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The need to reduce dramatically the strain we place on the natural environment is simultaneously immediate and long-term. Our domestic laws reflect that understanding and express a symbolic commitment to that goal. Those laws have achieved, moreover, significant improvement in discrete areas and, in some others, have managed to resist further environmental degradation in the face of a growing economy. For that reason, they warrant great praise. The past twenty years nevertheless reveal that those same laws decline to undertake the concomitant modification of our governmental institutions, and the way we think about them, which is necessary for a fuller realization of our environmental goals. EPA's 20th anniversary and expected elevation to cabinet status as the Department of the Environment provide an appropriate occasion to initiate a much needed institutional study of the federal environmental protection effort, which is the purpose of this article. A retrospective on EPA illustrates the causes and effects of the cycle of distrust that has plagued the agency since its inception. More importantly, the inquiry lays the foundation for a more positive discussion of how to avoid repeating the cycle and how instead to facilitate the type of social and institutional innovation necessary for protection of the natural environment.

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54 Law & Contemp. Probs. 311-374 (1991)