U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Journal of Environmental Management 92 (2011) 1420-1427; doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.10.011


Environmental law plays a key role in shaping policy for sustainability of socialeecological systems. In particular, the types of legal instruments, institutions, and the response of law to the inherent variability in socialeecological systems are critical. Sustainability likely must occur via the institutions we have in place, combined with alterations in policy and regulation within the context of these institutions. This ecosystem management arrangement can be characterized as a panarchy, with research on sustainability specific to the scale of interest. In this manuscript we examine an opportunity for integrating these concepts through a regulatory rebirth of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA currently requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of proposed action. The original intent of NEPA, however, was more substantive and its provisions, while currently equilibrium based, may be reconfigured to embrace new understanding of the dynamics of socialeecological systems.