Environmental Laws

Oxford Bibliographies in Public Health (2017).

U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-06

21 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2018

See all articles by Robert V. Percival

Robert V. Percival

University of Maryland - Francis King Carey School of Law

Date Written: 2017


Concern over the effects of pollution on public health has been a major factor shaping the development of environmental law. Prior to the rise of the regulatory state, courts used the common law of public and private nuisance to umpire disputes over air and water pollution. Beginning in the 1970s the U.S. largely centralized environmental regulation in the federal government after years of effort to prod states to act proved unsuccessful. Today a plethora of federal environmental statutes establish comprehensive regulatory programs to protect public health from exposure to pollution. The laws generally require federal agencies to set minimum national standards that can be implemented and enforced by state authorities under delegated authority.

Environmental impact assessment requirements are the most widely adopted provisions of environmental law around the world. These laws require assessment and consideration of potential environmental impacts before major actions likely to have a significant effect on the environment are approved. But environmental law now extends far beyond environmental assessment. The laws also direct expert agencies to set standards to limit emissions of pollution, to ensure that hazardous wastes are managed safely, to regulate chemical use and to protect endangered species.

The environmental laws employ a variety of approaches for determining how stringently to regulate. These include technology-based standards, health-based regulation, and approaches that balance risks and benefits. In recent years more emphasis has been placed on informational regulation that requires disclosure of potential hazards to consumers and members of the general public. In many countries the environmental laws require agencies to solicit public input when they develop regulations. They authorize judicial review of agency actions and they authorize citizen suits to ensure that the laws are implemented and enforced. As countries increasingly borrow regulatory innovations from one another, traditional distinctions between domestic and international law are beginning to blur. The growing importance of non-state actors in influencing the development of global environmental law and policy also is blurring traditional distinctions between private and public law.

Keywords: rationales for environmental law, history of environmental law, risk regulation, control of toxic substances, preservation of biodiversity, air pollution control, enforcement of environmental law

Suggested Citation

Percival, Robert V., Environmental Laws (2017). Oxford Bibliographies in Public Health (2017)., U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-06, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3135466

Robert V. Percival (Contact Author)

University of Maryland - Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

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