Major Environmental Laws
In addition the Clean Water Act, there are a number of laws, regulations, and ordinances at the federal, state, and local levels designed to protect and restore the quality of water where you live. This section describes the laws that affect the waters where you live and their relation to the Clean Water Act.
The Coastal Marshlands Protection Act
The Coastal Marshlands Protection Act of 1970, amended in 1992, provides the Coastal Resource Division (CDR) or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the authority to protect tidal wetlands, including marshlands, intertidal areas, mudflats, tidal water bottoms and salt marshes located in estuarine areas of the state. The Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee (CMPC) created by this act evaluates proposed construction and development projects in these areas. A Marshlands Protection Committee permit is required for any alteration of these areas.
- Clean Water Connection: The Coastal Marshlands Protection Act protects the water quality of Georgia’s coastal areas and tidal wetlands by requiring permits for any alteration, including the erecting of structures, dredging, removing, draining, filling or any other alteration of these areas.
Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)
This act requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, restore and enhance the resources of coastal zones. The law encourages and assists the states in responsible use of coastal land and water resources, giving full consideration to ecological, cultural, historic, and aesthetic values as well as the needs for compatible economic development.
- Clean Water Connection: In 1990, Congress created the Coastal Zone Management Program, requiring states to develop and implement programs to reduce polluted runoff.
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as “Superfund,” provides a federal fund for cleaning up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites as well as accidental releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. EPA has the power to seek out responsible parties, secure their cooperation in the cleanup, and recover costs from financially viable parties when cleanup is complete. The EPA cleans up orphan sites when potentially responsible parties cannot be identified or located, or when they fail to act. The agency forces private party cleanup through orders, consent decrees, and other small party settlements.
- Clean Water Connection: CERCLA requires the cleanup of toxic sites, which are often located in or next to waterways and have contaminated a ground or surface water source that may still be in use.
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act was passed to help communities deal safely and effectively with hazardous substances. The act establishes requirements for Federal, state and local governments and industries to develop emergency planning, release notification, and report inventories of toxic and hazardous chemicals. The emergency planning aspect requires local communities to prepare plans to deal with emergencies relating to hazardous substances; while, the community right-to-know aspect ensures public access to information concerning potential threats from hazardous substances. This ensures public participation in decisions regarding hazardous materials in their communities.
- Clean Water Connection: The law encourages emergency planning for responding to chemical accidents and spills, and provides local governments and the public with information about possible chemical hazards in local waters.
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
The Endangered Species Act provides for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and their habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service maintain a list of endangered and threatened species. Anyone can petition to place a species on the list. The Act prohibits any action that results in a “taking” (harassing, harming, or killing) of a listed species or adversely affects its habitat. It also requires federal agencies to consult with the relevant management agency before taking action or granting a permit that would jeopardize a species. Protection or improvement of habitat on state or private lands may be addressed through the development and implementation of Habitat Conservation Plans.
- Clean Water Connection: ESA requirements can be used to regulate activity on private lands that impact aquatic habitats. For example, ESA has been used in lawsuits to stop timber sales and force changes in hydroelectric operations to protect aquatic habitats used by threatened and endangered species.
Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act (Farm Bill)
The Farm Bill offers incentives to the U.S. agricultural community to address environmental problems associated with farming. The bill’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides $200 million per year for farmland and floodplain protection, grazing lands conservation, wetlands protection and conservation, and wildlife habitat protection.
- Clean Water Connection: The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a conservation partnership program between State and Federal government that addresses specific State and nationally significant water quality, soil erosion and wildlife habitat issues related to agricultural use. The program uses financial incentive to encourage farmers to voluntarily enroll in contracts of a limited duration to remove lands from agricultural production. Six states have signed agreements to use funds; however, Georgia is not one of the six.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Freedom of Information Act, enacted in 1966, establishes a statutory right of access to government information. The basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry by providing access to virtually all federal agency records except those specifically exempted from disclosure. Note, if you are trying to obtain records from a federal agency, a federal law - the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) - will apply to your request. Visit this Web site to find out more information about this law.
- Clean Water Connection: FOIA ensures that citizens have access to agency records, including records that demonstrate compliance with the Clean Water Act.
Georgia Open Records Act (ORA)
The Georgia Open Records Act is a state law ensuring public access to public records whereby upon request a public entity has three business days to provide access to the material requested. As with FOIA, the basic purpose of the ORA is to ensure an informed citizenry and maintain the public’s confidence in government. Public Records include virtually all records of state agencies, such as documents, maps, photographs, emails, computer data, etc.
- Clean Water Connection: The Georgia Open Records Act requires that public records remain open and available for inspection by any member of the public. This includes access to EPD files, such as NPDES permits, correspondence and DMR’s.
Georgia’s Erosion and Sediment Control Act
Georgia’s Erosion and Sediment Control Act (ESCA) provides for the establishment and implementation of a statewide program to protect Georgia’s waters from soil erosion and sediment deposition.
