New Climate Law Institute to launch multipronged legal attack on causes of climate change

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The Center for Biological Diversity announced that its newly created Climate Law Institute is aimed at launching “an unprecedented assault on the causes of climate change.”  This is a strong organization with a record of effectiveness, including one case that we had the opportunity to support.

Post by Rick Piltz

From the Center for Biological Diversity’s February 12 press release:

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today announced the launch of its San Francisco-based Climate Law Institute and the dedication of $17 million to fight global warming over the next five years.

“Global warming is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. It is the defining issue of our time,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center. “To meet the challenge, the Center for Biological Diversity has created the Climate Law Institute to extend the reach of current environmental and human health laws to encompass global warming, pass new climate legislation, and reinvent America’s approach to protecting endangered species and public lands.”

The path-breaking institute will be directed by Kassie Siegel, the current director of the Center’s Climate, Air, and Energy program….

The primary goals of the Climate Law Institute are to:

• Establish legal precedents requiring existing environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and the California Environmental Quality Act to be fully implemented to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, land management, and wildlife management;

• Establish new state and federal environmental laws and policies to rein in global warming;

• Ensure all new laws and policies are judged against the scientific standard of whether they will lead to a reduction in atmospheric CO2 from 385 ppm to below 350 ppm;

• Prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants and coal mines while quickly phasing out existing coal-fired power plants;

• Prevent the creation of an oil-shale or tar sands energy sector;

• Reverse the deadly process of ocean acidification;

• Prevent the loss of Arctic ice cover and likely runaway global warming that would ensue….

In their climate-related cases that I have followed, and in one case participated in, during the past several years, I have come to appreciate the Center for Biological Diversity’s effectiveness.  A few examples: 

Kassie Siegel authored the scientific petition, and argued the legal case, that won Endangered Species Act protection for the polar bear due to global warming in 2008.  See our earlier posts:

December 28, 2006: Interior Dept. proposal to list polar bear as threatened due to loss of sea ice
The proposal was just in time to meet a deadline stemming from the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the administration by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Greenpeace, who challenged Interior’s dilatory response to their initial petition almost 2 years ago.

January 9, 2007:  Polar bear decision “a rare case of science actually triumphing over politics”
Kassie Siegel says in an Op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: “This proposal marks the first legally binding admission by the Bush administration of the reality of global warming….The Bush administration could refuse only by denying the science of global warming. So protecting the polar bear was the only decision it could legally make.”

March 10, 2008:  Environmental groups sue Bush administration to force polar bear protection

April 29, 2008:  Judge orders Bush administration to stop delaying polar bear protection

Senate testimony of Kassie Siegel.  An excellent discussion of the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and their implications for the case of the polar bear.

May 14, 2008:  Administration refusal to protect polar bear from greenhouse emissions “won’t hold up in court”
The May 14 decision to list the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act “is a watershed event,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. But “The administration’s attempts to reduce protection to the polar bear from greenhouse gas emissions are illegal and won’t hold up in court.”

October 6, 2008:  Environmental groups force “critical habitat” designation for polar bears, despite Palin’s lawsuit

In 2006, Siegel brought a successful case under the Global Change Research Act, forcing the Bush administration to release suppressed studies documenting the ecological, economic, and human health impacts of global warming.  See our earlier posts:

November 14, 2006:  Conservation groups file suit against Bush administration to compel second National Assessment
The Center for Biological Diversity, along with other conservation groups, filed suit November 14 in federal district court for the Northern District of California against the Bush administration for refusing to conduct a second U.S. National Climate Change Impacts Assessment.  The suit contends that such an integrated scientific assessment, due in November of 2004, is required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990.  The suit names Dr. William Brennan, acting director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, and Dr. John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as defendants.

August 22, 2007:  Court rules that Bush Administration unlawfully failed to produce scientific assessment of global change
A Federal judge says the Bush Administration has violated the Global Change Research Act by failing to produce a national global change research plan that was due by July 2006; and a scientific assessment of global change that was due in November 2004. The last scientific assessement, the US National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, was submitted to Congress in November 2000. Climate Science Watch has long maintained that the Bush administration’s suppression of official use of the first National Assessment report and its termination of the national climate change assessment process for connecting scientists to policymakers and society is the central climate science scandal of the administration. Ruling on the lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity et al, U.S. District Judge Sandra Brown Armstrong has ordered the Administration to produce both the plan and the assessment no later than the end of May 2008.

Declaration of Rick Piltz in support of Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. Dr. William Brennan et al.

The Center also was one of the successful petitioners in the landmark case Massachusetts et al., petitioners v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency et al.  In April 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the states, cities, and nongovernmental organizations and struck down EPA’s refusal to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

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