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Session 1

An Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy 


Environmental Policy & Law 

Chapter 1: An Introduction to Environmental Law & Policy

The Environmental Case Chapter 1: A Policy Making Framework


Class Assignment:

Read the assigned text chapter first and then go through the class topic list and related links below. You are responsible for becoming familiar with all of the legislation, concepts and definitions to be found in chapter 1 and in the web links below. You will be examined on this information shortly. For this class session, your homework entails answering the following questions.

  1. Pick one of the following examples of natural resource legislation, research the legislation and briefly explain how it has been amended and changed by Congress from its inception to the present.

  1. Do the same assignment as outlined in assignment number 1, but this time look at an example of anti-pollution legislation.

  1. Go to the courses "Cases" web page and identify two cases illustrative of natural resource legislation and two cases illustrative of anti-pollution legislation and briefly describe each case and how each case is illustrative of either anti-pollution or natural resource legislation.

  1. Look at the  timeline of environmental history link below and tell me what developments have occurred beyond the scope of the timeline (events to date).

Be prepared to be examined on the contents of chapter 1 and the material found below on session 10.


Class Topics:


Examples of Natural Resource Legislation

  1. Endangered Species Act, 1973 - This act requires federal agencies to ensure that any action authorized, funded or carried out does not jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modifications of critical habitat.

  1. Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, 1965 - This act establishes a fund, administered by the National Park Service, "to assist the States and federal agencies in meeting present and future outdoor recreation demands and needs of the American people." Three main sources supply the funds: sales of federal surplus real properties, a part of federal motorboat fuel taxes, and Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) revenues from leasing of oil and gas sites in coastal waters. The act stipulates that not less than 40% of every annual appropriation from the fund goes toward acquisition of recreation and conservation lands specifically authorized within areas administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management. Additional funds are made available to the states for 50% matching grants. A site that has been acquired, developed, or rehabilitated with this grant money cannot be converted to non-recreational use except where approved by the National Park Service and replaced with lands of equal market and recreational value.

  1. National Environmental Policy Act, 1969 - NEPA is the basic national charter for environmental protection. It requires a systematic analysis of major federal actions that includes a consideration of all reasonable alternatives as well as an analysis of short-term and long-term, irretrievable, irreversible, and unavoidable impacts.

  1. National Trails System Act, 1968 - This act establishes a national system of recreational, scenic, and historic trails and prescribes the methods and standards for adding components to the system.

  1. Outdoor Recreation Act, 1963 - This act lays out the Interior Department's role as coordinator of all federal agencies for programs affecting the conservation and development of recreation resources. The secretary of Interior is directed to prepare a nationwide recreation plan and provide technical assistance to states, local governments and private interests to promote the conservation and utilization of recreation resources.

  1. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, 1968 - This act establishes a system of areas distinct from the traditional park concept to ensure the protection of each river's unique environment; it also preserves certain selected rivers that possess outstanding scenic, recreational, geological, cultural, or historic values and maintains their free-flowing condition.

  1. Wilderness Act, 1964 - The Wilderness Act establishes the National Wilderness Preservation System. In this act, wilderness is defined by its lack of noticeable human modification or presence; it is a place where the landscape is affected primarily by the forces of nature and where humans are visitors who do not remain. Wilderness Areas are designated by Congress and are composed of existing federal lands that have retained a wilderness character and meet the criteria found in the act. Federal officials are required to manage Wilderness Areas in a manner conducive to retention of their wilderness character and must consider the effect upon wilderness attributes from management activities on adjacent lands.

Examples of Anti-Pollution Legislation
  1. Clean Water Act (Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 as amended) - This act sets objectives for restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters. Also, the act regulates discharge of pollutants and requires federal agencies to avoid adverse impacts from modification or destruction of navigable streams and associated tributaries, wetlands, or other waters.

  1. Clean Air Act, 1970 - This act establishes a nationwide program for the prevention and control of air pollution and establishes National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration provisions, the act requires federal officials responsible for the management of Class I Areas (national parks and wilderness areas) to protect the air quality related values of each area and to consult with permitting authorities regarding possible adverse impacts from new or modified emitting facilities.

  1. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), (1980) -  CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund, was enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980. This law created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad Federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. 

  1. Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), (1996) - The primary focus of FIFRA was to provide federal control of pesticide distribution, sale, and use. EPA was given authority under FIFRA not only to study the consequences of pesticide usage but also to require users (farmers, utility companies, and others) to register when purchasing pesticides. Through later amendments to the law, users also must take exams for certification as applicators of pesticides. All pesticides used in the U.S. must be registered (licensed) by EPA. Registration assures that pesticides will be properly labeled and that if in accordance with specifications, will not cause unreasonable harm to the environment.

