Environment and the Law: A Dictionary

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Environment and the Law: A Dictionary (Contemporary Legal Issues)


  • Author: Vicki R. Patton-Hulce
  • Series: Contemporary Legal Issues
  • Pages: 361 pages
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO
  • Publication Date: December 1, 1995
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874367492
  • ISBN-13: 978-08743674

About this Book

This dictionary has been written by Vicki R. Patton-Hulce for students from high school level onwards, and for people interested in environmental studies. The goal of the Dictionary is to provide an introductory explanation of the fundamental principles of american environmental law.

The Dictionary begins with a 32-page overview chapter on ‘environment and the law’ including a snapshot of the legislative, administrative, and judicial processes relating to US environmental law.

The Dictioanry follows with an alphabetical list of approximately 200 terms on legal, technical and environment policy matters. The entries range from 40 words to several pages in length.

The book concludes with a selective bibliography of articles and books, a brief table of U.S. federal and state case law, a listing of some federal environmental statutes and regulations, and a comprehensive index.

Introduction by the Author

“All organisms generate waste. That is the nature of life. But the waste disposal and environmental pollution problems we now face are not natural, in the biological sense of the word. They have grown monumentally due to two human factors-the unprecedented increase in the human population and mega scale worldwide industrial activity. These two factors, in turn, have led to many other problems-ozone depletion, acid rain, polluted air and water, and extinction of many wildlife species. Though the threats to wildlife are among the most serious we face, I will touch only briefly on conservation laws here. Instead, I will focus on pollution as it impacts the air, water, and earth.

It is easy to blame our pollution problems on someone else-our neighbor down the street or some nameless industry. But we cannot afford to forget, as we address these challenges in the decades to come, that many of our favorite conveniences, such as the automobile, and many of the technological advances we value most-in medicine, agriculture, industry-have come at a price: pollution. In the past, when we have not known how to address waste disposal issues, we simply deferred them to the future. We can no longer afford that solution. Our challenge now and in the decades to come is finding ways to live responsibly-to keep our environment (and thus, ourselves) healthy and still maintain our way of life. This issue is one of the central concerns behind environmental law.

Environmental law encompasses statutes and regulations that deal with pollution control, prevention of pollution, cleanup of hazardous waste sites, management of waste, restoration of resources, and compensation for resources destroyed. In addition, old, well established tort theories, such as negligence or trespass, may be used to address environmental damage, even though they are not found in statutes and regulations. Most of the applicable statutes were passed in the 1970s and early 1980s. They aimed largely for control of pollutants and cleanup of existing messes. Recently enacted environmental laws, however, have moved to another arena: minimizing the amount of waste generated. In other words, we have shifted our focus from “What do we do with this waste?” to “How can we avoid or minimize the creation of waste?”

We have learned some costly lessons about pollution in the last fifty years, and we are still learning. A comprehensive list of environmental issues that will become or remain concerns in the next decade would be impossible to compile, but some of the larger issues can be predicted. Our struggle for basic needs-uncontaminated air, water, and land-will continue. More controversial issues-depletion of the ozone layer, reducing the amount of waste generated, keeping the global warming trend in check, and cooperating with other nations to handle difficult matters-will prove even more challenging.

Through environmental law, we have attempted to patch the dike and prevent our past practices from flooding through and threatening our present. The person with responsibility for putting the concepts of environmental law into practice is the environmental attorney.

Modern environmental statutes generally address one type of pollution control-water, air, or solid waste-at a time. As a result, a large body of law has grown up around each of the media (as the Environmental Protection Agency refers to these categories), making it nearly impossible for one attorney to be an expert in all subfields. Thus, attorneys who practice environmental law often specialize in a part of the field.

Beneath the general media in the specialization hierarchy, another level of subspecialists exists. For example, large law firms may have an attorney who only does water permitting, one who handles all the asbestos cases the firm receives, or one who specializes in corrective action for permitted waste facilities. Lawyers who specialize in older theories of law, such as negligence or trespass, may be environmental attorneys as well, but they are just as likely to be personal injury attorneys.

Keeping up with the changes in federal environmental law challenges all environmental lawyers. The statutes go through regular revisions, the regulations respond to those changes, and the courts interpret what they mean in a particular situation. To add to the difficulty, the federal government is not the only entity making environmental law. State and even local government, too, often enact environmental laws or administer federal law through delegation.

Changes in environmental statutes occur more frequently than in other areas because provisions in the laws themselves require periodic reauthorization of the statute. During the reauthorization process, the statute is dissected and pasted together until both legislative houses can pass it.

