Pollution Control in the United States
Pollution Control in Environmental Law
The EPA is the best known of the agencies charged with protecting the environment, but it is by no means the only one. Even after the EPA assumed centralized responsibility for environmental laws, other federal agencies have some input into what the EPA does, and a few have exclusive authority in identified areas. Thus, the Coast Guard deals with coastal pollution and ocean dumping; the Corps of Engineers is tasked with initially issuing permits for dredge and fill operations in wetlands; the Fish and Wildlife Service designates endangered and threatened species; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration governs the work environment, and the Department of Transportation deals with hazardous materials during transportation. These are only a few federal agencies that have environmental responsibilities.
With the increasing use of computers, many agencies, including the EPA, can and do make their databases available to other agencies. The data sharing arrangement is usually formalized under some type of agreement called a memorandum of agreement (MOA) or memorandum of understanding (MOU). Such agreements are difficult to finalize, but a formal agreement is not the only way to get the procedure under way. Cross training for inspectors is also common, particularly in the OSHA and EPA dominated spheres. An OSHA inspector may spot an environmental violation and notify the EPA, and the EPA inspector reciprocates.
Defining the scope of an agency’s power involves the concept of jurisdiction, which simply means the power to govern. No governmental body can create its own jurisdiction; it must come either from a statute or from the Constitution. Agencies have no authority beyond that given to them in statutes. One agency may share responsibilities with another or have exclusive responsibility. An agency may have the right to a voice in another agency’s decision, or it may be able to determine the outcome.
The closer the government is to the polluted area, the greater its interest in the welfare of the people affected and the protection of the natural resources. So even though state and local governments have no jurisdiction beyond the limits of their physical territories, they, too have an interest in the environment. Often they have a stronger interest than the federal government.
State law is very important in dealing with environmental pollution. The reason is simple: a state cannot negate federal law by passing less demanding environmental laws, but it can and often does pass tougher laws. It may also choose to regulate activities that are not regulated by the federal government. The only restrictions on states’ power in this regard are the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, and the state’s own statutes and constitution. When Ronald Reagan was president, he pushed for localized control over environmental pollution. In response, legislators began to incorporate into the statutes provisions for the transfer of some federal environmental programs to states.
But federal law is the supreme law of the land; its position of primacy is determined by the Constitution. Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over national issues, such as interstate commerce. Furthermore, if it is in the interest of the United States, Congress may pass a law that essentially takes away the states’ right to regulate. Such a move is called preemption.
When it comes to the environment, many issues must be determined at the federal level for several reasons. First, even though land lies completely within the borders of a state, surface water, groundwater, and air do not, and the EPA has been given broad authority to regulate issues that impact the United States as a whole. Also, competition among states for business and industry often presents problems that make federal control preferable to state control. If one state can attract businesses because its environmental requirements are less burdensome than those in another state, the environment may suffer. Hazardous wastes present related problems. Sitting a hazardous waste facility in a particular state or bringing in hazardous waste from another state may generate terrific political pressure. Yet hazardous waste is generated, and it must go somewhere until we know how to destroy it or render it harmless. For that reason, state laws prohibiting importing hazardous waste have been declared unconstitutional as a burden on interstate commerce.
The culprits that could bring about projected intensification of the greenhouse effect are CFCs, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases that have increased in the upper atmosphere. The carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide comes from the same primary activities: fossil fuel burning, deforestation, and soil cultivation. Methane is generated by landfills, cattle, rice paddies, and some other agricultural activities. Molecule for molecule, methane and nitrous oxide are the biggest part of the problem.
The controversial aspect of global warming turns on the difficulty of isolating the relative effects of various natural phenomena on weather patterns. Many events influence the atmosphere. A volcano discharges enough debris to lower temperatures over periods lasting up to a year or more. Erosion and dust storms have a similar effect. Population growth and the need for food and other basic comforts influence human activity, which increases greenhouse gases or conditions that cause them. With all of these factors to account for, it is difficult to establish the effect of a single factor. But one fact remains: we have altered the mixture of gases in the upper atmosphere, setting the stage for changing normal weather cycles.
Acid deposition, usually referred to as acid rain, is another newly created problem when viewed from the perspective of the earth’s history. It results from the burning of fossil fuels, primarily coal. Industrial activity, power generation, and transportation primarily automobiles have caused most of these emissions. The combustion process releases sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides, which combine with water vapor to form acidic clouds. Acid clouds move along air currents, then release their moisture in the form of acid rain, snow, or other precipitation.
Acid deposition damages forests and other vegetation, lakes and streams, aquatic life, and even etches buildings. Canada has been disturbed by the acid deposition it has received as the immediate neighbor of the heavily industrialized northeastern United States. Because Europe, too, is heavily industrialized, it has also grappled with the difficulties caused by its industries.
Based on Environment and the Law. A Dictionary.
Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”.