Lawyering Up For Climate Change #2
We at TreeHugger tend to focus so on design, recycling, re-purposing, and the myriad other ways for business to do well by doing good, we sometimes forget about what most characterized environmental management over the last 40 years: US Federal laws and regulations, executive policy, phase outs, bans, class actions suits, label restrictions, "potentially responsible party" funded clean ups, and so on. One sure sign that these old ways are about to return to prominence is that US law firms are opening up specialty climate practice groups.
"Think this global-warming controversy will blow over soon? The lawyers don't. Top Dallas firm Thompson & Knight started a dedicated climate-change practice June 4 with 26 lawyers. Today, Dallas' Vinson & Elkins will unveil its 41-lawyer group, headed by a former senior counsel for the World Bank. The law firms – and a dozen others nationwide – are getting ready for a predicted explosion of climate-related work tied to government regulation, lawsuits against energy companies and new markets that will trade the rights to emit carbon." "We're not here to act as climatologists," said Thompson & Knight's climate chief, Scott Deatherage, though he has a degree in marine biology and knows plenty of the science behind global warming. "We're here to steer our clients through what is likely to be new regulation, and that's going to have risks and opportunities.""
This is one of those good news/bad news stories. Eventually there may be a need for legal assistance for corporations facing climate related suits. There's immediate need for climate-specialty focused attorneys to educate clients on changing responsibilities under national and international laws. Good so far.
As legal and regulatory frameworks evolve to complexity, we can't expect every business to have a climate regulatory specialist on staff, advising on legal risks of business decisions. The alternative of having a frustrated and confused business manager scream at his elected representatives and complaining about government intervention is not helpful. So, knowing that there are firms to call for applicability guidance is a good thing this early in the "learning curve."
Given that the existing amount of US regulation is zero, and California's regs are brand new, what else could be brought to the table? Maybe more, but there's also the potential for some mischief.
While we're not naming any names, firms whose partners might potentially contribute to winning political campaigns of the future, and which can successfully advise clients to do the same, may be positioned to help determine the content, if not the spirit, of climate related regulations and treaties under a future administration. From that, could come even political appointments.
Humpty Enron is our mischief metaphor: like a child's transformer toy, rearrangement of the letters into some new cryptic entity comes easily once you got your grip on it. One way to mitigate against tossing the "big solution" to the winds of corporate political advocacy is to demand fully open governmental hearings and meeting transcripts...and stay on top of every draft proposal that controls the future of earth.