ELI's Sustainable Use of Land Program

The Environmental Law Institute's Sustainable Use of Land Program recognizes that wasteful and unsustainable land uses often result from perverse incentives in our existing laws and policies. ELI's approach to sustainable land is "smarter laws, better choices." ELI focuses on the laws that influence development activities, recognizing that changes in the areas of tax, finance, infrastructure investment, subsidy, housing, land-use planning and regulation, governmental land management and acquisition, and liability can profoundly affect land-use choices and environmental protection. We develop and apply new legal approaches to assure that the additional 95 million people representing the projected increase in U.S. population by 2040 will have choices about places to live, work, and enjoy while sustaining the nation's ecosystems, farmlands, forests, and open spaces, and reviving our cities and suburbs.

Featured Areas of Expertise and Resources:

  • Sustainable Agriculture: ELI's sustainable agriculture work examines how agricultural practices affect the environment, public health, community well-being, and the welfare of people and animals. From field to feedlot, ELI's work highlights both key problems and practical opportunities—and presents targeted, research-backed recommendations. To develop a sustainable food system, a shared vision for the future and the right mix of public and private governance tools are needed. ELI is working to shape that vision.

  • Managing Shale Gas Development in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale: ELI and the Washington & Jefferson College Center for Energy Policy & Management have produced a study that examines the gas boom in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, and explores best practices to forestall or mitigate a subsequent economic downturn or “bust.” ELI and the W&J Center have also produced a practical guidebook to inform local officials and community organizations of some of their options.

  • Natural Hazard Mitigation Planning: ELI, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment, is working to facilitate greater collaboration between hazard mitigation planners and wetland and wildlife conservation managers to strengthen management and protection of vital wetland and floodplain habitats.

  • Floodplain Buyouts, Community Resilience, and Habitat Connectivity: ELI, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment, is helping local governments plan floodplain buyout projects in a way that maximizes environmental and community benefits.

  • Ending Sprawl-Law: This long-term project reviews how policy tools other than comprehensive planning and zoning can be used to curb sprawl, revive older suburbs and cities, provide choices in affordable housing, and conserve farms, forests, and open space. In 2007, ELI published Ten Things Wrong With Sprawl, an issues paper describing ten negative effects of exurban sprawl.

  • Sustainable Use of Land in the Chesapeake Bay Region: ELI works throughout the Chesapeake Bay region to promote new tools that support smart growth and reinvestment across the Bay states. Although the Institute has focused extensively on Pennsylvania and Maryland, we have also engaged in Chesapeake Bay-wide research on smart growth, such as the 2000 study Chesapeake 2000 Tax Policy Study, which examines ways in which tax laws affect implementation of the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

  • Sustainable Water and Sewer Infrastructure: ELI works to integrate the rehabilitation and extension of water and sewer infrastructure with a larger vision for a sustainable landscape, demonstrating new techniques for intergovernmental coordination. Using Pennsylvania as a case study, ELI examined how sewage infrastructure affects land use planning in Planning For Development and Sewage Infrastructure: Can We Be Consistent?

  • Reforming Tax Policy: ELI works in several states to identify how state and local tax policies can be made more supportive of sustainable land use, including conservation and community revitalization. In 2008 ELI published an issue paper on this topic, Improving Economic Health and Competitiveness through Tax Sharing.

  • National Environmental Policy Act: NEPA provides a basis for decision-making that considers alternatives, involves the public, and allows application of new and updated information. ELI's work on NEPA shows how this statute can help support better decisions in the areas of resource use, land management, climate change, and development.

  • Brownfields Program: ELI supports brownfield cleanups and redevelopment and helps ensure that such efforts protect public health and respond to community preferences. ELI's on-line resources seek to increase communication among groups and individuals working on brownfields issues. The Institute's Long-Term Stewardship of Contaminated Sites program examines institutional measures that attempt to ensure the protection of public health over the long term when hazardous substances are left in place.