Paul Sabin, “Environmental Law and the End of the New Deal Order,” (Law and History Review 2015)

November 15, 2015

Fledgling public interest environmental law firms achieved landmark victories in the 1970s that helped define the early successes of the modern environmental movement. They delayed the Alaskan pipeline, defeated a Disney resort in the Sierra Nevada, and stopped the domestic use of the pesticide DDT. The organizations also foiled myriad plans for highways, airports, and power plants. Often viewed simply as an outgrowth of 1970s environmental legislation, public interest environmental law firms instead emerged from a different confluence of factors: an intensifying critique of government agencies, youthful disillusionment with private law practice, and Ford Foundation philanthropy.  Drawing on new theories about captured or isolated agencies, liberal lawyers re-conceptualized the public interest and created new legal organizations to sue the government. In the process, liberals themselves helped destabilize the longstanding partnership between government, businesses, and labor to coordinate the economy and individual industries, and to develop natural resources and public infrastructure.

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