Federal Environmental Law
Since the 1960s, the federal government has passed many laws governing environmental pollution. These laws are passed under the authority of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which allows Congress to regulate anything that affects interstate commerce. In general, Congress has not preempted state laws governing air and water pollution and- solid waste management, but has set minimum standards that the states must meet, which the states may exceed if they choose. Federal environmental laws are enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through private litigation when provided for in the statute, and by state agencies. While the federal government has no direct authority to force states to adopt federal clean air and water standards and enforce federal laws, it can withhold federal money from states that do not follow federal mandates. State governments almost always comply rather than forego federal funds.
Private litigation has been very important under provisions of the Superfund legislation where anyone who contributed to the pollution is liable for cleanup costs. It is not unusual for a corporation that dumped toxic substances into a landfill to sue every other business and organization that dumped into the same landfill for contributions to the cleanup costs. Such litigation can drag on for years, delaying the cleanup.
Unlike traditional state public health laws, the federal laws generally have both civil and criminal enforcement provisions. Thus the EPA can enforce the Clean Water Act through administrative law procedures, while the Department of Justice can bring criminal prosecutions against persons who violate certain provisions of the act. In these dual enforcement situations, the administrative agency cannot use its powers to circumvent the criminal due process rights of the accused. However, the EPA and state agencies can provide the Department of Justice with information filed by polluters pursuant to environmental reporting regulations or collected as part of routine agency inspections.