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The Public Trust Doctrine in Natural Resource Law: Effective Judicial Intervention

Joseph L. Sax | January 1, 1969
Summary

Public concern about environmental quality is beginning to be felt in the courtroom. Private citizens, no longer willing to accede to the efforts of administrative agencies to protect the public interest, have begun to take the initiative themselves. One dramatic result is a proliferation of lawsuits in which citizens, demanding judicial recognition of their rights as members of the public, sue the very governmental agencies which are supposed to be protecting the public interest.

While this Article was being written, several dozen such suits were initiated-to enforce air and water pollution laws in states where public agencies have been created for that purpose; to challenge decisions of the Forest Service about the use of public land under its control; to question the Secretary of the Interior’s regulation of federal offshore oil leases; and, in a myriad of cases against state and local officials, to examine airport extensions, highway locations, the destruction of parklands,  dredging and filling, oil dumping, and innumerable other governmental decisions dealing with resource use and management.

 

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Public concern about environmental quality is beginning to be felt in the courtroom. Private citizens, no longer willing to accede to the efforts of administrative agencies to protect the public interest, have begun to take the initiative themselves. One dramatic result is a proliferation of lawsuits in which citizens, demanding judicial recognition of their rights as members of the public, sue the very governmental agencies which are supposed to be protecting the public interest.

While this Article was being written, several dozen such suits were initiated-to enforce air and water pollution laws in states where public agencies have been created for that purpose; to challenge decisions of the Forest Service about the use of public land under its control; to question the Secretary of the Interior’s regulation of federal offshore oil leases; and, in a myriad of cases against state and local officials, to examine airport extensions, highway locations, the destruction of parklands,  dredging and filling, oil dumping, and innumerable other governmental decisions dealing with resource use and management.

 

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Keywords:

public trust doctrine, water rights