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Spring 2023 Course

Climate Lawyering

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

The threat of potentially catastrophic consequences from climate change due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is both enormous and unyielding. To date, however, our nation has stumbled in its efforts to craft laws that meet the immense challenge of reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions and that redress the massive adverse effects of climate change that can no longer be avoided during our own lifetimes.

To meet that lawmaking challenge will require far more than the enactment of traditional pollution control laws that impose emissions limitations on the largest immediate domestic sources of greenhouse gases such as motor vehicles, power plants, and other industrial activities that burn fossil fuels to produce energy. No less than a wholesale transformation of how we produce and distribute energy will be required. The necessary technology to accomplish that transformation already exists or within reach. The principle obstacle is instead existing law that not only fails to control emissions adequately but that unwittingly promotes the status quo and erects insurmountable hurdles to securing the necessary reform of the nation’s laws.

This course will examine the constructive role that lawyers can play in addressing climate change in most every legal practice area. As reflected in the current presidential administration’s “Whole of Government Approach to the Climate Crisis,” we will focus in the first instance on those who work in the federal government. They range from working in classic pollution and natural resources agencies like EPA and the Department of the Interior, to significant roles lawyers play in addressing the climate issue in the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense (including each of the Armed Forces), Energy, State, Transportation, and Treasury, as well as smaller federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Federal Reserve Board, Federal Election Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission. The course will also consider the role of private sector lawyers, especially in-house counsel to private companies seeking to sell products and services that will promote a transition to a carbon-free energy future, as well as public interest advocates.

The course will begin with general sessions on climate science and the history of climate lawmaking in the United States. In each subsequent class meeting, we will review a different legal practice setting and hear from a guest speaker who works in that area. There will be no final exam. Grades will be based on performance in class participation assignments and the quality of several reaction papers that each student will be required to submit during the semester. There are no prerequisites for taking the course, which is not designed to be a substitute for a class that covers the regulatory complexities of substantive climate law, energy law, environmental law, or natural resources law.

Note: This course will meet for six weeks, beginning in March; dates TBD.