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PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE

The concept of the government acting as the trustee of natural resources is derived from the Public Trust Doctrine.  This body of law provides that natural resources, including lands, waters, air, and living resources, are held in trust by the State for the benefit of its citizens.  The following are examples of statutes that incorporate aspects of the Public Trust Doctrine:

Note: The links to the texts of these laws are provided as a reference only. These texts might not reflect the current laws in effect. For more information about these laws, check the Law Resources page at the New Jersey State Library.

Specifically, the Legislature acknowledged in the Spill Compensation and Control Act, for example, that “the State is the trustee, for the benefit of its citizens, of all natural resources within its jurisdiction.”  Similarly, pursuant to the Federal Superfund statute and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the President, the Governors of each state, and Native American tribes each designate officials who may act on behalf of the public as trustees for natural resources.  Governor Thomas H. Kean, in “Executive Order No. 192,” September 14, 1988, designated the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as the State’s Natural Resource Trustee pursuant to these two Federal statutes.  Similarly, Governor Christine Todd Whitman, in “Executive Order No. 23,” 1994, designated the DEP Commissioner as the State's Natural Resource Trustee for the purposes outlined in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.  The NJDEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration represents the Commissioner in this capacity.

Federal trustees active in New Jersey include:

  • Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. National Park Service)
  • Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy.

 

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Last Updated: September 27, 2018