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Environmental Law: Home

A guide to researching Environmental Law for law students, bar examinees, and other library patrons


Environmental Crime: A statutory offense involving harm to the environment, such as a violation of the criminal provisions in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (commonly called the Clean Water Act), or the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Environmental Effect: A natural or artificial disturbance of the physical, chemical, or biological components that make up the environment.

Environmental-Impact Statement: A document that the National Environmental Policy Act requires a federal agency to produce for a major project or legislative proposal so that better decisions can be made about the positive and negative environmental effects of an undertaking.

Environmental Protection Agency: An independent federal agency in the executive branch responsible for setting pollution-control standards in the areas of air, water, solid waste, pesticides, radiation, and toxic materials; enforcing laws enacted to protect the environment; and coordinating the antipollution efforts of state and local governments.

Record of Decision: A public document describing a federal agency's decision regarding an environmental problem, identifying the remedies considered and which one is best, stating whether practical means to minimize or prevent environmental harms caused by the chosen remedy have been adopted, and summarizing a plan for monitoring and enforcing any measures required to mitigate environmental harm.

Major Action: An undertaking that may have a significant impact on the environment, triggering the need for an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act and some state laws.

Superlien: A government's lien that is imposed on a property whose condition violates environmental and public-health and public-safety rules and that has priority over all other liens, so that the government can recover public funds spent on cleanup operations.

Right-to-Know Act: A federal or state statute requiring businesses (such as chemical manufacturers) that produce hazardous substances to disclose information about the substances both to the community where they are produced or stored and to employees who handle them.

All definitions from Black's Law Definition (11th ed. 2019)


Environmental Law is a patchwork of laws and regulations designed to protect the environment. Federal, state and local statutes as well as common law and case law impact this area.

Environmental law has its roots in common law. In the early years of United States history, common law gave citizens the right to protect themselves from nuisance or harm, yet development and expansion were the focus, with very little effort made by the government to regulate any form of capital enterprise.

By the middle of the 20th Century, the booming industrial environment was producing conspicuous pollution. Common law became an unwieldy way for protecting against environmental grievances. Federal programs and agencies were established to research water and air quality standards. These endeavors were focused more on public health than on ecology.

Ecology gained momentum by 1970 with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. §§4321–4347), the initial celebration of Earth Day and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment. The Agency develops and enforces environmental regulations, and leads the country's environmental research, education, science and assessment undertakings.

In addition to federal environmental laws and regulations, numerous state and local laws have been enacted. For instance, California has been at the forefront in trying to protect against pollution.

Overview from JUSTIA, (last visited 10/27/2015).

Subscription Databases

Bloomberg Law: On the main page type in "environmental law" in the search box on the home page, and select All Legal Content from the drop down menu. You may then refine your search results by date or by source type using the filters on the left side of the screen.

Lexis Advance: Click on Browse Topics located above the search box, and find environmental law in the topic section. There you can choose from a small number of preselected topics or search for additional topics within the environmental law topic.

Westlaw: Under the Practice Areas tab in the browse box, click on the Energy & Environment link. This will take you to "Practitioner Insights for Energy & Environment" webpage and you can browse the various sources with this topic filtering your results.

Subject Guide

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EPA Laws & Regulations: This is the main website for the EPA. It has information on laws and regulations that the EPA has been tasked to oversee.

Environmental Law Institute: ELI is an independent, non-partisan environmental education and policy research center focused on advancing environmental protection by improving law, policy, and management.

The Environmental Law Reporter: The ELR an online research tool edited by attorneys that provides the most-often cited analysis of environmental, sustainability, natural resources, energy, toxic tort, and land use law and policy. ELR’s resources include a monthly journal, News & Analysis,