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Environmental Law Research Guide


Federal Environmental Statutes

Statutes passed by the US Congress are published in the United States Code (USC), which is divided into numbered titles. Many environmental statutes are found in Title 16- Conservation or Title 42- The Public Health and Welfare, but other environmental statutes can be found throughout other titles in the United States Code. (Such as the Clean Water Act, found in Title 33- Navigation And Navigable Waters.)

You can browse and search the USC at any of the following links:

If you have a citation to a specific statute, you can retrieve it by typing it in the main Lexis or Westlaw search box in the format 1 USC 1 or using the Jump To menu on the US House of Representatives website.

Sometimes environmental statutes are cited to the original individual act, rather than to the statute's current location in the USC. For example:

  • Clean Air Act § 111 is organized into the USC at 42 U.S.C. § 7411
  • Clean Air Act § 112 is organized into the USC at 42 U.S.C. § 7412
  • NEPA § 202 is organized into the USC at 42 U.S.C. § 4342
  • NEPA § 203 is organized into the USC at 42 U.S.C. § 4343

Often, sources will provide parallel citations- e.g. NEPA § 202, 42 U.S.C. § 4342- and you do not need to do anything other than be aware that these are different ways of citing the same statute.

If a source provides you with only the citation to the original act, look up the act name in Westlaw's USC Popular Names Table, which identifies where each section of each act is located in the USC.

Tracking Proposed Federal Statutes and Researching Federal Legislative History

In some cases, you may want to track proposed federal statutes or research the legislative history of a federal statute.

For information on these topics, please see the following guide:

Federal Environmental Regulations

Most environmental statutes delegate authority to agencies to pass regulations implementing the statutes. Federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which (like the USC) is divided into numbered titles. Most environmental regulations can be found in Title 40- Protection of the Environment.

You can browse and search the CFR at any of the following links:

If you have a citation to a specific statute, you can retrieve it by typing it in the main Lexis, Westlaw, or eCFR search box in the format 1 CFR 1.

Tracking Proposed Federal Regulations

Regulations are passed through a process known as notice and comment rulemaking. In this process, an official government newsletter called a register publishes a notice of the proposed regulation, with instructions on how the public can comment on the regulation and where they can obtain any additional background on the regulation.

The Federal Register is now online-only and provides easy-to-use tools for locating notices that are relevant to you:

Once you have selected a topic or agency or run a search, you can select the options in the upper right corner to establish an email alert or subscribe to an RSS feed.

Most notices on the official Federal Register website will link you to the docket for the proposed regulation on, which allows agencies to share background materials and to receive and share comments. Once on a docket page, select Open Docket Folder for a full list of notices, proposed rules, supporting documents, and comments shared by the agency.

Agencies vary in how much material they share. Some agencies will post a large volume of supporting materials and quickly screen and release most comments. Some agencies rarely release comments, so the docket may indicate that thousands of comments have been submitted but provide access to only a handful.

In addition to following links to from the Federal Register, you can also search for dockets on directly:

Environmental Protection Agency Materials

The Environmental Protection Agency is a federal agency established in 1970 under President Nixon with the mission to protect human health and the environment.

The EPA provides useful guides to federal law by act (e.g. the National Environmental Policy Act or Clean Air Act), topic, and business sector:

Like most agencies, the EPA publishes guidance documents that further supplement its regulations. These are available on its website:

Also like many agencies, the EPA also issues administrative decisions- "cases" decided by agency staff rather than judges. These are also available on its website:

The EPA also provides two useful catalogs for tracking down EPA materials online and in print:

For additional advice on researching environmental law and information on accessing materials held at EPA libraries, visit the EPA National Library Network homepage:

Unfortunately, the EPA website has been subjected to repeated deletion of materials for political reasons. Although the EPA links to what is purportedly an "archived" version of its website, material has been deleted from the archived website, too. See Brian Kahn, The EPA's Obama-era Snapshot is Missing, May 8, 2017, 7:20 PM.

If you are looking for material that may have been deleted, instead check the versions of the website archived by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine:

Additionally, many EPA materials are preserved on Westlaw, Lexis, and HeinOnline:

Major Environmental Acts

The EPA offers summaries of well-known environmental laws. For each act, the EPA has written a summary and provides links to the text of the law, related regulations, and other useful information. These summaries are an excellent resource when starting research.