Environmental Law

This introductory course focuses on the variety of legal mechanisms we use to address environmental harms such as air and water pollution, global climate change, and habitat destruction, and the role played by Congress, the courts and the executive branch in their design and implementation. We will begin with common law principles and foundational constitutional doctrines, and then cover in detail the key federal environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act, among others. The statutes illustrate different regulatory approaches to environmental problems, from prescriptive standards to disclosure requirements to market-based instruments. We will discuss the leading Supreme Court cases interpreting these statutes and examine how environmental law doctrine has evolved over time. We will also discuss the pendulum swings at the federal level on climate policy between the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations; and the role played by states, industry groups, and environmental organizations in producing, implementing, and enforcing environmental law. Students need not be self-identified environmentalists to be interested in this course. Nearly every area of law is now affected by environmental regulation, including private law fields like tax, real estate, and bankruptcy, and environmental regulation is now relevant to clean tech and green finance. The legal issues presented by environmental problems offer ample opportunities for students to develop important and transferable legal skills, including statutory interpretation, constitutional analysis, and application of administrative law doctrines.