Can law change human behavior to be less environmentally damaging? Law will be examined through case histories including: environmental effects of national security, pesticides, air pollution, consumer products, plastics, parks and protected area management, land use, urban growth and sprawl, public/private transit, drinking water standards, food safety, and hazardous site restoration. In each case we will review the structure of law and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses.
01 - Course Overview: Science and Law
Professor John Wargo introduces the central question of the course, "Can law shape a sustainable future for ten billion people?" The purpose of the course is to examine the most important U.S. laws adopted over the past forty years, and to evaluate their effectiveness. Lectures will present histories of nuclear experimentation, industrial and organic agriculture, air quality, plastics, wilderness, green building certification, and land use regulation. By the end of the course students will be exposed to diverse statutory and regulatory strategies to prevent pollution, reduce wastes, protect human health, conserve energy, and to protect wild lands.
02 - Principals and Strategies in Environmental Law
The United States' fragmented, piecemeal approach to environmental law is presented through the cases that led to the creation of major environmental statutes such as the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The variety of federal agencies and levels of government that participate in creating and implementing regulation contribute to the fragmentation of American environmental law. Environmental law seeks to balance the costs of environmental degradation with the economic benefits that companies reap. However, the uncertainty of environmental costs leads to a slow and ineffective regulation process.
03 - Nuclear Experiments
To illustrate the linkages among national security, secrecy, and environmental quality, Professor Wargo describes the Atomic Energy Commission's nuclear tests in the 1950s. The Atomic Energy Commission collected data on the spread of radionuclides from the nuclear tests, and discovered that the radionuclides were circulating around the world. This process of discovery raised issues regarding ways to manage risks to the population while both continuing the nuclear tests and keeping them secret for national security reasons.
04 - Nuclear Secrecy and Ecology
The United States government employed a variety of approaches to protect citizens from danger, including public education, nuclear weapons testing, and gathering data about the effects of nuclear testing. The US government's testing of nuclear weapons at the Bikini Atoll is used as an example of government approaches. Nuclear testing led to ecological devastation, leading the US government to move Bikinians to another island. The case highlights the far-reaching environmental, economic, and health consequences of nuclear weapons testing.
05 - Preparing for War: NEPA
During this session, Professor Wargo stresses the importance of considering the persistence of pollutants in the environment. He continues the discussion of the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) risk management strategies in the wake of nuclear experiments from 1945-1963, and also introduces risk reduction strategies attempted after the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. These strategies underestimated the persistence of radionuclides in the environment. All of these approaches took place in secret, and these proceedings were only declassified in the 1990s. Governmental secrecy in these cases prevents the public from becoming fully literate about environmental risks and from being able to challenge or test the government's narrative.
06 - Marine Food Chains: Mercury
The military's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a training site is discussed to highlight the challenges involved in identifying and restoring hazardous sites. Political opposition is faced while attempting to get a site recognized as hazardous, deciding how to compensate those affected, and determining an appropriate level of environmental restoration. The recurring theme of government secrecy and its effect on efforts to protect the environment is also covered during this lecture, as the US military is reluctant to allow researchers to examine testing grounds. The reclamation of these sites involves many environmental statutes, including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).