Governing for the long-term:
citizens, courts and environmental politics

Environmental governance is a long-term project. It can take decades to restore the health of a water body, or allow the come back of a species, or reform the power sector of a country to reduce its environmental impacts. The short cycles of democratic politics may stand in the way of the need for long-term implementation of environmental laws.
The 1970s in the United States saw an important institutional innovation: citizens were given the right to sue governments, agencies and companies for not implementing an environmental law, even if they did not directly suffer the consequences. This innovation has since spread to many other countries. In this project, I explore the role that citizens and courts together play in the life of environmental laws, focusing for the time being on the United States.

Some questions I ask include:

  • Shifts in power and legal change
    Do changes in political power lead the courts to change their interpretation of environmental laws? Or do these evolve largely autonomously from these shifts in power? If the latter, how does the engagement of citizens and interest groups affect this evolution?
  • Drift?
    Researchers who study the welfare state have shown that in some countries, and in particular in the United States, the welfare state has retreated. This has been in large part a silent drift , occurring because politicians deliberately did not adapt the system to economic changes. Do we see a similar drift in the environmental laws? To answer these questions I use the dataset of all U.S> environmental court cases from the 1970s to the present and analyze patterns of citation to precedent and the text of opinions.

Related papers:
Dumas M. 2019. Detecting ideology in judicial language. In Law as Data , edited by M. Livermore and D. Rockmore, SFI Press.
Dumas M. 2017. Taking the Law to Court: Citizen Suits and the Legislative Process. American Journal of Political Science, 61(4):944–957.
Dumas M., Rising, J. and J. Urpelainen 2016. Political competition and renewable energy transitions over long time horizons: A dynamic approach. Ecological Economics,124:175–184.