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Environmental Law: an overview

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed in 1970 along with the Environmental Quality Improvement Act, the Environmental Education Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The main objective of these federal enactments was to assure that the environment be protected against both public and private actions that failed to take account of costs or harms inflicted on the eco-system.

The EPA was supposed to monitor and analyze the environment, conduct research, and work closely with state and local governments to devise pollution control policies. NEPA (really enacted in 1969) has been described as one of Congress's most far reaching environmental legislation ever passed. The basic purpose of NEPA is to force governmental agencies to consider the effects on the environment of their decisions.

State laws also reflect the same concerns and common law actions in nuisance allow adversely affected property owners to seek a judicial remedy for environtal harms harms.

See also:
  • Energy Law
  • Land Use
  • Natural Resources
Energy Law: an overview

For most of American history, the federal government did not play an active role in the energy industries. During the Great Depression and into the years of WWII, the federal government began to establish a fragmented regulatory framework, with many agencies participating. Furthermore, the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons initiated the era of nuclear regulation. However, the energy crises of the 1970s forced the federal government to consolidate its scattered regulatory framework that had developed piecemeal in the previous decades. With the creation of the Department of Energy in 1977, a national energy plan emerged for the first time. The stated purpose of federal energy laws and regulations is to provide affordable energy by sustaining competitive markets, while protecting the economic, environmental, and security interests of the United States.

Early regulation began with the Federal Power Act of 1920, which created the Federal Power Commission. Amended in 1935, and 1986, the Federal Power Act allowed a regulatory framework to develop. In 1977, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was established within the newly created Department of Energy and assumed the functions several agencies, including the Federal Power Commission. FERC is an independent regulatory agency that oversees the natural gas, oil, and electricity markets in the U.S. FERC regulates the transmission and sale of these energies (except the sale of oil), provides licenses for hydroelectric plants, and reacts to environmental matters that arise. The Commission is headed by five presidential appointees, only three of which can be from the same political party, who serve five year terms. FERC utilizes an internal dispute resolution system, reducing the number of disputes that reach the federal courts. The nuclear power industry is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), whose mission it is to protect the public health and safety from nuclear radiation and waste. The NRC also promotes the common defense through a regime of rulemaking, inspection, and licensing.

In recent years there has been a shift towards deregulation of various energy industries. Deregulation aims to increase market competition in order, ultimately, to serve the goal of cheap, reliable energy. The trend is most progressed in the electricity market, where in many states consumers can now choose their suppliers. To label this as 'deregulation' is somewhat of a misnomer, however, since government oversight still plays a central role. Rather, historically vertically integrated power companies are breaking apart to create competition at every step of the chain from production to consumption.

Title 42 of the U.S. Code entitled 'The Public Health and Welfare' has many chapters devoted to energy issues, as does Title 16, and Title 30 of the U.S. Code. See also Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which deals with various energy matters.

Land Use Law: an overview

In colonial America few regulations existed on the use of land due to the seemingly endless amounts of it. As society shifted from a rural to an urban society, public land regulation became important especially to city governments trying to control industry, commerce, and housing within its boundaries. The first zoning ordinance was passed in New York City in 1916 and by the 1930s, most states had adopted zoning laws. By the 1970s, concerns about the environment and historic preservation led to further regulation.

Today, federal, state, and local governments regulate growth and development through statutory law. The majority of controls on land, however, stem from actions of private developers and individuals. Three typical situations involving such private entities and the court system are: suits brought by one neighbor against another; suits brought by a public official against a neighboring landowner on behalf of the public; and suits involving individuals who share ownership of a particular parcel of land. In these settings judicial determination and enforcement of private land-use arrangements can not only reinforce public regulation but achieve forms and levels of control zoning cannot.

Two major federal laws have been passed in the last half century that curb the use of land significantly. These are the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 ( today embodied in 16 U.S.C. 461 et seq.); and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.).

Natural Resources Law: an overview

Natural resources, as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations (40 C.F.R.), encompass land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies, and other such resources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the United States, any State or local government, or any foreign government.

See Environmental Law to obtain specific information regarding a particular natural resource. The relevant sections of the United States Code are: Title 16 dealing with Conservation; Title 30 dealing with prospecting; Title 40 dealing with Public Property; Title 42 dealing with Public Health (and how natural resources relate to public health); and Title 43 dealing with Public Lands.

See Energy Law to obtain specific information about laws and regulations governing the conversion of natural resources into energy, and various issues that arise during this process.


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