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Jody Freeman

  • panel of seven people on a stage in front of a crowd

    A global beacon on climate change

    October 28, 2022

    This article was originally published in the Harvard Gazette. Jean Salata is a climate optimist, enough to often elicit a gentle eyeroll from his…

  • California gas-powered car ban could fuel GOP legal battle

    September 1, 2022

    California last week approved the country’s most ambitious electric vehicle targets, with the state’s Air Resources Board voting to ban the sale of gas-powered cars…

  • Democrats Designed the Climate Law to Be a Game Changer. Here’s How.

    August 29, 2022

    When the Supreme Court restricted the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to fight climate change this year, the reason it gave was that Congress…

  • U.S. Supreme Court building, looking up towards the sky from the bottom of the stairs.

    Harvard Law faculty weigh in: The 2021-2022 Supreme Court Term

    June 25, 2022

    Harvard Law School experts weigh in on the Supreme Court’s final decisions.

  • Is Gina McCarthy really a power broker on climate rules?

    May 2, 2022

    President Joe Biden made waves last year when he tapped Gina McCarthy as his climate adviser, prompting concern among Republicans that she would lead an aggressive campaign to regulate emissions. Republican lawmakers who had waged war on past climate rules predicted the former Obama EPA administrator would seize the regulatory reins from Biden’s EPA chief, Michael Regan, and reinstate rules that were scrapped during the Trump administration or tied up in court. ... Jody Freeman, who founded the Harvard program, said McCarthy would know that the air office was “in very capable hands” when it comes to Clean Air Act regulation. Freeman worked with McCarthy as White House counselor on energy and climate issues under Obama, when McCarthy headed EPA. She said McCarthy would be aware of jurisdictional boundaries between the White House and EPA when it comes to regulation, and likely wouldn’t redraw those lines now that she’s on the other side of them. “I would expect they’d be working quite hand-in-glove and quite cooperatively, because they all know each other and they’re deeply experienced with these rules,” she said.

  • A globe of planet earth on the background of blurred lights of a city.

    Inspiring change

    April 22, 2022

    On Earth Day, we highlight some of the work being done by Harvard Law students, scholars, clinics, and programs to address some our most pressing environmental issues.

  • Climate Risk Disclosure Mandate

    April 18, 2022

    Trillions of dollars of financial assets are at risk of losses related to the climate, so the Biden Administration is now moving to require public companies to disclose their climate risk. Host Steve Curwood talks to Jody Freeman, Harvard Law professor and former Obama White House official, about the proposed Securities and Exchange Commission mandate.

  • Starting up University’s new climate, sustainability efforts

    March 3, 2022

    In September, President Larry Bacow announced that Jim Stock had been named the University’s first vice provost for climate and sustainability, charged with guiding and further developing Harvard’s strategies for advancing climate research and its global impact through close collaboration with students, faculty, staff, and academic leadership from across the University. ... The Gazette spoke with Advisory Committee members Jody Freeman, Jim Engell, and Dan Schrag about the timeliness of the new post, Stock’s unique qualifications for the job, and the ways the committee’s initial conversations are starting to help shape the goals of the new office. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

  • Will the Supreme Court Frustrate Efforts to Slow Climate Change?

    February 28, 2022

    An op-ed by Jody Freeman: With Congress doing little on climate change, President Biden must use his executive authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions across the U.S. economy. The Supreme Court appears determined to thwart him. In a case to be argued on Feb. 28, the court seems poised to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s legal authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants and, by doing so, frustrate the country’s efforts to slow the pace of climate change.

  • Supreme Court Will Hear Biggest Climate Change Case in a Decade

    February 28, 2022

    In the most important environmental case in more than a decade, the Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments in a dispute that could restrict or even eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to control the pollution that is heating the planet. ... “If the court were to require the E.P.A. to have very specific, narrow direction to address greenhouse gases, as a practical matter it could be devastating for other agencies’ abilities to enact rules that safeguard the public health and welfare of the nation,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. “It would restrict the enactment of regulations under any host of federal statutes — OSHA, the Clean Water Act, hazardous waste regulation. In theory it even could limit the Fed’s authority to set interest rates.” ... “The regulated industry itself is saying that they are not fighting the authority of E.P.A.,” said Jody Freeman, a lawyer at Harvard and former climate official in the Obama White House. “The court will be attentive, I think, to what the industry says,” she said, noting that in a recent case over the Biden administration’s Covid vaccine mandate for large employers, the Supreme Court blocked the mandate except in the case of health care workers, who requested the regulation.

  • Congress’ climate inaction puts spotlight on the courts

    January 3, 2022

    Courts in the United States and abroad served as flashpoints on climate change this year as governments struggled to address the growing threat. U.S. climate litigation is expected to gain velocity in 2022, following a pair of unrelated Supreme Court actions concerning EPA’s carbon rules for power plants and local governments’ climate liability lawsuits. The legal battles have attracted heightened attention as the Biden administration fights to enact an ambitious climate change agenda amid congressional wrangling. “At the moment, this litigation is a sign of being stuck with second and third best options,“ said Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program and a former Obama White House adviser. “It’s a sign of the times: It’s a grind even with an administration that is doing its best, that cares about the issue. It’s a grind because Congress is only prepared to spend some money but not impose any kind of regulations or standards.”

