ENVS203 Study Guide

Unit 5: Environmental Law

5a. Identify major events in the history of environmental law

  • What are some key events within the environmental law history timeline?
  • How do state and federal environmental laws differ in the United States?

How humans interact with the natural world has evolved over time. The preservation of wilderness and the conservation of resources was a main focus when the environmentalism movement emerged. However, in response to the environmental movement, several laws emerged to regulate pollution and to protect natural resources which were at risk because of human activity.

To review, see Environmental Law History Timeline.

5b. Describe key environmental laws in the United States and the European Union

  • In the United States:
    • What is the history behind the introduction and implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
    • What are the main goals of the Clean Air Act?
    • What are the main goals of the 1977 Clean Water Act?
    • What are the main goals of the Endangered Species Act?
  • In the European Union:
    • Name some of the main goals of environmental policy in the European Union (EU)?
    • What is considered our shared life support system?
    • Define environmental impact assessment (EIA).

In Europe, many communities require individuals, businesses, and industries to present relevant policymakers with an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for any development proposals they have that may impact the environment and surrounding community.

For example, these laws require a developer who wants to build a housing development to identify and predict whether their plans will have any biophysical, social, or other relevant effects on the community, such as whether it will negatively impact the water supply, wildlife, or create pollution or industrial waste. Businesses need to detail how their company will mitigate any negative environmental damage they may cause.

To review, see:

5c. Assess the impact of these environmental laws

  • What is the purpose of some major international environmental treaties of past decades?
  • What are some shortcomings of the current international framework?
  • What are the proposed principles to ensure environmental compliance in the 21st century?

It is important to understand the ways we use laws to protect the environment, such as to alleviate the negative effects of climate change. For example, climate change can destabilize communities and exacerbate the spread of infectious diseases, resource depletion, and accelerate migration. Environmental laws seek to address climate change through legislation and legal systems on the local, regional, national, and global levels.

To review, see Has Policy Improved Europe's Air Quality?, One More Failed U.S. Environmental Policy, and What Future for International Environmental Law?.


Unit 5 Vocabulary

  • climate change 
  • conservation
  • environmental impact assessment (EIA)
  • mitigate 
  • preservation