Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy

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Course Date: 08 September 2014 to 20 October 2014 (6 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Environmental law may be the one institution standing between us and planetary exhaustion. It is also an institution that needs to be reconciled with human liberty and economic aspirations. This course considers these issues and provides a tour though existing legal regimes governing pollution, water law, endangered species, toxic substances, environmental impact analyses, and environmental risk.

Estimated Workload: 4-6 hours/week

Course Instructors

Donald Hornstein

     Don Hornstein holds the Aubrey L. Brooks Chair at the University of North Carolina School of Law and is also a member of the University's Institute for the Environment and UNC's Curriculum in Environment and Ecology.  In 2013, he was featured as one of 26 of the nation's best law teachers in a book published by the Harvard University Press, What the Best Law Teachers Do.  At UNC, Professor Hornstein has won the Law School's McCall Award for Teaching Excellence a record 8 times and has won 3 additional University-wide teaching prizes. 

     Recipient of a Fulbright award for research and teaching in East Africa, Professor Hornstein's environmental law scholarship has twice been recognized as among the annual Top 10 "national articles of the year."   Professor Hornstein's research on risk regulation, in particular, has appeared in some of the nation's top law journals, including the Columbia Law Review, Duke Law Journal, and Yale Journal on Regulation.  An expert on catastrophic risk insurance coverage, Professor Hornstein has been appointed by the State Commissioner of Insurance to the Board of Directors of North Carolina's Wind Pool, a $400-million insurance facility insuring properties against catastrophic wind damage at the coast and along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.   

     At the Law School, Professor Hornstein teaches Administrative Law, The Law of Economic Regulation, and Insurance Law. Professor Hornstein is also the overall faculty advisor for the Law School's Holderness Moot Court program. For both the UNC College of Arts & Sciences and for Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, Professor Hornstein teaches an undergraduate- and graduate course, Environmental Law and Policy. Prior to joining UNC, Professor Hornstein was an attorney with United States Department of Justice (Environmental Law Division) and with the Washington D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter. While with Arnold & Porter, Professor Hornstein represented environmental organizations in litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court involving international whaling.   

Course Description

This course will expose students to legal reasoning, especially from the reading of cases involving real-life environmental disputes.


What recognition can I receive for this course?

Students who complete the weekly quizzes with a 75% overall score will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by Professor Hornstein. 


Topics for each of our six weeks are as follows:

  • Week 1: Common-law Approaches to Environmental Problems
  • Week 2: Property and the Environment
  • Week 3: Two Famous Statutory Programs: Environmental Impact Analysis and Endangered-species Protection
  • Week 4: Risk Analysis and Toxic Substances: Pesticides, Trade Disputes over Synthetic Hormones, and the Cleanup of Contaminated Sites
  • Week 5: Environmental Justice, Water Pollution, Claims to a Human Right to Drinking Water, Fracking, and Insights from an Economic Model of Regulatory Cost-Effectiveness
  • Week 6: Regulatory Design in Pollution Control


The heart of the course is four weekly videos, each between 10 and 20 minutes in length. Ideally, students will also have read beforehand the very short readings associated with each video and/or have watched the One Minute Lawyer summarizing the readings. 

Course Workload

4-6 hours/week

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