electrical-power-linesIn a new working paper (forthcoming as an article in Harvard Environmental Law Review Volume 39, 2015), Shelley Welton examines the reasons that “non-transmission alternatives”—including energy efficiency, energy storage, demand response, and distributed generation—have played a very limited role in meeting electricity grid constraints, despite their great potential. The paper begins by exploring the promise that non-transmission alternatives hold for creating a cleaner, more stable electricity grid. It then argues that the predominant reasons that these promising non-transmission alternatives have failed to gain traction lie in structural flaws in transmission planning, caused in part by questions over how far the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) extends when it comes to these “non-transmission” resources.

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Burger_M_0Former environmental litigator and Columbia Law School graduate Michael Burger ’03 was recently named the first executive director of the Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Burger, who currently serves as an associate professor of law at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island, will formally join the center in January.

“Michael’s addition will allow our center to reach a new level,” said Michael B. Gerrard, Center director and the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice. “I look forward to working with him on expanding our research and education programs and making an even greater impact.”

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Challenges to EPA’s Proposed Carbon Rules: What If They Succeed?

Posted on September 5th, 2014 by Meredith Wilensky
 1 comment  

By Michael B. Gerrard

Smoke stackThe Clean Power Plan proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in June is the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s efforts to fight climate change. Coal-fired power plants are by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and the EPA proposal would require the states to prepare plans to reduce those emissions.

Members of Congress from states that mine or use a lot of coal are trying to halt this plan, and already three lawsuits have been filed against it. These lawsuits may well be dismissed as premature; ordinarily suits cannot be brought against regulations that are not yet final.

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Announcing SCCCL’s Climate Change Adaptation Resource Page

Posted on August 29th, 2014 by Meredith Wilensky

Adaptation Resource PageThe Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has created a new Climate Change Adaptation Resources page. It is organized by federal and state efforts agencies ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The State Adaptation Resources Page contains links to climate change adaptation efforts conducted by states and the localities and cities found within them. In addition, throughout the process of compiling our own climate change adaptation database, we came across several other useful databases. Links to these are provided as well.

Sage-Grouse Protection Threatens Growth of Renewable Energy

Posted on August 14th, 2014 by Akiko Shimizu

by Jordana Fremed, Summer Intern

5162182815_53f666206f_zIn September 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether or not to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.[1] The proposed listing has caused conflict between two groups of environmentalists: conservationists and advocates of renewable energy such as wind power.

The greater sage-grouse, or Centrocercus urophasianus, is a chicken-like bird known for its eccentric mating strut. The bird is found in grassland areas, specifically sagebrush country, in the western United States and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. The sage-grouse has experienced a rapid population decline in the past century due to loss of habitat from grazing, logging, and the installation of wind farms.In order to thrive, the species needs large open spaces unrestricted by tall structures such as trees or windmills where predators might perch.[2] Read more »

By Michael B. Gerrard

construction-391597_640The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970, was the first U.S. environmental statute of the modern era. It requires the preparation of environmental impact statements (EISs) for major federal actions that may have a significant impact on the environment. NEPA has gone a long way to improving federal decision-making. Similar laws have been adopted in many states and in most other advanced countries.  Environmental impact review has become so pervasive that the International Court of Justice has declared it to be part of customary international law.

When climate change emerged as a significant issue in the late 1980s and early 1990s, pressure rose to consider greenhouse gas emissions under NEPA.  Several federal court decisions declared this to be appropriate. However, the federal agency with the job of overseeing the implementation of NEPA – the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) – had not issued regulations requiring such analysis. Thus in 2008 the International Council for Technology Assessment, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Sierra Club formally petitioned CEQ to adopt such regulations.  I represented NRDC as their pro bono lawyer in this case. Read more »


clouds-383102_640Columbia’s Center for Climate Change Law has released a white paper entitled Potential Liability for Climate-Related Measures under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is currently being negotiated by twelve Pacific-rim countries (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam). If negotiations are successful, this “mega-treaty” will be the largest free trade agreement to date, initially governing 40 percent of the world’s GDP and 26 percent of the world’s trade.

