NRD actions focus on the injury to the environment and the natural resources that belong to the public and are managed and protected in trust by certain federal, state and tribal governmental entities. Building on the public trust doctrine and common law rights traditionally vested in the sovereign, NRD statutes vest certain enumerated trustees with the ability to seek recovery for the public's loss of natural resources occasioned by a spill or discharge.
By law, the types of natural resources covered and for which trustees are authorized to seek recovery include land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies, and other such sources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by a trustee.
Additionally, NRD statutes and the public trust doctrine vest federal, state and tribal trustees with the ability to recover for the past and future loss of the human uses of such contaminated or impacted resources. For example, an oil spill in a river, bay or gulf can cause substantial impacts upon the uses of such waterways, including: navigation and commerce, industry and jobs, commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, regional development and redevelopment, and even long-term regional growth, taxes, revenues and governmental services. Similarly, contamination of a groundwater aquifer that is serving as a regional water supply can impact the public's uses of such a resource. NRD claims deal with this very difficult and expert-intensive analysis and quantification of the intersection of the environment and the economy.