Environmental Law



Environmental law is a body of law dedicated to protecting the natural environment from degradation because of human influences. The earliest legal remedies available for environmental problems can be found in the common law under trespass and nuisance. While these two causes of action are still valid, the “right to farm” laws enacted in all fifty states have limited their effect. Specific statutory protection of the environment began in 1899, when the United States passed the first federal environmental law. Entitled the Rivers and Harbors Act, it provided a legal alternative to limiting the amount of water pollution in the nation’s navigable waters. Modern environmental law began developing in the 1950s with the passage of statutes such as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (later referred to as the Clean Water Act) and the Clean Air Act. Read the full overview.

Note: Recently added resources are posted at the top of the applicable sections.

Major Statutes

State and Federal Climate Change Statutes
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601–9628; 9631-9641; 9651-9662; 9671-9675
Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. §§ 121:135-136y
Federal Water Pollution and Control Act (Clean Water Act (CWA)), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1275; 1281-1301; 1311-1330; 1341-1346; 1361-1377a; 1381-1388
Federal Air Pollution and Control Act (Clean Air Act (CAA)), 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401-7515; 7521-7590; 7601-7628; 7641-7642; 7651-7651o; 7661-7661f; 7671-7671q
Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321; 4331-4335; 4341-4347; 4361-4370j; 4370m-4370m-12
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 6901-6992k
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2629


Air Programs Regulations, 40 C.F.R. pts. 50-98
Water Programs Regulations, 40 C.F.R. pts. 104-149
Pesticide Programs Regulations, 40 C.F.R. pts. 150; 152-180
Ocean Dumping Regulations, 40 C.F.R. pts. 220-238
Solid Waste Regulations, 40 C.F.R. pts. 239-282
Superfund, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Programs Regulations, 40 C.F.R. pts. 300-374
Effluent Guidelines and Standards Regulations, 40 C.F.R. pts. 401; 403-415; 417-430; 432-471
Air Pollution Controls, 40 C.F.R. pts. 1027-1090
Search Federal Register Regulations

Case Law

Case Law Index for Environmental Law

Administrative Law Decisions

EPA Office of Administrative Law Judges- Decisions, Orders and Filings
Environmental Appeals Board- Published Decisions by Statute
EPA Civil Cases and Settlements by Statute
USDA National Appeals Division
Center published USDA Judicial Officer Decisions

Center Research Publications

Environmental Justice State Compilation (Rollins & Shehan, 2022)
Ninth Circuit Finds Chlorpyrifos Tolerances Unlawful (Rollins, 2021)
FIFRA: Steps to Pesticide Registration (Vance & Rollins, 2020)
50-State Survey: Landowner Liability for Spray Drift (Lashmet & Zetzsche, 2020)
Waters of the United States: Timeline of Definitions (Rollins, 2020)
Mandatory Legal Approaches to Agricultural Nutrient Management: State Compilation (Essman & Brown, 2020)
Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality: Recent Litigation in the United States (Essman & Hivick, 2020)
Issue Brief: Conduit Theory Under the CWA (Barker & R. Rumley, 2019)
State Legal Approaches to Reducing Water Quality Impacts from the Use of Agricultural Nutrients on Farmland (Hall & Essman, 2019)
Understanding Solar Energy Agreements  (Ferrell, 2019)
Issue Brief: United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Orders EPA to Ban Chlorpyrifos (Wilkerson & Rumley, 2018)
Potential Spray Drift Damage: What Steps to Take? (Lashmet, 2017)
Approval of Pesticides (R. Rumley, 2012)
Water Quality Credit Trading: A Primer of Background Material (Jackson, 2010)
The Clean Water Act: Current Status and Potential Changes – PowerPoint Presentation (R. Rumley, 2010)
The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act: A Primer of Background Material (Goeringer & Rumley, 2009)
State and Federal Climate Change Statutes (Goeringer & Boling, 2009)
Environmental Law: Federal Laws That Affect Agriculture – PowerPoint Presentation (Springsteen, 2009)
Clarifying NPDES Requirements for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (Centner, 2007)
2005 Environmental Law Update (Feitshans, 2006)
From the Farm to the Factory: An Overview of the American and European Approaches to Regulation of the Beef Industry (Houston, 2006)
Supreme Court Considers Preemption of State Law Claims Under the FIFRA (Pittman, 2005)
Managing Carbon in a World Economy: The Role of American Agriculture (Garry, 2005)
Biodiversity and Law: Culture of Agriculture and Nature of Nature Conservation  (Harbison, 2004)
Biodiversity and the Law of Nature Conservation in Great Britain (Harbison, 2004)
Governmental Oversight of Animal Feeding Operations (Centner, 2003)
Legal Liability Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology (Kershen, 2002)

