Public health is intimately connected to our environment. Toxins and other pollutants present both outdoors and indoors contribute to chronic diseases, such as certain types of cancers and chronic obstructive lung disorders. The design of a community– from the location of sidewalks and bike paths to the type of construction materials used in building — can also affect health. Scientists are constantly learning more about the relationship between exposure to elements in the environment and public health.
Increasing solar energy production can reduce public health harms caused by climate change and the combustion of fossil fuels, including increased incidence of asthma and cardiovascular disease and exposure to contaminants in drinking water leaching from coal ash storage facilities. Solar power can also increase community resilience to natural disasters and other energy interruptions. This Quick Reference resource provides an overview of the legal strategies that have been implemented by communities to promote renewable energy and equitable public health outcomes.
Tribes across the country are restoring ancient traditions to improve overall wellness of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The recent National Tribal Public Health Summit highlighted these stories and identified the need for law and policy solutions to address a number of critical issues including opioid harm prevention and treatment, access to oral health care, and climate change.
A climate and health specialist contacted the Network for information about resources related to preemption of local laws by states, specifically state-level preemption of bans on the use of plastic bags by grocery stores, convenience stores and other establishments.
Federal, state and local public health officials enforce laws and regulations preventing involuntary exposure to known toxins, including imposing requirements for drinking water, setting certain standards for safe water for swimming, boating or fishing, and requiring landlords to provide lead-free housing to tenants. Knowledge about the link between the built environment and obesity has contributed to efforts to mandate that new communities be built to include access to safe places where children can play and adults can exercise.
State and local public health practitioners dealing with environmental health can be confronted with a number of legal issues. Because the federal government has adopted a comprehensive regulatory scheme for environmental protection, state and local governments may be limited in their ability to pass laws that impose different standards than those imposed by federal law. Likewise, the existence of state laws may restrict passage of local laws. Federal environmental laws also regulate the ability of a state or local government to bring a lawsuit against an alleged polluter, and the right of individuals or groups to bring suit may also be regulated by federal and state law.
The Network for Public Health Law is prepared to provide technical assistance to public health practitioners developing and implementing effective environmental health laws and policies. The Network has access to top-ranked experts in environmental law who can bring decades of experience in studying, developing and advocating for environmental policy change to improve public health.
For legal technical assistance and support with environmental public health:
You can also call your region to get legal assistance at:
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The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, please consult specific legal counsel. For more information on the type of legal assistance the Network can provide, please see frequently asked questions.