Skip to Main Content

Environmental Law Research Guide: Federal Statutes

Resources in environmental law.

ocean waves crashing on the shore with federal statutes written on them

Federal Statutory Framework

  • Passed in 1963, this statute created a national policy regarding the control of air pollution. It authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to create regulations to protect health from airborne contaminants. Currently codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401 et seq.
  • Passed in 1972, this statute created a national policy regarding water contamination.  It established national goals to improve the quality of surface water and prevent the release of toxic substances that may impact health or environmental quality.  Currently codified at 33 U.S.C. §§  1251 et seq.
  • Also known as "Superfund", was originally enacted in 1980 to address the threats to human health and environment from abandoned hazardous waste disposal sites.  CERCLA was substantially modified by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986.  Currently codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601 et seq.
  • Enacted to help local communities against chemical hazards.  It requires each state to establish a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC).  Each state SERC is then directed to divide their state into Emergency Planning Districts and appoint a Local Emergency Planning Committee for each district.  These state emergency commissions must also establish procedures for receiving and processing requests from the public for information under this law.  Commonly known as SARA Title III as it was enacted simultaneously.  Currently codified at 42 U.S.C. § 11001.
  • The ESA was enacted to conserve threatened and endangered plants and animals as well as their habitats.  In order to receive protection under the ESA, a plant or animal species must be placed on the Federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is part of the US Department of the Interior.  Currently codified at 7 U.S.C. § 136 & 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531 et seq.
  • Passed in 1970, this statute established a national policy regarding environmental protection and created the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  Currently codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4347.
  • RCRA governs hazardous and/or toxic waste.  It was significantly amended by the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 (HSWA).  Under HSWA, Subtitle C established the national hazardous waste management program and requires the EPA to identify hazardous waste characteristics and list specific substances as hazardous wastes.  Currently codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 6901- 6987.
  • SARA significantly amended the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in 1986.  SARA emphasizes the importance of finding permanent remedies for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, requires Superfund actions to consider requirements contained in other applicable state and federal laws and regulations, enhanced enforcement authority, increased State involvement in Superfund activities, focused on human health problems associated with hazardous waste, and encouraged citizen participation in hazardous waste cleanup decisions.  SARA also directed the EPA to revise the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) to ensure that the relative degree of risk to human health and the environment posed by uncontrolled hazardous waste sites was taken into account when deciding which sites were placed on the National Priorities List (NPL).  The Hazard Ranking System (HRS) is the primary tool the EPA uses to determine which uncontrolled waste sites to place on the NPL. Currently codified under CERCLA at 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601 et seq.
  • Gives the EPA ability to track industrial chemicals currently produced or imported into the United States.  Authorizes the EPA to ban the manufacture and import of chemicals it believes are dangerous to public health.  TSCA supplements the Clean Air Act and the Toxic Release Inventory.  Currently codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 2601- 2697.

Research Help

We're here to help. Contact a research librarian for help with an assignment, project, or resource. 

Mon-Fri, 11am

Reference Hours



under the sea with school of small fish