Congressional Research Service Reports

Reports– published and made available by CRS beginning in 2017.
Subjects- published by CRS and made available by NALC:

Climate Change
Environmental Issues
Water Resources

Agricultural Law Bibliography

Reports– published and made available by CRS beginning in 2017.
Subjects- published by CRS and made available by NALC:

Climate Change
Environmental Issues
Water Resources

Reference Resources

Agricultural Research Service (ARS)

National Programs: Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems

Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

Civil Works
Environmental Compliance
Environmental Program
National Notices and Program Initiatives

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Environmental Topics
Water Topics
Air Topics
Nutrient Pollution
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
NPDES AFOs Policy Documents
Nonpoint Source Pollution
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act: Permitting Discharges of Dredge or Fill Material
Agriculture and Sustainability
Agriculture and Soils
Renewable Fuel Standard Program
Agriculture Nutrient Management and Fertilizer
Air Monitoring at Agricultural Operations
Agriculture and Air Quality
Agricultural Animal Production
Agricultural Crops
Agricultural Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing
Upcoming and Recent Compliance Dates
Laws and Regulations that Apply to Your Agricultural Operation by Farm Activity
Agricultural Information from Federal, State, and Local Resources
Agriculture Index
Agriculture Newsroom

Economic Research Service (ERS)

Natural Resources & Environment
Climate Change
Conservation Programs
Environmental Quality
Organic Agriculture
Farm Practices and Management Farm Practices and Management
Fertilizers & Pesticides
Crop & Livestock Practices
Irrigation & Water Use
ERS Publications
ERS Newsr

Selected ERS Recommended Readings:

