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Rising Above the Rhetoric: ELI's Take on the 2016 Presidential Election

November 11, 2016

Here at the Environmental Law Institute, we have started getting questions about the meaning of the election for environmental protection, and, in particular, for environmental law. As a 50 year-old non-partisan think-and-do tank focused on building good governance and rule of law in the environmental arena, we think it is important to look past campaign rhetoric in responding to this question. The election of President-Elect Trump was not in our view a referendum on the environment. Polling consistently points to the conclusion that Americans support a clean, healthy environment, and are deeply concerned about the consequences of a changing climate.

The environmental laws of the United States, which have been formulated and enforced by Administrations both Republican and Democrat, are the envy of the world, and have produced enormous gains in environmental quality in this country. While we should regularly reexamine our application of laws to make sure we’re approaching them in the most thoughtful and modern way, we unwind the laws themselves at our considerable peril. Most struggling countries around the world suffer from, among other things, both a lack of environmental law and the natural resource degradation that inevitably attends such a law deficit. We also must recognize the dynamic and essential roles of the states, the federal government, and the public in the environmental arena, which provide important checks and balances that support effective compliance and governance. Further, we must bear in mind that just as pollution problems commonly ignore state boundaries, so too do they ignore national borders, raising important foreign policy issues that must be dealt with seriously and effectively.

Having watched and worked with a succession of Republican and Democratic Administrations who have confronted these issues and navigated this terrain, we fully expect the new Administration will rise above the rhetoric of the campaign and approach these issues with the seriousness that they warrant.

As evidenced by the events this past week, we are a nation linked by common needs yet divided on the appropriate response to those needs. These divisions underscore the imperative to bridge differences across economic interests and policy divides in order to find common ground among diverse interests, such as governments, companies, nonprofits and communities, leading to meaningful solutions that are rooted in the rule of law. We have years of experience we can apply to that bridge-building work. We look forward to getting started.

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This release has also been posted on ELI's Vibrant Environment Blog.