The Making of Environmental Law

Posted: 4 Oct 2004


The unprecedented expansion in environmental regulation since 1970 - at all levels of the government - signifies an extraordinary transformation of our nation's law. How environmental law emerged, why it has since evolved in the way that it has, and what are the challenges presented as environmental law moves now into its middle age, is a fascinating and revealing story, which The Making of Environmental Law seeks to tell. The story shows how fashioning pollution control laws presents special challenges both because of the nature of pollution itself and the known means of pollution control and because of our nation's varied processes for lawmaking and the ways those processes relate to important cultural norms. Many of these challenges relate to the varied, complex, and uncertain spatial and temporal dimensions of pollution itself, factors which resist simple redress.

The purpose of the Making of Environmental Law is to describe these challenges, relate them to actual events which occurred during the past three decades, and discuss what lessons can be gleaned from those decades to meet those same challenges today and in the future. The book is, accordingly, divided into three parts. Part I, consisting of three chapters, provides a theoretical overview of the challenges presented by environmental protection for lawmaking. The first two chapters describe the relevant physical features of the natural environment and its transformation by humankind, with emphasis on their spatial and temporal dimensions that especially challenge the fashioning of legal rules. The third chapter analyzes in more detail how these features relate to the structure of U.S. lawmaking institutions in federal, state, and tribal sovereign authorities and within all three branches of government. Part II is more explanatory in nature. It relates the more theoretical analytic framework regarding the nature of environmental lawmaking. Developed in Part I to the actual events surrounding modern environmental law's evolution during the 1960s, 1970, 1980s,and 1990s. Finally Part III is more critical and speculative in character than either Part I or II. The first chapter of Part III considers the current state of environmental law, including both how environmental protection law has evolved during the past three decades and how those evolutionary trends reflect the features of the ecological problems environmental law seeks to address. The second chapter in Part III considers the ways in which environmental law is likely to continue to be challenged in the future, especially by ever-changing conceptions of time and space. The third, and final, chapter of Part III considers the potential historical significance of current times given the unprecedented ascendancy to dominant positions in both the federal legislative and executive branches of government officials who favor major reforms of existing environmental laws.

Keywords: Environmental law, environmental policy, history, natural resources, government, admininstrative law, political science

JEL Classification: D73, H19, K29, K32, N50, Q29, Q39, Q49

Suggested Citation

Lazarus, Richard James, The Making of Environmental Law. Available at SSRN:

Richard James Lazarus (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9129 (Phone)
202-662-9408 (Fax)

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