USDA Conservation Technical Assistance and Within-Field Resource Concerns (Rosenberg & Wallander, 2022)
Producers’ Net Costs Influence Offers to USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (Pratt & Wallander, 2022)
U.S. Food-Related Water Use Varies by Food Category, Supply Chain Stage, and Dietary Pattern (Rehkamp & Canning, 2021)
Tracking the U.S. Domestic Food Supply Chain’s Freshwater Use Over Time (Rehkamp, Canning, & Birney, 2021)
Honey Bees on the Move: From Pollination to Honey Production and Back(Bond, Hitaj, Smith, Hunt, Perez, & Ferreira, 2021)
Pesistent Cover Crop Adoption Varies by Primary Commodity Crop (Wallander, 2021)
Cover Crop Trends, Programs, and Practices in the United States (Wallander, Smith, Bowman, & Claassen, 2021)
Resource Requirements of Food Demand in the United States (Canning, Rehkamp, Hitaj, & Peters, 2020)
Partially Completed Conservation Contracts Reveal On-Farm Practice Incentives (Wallander & Maguire, 2020)
The Fate of Land in Expiring Conservation Reserve Program Contracts (Bigelow, Claassen, Hellerstein, Breneman, Williams, & You, 2020)
Conservation Trends in Agriculture Reflect Policy, Technology, and Other Factors, (Marshall, Maguire, Hellerstein & Schimmelpfenning, 2019)
Patterns of Pesticide Use, Exposure, and Toxicity Jointly Determine Impacts on Honeybees and Other Pollinators (Smith & Hitaj, 2019)
Conservation Compliance: How Farmer Incentives Are Changing in the Crop Insurance Era (Claassen et. al., 2017)
Farmers Employ Strategies To Reduce Risk of Drought Damages Wallander, Marshall, & Aillery, 2017)
Understanding Irrigated Agriculture (Shaible, 2017)
Study Finds Crop Insurance Has Small Effect on Environmental Quality (Claassen, 2017)
Conservation Compliance in the Crop Insurance Era (Claassen & Bowman, 2017)
Declines in Pollinator Forage Suitability Were Concentrated in the Midwest, the Over-Summering Grounds for Many Honeybees (Hitaj, Smith, & Hellerstein, 2017)
Global Ethanol Mandates: Opportunities for U.S. Exports of Ethanol and DDGS (Beckman & Nigatu, 2017)
Dedicating Agricultural Land to Energy Crops Would Shift Land Use (Sands & Malcolm, 2017)
Land Use, Land Cover, and Pollinator Health: A Review and Trend Analysis (Hellerstein et. at., 2017)
The Evolving Distribution of Payments From Commodity, Conservation, and Federal Crop Insurance Programs (McFadden & Hoppe, 2017)
Dedicated Energy Crops and Competition for Agricultural Land ( Sands et. al., 2017)
The Role of Fossil Fuels in the U.S. Food System and the American Diet (Canning et. al., 2017)
Farm Profits and Adoption of Precision Agriculture (Schimmelpfennig, 2016)
Precision Agriculture Technologies and Factors Affecting Their Adoption (Schimmelpfennig, 2016)
An Economic Perspective on Soil Health (Bowman, Wallander, & Lynch, 2016)
No-Till or Strip-Till Use Varies by Region (Wade & Claassen, 2016)
Conservation-Practice Adoption Rates Vary Widely by Crop and Region (Wade, Claassen, & Wallander, 2015)
Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands (Schaible & Aillery, 2012)
Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators (Osteen et. al., 2012)
Nitrogen in Agricultural Systems: Implications for Conservation Policy (Ribaudo et. al., 2011)
Trends and Developments in Hog Manure Management: 1998-2009 (Key et. al., 2011)
Grassland to Cropland Conversion in the Northern Plains: The Role of Crop Insurance, Commodity, and Disaster Programs (Claassen et. al., 2011)
Report to Congress: Measuring the Indirect Land-Use Change Associated with Increased Biofuel Feedstock Production (Marshall et. al., 2011)
Integrating Invasive Species Prevention and Control Policies (Livingston & Osteen, 2008)
Economic Measures of Soil Conservation Benefits: Regional Values for Policy Assessment (Hansen & Ribaudo, 2008)
The Use of Markets to Increase Private Investment in Environmental Stewardship (Ribaudo et. al., 2008)

Farm Service Agency (FSA)

Conservation Programs
Environmental and Cultural Compliance
Fact Sheets
FSA Handbooks
Programs and Services
Biomass Crop Assistance Program
Energy Programs
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
CRP Grasslands
Emergency Conservation Program
Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP)
Farmable Wetlands Program
“Grassroots” Source Water Protection Program
Transition and Incentives Program

Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

Pesticide Registration and Endangered Species Act Consultations
Ecological Services
Endangered Species
Endangered Species Act: Information for Landowners

National Agricultural Library (NAL)

Water Quality Information Center (WQIC)
Agricultural Law Information Partnership (USDA)
Agricultural Environmental Management
Manure Management
Pest Management
Precision Agriculture
Climate Change
Regional Information
Social and Legal Issues
Tools and Guides
Water Availability
Water Quality
Natural Resources and Environment
National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC)
Soil Resource Management
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
Water and Agriculture Information Center (WAIC)
Natural Resources Management

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Conservation Compliance on Highly Erodible Lands and Wetlands
Agricultural Air Quality Task Force
NRCS Conservation Programs
Agricultural Management Assistance
Water Quality Technical Resources
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
Conservation Compliance
Alphabetical Listing & Archive
Technical Assistance
Financial Assistance

United States Forest Service

Ecosystem Management Coordination
Forest Service Publications
Controlling Invasive Species
Climate Change and Water (2008)

