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After 50 Years, What is the National Environmental Policy Act Today?

September 24, 2020

Thursday, September 24, 2020

1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET

You can view the video recording below. Listen to the event as a podcast here.

On January 1, 1970, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act into law. A briefly worded but powerful law, NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of the actions that they take, and the actions that they authorize others to take. “By my participation in these efforts,” President Nixon observed upon signing the law, “I have become further convinced that the 1970’s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters, and our living environment. It is literally now or never.”

Fifty years later, NEPA itself has had many impacts. As currently implemented by federal agencies (often under the watchful eye of courts), NEPA is credited for improving agencies’ environmental analyses but also blamed for exacerbating delays in new infrastructure development.

How should we think of how NEPA has been implemented, and how it might be implemented in the years ahead? To consider these weighty questions, the Gray Center was pleased to host a webinar featuring two leading experts:

E. Donald Elliott is a Distinguished Adjunct Professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School, a longtime professor of law at the Yale Law School, and co-chair of Covington & Burling LLP’s environmental law practice. He previously served as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Assistant Administrator and General Counsel.

Michael Gerrard is the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professorial Practice at the Columbia Law School, where he is the founding director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. His most recent book is Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (co-edited with John Dernbach)

The conversation was moderated by the Gray Center’s Director, Adam White.

This event was co-sponsored by the Scalia Law School’s Society for Environmental and Energy Law, and featured welcoming remarks from the Society’s president, Gary Bridgens.

Related Articles

During the webinar, Professor Elliott referenced an article he co-authored on Covington & Burling’s website, titled “CEQ Finalizes NEPA Rule Updating Regulations.”

During the webinar, Professor Gerrard referenced an article he authored for the Environmental Law Reporter, titled “Legal Pathways for a Massive Increase in Utility-Scale Renewable Generation Capacity.”


A Photo of E. Donald Elliott, Distinguished Adjunct Professor at Antonin Scalia Law SchoolAbout E. Donald Elliott

E. Donald Elliott is a Florence Rogatz Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School and a leading academic scholar, as well as practitioner, in the fields of administrative and environmental law. He is “one of the most well-known, well-regarded environmental law professors in the nation,” according to John Cruden, former President of the Environmental Law Institute and Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama administration. Elliott has been on the Yale Law faculty since 1981 and currently teaches courses in environmental law, energy law, administrative law and civil procedure. He is also senior of counsel in the Washington D.C. office of Covington & Burling LLP, and co-chair of the firm’s Environmental Practice Group. From 2003 until he joined Covington in 2013, he was a partner in Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, chairing the firm’s worldwide Environment, Health and Safety Department.

About Michael Gerrard

Michael B. Gerrard is Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School, where he teaches courses on environmental and energy law and founded and directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. He is also a member and former Chair of the Faculty of Columbia’s Earth Institute. Before joining the Columbia faculty in January 2009, he was partner in charge of the New York office of the Arnold & Porter law firm; he is now Senior Counsel to the firm. He practiced environmental law in New York City full time from 1979 to 2008. His practice involved trying numerous cases and arguing many appeals in federal and state courts and administrative tribunals; handling the environmental aspects of numerous transactions and development projects; and providing regulatory compliance advice to a wide variety of clients in the private and public sectors. He received his B.A. from Columbia University and his J.D. from NYU Law School, where he was a Root Tilden Scholar.

About Adam White

Adam White is Executive Director of the C. Boyden Gray Center for the Study of the Administrative State, and an Assistant Professor of Law at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. And he is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is a Public Member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, and he has served on the leadership councils for the administrative law sections of both the American Bar Association and the Federalist Society. He serves on the board of directors of LandCAN, a nonprofit organization that promotes conservation on private lands; and Speech First, a nonprofit organization that promotes the freedom of speech on college campuses. Before joining the Antonin Scalia Law School and AEI, he was a Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Prior to that, he practiced regulatory and constitutional law for Baker Botts and for Boyden Gray & Associates, and he clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle on the U.S.


September 24, 2020