  • General Motors Goes Electric

    November 16, 2021

    In January 2021, one of America’s most iconic automobile companies announced it was undergoing a huge transformation. General Motors said it would stop selling vehicles with internal combustion engines, and would go all electric by 2035. GM’s Zero Emissions plan is an enormous commitment that has the potential to impact the environment and the entire auto industry. But can GM pull it off? In this episode of Reinvent, hosts Geoff Colvin and Beth Kowitt ... talk to Harvard Law Professor Jody Freeman and Bank of America’s Lead Auto Analyst John Murphy to weigh the plan’s chances for success and what it may mean for our planet.

  • Reining in Methane

    November 8, 2021

    The U.S. oil and gas industry leaks millions of tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere every year. New Environmental Protection Agency rules propose to strengthen requirements for industry to prevent, identify, and repair methane leaks, as science says methane emission reductions will quickly help put the brakes on planetary warming. Harvard Law Professor Jody Freeman joins Host Steve Curwood to discuss the rules and why tackling methane emissions can make an immediate difference. ... Freeman: Well, it's a big deal, because methane is responsible for about 30% of the global warming we're experiencing. And cutting methane is the single fastest, most effective opportunity to reduce climate change risks in the near term. Unlike carbon dioxide, its warming power doesn't come from a gradual build up over time. It's almost entirely from recent emissions. So by reducing methane, now, we can reduce warming that would happen in the near term; it has almost an immediate beneficial impact.

  • Harvard names vice provost for climate and sustainability

    September 8, 2021

    James H. Stock, a Harvard professor and economist known for his expertise on energy and environmental policy, has been named the University’s inaugural vice provost for climate and sustainability, Provost Alan M. Garber announced today. ... “Jim has been deeply committed in his own research to developing solutions to climate change and is uniquely positioned to build collaborations across the university,” said Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program, and co-chair of the Presidential Committee on Sustainability.

  • Focus on health and equity to meet 2026 climate goal, advises Sustainability Committee

    September 8, 2021

    Ahead of its self-imposed deadline to become fossil fuel-neutral by 2026, the University has engaged its researchers and industry climate leaders to identify and invest in projects that demonstrate how to credibly reduce emissions while also benefiting human health, social equity, and the planet, such as large-scale solar or wind renewable energy, according to the Harvard Presidential Committee on Sustainability. ... The Presidential Committee on Sustainability was co-chaired by Professor John Holdren and Professor Rebecca Henderson, the Harvard Business School John and Natty McArthur University Professor, and Katie Lapp, Harvard University Executive Vice President since its inception through academic year 2021. This academic year the faculty co-chairs have been succeeded by Professors Mike Toffel and Jody Freeman, the Harvard Law School Archibald Cox Professor of Law.

  • A demonstrator holding a sign the reads, System Change, Not Climate Change, with a drawing of the Earth.

    A focus on the environment

    April 22, 2021

    In recognition of Earth Day, we highlight some recent work and perspectives of Harvard Law's students and scholars committed to environmental change.

  • Biden speaking at a podium

    Freeman, Lazarus discuss Biden administration’s reversal of Trump’s environmental legacy

    April 22, 2021

    At a recent event, Harvard Law School Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus gave an account of the environmental policy swing underway in the Biden administration.

  • Wendy Jacobs

    Wendy Jacobs: 1956-2021

    February 10, 2021

    Wendy Jacobs, one of the nation’s most highly celebrated environmental law experts, was the founding director of the first-ever environmental law and policy clinic at Harvard Law School.

  • Biden’s Pen and the Climate

    February 8, 2021

    President Biden has signed more executive orders in his first weeks than any president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, and many of those orders focus on protecting the environment and fighting against climate change. Jody Freeman, professor at Harvard Law School and former Counselor for Energy and Climate Change in the Obama White House, joins Host Bobby Bascomb to dive deeper into how these actions lay the groundwork for strong climate policy and green investment.

  • G.M.’s Bold Move on the Climate

    February 2, 2021

    An op-ed by Jody FreemanGeneral Motors’ announcement last week that it will stop making gas-powered cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles by 2035 and become carbon neutral by 2040 is even bolder than it sounds: The repercussions will ripple broadly across the economy, accelerating the transition to a broader electric future powered by renewable energy. The pledge by the nation’s largest automaker to phase out internal combustion engines puts pressure on other auto companies, like Ford and Toyota, to make equally ambitious public commitments. It follows an earlier announcement by G.M. that it would invest $27 billion in electric vehicles over the next five years. While every major auto company is investing in zero- and low-emission vehicles, amounting to $257 billion worldwide through 2030, until now none had been willing to say when they would end production of gas-powered cars. Wall Street rewarded G.M.’s clarity by bumping its stock. Now investors will expect the rest of the industry to explain how their electric vehicle strategies measure up. G.M.’s decision is a sea change. For decades, the company and other automakers resisted pollution rules. As recently as last year, G.M. supported the Trump administration’s relaxation of fuel efficiency standards, only to make an about-face after the November election. When one of the most recalcitrant and iconic American companies so markedly changes its tune and embraces the clean-energy transition, something big is happening. Pressure will undoubtedly mount on oil and gas companies, among others, to produce credible energy transition plans of their own.

