The Evolution of U.S. Environmental Law: A Personal and Professional Perspective
AuthorHarris, Richard Winston
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In 1969 Congress adopted the National Environmental Policy Act in response to social and environmental activism in the United States. The subsequent "Decade of Environmental Achievement" saw enactment of sixteen major environmental laws in the span of eleven years. As a student at Stanford Law School, I became a witness to and participant in the newly developing field of environmental law. This dissertation sets out my personal and professional observations over a period of forty years, accompanied by four published works.I begin with the guiding principles of Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" and John Kingdon's "stream theory" of policy making. I next examine the development of environmental regulations, with a focus on the surface management regulations adopted by the Bureau of Land Management and the tension between environmental aspirations and private property rights. We then turn to issues of water scarcity and water pollution involving the Truckee River system in western Nevada. The adoption of Superfund and its misapplication is examined in the next section. My presentation to the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management regarding the effectiveness of mining regulation in Nevada constitutes the fifth chapter. The final chapter compares the effective international response to ozone depletion to the present tentative response to global warming.After an exceptional adolescence, the field of environmental law is now governed primarily by state and federal agencies and the courts. It is thoroughly enmeshed in our lives, to the point where it is almost inconceivable that there were no significant environmental laws just four decades ago.