Shared Sovereignty: The Role of Expert Agencies in Environmental Law

42 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2015 Last revised: 7 Nov 2015

See all articles by Michael C. Blumm

Michael C. Blumm

Lewis & Clark College - Lewis & Clark Law School; Lewis & Clark College Paul L Boley Library

Andrea Lang


Date Written: February 13, 2015


Environmental law usually features statutory interpretation or administrative interpretation by a single agency. Less frequent is a close look at the mechanics of implementing environmental policy across agency lines. In this article, we offer such a look: a comparative analysis of five statutes and their approaches to sharing decision-making authority among more than one federal agency. We call this pluralistic approach to administrative decisionmaking “shared sovereignty.”

In this analysis, we compare implementation of the National Environmental Policy, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Federal Power Act. All of these statutes incorporate the “shared sovereignty” paradigm, although they vary in their interpretation. The first two statutes allow commenting and consulting agencies (we call both “expert” agencies) some authority, often significant, over the decisions of so-called “action agencies.” More decisive authority for expert agencies exists under the Endangered Species Act. And the latter two statutes give expert agencies conclusive decision-making authority.

We think that drafters of future environmental legislation may profit from this comparative analysis of pluralistic agency decisionmaking, and we claim that the environment has benefited from the last several decades of implementing the shared sovereignty paradigm. Our view is that shared sovereignty is — and has been — an integral part of modern environmental law and should continue to be a foundation element in its future.

Keywords: environmental law, natural resources law, administrative law, National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Power Act

JEL Classification: K23, K32, O13, O21, Q13, Q28, Q38, Q48, R52

Suggested Citation

Blumm, Michael C. and Lang, Andrea, Shared Sovereignty: The Role of Expert Agencies in Environmental Law (February 13, 2015). Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 3, 2015, Lewis & Clark Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-8, Available at SSRN: or

Michael C. Blumm (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark College - Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

10101 S. Terwilliger Boulevard
Portland, 97219-7762

Lewis & Clark College Paul L Boley Library ( email )

10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States
503-768-6824 (Phone)
503-768-6701 (Fax)

Andrea Lang

Independent ( email )

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