  • Clean Air Act gets boost as court dumps Trump carbon rule

    January 21, 2021

    Opponents of President Trump's climate rule rollbacks rejoiced yesterday after a federal appeals court gave the Biden administration a clean slate to craft a new rule to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out the Trump EPA's Affordable Clean Energy rule and sent it back to the agency. The court found EPA had too narrowly interpreted its authority to regulate emissions. The court not only gave the green light for President-elect Joe Biden to draft stronger power plant regulations, but also broadly affirmed EPA's authority to craft climate regulations for a range of emissions sources...Asked for a comment on yesterday's court decision, Joseph Goffman, who played a key role in crafting the Clean Power Plan and is part of the EPA transition team for the incoming Biden administration, sent E+E News a link to a recording by the Royal Choral Society of the "Hallelujah" chorus from George Frideric Handel's "Messiah." "Feel free to quote me," he said...EPA took that more challenging legal approach by arguing that the statute was unambiguous in supporting its position. The agency could have instead said it was using its discretion to interpret the law, said Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University. Looking from the outside, it seemed like the best explanation for why Trump's EPA took that position was so that it could block future administrations from "doing anything meaningful" on climate regulation, Freeman said. "It seems like a deep ideological commitment but not the best legal strategy," she said.

  • Court Voids a ‘Tortured’ Trump Climate Rollback

    January 20, 2021

    A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down the Trump administration’s plan to relax restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, paving the way for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to enact new and stronger restrictions on power plants...Environmental groups and legal experts saw the decision as a vindication of the argument that the government does have the authority to tackle climate change. “It’s a massive win,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University who served as a legal counsel in the Obama administration. A core promise of the Biden campaign was to eliminate fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035. With Tuesday’s ruling, the Biden administration will not have to wait for the legal fight over the Trump rule to play out before deciding whether or how to use regulation to tackle climate change, Ms. Freeman said. Instead, she said, the Biden E.P.A. can “go on the offense” immediately. “The real win here is that the Trump administration failed to tie the Biden team’s hands,” Ms. Freeman said. “They wanted to lock in a narrow legal interpretation and make it impossible for a new administration to set ambitious standards for power plants. That was their whole strategy. And it went down to spectacular defeat.”

  • ‘The lost years’: Climate damage that occurred on Trump’s watch will endure long after he is gone

    January 19, 2021

    For four years, President Donald Trump has careened from one crisis to the next, many of his own making. Still, through the Mueller investigation, two impeachments, the deadliest pandemic in a century, and even a failed and dangerous attempt to overturn his own election defeat, Trump and his administration remained steadfast in at least one quest: to weaken many of the country's bedrock climate and environmental guardrails. Considered in the course of humanity -- or the 4.5-billion-year history of this planet -- a single presidential term is barely a blink of an eye. But in just four years, Trump has cemented a legacy -- particularly on climate change -- that will be felt by generations to come...President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement on Day One of his presidency, but experts say repairing the damage to the country's international standing that was done by Trump abandoning the accord will not be easy. "In one sense, it's easy for President Biden to announce on the first day he's in office that the US will rejoin," said Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor who served as counselor for energy and climate change in the White House under President Barack Obama. "The hard part is to put together an ambitious, credible pledge for what the US is prepared to do to meet their Paris Agreement commitments."

  • Michael Regan, Biden’s E.P.A. Pick, Faces ‘Massive Reconstruction and Rebuilding’

    December 18, 2020

    President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has selected Michael S. Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Biden’s transition team announced Thursday. The decision elevates for the first time a Black man to lead the powerful department, which is central to achieving the new administration’s climate change agenda. Mr. Regan was not the president-elect’s first choice, and he lacks some of the political star power of Mr. Biden’s other cabinet picks. But he will be on the front lines of the incoming administration’s effort to undo one of President Trump’s most sprawling transformations of the federal government: the unraveling of a half-century of pollution and climate regulations, and the diminishment of the science that underpinned them. “He faces a massive reconstruction and rebuilding operation,” said Jody Freeman, a Harvard University law professor who served as White House counselor for energy and climate change in the Obama administration. Mr. Regan “has to go in and restore the morale of the career staff,” she said. “He has to make it clear that science and integrity are back. He’s got a raft of rules that he’s got to rescind and replace and strengthen.” And, Ms. Freeman added, “He’s got to do this under some time pressure.”

