Since January 2017, the news headlines have been screaming about one administrative law issue after another—everything from the Congressional Review Act to regulatory rollbacks, from Executive Orders to agency enforcement priorities. These news headlines have quite understandably prompted a flood of questions about what the law does, and does not, allow the president and others within the Executive Branch to do. For example, can a president use an Executive Order to unilaterally revoke an agency rule that is already on the books? Or, at an even more basic level, what exactly is an Executive Order?
Notably, it is not just those in the legal profession who are asking these sorts of questions. Rather, the 2016 election made many members of the public hungry to learn more about how our government works and what constraints the law places on executive power. This is where Environmental Protection in the Trump Era, a new e-book published jointly by the Environmental Law Institute and the American Bar Association’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Section, comes into play. The book, which is free for any member of the public to download, aims to further the public’s “understanding of the legal mechanisms that the White House, federal agencies, and Congress are using to change the regulatory approach to environmental, natural resources, and health and safety protections.”
To this end, the book consists of thirteen short chapters that address different legal tools that could be used to change existing environmental protections, as well as different mechanisms for public participation. For example, one chapter addresses what the Trump administration’s “Two-for-One” Executive Order means for environmental law, and another focuses on federal funding for environmental protection.
To be clear, this book is not the typical kind of scholarship that one sees reviewed by Jotwell contributors. The book, which adopts a simple and straightforward tone, is not aimed at legal scholars. Nor does it set forth some grand legal theory, as many articles published in the pages of legal journals aim to do. But that is precisely the beauty of this book: It recognizes the value, particularly at this moment in our nation’s history, of helping the general public to better understand the law. To this end, the book aims to educate interested members of the public about how agencies set policy in our nation—and how members of the public might use different tools of engagement to participate in that policymaking process.Although the book focuses on policymaking in the environmental law arena, its lessons could easily be transferred to other areas of the law as well.
Demystifying the complex web of legal tools that can be used to shape policy in our country is no easy task. Yet Environmental Protection in the Trump Era does an admirable job of clarifying the law for interested members of the public—and, even more importantly, of explaining how citizens can make their views on environmental policy heard beyond the ballot box.
Some of our country’s founders recognized the necessity of an educated and engaged citizenry right from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson, for example, noted that “[a]n enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic,” and Benjamin Franklin remarked at the close of the 1787 Constitutional Convention that we had a republic rather than a monarchy—only so long as we could “keep it.” Yet, according to a 2016 study, only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, and 31 percent cannot name even one of the three branches. These statistics are alarming, and, in my mind, they underscore the need for law professors and others in the legal profession to do what they can to help interested members of the public better understand our nation’s legal structures. For those who want to try to help in this regard, Environmental Protection in the Trump Era provides an extremely useful model. Its value extends far beyond the specific environmental law arena.