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Big Law Firms Draft Model Climate Laws in Pro Bono Project

Sept. 26, 2019, 6:06 PM

More than 20 Big Law firms have signed on to a pro-bono project developing model laws and regulations aimed at helping cities and states fight climate change.

The effort is directed at increasing energy efficiency, reducing carbon spending, and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels. The models will establish frameworks for carrying out policy changes like regulations requiring more energy efficient buildings or easier permitting for offshore wind projects.

“Many elected officials realize that there’s intense interest from constituents in acting on climate change, so legislators are looking for very specific things to do,” said Michael Gerrard, a Columbia Law professor who teaches environmental law and is spearheading the project. “We’re trying to provide examples of that.”

The project follows policy recommendations made by Gerrard and Widener University law professor John Dernbach in their recent book, “Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States.”

Thirty-five chapters cover 35 policy topics, and suggest approximately 1,500 actions that might be taken at the federal, state and local levels to reduce climate change, Gerrard said. Several hundred of those will end up in the model laws.

“It’s mostly very specific things,” said Gerrard. “Many people propose sweeping federal laws. We decided to get more granular.”

At least 21 law firms so far have agreed to take on at least one chapter and draft model laws and regulations to fit the policy recommendations.

“There is a real hunger out there for law firms to take on pro bono matters that are interesting, and this serves to satisfy that hunger,” said Richard Horsch, a retired partner at Counsel at White & Case who leading the law firm recruiting effort.

Participating firms include White & Case, Allen & Overy, Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Davis Wright Tremaine, Ashurst, Morrison & Foerster, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Arnold & Porter. Not all participating firms have specialty practices in energy and environmental law, according to Horsch.

Several of these firms, including Morrison & Foerster, Wilson Sonsini, and Arnold & Porter, previously signed on to a $15 million pro bono project to provide free legal assistance to entrepreneurs and nonprofits working on sustainability and climate change issues.

While some law firms may have client conflicts that prevent them from drafting certain model climate laws, Gerrard and Horsch said there is something for everyone.

“A firm that is working for big fossil fuel companies would not want to draft a law that inhibits offshore oil drilling,” said Gerrard. “But they might not mind working on a law that requires more energy efficient buildings.”

Once finished, the model laws will be made publicly available on a website, beginning in early 2020. Meanwhile, Gerrard and Horsch are looking for interested lawmakers.

“We’re beginning the process of developing outreach so that we create demand and get these model documents in the hands of legislators who are interested in taking them, tweaking them and then ultimately adopting them,” said Horsch.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com