Legal Liability Could Catalyze Action on Climate Change

Authors   Deanna Moran and Elena Mihaly

Extreme weather events, like hurricanes and droughts, cost the U.S. billions of dollars every year. The magnitude and frequency of these events is only intensifying in the face of climate change. The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most expensive in history, causing more than $200 billion in damage nationwide.

As climate disruption escalates and wreaks more havoc, so too do the number and type of legal claims seeking compensation for harm. With increasingly sophisticated weather modeling, state and federal courts are seeing an uptick in the number of cases alleging public entities (like a city or a water reclamation district) and private entities (like engineers and architects) negligently failed to prepare for known climate risks. This increased legal liability could become an important lever in compelling action on climate change.

Public and private decision makers are starting to take notice of the increasing financial and safety risks associated with climate change. In 2017, the credit rating agency Moody’s Corporation warned cities that climate change would be incorporated into its credit ratings for state and local bonds and that failure to address climate-related risks could result in a downgrade. Also in 2017, the global Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures developed a recommended set of voluntary climate-related financial disclosures to assist investors, lenders, and insurance underwriters in understanding material risks posed by climate change.

But these warnings and voluntary recommendations have not resulted in the significant adoption of adaptation practices necessary to prepare for the known impacts of climate change. Rather, the majority of our regulatory, planning, and land use decisions are still based on backward-looking climate data and outdated science. That is, few cities or states require consideration of forward-looking climate science in decisions around new development, siting of critical infrastructure and hazardous facilities, and other crucial planning choices.

This failure to incorporate readily available and increasingly sophisticated climate science (e.g., projected sea level rise or storm surge) into design and siting decisions unacceptably exacerbates the risks of climate change – particularly for socially and economically vulnerable populations that are most at risk.

Litigation has long been recognized as a tool for compelling change in individual behaviors and industry standards, often serving as a stopgap where existing government regulations are inadequate. For example, litigation against tobacco companies helped raise awareness about the health impacts from smoking and played a part in spurring stricter regulations on cigarette manufacturing and marketing.

In the climate change context, we’re seeing an evolution of different legal strategies being employed to affect changed behavior and standards. Some plaintiffs have attempted to hold big greenhouse gas emitters like oil and gas companies accountable for contributing to the harms of climate change. But these suits have been largely unsuccessful to date. This is because causation is much more difficult to demonstrate than in the tobacco cases, and plaintiffs face potential preemption challenges due to the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.

Given these barriers, we are now seeing an increasing trend in cases seeking to hold public and private decision makers accountable for failing to adapt to foreseeable climate risks. For instance, in 2013, catastrophic flooding in Chicago resulted in millions of dollars in property damage. In 2014 Farmers Insurance Company filed a landmark class action lawsuit against the Water Reclamation District for greater Chicago for its failure to adequately prepare the city’s stormwater infrastructure for foreseeable extreme heavy rains due to climate change.

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America’s Management of Urban Forests Has Room for Improvement

Natural forests require only a light touch of management mostly to counter the negative effects of human encroachment.  Urban forests on the other hand require serious protection and management thanks to the pressures placed upon them by citizens.  Here are some ways to improve management of urban forests: Rick Coates

Author Amanda Kolson Hurley Mar 25, 2019

Forested areas in cities may seem best left untouched, but it’s a common misconception that they can take care of themselves, according to Sarah Charlop-Powers, executive director of New York City’s Natural Areas Conservancy.“We need to undo the conception that natural areas are inherently self-sustaining,” she said. “We need to start thinking of [them] as one more type of urban parkland, and we’d never say: ‘We built that playground; we don’t need to check and make sure the equipment is in good working order.’”That’s one conclusion to be drawn from a survey of managers of urban forests that Charlop’s group conducted with the Trust for Public Land and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. It’s the first national survey of people who oversee America’s “urban forested natural areas”—that is, native habitats and woods in cities, which account for 84 percent of urban parkland nationwide, according to the Trust for Public Land. (Technically, the term “urban forest” refers to all trees in a city; I use it here as shorthand for forested natural areas.)

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US climate policy must protect forests and communities, not the forest industry

Author :

The introduction of The Green New Deal resolution and the appointment of a House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, has propelled climate change back into the national policy debate. That’s why today, on the International Day of Forests, hundreds of citizens across the nation are urging members of Congress to stand up and protect America’s forests and to hold the US forest industry accountable for its contribution to climate change.

Forests play a vital, yet often misunderstood, role in solving the climate crisis. When disturbed they release carbon, but when left to grow they actively pull carbon out of the air and store it while simultaneously cooling the air, providing natural flood control, stabilizing fresh water supplies and supporting biodiversity.

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Are we going in the right direction?

March 8th,  2019

Hello, friends of Napa County’s watersheds and water protectors. We hope this finds you well.  First, in case you missed it, a Letter to the Editor from Mike Hackett with some clarifications post-Measure C.

We also wanted to give you just a quick report, with more to come, on the March 6th Planning Commission meeting of the Draft water quality and tree protection ordinance, and a few other items we think will be of interest.

You may have seen the Register article summarizing the meeting. If not, you can read it here:

If you would like to watch the video of the proceedings, you can do so here:

Following public testimony, deliberations by the Commission begin around the 3hr 3 minute mark.

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