U.S. Environmental Regulations

Details on Laws versus Regs

Where do environmental requirements come from?

Environmental requirements are based on a number of sources. Here are some of the key ones (we’ll describe these on the federal level, but the concepts are used at the state level as well):

Laws (also known as Statutes).
Most requirements originate in laws passed by Congress. The formal proceedings of Congress, including bills that have been proposed or acted on, are documented in the Congressional Record. Bills that have been approved by Congress and signed by the President become public laws. They are then "codified"; that is, combined into the numbering system for Federal statutes known as the U.S. Code.

Each law authorizes an Executive Branch agency, like the Environmental Protection Agency to write regulations that interpret the law in more detail. The Federal Register is the official government record that announces proposed (draft) regulations, and procedures for receiving public comment on them. Final regulations also appear as FR notices. After regulations have been published in their final form in the FR, they are incorporated into the Code of Federal Regulations. Most of the regulations that EPA administers can be found in Chapter 40 of the CFR.

Agencies also develop guidance and policy statements that further interpret the regulations, the most important of which are also published in the FR.

Judicial decisions.
The courts are constantly interpreting what environmental law means in specific factual situations. Courts may require regulatory agencies like EPA to reconsider regulations that they have written.

Common law.
There are also certain legal requirements in the U.S. that come not from specific statutes, but from established social and legal practices, such as the requirement not to trespass or to cause a nuisance. These laws are a minor but important part of environmental requirements.

What do these regulations look like?

There are certain basic forms that most regulations follow:

Process requirements.
These requirements focus on control of emissions processes, usually requiring you to meet the performance standards of certain pollution control (treatment) technologies. One solution here is to adopt Pollution Prevention practices.

Product controls.
Sometimes the regulations will cover what kind of product you can sell or how you can sell it. One example is the pre-manufacture notice program under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Notification requirements.
Another approach is to require you to notify either the regulators or the public about certain actions you might take. A major federal program requiring public notification regarding chemical management issues is the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

Response requirements.
When spills or potential releases of hazardous substances are discovered, responsible parties may be required to develop a coordinated response in conjunction with local emergency officials. An example is the spill response requirements of the Clean Water Act.

Compensation requirements.

Responsible parties may be required to pay for damages to human health and the environment. The largest federal program in this area is Superfund, also known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

Related topics in
CERCLA - Background
CWA - Background 
EPCRA - Background
TSCA - Background

Program office links:
Environmental Protection Agency

Code of Federal Regulations
EPA Introduction to Laws and Regulations
EPA Rules, Regulations, and Legislation

Related sites:
Congressional Record
Federal Register
U.S. Code



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