Complying with Environmental Law – What Municipalities Must Know

Environmental LawGovernment agencies are no longer exempt from environmental laws and a city or municipality must know those laws if they are to make decisions without getting themselves into trouble or cut off from County or Federal Funding. Thus, every city must understand that the water and air pollution they create, they are legally responsible for. It’s time for cities to clean up their act.

In the book you will be introduced to the realities of where the EPA starts, stops and where the cities are to follow the letter of the law. The book has chapters on NPDES permits, oil and fuel management, hazardous waste and god forbid; Superfund Sites. Of course, there are chapters on other things such as pesticides, asbestos, air quality and safe drinking water; all of which are obviously paramount to the safety and welfare of the people. Cities must have a good understanding of these things when buying and selling real estate, zoning, making city ordinances and rules for businesses and residences, otherwise the city can be liable for millions, or in some cases billions in fines from other agencies.

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Climate change and the increased demand for environmental law

In the 21st century, it’s all about the  environment. Climate change, global warming and the green movement have been  pushed to the forefront of both our political and personal conscience as the  future of our natural world and our sustainability become increasingly pertinent  issues.

Climate changeIn line with this increased environmental awareness, much  climate change legislation has been enacted and the demand for environmental  lawyers and the number of environmental law jobs is also on the rise. Many of the most successful lawyers are those who have  established themselves as an expert in a particular area of law, and with this  increased environmental law demand, environmental law is proving an  increasingly popular, required and important law field. Are you interested in  getting involved in environmental law and making it your area of expertise?

  • What is environmental law? Broadly  speaking, environmental law regulates the interaction of humans with the  biophysical or natural environment in order that human impact may be reduced. Environmental  law is usually related to two main areas  pollution control and remediation  and resource conservation and management.
  • International environmental law.  Because of the international nature of much environmental laws  in the forms  of multilateral and bilateral treaties between nation states  environmental  lawyers will often be involved and well versed in international law. Environmental  law jobs, therefore, will suit lawyers after an area of law expertise that can  be transferred and well utilised across national borders.
  • ‘Green’ law firms and the increase in  environmental law jobs. As climate change has moved from an uncertain  scientific theory into a real global threat recognised the world over, the  field of environmental law has expanded. There is an increased demand for those  experienced in climate change legislation and with an understanding of the  markets and regulations surrounding climate change and carbon trading or  renewable energy. Law jobs at environmental firms  are even demonstrating their commitment to their field by ‘greening’ the  operations and running of their business.

With law firms, legislation and ordinary citizens responding  to the threat of climate change and global warming, environmental law will  continue to be an important niche area of law for years to come. Those looking  to enter the legal work force or determine their area of expertise should  consider environmental law for its pertinence, prominence and importance in  contemporary 21st society.

Do You Know How Environmental Law is Enforced?

The main bodies for enforcing environmental law are Local Authorities and the Environment Agency. Since the aim of environmental enforcement is to prevent harm to the environment and human health it focuses on both punishments for breaching environmental laws and prevention so that breaches are prevented from occurring in the first place. These two elements of enforcement give rise to a range of sanctioning tools and cooperative strategies. The sanctioning approach involves punitive measures such as suspension, variation or revocation of license or authorisation; or criminal prosecution in a court of law. The cooperative approach covers other formal or informal mechanisms like persuasions by the regulators, monitoring or inspection, issuance of verbal or written notices.

Environmental Law -The cooperative approach has the potential advantage of achieving environmental compliance without the hassle and cost arising from court prosecution. However, it is also generally acknowledged that cooperation has to be supported and backed-up by more formal legal mechanisms. For example, in the Environment Agency versus Stanford [1999] case, the scrap metal dealer (Mr Stanford) notified the Environment Agency that his activities were exempt from a waste management license. An officer of the Agency then visited the site and informed Mr Stanford that the activities were in fact unlawful. Rather than prosecuting Mr Stanford the officer advised on the various steps that were required to qualify for exemption. On subsequent site visits, the officers of the Agency gave the impression that no prosecution would be commenced if the works were carried out within a specific period of time. When these works were not carried out the Agency initiated a prosecution.

Given this context, it was argued that the prosecution was an abuse of process because of the promises of non-prosecution made by various officers of the Agency. This argument was dismissed by the court on the grounds that there was nothing to support the finding that the defendant was led to believe that he would not be prosecuted for past offences if he completed the necessary works by the stipulated date. Although it was arguably true that the Agency had not made it clear that it was considering prosecution, it was under no obligation to do so. Even if it could be argued that the Agency had imposed a condition that the defendant would not be prosecuted if he completed the work by the stipulated date, the condition had not been met.

This case shows that the enforcement agencies are not prohibited from taking formal enforcement actions even when they permit offenders some time to bring their actions into compliance and such acts of the enforcement agencies cannot be used as a defence against prosecution.

Empirical studies of the activities of enforcement bodies in USA indicate that a hierarchy of enforcement mechanisms are utilized. The first stage involves advice and education about the environmental problem that constituted the breach of law. Where this mechanism fails in enforcement of particular regulation, warnings are issued and the option of prosecution is exercised only where the offence is either serious or intentional. Given the specific nature of environmental regulations, the work of enforcement agencies is technically and scientifically based and the agencies provide technical guidance and help to the industry for effective compliance. Therefore, education and advice are regarded more important than sanctions and other formal enforcement mechanisms. The emphasis is upon continuing relationship between the regulator and operators in order to prevent harm to the environment and its effective protection. This object can best be achieved through effective cooperation with the industry rather than confrontation which may result from imposition of sanctions. But it is worth remembering that when this fails the regulator can always revert to a more formal sanctioning approach!