Why the Fight for Sustainability May Largely Happen in the Courtroom

There has been considerable focus on environmental law both internationally and in America. However, relatively few of those laws seem to be directed toward producing and sustaining renewable energy sources. With a new US Administration dismissive of global warming, maintaining green initiatives may become a legal battle. Here is a quick primer of how green issues have fared recently in the courtroom.

The Brundtland Commission

Formerly known as the World Commission on Environment and Development, this was an organization created back in the mid 1980s by the UN. From the beginning, it had representatives from 25 countries, including the then-USSR, China, and the US. It’s still active in its commitment to sustainable energy and energy efficiency; though, despite several summits and wide-spread agreement, there has been little actual legislation.

US Energy Legislation

Support for renewable energy and creating sustainable communities has received little emphasis over the last decade. Renewable energy was only a small part of 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act. In 2016, the Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act for promoting renewable sources and increasing energy efficiency. It carefully avoids mention of global warming. Today, there are 68 environmental bills before the US Congress; most are concerned with environmental protection, clean water, or even reducing the authority of the EPA. None address renewable energy.

The Issues Remain

Measures such as tax credits for businesses and increasing public awareness have made only limited impact. There are still a variety of environmental issues that have only intensified. These include acid rain, greenhouse emissions, deforestation, pollution, and ozone depletion. It’s been estimated that more than 60 percent of this is due to traditional forms of energy production, particularly coal and oil. While the EPA has done much to raise water and air quality standards, there is no legal framework for replacing or even reducing fossil fuels.

The Trump Era

Proponents of sustainable energy are anticipating a legal nightmare in protecting the small gains they’ve made. We’re looking at a US President who has openly stated his lack of belief in global warming and the need to relax restrictions on business. There is a real threat to environmental funding, including the EPA. Fortunately, some of today’s best environmental law schools are preparing our future leaders through a curriculum developed around environmental laws and issues.


Until the past decade, the world was making some progress to support the environment through development of alternative energy. But, as all efforts have at best slowed climate change and not reversed it, the legal struggle is more important than ever with political and economic support fading. The green movement desperately needs policy-makers and legislatures to jump more fully in the fight for conservation of the planet.

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