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March 18, 2020 by Alexandra Klass

Public Lands and Just Energy Transitions

This post is part of a series related to the March 12 Conference on Public Lands and Energy Transitions that was hosted by the George Washington University Law School's Environment and Energy Law Program.

Our vast public lands and waters are both a major contributor to the global climate crisis and a potential solution to the problem. The extraction and use of oil and gas resources from public lands and waters produce 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If the public lands were its own nation, it would be the fifth largest global emitter of GHGs.

The scale of this problem has been exacerbated by the current administration. Since the start of the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior – the primary federal agency charged by Congress with managing the use of public lands and waters – has used its statutory authority to open up a record number of acres for new fossil fuel development and to roll back Obama-era regulations designed to reduce methane emissions and other pollution associated with existing fossil fuel development. The current administration has thus used the public lands to boost the profits of major oil and gas companies at the …

March 16, 2020 by Karen Sokol
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"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 …

March 11, 2020 by Sandra Zellmer, Christine Klein
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Originally published by NYU Press. Reprinted with permission.

The flood season is upon us once again. Beginning in February, parts of Mississippi and Tennessee were deluged by floods described as "historic," "unprecedented," even "Shakespearean." At the same time, Midwestern farmers are still reeling from the torrential rains of 2019 that destroyed billions of dollars' worth of crops and equipment, while wondering whether their water-ravaged farmland can ever be put back into production. All this while the Houston area continues to recover from three so-called "500-year floods" in as many years, back-to-back in 2015, 2016, and, most notably, Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

As one tragedy follows another, they barely qualify as national news anymore. Instead, record-breaking floods and destruction are becoming commonplace. Why do the sequels barely warrant top billing? How have our national policies failed us, and why do they continue to fail us …

March 5, 2020 by Matt Shudtz
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From the farm fields of California to the low-lying neighborhoods along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, structural racism and legally sanctioned inequities are combining with the effects of the climate crisis to put people in danger. The danger is manifest in heat stroke suffered by migrant farmworkers and failing sewer systems that back up into homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods. Fortunately, public interest attorneys across the country are attuned to these problems and are finding ways to use the law to force employers and polluters to adapt to the realities of the climate crisis.

The second installment in CPR's climate justice webinar series showcased some of the important work these public interest advocates are doing and explored how their efforts are affected by enforcement policy and resource changes at regulatory agencies, from the federal level on down. Scroll down to watch a recording of the hour-long …

March 5, 2020 by John Leshy
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This blog post was originally published by the Environmental Law Institute at https://www.eli.org/vibrant-environment-blog and is republished with permission. It is cross-posted here as part of an upcoming series related to the March 12 Conference on Public Lands and Energy Transitions hosted by the George Washington University Law School's Environment and Energy Law Program.

With the help of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has had a long and proud history of tackling pressing challenges through responsible and inclusive management of America's public lands. One might expect it would continue that tradition as climate change has become a major challenge confronting the nation.

Not so. In fact, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has been doing more than any of his predecessors to promote fossil fuel development on America's public lands, all the while dancing around the issue …

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 …

Feb. 18, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Little Ice Age wasn't actually an ice age, but it was a period of markedly colder temperatures that began in the 1200s and lasted into the mid-1800s, with the 1600s a particular low point. It was a time when London winter fairs were regularly held on the middle of a frozen Thames river, glaciers grew, and sea ice expanded. That episode of climate disruption may give us some insights into how current global warming may impact society.

Weather changes in the Little Ice Age were less unidirectional and less globally uniform than current climate change. Different places hit their lowest temperatures at different times, and there were often large gyrations in temperatures from year to year. One cause was that sun's radiation decreased for unknown reasons – there were decades with no sunspots at all. There were also …

Feb. 12, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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When I was a 7th grader living in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., my school system was one of many around the nation to launch a program of school busing to desegregate its schools. After 18 years, the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education finally traveled a handful of miles down the road from the Supreme Court and arrived in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The program was anything but voluntary as far as the school system was concerned, requiring a court order to make it happen. In fact, the order was very specific: It didn’t simply direct the county to desegregate; it required the county to submit for court approval specific plans laying out which children would go to which schools. It took the county, which fought the order right down to the last possible moment, several tries before the court …

Jan. 15, 2020 by Victor Flatt
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It's not just wildfires in Australia or our rapidly warming oceans (to the tune of five Hiroshima bombs every second). Climate change affects every aspect of our world, and it's forcing us reevaluate all of the human institutions we've built up over years, decades, and centuries. One such institution that CPR Member Scholar Victor Flatt has begun investigating is the legal profession itself.

Members of the legal profession are bound by a code of professional ethics that applies in the state in which they practice, and this code spells out their professional responsibilities to their clients, to the legal system, and to broader society. As Flatt explains in an article in the current issue of the Environmental Law Institute's Environmental Forum, it's time to review these rules of professional responsibility through the lens of climate change. In particular, his article looks at the climate implications of Rule …

Jan. 6, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Australia is remarkably exposed to climate change and remarkably unwilling to do much about it. Conditions keep getting worse. Yet climate policy in Australia has been treading water or backpedaling for years, as I discussed in an earlier post.

Let's start with the temperature. The Guardian reports that in the year up to July 2019, Alice Springs (in the interior) had 55 days above 104°F. On New Year's Eve of 2018, it set a new record of 113°F. In December 2019, The Washington Post reported, temperatures soared to 104° (40° Celsius) in most of the nation's major cities, with inland areas of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia possibly eclipsing 122 degrees (50 Celsius). December 17, 2019, became the hottest day in Australian history, with an average high temperature across country of 105.6°. Two days …

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