Climate change spilled over into the nation’s laws and policies in recent days, giving environmentalists plenty of fodder for public interest lawsuits.
Part of the problem is that everyone has a different idea on how the laws should be applied.
One of the disputes contributed to the firing of former D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer in December. She filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit by several states against the Environmental Protection Agency. The states want the EPA to limit aircraft emissions.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s staff was upset that Ms. Singer filed the brief without first consulting them, which was one of several disagreements that preceded her departure.
Last month, the District joined 12 states in another lawsuit against the EPA. It seeks to force the federal agency to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions from oil refineries that contribute to global warming.
State global warming initiatives include caps on industrial and transportation emissions in Florida and California, mandatory recycling by state agencies in Wisconsin and incentives for businesses to use energy-efficient lighting in Colorado.
“There’s a laundry list for every state,” said Tony Kreindler, spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group.
The federal government made its latest environmental effort last week when the Senate approved tax credits for use of energy-efficient equipment, despite warnings from some Republicans the credits would add to the deficit.
Internationally, a shrinking Arctic ice sheet has opened commercial opportunities that demand the United States participate in an international treaty on the law of the sea, said John Norton Moore, a University of Virginia law professor specializing in the law of the sea.
He is one of more than half a dozen law professors gathering this week in Los Angeles to discuss how global warming and receding Arctic ice are challenging federal and international lawmakers.
Mr. Moore is scheduled to be a speaker during the seminar on Arctic sovereignty this week at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles. A State Department attorney also plans to attend.
Eventually, a Northwest Passage above Canada and Alaska’s northern shores would result in a “reduced cost of shipping,” Mr. Moore said. “That in turn would reduce the cost of certain imported goods.”
In addition, the northern continental shelf of Canada and Alaska could offer “substantial oil and gas reserves” as the ice clears, he said.
In the competition between nations to make the first grab at oil and gas exploration, disputes have arisen about who gets the rights to which piece of property.
Legal disputes are supposed to be determined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Mr. Moore said.
“It’s been a very popular subject lately,” he said.
In California and elsewhere, global warming is a very unpopular subject with real estate developers.
Environmental groups have been suing them under the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act, which requires developers to document the extent to which their projects could affect the environment.
The law does not specifically mention global warming, but environmentalists say it is implied.
The courts are trying to define limits of the law. So far this year, six rulings have split on whether developers must assess the extent their projects contribute to global warming.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have similar laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions, providing a wealth of opportunity for more environmental lawsuits.
Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have joined the fray. They both want to develop new low-pollution technologies and cap greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. McCain wants to set of a goal of a 66 percent reduction by 2050. Mr. Obama wants an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
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