  • Greens dazzled by Biden’s climate team

    December 18, 2020

    Environmentalists and climate change activists are expressing a feeling this week that's been hard for them to come by in the past four years: optimism. The names of President-elect Joe Biden's key cabinet members who will deal with the issue he's called an "existential threat" emerged this week, and while the behind-the-scenes lobbying for the positions may have been fierce, the prospective team is being hailed as a group of climate all-stars...Many greens were skeptical that Biden was devoted to the climate cause when he emerged as the nominee from the Democratic primary. His climate plan at the time got lukewarm reviews from them, but a mid-year melding of the minds with Sen. Bernie Sanders team and other activists such as Sunrise Movement and alumni of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's brief presidential bid produced the most aggressive-ever blueprint ever from a party's nominee: $2 trillion in climate spending in four years to set the power grid on a path to clean energy by 2035 and net-zero emissions for the whole country by 2050. Those goals, scientists say, are crucial to reach to stave off catastrophic climate change in the coming decades. But even with the promise, many experts were nervous that Biden's team may not live up to expectations. Now, those fears have disappeared. “It’s hard not to be impressed and even inspired,” said Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School's Environmental and Energy Law Program and a former Obama White House adviser...Even if the Senate remains under Republican control after next month's Georgia run-off election, Biden backers are confident the team will make major strides wielding their executive branch power. "It’s the Cabinet officials who have the legal authority," Freeman said. "But what they can use is some help getting policies through a fairly bureaucratic White House. If you order this the right way, you can have a lot of success.”

  • Climate stars surround Biden. Where does EPA fit in?

    December 17, 2020

    President-elect Joe Biden has picked superstars to advance his global warming agenda. The expected appointment this week of former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to oversee Biden's domestic climate policy comes after he tapped former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State John Kerry to represent his climate priorities abroad. McCarthy, who comes fresh from leading the influential Natural Resources Defense Council, can claim a leading role in every EPA rule promulgated under President Obama to combat climate change — first as the agency's air chief and then its leader. Kerry led the U.S. effort to land the Paris Agreement... "I see the McCarthy pick, in particular, as a recognition that the playbook is a regulatory playbook," said Jody Freeman, an Obama administration adviser who now directs the Environment and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. "I think there's going to be a lot of emphasis on regulation, especially early on right out of the gate," she said. "EPA has a bunch of rules it has to put back in place, and she knows exactly what that's like." But Freeman and others say that far from overshadowing an EPA administrator, McCarthy would likely use her expertise to be EPA's top advocate in the White House, smoothing the way for regulations written by agency experts. Freeman envisioned McCarthy as a kind of climate change quarterback at the White House who could overcome challenges that might complicate rulemakings or water down their results.

  • What’s next for Biden, climate change and Trump’s big lie?

    December 7, 2020

    When President-elect Joe Biden takes office, Harvard law professor Jody Freeman says he’ll have “an awful lot of authority” with the EPA and other agencies. Despite Republican power in Congress, executive clout can get the U.S. “back on a path of dealing with climate change” by shoring up environmental protections unraveled by President Trump. As Biden’s new Climate Tsar, John Kerry can restore America’s role in the Paris Agreement, which he helped draft as President Obama’s Secretary of State.  Princeton international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer concedes that Biden’s goal of “net zero” by 2050 doesn’t mean eliminating fossil fuels, even though that’s what it sounds like. But he and Freeman say it’ll do some good, despite “honestly motivated” criticism from climate advocates. Later on, when it comes to Trump’s famous big lie that Joe Biden stole the presidential election, Brown University politics professor Corey Brettschneider says, “I think it is extremely dangerous for a sitting president to try to undermine faith in our elections, when there's no evidence that there was any fraud.” He says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is part of a team with Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch that threaten Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, and the Biden White House.

  • E.P.A.’s Final Deregulatory Rush Runs Into Open Staff Resistance

    November 30, 2020

    President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its last regulatory priorities, aiming to obstruct the creation of air- and water-pollution controls far into the future, when a senior career scientist moved to hobble it. Thomas Sinks directed the E.P.A.’s science advisory office and later managed the agency’s rules and data around research that involved people. Before his retirement in September, he decided to issue a blistering official opinion that the pending rule — which would require the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that does not expose its raw data — will compromise American public health...Last month, the agency finalized a rule that creates a lengthy new legal process to overturn or withdraw certain policy directives known as “guidance documents,” which give federal agencies direction on the specifics of how to enforce laws. Such guidance documents can give an administration some license to interpret laws in ways that advance their policy agenda. For example, the E.P.A. during the Trump administration has published a guidance document that allows oil and gas companies to release flares from their wells for up to 15 minutes at a time before regulations apply — a process that releases methane, a powerful planet-warming greenhouse gas...Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration, called the rule a “little I.E.D.,” referring to an improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb, aimed at slowing a Biden administration’s plans to overturn Mr. Trump’s rules. “Shenanigans like these are what awaits the Biden team,” she said.

  • Trump’s climate legacy, Biden’s environmental future

    November 23, 2020

    The Trump administration rolled back over 125 environmental rules during their tenure. These policies protected wildlife and water, and regulated chemicals and greenhouse gases. This hour, we’ll discuss Trump’s environmental and climate legacy. We’ll also look at President-elect Biden’s climate plans and discuss what actions he can take (with or without a democratic Senate) to protect the environment, address our energy needs, and tackle global warming. Joining us are Michael Mann, professor and director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, and Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University.

