Declaring a Climate Change Emergency: A Citizen's Guide
Originally published on Legal Planet.
The possibility of declaring a national emergency to address climate change will probably remain under discussion for the next couple of years, particularly if the courts uphold Trump's "wall" emergency. For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to pull together the series of blog posts I've written on the subject. I want to emphasize three key points at the beginning:
- Declaring a climate emergency should be off the table if the Supreme Court rules against Trump.
- An emergency declaration is not a magic wand that gives presidents a blank check. A declaration would allow some constructive steps to be taken, but within limits.
- The ultimate goal has to be congressional action, and an emergency declaration should only be considered as part of a larger legislative and administrative agenda.
Even if the Court upholds Trump, using this precedent to fight climate change will require some real soul-searching. Trump has violated a long-standing norm of presidential restraint in using emergency powers to address domestic policy. Whether to disavow or exploit that change in norms is a hard question. And declaring a climate emergency might help mobilize public opinion in support of legislative action, or it might cause a backlash that would make new legislation harder. But if the Supreme Court rules for Trump, the idea of a climate change emergency declaration has to be taken seriously.
New Report: Socially Vulnerable Communities Face Increasing Risks from Toxic Floodwaters in Virginia
2018 was one of the wettest years on record in Virginia, causing catastrophic floods and landslides, as well as unexpectedly high levels of pollution in the Commonwealth’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. While the last waterlogged year is only a recent memory for Virginians, seemingly unremarkable snow and rainfall at the end of February caused the James River to crest last week at its highest level in Richmond in almost ten years. Climate change has clearly transformed our experience with
The Potential Benefits of Declaring a Climate Emergency
Originally published on Legal Planet. I have a confession: When I started thinking about the possibility of a climate emergency declaration, it was mostly as a counterpoint to Trump's possible (now certain) declaration of an immigration emergency. As I've thought about it, however, it seems to me that there are enough potential benefits to make the idea worth serious consideration. A relatively restrained use of emergency powers could still have some real payoff. In general, I'm not in favor of expanding
National Security, Climate Change, and Emergency Declarations
Originally published on Legal Planet. Trump finally pulled the trigger and declared a national emergency so he can build his wall. But if illegal border crossings are a national emergency, then there's a strong case for viewing climate change in similar terms. That point has been made by observers ranging from Marco Rubio to Legal Planet's own Jonathan Zasloff in a post last week. I agree, but I want to dig deeper because it's such an important point. In order to
Climate Damages: Uncertain but Ominous, or $51 per Ton?
Originally published on Triple Crisis. Second in a series of posts on climate policy. Find Part 1 here. According to scientists, climate damages are deeply uncertain but could be ominously large (see the previous post). Alternatively, according to the best-known economic calculation, lifetime damages caused by emissions in 2020 will be worth $51 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, in 2018 prices. These two views can’t both be right. This post explains where the $51 estimate comes from, why it’s not reliable,
On Buying Insurance, and Ignoring Cost-Benefit Analysis
Originally published on Triple Crisis. The damages expected from climate change seem to get worse with each new study. Reports from the IPCC and the U.S. Global Change Research Project, and a multi-author review article in Science, all published in late 2018, are among the recent bearers of bad news. Even more continues to arrive in a swarm of research articles, too numerous to list here. And most of these reports are talking about not-so-long-term damages. Dramatic climate disruption and
Does the Future Have Standing?
Originally published on Legal Planet. Climate change is not just a long-range problem; it's one that will get much worse in the future unless major emissions cuts are made. For instance, sea levels will continue to rise for centuries. But the people who will be harmed by these changes can't go to court: they haven't been born yet. How can their interests be represented in court? And even people now alive who might still be around in, say, 2100, will
Cap-and-Trade Could Fill Gaps in Governor Wolf's Climate Change Executive Order
by Amy Sinden | January 30, 2019
This post was originally published by JURIST. The news on the climate crisis has been bad lately and getting worse. In the face of President Trump's continued denial and his administration's diligent efforts to roll back every shred of progress made by the Obama administration and to prop up an ailing coal industry, the warnings from the scientific community have only become more dire. In November, 13 of Trump's own agencies released a 1,600-page report confirming that climate change is
The Worst of a Bad Lot
Originally published on Legal Planet. The Trump administration has many energy and environmental initiatives, none of them good. But in terms of shoddy analysis and tenuous evidence, the worst is the administration's attempt to freeze fuel efficiency standards. For sheer lack of professionalism, the administration's cost-benefit analysis is hard to match. And you can't even say that the administration is captive to industry, because this isn't something industry asked for. It's a case of untethered ideology trumping evidence and economics.
