Current federal laws

Which current federal laws are a front line of defense for communities in general and especially those seeking environmental justice & climate justice?


NEPA, 1969

The National Environmental Protection Act of 1969 has been called the Magna Carta of environmental legislation.   It established in law the idea that federal projects are required to consider report on their projected impact, established the system requiring Environmental Impact Statements [EIS]  For details see


CAA, 1970 

The Clean Air Act of 1970 -  -along with amendments in 1977 and 1990-  -  mark an historic advance in the executive branch's role in monitoring and regulating both stationary & mobile air pollution [from industry & from transportation, respectively].   Initially, the federal role was limited to funding research through the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955. Next, an early version called the Clean Air Act of 1963 authorized research on air pollution monitoring and control within the framework of the U.S. Public Health Service.  In 1967, the Air Quality Act further expanded federal action to include specification of emission inventories, ambient monitoring, and pollution controls.

But with the passage of CAA, 1970 sweeping comprehensive federal and state regulations began to enforce limits on air pollution, ushering in the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS); State Implementation Plans (SIPs);  New Source Performance Standards (NSPS);  National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs).  For details see


CWA, 1972 

The Clean Water Act [CWA, 1972] has become the common parlance for a significantly amended 1972 version of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, which was the first major federal law on the subject.   For details see


SDWA, 1974

The Safe Drinking Water Act [SDWA, 1974] established EPA authority over all water sources designated for human consumption both potentially and in actuality, encompassing both surface waters and underground water sources, establishing minimum quality standards and granting authority to regulate owners and operator of public water systems.  Amendments in 1996 amendments extended EPA authority to rely on the best available peer reviewed science to develop standards and conduct & review detailed cost/risk/benefit assessment.  For details see


TSCA, 1976 

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976          

SCA addresses the production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon and lead-based paint.

Various sections of TSCA provide authority to:

  • Require, under Section 5, pre-manufacture notification for "new chemical substances" before manufacture
  • Require, under Section 4, testing of chemicals by manufacturers, importers, and processors where risks or exposures of concern are found
  • Issue Significant New Use Rules (SNURs), under Section 5, when it identifies a "significant new use" that could result in exposures to, or releases of, a substance of concern.
  • Maintain the TSCA Inventory, under Section 8, which contains more than 83,000 chemicals. As new chemicals are commercially manufactured or imported, they are placed on the list.
  • Require those importing or exporting chemicals, under Sections 12(b) and 13, to comply with certification reporting and/or other requirements.
  • Require, under Section 8, reporting and record-keeping by persons who manufacture, import, process, and/or distribute chemical substances in commerce.
  • Require, under Section 8(e), that any person who manufactures (including imports), processes, or distributes in commerce a chemical substance or mixture and who obtains information which reasonably supports the conclusion that such substance or mixture presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment to immediately inform EPA, except where EPA has been adequately informed of such information.  EPA screens all TSCA b§8(e) submissions as well as voluntary "For Your Information" (FYI) submissions. The latter are not required by law, but are submitted by industry and public interest groups for a variety of reasons.


         for details see


EJ 2020 Resources

Nonetheless, the Environmental Justice Research Roadmap is a particularly invaluable downloadable resource interfacing environmental justice and science.  In brief, it highlights opportunities that can link environmental equity and technology.    


Communities can proactively look at data to examine the data on their exposures using EJSCREEN: Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool.

While flaws may exist, this tool allows a community to examine the types of pollution and those levels that are recorded, reported, and archived at EPA in a nationally consistent dataset, along with a means of considering both environmental and demographic indicators that may reveal patterns and/or help explain local health problems.  EPA does not protect a community, per se.  They collect the data and make it available so that communities can seek protection.  Communities and the helping professionals must be proactive in examining these data and demanding solutions where the argument can be made.






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