Seeking Climate Justice in the Courts

by Karen Sokol | May 21, 2018

Back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted the likelihood of an increase in what is now often referred to as "climate change" or "climate justice" litigation. The reason for the increase, according to the IPCC, is that "countries and citizens [will] become dissatisfied with the pace of international and national decision-making on climate change." Just over a decade later, that observation now looks quite prescient, with several cities and counties taking the oil industry to court over climate-related damages. 

In addition to suits against national governments based on international and national environmental laws in various countries, the IPCC pointed to the first climate change tort case brought in the United States: American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut (AEP). In that case, states sued major oil and gas companies for climate change harms caused by their greenhouse gas emissions based on the common law action of public nuisance. The case was eventually dismissed on the grounds that the Clean Air Act vests the power to regulate such emissions in the EPA, and thus courts did not have authority to address the issue through federal common law. The defeat forced advocates to rethink their legal strategies, but it hasn't deterred them from pressing their case in court. 

Indeed, some of the newer cases appear to have a greater chance of success than AEP, in part because of those different approaches. But two other things ...

Climate Change in the Courts

by Daniel Farber | April 02, 2018
There are three important climate lawsuits pending in federal court. Here's the state of play and what to expect next. In the first case, Oakland and San Francisco sued leading oil companies. They claim that the companies' production and sale of fossil fuels is a public nuisance under California state law. They seek an abatement fund to pay for sea walls and other infrastructure needed to address rising sea levels. This lawsuit was originally filed in California state court, but ...

Landmark California Law Links Emissions Reductions and Environmental Justice Goals

by Alice Kaswan | September 19, 2016
California's recent climate legislation is noteworthy not only for its toughest-in-the-nation carbon reduction goals – 40 percent below 1990 emissions by 2030 – but also for continuing the state's tradition of linking climate and environmental justice goals. AB 197, which accompanied a carbon reduction bill known as SB 32, prioritizes direct emission reductions likely to improve air quality; increases public access to information about carbon, conventional, and toxic emissions; and establishes a new cross-cutting legislative oversight committee to systematically monitor ...

Cap-and-Trade is Still Alive (In California)

by Alice Kaswan | November 02, 2010
As “Cap-and-Trade Is Dead” continues to echo through the empty halls of Congress, California rolled out its proposed greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program on Friday. The proposed regulations send a powerful message that, notwithstanding political paralysis at the federal level, the states are proceeding with meaningful climate action. The proposed cap-and-trade program, to be voted on by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) at its December 2010 meeting, is scheduled to take effect in January 2012. At the outset, it will apply ...

The Delta: Pumps, Politics, and (Fish) Populations

by Holly Doremus | February 19, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. The past couple of weeks have been crazier than usual on the Bay-Delta. The pumps were first ramped up and then ramped down. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pandered to the irrigation crowd (or at least a part of it) by proposing to ease endangered species protections in the Delta. And the fall-run chinook salmon population, which supports the commercial fishery, crashed. First, the pumps. Recall that last fall Judge Oliver Wanger ruled that the Bureau of ...

A Look at the Interim Federal Delta Plan

by Holly Doremus | January 05, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. As I pointed out three months ago, the federal government has awakened from its 8-year Bush administration slumber to notice that the SF Bay-Delta is an important environmental and economic resource whose management requires federal input. On December 22, the Obama administration issued an Interim Federal Action Plan for the California Bay-Delta. The best news about the plan is simply that it was issued. It’s one more sign that the feds are serious about joining in ...

60 Minutes Flubs the California Water Story

by Holly Doremus | December 31, 2009
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. On Sunday, 60 Minutes had a long story on the California water crisis, featuring Lesley Stahl interviewing (among others) Arnold Schwarzenegger and UC Davis professor Jeff Mount. On the positive side, the story accurately portrayed the vulnerability of California’s fragile through-Delta water delivery system to a major earthquake or catastrophic levee break. But CBS News flubbed the overall storyline. In typical media fashion, it oversimplified the story to “Delta smelt versus farmers,” with barely a mention ...

Looking at the California Water Bills

by Ben Somberg | November 06, 2009
For an analysis of the news from California this week -- where the legislature passed a group of bills Wednesday on water protection -- do check out Richard Frank on Legal Planet, who looks at the good and the less-than-good. It commits substantial public funding and commitment to  desperately needed Delta ecosystem restoration. The bill package fundamentally re-organizes the state governance system that will oversee Delta regulatory, planning and restoration efforts. And it reflects long-overdue and necessary steps to address ...

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