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In the explosion of modern environmental law that occurred in the 1970s, the first major statute was the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4347, signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on January 1, 1970. It spawned "little NEPAs" in about twenty-five states and eighty countries. Council on Environmental Quality, The National Environmental Quality Act: A Study of Its Effectiveness After Twenty-Five Years (1997). All of these laws were designed to require governments to consider environmental issues in their decisions. The chief mechanism of NEPA and its state equivalents is the preparation of environmental impact statements (EISs) (called environmental impact reports in some jurisdictions), which are typically large books that examine a broad range of impacts and alternatives.

A generation later, with the emergence of climate change as the preeminent environmental issue, it is not surprising that those implementing NEPA and little NEPAs are under pressure to consider climate change in ElSs and other required documents. So far, as in most aspects of this issue, the states have been ahead of the federal government in considering climate change and are developing procedures that may be applied more broadly if a more sympathetic presidential administration comes into office. Meanwhile, the courts are being asked to spur action, and some are doing so.


Environmental Law | Law


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Sabin Center for Climate Change Law