Since the industrial revolution in the 18th century, our environment across the globe has rapidly been degraded. This has been due to many factors like land development where massive amounts of vegetation have been removed, pollution of air and water due to inappropriate disposal of waste, and the emission of greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the environmental degradation was recognized at a point where the damage to our planet is severe and irreversible. However, it is not too late to start making changes from here on out to ensure that we keep our planet healthy and sustainable for future generations.
In an effort to combat environmental degradation and the climate change that has tagged along with it, environmental policies have been established. These environmental policies aim to protect natural resources and environmental amenities from degradation or depletion and to promote equitable treatment of people.
Most of the environmental problems are combated at the national level by the federal government with different policies like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). From NEPA stemmed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that developed regulations such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and many more. The reason that it is so important that the federal government enacts these policies is because it gives a standard across all states that must be followed; the states cannot tailor these policies and bent them how they see fit which would happen if states were enacting these policies.
The question then comes in: how does local government get the opportunity to work with the federal government on these policies? Well, the ways that local government gets involved in environmental planning is through Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). If an agency would like to do any type of development, they will be required to prepare an environmental assessment (EA). Basically these documents explain the project in a general sense and must explain the impacts that this project will have on the environment with alternative actions as well as a list of people consulted to make these determinations.
New Jersey has some examples of where they have attempted to combat environmental degradation by conserving land and resources. One example of this would be the NJ Green Acres Bond of 1961 (GAP). This program was created with the intention for New Jersey to meet its requirements in regards to recreation and conservation needs. The GAP provides funding to local governments and non-profits to improve parkland and open space. Once GAP has declared this land in its program, it is restricted solely for the use of recreation and conservation purposes. This program is a great example of how urban planning and development is affected when the purpose to conserve the environment is so extremely important.
Another example would be the NJ Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1973 which established laws to protect and restore wildlife in New Jersey. This act defines an endangered species as one whose survival in New Jersey is in immediate danger because of loss or change in habitat and a threatened species is one who is at risk for becoming endangered. This act is important in terms of urban planning and development because of environmental degradation. The more we develop on land without regards to the impact it will have on the environment, the more these ecosystems are disrupted and have a chain reaction in nature.
It is extremely important that we have policies like this all over the world to keep our development safe in regard to our environment and our public. By having such restrictions, we will be sure not to be mindlessly developing; we need to develop with a purpose and careful consideration that includes plenty of research of long term impacts in order to truly understand the consequences on our ecosystems and our livelihood for generations to come.
Contemporary Urban Planning by John M. Levy