J.B. Ruhl

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Virginia Environmental Law Journal

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environmental law, ecology, endangered species


Environmental Law | Law


The geographic footprint of cities--the space they occupy--is relatively small in comparison to their ecological footprint, which is measured in terms of impact on the sustainability of resources situated mostly outside of the urban realm. Ironically, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), though widely regarded as one of the most powerful environmental laws, has been and continues to be administered with respect to urbanized land masses primarily with the objective of managing their geographic footprints. This Article uses the example of "green construction" techniques to explore this disconnect between the macro-scale contribution of cities' ecological footprints to species endangerment and the microscale orientation of ESA law and policy toward cities' geographic footprints. The movement toward codifying standards for green construction is less concerned with geographic footprints than with ecological footprints, thus widespread adoption of green construction codes could significantly improve the condition of imperilled species. So why is the ESA not being used to require or facilitate green construction techniques? I argue that one reason is the statute's harm-preventing focus, which does not fit well with the benefit-providing emphasis of green construction. Another reason is that the ESA is least effective at managing the kind of complex, large-scale, indirect causal mechanisms that account for cities' vast ecological footprints. Nevertheless, the Article identifies ways in which the ESA can be used directly and indirectly to support green construction and thereby help mitigate the ecological footprints of cities.



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