Program on the Constitution, Courts, and Legislation

U.S. environmental laws have a track record of success. They safeguard America's water, air, and endangered species. They protect people and wildlife from toxic chemicals and hazardous waste. They preserve our national parks, our wild and scenic spaces, and our public lands. They ensure that our forests, rivers, and coasts can be enjoyed for generations to come.

But the continued vitality of environmental law cannot be taken for granted. Their success requires vigilant enforcement by federal and state governments and by informed citizens and watchdog groups. And these laws are under constant threat of being watered down—by lawsuits in the courts and by legislative efforts on Capitol Hill.

For a decade, ELI's Program on the Constitution, Courts, and Legislation has monitored these activities in the courts and in Congress and advocated for the constitutional legitimacy of environmental law and the need to defend the broader legal framework for environmental protection. The Program is premised on the view that the text and history of the Constitution, as interpreted by courts and understood by most Americans, provide a firm legal basis for comprehensive, effective environmental protections.

ELI's lawyers demystify the legal jargon, explaining to journalists and policymakers what new court rulings will mean for environmental law and for environmental protection on the ground. We analyze proposed legislative changes for their likely impacts on the environment and public health. Through our research, we promote broad access to courts by citizens. We collaborate with progressive organizations working to safeguard and advance environmental and other federal protections. And we engage with law schools and law students to help ensure that the next generation of lawyers, judges, and legislators will work to defend the legitimacy of environmental law.

Challenges to Environmental Protection in the Courts

The federal courts provide a forum for legal challenges to environmental laws. These courts are also where citizens, environmental NGOs, and federal agencies seek to vindicate environmental rights. Learn more about how environmental protections are challenged by lawsuits and legal arguments that invoke the Constitution, federalism, and other legal theories.


ELI informs public debate about the foundations of environmental law through insightful research and commentary. Explore our articles, books, briefs, reports, and other analyses.


ELI staff convene and participate in seminars, expert panels, and conferences that address constitutional environmental law and the state of environmental protection in the federal courts and Congress. See our archive of events.


Need more information? Please contact Jay Austin, Director, Program on the Constitution, Courts, and Legislation, at (202) 558-3103.