  1. Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 - The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 amended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). These amendments fundamentally changed the way EPA regulates pesticides. The requirements included a new safety standard-reasonable certainty of no harm-that must be applied to all pesticides used on foods. This web site provides background information on FQPA's provisions and discusses some of the specific issues raised by FQPA, as well as status of implementation of this important law.

  1. Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 (PPA) -  The Pollution Prevention Act focused industry, government, and public attention on reducing the amount of pollution through cost-effective changes in production, operation, and raw materials use. Opportunities for source reduction are often not realized because of existing regulations, and the industrial resources required for compliance, focus on treatment and disposal. Source reduction is fundamentally different and more desirable than waste management or pollution control. Pollution prevention also includes other practices that increase efficiency in the use of energy, water, or other natural resources, and protect our resource base through conservation. Practices include recycling, source reduction, and sustainable agriculture.

  1. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 - The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was enacted by Congress to give EPA the ability to track the 75,000 industrial chemicals currently produced or imported into the United States. EPA repeatedly screens these chemicals and can require reporting or testing of those that may pose an environmental or human-health hazard. EPA can ban the manufacture and import of those chemicals that pose an unreasonable risk. Also, EPA has mechanisms in place to track the thousands of new chemicals that industry develops each year with either unknown or dangerous characteristics. EPA then can control these chemicals as necessary to protect human health and the environment.


History of The Environmental Movement



Historical Event


July 4

Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond.


George Perkins Marsh gave a speech to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. He called attention to the destructive impact of human activity on the land, especially through deforestation. He advocated a conservationist approach to the management of forested lands. The speech was published in 1847. It became the basis for his book Man and Nature or The Earth as Modified by Human Action, first published in 1864 and reprinted many times thereafter.


Posthumous publication of Henry David Thoreau's The Maine Woods, in which Thoreau called for the establishment of "national preserves" of virgin forest.


Congress passed legislation giving Yosemite Valley to the state of California as a park.


The word "ecology" was coined by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel.


Appalachian Mountain Club founded


John Muir moved to Yosemite Valley.


Congress passed legislation making Yellowstone the world's first official National Park.


Congress passed the now-infamous Mining Law under which companies and individuals may buy the mining rights for public land thought to contain minerals for $5 per acre or less.


Audubon Society founded


Sept. 25

Congress passed legislation establishing Sequoia National Park, California


Oct. 1

Congress passed legislation establishing Yosemite and General Grant National Parks, California.


Mar. 3

Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, empowering the President to create "forest reserves." This created the legislative foundation for what became the National Forest system.


June 4

Sierra Club incorporated with John Muir as President


President Benjamin Harrison created the 13 million acres of forest reserves including four million acres covering much of the High Sierra.


Gifford Pinchot was appointed chief of the Division of Forestry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, begining an era of scientific forestry where, theoretically, clear-cutting was to be abandoned.


First Sierra Club outing (to Tuolomne Meadows)


Teddy Roosevelt visited Yosemite with Muir


California legislature agreed to return Yosemite Valley to federal control


March 15

The amazing Lakeview Gusher started spewing crude oil into the air of the San Joaquin Valley in California. Oil shot into the air at an estinated 125,000 barrels a day from a column of oil and sand 20 feet in diameter and 200 feet high (6 meters by 60 meters). The gushing continued at a reduced rate for 18 months and released approximately 9.4 million barrels. According to the San Joaquin Geological Society website, "Preachers and their flocks prayed that oil might not cover the earth and bring about its flaming destruction." Half the oil was captured and processed but the rest flowed into local rivers, agricultural land, the air and the water table.


Congress authorized the dam at Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park


California legislature authorized $10,000 to start planning and construction of the John Muir Trail


National Park Service founded with Stephen Mather as President



The Wilderness Society was founded. In the first issue of their magazine Living Wilderness, editor Robert Sterling Yard wrote, "The Wilderness Society is born of an emergency in conservation which admits of no delay. The craze is to build all the highways possible everywhere while billions may yet be borrowed from the unlucky future."



An atmospheric inversion in Donora held the town under a cloud of gas from the Donora Zinc Works. Twenty people died. Public outcry over the incident forced the federal government to begin studying air pollution, it's causes, effects, and how to control it. This led to the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, the ancestor of the Clear Air Act of 1970 (see below).


Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold published posthumously.


David Brower became the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Under his leadership, the Club became America's foremost environmental protection organization.


