Settling for Natural Resource Damages

42 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2015 Last revised: 6 May 2017

See all articles by Karen Bradshaw

Karen Bradshaw

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Date Written: 2016


The United States manages natural resources held in the public trust for the collective benefit of all citizens. When human action injures certain natural resources, the government has statutory authority to pursue monetary damages, which are used to restore the resources to their pre-injury condition. As the only statutory tort remedy in environmental law, natural resource damages provide a valuable opportunity to consider the efficiency of a tort regime as a tool for addressing environmental problems. Moreover, administration of the remedy provides insights into interagency dynamics and valuation of natural resources without a market value. At present, these important inquiries are sharply limited by a lack of comprehensive information about the remedy. Commentators routinely underestimate the frequency and size of claims by failing to account for settlement, which resolves over ninety-five percent of natural resource damages matters, and lesser-known applications of the remedy.

This Article begins to fill the void of information surrounding natural resource damages settlements. It presents a novel empirical overview of all settlements by federal trustees be- tween 1989 and 2015, constructed from data gathered by Freedom of Information Act requests to each relevant agency. The available data indicate that federal agencies settled for $10.4 billion across hundreds of claims over more than twenty years. This Article maps the statutory authorities that agencies use to provide a comprehensive overview of the field. Ultimately, the data presented in this Article lay a foundation for the important, yet under-theorized, questions surrounding the potential for statutory tort remedies to address environmental problems.

Keywords: natural resources, law and economics, environmental law, relational contracting

Suggested Citation

Bradshaw, Karen, Settling for Natural Resource Damages (2016). Harvard Environmental Law Review, Vol. 40, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Karen Bradshaw (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

111 E. Taylor St.
Phoenix, AZ 85253
United States


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