; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality. Certain types of projects must undergo review under NEPA to determine if they may proceed or if the projects should be changed to minimize their effect on the environment.
Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), 33 U.S.C. §§ 2702, et seq.
The Oil Pollution Act strengthened EPA’s ability to prevent and respond to catastrophic oil spills. The OPA also established a trust fund to clean up sites for which responsible parties cannot or will not take responsibility, requires oil storage facilities and vessels to submit plans for responding to discharges, and requires the development of area contingency plans to prepare for potential spills at a regional level.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 6901, et seq.
RCRA gives EPA the authority to control and regulate hazardous waste during generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal – or, as often referred to, from “cradle-to-grave.” The 1986 RCRA amendments set standards for underground storage tanks. RCRA applies to active and future facilities that handle hazardous wastes. Facilities that treat, store and/or dispose of hazardous waste – as those terms are defined in RCRA – must obtain permits that prescribe conditions under which those activities may occur. Businesses that generate listed hazardous wastes or hazardous wastes with certain characteristics – ignitable, corrosive, oxidizers, reactivity, lethality or toxicity – must comply with certain management and handling requirements.
Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 300f, et seq.
The purpose of the SDWA is to protect the quality of any waters (above or below ground) designated or potentially designated for drinking use. The SDWA authorizes the establishment of safe standards for water purity and requires all owners or operators of public water systems to comply with primary (health-related) standards.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq.
TSCA gives EPA the authority to track all current and future classes of certain chemicals including PCBs that are produced or imported into the Unites States. It also enables EPA to ban the manufacture and importation of chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk.