By Ben Sonnenfeldt
On April 16, 2016, Pace Law School hosted the 22nd Annual Lloyd K. Garrison Lecture on Environmental Law. This years featured speaker was Michael B. Gerrard, a distinguished attorney and professor in the fields of energy regulation, environmental law, and climate change law. Mr. Gerrard is currently the Chair of the Faculty of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and is also the Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Mr. Gerrard is also Senior Counsel at Arnold & Porter LLP and has published a variety of books, practice guides, and textbooks.
In 2015, Paris hosted the United Nations climate conference. At this conference, 196 attending parties agreed that in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, global average temperatures must be limited to less than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Mr. Gerrard’s presentation focused on the Paris Agreement, which was negotiated at the climate conference, and how current land use and environmental law is fundamentally incapable of meeting the goals it set forth.
He began by discussing the need for global change from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. Certain alternatives to fossil fuels that were outlined were the heightened use of solar power, wind farms, and the production of renewable energy. Mr. Gerrard employed various charts and graphs to demonstrate how the United States could harness clean energy, specifically through the use of additional wind farms.
Many of the locations of these wind farms would be offshore, as the coasts of the United States are ideal areas for producing energy through wind turbines. As an example of the challenges faced with offshore wind production, he discussed the Cape Wind Project and the problems it has faced in hopefully becoming the United State’s first offshore wind farm. The permit applications for this project’s construction were filed in 2001. Despite the fact that the deal for the wind farm closed in 2015, construction has yet to commence.
With regards to onshore wind sites, Mr. Gerrard described the opposition that proponents of these wind farms face. A number of lawsuits have been brought under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, alleging that onshore wind farms could kill endangered species of birds that migrate through areas where the wind farms would be constructed. He also discussed the visual impact argument that people use to challenge onshore wind farm construction.
In response to this opposition, Mr. Gerrard essentially stated that the need for clean energy trumps the need for protection of endangered species and visually appealing vistas. He supported this argument by stating that the consequences of not making these changes would be the loss of places such as Bangladesh and New York City due to flooding. This flooding would also lead to the extinction of entire species of animals.
Overall, Mr. Gerrard delivered a profound and alarming message to the attendees of the Garrison Lecture this year. His message will not be lost on the Environmental law students and faculty of Pace Law School who work tirelessly in and outside of our school to maintain our environment, and to ensure that this world is habitable for many generations to come.