Navigating the U.S. Transition to Sustainability: Matching National Governance Challenges with Appropriate Legal Tools

29 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2008 Last revised: 23 Jul 2015

See all articles by John C. Dernbach

John C. Dernbach

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School

Date Written: September 10, 2008


Sustainable development would require the United States to maintain and improve human prosperity while at the same time greatly reducing its consumption of energy, materials, water, and land. The scope of the challenge includes, but is not limited to, climate change. This Article suggests the elements of a legal structure for achieving sustainability. Because achieving sustainable development is a significant learning experience, the United States will need to employ a form of governance - reflexive governance - that requires constant learning and supportive citizens and stakeholders who are also working to ensure sustainability in their own activities. The two basic problems reflexive governance must address are the multigenerational nature of the effort and the need for across-the-board integration of environmental considerations into decision-making. The suggested legal structure includes a required national strategy, long-term and short-term goals, better integration of environment into decision making across and among various levels of government, public education and engagement, a broad range of legal and policy tools, feedback mechanisms to foster learning, and designated governmental entities for coordinating or managing this effort as well as providing an independent review of their efforts. The Governmental Performance and Results Act and existing environmental laws provide a starting point for this legal structure, but would have to be significantly amended.

Keywords: sustainable development, sustainability, national governance, federal government, integrated decision making, Governmental Performance and Results Act, reflexive governance, climate change, environmental law, National Environmental Policy Act, Agenda for a Sustainable America

JEL Classification: K10, K32, K33, Q01

Suggested Citation

Dernbach, John C., Navigating the U.S. Transition to Sustainability: Matching National Governance Challenges with Appropriate Legal Tools (September 10, 2008). Tulsa Law Review, Vol. 44, 2008, Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-50, Available at SSRN:

John C. Dernbach (Contact Author)

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School ( email )

3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9380
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics