Books and Reports

The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court (Belknap Press, March 2020) 

The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court book cover.The gripping inside story of how an unlikely team of lawyers and climate activists overcame conservative opposition—and their own divisions—to win the most important environmental case ever brought before the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court in April 2007 announced its ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, the decision was immediately hailed as a landmark. But this was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind when Joe Mendelson, an idealistic lawyer working on a shoestring budget for an environmental organization no one had heard of, decided to press his quixotic case. In October 1999, Mendelson hand-delivered a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency asking it to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from new cars. The Clean Air Act had authorized the EPA to regulate “any air pollutant” that could reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health. But could something as ordinary as carbon dioxide really be considered a harmful pollutant? And even if the EPA had the authority to regulate emissions, could it be forced to do so? Mendelson ultimately brought national environmental groups and twelve state attorneys general led by Massachusetts to his side. This unlikely group—the Carbon Dioxide Warriors—challenged the Bush administration and took the EPA to court. The Rule of Five tells the story of their unexpected triumph. We see how accidents, infighting, luck, superb lawyering, and the arcane practices of the Supreme Court collided to produce a legal miracle. An acclaimed advocate, Richard Lazarus reveals the personal dynamics of the justices and dramatizes the workings of the Court. The final ruling, by a razor-thin 5–4 margin, made possible important environmental safeguards which the Trump administration now seeks to unravel.


The Rule of Five is the gripping story of the most important environmental law case ever decided by the US Supreme Court. Richard Lazarus’s compelling narrative is enlivened by colorful characters, a canny dissection of courtroom strategy, and a case where the stakes are, literally, as big as the world.”—Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent

“In the tradition of A Civil Action, this book makes a compelling story of the court fight that paved the way for regulating the emissions now overheating the planet. It offers a poignant reminder of how far we’ve come—and how far we still must go.”—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

The Rule of Five is the definitive inside account of one of the key court decisions of our time. It’s also more than that. Richard Lazarus makes vivid the culture of the Supreme Court and the sheer unlikeliness of history. There’s no better book if you want to understand the past, present, and future of environmental litigation.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction

The Rule of Five is a compelling read on a critical and timely topic. It mixes storytelling with a soup-to-nuts view of a pivotal case contested across all three branches of government. The focus on the six Carbon Dioxide Warriors adds to the richness of the story and demonstrates how the often-abstract nature of the law can actually be very personality-driven. Lazarus also does an excellent job illuminating the inner workings of the Supreme Court and of the second most important court in the land—the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.”—Dan Reicher, former US Assistant Secretary of Energy

“In vivid detail, with every sentence clear to a nonlawyer, Lazarus traces the story of the case through eight years of ups and downs. He brings to life the strategy of brief writing, how petitioners try to beat the slim odds of the high court hearing their case, an attorney's 200 hours of agonizing preparation for a 30-minute oral argument, and the culture and operations of the Supreme Court. This case highlighted the work of the late, brilliant justice John Paul Stevens, who, at 86, was determined to write a momentous decision while holding together a fragile majority. This is a riveting story, beautifully told.”—Jessica T. Mathews, Foreign Affairs


Deep Water – The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling 

Deep Water – The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling book cover.On April 20, 2010, the Macondo well blew out, costing the lives of 11 men, and beginning a catastrophe that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and spilled over 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill disrupted an entire region’s economy, damaged fisheries and critical habitats, and brought vividly to light the risks of deepwater drilling for oil and gas.  Soon after, President Barack Obama appointed a seven-member Commission to investigate the root causes of the disaster, and recommend the actions necessary to minimize such risks in the future and mitigate their consequences.  Richard Lazarus served as the Executive Director of the Commission and was the principal author of the Commission’s Final Report to the President, submitted to the President on January 11, 2011.  The Report offers the American public and policymakers alike the fullest account of what happened in the Gulf and why, and proposes actions – changes in company behavior, reform of government oversight, and investments in research and technology required as industry moves forward to meet the nation’s energy needs in a responsible and safe manner. The Report is supplemented by a Chief Counsel’s Report and Multimedia presentation of the Commission’s findings and recommendations.


The Making of Environmental Law 

The Making of Environmental Law book coverThe unprecedented expansion in environmental regulation over the past thirty years--at all levels of government--signifies a transformation of our nation's laws that is both palpable and encouraging. Environmental laws now affect almost everything we do, from the cars we drive and the places we live to the air we breathe and the water we drink. But while enormous strides have been made since the 1970s, gaps in the coverage, implementation, and enforcement of the existing laws still leave much work to be done.

In The Making of Environmental Law, Richard J. Lazarus offers a new interpretation of the past three decades of this area of the law, examining the legal, political, cultural, and scientific factors that have shaped--and sometimes hindered--the creation of pollution controls and natural resource management laws. He argues that in the future, environmental law must forge a more nuanced understanding of the uncertainties and trade-offs, as well as the better-organized political opposition that currently dominates the federal government. Lazarus is especially well equipped to tell this story, given his active involvement in many of the most significant moments in the history of environmental law as a litigator for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, an assistant to the Solicitor General, and a member of advisory boards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Ranging widely in his analysis, Lazarus not only explains why modern environmental law emerged when it did and how it has evolved, but also points to the ambiguities in our current situation. As the field of environmental law "grays" with middle age, Lazarus's discussions of its history, the lessons learned from past legal reforms, and the challenges facing future lawmakers are both timely and invigorating.


Environmental Law Stories 

Environmental Law Stories - book cover.Environmental Law Stories tells the story of modern environmental law by focusing on ten of its most famous cases. Each chapter, written by a leading environmental law scholar, places the case in its broader historical context while simultaneously revealing fascinating facts concerning the people and events that prompted the litigation in the first instance, argued and decided the case in the courts, and influenced the ultimate outcome long after the judicial opinion was issued. The stories feature characters as diverse as community activists, small farmers, big businesses, dedicated scientists, skilled lawyers, strong-willed judges, and Presidents of the United States. Written for lawyers, law students, public policy professionals and laymen, each is a piece of a frame of law that is increasingly complex, and still in evolution.