As a result of public pressure, the federal government dropped plans for a dam in Dinosaur National Monument. Building on the momentum generated by this success, the Wilderness Act, drafted by Howard Zanhiser, was introduced into Congress by Hubert Humphrey and John Saylor.


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson published. The book alerted the general public to the dangers of pesticides, particularly the dangers to humans. Yet she remained in the tradition of Muir, summarizing her main argument, "The 'control of nature' is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man."


The Wilderness Act passed, establishing a process for permanently protecting some lands from development.


The Sierra Club brought suit to protect New York's Storm King Mountain from a power project. The case established a precedent, allowing the Club standing for a non-economic interest in the case.



Sierra Club published full-page newspaper ads in the New York Times and Washington Post against building a dam that would flood the Grand Canyon. The next day, the IRS hand-delivered a suspension of the Club's tax-exempt status. This action boosted the Club's prestige and membership and helped in the fight to save the Canyon. The ad in question said simply, "This time it's the Grand Canyon they want to flood. The Grand Canyon."


Grand Canyon dam plan killed.


Santa Barbara Oil Spill -- Oil from Union Oil's offshore wells fouled beaches in Southern California and aroused public anger against pollution.


National Environmental Policy Act passed and Environmental Protection Agency created. In this, the first major U.S. environmental legislation, Congress declared:
"that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans."
2/ NEPA 101(a), 42 U.S.C. 4331(a).


Clean Air Act passed, greatly expanding protection began by the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 and the first Clean Air Act of 1963.


April 22

Earth Day


DDT banned in US.


Water Pollution Control Act passed over President Nixon's veto. The final tally was overwhelming: 52 to 12 in the Senate, 247 to 23 in the House.


Dec. 28

Endangered Species Act passed. In the famous decision of 1977 (see below) the Supreme Court validated the principles of this Act. Since then, it has become one of the most powerful tools in the continuing effort to protect the environment in the U.S.


June 15

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1973 Endangered Species Act and stopped construction of the Tellico Dam.

In 1975, Law professor Zygmunt Plater and student Hiram Hill filed the first petition under the Endangered Species Act. They called on the Department of the Interior to list the snail darter as an endangered species. The snail darter is a small fish that lives in the Little Tennessee River below the Tellico dam site.

In 1976, zoologist David Etnier, who discovered the snail darter, joined Platner, Hill and others in filing a lawsuit to stop construction of the dam.

On May 25, 1976, a judge ruled that it was too late to stop the project. The government had already spent $80 million and the dam was almost finished. But the plaintiffs appealed and on June 15, 1977, in the case of Tennessee Valley Authority vs. Hill et al., the Supreme Court ruled to suspend construction. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote in his opinion, "It is clear that Congress intended to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction whatever the cost."

It was important that such an insignificant species became the test case for the Act. It allowed the argument to proceed without the sort of emotion that would have been raised if some cute or famous species had been the first listed. Though opponents of environmental protection made many jokes about it, the decision over the snail darter made the Supreme Court's decision completely unambiguous. It doesn't matter whether people love the animal in question, or even know of it's existence. Extinction of species is bad and should be avoided.



President Carter declared an emergency at Love Canal. The Love Canal scandal alerted the country to the long-term, hidden dangers of pollution of soil and groundwater.


March 28

Three Mile Island nuclear power plant almost had a meltdown, giving the nuclear power industry a permanent black eye.


Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, designating over100 million acres of parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas.


April 26

The Number Four reactor at Chernobyl suffered a disastrous explosion and fire. Thirty-one pople died in the days after the accident but many thousands were subjected to radiation. The nuclear power industry has never recovered from the effects of the publicity given to this, the worst nuclear accident to date.


March 24

Exxon Valdez disaster.


Sept. 28

Mono Lake -- court decided minimum stream flows must be maintained.


Unocal diluent spill discovered. -- An 8.5 million gallon spill of diluents was discovered at Unocal's Guadalupe oil field. This is the second largest known spill in California history -- so far. (See above, 1910, for the largest.)


Dec. 10

A 23-year-old woman named Julia Butterfly Hill climbed into a 55-meter (180 foot) tall California Coast Redwood tree. Her aim was to prevent the destruction of the tree and of the forest where it had lived for a millennium.


Sept. 17

David "Gypsy" Chain was killed by a tree felled by employees of Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation. Chain was in the forest protesting the destruction of some of the last remaining old-growth redwood trees in the world.


Dec. 18

Julia Butterfly Hill came down from Luna after concluding a deal with Pacific Lumber / Maxxam Corporation to save the tree and a three-acre buffer zone.


Feb. 16

Kyoto Protocol comes into effect. Almost all countries in the world are now pledged to reduce the emission of gasses that contribute to global warming.