Environmental law is a complex area of law that goes far deeper than the protection of the environment. Those who practice environmental law must master more than the relevant legal doctrines, federal and state statutes, regulations, and administrative law principles. They must also be able to analyze public policy, understand economics, science, and the basis behind environmental protection. They must also sift through the bureaucratic and political aspects of environmental law and policy while attempting to litigate for their clients. A successful environmental lawyer can solve environmental problems and see the wider social, economic, and political implications that underlie the environmental law.
There are several areas that environmental law can cover, most which fall under the catch-all category of environmental degradation. Air pollution, water pollution, and the regulation of hazardous wastes are just a few of the issues that can be addressed through environmental law. In addition, protection of the ecosystems and natural resources are also frequent issues for those practicing environmental law. Consequently, cleaning up and preserving the air, water, and land are important goals of environmental law – although sometimes economics plays a role, as well.
The issues are most often regulated by a series of enactments, the most far-reaching being the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The purpose behind NEPA is to compel government agencies to analyze how their decisions affect the environment. There are also numerous federal statutes that regulate and force compliance a variety of topics. For example, in the United States Code, there are complete chapters that deal with issues such as Insecticides and Environmental Pesticide Control, Conservation, Endangered Species, the Clean Water Act, Atomic Energy, Noise Pollution, and the Clean Air Act. There are countless cases before the Supreme Court, lower courts, and state courts that provide precedence for future cases, as well.
Someone interested in a career in environmental law can take several paths. She can work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and work closely with state and local agencies and handle matters that fall under any one of the countless federal statutes or enactments. She can also work for a state or local agency, providing counsel for environmental related issues. There are also opportunities to work for large businesses, such as oil and gas companies, providing legal advice and making sure the company understands the legal ramifications of polluting the environment and dismissing environmental laws. In the alternative, she can choose to work for an environmental protection group, such as the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, or Greenpeace.