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Environmental Laws and Regulations

A comprehensive list of environmental laws and regulations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Without environmental laws and regulations, our natural world would be ravaged by disasters similar to the Cuyahoga River Fire. Environmental laws and regulations are not only designed to protect the environment but to also protect human health. As the human species continues to evolve and innovate, environmental laws and regulations are essential in keeping our environment intact for generations to come.

United States

Clean Air Act

A comprehensive federal law enacted in 1970. The Clean Air Act (CAA) was established to regulate air emissions from both stationary and mobile sources. The Act set National Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in each state to address the risks associated with air pollutants. States were required to develop state implementation plans (SIPs) with a focus on industrial sources to assist in achieving the NAAQS. The CAA was amended in 1977 and again in 1990 to set more stringent deadlines as many states failed to meet their goal.

The CAA addresses a list of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) in two focus industries. The first being Major Sources, or stationary sources that emit 10 or more tons of one HAP or 25 tons or more of a combination of HAPs. The second being Area Sources, or any stationary source under the above threshold. The emission standards expect pollutants to be reduced through Maximum Achievable Control Technologies (MACT), which means that sources must implement the newest air control technologies within eight years of development.


Clean Water Act

Enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) is a federal law that regulates discharges of pollutants to waters of the United States. This stemmed from an overhaul of the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Act and also set water quality standards for surface waters. The EPA established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to control stormwater discharges. It also encompasses wastewater discharges from point sources such as wastewater treatment facilities. Industrial facilities and municipalities must acquire a permit before they discharge wastewater or stormwater to any water of the state.


Toxic Substances Control Act

A 1976 federal law that regulates the production, use, and disposal of specific chemicals such as PCBs, asbestos, and radon. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires testing and approval of new chemicals before they can be produced. The TSCA Inventory consists of over 83,000 chemicals and includes both imported and exported substances. TSCA excludes food, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides from their inventory.


Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act

Also known as ‘Superfund’ the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) gave the EPA power to pursue enforcement on parties responsible for environmental disasters through cost recovery. It provides a ‘Superfund’ to assist with cleaning up uncontrolled or abandoned sites that are contaminated with hazardous wastes and other pollutants. The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986 added additional enforcement powers and requirements. SARA Title III also gave birth to the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).


Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act

Authorized by Title III of CERCLA, the Emergency Planning & Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requires facilities that generate hazardous wastes or other pollutants to establish a plan to deal with worst-case-scenario situations such as spills. It requires facilities to keep this record public and include a list of hazardous pollutants. This gives citizens a right-to-know of what sort of chemicals the manufacturing plant down the street is working with and how it could impact their lives. Each state must appoint a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) to further divide into Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs). These committees are represented by the fire department, law enforcement, health departments, and more.


Endangered Species Act

Enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a federal law that protects both threatened and endangered plants and animals and their habitats. The US Fish and Wildlife Service develops and maintains a list of endangered species to protect. The law requires that funding is available to adequately protect each species and their habitat. Furthermore, it prevents the removal of endangered species from their habitat for reasons such as hunting, commerce, and more.


Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act

This 1988 federal law is also known as the Ocean Dumping Act. It prohibits materials from being transported from the United States for the purpose of ocean dumping. It prohibits US agencies or vessels from dumping transported materials. This extends to US territorial seas as well. The EPA sets  criteria for materials that can or cannot be dumped based on whether the dumping will “unreasonably degrade or endanger” the marine environment.


National Environmental Policy Act

Enacted in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was one of the first laws set out to protect our natural resources. NEPA broadly requires all branches of government to take the environment into consideration before taking any action. This applies to the military, airports, federal highways, and more. It requires Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) to assess alternatives before taking action or developing.


Resource Conservation & Recovery Act

Also known as RCRA, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is one of the most comprehensive environmental laws in existence. It established a ‘cradle-to-grave’ lifecycle for wastes that are deemed hazardous. Hazardous wastes must be documented from their point of generation, through transportation, all the way to disposal. It also monitors non-hazardous solid wastes. The EPA maintains a list of hazardous wastes based on characteristics and processes. A 1984 amendment focused on waste minimization and underground storage tanks.


Safe Drinking Water Act

A rather self-explanatory federal law enacted in 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) established a standard for drinking water. It also protects water bodies that are designated for human consumption, whether from surface waters or aquifers. 

Canada

The Department of Environment Act

Set forth in 1971, the Department of Environment Act created the Environment and Climate Change department. The department is responsible for preserving and enhancing the natural world. This encompasses water quality, air quality, and soils. The department is further responsible for establishing policies and programs to achieve a set of goals.


Fisheries Act

The Fisheries Act is made up of two focus points. The first being a protection provision that prevents any action that would adversely impact fish habitat. The second being a pollution provision that prevents the disposal of any pollutant that would deteriorate water quality and aquatic habitat.


Migratory Birds Convention Act

Passed in 1917 and amended in 1994 and 2005, the Migratory Birds Convention Act (MBCA) was a treaty that was signed with the United States that gave the Canadian federal government authority to protect species of birds that are native to Canada. Species that are not protected by this act include quail, pheasants, eagles, hawks, and more. The act prevents certain human activities from harming the migratory birds, including hunting, culling, and research.


Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology Act

The mission of this Act is to create innovative sustainable technologies to assist with the sustainable development of Canada. The Act funds groundbreaking new technologies through collaboration with a large network of stakeholders. It assists in forming strategic relationships to establish business plans that fit within the sustainable development goals of Canada.


Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act

Enacted in 2010, the Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act (EVAMPA) provides an avenue for the Canadian federal government to pursue administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) for noncompliance. This encompasses the Antarctic Environment Protection Act, Canada Wildlife Act, Canadian Environment Protection Act, International Rivers Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, and Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

United Kingdom

Control of Pollution Act

Passed in 1974, the Control of Pollution Act encompasses many facets of environmental disciplines. Part I covers waste disposal. Part IA covers abandoned mines. Part II covers the pollution of water. Part III covers noise pollution. Part IV covers atmospheric pollution.


Environmental Protection Act

The Environmental Protection Act expands upon waste disposal and atmospheric pollution of the Control of Pollution Act. It controls waste management and its associated emissions to the environment. It covers litter, radioactive substances, and more. It uniquely sets forth regulations surrounding the control of stray dogs.


Climate Change Act

Enacted in 2008, the Climate Change Act is set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. It sets forth to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide recorded in 1990 by 80% by the year 2050. It’s an ambitious goal that established a committee on climate change.


National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act

The English Nature agency controls National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty. This Act includes a provision that gives citizens of the United Kingdom access to open country. The National Parks and Access to the Country Act of 1949 provides a framework for managing the lands which includes job creation of wardens.


Energy Act 

The Energy Act sets energy efficiency goals to help reduce carbon emissions. It focuses on energy providers and homeowners alike. The Act includes retrofitting schools, energy-efficient data centers, rebate programs, and smart building. It also established several programs designed to encourage homeowners to retrofit their homes with more energy-efficient technologies.


This comprehensive list will help you gain a better understanding of existing environmental laws and regulations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It encompasses some of the most important laws and regulations, but know that there are many more. It’s important to check with your local regulatory agency to better understand the laws and regulations in your area.

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