Environmental Health Engineering Theory and Practice/Regulations

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Laws, regulations, statutes, and ordinances are related yet different instruments used by governing authorities - federal, state, and local jurisdictions - to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.

International Law

International law, including multilateral and bi-lateral treaties among two or more nations, adds an additional layer of complexity on-top of federal, state, and local jurisdictions. International law particularly relevant to environmental health engineers include aspirational policy statements such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, foundational declarations such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and collections of standards such as Codex Alimentarius.

United States Federal System

Blind Justice (9146668714)
Blind Justice (9146668714)

Within the US, at the nation-wide level there are both Congressional Acts and federal regulations. Acts of Congress are laws that set-out the way a particular environmental health engineering challenge will be addressed, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. These Congressional Acts identify regulatory agencies that are empowered to enforce the Acts. The regulatory agencies are given general direction and funds by Congress (i.e., Legislative Branch), but regulatory agencies perform their day-to-day duties under the specific direction of the President (i.e., Executive Branch). When employees of the regulatory agencies attempt to enforce the law on the public, a dispute may arise if the public disagrees with the regulator. These disputes are settled by courts, lead by the Supreme Court (i.e., Judicial Branch). As thh courts settle disputes, the meaning of the Congressional Acts may become more clear, regulations may be updated, and the behaviors of the public should change. Alternatively, the public may exercise its democratic freedom to change the members of the federal government as a means of overturning or modifying Congressional Acts, regulations, or the process of enforcement.

Statute is the name given to a law that is created by a legislative body, such as a Congressional Act. Statutory law is subordinate to Constitutional law, which is the highest law in the nation, and therefore statutory laws must be written and interpreted within the context of the Constitution.

Regulation is the name given to a law that is issued by an executive, such as the President or regulatory agency.

Precedent or case law is the name given to a law that is decided by the courts, including the Supreme Court.

Enforcement is an action by an employee of a regulatory agency, and involves calling for a change in behavior by a member of the public.

US State and Local Systems

Missouri Capitol 1979
Missouri Capitol 1979

Within the US, at the state-wide level the system of laws and regulations are similar in structure to the nation-wide level, yet the state-wide level system is always subordinate to the Constitutional law of the US. Therefore, there often exist state-wide laws and regulatory agencies which are similar in name to the federal system (i.e., the Environmental Protection Agency is a federal regulatory agency, while the Department of Natural Resources or state EPA is the state-wide regulatory agency).

Within the US, ordinance is the name used for laws created by jurisdictions below the state-wide level (i.e., counties, cities, or towns). Again, the local ordinance is always subordinate to both the Constitutional law of the US as well as the state constitution.

The environmental health engineer must operate within this complex, multi-layered system of laws enacted, enforced, and adjudicated by multiple legislative, executive, and judicial bodies.

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