  • Climate Activists Want Biden To Bar Appointees With Fossil Fuel Ties

    November 19, 2020

    Climate activists have set a high bar for President-elect Joe Biden's staff picks, asking that he exclude anyone with ties to fossil fuel industries. They've already been disappointed. Biden faced backlash this week after naming Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond to lead the Office of Public Engagement. Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, said it "feels like a betrayal" because Richmond "has taken more donations from the fossil fuel industry during his Congressional career than nearly any other Democrat." The oil and gas industry has been among Richmond's top campaign contributors over his career in Congress, according to Center for Responsive Politics...Among the names on the Biden transition's agency review teams a few have limited ties to fossil fuel, but more are from environmental groups. "When I look at that list I think the clear message is the Biden team wants good people in place, right from the start, who have experience in these agencies and are not wasting any time," says Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. She was a former counselor on energy and climate change in the Obama White House. Freeman is a good example of those who could be excluded if a Biden administration rejected people connected to fossil fuel companies. She sits on the board of oil company Conoco-Phillips, but she also led Obama's effort to double car fuel-efficiency standards. Freeman is also an expert on using presidential powers to address climate change, knowledge that likely will be necessary if both parties can't agree on new climate legislation when Biden is sworn in next year.

  • What Biden’s Win Means for the Environment and the Fight to Rein in Climate Change

    November 13, 2020

    What can President-Elect Biden do to reverse course on the environment and climate change? What can he accomplish with a Republican-controlled US Senate, pending results of two runoff elections in Georgia? What can he pursue in the executive branch? And how will the left wing of the Democratic Party play into his plans? For our podcast, Trump on Earth, Reid Frazier unpacks all of this with Jody Freeman, law professor and director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. Before that she worked for the Obama EPA, where she helped write fuel efficiency regulations for cars, which were later rolled back under President Trump.

  • What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage

    November 10, 2020

    President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will use the next four years to try to restore the environmental policies that his predecessor has methodically blown up, but the damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term. Most of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies, which erased or loosened nearly 100 rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere, can be reversed, though not immediately. Pollutants like industrial soot and chemicals can have lasting health effects, especially in minority communities where they are often concentrated. But air quality and water clarity can be restored once emissions are put back under control. That is not true for the global climate. Greenhouse pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, so the heat-trapping gases emitted as a result of loosened regulations will remain for decades, regardless of changes in policy. “Historically, there is always a pendulum to swing back and forth between Democratic and Republican administrations on the environment, and, theoretically, the environment can recover,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard and a former adviser to the Obama administration. “You can put rules back in place that clean up the air and water. But climate change doesn’t work like that.” Moreover, Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.

  • Biden to Move Fast to Strike Down Trump’s Environmental Agenda

    November 9, 2020

    The EPA and Interior Department under President-elect Joe Biden will have a range of tools at their disposal to start undoing President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda on the environment, according to former agency officials, lawyers, and environmentalists. Many of the administration’s more ambitious environmental goals, such as reviving regulations on climate pollutants from power plants and automobiles, will take longer to change or put into place. But most observers expect Biden’s team to get working immediately after inauguration on smaller measures, such as the “secret science” rule that would block the EPA from using scientific research that isn’t or can’t be made public. “They’ll be starting right out of the gate,” predicted Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. But some who support Trump’s rollbacks warn that Biden will pay for being too ambitious in efforts to reverse them... One of the fastest and easiest actions the environmental agencies can take is to strike down Trump-era guidance that the Biden team disagrees with, said Sam Sankar, senior vice president for programs at Earthjustice. “That can be done with the stroke of a pen,” Sankar said. Dozens of such guidance documents are now on the books. Among the candidates for immediate rescission is an October memo from the Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that the Clean Air Act gives states flexibility to administer air pollution requirements and saying some exemptions are appropriate, Sankar said.

  • What Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation will mean for environmental law and Joe Biden’s climate plan

    October 22, 2020

    An article by Jody FreemanAmy Coney Barrett’s likely confirmation to the Supreme Court to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a Monday Senate vote will add a conservative sixth vote to an already-conservative majority, with potentially far-reaching implications for American law. Barrett’s confirmation will scramble the current distribution of power on the Court, displacing the chief justice as its putative center and pulling it rightward. Most legal commentators expect that Barrett’s judicial philosophy of originalism and her advocacy of a more “flexible” approach to precedent will make her more likely to vote to overturn precedents like Roe v. Wade. Barrett also believes that judges should interpret statutes in accord with their “original public meaning,” a strict brand of textualism that tends to constrain agency regulatory power. What can we predict about Barrett’s likely attitude toward environmental regulation, and climate change in particular? Would she vote to overturn Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court’s 2007 landmark holding that the Environmental Protection Agency may regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act? Would she vote to uphold the Trump administration’s rescission of the Obama-era greenhouse gas standards for the power sector, and its ambitious greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for cars, and uphold the administration’s far weaker rules? What of the administration’s legal theory that when setting power plant standards, EPA cannot consider grid-wide strategies like substituting natural gas for coal, even though Congress told the agency to use the “best system” of emission reduction? Or the administration’s theory that federal law preempts California from setting its own vehicle greenhouse gas standards, and, separately, that EPA can revoke California’s current waiver to set those standards? Would it be more difficult for a new Biden administration to adopt ambitious greenhouse gas rules with Barrett on the Court?

