Farms, Their Environmental Harms, and Environmental Law

87 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 1999 Last revised: 17 Feb 2009

See all articles by J. B. Ruhl

J. B. Ruhl

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: May 2000


Farms are one of the last uncharted frontiers of environmental regulation in the United States. Despite the substantial environmental harms they cause-habitat loss and degradation, soil erosion and sedimentation, water resources depletion, soil and water salinization, agrochemical releases, animal wastes, nonpoint source water pollution, and air pollution-environmental law has given them a virtual license to do so. When combined, the active and passive safe harbors farms enjoy in most environmental laws amount to an anti-law that finds no rational basis given the magnitude of harms farms cause. This paper comprehensively documents the environmental harms farms cause and the safe harbors they enjoy in environmental law, then argues for a core federal statute that blends regulation, information, tax, incentive, and trading instruments to address several of the major sources of harm. It is shown that conventional prescriptive regulation simply will not effectively fit the geographic, economic, and political demographics of farms, but that the proposed blend of instruments could achieve significant gains in farms' environmental performance without excessive administrative or compliance complexities and costs.

Suggested Citation

Ruhl, J. B., Farms, Their Environmental Harms, and Environmental Law (May 2000). Ecology Law Quarterly, May 2000, Available at SSRN: or

J. B. Ruhl (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

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

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