What is Environmental Law? How to Find a Environmental Lawyer

Environmental Law

What is Environmental Law?

Environmental law describes a large body of law made up of United States law as well as international treaties and common law. It is primarily divided into two topics. These topics include pollution control and resource conservation. The initial laws started out due to concerns for water purity in the 1960s. A number of key pieces of legislation in the United States include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, the Pollution Prevention Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, and others. Additional laws and requirements have been added since the 1970s to further develop environmental protections.

While most people do not disagree with environmental law's purposes or goals, environmental law has received some of the most significant disagreement of any other body of law. Proponents of environmental law insist that it is necessary to pass environmental laws to protect and conserve global treasures and resources. Opponents insist that the procedures for protection are cumbersome, lacking in results, and inappropriate for government intervention. The majority of all environmental law legislation revolves around these issues whereas prosecution revolves around enforcement of the rules. However, the Justice Department has been so inundated with reports and prosecutable cases that they have been transitioning into self-policing methods and other forms of enforcement so as not to overload the court docket load.

Governing Law

Environmental law is primarily governed in the United States by federal law. It is influenced and further interpreted through federal cases. However, international laws and treaties such as those established with Canada to protect and conserve endangered species are also governing law. International treaties ratified by the Senate supersede all federal laws. The majority of all environmental laws can be found in Title 40 in the Code of Federal Regulations under Environmental Protection Agency, referred to generally as the EPA. All of the states have likewise passed additional laws to protect their individual resources. In conflicts, between state and federal law, though, federal law controls.

Reasons for Hiring an Attorney

The two primary reasons that an individual would hire an attorney is to request enforcement of a particular environmental law or to defend himself against prosecution for violation of an environmental law. Another situation in which people hire environmental attorneys includes petitions to create a law or to protect a natural resource or endangered animal. Another scenario in which this would be necessary is when the purpose is to overturn a current law or regulation or to contest its constitutionality. However, the latter two do not make it into court as often.

Environmental law is an extensive body of law that requires significant specialization. Attorneys who handle environmental laws generally focus mainly on environmental law. Keeping up with all of the latest regulations and updates to the laws as well as international trends absorbs most of their time. Most states have further certifications that attorneys can obtain to demonstrate their competency as environmental lawyers. States like California keep these listings on the ABA state based website.

If you are looking to hire an environmental lawyer, you should make sure that you find one who specializes in the kind of matter you need assistance with. Defending against an environmental law violation is quite different from requesting enforcement. While you can find one who specializes in particular subject areas of environmental law, this is not common outside of California and a few other states. If, however, you are facing an environmental law prosecution that involves international law, you will want to make sure that the attorney you hire has a background in international environmental law as well as the primary methods for handling conflicts of law.

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