August 30, 2018

Cooperative Federalism and Environmental Enforcement

Christine Y. LeBel

In his nomination hearings and since his February 2017 swearing-in, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt has made a mantra of the phrase “cooperative federalism.” The theory—which, broadly, describes the system by which Congress enacts environmental laws, the federal government enacts various minimum standards, and the states and tribes implement programs to meet the minimums or their own more stringent standards—has underlain much of this country’s environmental law infrastructure since the outset, but Pruitt and his supporters are seeking to “reinvigorate” the concept. This conceptual focus has been a guiding principle of Pruitt’s administration. Environmentalists are concerned that this is merely a ploy that weakens federal environmental oversight while purporting to give the states more power when, in reality, many states do not have adequate infrastructure, resources, and/or political will to adequately address environmental challenges. This article reviews the evolution of Pruitt’s cooperative federalism and explores what that emphasis means for criminal and civil enforcement of environmental laws.

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