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Laws & Regulations
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Introduction to Laws and Regulations

Laws and regulations are a major tool in protecting the environment. Congress passes laws that govern the United States. To put those laws into effect, Congress authorizes certain government agencies, including EPA, to create and enforce regulations. Below, you'll find a basic description of how laws and regulations come to be, what they are, and where to find them, with an emphasis on environmental laws and regulations.

Visit our Regulations page for a more in-depth analysis of the regulatory process.

1. Creating a Law

Step 1: A member of Congress proposes a bill. A bill is a document that, if approved, will become law. To see the text of bills Congress is considering or has considered, look on the Library of Congress' Thomas Web server. exit EPA

Step 2: If both houses of Congress approve a bill, it goes to the President who has the option to either approve it or veto it. If approved, the new law is called an act, and the text of the act is known as a public statute. Some of the better-known laws related to the environment are the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

  • For more information on how bills are written and passed, go to the Library of Congress' Thomas Web server. exit EPA

  • A list of the major laws related to EPA appears below.

Step 3: Once an act is passed, the House of Representatives standardizes the text of the law and publishes it in the United States Code. The U.S. Code is the official record of all federal laws.

  • The United States Code database is available from the Government Printing Office. GPO is the sole agency authorized by the federal government to publish the U.S. Code. The U.S. Code database contains the text of laws in effect as of January 2, 2001.exit EPA

  • Cornell University also offers their own U.S. Code database.exit EPA

2. Putting the Law to Work

So now that the law is official, how is it put into practice? Laws often do not include all the details. The U.S. Code would not tell you, for example, what the speed limit is in front of your house. In order to make the laws work on a day-to-day level, Congress authorizes certain government agencies--including EPA-- to create regulations.

Regulations set specific rules about what is legal and what isn't. For example, a regulation issued by EPA to implement the Clean Air Act might state what levels of a pollutant--such as sulfur dioxide--are safe. It would tell industries how much sulfur dioxide they can legally emit into the air, and what the penalty will be if they emit too much. Once the regulation is in effect, EPA then works to help Americans comply with the law and to enforce it.

3. Creating a Regulation

First, an authorized agency--such as EPA--decides that a regulation may be needed. The agency researches it and, if necessary, proposes a regulation. The proposal is listed in the Federal Register so that members of the public can consider it and send their comments to the agency. The agency considers all the comments, revises the regulation accordingly, and issues a final rule. At each stage in the process, the agency publishes a notice in the Federal Register. These notices include the original proposal, requests for public comment, notices about meetings where the proposal will be discussed (open to the public), and the text of the final regulation. (The Federal Register also includes other types of notices, too.)

Twice a year, each agency publishes a comprehensive report that describes all the regulations it is working on or has recently finished. These are published in the Federal Register, usually in April and October, as the Unified Agenda of Federal and Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.

Once a regulation is completed and has been printed in the Federal Register as a final rule, it is "codified" by being published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is the official record of all regulations created by the federal government. It is divided into 50 volumes, called titles, each of which focuses on a particular area. Almost all environmental regulations appear in Title 40. The CFR is revised yearly, with one fourth of the volumes updated every three months. Title 40 is revised every July 1.

4. Carrying Out the Law

(This list originally appeared in "Creating a Healthier Environment: How EPA Works For You," published by EPA as part of the Winter 1995 issue of EPA Journal.)

Among the environmental laws enacted by Congress through which EPA carries out its efforts are:

1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act

1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (also known as the Clean Water Act)

1955 Clean Air Act

1965 Shoreline Erosion Protection Act

1965 Solid Waste Disposal Act

1970 National Environmental Policy Act

1970 Pollution Prevention Packaging Act

1970 Resource Recovery Act

1971 Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act

1972 Coastal Zone Management Act

1972 Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act

1972 Ocean Dumping Act

1973 Endangered Species Act

1974 Safe Drinking Water Act

1974 Shoreline Erosion Control Demonstration Act

1975 Hazardous Materials Transportation Act

1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

1976 Toxic Substances Control Act

1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

1978 Uranium Mill-Tailings Radiation Control Act

1980 Asbestos School Hazard Detection and Control Act

1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act

1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act

1984 Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act

1986 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act

1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act

1988 Indoor Radon Abatement Act

1988 Lead Contamination Control Act

1988 Medical Waste Tracking Act

1988 Ocean Dumping Ban Act

1988 Shore Protection Act

1990 National Environmental Education Act


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