What is Environmental Law?

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Written By AndrewPerry

Founded in 2015 by a group of passionate legal professionals and enthusiasts, FlowingLaw started as a small blog. Today, it's a thriving community where ideas, expertise, and legal advice flow freely.





Environmental Law is a complex combination of state, federal, and international treaty law pertaining to issues of concern to the environment and protecting natural resources. For example, environmental laws often relate to issues such as pollution of soil, air, or water; global warming; and depletion of oil, coal, and clean water.

Administration of Environmental Regulations

In the United States, the chief government agency for administering environmental regulations is the Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, many states have their own environmental enforcement agencies. In both cases, these bodies administer the laws designed to protect both human health and the natural environment. They usually have the capacity to pass regulations on environmental issues and to enforce those regulations through the imposition of fines, legal action, or even the institution of criminal proceedings.

Pollution Control and Remediation

Generally, environmental law is broken into two categories: pollution control and remediation on the one hand, and conservation of natural resources on the other. The source of authority for these laws derives from many sources, and is heavily influenced by international treaties. Many of these treaties pertain to matters like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, prohibiting the hunting or fishing of endangered species, or even banning the testing of environmentally destructive weapons, such as atomic bombs.

Violations of Environmental Law

Usually, violations of environmental laws are handled in a civil manner, with the imposition of fines and civil damages to injured parties. But an emerging trend is spreading through the field of environmental law in favor of the enactment of state laws criminalizing environmentally destructive behavior. This has led to prison time for those who violate property use laws in protected environments (such as building a home on protected wetlands) and business executives who allow their companies to pollute.

Other Areas That Affect Environmental Law

Environmental laws also have relevance to product design in the form of emissions control, environmentally friendly materials, and energy-efficient electronic devices. They have relation to tax laws in the form of incentives for activities intended to benefit the environment, like fuel efficient vehicles and the installation of solar panels. They affect housing codes in the form of requirements for insulation, heat transfer through windows, and non-polluting construction materials. In other words, environmental laws are all around us and affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives in one way or another.