Debunking the 'Divine Conception' Myth: Environmental Law Before NEPA

11 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2009 Last revised: 21 Oct 2009

Date Written: September 4, 2009


This is a review of Karl Brooks' book, "Before Earth Day: The Origins of American Environmental Law, 1945-70." Brooks challenges the standard account given in most America law school classes that has environmental law bursting onto the legal scene in the "environmental decade" of the 1970's. Like the "miracle in Philadelphia" in the summer of 1787, this "divine conception" theory of the genesis of environmental law is a myth, as Brooks ably demonstrates. He discusses the struggle to pass environmental statutes in the late 1940's like the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, as well as successful block developments like Idaho dams in the 1950's. He also gives forgotten figures like Idaho lawyer Bruce Bowler and Virginia Congressman and Senator Willis Robertson (the father of the televangelist) their due. However, Brooks' claim that the origins of environmental law lay in the post-World War II era is flawed: those origins can be traced at least as far back as the Progressive Conservationists of the turn of twentieth century. Still, this is an engaging and enjoyable account of an era of environmental law that gets short shirft from most environmental law teachers.

Keywords: environmental law, legal history

JEL Classification: K32, N52

Suggested Citation

Blumm, Michael C., Debunking the 'Divine Conception' Myth: Environmental Law Before NEPA (September 4, 2009). Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 111, No. 4, Winter 2009, Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2010, Lewis & Clark Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-16, Available at SSRN:

Michael C. Blumm (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

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