Environmental law has evolved over the past half century from a specialty area of law to a primary element of legal practice. It has gone "mainstream" and now affects every aspect of law from administrative regulation to real estate to primary national and international policy on global issues. Environmental law also is related to Energy law, which is its own significant and distinct practice area. Electric power supply is the last regulated industry in the U.S., with state and federal regulatory agencies engaged in substantial regulation of price, choice of energy technologies, and terms of service. Energy law involves a combination of regulatory practice, environmental and corporate law practice. With fundamental deregulation of electric power in 18 states, and a massive initiative from Washington to change to more renewable power resources and "smart grid" investment in more energy efficiency and responsiveness, the energy law field has been active.
Environmental law, although having many aspects, can be described in 3 primary basic prongs of practice. First, conventional environmental practice includes the permitting, and enforcement, of permit emission restrictions to the air and water. On the public side, this includes those working for state and federal environmental agencies to grant and enforce environmental permits, and remediate hazardous waste in soils. On the private side, attorneys represent all regulated entities, from private companies to municipalities and federal agencies, in obtaining and complying with many environmental restrictions. This includes air, water, terrestrial and other workplace and ambient environmental regulations, as well as the extraction of resources ranging from fresh water to mineral resources.
Second, a significant aspect of environmental and energy law practice involves the setting of environmental policy. On the public side, this includes a large number of lawyers working for environmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations, as well as state and federal legislative committees and private legal and consulting firms representing affected entities. This includes the enactment of laws and the promulgation of regulations. There is both a domestic and international dimension to current environmental regulation. Since many pollutants have now been shown to migrate in air from California to Massachusetts , from Massachusetts to Europe , and from Japan to California , there is a cross-border and international dimension to environmental practice. Certainly, the current debate on global warming is one primary example of the truly international dimension of environmental challenges and policy.
Third, site contamination issues invoke much environmental law focus. The average American disposes of about 4 pounds of waste per day, and some of it is hazardous and it has to go somewhere. The Superfund hazardous waste liability scheme is a major multi-party dispute resolution process consuming the effort of many environmental lawyers. A significant subset of environmental law has involved secondary actions to determine whether environmental contamination of pollutants is covered by various insurance policies utilized by most corporations. New innovative insurance products also have been invented to help large groups of responsible parties approach collective responsibilities to remediate contaminated waste disposal sites. Insurance coverage now has a significant environmental role. In addition, district attorneys now employ attorneys who prosecute environmental crimes and liability. Therefore, environmental law affects all companies, all levels of government, and all citizens.
Most large law firms have environmental attorney specialists. In terms of job opportunities, in addition to government, NGO and nonprofit organizations, and private practice, there is a significant amount of involvement by consulting and engineering firms, as well as by the major accounting firms and their related business consulting arms. This is because environmental compliance has become a significant element of many business plans, many new products and intellectual property law. Energy law concerns the very infrastructure of the modern world. Without sufficient motor fuels, as was slightly affected by earlier minor oil embargoes against shipping oil to the U.S., life changes significantly in terms of both price and options. Without sufficient electricity, there would be no computers, no Internet, a 19th century way of life.
If students are interested in this field, the following 7 courses, coupled with work in an externship or serving as a Research Assistant to a professor working in this area, are suggested for consideration. Students can design Independent Study in the particular subject area of interest. In addition to the basic courses, related courses are listed below, for those with a particular interest in any of those areas.