- Clean Water Connection: The ESCA requires permits for “land disturbing activities” and buffers between the land disturbing activity and waters to minimize adverse impacts of development on water quality. No development is allowed within 25 feet of most streams in Georgia. For trout streams, the buffer is 50 to 100 feet.
Georgia’s Water Quality Control Act
The Water Quality Control Act is the primary authority in Georgia for protecting our water quality. Implementation of the Clean Water Act has been delegated to the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) in Georgia. The Water Quality Control Act describes EPD’s responsibilities under the Clean Water Act, including the authority to operate the NPDES permit program and enforce water quality standards, among other responsibilities.
- Clean Water Connection: As previously mentioned, this act is the primary authority in Georgia for protecting our water quality.
All local governments have ordinances and/or regulations that help to maintain the water quality of water bodies in your area. For example, most local governments have regulations on zoning, septic tank maintenance, and erosion and sediment control. In some instances, the local ordinances are more stringent than the state standards.
The Metropolitan River Protection Act (MRPA)
This act establishes a 2,000-foot protection corridor along the Chattahoochee River and its impoundments for 48 miles between Buford Dam and Peachtree Creek
- Clean Water Connection: Like the ESCA, land disturbing activities within the corridor are monitored in an effort to minimize adverse impacts of development on water quality.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
The National Environmental Policy Act is our basic national charter for protection of the environment. Before a federal agency takes an action that has the potential to impact the environment, the agency must examine the need for, alternatives to, and environmental consequences of that action. NEPA also ensures that environmental information is available to public officials and citizens and that public input is considered before decisions are made and actions are taken.
- Clean Water Connection: NEPA requires review of the need for, alternatives to, and impacts of any federal action that may cause water quality problems.
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA)
The National Forest Management Act is a cornerstone of environmental law intended to protect biodiversity in national forests and ensure public involvement in forest planning and management. It provides for logging while recognizing “the fundamental need to protect and where appropriate, improve the quality of soil, water, and air resources.”
- Clean Water Connection: NFMA is supposed to insure that timber will be harvested from National Forest lands “only where…soil, slope, or watershed conditions will not be irreversibly damaged.” It also requires protection of water bodies in areas where timber harvests might adversely affect water temperature, course, sediment buildup, and fish habitat.
National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
This act protects designated free-flowing rivers that have “outstanding remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, and other similar values.” Under the act, protected rivers and their immediate surroundings are to be preserved in free-flowing condition for the benefit of future and present generations.
- Clean Water Connection: Maintaining rivers in a free-flowing condition protects the water quality of such rivers and fulfills other vital national conservation purposes.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
This act gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from “cradle to grave,” including its generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal. RCRA also sets guidelines for the management of non-hazardous wastes.
- Clean Water Connection: RCRA is designed to protect human health and the environment, as well as, reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous wastes and conserve energy and natural resources. The 1986 amendments to RCRA enabled the EPA to address water contamination that could result from underground tanks storing petroleum and other hazardous substances. All RCRA cleanups must be performed so as to reduce the likelihood that hazardous or non-hazardous substances from past practices will ever leach into ground water or run over the ground to larger surface water bodies. However, RCRA focuses only on active and future facilities and does not address abandoned or historical sites.
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, enacted in response to outbreaks of waterborne disease and increasing chemical contamination of public water sources, is the primary federal law protecting the quality of our water. The SDWA authorizes the EPA to establish national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against both naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants that may be found in drinking water.
- Clean Water Connection: The SDWA sets maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for dangerous chemicals and waterborne bacteria and viruses in the public’s drinking water. The 1996 reauthorization of the SDWA requires water providers to prepare and distribute annual reports informing consumers about the quality of water, including information on the water source, detected contaminants, possible health effects and any actions they should take to minimize health risks associated with waterborne contaminants. It also requires each state to assess all water resources used (or to be used) for drinking water supply to identify potential sources of contamination and determine how susceptible each water resource is to contamination.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act requires federal agencies to ensure that all programs or activities receiving federal money and affecting human health or the environment do not directly or indirectly discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
- Clean Water Connection: The Supreme Court has ruled that Title VI authorizes federal agencies, including the EPA, to adopt regulations that prohibit discriminatory effects. Frequently, discrimination results from policies and practices that may appear neutral on their face, but have the effect of discriminating. Such policies or practices, including issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, that result in discriminatory effects violate Title VI regulations unless it is shown that they are justified and that there is no less discriminatory alternative.
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
The Toxic Substances Control Act requires the EPA to test, screen, and regulate all chemicals produced in or imported into the United States.
- Clean Water Connection: To prevent tragic consequences, TSCA requires that any chemical that reaches the consumer marketplace be tested for possible toxic effects to human health and the environment prior to commercial manufacture.