Professor Esty Publishes Article on 21st Century Sustainability Strategy

Yale Law School: Monday, May 15, 2017

Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy Dan Esty ’86 recently published an article in Environmental Law outlining his vision for a new era in environmental sustainability strategy. The journal is the nation’s oldest law review dedicated solely to environmental issues run by students of Lewis & Clark Law School.

Titled “Red Lights to Green Lights: From 20th Century Environmental Regulation to 21st Century Sustainability,” the article calls for a modern-day sustainability strategy that builds on the successes of the 20th century command-and-control approach but integrates advances in data and information while incorporating lessons learned from the private sector.

The article outlines how 20th-century environmental protection efforts delivered significant improvements in America’s air and water quality and led companies to manage their waste, use of toxic substances, and other environmental impacts with much greater care. But that progress slowed due to the limits of the regulatory model being reached, resulting in deadlock that has not been beneficial to environmental policy, Esty argues.

In calling for a new sustainability strategy, Esty makes the case for a transformed legal framework that prioritizes innovation, requires payment of “harm charges” and an “end to externalities,” and shifts toward market-based regulatory strategies that expand business and individual choices rather than government mandates.

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Climate action needs green, not just red lights

The Guardian; April 28, 2017

In the twentieth century environmental protection centred on national government regulations and standards, often requiring emitters to install mandated pollution control equipment. This approach delivered some gains: across Europe and North America, the air is now much cleaner and rivers, streams, and lakes are less polluted. But such “command and control” regulation has not delivered much progress on some other big issues endangering the global commons, including climate change.

Despite more than two decades of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions have continued to rise – threatening to produce global warming, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense hurricanes, changed rainfall patterns, more floods and droughts, and diminished farm productivity in many places. This failure can be traced to structural flaws in the past global response to climate change.

The 20th century regulatory model, on which the 1992 treaty builds, makes what could be called the “lawyer’s mistake” of assuming it is enough to pass a law, draft regulations, or sign an international agreement. Telling people, particularly in the corporate world, what not to do is insufficient. What is really needed is a framework of incentives that changes behaviour and induces innovation to solve problems.

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Legal headaches await efforts to ax social cost of carbon

E&E News; February 13, 2017

Gutting a controversial method that federal agencies use to weigh climate change damages could come at a high legal price, analysts say.

Under the Obama administration, agencies used a metric, known as the social cost of carbon, to estimate the hidden costs of carbon dioxide emissions. That is, they assigned a dollar value to asthma attacks exacerbated by poor air quality or damage wrought by rising seas.

This system — part of the cost-benefit analysis the Obama administration used to determine whether it made financial sense for regulations to move forward — is widely expected to fall out of favor in the Trump era. The president and his leadership, after all, have expressed basic doubts about the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans cause climate change. Far from controlling emissions, they have vowed to roll back existing regulations.

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Environmental Policy Predictions Under the Trump Administration: A Q&A with Professor Dan Esty and a friendly reminder to “just breathe”

Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy; January 17, 2017

Although President-elect Trump has made his opinions widely known, his plans for acting on those statements remain unclear and undefined—leaving a void filled with speculation and conjecture.

On the environment, Trump has stated his intention to dismantle the EPA, unravel the Clean Power Plan, and cancel the Paris Climate Change Agreement. While Trump will exercise executive power, he will not exercise absolute power, and his actions are limited in several key ways. To clarify some of the lurking unknowns and understand Trump’s limitations regarding environmental policies, I sat down with Professor Dan Esty, Director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Hillhouse Professor at Yale University.   

Professor Esty, many of us are very concerned that exactly when we need to buckle down on climate change, President-elect Trump appears determined to unravel any progress that’s been made. Are we doomed?

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