Faculty Publications


Bankruptcy vs. Environmental Protection: A Case Study in Normative Conflict

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Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence





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Environmental protection laws are a recent legal development. As soon as these statutes first began to appear, it was evident that the fundamental principles of environmental protection would conflict, at some point, with fundamental principles from other, older, substantive bodies of law. In the American legal system, nowhere has the conflict been more serious than between environmental protection law and the law of bankruptcy. While this problem has attracted significant attention in the law reviews, it has been little noticed outside legal circles. This conflict sheds important light on the nature of normative conflicts generally, and points to the need for a well-developed theory of conflict resolution which courts can use when deciding cases. The root of the problem lies in a conflict between the underlying policy goals of these substantive bodies of law such that satisfying one policy objective necessarily undercuts the other. As such, the conflict between bankruptcy and environmental protection should be classified as a normative collision. This discussion examines this normative collision as it exists in American law in some detail. Such an examination provides interesting insights into the nature and pervasiveness of normative conflicts in our legal system. It also serves to illuminate both the theoretical and practical need for a coherent, well developed mechanism for resolving normative conflicts when conflicts arise.

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