Each time a major environmental statute has undergone revision, it emerges from the process more complex, lengthier, and more remote to the general population.

Ideas for making environmental law more manageable are always on the table. A more integrated legislative approach to environmental regulation would be particularly helpful to practitioners. However, the system of dividing environmental law into pieces, like air and water, shows no sign of changing. Indeed, if all of the statutes were melded in some way, the length of the statute would be appalling.”


“Over the last three decades, environmental issues have risen to the top of our consciousness. Clean water and air, freedom from negative long-term effects of chemicals we use, and responsible approaches to creating and disposing of waste have become as important to us as our personally owned resources. Whether the reasons for our concern are selfish or altruistic, we are beginning to understand that human activity has had a significant impact on the world.

From one perspective, we humans have been an extraordinarily successful species. We have improved our quality of life and remained ever on the move, ever growing in number. We have used our resources as if we were buying on credit, spending freely with no thought to how we would pay the bill.

Many other species have come and gone on the earth over its long history, and it is doubtful that any of them knew why. Humans alone are capable of seeing the direction we are heading as a species. Within the last few decades, we have attempted, through environmental legislation, to correct our course. But it is difficult to convince anyone of the need to change practices that have short-term benefit until the price of ignoring their effects is fully revealed. Thus, most of our environmental statutes are reactive; they grow directly out of environmental disasters we have created.

Fortunately we have a wonderful planet that has given us life and forgiven us much. We can see our footsteps and imagine the future. The spirit of international cooperation in addressing common environmental issues will grow because it must. If we continue to address our environmental problems responsibly, we will leave a better world to our children, and they, to theirs.”

Preface to the Book

This dictionary “is written for high school, college, and
postgraduate students as well as researchers and people interested in environmental studies.”

Review of the Dictionary by James S. Heller

James S. Heller, from the William & Mary Law School, made a short review of the book. Some opinions from him about the book were, for example:

  • It provides an adequate introduction to environmental law, but really is not designed for those doing sophisticated environmental law research.
  • The definitions are more thorough than those found in the typical dictionary (Compare it to Neil Stoloff’s more abbreviated Environmental Law Dictionary)
  • It is not encyclopedic, either. For more in-depth treatment of environmental issues, see William Cunningham’s Environmental Encyclopedia (Gale, 1994), or the more scientific-oriented McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Environmental Science and Engineering (3d ed.; see ARBA 94, entry 1999).
  • It is recommended for school and public libraries, junior college libraries, and university undergraduate libraries.

Review of the Dictionary by Johanna Sutherland

In the Electronic Green Journal, Issue 1(7), Johanna Sutherland, from the Australian National University, published in 1997 a short review of the Dictionary.

Her opinions about the book:

  • The author is still focused on brown, not green. ‘Pollution and Federal US law’ would have perhaps been a better title for this dictionary because ‘green’ biodiversity, sustainable natural and cultural resource management, trade, consumption, and international legal issues receive scant treatment.
  • The entries in the book predominantly address United States regulatory issues concerning waste, emissions and pollution.
  • For Johanna Sutherland, the main shortcoming of the book is its lack of coverage of international legal issues, given the proliferation of international environmental instruments and the impact of globalization and transnational actors.
  • For example, there are no information about the 1989 Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.
  • Also are missing other important international instruments, such as the London
    Guidelines for the Exchange of Chemicals in International Trade, the London International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation, and the two International Atomic Energy Conventions on Nuclear Accidents.
  • A select few NGOs receive short entries, despite the importance of NGO activities in environmental politics.
  • Although each article is quite long, the dictionary is not an extensive and broad reference work.
  • The articles of the Dictionary are not sufficiently numerous nor detailed to assist with sound legal analysis.
  • There is very little comparative analysis of regulatory approaches, in the Dictionary, taken outside the United States, so readers are not led to other literature to assess the effectiveness of the US approach.
  • There are some information about leading administrators and politicians (like George Bush and Ronald Reagan), but “they’re the barest of details.”
  • In general, for people not based in the US, Johanna did not recommend that ‘green’ environmentalists to purchase this book.


Heller, James S., “Book Review of Environment and the Law: A Dictionary” (1997). Library Staff Publications. Paper 42.

See Also

Environmental Law
Enciclopedia Giuridica
Oran’s Dictionary of the Law
Wolters Kluwer Bouvier Law Dictionary
Leff Dictionary of Law
Dahl’s Law Dictionary

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