Visionary Science, Ethics, Law and Action in the Public Interest

Public Trust

Science In The CourtsEmbedded in the law and practice of nearly every state in the union is the ancient Public Trust Doctrine, which states that governments have a duty to protect and preserve from private “taking” our common-heritage resources such as water and air, for generations to come.

SEHN is working to develop and extend the application of the public trust doctrine as an important companion to the precautionary principle. The public-trust doctrine sets forth an unambiguous role for government as trustee of the Commons. Implementing the precautionary principle, by taking preventive action when there are credible threats of harm and placing public and environmental well being above private interests – are key ways for public servants to carry out their duty to the public trust.

Some Ideas For A Common Agenda (PDF)
by Peter Montague and Carolyn Raffensperger

Carolyn Raffensperger’s Articles
Links to Carolyn’s articles hosted at the On the web site.

Power Tool: Public Nuisance Suits (PDF)
By Carolyn Raffensperger
May-June 2006 
Originally published by the Environmental Law Organization.

Is Environmental Health a Basic Human Right?
By David A. Taylor
Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 112, Number 17, December 2004On line at:

Who truly owns natural resources such as the water, the air, and the forests? In some areas, courts are ruling that such resources are the property of the people, while others areas bow to free market forces. As the world’s population grows greater, resources grow scarcer, and the link between civil instability and environmental degradation becomes clearer, deciding who owns our planet will become less a theoretical exercise to be pondered at leisure than a determination that is deferred at the peril of our survival.

Government as Guardian and Trustee of the Commonwealth
By Carolyn Raffensperger
Op-ed in the Ames Tribune, January 16, 2004
Download as a Word document or read online.

A New Tool for Environmental Protection and Justice
By Peter Montague and Carolyn Raffensperger
Rachel’s Environment and Health News, #775, August 7, 2003

Constitutional Experiments: Protecting the Environment and Future Generations
By Carolyn Raffensperger
Reprinted with Permission from Conservation Biology, Volume 17, No.6, December 2003

Easy Money, Hidden Costs: Applying Precautionary Economics to Coalbed Methane in the Powder River Basin 
By Joshua Skov and Nancy Myers
June 2004