Regulations: Federal, State and Local

Public concern for the environment has been a catalyst for many changes in environmental law. Since the 1970's environmental law and regulations have become increasing complex. This section provides a brief overview of the environmental regulatory history and current Federal and State laws that regulate environmental cleanup.

Environmental Regulation History

Federal environmental statutes began with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970. The statute requires agencies to incorporate environmental concerns into their decision-making process. Other significant Federal environmental legislation includes: The Clean Air Act of 1970; The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) of 1972; The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1972; the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972; the Endangered Species Act of 1973; The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974; The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976; the Resource Conservation and Recovery (RCRA) of 1976; the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA); and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986.

Resource and Recovery Act

In the process of environmental cleanup, RCRA and CERCLA are the most common Federal statutes. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 instituted regulations on the handling of hazardous wastes. It established a regulatory system to track hazardous substances from their generation to their disposal. The law requires the use of safe and secure procedures in treating, transporting, storing, and disposing of hazardous substances. RCRA's goal is to prevent future releases of hazardous substances into the environment.


As a result of several environmental disasters in the 1970's, Congress passes the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund). CERCLA has served as the national framework for addressing hazardous waste problems. The 1980 law created a special tax that funds a trust fund, commonly known as Superfund, to be used to investigate and clean up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. It is designed to ensure that those who caused the pollution, rather than the general public, pay for the cleanup. CERCLA provided for strict, joint, several and retroactive liability arrangement.

  • Strict: Liability may exist without fault.
  • Joint and several: If two or more parties contributed to the release and unless a party can show that the injury or harm at the site is divisible, any one or more of the parties can be held liable for the entire cost of the cleanup.
  • Retroactive: Liability may exist even if the contamination occurred before CERCLA was enacted in 1980.

Individual States manage their federal programs as long as the state must prove that their program is at least as stringent as the federal program in order for them to be permitted to manage a state level program. In many cases, state level programs are more stringent than the federal program.

State Environmental Regulations - Brownfields

It is necessary to also be aware of the state regulations that may affect any past or present operations at the site being redeveloped. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed partnerships with states with voluntary cleanup programs through a Memoranda of Agreement (MOA). The MOA defines the roles and responsibilities between a state and the EPA with respect to sited being cleaned up under the state's voluntary cleanup program. Many states have enacted brownfield legislation that limits liability for those who did not cause the contamination or would like to purchase and develop a brownfield site and have incorporated the risk based standards so that properties can be remediated with a plan for the future use of that property.

To date, 37 states have enacted brownfield legislation. To those states who have been involved since the mid 1990's their brownfield legislation is still evolving.

Local Regulations

Individual counties or township sometimes have their own local regulations. For instance, a county can be responsible for instituting a State program. In addition, local municipalities have their own regulations for fires and building codes. It is necessary to make sure that the influence of any local program is investigated prior to project initiation


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