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What is Environmental Law?

Environmental law refers to the protection of our natural resources and the regulation of businesses that impact them. This includes resources considered valuable to humans, such as water and minerals, as well as endangered species and other aspects of the natural world. For the most part, environmental laws impact businesses. But there are a number of environmental law attorneys, typically working at non-governmental organizations, who file lawsuits against businesses and other entities for violations of environmental law.

Terms to Know

  • Brownfields: Abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.
  • CERCLA: The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), most commonly referred to as "Superfund," levies a tax on certain polluting industries to pay for cleanup costs.
  • Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): A codification of the rules published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government. The CFR is divided into 50 title that represent broad areas subject to federal regulation.
  • Federal Register: A daily publication in which the U.S. administrative agencies publish their rules and regulations, including proposed rules and regulations for public comment.

What an Environmental Law Attorney Does

An environmental lawyer deals with environmental law, zoning regulations, and other related laws and regulations. Some environmental lawyers work to help enforce or strengthen environmental regulations or represent clients (or even endangered species) injured by environmental damage. Other environmental law attorneys work on behalf of businesses or other entities to help with compliance or to defend against lawsuits alleging environmental damage.

Environmental legislation in the U.S. is enforced mainly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Individuals may seek the counsel of an environmental lawyer if they have sustained injuries they suspect are caused by the violation of an environmental regulation. Along with the Justice Department, the EPA may file its own lawsuits against companies or others alleged to have violated an environmental law.

Related Practice Areas

Find an environmental law attorney near you if you have questions or require counsel.

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