Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Ecology Law Quarterly

Publication Title (Abbreviation)

Ecology L.Q.





First Page


Last Page



Like many other areas of law, the development of environmental law has been strongly influenced by notions of fairness. This should not be surprising, since environmental law has been developed by lawyers, who are self-selected to be fairness-oriented and trained to think in terms of fairness. While large environmental gains have been achieved in the thirtyyear history of environmental law, progress seems to have reached a plateau. Partisanship has poisoned the debate on how best to proceed in making further environmental progress. I attribute the failings and the current stalemate in environmental law to our obsession with fairness. Fairness-thinking has created a culture where stakeholders are conditioned to make self-serving arguments, not considered judgments about the public interest. While this is true in many areas of law, this has become especially troubling in environmental law.

I propose that environmental law and policymakers pay more attention to efficiency arguments and efficiency-thinking. While I do not propose a tyranny of economists to supplant fairness-thinking, I argue that efficiency-thinking can provide an important complement to the fairnessthinking that has dominated environmental law and policy. This article explores the theoretical arguments for fairness-based and efficiency-based programs, and examines the empirical support for some of these arguments. The theoretical arguments for an increased role for efficiencythinking are quite clear. The evidence for more efficiency-based environmental regulation is somewhat thin, but with some important caveats, vindicates the economic theory in support of efficiency-based regulation.


© 2004 Shi-Ling Hsu


First published in Ecology Law Quarterly.

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