Cooperative Federalism and Natural Resources Law

54 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2005 Last revised: 9 Nov 2013

See all articles by Robert Fischman

Robert Fischman

Indiana University Maurer School of Law


Cooperative federalism describes an arrangement under which a national government induces coordination from subordinate jurisdictions, such as states and tribes, through incentives rather than requirements. In environmental law, cooperative federalism highlights the divide between pollution control and resource management. This article examines the divide from both sides.

Even though almost all of the environmental law commentary on cooperative federalism focuses exclusively on the pollution control side, the basic elements of cooperative federalism can be combined in a wider variety of forms than are recognized by most pollution control programs or scholarship. This article reviews the ways in which resource management law has brokered the state-federal relationship to expand the otherwise cramped spectrum of arrangements that might fairly be called cooperative federalism. The narrow, pollution control model entails the fostering of state administrative programs that can receive authorization to tailor and implement federal standards. Natural resources law demonstrates three broader categories of cooperative federalism: place-based collaboration, state favoritism in federal process, and federal deference to state process.

Conversely, natural resources law can benefit from adaptation of the narrow, pollution control model of the cooperative federalism. This article applies some of those tools to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and discusses recent developments that modify my previous work in this area. There is an acute need in the ESA program for federal coordination with state and local jurisdictions because land use is such an important determinant of habitat quality for biodiversity. Federal certification of local programs for the purpose of meeting national standards can spur more effective grass roots conservation while eliminating awkward duplication. However, the problem of inadequate inducements highlights important limitations. In particular, experimentation with narrow cooperative federalism through ESA's 4(d) rules modifying strict prohibitions on adverse habitat modification illustrates a kind of Gresham's Law of regulatory choice: lax standards drive stringent standards out of circulation.

Keywords: cooperative federalism, natural resources law, Endangered Species Act, salmon, collaboration, regulation

Suggested Citation

Fischman, Robert, Cooperative Federalism and Natural Resources Law. NYU Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 14, p. 179, 2005, Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 32, Available at SSRN:

Robert Fischman (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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