Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Half Century of Federal Environmental Law?

Dan Farber's post at Legal Planet, "Celebrating A Half Century of Federal Environmental Law!", is a welcome opportunity to kick off 2014 on our blog with some thoughts on when environmental law began. Farber writes (links added):
Later in this year, we will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first modern environmental statute, the Wilderness Act of 1964.  NEPA followed five years later and then in quick succession came the creation of EPA, a slew of laws regulating pollution and toxics, the Endangered Species Act, and reforms of public lands laws.
It’s been a tumultuous half century — think Anne Gorsuch Burford, Newt Gingrich, and Tea Party.  Yet, at the end of fifty years, the major environmental laws are still there, accompanied by thousands of pages of regulations and judicial opinions.  Opponents of regulation may still target EPA but their main fire has been concentrated elsewhere, on the Affordable Care Act.  In the meantime, a burst of new EPA regulations is on the scene, some of them addressing climate change for the first time.
Age is no guarantee of longevity.  But the past five decades suggest that environmental law is here to stay and is likely to keep getting stronger.
Paul Magill discussing the smog on Black Friday in Los Angeles
at the first National Air Pollution Symposium in 1949
Farber's post (his position is developed further in a recent book review) joins recent articles looking back on the last few decades of US environmental law. But was 1964 (or 1970) really the founding moment of modern environmental law, federal or otherwise? In what way can the Wilderness Act be said to have been the first "modern" environmental statute? Karl Boyd Brooks's Before Earth Day: The Origins of American Environmental Law, 1945–1970 (Kansas, 2009) pushes the story back to 1945 and before, and many others have been doing valuable work on various aspects of environmental law before the 1960s and '70s.

Much remains to be done, including explaining what--if anything--changed around 1964 or 1970 in environmental law. Please write in or comment with thoughts and suggestions for further reading and research!

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