REPORTER'S TOOLBOX: Climate Change Lawyers

March 28, 2007

As interest in climate change escalates, lawsuits are increasingly a part of the picture, and many people and organizations are increasingly in need of advice on pertinent legal issues. As the legal profession becomes more involved in the climate change story, it'll be essential for journalists to know who the players are.

Some of the legal profession's involvement has been spurred by the ongoing work of the international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which is advising the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative on a range of corporate governance issues.

On Oct. 25, 2005, Freshfields, UNEP FI, and others released "A Legal Framework for the Integration of Environmental, Social and Governance Issues into Institutional Investment." Release. One of their primary conclusions was that companies have a legal obligation, or at least are legally allowed, to address environmental issues in their decision-making. Many companies have been working under the assumption- often based on their attorney's advice - that the company's obligation to turn a profit trumps any obligation to address other issues, such as environmental or social concerns.A follow-up publication expected to have more information on financial and legal implications of climate change and other environmental topics, "The Working Capital Report," was scheduled to be published in March 2006, but has yet to be released. UNEP FI: Ken Maguire. For more information, see Mongabay.com news.

As companies, organizations, and individuals increasingly acknowledge climate change, there already have been numerous lawsuits. For a summary of many of the cases and issues involved, see "Global Warming In the Courts: An Overview of Current Litigation and Common Legal Issues," by Justin Pidot, Georgetown Environmental Law & Policy Institute, November 2006, and March 13, 2007, update.

Another resource is a book published in April 2007 by the American Bar Association, "Global Climate Change and U.S. Law," edited by Michael Gerrard.

For more information on the current Supreme Court case addressing EPA's potential regulation of vehicular carbon dioxide emissions (and links to attorneys involved), see the TipSheet of Nov. 8, 2006.

For more information about legal challenges in CA, other states, and Canada regarding vehicle contributions to climate change, see California Clean Cars Campaign.

Along with direct litigation, there are dozens of issues and legal roles tied to climate change that can be the focus of, or part of, your stories. Some examples:

  • greenhouse gas emissions trading
  • rising sea levels
  • ocean acidification
  • water quality
  • extreme weather events
  • designation and protection of endangered or threatened species
  • cross-border transport of air
  • fossil fuel and alternative energy plant construction and operation
  • vehicle fuel efficiency standards
  • land use
  • rights of native peoples
  • preparation and enforcement of government regulations, standards, permits, and licenses
  • government subsidies
  • state vs. federal rights and obligations
  • lobbying
  • risk disclosure
  • risk management
  • forced information disclosure
  • product liability
  • nuisance
  • trespass
  • negligence
  • misuse of utility ratepayer funds
  • investment strategy
  • real estate transactions
  • taxation
  • insurance
  • intellectual property, including patents
  • international trade and banking

For many years, numerous attorneys have been working in related fields, but until 2006, only a handful of US law firms had formally designated climate change as one of their areas of practice. In the second half of 2006 and early 2007, several other firms have followed suit.

Some of the more prominent ones touting their services, for companies, organizations, governments, or individuals, are listed below. There are offices of one firm or another throughout much of the US and in many cities around the world, increasing the odds there will be someone familiar with your area, or at least someone sort-of-local who can put you in touch with the company's or organization's experts. These lawyers may be involved with a case or development you're covering, or they may be able to provide outside commentary.

Once you start searching, you'll find other attorneys. For instance, a number of law schools have an environmental law clinic.

  • Baker Botts (offices in Austin; Dallas; Houston; New York City; Washington, DC; Dubai; Hong Kong; London; Moscow; Riyadh).Environmental/Air Lawyers list.
  • Baker & McKenzie (offices in Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Miami; New York; San Diego; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Toronto; and dozens of other cities around the world).
  • M.J. Bradley & Associates (offices or staff in Concord, MA; Manchester, NH; and Washington, DC).
  • Center for Biological Diversity (offices in Joshua Tree, CA; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Pinos Altos, NM; Portland, OR; San Diego; San Francisco; Shelter Cove, CA; Tucson; and Washington, DC).
  • Clifford Chance (offices in New York City; Washington, DC; and several dozen cities around the world);.
  • Conservation Law Foundation (offices in Boston; Brunswick, ME; Concord, NH; Montpelier, VT; Providence).
  • Covington & Burling (offices in New York City; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Brussels; London).
  • Davis Wright Tremaine (offices in Anchorage; Los Angeles; New York City; Portland; San Francisco; Seattle; Shanghai). Release.
  • Earthjustice (offices in Bozeman, MT; Denver; Honolulu; Juneau, AK; Oakland; Seattle; Tallahassee; Washington, DC).
  • Hogan & Hartson (offices in Baltimore; Boulder; Colorado Springs; Denver; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; Philadelphia; Washington, DC; Beijing; Berlin; Brussels; Caracas; Geneva; Hong Kong; London; Moscow; Munich; Paris; Shanghai; Tokyo; Warsaw).
  • Holland & Hart (offices in Aspen; Billings; Boise; Boulder; Cheyenne; Colorado Springs; Denver; Jackson, WY; Las Vegas; Salt Lake City; Santa Fe; Washington, DC). Release.
  • Hunton & Williams (offices in Atlanta; Charlotte; Dallas; Houston; Knoxville; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; Norfolk; Raleigh; Richmond; Washington, DC; Bangkok; Beijing; Brussels; London; Singapore).
  • Jenner & Block (offices in Chicago; Dallas; New York City; and Washington, DC).
  • Morrison & Foerster (offices in Denver; Los Angeles; New York City; Sacramento; San Diego; San Francisco; Washington, DC; Beijing; Brussels; Hong Kong; London; Shanghai; Singapore; Tokyo).
  • Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman (offices in Houston; Los Angeles; New York City; Sacramento; San Diego; San Francisco; London; Shanghai; Sydney; Tokyo). Release.
  • Van Ness Feldman (offices in Seattle; Washington, DC).