In today’s world, protecting the environment and the planet’s limited natural resources has become more important than ever. However, as with most complex issues, a variety of laws need to be in place to help deal with problems when they arise. Because of this, the field of environmental law has in recent years taken a much more prominent place on the national and international stage. Yet while it’s importance has grown, many people are still unclear as to exactly what environmental law entails.

Defining Environmental Law
Simply put, environmental law is a combination of state, federal, and international treaties and laws pertaining to the protection of natural resources and other related environmental issues, such as global warming, soil and water pollution, and the depletion of such resources as oil, clean water, and coal.

How is Environmental Law Administered?
Within the United States, environmental law is governed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Along with this federal agency, most states have their own environmental agencies responsible for enforcing various rules and regulations. In general, these agencies have the authority to pass regulations and then enforce them through such penalties as fines, lawsuits, or criminal charges if necessary.

Categories of Environmental Law
Environmental Law consists of two major categories, which are conservation of natural resources and pollution control and remediation. While the laws for these categories come from a variety of sources, international treaties play a large role in helping to influence how laws are written, interpreted, and enforced. Examples of issues that are influenced by treaties include greenhouse gas and emissions, protection of endangered species, and regulating or banning weapons harmful to the environment, such as atomic bombs.

Environmental Law Violations
Inevitably, virtually all aspects of environmental law will be violated. When this happens, a number of different types of recourse are available to states and nations. While many cases lead to fines or other similar penalties, more and more states and nations are now creating laws that make environmental violations a criminal offense. Because of this, those who allow extreme violations to occur, such as business executives whose companies knowingly pollute or break the law in other ways, often face prison sentences for their crimes.

Additional Aspects of Environmental Law
While most people associate environmental law with rivers, oceans, and other sensitive areas of the planet, there are numerous other areas that are affected by environmental law. For example, the development of environmentally-friendly materials and energy-efficient electronic devices fall under environmental law. Also, tax breaks and other incentives for companies to develop fuel-efficient vehicles and to use other forms of energy, such as solar panels or wind turbines, are included in environmental law.

As the planet and our environmental resources and needs continue to change, it’s clear that various laws will need to be created or revised. Whether it’s an individual state adopting new laws related to clean water or nations around the world agreeing to a treaty related to climate change, the field of environmental law is indeed always changing.