Environmental Law Update
Environmental Law Update provides information on developments in environmental law as it applies to property, probate and trust matters. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
Researching Environmental Law on the Internet
Environmental law can present challenges to the real estate practitioner. Statutes and regulations can change frequently, making current legislative and regulatory developments difficult to follow. Moreover, environmental law encompasses a wide range of issues--from underground storage tanks to wetlands to "sick buildings"--that are often regulated by both federal and state agencies, so even determining which regulations apply to a given situation can be difficult.
In recent years, the World Wide Web has made legal research easier by offering current, inexpensive access to a variety of environmental law documents and information. Once the basics of finding sites and printing or downloading information are mastered, the Internet can provide immediately accessible information that only a few years ago could take considerable legwork and expense to uncover.
Research on the Internet is not without its frustrations, however, because the Internet can be an unstable resource. Documents and even Web pages found one day may not be available the next, and the source and authenticity of documents found on the Internet are not always readily ascertainable. Nonetheless, the Web pages discussed below are examples of excellent sources of information. Depending on the user's needs and experience, the Internet can serve as a starting point for obtaining basic information, a place to keep abreast of developments or a tool for advanced research.
The federal environmental agencies maintain some of the higher quality sites available. These sites are the most likely to be up to date and have gradually become more user-friendly. EPA provides a main page, located at http://www.epa.gov, as well as pages maintained by the individual EPA regions.
EPA's main page provides links to pages dedicated to news and events; media-specific offices (e.g., the EPA Office of Water), labs and local regions; projects and programs; laws and regulations; and publications. EPA offers a powerful search engine and permits the user to download copies of federal regulations, proposed and final rules and policy documents.
The pages maintained by EPA regional offices can be good sources of news and events for those particular geographical areas, as well as sources of region-specific policy guidance documents (e.g., policies on lead-based paint disclosure violations). For example, you can view a list of the Superfund sites in your particular area as part of the due diligence for property transactions.
EPA, like several other agencies and non-governmental groups, offers listserves that provide subscribers with periodic e-mails, such as press releases, on particular topics. Agencies also sponsor chat rooms where users post questions to other participants and receive responses via e-mail. This can be a quick and easy way of obtaining practical advice from other lawyers, consultants and governmental officials.
State environmental agencies also have Web pages of varying quality. A list of links to the environmental agencies of the 50 states is available at http://www.nmfrc.org/srt/srtnew1.cfm. Although not every state agency has its laws and regulations available online, these pages often provide a starting point for researching the law and policies of a specific state.
ABA and Other Sources
The American Bar Association sponsors several useful Internet sites. The web page of the Indoor Environment Committee of the RPTE Section is at http://www.abanet.org/rppt/rpm2/home.html. This site offers information on a wide spectrum of issues affecting indoor environment, including asbestos, lead-based paint, radon, environmental tobacco smoke, indoor air quality and electromagnetic fields. Topic-specific sites such as this can be particularly valuable because they provide hyperlinks to relevant agencies and other sources of information that address these issues. By bookmarking this site, the user will have a jumping-off point to multiple sites without having to save the individual Web pages.
Several universities also offer valuable research tools. Indiana University has a "Virtual Law Library" that allows the user to browse information by topic. Go to www.law.indiana.edu/law/v-lib/lawindex.html and select "Environmental Law" for an excellent list of links arranged in alphabetical order, or use the search engine to search by topic.
Finally, many law firms have realized the value of maintaining their own Web pages. Some firms (such as this author's, at www.linowes-law.com/pubfr.htm) post articles broken down by practice areas and written by firm lawyers. Such sites can aid research or be a good place to find an expert in a particular field.
The Internet can provide an efficient means of researching environmental law. Although lawyers must be cautious when basing legal advice on Web research, the Internet can be invaluable as a starting point when facing an unfamiliar topic or researching the latest developments in a well-known area.
Environmental Law Update Editor: James B. Witkin, Linowes and Blocher, 1010 Wayne Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910.Probate & Property Magazine is published six times annually and is included in section members' annual dues.