Congressional Resources

Government Accountability Office – Agriculture and Food
Government Accountability Office – Natural Resources and Environment
U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
U.S. House Committee on Agriculture
U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources
U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce

Other Federal Resources

Environmental Health Services: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Chemical Contaminants, Metals, Natural Toxins, & Pesticides Guidance Documents & Regulations (Food and Drug Administration)
Pesticide Illness and Injury Surveillance (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC)
Endangered Species Protection Bulletins (United States Environmental Protection Agency)


EPA Signals Intent to Walk Back Clean Water Act 401 Rule (The National Law Review, 2021)
Making Waves: Right In Our Backyard – Surface Discharge of Untreated Wastewater from Homes in the United States (Maxcy-Brown, Elliott, Krometis, Brown, White, Lall, 2021)
State Regulatory Heterogeneity and Compliance with the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts (Elbakidze, Beeson, 2021)
Effective Economic Value of Natural Environmental Protection (Tilak, 2021)
Summary of the Clean Air Act (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2020)
The Power of NEPA: Communities’ Chance to Weigh In on Federal Projects (The Wilderness Society, 2020)
What to Expect from Federal Climate Policy in 2021 (Fox, 2021)
Impact of Upstream Plant Level Pollution on Downstream Water Quality: Evidence From the Clean Water Act. (Chakraborti, 2020)
Accurate Economics to Protect Endangered Species and their Critical Habitats (Byl, 2018)
Surface and Groundwater Regulation (Hill & Aldredge, 2016)
One if by Land, Two if by Sea, Three if by Air: The Changing Face of Environmental Regulation of Production Agriculture (Ferrell & Lashmet, 2016)
Waters of the United States and the Clean Water Act: Implications for Agriculture (Bradbury & Smith, 2016)
The Creature from the Potomac Basin: Environmental Law Under the Trump Administration (Ferrell, Goeringer & Lashmet, 2017)
A Landowner’s Guide to Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing Environmental and Health Issues in Oil & Gas Leases (Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic)
Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996-2015: Impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions (Brookes & Barfoot, 2017)
Trade in the US and Mexico helps reduce environmental costs of agriculture (Martinez-Melendez & Bennett, 2016)
Regional effects of agricultural conservation practices on nutrient transport (U.S. Forest Service, 2016)
Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice (Clark & Tillman, 2017)
Large Scale GIS Geodatabase of Soil Parameters Supporting the Modeling of Conservation Practice Alternatives in the United States (Arnold et. al., 2017)
Pesticide Drift Liability (Part 1): Potential Legal Theories (Tex. Agric. L. Blog, 2016)
Today’s Farms Need Specialized Environmental Coverage (Insurance Journal, Scheider, 2016)
Cautionary tale of manure, insurance, and the neighbor’s well (Boley-Hellwarth, 2015)
Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On-Farm Agricultural Production in the United States (Field to Market: The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, 2016))
Legal Liability Issues for Handling Manure (Hall, OH St. Ext., 2007)
Is Your Farm “EQIPed” for Conservation? A Farmers’ Guide to Understanding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (Farmers’ Legal Action Group – FLAG, 2007)
A Farmer’s Guide to Agriculture and Water Quality Issues (N.C. State U, 2005)
U.S. Agri-Environmental Programs and their Potential Implications for Agricultural Trade (Cooper, U. CA-Berkley, 2005)
International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – FAO, 2010)
Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Air Quality Study (U. of IA, 2003)
Small Farms Fact Sheet Series (Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community)

Additional Resources

Conservation Stewardship Program (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition)
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition)
Conservation Reserve Program (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition)
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Fact Sheet (Retail Compliance Center)
Clean Air Act Tools (GASP, Clean Air. Healthy Communities)
Environmental Law Posts (Ag & Food Law Blog)
Environment, Energy, and Resources Section (American Bar Association)
American Farmland Trust
Pesticide Information Profiles (EXTOXNET)
Pesticide Management (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)