Environmental law seeks to manage human impacts on the environment.

‘Environment’ refers to all aspects of the natural environment, including land, air, water, flora and fauna, as well as the human environment (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural and built heritage).

While some areas of environmental law are designed to ensure the protection of the environment, others are designed to control human use of natural resources by setting up a system of environmental approvals. For example, water pollution is unlawful without a permit. However, a person can pollute waters with approval from the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

Environmental law exists at international, national, State, and local levels. In NSW, environmental law is primarily State-based. Decisions are generally made by local councils and State Government Departments. Sometimes approval is needed from the Australian Government in addition to these approvals.

Some laws are relevant to nearly all areas of environmental protection. For example, in NSW, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) relates to a wide range of environmental decision-making at the State level, and at the national level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) is the central environmental law. Other laws relate to specific matters, for example, water management, threatened species or native vegetation. These important environmental laws are discussed in EDO’ s Fact Sheets.

The EPA is an independent authority responsible for managing human impact on the environment in NSW, primarily by issuing environment protection licences (licences to pollute), and responding to pollution incidents.

The Land and Environment Court of NSW is a specialist court that presides over environment and planning matters. For more information about the Land and Environment Court, see our Fact Sheet on the Land and Environment Court.

Environmental law covers topics such as:

  • Aboriginal Communities
  • Chemicals and Pesticides
  • Climate Change and Energy
  • Coastal, Marine and Fisheries Management
  • Farming and Private Land Management
  • Forestry, Clearing Vegetation, Trees
  • Marine
  • Mining and Coal Seam Gas
  • Native Plants and Animals
  • Planning, Development and Heritage
  • Pollution
  • Protected Areas and Public Land Management
  • Water 

This project has been assisted by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.