  • California officials see boon in Biden’s climate plan

    October 20, 2020

    Even as California aspires to a more sustainable, climate-friendly economy, the environmental degradation Bahram Fazeli witnesses daily is an unwelcome reminder of how much the state is held back by a federal government pushing in the other direction. The oil wells, refineries, metal-finishing businesses and hazardous waste facilities in Wilmington and Huntington Park, where the environmental activist works, leave residents of those primarily Latino communities acutely exposed to health risks. Fazeli has lost patience with the pace of change...That urgency gives the state a particularly large stake in the outcome of an election that poses a drastic contrast on climate issues — a White House steeped in climate denial and closely allied with fossil fuel companies versus a Democratic candidate who has embraced a $2-trillion climate plan that would rely heavily on California innovation and ambition as a template for fighting global warming across the country. The Trump administration has spent billions of dollars in an almost entirely unsuccessful effort to prop up the nation’s coal industry and has given priority to coal and oil production over renewable sources. The administration’s policies have put the economic interests of regions heavily dependent on coal and oil production ahead of states like California. Biden would largely reverse that. California’s senior elected officials — all Democrats — believe Biden’s election would unleash a flurry of initiatives in the state designed to reshape the energy and transportation sectors and shift money to low-income communities suffering the most from pollution caused by fossil fuels. “It would be going from pushing a rock up a mountain to running downhill with the wind at your back,” said Jody Freeman, who was President Obama’s advisor on climate change and now directs the environmental law program at Harvard.

  • Big Decisions in Administrative Law, with Jody Freeman and Jeff Holmstead

    October 14, 2020

    In this episode—the second in our ongoing “Big Decisions” spin-off series—guest host and chair of the RFF Board of Directors Sue Tierney talks with Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, and Jeffrey Holmstead, a former assistant administrator at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Both guests this week reflect on their experiences working on environmental policy during the hectic early years of a new presidential administration and discuss upcoming challenges for either a Biden presidency or another Trump term as the pandemic persists, global economic woes continue, and climate change intensifies. While Freeman has concerns that confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court could reduce the authority of environmental regulators, Holmstead contends that the court’s conservative turn could be an opportunity for Congress to take the lead in pursuing ambitious energy legislation again.

  • How Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Might Hinder Climate Action

    October 9, 2020

    Environmental law likely won't get the same attention as abortion or health care at next week's Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. But her confirmation, tilting the already-conservative court even further to the right, could have a major impact on the government's ability to address climate change. Nearly all of President Trump's climate rollbacks have been challenged, and several are likely headed to the high court. And some conservative allies with ties to the fossil fuel industry say they'd like to relitigate a key decision that underpins climate regulations. It's difficult to predict how Barrett would rule on specific cases. Environmental law was not her focus as a professor, and not something she dealt with a lot during her time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit...Barrett's judicial philosophy shows skepticism of government and favors deregulation over regulation, according to Jody Freeman, who directs the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School and also served in the Obama administration. "I think, generally speaking, it's going to be a corporate court — good for business, good for corporations," says Freeman. Barrett is skeptical of federal agencies stretching their authority under laws where Congress hasn't given them clear direction, but Freeman says agencies need flexibility. "Even when Congress passes new laws there are always ambiguities," she says. "There always is new science, new understandings, new risks, new problems, new data. And it's impossible to specify each and every small decision that the agencies make."

  • What Amy Coney Barrett could mean for climate law

    September 29, 2020

    Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, a Circuit Court judge with strong support from conservatives, could spell trouble for landmark judicial holdings about climate change, Pro's Alex Guillén reports. Barrett is considered an "originalist" in the mold of late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked in the late 1990s. She has long advocated for the Supreme Court to show more flexibility in overturning past precedents. That could apply to the high court's 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that said the Clean Air Act gave EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, Alex reports. At least two justices still on the court have signaled interest in revisiting the climate ruling — Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas — and other members of the court's conservative wing may also be sympathetic to arguments to reconsider the decision. With a more conservative judge such as Barrett, the court could weaken Massachusetts without overturning it, said Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School's Environmental and Energy Law Program and a former Obama White House adviser. That could include "interpreting provisions to require additional cost benefit analysis, taking a limited approach to the 'co-benefits' that come with climate rules, and otherwise making it harder for the agency to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollution," she said in an email. No case has yet advanced far enough for a court to take a position on the scope of EPA’s authority, but if Trump is reelected, that could provide such an opening.

  • How a More Conservative Supreme Court Could Impact Environmental Laws

    September 29, 2020

    With Judge Amy Coney Barrett poised to become the sixth Republican-nominated justice on the nation’s highest bench, environmental law experts see her influence tipping the scales on energy and climate rules. President Trump tapped Barrett on Saturday, and Trump—with the help of a Republican-led Senate—is intent on swiftly filling the position left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was nominated in 1993 by President Clinton, a Democrat (Greenwire, Sept. 26). Barrett, who currently serves on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has a relatively slim record on climate and environmental matters. But if she is confirmed to the high court, Barrett, 48, likely would lock up a conservative coalition there, legal experts said. That bloc could smooth the path for future environmental rollbacks or make it more difficult to expand emissions regulations through a broad reading of statutory authority. “I view Barrett being added to the court as taking it even further in the direction it was already going,” said Jody Freeman, founding director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. The court “was already headed in the direction of [being] much more skeptical of broad efforts to regulate new problems, to interpret statutes that may be older, to deal with new risks,” she added...That momentum could be a boon for Trump’s legacy of relaxing environmental standards, as a conservative high court likely would be more amenable to his viewpoint in legal challenges to those efforts. Trump has pushed to roll back regulations on vehicle, power plant and industry emissions.

  • Landmark Supreme Court climate ruling more vulnerable than ever with Ginsburg’s death

    September 23, 2020

    It’s a bedrock court case on climate change. Now it has a bull's eye on its back. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg may eventually result in a reassessment — or at least, a narrower reading — of the Supreme Court’s first and most important ruling on rising global temperatures. The landmark 2007 decision, called Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency, gave the federal government the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Now with President Trump poised to add a sixth conservative justice, some conservatives are itching for the high court to take some of that power away. The question is whether the Supreme Court will take up future cases tackling climate change — and how far a more conservative bench will go to chip away at its past decision...Toward the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, Massachusetts led 11 other states in petitioning the EPA to do more to stop global warming. When the agency refused, the states sued to compel it to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court sided with the states and said greenhouse gases ought to be considered air pollutants if agency scientists determine they are a threat to human health. President Barack Obama’s EPA went on to make that so-called “endangerment finding” in 2009...The court could take other steps, such as reining in the EPA’s jurisdiction or requiring additional cost-benefit analysis from the agency to justify its climate rules, according to Jody Freeman, a scholar of administrative law and environmental law at Harvard. The court, she said, has already “signaled it is open to doing” that.

  • 3 Times Ginsburg Led The Way On Environmental Law

    September 22, 2020

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be best remembered for her fierce support of gender equality and civil rights, but she made her mark on environmental law as well, authoring opinions that established citizens' right to sue polluters under the Clean Water Act and the government's right to regulate cross-state air pollution. Justice Ginsburg wasn't necessarily a leader on the high court in regard to environmental law, but green groups knew that she would be a sympathetic ear and a fairly reliable vote, according to Jody Freeman, a professor at Harvard Law School and director of its Environmental and Energy Law Program. "She appreciated the challenges agencies like EPA face when trying to execute their duties," Freeman said, referring to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "She read statutes with an eye to their purpose, and she respected agency expertise." Timothy Bishop, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP, said that although Justice Ginsburg didn't take the lead on many environmental cases, she reliably recognized the government's right to regulate on environmental issues. He cited Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , which established carbon dioxide as a pollutant eligible for federal regulation, and Rapanos v. EPA , in which the court's four liberal justices took a broad view of the government's regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act. "Her environmental record is fairly slim for so long a tenure in the court, and you do not get the impression that she had the passion for environmental issues that, say, Justice [John Paul] Stevens had, compared to her record on civil rights issues, on which her liberal icon status is based," Bishop said Here are three of the most important environmental law opinions Justice Ginsburg authored.

  • The Energy 202: An extra Trump Supreme Court justice may help cement his environmental rollbacks

    September 21, 2020

    A more conservative Supreme Court gives the Trump administration a greater chance of making its rollbacks of environmental rules last long after the president leaves office. The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could have a profound effect on a number of legal challenges brought against President Trump and his deputies now winding their way through lower courts, legal experts say. Court challenges from blue states and green groups involving many issues — everything from whether Utah canyon land can be drilled, to whether oil companies can be held responsible for killing birds in spills, to  if the federal government can take aggressive action to curb climate change — could be impacted. And even if Trump is defeated in November, the loss of the late liberal icon on the court may also give Joe Biden trouble in implementing a plan to combat climate change. “A further tilt of the Court in the direction it is already going ― skeptical of regulation, unsympathetic to the idea that agencies should have some room to interpret their statutes broadly to solve new problems, and uninterested in reading statutes with their broader purpose in mind, certainly won’t help the cause of environmental protection,” said Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School’s environmental and energy law program...A Biden administration, along with Democrats in Congress, will need to craft new environmental laws and regulations extra carefully so as not to run afoul of a more conservative Supreme Court, Freeman said. “All of this underscores the need to use executive power smartly and strategically in a legally defensible way in tandem with passing new legislation on climate and energy policy," she said.

