Summary of Environmental Law in the United States

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2 Institutional Framework for Environmental Protection


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Most environmental or conservation responsibilities in the federal government fall on the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of the Interior (DOI). More narrow environmental responsibilities can be found in virtually every other government agency, including the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Commerce (DOC), the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), and the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The Council on Environmental Quality

The CEQ was created by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, 42 U.S.C. secs. 4331-4344, to assist and advise the President; to review and appraise the various programs and activities of the federal government; to develop and recommend national policies to foster and promote the improvement of environmental quality; to document and define changes in the natural environment; and to make and furnish such studies, reports, and recommendations with respect to matters of policy and legislation as the President may request. The Director of the CEQ is authorized to attend meetings of the National Security Council (NSC), the National Economic Council, and the Domestic Policy Council. CEQ also now includes the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) , a 35-member special advisory council established in 1993 to develop a strategy for implementing Agenda 21the blueprint for sustainable development adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992. The PCSD secretariat has a budget of US$1 million and 13 full-time employees. The PCSD receives funding through the Department of Interior. The PCSD is divided into four task forces: climate change, environmental management, international, and metropolitan and rural strategies. The council meets quarterly and its duration extends through February 28, 1999, unless otherwise extended. See Exec. Order No. 12,852, 58 Fed. Reg. 35,841 (1993). For Revised Charter and Other Authorizing Documents.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Created by Executive Order in 1970, EPA is the lead agency for implementing most environmental protection laws in the United States, including, for example, laws controlling air and water pollution, managing solid and hazardous wastes, remediating contaminated sites, or regulating pesticides and toxic substances. EPA sets and enforces most federal environmental standards and administers most environmental programs not related to natural resources, land management, or wildlife conservation. EPA employs approximately 20,000 persons and has a US$7.6billion budget for FY 1998. The EPA is one of the few agencies that has escaped serious budget cuts in recent years.

EPA is headed by an Administrator, a Deputy Administrator, and nine Assistant Administrators, all appointed by the President. Assistant Administrators are divided along four functional activities (Administration and Resources Management; Enforcement and Compliance Assurance; Policy, Planning and Evaluation; and, Research and Development) and five program areas (Air and Radiation; International Activities; Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances; Solid Waste and Emergency Response; and Water).

EPA's Washington headquarters, which has approximately 8000 employees, includes all program offices, as well as the Office of Enforcement and the Office of General Counsel. Program offices provide technical support and policy direction for the agency and develop methodologies for monitoring compliance and enforcement. The Office of Enforcement provides legal advice to the regional offices, develops national policies and guidelines for monitoring compliance and enforcement, supports the Department of Justice on litigation matters, approves settlements in most civil judicial cases, and directs EPA's criminal investigations. The Office of General Counsel provides legal interpretation of environmental laws and has lead EPA responsibility for defending the agency.

EPA has ten regional offices throughout the United States. Each region is headed by a Regional Administrator appointed by the President. Each is divided along program areas (air, water, waste, and toxics). The regions have primary responsibility for implementing the federal environmental laws; they are also responsible for permitting, enforcement, and monitoring state programs implementing federal laws. The regions also initiate nearly all civil enforcement actions.

U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division

The responsibilities of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ include litigating all cases relating to: protection of the environment and natural resources; acquisition, administration, and disposition of public land and resources; and, the protection of Indian rights and property. The Division is divided into: the Environmental Enforcement Section, which handles all civil judicial enforcement cases, except "wetlands" cases, under the Clean Water Act (CWA); the Environmental Defense Section, which handles wetlands cases; the Environmental Crimes Section, which prosecutes criminal violations of environmental statutes; the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section, which tries both civil and criminal cases under federal wildlife laws; the Land Acquisition Section, which acquires land for the federal government for such things as public parks and military bases; the Indian Resources Section; the General Litigation Section; the Appellate Section, which handles both civil and criminal appeals; and the Policy, Legislation and Special Litigation Section. U.S. Attorneys' Offices, which are located in each state, act as the local counsel in support of most civil cases and as the lead counsel in many criminal enforcement actions.

The U.S. Department of Interior

DOI is the lead department for managing federally owned public lands and natural resources. DOI also administers programs for Native American reservations. Major agencies within DOI include: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), , the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Minerals Management Service (MMS), and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM). The activities of each of these agencies within DOI are discussed in later sections.

