The Environmental Laws of the 1970s: They Looked Good on Paper

42 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2014 Last revised: 19 Jul 2014

See all articles by William H. Rodgers

William H. Rodgers

University of Washington - School of Law

Date Written: 2010


This article examines my “top ten” environmental laws of the 1970s: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (1969), Clean Air Act (CAA) (1970), Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments (CWA) (1972), Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (1972), Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) (1972), Endangered Species Act (ESA) (1973), Magnuson Act (Fisheries) (1976), National Forest Management Act (NFMA) (1976), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (1976), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) (1980).

What were the pin-up qualities that made these laws look good on paper? What were the features sponsors bragged about or critics deplored? How were they understood and described at the time of legislative birth? What was thought to be new, different, and better? I discuss four common features that stand out for their merit: (1) best science, (2) public participation, (3) effective and aggressive judicial review, and (4) citizen enforcement. I also discuss several “design defects”.

The great contributions of the 1970s environmental laws were not in the devices, schemes, arrangements and incentives of the several texts. They are found instead in the stunning compilation and expression of values that redefined the relationship of human beings on earth to their world and all life within it.

Keywords: environmental law, legislation, remedies, implementation, judicial review, administrative law

Suggested Citation

Rodgers, William H., The Environmental Laws of the 1970s: They Looked Good on Paper (2010). Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 1-42, 2010, Available at SSRN: or

William H. Rodgers (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

4293 Memorial Way
Seattle, WA 98195-3020
United States


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