Environmental LegislationR. V. Medley and Others...246
Department of the Interior Established...248
Yellowstone National Park Act...250
Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899...253
Federal Power Act of 1920, as Amended...255
"The True History of Teapot Dome"...258
Tree-Toting Members of Civilian Conservation Corps...261
A Radio Address on the Third Anniversary of C.C.C....264
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act...266
The Antarctic Treaty...270
Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water...273
The Water Quality Act of 1965...276
United States v. Standard Oil...279
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act...282
National Park Service Organic Act...286
National Environmental Policy Act...289
DOI Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act...292
EPA Establishes Hazardous Waste Enforcement and Emergency Response System...296
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)...298
Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax Act of 1980 (WPT)...301
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act...304
Oil Pollution Act...306
Clean Air Act...309
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change...311
Framework Convention on Climate Change...315
HR3515-Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988...323
Economic and Security and Recovery Act of 2001...326
Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1970 to 1990...327
Testimony of Christine Todd Whitman...331
Mercury Reduction Act of 2003...336
Coastal Zone Renewable Energy Act of 2003...339
Marine Debris Research Prevention and Reduction Act...343
The legal systems of early civilizations concerned themselves with land law, water rights, and agricultural practices. Today, these practices would be considered "environmental" affairs. Some ancient religious texts describe mandated rest periods for the land, stating that a field must be left fallow (not cropped) every seventh year.
However, one can find a comparatively lawless relationship to the environment. For the first century or more of its existence, the United States did little to govern its relationship with the environment. Buffalo were legally hunted to near-extinction. Also, essentially no legal restrictions on dumping waste into the water or air existed, except when the practice might annoy nearby neighbors rich enough to fight back. In the mid-1800s, scientific awareness of the interdependence of living systems grew rapidly along with cultural awareness of the value of unspoiled land and of the human tendency to spoil land. In 1864, The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was published posthumously. In the book, he called for the creation of "national preserves" of wild forests. That same year, the U.S. Congress gave California the Yosemite Valley to be a state park. In 1872, Congress made Yellowstone the first national park in the world. Congress began establishing other national parks in 1890.
These early environmental actions were all location-specific. They set aside spectacular parcels of land for the perpetual enjoyment of people. They did nothing to restrict pollution or to protect the environment at large. Such laws were few until the 1950s and 1960s. One of the first major U.S. environmental laws was the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. The Wilderness Act (1964) legally defined wilderness and set aside 9.6 million acres (3.9 million hectares) of federal land as wilderness (0.38 percent of the United States). In 2006, some 106 million acres (42.9 million hectares) were being protected as wilderness, and thousands of state and federal laws governed air and water quality, the disposal of toxic substances, the destruction of wetlands, and other environmental issues.
International environmental laws (treaties) also exist. The Antarctica Treaty (1959) began as a split-the-pie agreement but was amended in the 1960s and 1970s to include environmental protection. Some notable international environmental laws include the Basel Convention against disposing toxic waste in developing nations. This law was cited by protestors blocking the scrapping of the French warship Clémenceau in India in 2006 and discussed in "Demonstration against Transfer of French Warship to India for Asbestos Removal." Other international environment laws include the Montreal Protocol (1987), which protects the ozone layer against harmful chemicals, and the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, which commits nations to reduced green-house-gas emissions (1997). The United States has not signed the Kyoto Protocol.
Environmental legislation generates both economic and social controversy. Such laws are often weakly defined so they do not interfere with economic interests. Plus, spotty or reluctant enforcement of environmental laws often weakens their effectiveness even more.