U.S. Department of Energy

DOE was established by the Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977. DOE is responsible for developing a comprehensive and balanced national energy strategy through the coordination and administration of the energy functions of the federal government. The department is responsible for: research, development, and demonstration of energy technology; the marketing of federal power; energy conservation and regulatory programs; and, the nuclear weapons program, including cleanup efforts. DOE's Strategic Alignment and Downsizing Initiative closed over 20 offices and reduced the DOE staff by 3800.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

USDA administers all federal agricultural programs. It is responsible for: conducting and distributing the results of agricultural research; inspecting and grading agricultural produce; managing the nation's forests; and, supporting farm incomes through price support programs and other efforts. The most critical agencies within the USDA for environmental purposes are the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). These are described in Section 19.2: Soil Conservation and Section 20: Forests and Forest Management.

U.S. Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce is responsible for promoting domestic industry and international trade through research, publications, and technical assistance. Most of its environmental activities are carried out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA was created within the Department of Commerce in 1970 to assess the Earth's ecological systems. Its mission is to promote global environmental stewardship and wise management of the Nation's marine and coastal resources. NOAA describes, monitors, and predicts changes in the Earth's environment in order to ensure and enhance sustainable economic opportunities. NOAA also conducts oceanic and atmospheric research, maintains environmental databases, disseminates environmental information products, manages living marine resources and the marine environment, and operates environmental satellites, ships, and aircraft. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is within NOAA; NMFS is responsible for the conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources and their habitat.

U.S. Department of State

The Department of State is responsible for making and conducting foreign policy. It has a leading role in international environmental negotiations and foreign policy. The Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) is primarily responsible for formulating and implementing international policies and proposals relating to oceans, fisheries, tropical forests, biological diversity, wildlife, nuclear energy, outer space, and other fields of advanced technology.

U.S. Department of Transportation

DOT includes the Coast Guard, which is primarily responsible for addressing oil spills and enforcing maritime laws; and the Research and Special Programs Administration oversees the transportation of hazardous wastes. See Section 10: Protection of the Oceans and Coastal Areas and Section 22.5: Transportation of Hazardous Materials.

U.S. Agency for International Development

AID is the primary U.S. foreign assistance agency and provides both economic development and humanitarian assistance overseas. AID has a global environmental center, which emphasizes assistance to developing countries for environmental improvements.

U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

ATSDR, an agency of the Public Health Service, reports directly to the Surgeon General of the United States. ATSDR is authorized to: maintain a national registry of serious diseases, illnesses, and of persons exposed to toxic substances; establish an inventory of literature, research, and studies on the health effects of toxic substances; list all areas closed to the public or otherwise restricted because of toxic substances; provide medical care during public health emergencies caused by toxic substances; research the link between toxic substances and illnesses; prepare toxicological profiles of the most important hazardous substances; and, conduct health assessments of all contaminated sites on the National Priorities List. 42 U.S.C. sec. 9604.

Advisory Committees

Both federal and state governments make substantial use of a wide range of advisory committees. Specific statutes authorize some advisory committees. For example, the National Drinking Water Advisory Council was created by the Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. sec. 300j-5 and the Air Quality Advisory Board was created by the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. sec. 7417. Others, like the President's Council on Sustainable Development, are created by Executive Order or agency action. The Federal Advisory Committee Act, Pub. L. No. 92-463, sec. 1, Oct. 6, 1972, 86 Stat. 770 (codified at 5 U.S.C. app. 2, secs. 1-15), establishes a set of procedures governing the use of advisory committees.

State Agencies

Every state has environmental protection, nature conservation, and/or public land management agencies that serve similar functions to those of the parallel federal agencies. These state environmental agencies set state standards and guidelines, implement and administer the laws, develop public education programs, and monitor compliance. They typically have extensive powers to investigate, inspect, and bring administrative, civil, or criminal actions. In addition, many state agencies have been delegated the authority to implement and enforce federal programs under many environmental statutes, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. See Ala. Code para. 22-30-9, Alaska Stat. para. 46.03.299, and Del. Code Ann. tit. 7, para. 6010. See Section 1.1: Structure of Government.

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