  • How a Trump appointment could shape energy policy

    September 21, 2020

    A new Supreme Court appointment at the twilight of President Trump's first term could shift how justices respond to regulatory challenges and dull Chief Justice John Roberts' swing vote in cases with important energy and environmental consequences. And if Trump loses in November, it could complicate Biden administration efforts to address climate change and make it tougher to roll back Trump's deregulatory agenda. Court watchers expect Trump's nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at age 87, to fall ideologically to Roberts' right. That could alter how the court handles administrative law, which governs federal agency actions and can be a key component of regulatory cases...The White House Council on Environmental Quality's new implementing regulations for a foundational environmental law may also find their way to the Supreme Court. The rules are being challenged in part for allegedly diverging too far from the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act. Conservatives have long challenged how much courts should defer to agency interpretations of NEPA. While Roberts has shown an interest in limiting the scope of that deference — known as Chevron deference — a more conservative justice may want to do away with it entirely, said Jody Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. She noted that there has been a "certain instability" in recent major administrative law cases where a single vote could have tilted the outcome. "In many of these big cases, [Roberts] is like a surgeon, wielding the scalpel carefully to achieve his desired outcome, but also doing so carefully to limit collateral damage. He is not looking for upheaval," said Freeman in an email. "A new conservative justice may not be as cautious or as concerned about ripple effects." For example, the high court earlier this year also took aim at independent agencies when it struck down the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. With an additional conservative vote, the court might have been persuaded to go further and find that all independent agencies are unconstitutional, said Freeman.

  • What Is The State Of Climate Change In 2020?

    August 18, 2020

    As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide, another looming threat remains on the back burner: the global climate crisis. Climate change has been a hot topic and polarizing issue for decades, with debates over its validity and level of seriousness more political than scientific. But the science is clear: Earth is getting hotter and its inhabitants are largely to blame. The warmer world is already provoking an increased number of extreme weather events, causing negative health impacts and obligating people to flee their homes. Experts say failure to take considerable action will have devastating consequences. What evidence do we have that the world is changing for the worse? What effects are we seeing now in 2020 and what more is predicted? Who and what are the biggest contributors? What is the status of environmental regulations and policies? What more has been proposed? Is there time to reverse concerning trends? What would be the biggest challenges? What’s at risk if we don’t? Guests: Jody Freeman, professor of law and founding director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University; Abrahm Lustgarten, senior environmental reporter for ProPublica; Jason Smerdon, research professor, co-director of the sustainable development undergraduate program and faculty member of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

  • Jody Freeman discusses California’s clean energy initiatives

    August 6, 2020

    CGTN's Sean Callebs spoke with Jody Freeman, Professor of Law and Director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School about California's clean truck and other environmental initiatives.

  • How Joe Biden Could Undo Trump’s Damage to Environment

    July 10, 2020

    Donald Trump has smashed a lot of environmental china in four years. To name a few instances: he pulled out of the 2015 Paris Agreement (a move that becomes official on July 6, 2021); loosened automotive-mileage and power-plant-emission standards; and sought to eliminate the protected status of the sage grouse, opening up 9 million acres to oil and gas extraction. Reasonable minds may differ on the wisdom of any one of those moves, but no one can deny the unprecedented sweep of Trump’s policies. Data from Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law show that the President has signed more than 100 administrative rules, Executive Orders and acts of deregulation, 66 of which have gone into effect...It wouldn’t necessarily be easy. The U.S. would not simply be permitted to rejoin the agreement but would have to negotiate its way back in. One way to improve its chances would be for the U.S. to present an even more ambitious greenhouse-gas reduction target than it had before, says Joseph Goffman, the Harvard program’s executive director. That original target for the U.S. was a cut of 26% to 28% below 2005-level carbon emissions by 2025. If Biden agreed to more, he might win the U.S. the favor of the other 196 signatories to the pact, but then he would have to deliver; that’s where the work on the domestic side would begin...If presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden defeats Trump in November, what could he do in his own four years to undo the work of the Trump era? “The biggest, flashiest thing would be for Biden to stand up on day one and say the U.S. is recommitting itself to Paris,” says Jody Freeman, director of the Harvard program. “We should make clear we’re going to take back the reins we’ve relinquished.”

  • What Biden can do if Congress balks at his green agenda

    May 29, 2020

    Joe Biden has been wooing progressives with a list of green initiatives. But even if Democrats take control of Congress, he might have to rely on executive actions to accomplish some of his goals. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president has a $1.7 trillion climate plan that includes myriad proposals — including new regulations on car fuel efficiency, massive increases in government spending, additional taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and rejoining the Paris Agreement. But experts and advocates say Biden would likely have to adjust some of his expectations if Congress can't help, and he may not be able to achieve, for example, net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Still, should he win in November, the former vice president would have a wide range of tools at his disposal to make big changes to climate and environmental policy. "When you've got the agencies of the federal government, and you've got the power to steer and direct and appoint, that's a huge power," said Jody Freeman, who leads the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School and was an environmental policy adviser in the Obama administration. "So I see what Biden could do as quite significant, even though we all think it would be pretty fabulous if Congress could do something," she said...And if Biden doesn't get any help from Congress, he might want to double down on regulations and go even further. "It's not that you have to go find other tools in the executive branch. You have to use the regulatory tools you've got to do more," said Freeman. She argued specifically that Biden could write a new version of the Clean Power Plan far more ambitious than the one the Obama administration put forward in 2015, which would have cut emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. Since then, many coal-fired power plants have been shut down, renewable power has become much cheaper, and the sector's emissions have dropped, showing it's possible to do much more, she said. "You can be ambitious with a new version of the Clean Power Plan because the sector itself has made progress, and the market forces are already driving us in that direction, with the cheap cost of natural gas, the penetration of renewables and the rest," she said.