- The United States environmental law came about in the late
'60s and '70s, and serves as a model for other countries.
- First major environmental law was National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA), passed in 1969.
- NEPA required the federal government to use all possible means to minimize environmental impact on its actions.
- NEPA required all federal projects (dams, highways, airports, etc.) to submit an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
- An EIS describes:
- What the project is
- The need for it
- short and long term environmental impact
- proposals to minimize the impact
- All letters of complaint are filed with the EIS [thus, it serves to help companies find the most environmentally sound construction method]
- Between 1970 and 1983, about 24,000 EISs were filed.
- NEPA has resulted in a large number of lawsuits filed by environmental groups.
- Many other countries, such as Canada, Australia, and France have laws patterned after NEPA
- Problems of EISs include:
- too lengthy; include too many peripheral subjects
- reports often ignored
- often based on inadequate information
- projects often carried out regardless of serious impact
- EISs can be avoided by stating there is no adverse environmental impact.
- In 1979, EISs structure was streamlined to eliminate some, but by no means all, of the above problems. (Reports could be no longer than 150 pages, must use concise language, and include a brief summary.)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formed in 1970 by
executive order reorganizing 15 environmentally related
- Originally created to carry out Federal Water Pollution
Control Act, and Clean Air Act.
- Today, EPA manages impact of pollutants (including, air
radiation and noise pollution) and enforcement of related laws
- EPA research carried out through Universities, and at four National Environmental Research Centers located in:
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Corvallis, Oregon
- Business interests have sought to dismantled or weaken the EPA
Environmental laws began in the 1800s with municipal trash burning, and river disposal regulations
Soon, due to the 'flowing nature' of rivers, states began to regulate trash disposal.
Gradually in the 1940s and '50s the 'environment' switched to the federal government, first primarily in the area of research, and later to actual regulation
Types of Environmental laws:
- Statutory Laws - laws stating broad principles. The EPA is generally given the responsibility of determining specifics.
- Common Law - unwritten laws, derived from legal decisions. (example: A man may sue a factory because it causes excessive noise pollution that prevents him from sleeping.)
Common law cases are generally decided on the principles of Negligence and nuisance:
- Nuisance: the use of ones land in an unreasonable
unlawful, or unwarranted manner that obstructs or injures
the rights of another person.
- remedies for nuisances include compensation (money award
for damage caused) and injunction (court order requiring the stopping of the nuisance)
- types of nuisances include public (those that affect a
large number of people) and private (those that affect
just a few people)
- good faith efforts to stop nuisances generally reduce
the punishment received.
- Negligence: acting in unreasonable manner and causing
personal or property damage
- negligence usually proved by citing a failure to follow
regulations, or do as other similar companies do
- negligence may be disproved by citing lack of knowledge
concerning the problem.
- companies have sought laws to prevent them from being held responsible for extensive damages (e.g. utility companies are free from paying damages or taking responsibility for nuclear plant accidents.)
- environmental lawsuits are difficult to win because the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. If he can't prove that the company is causing a major problem, he can't win. Often,
diseases caused by certain chemicals are not readily known)
- the statute of limitations limits the amount of time between the actually incident and the filing of a lawsuit. Thus, if
improper sewage disposal caused a dude to be get cancer in twenty years, he would be unable to sue the company because too much time had elapsed.)
- the frequency of out of court settlements prevents precedents from being set.
- Mediation offers a non-court method of solving environmental dilemmas. A neutral third party helps the two parties reach a compromise situation.
Economics and the Environment
- Net Economic Welfare (NEW) measures the nations output by subtracting pollution damage from the Gross National Product
- cost-benefit analysis is used to determine the maximum
pollution reduction at a minimum cost. pollution control has usually been enforced by punitive measures. (mostly fines)
- pollution controls have resulted in the creation of a large number of new jobs
- 'time preference' affects the environment - some farmers may prefer to wreck havoc upon their fields to get immediate
massive yields, while others will try to get long lasting, but more humble yields.
- increasing population growth and per capita consumption of resources has a negative impact on the environment
- some economists suggest a totally self-supportive, 'recycling' economic system would be the most beneficial goal
to seek after.
- Sustainable economic development - procedures that allow us to meet current needs, but won't hamper future environmental
requirements for survival.
- appropriate technology - technology geared to local resources
- taxpayers, consumers, and businesses all foot part of the bill for pollution control devices.
- National Conservatory - uses its fund to buy land for plant and wildlife management. These lands are often sold to state agencies - with interest. Also, buys third-world debts in exchange for environmental regulations
- Natural Resource Council of Maine - uses research and editorials to convince the legislature to enact land-use planning regulations and 'save' nature