Making Sense out of Secondary Sources in Environmental Law: A Research Primer

Article excerpt


Rachel Carson's ground-breaking book Silent Spring is prefaced with the observation that "[o]ur approach to nature is to beat it into submission."(1) The novice in the field of environmental legal research might adapt that quote to say that the approach to publishing environmental law secondary authorities is to beat the researcher to a point past saturation. A quick look at the law library shelves and computer databases reveals a plethora of environmental law materials. It is a little ironic that in a field partially devoted to conservation there is anything but a conservative number of publications. The environmental law researcher, however, need not be daunted by what may appear to be the Herculean task of conducting initial or continuing research in the field. There are many ways to become introduced to, or keep in touch with, the subject without devoting all of one's time to the task.

Like most bibliographic articles, this piece has a simple primary purpose: to function as a research primer by providing a descriptive list of secondary sources(2) that may prove valuable not only to those faced with the occasional research problem in the environmental area, but also to those with an ongoing need to keep abreast of new developments. A secondary purpose is to help researchers make more efficient use of their time. A brief review of this article may replace an otherwise bewildering and time-consuming tour of the card catalogue or library shelves.

This article discusses many sources in greater detail than would be the case in a traditional annotated bibliography. This is in part a function of the large size and scope of those sources. Full discussions, however, also help provide a clearer picture of the sources. Some of the research materials discussed are substantially duplicative, which should relieve those new to the field who may feel it would be impossible to review the seemingly countless sources on a regular basis. The duplication among the sources is actually an asset because it brings the luxury of choice. After looking at and working with sources that are similar in scope and purpose, the reader may discover that one source is more comfortable to work with than another. I do not intend to promote my own bias. Nonetheless, from time to time I will note particularly helpful features of individual sources. The main goals of this article are: 1) to provide a manageable breakdown of the types of secondary authorities available, 2) to describe some major sources under each category, and 3) to give the reader a feel for available resources.

This bibliography cannot, and does not attempt to, address all the secondary sources that may be used in conducting research in the environmental law area. Rather, I have tried to include sources that are good representations within each category and that cover a broad range of environmental law materials.(3) Moreover, the focus is primarily on federal environmental law, and therefore sources that relate solely to areas such as state environmental law or international environmental law are not discussed. I note, however, where a federally-related source includes state or international information.


Environmental law research sources can be broken down into the following categories: 1) looseleaf services, 2) treatises, 3) miscellaneous book sources, 4) specialty periodicals, and 5) computer-assisted legal research materials. Numerous books are devoted to various subjects, but because of the difficulty in singling out representative books, they are not discussed. Case books and other teaching texts are also omitted. Within each category, sources are listed alphabetically by title.

A. Looseleaf Services

Looseleaf services have been aptly described as "`mini-librar[ies]' containing all relevant primary and secondary authority needed to research an area of . . . law."(4) Looseleafs devoted to environmental law fit that definition, offering the single most comprehensive research authority for the scholar. …