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Climate Law Institute
Environment News Service, February 13, 2009

Center for Biological Diversity Declares Legal War on Global Warming

SAN FRANCISCO, California - To fight climate change, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity Thursday opened a new law institute in San Francisco and announced the dedication of an initial $17 million to the project.

The Climate Law Institute will use existing laws and work to establish new state and federal laws that will eliminate energy generation by the burning of fossil fuels - particularly coal and oil shale.

Burning these materials emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that have already raised the planetary temperature, threatening the widespread extinction of species, sea level rise and ocean acidity, food and water scarcity, heatwaves, wildfires and floods.

"Global warming is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. It is the defining issue of our time," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center.

"To meet the challenge, the Center for Biological Diversity has created the Climate Law Institute to extend the reach of current environmental and human health laws to encompass global warming, pass new climate legislation, and reinvent America's approach to protecting endangered species and public lands," he said.

"The planet can not afford a single new coal-fired power plant," said Suckling. "It can't even afford existing coal plants. Working with partners in government and the environmental movement, the Center for Biological Diversity will ensure America moves beyond coal energy as rapidly as possible. Our lives depend on it."

Since the early 1990s the Center has used existing laws and advocated for new laws and policies to protect rare and imperiled species, first in the Southwest, and later across the country. With the creation of the Climate Law Institute, the group is reorganizing to integrate global warming into all of its activities.

The institute will be directed by attorney Kassie Siegel, the current director of the Center's Climate, Air, and Energy program. That program will be replaced by the new institute, which will expand and direct climate change work across all of the Center's programs to protect biodiversity, oceans, public lands and urban wildlands.

Siegel authored the scientific petition and argued the legal case that won Endangered Species Act protection for the polar bear due to global warming in 2008.

Siegel was named California Lawyer of the Year for successfully arguing a 2007 case that overturned inadequate federal fuel-economy standards for failing to consider their contribution to global warming. She shared this award with the Climate Law Institute advisory board member Deborah Sivas, who serves as director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic.

In 2006, Siegel brought a successful case under the Global Change Research Act, forcing the Bush administration to release suppressed studies documenting the ecological, economic, and human health impacts of global warming.

The primary goals of the Climate Law Institute are to:

* Establish legal precedents requiring existing environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Protection Act, Clean Water Act, and the California Environmental Quality Act to be fully implemented to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, land management, and wildlife management

* Establish new state and federal environmental laws and policies to rein in global warming

* Ensure all new laws and policies are judged against the scientific standard of whether they will lead to a reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide from the current level of 385 parts per million to below 350 ppm

* Prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants and coal mines while quickly phasing out existing coal-fired power plants

* Prevent the creation of an oil-shale or tar sands energy sector

* Reverse the deadly process of ocean acidification

* Prevent the loss of Arctic ice cover and likely runaway global warming that would ensue

"Climate change is a crisis we don't need and can't afford. It's time to kick the fossil fuel addiction once and for all," said Climate Law Institute advisory board member Patrick Parenteau, professor of law at the Vermont Law School. "Environmental protection in the U.S. has always revolved around the creation and interpretation of law. The Climate Law Institute is an exciting and necessary effort to fast-track the development of climate change case law."

Initial funding of $6.3 million for the Climate Law Institute has been provided by the California Community Foundation, The Sandler Foundation, The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, and others.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton