Program of Study in Environmental Law

Environmental law is an important part of the American legal landscape. Once a niche field, environmental law is now a large and growing area of practice; expertise in the area is in high demand in local, national, and international legal markets. Moreover, familiarity with environmental law and related areas can be of great value to practitioners in other areas of law, given its intersection with fields such as commercial law, international law, and even criminal law.

Notre Dame Law School offers a wide range of courses and activities for students with an interest in environmental law and its relation to energy, natural resources, and land use law. The Program of Study in Environmental Law provides students with a comprehensive educational foundation in order to prepare them to address a wide array of environmental issues in legal practice.

Courses

Foundational Courses

Law students will encounter environmental law concepts already during the required courses of the first year of law school. The law of nuisance and trespass, central to property law, are important precursors and adjuncts to modern-day environmental law. Tort law is also frequently involved in environmental disputes.

Directed Readings

Directed Readings

In addition, those students who wish to explore a particular topic related to environmental law in greater depth are encouraged to discuss with individual faculty members the possibility of conducting supervised directed readings within the faculty member’s area of expertise. Although the specific requirements for directed readings are at the discretion of the supervisor, students in directed readings generally are expected to produce a research paper on the chosen topic. Close interaction with faculty in this setting usually allows for inquiry into more complex and detailed materials than can be covered in the regularly offered courses. Directed readings may be taken for 1 or 2 credits.

Beyond the required 1L curriculum, the first core offering is Environmental Law. This course surveys the major federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. It also explores the various regulatory mechanisms for protecting and regulating usage of the environment, including market-based schemes, cost-benefit analysis, information disclosure, and technology forcing.

The second core offering is Natural Resources Law, which examines laws governing the management of both privately and publicly owned natural resources. The principal emphasis is on public land management, given that a sizable fraction of our nation’s land is owned by the United States and that these lands are subject to fierce battles that have yielded a complex body of law.

Please note that, although Environmental Law and Natural Resources Law are important courses, neither are formal prerequisites to any of the advanced courses listed below. Indeed, depending on a student’s interests and career objectives, certain of the courses listed below may be of an even higher priority than those above. Interested students may benefit from consulting with their advisors or with other faculty members to determine which courses will best suit their needs and goals.

Advanced Courses

More advanced offerings related to Environmental Law are also available at Notre Dame Law School. While the law school offers many of these courses on a regular basis, not all of them are available in any given year. Please consult the course schedule and individual instructors as you plan your enrollment.

  • Administrative Law is a crucial course for those hoping to practice in the fields of environmental and natural resources law, which are both thoroughly regulatory fields. In fact, many of the battles at the front lines of environmental disputes are fought in the arena of administrative law.
  • Although much environmental law is federal, both state and local governments also play an important role in regulating environmental harms and resolving environmental disputes. Land Use Law is a course recommended not only for those who anticipate careers in environmental law, but also for anyone whose practice may touch local government or real estate.
  • Another set of courses address specific environmental challenges. Biodiversity and the Law focuses on the U.S. Endangered Species Act, one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation. This class considers the duties imposed upon both private and public actors whose conduct threatens rare wildlife or their habitats, as well as the growing body of international legal rules that address the preservation of biodiversity.
  • Climate Change offers an intensive look at the legal issues, both domestic and global, associated with what many take to be the defining environmental problem of our time.
  • International Environmental Law addresses global efforts to deal with climate change, while also considering other treaty-based mechanisms for solving environmental problems.
  • The Seminar on Scenic Law provides an opportunity for students to conduct research on approaches to the management of visual blight and scenic landscapes within or adjacent to protected areas.
  • Because the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels have enormous ecological consequences, Energy Law can be an important component of the Program of Study in Environmental Law. The course contains elements of environmental law and natural resources law, and also deals with the specialized regulatory schemes, both federal and state, that deal with the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity.
  • Finally, Water Law and Federal Indian Law are tightly linked to environmental concerns in both history and current practice. Both areas are of particular importance in the American West and are especially, though by no means exclusively, recommended for students considering a practice in states west of the Mississippi.
Related Courses

