Professor Esty Publishes Article on 21st Century Sustainability Strategy

Yale Law School: Monday, May 15, 2017

Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy Dan Esty ’86 recently published an article in Environmental Law outlining his vision for a new era in environmental sustainability strategy. The journal is the nation’s oldest law review dedicated solely to environmental issues run by students of Lewis & Clark Law School.

Titled “Red Lights to Green Lights: From 20th Century Environmental Regulation to 21st Century Sustainability,” the article calls for a modern-day sustainability strategy that builds on the successes of the 20th century command-and-control approach but integrates advances in data and information while incorporating lessons learned from the private sector.

The article outlines how 20th-century environmental protection efforts delivered significant improvements in America’s air and water quality and led companies to manage their waste, use of toxic substances, and other environmental impacts with much greater care. But that progress slowed due to the limits of the regulatory model being reached, resulting in deadlock that has not been beneficial to environmental policy, Esty argues.

In calling for a new sustainability strategy, Esty makes the case for a transformed legal framework that prioritizes innovation, requires payment of “harm charges” and an “end to externalities,” and shifts toward market-based regulatory strategies that expand business and individual choices rather than government mandates.

The piece further proposes a systems approach to policy that acknowledges tradeoffs across competing aims, integrates economic and energy goals with environmental aspirations, and emphasizes on-the-ground pollution control and natural resource management results. This new approach would go beyond the “red lights” and stop signs of the existing framework of environmental law that centers on telling people what they cannot do, to a broader structure of incentives and “green lights” that would engage the public and the business world in environmental problem solving.

Esty argues that by building on the changed circumstances of the 21st century, the transformation he advocates for would permit a shift in the “environmental possibility frontier” resulting in a lighter and stronger structure of pollution control and research management.

This article builds on Professor Esty’s distinguished visitor lecture at Lewis and Clark Law School in October 2016. Esty was interviewed about the article on a podcast produced by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy. 

Esty also further outlined his work in a commentary for the Guardian. 

Professor Esty holds faculty appointments in both Yale’s Environment and Law Schools with a secondary appointment at the Yale School of Management. He directs the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and serves on the advisory board of the Center for Business & Environment at Yale which he founded in 2006.