Debunking the 'Divine Conception' Myth: Environmental Law Before NEPA
Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 111, No. 4, Winter 2009
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: Suggested Citation