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What is the structure of environmental protection law?
The Federal Government has promulgated numerous laws that provide a national framework for environmental protection and management. Under these frameworks, states have the ability (and sometimes requirement) to pass state standards for environmental protection. These regulations govern public and private conduct that has an effect or impact on the environment. The federal system is set up to allow multiple levels of enforcement. Federal and state administrative agencies are charged with implementing and enforcing the various environmental laws through administrative, civil, and criminal actions. Further, individuals can bring private civil causes of action against violators of environmental laws (including actions against the federal or state government for failing to adequately enforce the environmental laws). These actions may be pursuant to a particular federal or state environmental statute or pursuant to common-law tort actions.
• Discussion: What do you think about the system of environmental law? Why do you think federal law allows for state regulation? Is the multi-layer system of federal, state, and private actions sufficient to achieve the objectives of environmental law?
• Practice Question: William plans on opening a factory that will potentially discharge matter into the air and water. He is curious about what laws may affect his operations. Can you explain to William the structure of the environmental protection laws?