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About John C. Dernbach

John Dernbach is a nationally and internationally recognized authority on sustainable development, climate change, and environmental law. He is the director of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Center, and brings his expertise into the classroom in courses on property, environmental law, international law, and sustainability.
Professor Dernbach writes and lectures widely on sustainable development, climate change, and environmental law. He has written more than 40 articles for law reviews and peer-reviewed journals, and has authored, coauthored, or contributed chapters to more than 20 books. He leads the only national project that comprehensively assesses U.S. sustainability efforts and makes recommendations for future efforts. As part of that project, he is the principal author of Acting as if Tomorrow Matters: Accelerating the Transition to Sustainability (Environmental Law Institute Press 2012) and the editor of Agenda for a Sustainable America (ELI Press 2009) and Stumbling Toward Sustainability (ELI Press 2002). He also was a member of the National Research Council Committee that, in Sustainability and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2011), made recommendations on how to institutionalize sustainability at EPA.  In addition, he is a member of the American Bar Association Task Force on Sustainability.
Professor Dernbach contributed to two recent landmark environmental law cases. In its 2013 decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held several provisions of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale statute to be unconstitutional. His scholarship provided much of the basis for the plurality opinion, which applied the previously dormant Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Dernbach was also one of four lawyers to co-author an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of 18 prominent climate scientists, including two Nobel laureates. In 2007, the Supreme Court held that that EPA erred by not controlling greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. The majority opinion reflects the science described in the brief, and the dissenting opinions do not contradict it. This case provides the foundation for much federal regulation of greenhouse gases.
In two stints totaling near 15 years, he worked at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (now the Department of Environmental Protection). During this time, he had a major role in drafting comprehensive and nationally recognized reforms to Pennsylvania’s mining and waste programs. He was the primary drafter of Pennsylvania’s recycling legislation, under which more than two million tons of recyclable material are diverted from landfills each year. He was also a primary drafter of comprehensive regulations for municipal waste and residual waste (industrial waste that is not legally hazardous).
More recently, he directed the Department’s policy office. There, he was responsible for developing and coordinating policy and regulatory initiatives for the Department; and for advising the secretary on land use, energy, watershed protection, performance-based decision making, and other issues.
Professor Dernbach also is the primary author of a classic legal writing text (A Practical Guide to Legal Writing and Legal Method) as well as a book to assist students with writing law school exams (Writing Essay Exams to Succeed in Law School (Not Just Survive).


Present Commonwealth Professor of Environmental Law and Sustainability; Director, Environmental Law and Sustainability Center, Widener University Commonwealth Law School



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  • Climate Change
  • Environmental Law
  • International Environmental Law
  • International Law
  • Property
  • Sustainability and the Law

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Publications (167)