Breath of Clarity

Comments on Review of Key Environmental Laws

Original Post by Becca Mccullough:

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1973. This act was put into place to protect species that are rapidly decreasing in population. This act was also put into place to protect the ecosystems these species are a part of, and ensure that the delicate balance stays intact. ” Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. “Threatened” means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible for listing as endangered or threatened.” (US Fish & Wildlife Service 2020). The ESA covers plants, animals, fish, insects, and other invertebrates. This act has very specific and clear language, so it is a very strong piece of environmental legislation. However, depending on the administration, this act can be strengthened or laxed. The current administration has tipped the scale more in the favor of economic growth and industry and instilled less restriction on the act, which in the past had curtailed land development in areas where ESA protected species inhabited.

The Lacey Act was signed into law in 1900 and was the first legislation ever to protect wildlife and it regulates the importing and exporting plants, animals, and fish. Over the last 120+ years, the act has been amended multiple times to expand what species are covered and increase fines for violations. “Today it regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law and prevents the spread of invasive, or non-native, species” (US Fish & Wildlife 2020). This law hits home here in Florida, as we have seen the spread of Burmese pythons down in the Everglades. Private owners have been releasing them into the wild when they can no longer care for them. This has led to declines in the racoon, possum, and alligator populations and is threatening the ecosystem. Those found releasing pythons are met with hefty fines and violations through acts like this one, and now jail time is on the table. Hopefully, this added risk will curb people from illegal release.

The Clean Water Act was put into law in 1972, and was established for the EPA to regulate pollutants being sent to navigable waters throughout the US. While states control their own regulations, the Clean Water Act aides in bodies that flow through multiple states and sets roadmaps for states to emulate in their local legislation. Because water is a moving entity, and flows can change, the Clean Water Act is a very complex and ever evolving piece of legislation. This is another act that is hitting close to home, as right now there is a major sewage spill in our city’s water system and is currently impacting the health of the Indian River Lagoon. The state and federal EPA are reviewing the aspects of the Clean Water Act right now in regard to the actions being taken to correct the issue and what needs to be done to prevent events like this in the future.

The success of a piece of environmental legislation can be difficult to measure as there isn’t always tangible reward per say. But I think in the case of acts such as The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, declines in pollutants over time can be considered successful. As for the ESA, some argue that there are a number of species that no longer need to be protected and are draining funds for no reason. This aspect may make this legislation seem unsuccessful.

Ostrom’s Revisiting the Commons puts emphasis on collective agreement. If we can restructure our way of thinking so that we aren’t just concerned with only the environmental impact or only the economic impact of a piece of legislation, and look at the full scope, then we can get a clearer picture on if they are successful or not. “In the end, building from the lessons of past successes will require forms of communication, information, and trust that are broad and deep beyond precedent, but not beyond possibility” (Ostrom 1999)


US Fish and Wildlife Service. 2020. “Endangered Species Act Overview.” to an external site.

US Fish and Wildlife Service. 2020. “International Affairs.” to an external site.

Ostrom, Elinor, et al. 1999. Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges. Science 284, pp. 278-282.

My Comment:

Hi Becca,

Stellar post!

I found some insight about determining the success of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Clean Water Act (CWA). The National Resources Defense Council (2017) goes into detail about how lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and wetlands are still heavily covered with contamination.

It is widely debated whether the money put into the CWA is worth the benefit from merely a mathematical standpoint (Keiser and Shapiro 2018). Still, simply putting the CWA in place has led to other impactful legislation such as the safe drinking water standards of the 1970s, wetlands protections in the 1980s, and amendments including control of toxic pollutants and stormwater discharges (Walter 2012).

Meanwhile, the results of the CAA from 1990 to 2020 reveal the benefits exceed costs by a factor of 30 to one (Environmental Protection Agency n.d.).


Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. “Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act 1990-2020, the Second Prospective Study.” Accessed June 2 2020.

Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. “Progress Cleaning the Air and Improving People’s Health.” Accessed June 2, 2020.

Kaiser, David and Shapiro, Joseph. October 2018. “How the Clean Water Act has Served the Environment and Economy.” Accessed June 2 2020.

National Resources Defense Council. 2017. “Clean Water Act at 45: Despite Success, It’s Under Attack.” Accessed June 2 2020.

Walter, Laura. March 2012. “Water is Worth It: EPA Celebrates 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.” Accessed June 2 2020.

Original Post by Andrew Mengel:

The Endangered Species Act: The predecessor to The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1966 as The Endangered Species Preservation Act. This act directed the USFWS, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense to protect species listed as endangered and their associated habitats (Sparling 2014, 76). This preliminary act also empowered the USFWS to directly purchase land for in endangered species protection. In 1969 the act was amended to the Endangered Species Conservation Act. This amendment expanded protected species to include vertebrates other than fish, birds, and mammals (Sparling 2014, 76). In 1973 Congress greatly modified the Endangered Species Conservation Act into what is now known as the Endangered Species Act (Sparling 2014, 77). This latest version and associated amendments added additional restrictions and protections that were not in previous versions of the act.

The Lacey Act: The Lacey Act was passed in 1900 as one of the first legislations passed to help wildlife (Sparling 2014, 92). This act prohibited the transportation of wildlife that was illegal harvested across state lines. This act also prevented the trade of any wildlife, fish, or plants whose harvesting violated state or foreign law (Sparling 2014, 92).

The Clean Water Act: The Clean Water Act is the primary federal statue that addresses water pollution in the United States (Sullivan 2011, 317). This act establishes several programs that are designed to protect the quality of waters in the United States. The programs established include the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program, the dredge and fill permit program, and municipal wastewater treatment programs (Sullivan 2011, 317). The U.S. EPA along with other federal, state and local agencies administer the programs that are administered under the Clean Water Act.


Sparling, Donald W. 2014. Natural Resource Administration: Wildlife, Fisheries, Forests and Parks. San Diego: Academic Press.

Sullivan, Thomas. 2017. Environmental Law Handbook, 23rd ed. New York: Bernan Press.

My Comment:

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for listing some of the programs that were established as a result of the Clean Water Act. I decided to look deeper into the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. On December 10 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Federal Register notice requesting public comment on draft guidance that clarifies how the Supreme Court’s County of Maui vs. Hawaii Wildlife Fund decision should be applied under the NPDES (EPA 2021). In its decision, the Supreme Court held that a NPDES permit is required for a discharge of pollutants from a point source that reaches “waters of the United States” after traveling through groundwater if that discharge is the “functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters” (EPA 2021).


Environmental Protection Agency. 2021. “Applying the Supreme Court’s County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund Decision in the Clean Water Act Section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit Program”. Accessed January 17 2021.