Overview: Environment and Natural Resources
NCSL tracks environmental protection issues in six major categories: air quality, environmental health, environmental cleanup, healthy community design and water quality.
Air Quality remains one of the most prominent legislative concerns. The federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relies on states to implement and enforce provisions of the Clean Air Act, requiring state legislatures to authorize their state agencies to administer the act. Recent federal actions include designation of ozone and fine particulate matter nonattainment areas by the EPA. States programs are to prepare, and have EPA approve, state implementation plans, the strategy for the state to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act.
Nuclear Waste Cleanup encompasses a range of waste categories. The focus of state solid waste management efforts has been on recycling in recent years, especially electronic waste. Transporting and disposing of high-level radioactive waste is receiving prominent national attention as the federal government attempts to cite a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel that is currently stored on-site in three-fourths of the states. Environmental management of radioactive waste found in former nuclear weapons facilities is also a major concern.
Environmental Health concerns include indoor air quality, food safety, mold and dampness, asbestos, lead hazards, asthma and radon. Although EPA has several regulations regarding environmental health, states (for the most part) are free to adopt provisions of environmental health without federal oversight. Every state has some laws regarding environmental health, some being more comprehensive than others. Florida and Texas has laws regulating mold in housing; Illinois (along with 9 other states) has comprehensive laws on radon reduction; Massachusetts and Maryland regulate lead hazards in housing. Each of these laws are independent of federal requirements.
Healthy Community Design links public health benefits to community design. State and local governments are increasingly seeing the value of incorporating walking and biking opportunities and access to health foods into land use, transportation, education, agriculture and health policies. “Healthy community design” means designing and planning for development that achieves health goals in addition to other community goals, such as urban revitalization or promotion of the arts. In healthy communities, residents and policymakers collaborate to make decisions about how the communities will change and/or grow in ways that allow people to choose healthy behaviors. These decisions include where schools and markets that offer healthy foods are located, how much green space and farmland are conserved, and the transportation options that are available. Legislation addressing healthy community design can be tracked on NCSL's Healthy Community Design Legislative database.
Water quality and water resources concern states. Water quality is regulated through the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, both programs are delegated to the states. Water resources, such as water appropriations, coastal cleanup, invasive water plant and animals, stormwater flows also involve policy direction from the state legislatures.
NCSL staff working on environmental protection issues include: Doug Farquhar for general environmental questions, Glen Andersen for questions related to air quality and climate change, Scott Hendrick for environmental health and nuclear waste, Larry Morandi or Brooke Oleen for water quality and resources, and Douglas Shinkle for healthy community design in NCSL's Denver office. Tamra Spielvogel directs environmental programs in the Washington, D.C. office.
The Denver office phone number is (303) 364-7700. To contact the Washington, D.C. staff call (202) 624-5400. General email for environmental protection issues is firstname.lastname@example.org.
NCSL tracks natural resources issues in four major categories: eminent domain, fishing, hunting and wildlife, forestry, land use management, and water resources.
Eminent domain is the physical taking of private property by government for a public use requiring just compensation. It traditionally has been associated with public facilities such as government buildings, roads and reservoirs. There has been increasing interest in its use by local governments struggling to generate jobs and tax revenue for economic development projects that may benefit a community but also confer significant benefits on private parties. NCSL's Environment, Energy and Transportation Program is tracking state eminent domain legislation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. New London (June 23, 2005), which upheld the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes. The legislation primarily addresses questions of whether eminent domain should be authorized, restricted or prohibited for economic development purposes, and what constitutes "public use" under state law.
Fishing, hunting and wildlife issues focus on the United States' appreciation and understanding of the land, waters and wildlife through participation in associated recreational activities. Fishing and hunting statutes address restrictions on these activities with the states while wildlife statutes explore liability issues for the damage caused to crops and property. There are extensive state and tribal resources available for the development and implementation of programs that benefit wildlife and their habitat.
Forestry issues have received significant attention in recent years as a result of wildfire concerns and subsequent consideration of state and federal policies for healthy forests and forest thinning. There has been a growing emphasis on addressing wildfire problems at the urban-rural interface as new housing and development activities penetrate traditionally rural areas. Forest fire legislation was considered by at least 28 states during the 2003 legislative sessions. Prescribed burn statutes are on the books in at least 16 states. Other important state forestry bills considered in 2003 dealt with forest management policies.
Land use management issues have focused on two primary areas: state and local land use planning that attempts to encourage development in areas that have sufficient infrastructure in place to service the development; and land conservation measures to preserve open space as a hedge against sprawl. Since 1997, the year the term "smart growth" was coined by Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning, at least 25 states have enacted some form of new growth planning or open space preservation legislation. The Growth Management Legislation Database addresses topics such as conservation easements, mixed-use development and tax credits. Recent state actions include passage of 64 ballot measures in 16 states on November 4, totaling $1.2 billion in revenue to fund land conservation projects.
Water resources issues have concerned themselves primarily with changes in water allocation laws. States have pursued legislation aimed at water conservation and more efficient water supply interconnections to ensure a stable water supply. With water shortages, states have amended existing or enacted new water allocation laws. This has been especially so in eastern states, where unmanaged riparian systems have affected many states' ability to monitor water use and respond effectively to drought. Population growth and water shortfalls have led to interstate battles over water supplies as well, particularly among Alabama, Florida and Georgia. On the positive side, California and the six other states that share the Colorado River Basin have reached an agreement that confirms the allocation formula contained in the 1922 compact, and implements water conservation and transfer measures in California that were passed by the legislature.
NCSL staff working on natural resources issues include Larry Morandi and Brooke Oleen in the Denver office, and Tamra Spielvogel in the Washington, D.C. office.
NCSL Environment Committee
Scott Hendrick and Tamra Spielvogel are the NCSL contacts for the NCSL Environment Committee.