What You Need to Know about Laws Related to the Environment in the United States
Here are the federal laws relating to conservation, animals, air and water pollution, etc. Many states and local governments also have additional laws regarding the environment. See our Guide to Environmental Laws in California.
1. Clean Air & Climate Change
What are the laws regarding clean air?
The Clean Air Act is the primary law regulating the air quality in the U.S. It allows the federal government (generally the Environmental Protection Agency) to set emissions standards for certain vehicles and aircraft, and pollution control of industrial sources such as power plants.
Are gas stoves and appliances being banned?
While there are no plans to ban natural gas-fueled stoves or other appliances at the national/federal level, some states and cities are starting to enact such bans. New York State will ban gas-powered stoves, furnaces and propane heating in new residential buildings shorter than seven stories by 2026, and for taller buildings by 2029. It will require electric stoves and heating instead.
New York City, Berkeley, and San Francisco have also enacted bans on natural gas hookups in new buildings.
2. Clean Water
What are the laws regarding clean water?
The Clean Water Act (not too creative with naming environmental legislation, eh?) is the primary law regulating water quality in the U.S., administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Clean Water Act does not directly address groundwater contamination. Groundwater protection provisions are included in the Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Superfund act.
3. Plants, Animals & Hunting
What are the laws regarding endangered species, hunting, and other animal related issues?
See our Guide to Animal Rights.
4. Public Lands
What are the laws on conservation of the forests and wilderness?
The Antiquities Act (aka National Monuments Act) gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.
Is offshore drilling allowed in the ocean?
In the Arctic Ocean, specifically the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), offshore drilling is currently prohibited.
See here about the California coast.
Who has authority over the oceans?
The states have jurisdiction or control over the oceans 3 miles offshore. After that, the federal government has authority up until 200 miles offshore. At that point, it is considered “international waters” and no country can claim sovereignty of these.
State: Shoreline to 3 miles offshore
Federal: 3 through 200 miles offshore
International: Beyond 200 miles offshore
What is international waters?
The oceans, seas, and waters outside national jurisdiction are known as “international waters” or the “high seas“. The Convention on the High Seas, signed in 1958, and later the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed in 1982, defined international waters as extending 200 nautical miles from the baseline, where coastal States have sovereign rights to the water column and sea floor as well as the natural resources found there.