Notre Dame Law School also offers other related courses that are relevant to the study and practice of environmental law, such as:
Behavioral Analysis of Law
Corporate Reorganizations
Law & Economics Seminar
Legislation
Legislation & Regulation
Local Government Law
Real Estate Transactions
Remedies

Externships

Externships offer students valuable opportunities to gain real-world experience under the supervision of experienced attorneys and to develop mentoring relationships with practitioners or judges. Students at Notre Dame Law School have had success in obtaining externships in the field of environmental law, both locally and around the country. Externships in environmental law have been conducted with local and national non-profit advocacy groups, state and federal environmental agencies, private law firms, and corporations.

Other Resources

Within the Law School, students will find numerous other ways to expand their engagement with legal problems in environmental law. The journals at Notre Dame Law School regularly include student notes written in fields related to environmental law, and teams of students frequently participate in various national moot court competitions in the area. The Environmental Law Society brings interested students together for occasional lectures and other events.

Furthermore, as one of the premier research universities in the United States, the University of Notre Dame offers a host of additional opportunities for those willing to look beyond the Law School itself.

Interdisciplinary Study

Beyond the Law School, Notre Dame offers many world-class courses and programs likely to be of interest to those pursuing a career in environmental law. Those seeking background in the sciences, for example, may be interested in pursuing coursework in the programs in Environmental Studies and Environmental Sciences.

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Students may also wish to connect to the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), a high-profile, multi-department effort to tackle some of the most intractable environmental problems facing America today, such as invasive species, climate change, and water pollution.

The University of Notre Dame is also host to several world-class interdisciplinary environmental research centers. These unique research centers offer unparalleled inquiry into natural resources, cutting-edge analytical technologies, and programs that explore questions of ethics and policy.

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Although the University’s proximity to Lake Michigan offers a superb location for the Center for Aquatic Conservation, the scope of the Center’s efforts reaches well beyond the Great Lakes. From invasive species in the Great Lakes Region to waterborne diseases in tropical Africa, the mission of the Center for Aquatic Conservation is to promote the application of scientific knowledge to conserve earth’s freshwater resources.

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The Reilly Center explores conceptual, ethical, and policy issues where science and technology intersect with society from different disciplinary perspectives. The Center’s purpose is to promote the advancement of science and technology for the common good.

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The GLOBES Program, operated through the Reilly Center, is an interdisciplinary graduate training program in environment and society. It offers graduate students the opportunity to be part of an engaged community of scholars who seek innovative ways to address environmental challenges facing humankind and the planet. The Program’s mission is to enhance interdisciplinary graduate education and research across departments, research initiatives, and colleges so that novel solutions to vexing problems can be invented, tested, and implemented.

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The Center for Environmental Science & Technology (CEST) is a cooperative effort between the Colleges of Engineering and Science. CEST fosters interdisciplinary environmental research and education by providing cutting-edge analytical technologies to address national and international problems. In keeping with the Catholic character of the University, the Center supports interdisciplinary environmental education, research, and stewardship through a variety of education and outreach activities.

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Finally, the University’s Environmental Research Center (UNDERC) consists of two enormous areas of pristine land that serve as the natural laboratories of faculty and students for their research into environmental systems. UNDERC East includes 8,000 acres of northern hardwood forests, lakes, and wetlands straddling the Wisconsin-Michigan border. UNDERC West is an untouched area of grasslands, montane forest, and streams in the breathtaking northern Rockies. These locations permit the study of environmental systems that have experienced little or no degradation from humans and that may be used as a baseline for comparison with human-disturbed systems.

Contact

By following the course pathways and exploring the other resources we have recommended, students will graduate with a strong foundation in environmental law and in its conceptual underpinnings. Equipped with this foundation, students will be well prepared to enter into practice and to thrive in even the most challenging of legal environments.
If you have questions or would like further information about the Notre Dame Law School’s Program of Study in Environmental Law, please contact:

Bruce Huber
bhuber@nd.edu