The Interrelationship between Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Law
The extraction of natural resources for industrial purposes, including the production of energy, can have a profound impact on the environment. Such issues as coal mining, oil and gas drilling and the creation of hydroelectric power plants can affect air quality, groundwater and the visual appearance of the landscape. Many states have enacted laws governing the exploitation of natural resources. The federal government has also established laws regulating energy production and the extraction of natural resources.
Energy law addresses the use and tax consequences of the extraction and delivery of renewable and non-renewable energy sources, including oil and gas, coal, solar and wind-generated power. Access to and exploitation of energy in the United States is regulated by the federal Department of Energy, as well as state regulatory bodies. The key issues involved in energy law include:
- Negotiation and execution of contracts for the siting and extraction of energy sources
- Licenses for acquisition of energy sources
- Ownership rights in energy sources, both before discovery and after extraction
Natural Resources Law
Under the law, natural resources include land, wildlife, fish, plants, air, water (groundwater and drinking water) and other resources. Natural resources laws address a wide range of issues, from endangered species to the protection of national parks, from oil and gas drilling to forest fire management.
Environmental law in the United States covers a broad spectrum of legal issues, from pollution control and remediation and resource conservation and management to planning and land use. The source of most environmental legislation, as well as the extensive federal Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA), is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. The EPA is tasked under the act with monitoring and analyzing the environment, conducting appropriate research, and working closely with state and local governments to devise pollution control policies.
The U.S. Congress has enacted a number of other major environmental laws, from CERCLA (the “Superfund” statute) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Every state has its own laws governing environmental issues within its borders, and there are many state and federal agencies that specifically address environmental issues.
The common law also offers protections to landowners who have suffered loss because of pollution, offering two ways that a property owner can seek recovery—trespass and nuisance. A legal theory of trespass seeks compensation for the wrongful physical invasion of property (by the polluting substance). A theory of nuisance argues that the pollution interfered with the property owner’s enjoyment of his property. In both instances, it is a valid defense if the polluting property owner was making a reasonable use of his property.