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Cities, Green Construction, and the Endangered Species Act

16 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2008 Last revised: 31 Aug 2009

J. B. Ruhl

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: October 10, 2008


The geographic footprint of cities - the space they occupy - is relatively small in comparison to their ecological footprint measured in terms of impact on the sustainability of resources situated mostly outside of the urban realm. Ironically, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), though widely regarded as one of the most powerful environmental laws, has been and continues to be administered with respect to urbanized land masses primarily with the objective of managing their geographic footprints. This Article uses the example of "green construction" techniques to explore this disconnect between the macro-scale contribution of cities' ecological footprints to species endangerment and the micro-scale orientation of ESA law and policy toward cities' geographic footprints. The movement toward codifying standards for green construction is less concerned with geographic footprints than with ecological footprints, and widespread adoption of green construction codes thus could significantly improve the condition of imperiled species. So why is the ESA not being used to require or facilitate green construction techniques? I argue that one reason is the statute's harm-preventing focus, which does not fit well with the benefit-providing emphasis of green construction. Also, I argue that the ESA is ineffective at preventing harms that are the result of complex, large-scale, indirect causal mechanisms, which largely is the nature of cities' ecological footprints. Nevertheless, the Article identifies ways in which the ESA can be used directly and indirectly to support green construction and thereby help mitigate the ecological footprints of cities.

Suggested Citation

Ruhl, J. B., Cities, Green Construction, and the Endangered Species Act (October 10, 2008). Virginia Environmental Law Journal, Forthcoming; FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 324. Available at SSRN:

J. B. Ruhl (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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