X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
SACRAMENTO � When Cliff Rechtschaffen’s phone rings these days, the caller might be yet another environmental law conference organizer seeking his presence on a panel. Or it might be a Swiss government official asking about the attorney general’s views on cement plant emissions. It might even be a reporter calling with a tedious question about the latest decision in a fuel standards lawsuit. When you’re Jerry Brown’s special assistant for climate change � the hot topic in environmental law and politics today � everybody, it seems, wants to bend your ear. And who can blame them? The global warming lawsuits and opinions produced by a small cadre of lawyers in the attorney general’s office have been joined and emulated by states across the country over the last five years. What starts in state offices in Sacramento and Oakland can eventually affect millions of residents and thousands of businesses inside and outside of California’s borders. “I think it’s the compelling issue of our time, and we’re at ground zero here in California,” said Rechtschaffen, a professor who took a leave of absence from Golden Gate University School of Law last summer to become Brown’s point man on global warming. “What we’re doing here is literally being watched around the country and the world.” Ever since California lawmakers enacted landmark global emissions standards (.pdf)for vehicles in 2002, the state’s deputy attorneys general have been at the forefront of climate change litigation. But a series of political and social events over the next few years would really focus public attention on their work. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected in 2003, becoming one of the first Republicans to champion the fight against global warming. Former Vice President Al Gore launched a famous slide show and movieabout the effects of rising temperatures on Earth. New Orleans flooded. And, even though much of the attorney general’s climate change agenda germinated during Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s tenure, Jerry Brown took office in 2007 and soon made it clear that reducing global warming would be his No. 1 priority. Although they’ve had their squabbles, Schwarzenegger calls Brown his “ecowarrior.” All of this happened at a time when the federal government under the Bush administration was taking a less active role in environmental and consumer protections, opening the door for California and other states to shape global warming regulations. “The most prominent re-emergence in environmental law has occurred around climate change, where it’s become quite clear that the federal government is not moving on that issue,” said Lee Paddock, associate dean for environmental studies at George Washington University Law School. A SPOTLIGHT ON DEVELOPMENT Today, more than a dozen lawyers from various units within the California attorney general’s office work on global warming issues. They are veterans of the department, some having spent more than 20 years as a state attorney. And while they may occasionally disagree with each other on tactics, they agree passionately on the reality of global warming and the state’s efforts to combat it. A federal judge rejected their novel argument that vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions constitute a public nuisance, but they’re appealing. They’ve successfully defended the state’s emissions standardsfrom automakers before another federal judge. They’ve petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency for new emissions ruleson ships and planes, and they’re suing the EPA for not granting California the power to curb tailpipe gases. And they’re studying the Clean Air Act and other laws for the power to do even more. “There’s a good solid group of people who have been in this office a long time and are really committed to the work we’re doing,” said Janill Richards, a 10-year veteran in the environmental section. “It would be much better if there was leadership at the federal level, but that’s not the case. I don’t think there’s a better place to do this kind of work.” Richards is one of the lawyers who reviews development projectsaround the state for Brown, to see if planners have adequately considered their potential impact on global warming. The practice first started in 2006 when Lockyer advised Orange County leaders to weigh the effects of a massive freeway construction plan. But it gained widespread notoriety last year when Brown sued San Bernardino County for what he said was a failure to mitigate the impacts of new development in the fast-growing region. Susan Durbin, a deputy attorney general who handled the case, said the lawsuit stemmed from the Legislature’s passage of AB 32, the 2006 law that requires the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. If California is going to meet that goal, Brown has argued, cities and counties are going to have to weigh the impact of new residents, new houses and more cars on the road. “It just seemed very natural to look at what San Bernardino was planning for,” Durbin said. Brown eventually dropped the lawsuit after San Bernardino County leaders agreed to measure some emission levels and mitigate their effects. But the ensuing anger from some politicians and the building industry contributed to a state budget stalemate. That wasn’t broken until Democrats agreed to temporarily curb Brown’s ability to challenge some projects, although some disagree about that law’s enforceability. Whether he’s been reined in or not, it’s clear that the attorney general’s move to tie development to global warming under California’s Environmental Quality Act has changed land use planning in California. In 2006, two environmental review documents filed in the state mentioned global warming, according to the governor’s Office on Planning and Research. In 2007, 146 documents considered their projects’ impacts on climate change. “It’s become a fixture on the CEQA landscape,” said Michael Zischke, a land use specialist with Cox Castle & Nicholson. But Zischke and others who represent project developers and planning agencies said that, despite the AG’s zeal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, no one can say definitively how much development contributes to global warming or how to effectively mitigate those effects. “I think it’s caused a tremendous amount of confusion and frustration � and a tremendous amount of consultant and legal work,” Zischke said of the AG’s global warming policies. Rechtschaffen admitted that there’s “no one right answer” to reducing global warming, through land use policies, car emission restrictions or other legal efforts. But he defends the attorney general’s attempts to try to do something. “The combination of all these things has made a marked difference,” he said, “and we’re very happy about that.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.