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James M. McElfish, Jr.

James M. McElfish, Jr.
Senior Attorney; Director, Sustainable Use of Land Program
(202) 939-3840

Jim McElfish’s research focuses on development choices and their links to land use, water resources, biological diversity, and infrastructure policy. ELI’s Sustainable Use of Land Program makes connections among laws, policies, taxes, investments, and land use decisions. His work includes research on coastal zone activities, renewable energy siting, enforcement, and conservation outcomes.  McElfish served as representative of the natural environment on the American Planning Association’s multi-year Growing Smarter Legislative Guidebook Directorate. McElfish also leads ELI programs on water resources, examining how watersheds and resources can be evaluated, used, conserved, and restored. He is a nationally recognized authority on NEPA and a former litigator in private practice and with the Department of the Interior. McElfish has been an ELI Senior Attorney since 1986.

Media Guide


  • Land Use—state laws and policies, federal influences, judicial decisions, development and infrastructure policies
  • Biodiversity: biological diversity—state strategies and local ordinances and policies
  • Alternative Energy: land use—siting of wind energy on land and water, coastal environment
  • Shale Gas Development:state laws—siting, water use, regulation
  • Law: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—implementation, litigation, and public participation; state environmental law—state stringency and comparative programs
  • Water: Laws and policies in the Chesapeake Bay region states; nonpoint source (runoff) water pollution—federal, state, and local control strategies


  • J.D., Yale Law School, 1979
  • B.A., Dickinson College, 1976

Selected Publications

James M. McElfish, The Regulations Implementing NEPA, in Albert Ferlo, Karin P. Sheldon, Mark Squillace, The NEPA Litigation Guide (American Bar Ass’n 2012)(2d. ed).

James M. McElfish & Rebecca Kihslinger, Nature Friendly Land Use Practices at Multiple Scales (Envtl. L. Inst. 2009).

James M. McElfish & Lyle M. Varnell, Designing Environmental Indicators for Use in Public Decisions, 31 Colum. J. Envtl. L. 45 (2006).

James M. McElfish, Linda K. Breggin, John Pendergrass & Susan Bass, Inventing Nonpoint Controls: Methods, Metrics, and Results, 17 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 87 (2006).

James M. McElfish, Nature-Friendly Ordinances (Envtl. L. Inst. 2004).

James M. McElfish, Taxation Effects on Land Development and Conservation, 23 Temp. Envtl. L. & Tech. J. 139 (2004).

James M. McElfish, Chesapeake 2000 Tax Policy Study (Envtl. L. Inst. 2003).

James M. McElfish, State Environmental Law and Programs, in Sheldon M. Novick et al., The Law of Environmental Protection (Thomson Reuters, updated annually).

James M. McElfish, Susan Bass, Tobie Bernstein & Elizabeth Sheldon, Hard Rock Mining: State Approaches to Environmental Protection (Envtl. L. Inst. 1996).