Is Environmental Law Serving Society?

Vol. 26 No. 4

Ms. Ristino is senior counsel with the USDA Office of the General Counsel in Washington, D.C., and she is a member of the editorial board of Natural Resources & Environment. Mr. Kalen is of counsel with the Van Ness Feldman Law Firm in Washington, D.C.

Last year, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) launched Environment 2050, an initiative to envision what our environmental governance systems should look like in 2050. A recent ELI Forum article entitled Any Big Ideas Left summarizes the ELI’s findings to evaluate the environmental achievements of the last four decades and asks whether society is running out of solutions to address environmental protection. In this Insights article, Professor Sam Kalen and Laurie Ristino discuss whether environmental law, which is rooted largely in the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, provides an effective framework to address current environmental problems or whether a new framework is needed.

Laurie Ristino: I’ve been thinking about this issue lately in regard to my legal practice. For example, I have been struck by the attempt to use old common law strategies like nuisance law and the public trust doctrine to address the complex issue of climate change. It throws a spotlight on the Clean Air Act’s regulation of greenhouse gases, which is ill-fitting and cumbersome given the nature of carbon emissions.

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Book: International Environmental Law: The Practitioner's Guide to the Laws of the Planet