Richard Lazarus

Books and Reports

Oil Spill Commission ReportDeep Water – The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling

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, which can both be found at, along with a free downloadable copy of the Commission Report.


The Making of Environmental Law

The 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 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.