Environmental laws can be traced back 300 years to the early laws of nuisance in England. In the late 1800s, the U.S. Congress enacted the River and Harbors Act that was aimed at preventing the pollution of waterways, a necessary first step to protecting natural resources and environmental protection.

The environmental movement in the United States, however, did not truly begin in earnest until the early 1970s. Through a variety of events, the public, government, and educators came together in the realization that serious damage to the air, water, and land had been caused in past years and that unified action was needed.

Today, the problems of protecting and enhancing the environment have taken on such global importance that the United Nations and its member countries have instituted ecological and pollution prevention programs throughout the world. People are realizing, though, that many past sins imposed on the environment can, unfortunately, never be repaired. People of good will, dedication, and concern are making sure now that man-made contamination is brought under control.

Because of all of the past injustices done to the environment, both the government and the public have grown to be skeptical of those persons claiming to be knowledgeable professionals about the environment. Anyone voicing concern about protecting and enhancing our quality of life are viewed askance. This has created the need for an independent, third-party credentialing of individuals. The federal government has taken a strong stand that such acknowledgment and accreditation must be by peer review and in the private sector.

As a result, a number of member and nonmember private organizations have stepped forward to recognize various specialty areas of environmental professionalism. While all of these efforts have been valuable in peer recognition of individuals, something has been lacking in the unified development of the environmental professional—a code of conduct for professional practice by which individuals may measure both others and themselves.

The National Registry of Environmental Professionals has taken on the role of establishing a Code of Professional Practice for those individuals working and serving the environmental field. It is important to understand that this code will be in a state of continual modification as the roles and responsibilities of environmental professionals become more rigorously defined.