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Environmental Law: Pollution/Harms to Public Health

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Environmental Law
Pollution/Harms to Public Health

Environmental laws deal with myriad pollution problems that involve contamination of our air, water, and land. These issues are not just local and regional concerns. As U.S. businesses become increasingly global, environmental contamination has become an international concern. Pollution law is not isolated, however, from other legal specialties. It concerns itself with criminal responsibility as well as civil liability for money damages. It borrows heavily from tort and property law and also involves interpretation of contracts and the complexity of tax law. Since environmental harms can influence human health, there is also a strong link to personal injury litigation.

Public Interest: Many environmental lawyers specializing in pollution and harms to public health work in public or non-profit agencies, where the mission is to protect humans from exposure to toxic substances. They may work for environmental advocacy or public [...]

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Environmental laws deal with myriad pollution problems that involve contamination of our air, water, and land. These issues are not just local and regional concerns. As U.S. businesses become increasingly global, environmental contamination has become an international concern. Pollution law is not isolated, however, from other legal specialties. It concerns itself with criminal responsibility as well as civil liability for money damages. It borrows heavily from tort and property law and also involves interpretation of contracts and the complexity of tax law. Since environmental harms can influence human health, there is also a strong link to personal injury litigation.

Public Interest: Many environmental lawyers specializing in pollution and harms to public health work in public or non-profit agencies, where the mission is to protect humans from exposure to toxic substances. They may work for environmental advocacy or public interest organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, or the National Geographic Society. Some non-profit firms engage in advocacy efforts to convince federal and state agencies to adopt sound policies when the agencies make rules and regulations. These environmental lawyers may also represent clients engaged in advocating new legislation. Other public interest lawyers provide more direct services, assisting residents and community groups to deal with environmental problems like lead-based paint or contaminated drinking water. These lawyers may also engage in press and public outreach strategies to educate people and develop public support for environmental initiatives.

Government: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the principal federal agency responsible for environmental policy. The EPA enforces compliance with environmental laws by issuing and revoking permits, and by referring civil or criminal cases of non-compliance to the Department of Justice. Lawyers with the EPA in Washington, D.C. may also work with the Department of Justice to defend or settle litigation against the EPA when the EPA issued by industry, by environmental groups or by state agencies. They may also spend time responding to congressional inquiries or advising EPA personnel with regard to the adoption or implementation of regulations in accordance with enabling environmental legislation. Dozens of other federal and state agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are also responsible for adopting regulations under environmental statutes enacted by the U.S. Congress and by state legislatures. Lawyers in these agencies handle similar issues as EPA lawyers, but more focused on their particular agencies’ scope of work.

Private Sector: Many environmental lawyers focusing on pollution or harms to public health work in private law firms, where they assist commercial and industrial firms to comply with environmental laws and regulations. They then represent these clients at administrative hearings when they pursue challenges to regulatory actions. In addition, private lawyers assist clients with obtaining permits for their land use and facilities and obtaining environmental quality reviews. Federal statutes such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act, as well as state and local laws, require obtaining proper permits and operating licenses that meet environmental standards. For example, when a new plant or manufacturing facility is constructed, the operating entity needs to obtain air permits, water permits, solid and hazardous waste permits, among other permits and licenses. Businesses and community groups can challenge the issuance of a permit if they believe the regulatory agency has not properly fulfilled its mandate.

Private lawyers also represent clients in state and federal court actions, which can range from enforcement actions brought by governmental lawyers to mass tort claims filed by plaintiff groups alleging harm to public health or to the environment. They may also file suit on behalf of clients against other potentially responsible entities or pursue their clients’ insurance carriers for coverage of environmental costs.

In the aftermath of government investigation or enforcement actions, private firm lawyers also assist their clients in taking corrective actions. They may also assist their clients with ongoing compliance measures like the adoption of management or monitoring systems to eliminate pollutants. Recently there have been government efforts to reduce pollution by administrative schemes imposing a limit on certain emissions. Private lawyers may assist clients in trading their emissions credits in the market that has developed among companies that need to increase their emission allowance and those who pollute less and are interested in selling their credits.

 
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