While it may seem that being eco-responsible has suddenly cropped into our general consciousness via the likes of recycling and solar paneling, the truth is environmental law has long been an aspect of society.
It was in the 1800s when Congress originally drafted the River and Harbors Act. Implemented to protect the waterways from pollution, it is one of the U.S.’s earliest recordings of policy designed to safeguard natural resources.
Environmental movement got its first real push in the 1970s, along with the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency. As the impact of everything from smog to gas emissions became a common concern for the public, educators and government, reason grew to consider how unified action can deter damage to the air, water and land.
Today, environmental law has risen to a level of global importance. The effects of human activity on our natural environments is regularly reviewed through a network of evolving statues, treaties, regulations, and customary and common laws set by individual countries and bodies like the United Nations. There are also third party private organizations that specialize in areas of environment review and action. Yet, despite this division, environmental law promotes accreditation and a code of conduct to measure activities intended to manage everything from power consumption to waste management.
Structure of Environmental Law
Environmental law according to Frans Schoeman is in constant evolution as we have to respond to emerging awareness of issues that impact the world. Still, while laws can be developed piecemeal, there are a strict set of guiding principles and key concepts utilized as a universal foundation for approaching how to manage our footprint. Without necessarily encompassing all situations, these principles and concepts look at, in general, the ways we can meet our present needs without compromising the future of our environment’s integrity; how we manage transboundary responsibility, i.e., ensuring our actions do not harm neighboring environments; public participation and accountability; and prevention through the best possible practices.
What We Are Doing
There isn’t necessarily a single agreed upon approach to environmental law, but all parties are focused on protecting natural resources. We plan, policy and program in order to find alternatives to any actions that could create negative consequences to forests, wild and human life, water, air, etc.
Air quality laws look to regulate emissions in an effort to minimize pollutants into the atmosphere. We study ways to identify the most effective means to restrict chemical, radiological and physical threats that end up in water and land resources. From landfills to disposal of hazardous waste, we strive to govern the treatment, transport, disposal and storage of waste that can cause harm. Contaminant cleanup concerns a set of protocols that can prevent and deal with the likes of oil spills.
Imagining a world without environmental laws is pretty much picturing one without trees, clean water to drink or bathe in, and walking around inhaling toxic fumes. This isn’t merely a concern of government and organizations, it is a concern every individual needs to have.