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Environmental Laws, Introduction to Protect the Environment

15 Aug 2017Essay Samples

The United States of America has a couple of laws that are meant to protect the environment. Among these laws are the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Endangered Species Act was created and passed by Congress in 1973, after President Nixon declared the prevailing conservation efforts as inadequate. Additionally, within the same year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna was created. CITES is an international accord that curbs global trade in animals and plants that would be hurt by the trade (Pretorius, 1995). The Marine Mammal Protection Act was proclaimed in the United States of America on 21st October 1972. The act forbids harassing, capturing, hunting or killing of marine mammals in American waters as well as by its citizens on high seas, and further prohibits importation of sea mammals including their products into America (Baur and Irvin, 2001).

Consequently, the creation of these three acts - The Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Marine Mammal Protection Act have resulted to increased authority of the federal government and curtailed authority of the state government over the control of wild fauna and flora, whilst the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild and Fauna (CITES) has levelled the authority of both of these governments; in addition these laws have strengthened the relationship between the federal and the states government.

Endangered Species Act

The enactment of the Endangered Species Act increased the authority of the federal government over the control and protection of endangered species. The federal government through the Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of State is charged with implementing the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. In this regard, the federal government through its agencies, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and NOAA which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decides which species are endangered or not (Nixon, 1972, 52). Thus, the protection of a certain species depends on the decision of the federal government (Eilperin, 2008). Although the Act allows the general public to place petitions compelling the federal government to act, the federal government still retains the power to list any species as threatened. In fact, according to Washington post (March, 2008) the federal government under the leadership of George Bush restricted the number of species to be listed beginning the year 2001. Moreover, the act gives the federal government through the Secretary of Defence the authority to make any exemptions to the provisions of the act.

Apart from reducing their authority over determination of the endangered species, the act also increased the dependency of state governments on the federal governments. Thus, any policy formulation regarding the protections and involvement of species classified as threatened has to make reference to the decisions of the federal government or rather its agencies delegated with these duties. The relationship between states and federal governments in conservation of endangered species is strengthened, especially due to its cooperative agreement provision.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)

As with the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act gives the federal government the dominant authority over the control of marine resources. The management of the marine mammals is the responsibility of Fish and wildlife Service, Department of Commerce, and the Marine Mammal Commission; which are agents of the federal government. Moreover, the enforcement of the provisions under this act for the management and conservation of marine and sea otters, polar bear, walrus, dugong and manatees is the sole responsibility of the Fish and wildlife Service. Another federal government agency, National Marine Fisheries Service is empowered by this act to manage and conserve pinnepeds such as sea lions and seals, and cetaceans (McClain and Bureau of National Affairs, 1991). All these agencies are controlled by the federal governments.

Therefore, the state governments have to rely on the federal governments regarding any decision for the protection of the marine resources. As such, the state governments take a secondary role in control of the use of marine mammals. That is, the responsibility of the states government remains in enforcing the provision of this act at the grassroots level.

In some sense, the centralisation of command by the Marine Mammal Protection Act promotes the relationship between the state and federal government.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild and Fauna and Flora

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora curtails the authority of the United States federal government and states governments in regard to trade of wild and fauna. Although the responsibility of enforcing the provision of this convention lies within each member states, the convention’s Secretariat has the sole power of declaring which species are threatened or not endangered. Therefore, the discretion of controlling fauna and flora is under the power of the Secretariat. It has the authority of determining which wild plants and/or animals need protection, and are above the authority of any single state. Indeed, if the Secretariat makes any decision regarding a particular species of fauna or flora, it is the duty of each member country to implement the decisions (Pretorius, 1995).

The act, as a result, brings the state and federal governments under one common agenda of protecting the environment with equal participation. In this respect, the relationship between federal and state government is strengthened since any interests of the individual state or the federal government are dealt with by a neutral body. Moreover, for the sake of this common interest of ensuring protection of wild animal and fauna, the states governments as well as the federal government are obligated to promote cooperation among themselves.


The above acts and convention are similar in that they both seek to protect the environment, and in particular, the wild flora and fauna. In contrast to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which has a global scope, the Endangered Species act as well as the Marine Mammal Protection Act is laws that operate only within the jurisdiction of the United States. These two laws of the United States, further empowers the federal governments in matters concerning the control of the activities affecting flora and fauna, especially those that are deemed as endangered, within its borders. In this regard, the states governments have little if no control over the decisions made regarding the fauna and flora. However, the CITEs levels the playing ground between the federal government and the states governments. Irregardless of their roles in enforcing the provision of these laws, the federal and states governments’ relationships are strengthened for the sake of protecting the flora and fauna.

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Baur, Donald C.and Irvin, William Robert. 2001. The Endangered Species Act: Law, Policy, and Perspectives. American Bar Association.

Clarren, Rebecca. Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Eilperin, Juliet. March 23, 2008. Since '01, Guarding Species Is Harder: Endangered Listings Drop Under Bush. Washington Post.

Heck, Jennifer; Buck, Eugene H and Congressional Research Service. 1993. The Marine Mammal Protection Act: Reauthorization Issues. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

History and Evolution of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Including Its Relationship to CITES. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. August 9, 2004.

Jacalyn R. Fleming. The scope of federal authority under the Endangered Species Act: implications for local land use planning.

McClain, E. Wallis and Bureau of National Affairs. 1991.U.S. Environmental Laws. US: Bureau of National Affairs

Nixon. R (1972). Special Message to the Congress Outlining the 1972 Environmental Program, 51.

Pretorius, Annalle. 1995. CITES: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Subdirectorate Species Conservation, Dept. of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

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