The Continuing Relevance of Common Law Property Rights and Remedies in Addressing Environmental Challenges

By Grinlinton, David | McGill Law Journal, March 2017 | Go to article overview

The Continuing Relevance of Common Law Property Rights and Remedies in Addressing Environmental Challenges


Grinlinton, David, McGill Law Journal


Environmental protection and natural resources management is today dominated by legislative measures and administrative procedures. Enforcement and penalty regimes for environmental damage and the management of natural resources are all highly regulated. Nevertheless, there remains the oft-neglected realm of common law rules and procedures available to individuals and public interest groups, and indeed government, as alternate or supplementary mechanisms to enforce rights and obligations, to guide the implementation and interpretation of environmental regulation, and to provide new avenues for addressing environmental challenges.

The common law, particularly in the areas of tort and property, has demonstrated remarkable adaptability in addressing novel environmental threats and in innovating to protect environmental values and incentivize ecologically-sustainable development of natural resources. This article is intended to provide a review of the historical and current contribution of the common law, focusing particularly on property law concepts and property-related torts, and to explore the future potential of those mechanisms in contributing to environmental protection and environmentally-sustainable development. The article draws on cases and developments in a number of similar common law jurisdictions, including Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

De nos jours, la protection de l'environnement et la gestion des ressources naturelles est dominee par des mesures legislatives et des procedures administratives. Les regimes d'application de la loi et de penalites pour les dommages environnementaux et la gestion de ressources naturelles sont hautement reglementees. Neanmoins, les regles et procedures de common law disponibles aux individus et groupes d'interet public, ainsi qu'au gouvernement, sont souvent negligees comme mecanismes alternatifs ou supplementaires pour faire valoir les droits et obligations, guider la mise en oeuvre et l'interpretation de regles environnementales, et suggerer de nouvelles avenues pour repondre aux defis environnementaux.

La common law, particulierement dans les domaines des obligations extra-contractuelles et du droit des biens, a demontre une adaptabilite remarquable pour repondre a de nouvelles menaces environnementales et innover pour proteger les valeurs environnementales et promouvoir le developpement durable et ecologique des ressources naturelles. Cet article cherche a reviser la contribution historique et actuelle de la common law, en mettant un accent particulier sur les concepts de droit des biens et des obligations extra-contractuelles relies a la propriete, ainsi qu'a explorer le potentiel futur de ces mecanismes pour promouvoir la protection de l'environnement et le developpement durable. Il se basera sur des arrets et developpements dans plusieurs juridictions de common law similaires, incluant le Canada, le Royaume-Uni, les Etats-Unis. l'Australie et la Nouvelle-Zelande.

Introduction

I.   Speed Bumps and Roadblocks in Utilizing the
     Common Law to Address Environmental Challenges

     A. Interests and Interest Groups
     B. Rights, Obligations, and Justiciability
     C. The Issue of Pre-emption and Displacement
     D. Standing, Costs, and Other Harriers
     E. Class Actions

II.  The Interrelationship of Property, Contract, and Tort
     in Addressing Environmental Challenges

     A. Property Rights and Contract
     B. The Supportive Role of the Law of Torts

        1. Trespass to Land
        2. Nuisance
        3. Negligence Causing Property Damage
        4. Strict Liability: Rylands v. Fletcher
        5. The Doctrine of Waste

III. The Current Utility and Future Potential of Property
     Law in Addressing Environmental Challenges

     A. The Nature of Property in Land and Natural Resources
     B. The Usefulness of Traditional Property Rights
        in Environmental Governance
     C. … 

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