ABSTRACT

Deterring environmental degradation and compensating victims of environmental harms are among the most important and difficult problems facing modern industrial societies. The choice of regulatory institutions to control environmental risks—whether courts, administrative agencies, markets or some combination—significantly determines the achievement of these objectives. For a variety of historical and political reasons, the United States relies heavily upon courts, through traditional decentralized adjudication, to assign responsibility for environmental harms. The common law tort system remains, with the exception of job-related injuries, a principal means of compensating victims of environmental pollution. In addition, the federal Superfund legislation uses the court system to assign liability for the clean-up of dangerous hazardous waste sites.