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What are the Different Types of Environmental Legislation?

By Bethany Keene
Updated: May 16, 2024

Environmental legislation can encompass everything from local law or policy changes in a municipality, to global climate initiatives intended to reduce carbon emissions. Environmental legislation can be divided into two broad categories: laws and policies that are intended to prevent or reduce pollution, and those determining the use of natural resources and land. Pollution policies tend to be those on a more global scale, though of course there are regional pollution laws as well. Conservation and natural resource management as a general rule tend to be more regional, but again, there are exceptions, such as oil drilling.

Pollution can take many different forms, and environmental legislation that targets it is forced to recognize this. Carbon emissions as related to climate policy are one of the most common sources for global legislation, as countries and even individual businesses attempt to work together worldwide to first set acceptable emissions standards, and then keep emissions under those limits. Local areas may seek to minimize pollution from wastewater treatment plants, for example, or target local sources that may pollute waterways or soil through runoff from roads or agricultural uses. Even noise pollution may be considered, resulting in changes to air traffic patterns to avoid sensitive areas. Laws developed will typically attempt to reduce and eliminate pollution as much as possible.

The second broad category of environmental legislation, land use and natural resource management, takes many different forms as well, and sometimes is combined with pollution laws or policies. These types of laws may regulate how a certain piece of land will be used; for example, if an area is preserved, no further development may take place. If natural resource use is occurring in a certain area, such as logging or natural gas retrieval, for example, environmental legislation will regulate how these actions may take place. It is typically the goal of these types of laws to ensure that resources are used in as sustainable a manner as possible, and with the least amount of damage to the surrounding environment.

It is important to remember that environmental legislation is not only relevant in nature, but in developed areas as well. Zoning laws, for instance, are related to environmental law as they help to regulate the types of buildings or infrastructure that can be placed in a certain area. These are just a few examples of environmental legislation; the field continues to change and evolve as more is learned about sustainability and impacts of human activities on the environment.

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