With the exception of the economy, how to address climate change could be the hottest topic for lawmakers this year. There are eleven major bills under consideration in Washington that spell-out ways to reduce greenhouse gases. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, academics here are putting those proposals under a legal microscope.
Victor Flatt is the AL O’Quinn Chair in Environmental Law at the University of Houston Law Center. He’s one of dozens of legal experts hard at work dissecting the major climate change bills.
“There’s no more cutting-edge question than what we’re going to do about global warming and how that’s going to affect both the actual natural environment and the business environment.”
It’s billed as the first major legal academic examination of congressional proposals to address climate change. Flatt and others say things have progressed quickly when it comes to changes in the environment.
“I’ve been in teaching environment and law for 15 years. I have never seen an issue come to the floor so rapidly and so quickly and in the public consciousness as climate change has in the last two years and I think that’s why we’re seeing bills in Congress now. We’ve had lots of talk. We’ve had a few bills introduced, but we’ve never seen them get out of committee until this year.”
Possibly the most well-known of the bills, the Lieberman-Warner bill, addresses things like limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Other similar bills, like the McCain-Lieberman bill, address similar climate change concerns. Margaret Hoffman is of the former director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and now works for Chevron. She says lawmakers have to weigh the good and the bad.
“To contemplate reducing the amount of energy that’s available to the world in any large quantity has enormous potential economic and political effects that everybody needs to dissect carefully. We can’t afford to wreck the world’s economy over the next five years by doing things that are untried, untrue, that we haven’t considered carefully before we head off into them.”
Hoffman says without a doubt, the issue of climate change has come out of the shadows.
“Climate change has finally captured the attention and the imagination of the ordinary folks who are driving cars and paying their electric bills. It’s going to be on the forefront of the legislative sessions of both the Congress and the states, not to mention many, many countries. It’s in the forefront in the European Union. As soon as we get the economy settled down in the United States, it’s going to be the one issue that everybody is concentrating on.”
The recent climate change symposium was sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Law and Policy Journal at the University of Houston Law Center.