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The public trust doctrine (PTD) is an ancient property law doctrine which first surfaced in Roman law in the Justinian Code, was revived in medieval England largely through the efforts of Sir Mathew Hale, and became entrenched in American law in the nineteenth century through the process of statehood. In the twentieth century, the doctrine became a favorite of the law professoriate and the environmental community for its potential to recognize public rights in private property. Thus, the doctrine both promotes public access to trust resources and justifies public regulation of them. It also equips the public with the right to challenge governments concerning their management of PTD resources.

We offer the first casebook on the PTD, reflecting the rich history and considerable diversity of the doctrine. The latter is the product of an assumption that the doctrine is one of state law, a perception that we think is erroneous because the origins of the American PTD lie in bilateral federal-state agreements admitting states to the Union. Actually, the PTD is an inherent attribute of sovereignty, and should apply to both the federal and state governments. The doctrine is increasingly recognized as applicable in other as countries as diverse as India, the Philippines, Kenya, and Brazil as well.

The wellspring of the PTD in American law lies in antimonopoly sentiment widespread in the nineteenth century, which continues to produce a vibrant body of case law concerning public access to trust resources. That case law - as well as state constitutions and statutes - has also expanded the scope of trust resources from lands submerged beneath navigable waters to wetlands, beaches, parklands, wildlife, and groundwater. Internationally, the doctrine has encompassed concepts of sustainable development and the precautionary principle, and thus is frequently linked to the public’s right to life, health, and environmental protection. There are ongoing efforts to use the PTD to combat climate change by applying it to curb carbon emissions to sustainable levels.

This casebook surveys all of these developments. We think the book, at only some 400 pages, is ideal for an advanced course or a seminar in environmental, natural resources, or property law. The casebook is accompanied by a detailed teachers’ manual, available from the publisher.



Publication Date



Carolina Academic Press


Durham, North Carolina


environmental law, natural resources law, public property, sovereignty, international environmental law


Environmental Law | International Law | Natural Resources Law | Property Law and Real Estate


Chapter 1 (Introduction).

The Public Trust Doctrine in Environmental and Natural Resources Law, Second Edition



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