Great Salt Lake Project launches and publishes report on legal risks of declining lake

Jan 24, 2024 | GSL Project

Great Salt Lake with blue-grey sky and sunset in the backgroundThe Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law has launched the Great Salt Lake Project (GSL Project)—a new initiative analyzing legal pathways to address the critical environmental challenges facing the Great Salt Lake. The GSL Project’s emphasis on legal analysis is unique, and it operates independently of the Great Salt Lake Strike Team. However, both initiatives rely on University of Utah expertise to provide timely advice to policymakers and stakeholders dedicated to restoring the lake.

Coinciding with the GSL Project’s launch, it has published its inaugural report, titled “Utah’s Legal Risks and the Ailing Great Salt Lake.” This is the first in a series of publications from the GSL Project that will discuss legal risks relating to the Great Salt Lake’s decline and analyze the progress that’s been made in restoring the lake.

The Great Salt Lake faces unprecedented ecological threats due to declining water levels and environmental degradation. This decline has far-reaching implications for public health, local ecosystems, and the regional economy. The GSL Project adds to important policy discussions relevant to the lake through careful, practical research, and amplifies its impact by convening and hosting meaningful conversations around the lake’s future.

The GSL Project’s inaugural report, authored by Brigham Daniels, Elisabeth Parker, and Karrigan Bork, examines the legal risks arising from the deteriorating state of Great Salt Lake. It provides an analysis of how the Clean Air Act, Public Trust Doctrine, and the Endangered Species Act all create substantial legal risks for Utah, unless the state can change the lake’s dismal condition. The authors demonstrate that noncompliance with these laws could lead to severe legal repercussions, including costly litigation and restrictive federal intervention. The paper serves as a tool for policymakers and stakeholders to better understand the immediate and long-term legal implications of failing to adequately address the lake’s decline.

“The Great Salt Lake Project reflects the Wallace Stegner Center’s commitment to addressing environmental challenges through collaboration and research,” said Brigham Daniels, director of the GSL Project. “As the project progresses, it will continue to produce valuable insights and recommendations that will allow policymakers to better preserve this vital ecological and cultural resource.”

Learn more about the Great Salt Lake Project and access the report “Utah’s Legal Risks and the Ailing Great Salt Lake.” More information about the Great Salt Lake Strike Team is available here.

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