REALWorld Law


Environmental assessment and sustainability

What type of legislation exists dealing with environmental issues affecting building works and with promoting sustainable developments?

United States

United States


Air quality is protected at the federal level by a wide range of legislation, the most prominent of which is the Clean Air Act enforced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Clean Air Act regulates, among other things, air emissions, acid rain, ozone depletion, toxic air pollution, and auto gasoline. With respect to construction, compliance with relevant standards of the Clean Air Act is meant to reduce construction-related health risks.

Air quality regulations also are promulgated at the state and local levels, such as laws common to many states prohibiting smoking in public areas or local ordinances prohibiting the burning of certain materials, including construction debris.


Water quality is protected at the federal level by a number of agencies and the military, including the

  • Department of Defense
  • US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps)
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Department of the Interior
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
  • Department of Commerce
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Depending on the site or type of construction, the regulations of any of these entities might be applicable.

Federal legislation addresses several issues that might be relevant to a construction project, including the integrity of the water supply, protection against flood and hurricane damage, pollution, surface and ground water, sewer discharge, levees, environmental restoration, protection of wetlands, dredging and filling etc. Specific legislation includes the Water Resources Development Act, the National Levee Safety Act, and the Flood Control Act. In addition, many individual states have similar legislation further protecting their own lakes, rivers and harbours.


A wide range of federal, state, and local legislation controls the generation, transportation, and disposal of waste, including hazardous waste and construction and demolition debris. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates hazardous waste, and the US Department of Transportation regulates the transportation of hazardous waste.

States are becoming active in legislating the generation, handling, and removal of demolition and construction debris, with a focus to reduce, reuse, or recycle it rather than place it in landfills. For example, CALGreen, a building code focusing on sustainability that was enacted in California requires the recycling of 65% of construction waste and in some instances the submission of a construction waste management plan or the utilization of a waste management company.

Sustainable development

Both mandatory and voluntary sustainability building requirements are being legislated at state and local levels, including CALGreen in California (described immediately above). While 65% recycling of construction waste is mandatory under CALGreen, a higher percentage is preferred but voluntary. In addition, certifications evidencing sustainable green construction are available from third parties, including several universities. Perhaps the most well-known is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) offered by the US Green Building Council, which uses a rating system to certify a newly constructed or rehabilitated building as a sustainable green building.