The War on Global Warming Creates Career Opportunities
David A. Cetola
David A. Cetola is an associate at McRoberts, Roberts & Rainer, LLP in Boston, focusing in environmental litigation and land use regulation. He is a member of the ABA’s Environment, Energy & Resources Section, and Young Lawyers Division. Contact him at dcetola@mcrobertslaw.com.
Everyone has heard of global warming—the rise in temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere attributable primarily to human activities such as the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation. But are you aware that impending regional and proposed national programs designed to address this problem offer new opportunities for young lawyers in the emerging climate change industry?
Most developed nations agreed to set mandatory time lines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by ratifying the international Kyoto Protocol, which established programs to address global warming. The Bush administration decided not to bind the United States to a mandatory timetable, citing both the potentially disastrous effect it might have on the U.S. economy and an unwillingness to participate if rapid-growth countries such as China and India would not similarly commit.
In the absence of a federal regulatory program to reduce GHG emissions, 10 states in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region developed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which goes into effect in 2009. RGGI established a network of individual cap-and-trade programs to regulate carbon dioxide (CO 2) emissions from power plants within each member state. RGGI’s cap-and-trade program set an overall limit on CO 2 emissions (the “Cap”) permitted across the region during a three-year compliance period. Each member state is assigned a portion of the Cap based on such factors as its past emissions levels, electricity consumption, and population. Every year, each state will distribute its allowances (one allowance equals one ton of CO 2 emitted) through an auction system. Individual power plants can buy, sell, and trade the allowances in the open market.
RGGI looks to be only the beginning of GHG emissions regulation, as a national program may be on the horizon. In October 2007, the America’s Climate Security Act (ACSA) was introduced; it proposes a national cap-and-trade program that encompasses the regulation of the five primary GHGs (not just CO 2). Its aim is to achieve a 70 percent reduction (from 2005 levels) in GHG emissions nationwide by 2050. In December 2007, ACSA was approved by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, becoming the first comprehensive global warming bill to make it through a committee of Congress.
With GHG emissions reduction regulations, and the cap-and-trade programs they create, exciting opportunities open for young lawyers. They include:
  • Allowance purchase and trading: Regulated entities will need counsel during the purchase of allowances in the auction market, and the purchase and trading of allowances on the secondary market. It is anticipated that financial institutions, environmental groups, and non-regulated sources will also participate in the marketplace for allowances.
  • Renewable energy project investment: Due to added costs associated with emission regulation and the ability for regulated entities to obtain offsets to satisfy a percentage of their compliance obligation, such entities will look to invest in emission reduction and renewable energy projects, requiring counsel in the development, permit, and offset certification process for these projects.
  • Due diligence: Potential lenders, investors, and business partners will require increased due diligence prior to entering into transactions with regulated entities.
  • Enforcement: When dealing in any regulatory framework, violations can and will occur requiring assistance of counsel.
With RGGI’s impending implementation and a national program seemingly on the horizon, it is clear that GHG emissions regulation will only grow from here. Only time will tell how effective these programs are at achieving their goals; however, as regulations get phased in, work groups within firms and regulatory agencies will also need to grow in order to meet the legal needs that the programs create. With this expansion come unique and challenging career opportunities for young lawyers eager to develop along with the emerging climate change field.
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