As with most negotiations for free trade agreements (FTAs), all TPP negotiations are confidential. The lack of access to information about the status of negotiations has raised concerns that the agreement will fail to provide for sufficient safeguards for environmental protection and counteract climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. In January, 2014, a draft of the environmental chapter was leaked to the public. The leaked text revealed weak environmental protections without meaningful enforcement provisions. A previous blog post discussed why despite the U.S.’s firm stance on the inclusion of a robust and enforceable environment chapter, it has proposed to weaken climate change provisions in the text.  Read more »

By Isabelle Aubrun, CCCL Intern (Brown University)

8139657077_bfce5f6c04_zIn 2013, President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force devised the Rebuild by Design Competition.  Applicants were to design a “fundable and implementable” infrastructure project to mitigate the dangers of rising sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme weather events in New York and New Jersey coastal regions.  In early June 2014, the United States Department of Housing and Development (HUD) announced the six winners.[1]  The most ambitious of the project winners is the “BIG U,” which would circle around 10 continuous miles of Lower Manhattan shoreline, using a mix of natural and physical infrastructure to protect the city’s most vulnerable stretch of coast.  HUD Phase 1 funding for the project will be $335 million, the largest Rebuild by Design award.  The Lower East Side section of the BIG U promises integrated flood protection and upgraded “social infrastructure,” such as parks and walkways, for an area that suffered extensive damage from Sandy.

On October 29, 2012, waters from Sandy surged into Lower Manhattan, upsetting vital city infrastructure.  South of 34th Street, the City experienced an extended power outage; schools were closed for many days; mail delivery was interrupted; hospitals were compromised; and roads, tunnels and telecommunications facilities were damaged. According to the City’s 2013 A Stronger, More Resilient New York Report, Lower Manhattan is particularly vulnerable to future threats of rising sea level and severe weather.  Since 1609, much of Lower Manhattan’s coastline has been built on landfill extended into the harbor. This low-lying, landfill-based coast has made the area particularly vulnerable to the sort of severe flooding it suffered during Sandy.[2] Read more »

By Alyssa Kutner, Summer Legal Intern

4097699785_073813177e_zPresident Barack Obama made an announcement on Wednesday, July 16th introducing a plan to improve the nation’s ability to adapt to climate change through investing in and planning a more climate-resilient infrastructure. Included in the announcement were new programs designed to increase the adaptive flexibility of the country, such as a $10 million Federal –Tribal Climate Resilience Partnership and Technical Program providing adaptation training to tribes and a $13.1 million 3-D Elevation Program, which will provide advanced data and tools to aid communities in preparing for a changing climate.

One particularly interesting component of the plan is a provision on accounting for climate change in state hazard mitigation planning. Hazard mitigation planning is the practice of identifying regulations and courses of action that will minimize future state loss from disaster. If a state prepares only for current flood levels, it is likely that in the future the state’s hazard mitigation preparation will be inadequate to protect homes and families. Incorporation of climate change hazard mitigation planning would address this issue by requiring states to consider how best to anticipate future impacts from climate change, like droughts, flooding, or extreme temperatures. This means, for example, that a state hazard mitigation plan would prepare not only for seasonal flooding, but also take into account climate variability considerations such as sea level rise and the possibility that flood levels will increase over time. Read more »

By Akiko Shimizu, undergraduate intern

cows-358959_640Both houses of the New York State legislature have passed the Community Risk Reduction and Resiliency Act, but Governor Cuomo has yet to sign the bill into law. The purpose of the bill is to amend certain New York legislation to reflect greater awareness and preparedness for climate change associated risks such as sea level rise and flooding. The bill can be read in full text here [1] on the New York State Assembly’s website. 

The bill would amend various sections of the state Environmental Conservation Law, Agriculture and Markets Law, and Public Health Law.  Specifically, the bill would require consideration of future climate change risk in the following statutory provisions or subject areas: Read more »

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