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March 16, 2020 by Karen Sokol

Trump's Bungling of Coronavirus Response Mirrors His Approach to Climate Crisis

"This report is a catalogue of weather in 2019 made more extreme by climate change, and the human misery that went with it." That is the statement of Brian Hoskins, chair of Imperial College in London's Grantham Institute for Climate Change, about the recently released State of the Climate in 2019 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the WMO compiles information from scientists all over the world that has been a key driver of international climate law and policymaking. One of the IPCC's reports was similarly dire to that of the WMO's, but not without hope.

Although anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have disrupted the planet's climate system in ways that have already caused and will continue to cause massive harms all over the world, the IPCC warned, we still have time to prevent a level of disruption that would render the planet uninhabitable for humans and most other species that we share it with. The IPCC gave policymakers a roadmap for how to achieve that: do not allow warming of the Earth to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which in turn requires us to achieve global net zero …

March 2, 2020 by Karen Sokol
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Earlier this year, on the heels of the Earth's hottest decade on record, a coalition of former government officials, fossil fuel companies, car manufacturers, financial companies, and nonprofit organizations renewed their endorsement of a national carbon tax as "the most effective climate solution" (emphasis added). And by "the," it appears that they mean "the only." The catch is that the coalition's legislative plan also calls for preventing the federal government from regulating carbon emissions and from taking any other protective measures "that are no longer necessary upon the enactment of a rising carbon fee."

Given the scale and complexity of the planetary emergency that we face, it would certainly be nice if the solution were that simple. But that, of course, is too good to be true. A carbon tax may very well be one important component of the climate crisis toolbox, but …

Jan. 28, 2020 by Karen Sokol
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On January 17, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a much-awaited decision dismissing Juliana v. United States, a climate case that gained more traction in the courts than anyone had expected, given, as U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken stated in her opinion denying the motions to dismiss in the case, it was "no ordinary lawsuit."   

Aiken's statement is true in many respects, including the nature of the right asserted by the plaintiffs – 21 young people ranging from eight to nineteen years of age, and a climate scientist acting as guardian for future generations. They asserted that the U.S. Constitution protects the right to a "climate system capable of sustaining human life," something that had not been recognized by a federal court until Aiken issued her opinion in the case.

Furthermore, the violation the youth plaintiffs …

Nov. 21, 2019 by Karen Sokol
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This post was originally published by Expert Forum, a blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission.

In her opening statement on the second day of the House public impeachment hearings, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch recounted how President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani undermined the State Department's ability to "promote stated U.S. policy against corruption." "If our chief [diplomatic] representative is kneecapped," she said, "it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States. These events should concern everyone in this room."

Although this particular instance of the Trump administration's "kneecapping" of a civil servant who had dedicated her life to safeguarding us may be the most high-profile to date, it is unfortunately one among many. In fact, many of the other civil servants kneecapped by the administration were attempting to implement the …

Sept. 26, 2018 by Karen Sokol
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This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report.

The 450 Inupiat residents of Kivalina, a small village on the frozen tundra of Alaska at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, are among the first communities in the world to lose their ability to survive because of climate change. With temperature increases that double the global average, Alaska is one of the canaries in the coal mine of climate change. As a result, the Arctic’s ice has diminished by half over the last three decades, triggering a series of reactions that are transforming the environment. The people of Kivalina risk plunging into frigid waters whenever they use their snowmobiles — the only viable motorized means of transportation in the region. That, along with the fact that their principal source of food is wildlife whose habitats are being destroyed …

July 24, 2018 by Karen Sokol
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This post is part of a series on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This is a case about executive power and individual liberty." That is how Judge Brett Kavanaugh started the opinion he wrote for a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was unconstitutional. That opinion is one among many that reflects Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh's belief that administrative agencies are in a constitutionally precarious position that demands strong judicial supervision.

Many believe that, as a result, a Justice Kavanaugh would be a reliable vote in favor of industry and against administrative agencies and the environmental, health, safety, and consumer protections they enforce. Others claim he would be "evenhanded" in cases challenging agency action and simply do his job as a judge by insisting that agencies …

May 21, 2018 by Karen Sokol
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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 …

April 11, 2017 by Karen Sokol
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Last month, President Trump released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which calls for sharp cuts to many agencies in order to fund increases in defense and military spending. Hardest hit is the Environmental Protection Agency. Already underfunded, EPA will simply not be able to carry out its statutory mandates to keep our environment clean and healthy if subjected to Trump's proposed cut of 31 percent. Rather, the Trump administration asserts that the agency would "primarily support States and Tribes in their important role protecting air, land, and water in the 21st Century." It's hard to imagine how EPA could do that, however, as the budget also slashes federal funding of state environmental programs by almost half

The state grant program exists because of the recognition that states do have an essential role in the protection of our nation's environment but that they …

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More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
March 16, 2020

Trump's Bungling of Coronavirus Response Mirrors His Approach to Climate Crisis

March 2, 2020

The Problem with the Climate Leadership Council's Carbon Tax Plan

Jan. 28, 2020

Despite Recent Setbacks, Juliana and Other Climate Suits Deserve their Day in Court

Nov. 21, 2019

The Essential Role of State Courts in Addressing Climate Harms

Sept. 26, 2018

From Surviving to Thriving: Seeking Climate Justice in the Common Law

July 24, 2018

The Threat to Individual Liberty in Judge Kavanaugh's CFPB Opinion

May 21, 2018

Seeking Climate Justice in the Courts