Environmental law is falling short.
Yes, our air and water are cleaner than 50 years ago, before the nation adopted modern environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and we've cleaned up many toxic waste sites and prevented others from forming. But environmental damage and threats -- climate change, invasive species, algal blooms and massive species extinction -- are outpacing our laws. Making matter even worse, environmental law has done little to address the disparate impact this damage is causing marginalized communities -- and in some respects has made those impacts worse. Why is this so, and how do we fix it?
In this class we'll explore those questions by setting the context and then studying five cornerstone environmental laws -- the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Recovery Act (CERCLA), and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). For each, we will examine what problems they were intended to address, how they were designed to address those problems, the level of success they've had, where they've come up short, and what unintended consequences they produce. As we'll see, some of those consequences (intended or not) perpetrated and worsened environmental injustice. The class will continually explore how these laws need to change -- do they need to be modified, or should we tear them up and start over again?