Skip to Main Content

Environmental Law Research Guide: Legislation

This research guide provides students, practitioners, and scholars with a variety of resources that will assist in research on issues related to environmental law. It also contains a section dedicated to issues regarding the BP oil spill.

Major Federal Environmental Legislation

The following pieces of legislation represent the major federal statutes that govern activiities affecting the environment. Under each statute, you will find the following: (1) a brief explanation of the statute's purpose; (2) a link to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) homepage for the statute; and (3) links to the statute's text in Westlaw, Lexis, and full text PDF. Please note that Westlaw and Lexis links will take you to the first statutory provision of each relevant statute.

Natonal Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was one of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting our environment. NEPA's basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment. NEPA requirements are invoked when airports, buildings, military complexes, highways, parkland purchases, and other federal activities are proposed. Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), which are assessments of the likelihood of impacts from alternative courses of action, are required from all Federal agencies and are the most visible NEPA requirements.

Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. § 7401 et seq.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) is the comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. Among other things, this law authorizes EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to protect public health and public welfare and to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants.

Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. The basis of the CWA was enacted in 1948 and was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, but the Act was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972. "Clean Water Act" became the Act's common name with amendments in 1977.

Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found. The ESA requires federal agencies, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species. The law also prohibits any action that causes a "taking" of any listed species of endangered fish or wildlife. Likewise, import, export, interstate, and foreign commerce of listed species are all generally prohibited.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) gives the EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the "cradle-to-grave." This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA also set forth a framework for the management of non-hazardous solid wastes. The 1986 amendments to RCRA enabled EPA to address environmental problems that could result from underground tanks storing petroleum and other hazardous substances.

Comprehensive Environmental Response and Compensation Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act -- otherwise known as CERCLA or Superfund -- provides a Federal "Superfund" to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. Through CERCLA, EPA was given power to seek out those parties responsible for any release and assure their cooperation in the cleanup.

Oil Pollution Act (OPA), 33 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) establishes a libaility scheme for those injured by oil spills. in addition, it mandates that oil producers generate plans that repsond to the risks associated with large oil discharges on land and water. A trust fund financed by a tax on oil is available to clean up spills when the responsible party is incapable or unwilling to do so. The OPA also requires the development of Area Contingency Plans to prepare and plan for oil spill response on a regional scale.

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), 42 U.S.C. § 300f et seq.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was established to protect the quality of drinking water in the U.S. This law focuses on all waters actually or potentially designed for drinking use, whether from above ground or underground sources.

Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) (contained within CERCLA, 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq.)

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986 reauthorized CERCLA to continue cleanup activities around the country. Several site-specific amendments, definitions clarifications, and technical requirements were added to the original CERCLA legislation, including additional enforcement authorities.

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 provides EPA with authority to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures. Certain substances are generally excluded from TSCA, including, among others, food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides. The TSCA addresses the production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon and lead-based paint.

Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), 42 U.S.C. § 11001 et seq. 

Authorized by Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was enacted by Congress as the national legislation on community safety. This law is designed to help local communities protect public health, safety, and the environment from chemical hazards.

     Provide Website Feedback / Accessibility Statement