What Is Environmental Law?

Environmental law is a field that encompasses many laws, rules and agreements designed to protect the environment. These laws include regulations on air pollution, waste management and chemical use. They also include laws on natural resources, biodiversity and global climate change.


Environmental laws regulate industrial activities to prevent contamination of the air, water and soil. They also promote sustainable practices and encourage public participation.

Environmental law is a source of controversy

While environmental laws have helped to mitigate some of the world’s most pressing challenges, they aren’t without controversy. Critics point to legislative gridlock, Supreme Court hurdles, and partisan divisions that prevent environmental reforms from being passed and implemented.

In the 1970s, Congress established some of environmental law’s most significant milestones, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency. NEPA’s aspirational policy statements and action-forcing requirements changed the way federal agencies viewed the environment. It also paved the way for future environmental laws that sought to address social as well as ecological concerns.

Despite these successes, the political makeup of Congress and the courts has shifted dramatically since the 1970s. Several of the last presidential administrations have sought to roll back many of these landmarks, and partisan divisions in Congress continue to impede environmental lawmaking.

Some states and local governments have responded with bold actions that exceed minimum federal standards, either under the framework of cooperative federalism or through pure state initiative. These initiatives are often driven by citizens’ concerns or motivated by their desire to protect the environment for the benefit of their own communities and children. They also support the idea that a clean and sustainable environment is essential for human rights, such as the right to health and an adequate standard of living.

It is a tool for addressing climate change

Environmental laws help limit global warming by regulating greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainable practices. These laws also protect natural resources and support ecological balance and biodiversity, preventing over-exploitation and depletion of critical habitats. However, the success of these efforts will require more than just legal and technological tools – they must address issues of inequality that favor extractive industries.

Public participation is a crucial component of environmental law, ensuring that the public has a voice in decision-making related to their environment. Participation is facilitated through laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to consult with affected communities before taking action on projects that might impact the environment. Other laws encourage citizen engagement by providing access to environmental information and requiring transparency.

The laws of environmental ethics are also a significant part of environmental law, including the Polluter Pays Principle and the Precautionary Principle. The latter states that when there is a risk of irreversible harm, lack of complete scientific certainty should not be used as a reason to postpone cost-effective measures to prevent the damage.

Finally, the laws of environmental law include waste management regulations, addressing the generation, transport, and disposal of solid, hazardous, and nuclear waste. These rules also cover pollution prevention and other waste management activities, ensuring that the environment and human health are protected.

It is a tool for preserving biodiversity

Environmental law addresses a wide range of issues, including pollution, climate change, and endangered species. It aims to protect the environment and the health of citizens by regulating businesses, encouraging public participation, and empowering communities. It also supports carbon trading schemes and other market-based mechanisms that incentivize companies to reduce their emissions.

Air pollution is a major focus of environmental law, as it can cause respiratory and heart problems, and lead to cancer. Regulatory bodies monitor and control air quality by limiting emissions from vehicles, factories, and power plants. They also regulate water quality, and ensure that contaminants do not reach drinking water sources. Moreover, they prevent the depletion of natural resources by ensuring ecological balance and biodiversity.

The Polluter Pays Principle is a core aspect of environmental law, which states that the company or person responsible for pollution should pay the costs associated with it. In addition, the Precautionary Principle requires countries to take precautionary measures to avoid environmental harm.

International environmental law is an important tool for preserving biodiversity and addressing global environmental issues. It encourages countries to cooperate and collaborate on environmental concerns that cross borders, such as wildlife trafficking and transboundary pollution. It also promotes public participation and transparency, as well as dispute resolution mechanisms. These tools help to address environmental concerns that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to tackle at the local level.

It is a tool for promoting public participation

Environmental laws promote public participation by ensuring that all voices are heard in decisions that affect the environment. They also help address social and economic disparities, such as those that affect low-income communities. These laws also help ensure that future generations can enjoy a sustainable global environment and resource base. This is known as intergenerational equity.

Many countries have developed environmental law to protect the environment and their inhabitants from harm. These laws include pollution control regulations, resource management guidelines, and wildlife protection rules. They are often based on scientific and environmental data. These laws can also have a direct impact on people’s daily lives, from the air they breathe to the food they consume.

Most EU member states, including the Netherlands, are parties to the Aarhus Convention—more officially, the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (UNECE, 1998). The Convention requires the involvement of citizens in decision-making at an appropriate stage, when options are still open. This is the minimum level of public participation required by international law.

However, many of these laws go further than simply requiring consultation with the public. In fact, both the US and the Netherlands have legal structures that allow government agencies to engage in more active forms of collaboration with the public when they choose. Whether these structures move these governments farther along the IAPP scale depends on the specific kind of decision making in question.