What's Wrong with Juliana (and What's Right?)
Originally published on Legal Planet. Juliana v. United States, often called the "children's case," is an imaginative effort to make the federal government responsible for its role in promoting the production and use of fossil fuels and its failure to control carbon emissions. The plaintiffs ask the court to "declare [that] the United States' current environmental policy infringes their fundamental rights, direct the agencies to conduct a consumption-based inventory of United States CO2 emissions," and use that inventory to "prepare and
Using Emergency Powers to Fight Climate Change
Originally published on Legal Planet. Republicans are apparently worried that if Trump could use emergency powers by declaring border security a national emergency, the next president could do the same thing for climate change. There's no doubt that this would be far more legitimate than Trump's wall effort. Border crossings are much lower than they were ten years ago; he has said in the recent past that his prior efforts have vastly improved border security. In contrast, the Pentagon has classified
Seven Bright Spots of 2018
A version of this post was originally published on Legal Planet. Yes, it was a grim year in many ways. But there actually were some bright spots. Here are just the high points. Scott Pruitt. Pruitt resigned under fire. While his successor may be more successful in some ways, the fact remains that Pruitt was a disgrace. We're better off without him. Trump was apparently unfazed by his incompetence and aversion to hard work. But the succession of scandals and
Planning for the Public Health Effects of Climate Migration
This post was originally published by the Wilson Center's New Security Beat. In Alaska's arctic communities, Inuit contemplating the need to relocate have reported that the loss of sea ice would make them feel like they are lost or going crazy. Zika and other vector-borne diseases have been a concern primarily for people in the southeastern United States. Recent research on the long-range internal migration of people from the coasts to the interior suggests a broader national concern regarding "climate
Message for State Climate Policy: Lead with a Vision, Not a Tax
Washington State has continued to try – unsuccessfully – to pass a carbon tax, with the latest effort, Initiative 1631, losing on November 6. The state's effort to control carbon is laudable, but Washington and other states contemplating how to fill the growing federal climate policy void should consider leading with a vision for a clean energy transition rather than a politically challenging "price." An overarching vision for a low-carbon future and a public decision-making process for achieving that future
Designing Law to Prevent Runaway Climate Change
This post is part of a series of essays from the Environmental Law Collaborative on the theme "Environmental Law. Disrupted." It was originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. "Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." If that's so, our climate and energy laws have been perfectly designed to fall short. They will not avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change or enable a swift transition to a zero-carbon energy system because they have not been
Federal Court Deals Major Blow to Keystone XL Pipeline
Late last week, a federal district court in Montana blocked construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. The decision in Indigenous Environmental Network, et al. v. U.S. Department of State is a significant victory for the environment and a major blow to the ultimate completion of the controversial pipeline. The case centered on the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to reverse the State Department’s initial rejection of the pipeline project, issued in 2015. The court noted that the environmental impact statement prepared
Climate Change, Public Health, and the Ocean and Coasts
Climate change is having significant effects on the ocean. Sea levels are rising. The ocean is becoming warmer, and because the ocean absorbs chemically reactive carbon dioxide, its pH is dropping. Hurricanes, typhoons, and other coastal storms are becoming stronger on average. Marine species are on the move, generally shifting toward the poles and, to a lesser extent, deeper. Coral reefs are dying. Clearly, the climate impacts on the ocean are cause for concern. Between 2013 and 2016, the ocean
Bay Journal Op-Ed: State Pollution-Permitting Must Be Reformed to Adapt to Climate Change
This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission. Recent extreme weather — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated. Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat. As the District of Columbia and the states