Federal Laws


Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) is one of dozens of United States environmental laws passed in the 1970′s. It was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” The ESA is administered by two federal Agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The ESA requires federal agencies, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the NOAA Fisheries Service, to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species, either threatened or endangered, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species.

The ESA also prohibits any action that causes a “taking” of any listed species. Further, any “harm” to a listed species (an act that kills or injures a species) or its habitat (significant modification or degradation) is considered a “taking” under the ESA. Thus, anti-hunting activists have used “taking” arguments in an attempt to impact the use of traditional ammunition, consisting of lead components.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is a federal law that implements the 1916 convention between the United States and Great Britain for the protection of birds migrating between the U.S. and Canada. It also implements similar conventions between the U.S. and Mexico (1936), Japan (1972) and the former Soviet Union (1976).

The MBTA makes it illegal for people to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell migratory birds, their eggs, feathers or nests. Over 800 species are currently listed under the MBTA.

National Environmental Policy Act

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a federal law establishing a national framework for promoting the protection of the environment and establishing the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. NEPA’s basic policy directive is to assure that all branches of the federal government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that could significantly impact the environment.

Toxic Substance Control Act

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is another federal law that regulates the introduction of new or existing chemicals. TSCA provides the Environmental Protection Agency authority to require reporting, record-keeping, testing requirements and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures. TSCA addresses the production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon and lead-based paint.


The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the federal law that ensures public access to the United States Government’s records. FOIA provides that any person has the right to obtain access to general agency records, except for those records that are specifically protected and exempt from disclosure under a FOIA request.

What Agencies Are Governed by FOIA?

FOIA applies to records of the executive branch of the federal government and does not provide access to records held by Congress, the federal courts, advisory offices of the President, state, county or local government agencies (covered by individual state records reqest laws), or private businesses and individuals.
Below are some of the Agencies covered under FOIA

  1. United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  2. National Park Service (NPS)
  3. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

What Information is Covered by FOIA?

FOIA specifically requires disclosure of the following information:

  1. Final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, and orders issued in the adjudication of cases.
  2. Policy statements and interpretations adopted by an agency and not published in the Federal Register.
  3. Administrative staff manuals and instructions that affect members of the public.
  4. Copies of all records, regardless of form or format, which have been released to any person and which the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records.
  5. A general index of the records referred to under subparagraph (4).

Generally agencies are required to make public documents that were created on or after November 1, 1996, available in electronic form. However, agencies are only required to make records available in the form they are kept by the government, or in a form that the government can readily produce.

If an exemption applies to a paper document requested under FOIA, it will also apply to the electronic version.

An agency may delete identifying details to the extent required to prevent an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

What Information is Exempt Under FOIA?

FOIA has nine exemptions.

  1. National Security and Foreign Policy Classified Data – Records that are (A) specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interests of national defense or foreign policy and (B) are so classified pursuant to an Executive Order.
  2. Internal Personnel Policies – Records that are related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.
  3. Data Exempt From Disclosure Under Other Statutes – Records that are specifically exempted from disclosure by federal statute, provided that the statute (A) requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion to the agency on the issue; or (B) establishes particular types of matters to be withheld
  4. Confidential Propriety Data – Records that are trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.
  5. Non-Discoverable Internal Government Communications – Records that are inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an entity in litigation with the agency.
  6. Private Personal Data – Records that are personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  7. Investigatory/ Law Enforcement Records – Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information (A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a state, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in the case of a record or information compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source, (E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law, or (F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.
  8. Financial Regulation Records – Records contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.
  9. Geological and Geophysical Data – Geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.

How Do I Get Information Under the FOIA?

A FOIA request to obtain a copy of records can be made by any individual, private organization, or public organization, other than another federal agency. Under FOIA, every government agency is required to adopt regulations regarding how the public can request information and how the agency will respond to such requests. For a list of federal agency FOIA websites available on the Department of Justice website click here.

The Administrative Procedure Act

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is the federal law that governs the various administrative agencies of the federal government of the United States. The APA provides the legal foundation for agencies to promulgate rules and regulations.

The APA also establishes the process and procedures for legally challenging an agency decision in the United States Federal Courts.

    • Rules and regulations issued by a federal administrative agency is published chronologically in the Federal Register.
    • Rules and regulations are then organized by topic in a separate publication called the Code of Federal Regulations.