Gary C. Bryner
The United States was a global leader in the early development of policies and regulatory programmes to protect environmental quality. Until 1970, environmental law in the US was largely a set of common law principles of nuisance, trespass, and negligence. A few states had passed environmental statutes but they were for the most part weak and non-binding. Nuisance law permitted property owners to seek damages through the courts against polluters who caused property damage. Trespass law could be used to remedy dumping of garbage onto the property owner's land. Negligence suits could be filed against parties that had a duty to not release dangerous substances, breached the duty, and caused harm to others (Stimson, Kimmel, and Thurin 1993 : 1-16). In less than two decades, however, environmental law evolved from a local government responsibility into a complex system of national environmental regulation.
On 1 January 1970 President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, which required the federal government to assess the environmental consequences of every major action it undertook. Nixon's action initiated two decades of environmental activism. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in the same year; subsequent years saw the passage of major environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Many of these acts were strengthened throughout the 1980s, culminating in the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. These statutes include environmental standards, procedures for formulating rules and regulations, and deadlines for agency implementation and regulated industry compliance. Environmental regulation is built