City Climate Change Law Clinics

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We’ve partnered with The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law to answer your questions at the intersection of climate, law and policy.

Note: These sessions will not be recorded or shared. Please join us live on the day of each clinic.

Solving the climate crisis requires profound changes in the behavior of local governments. Meanwhile, a complex legal structure influenced by federal, state, and local laws can confound local climate policies. While environmental and energy law tend to be at the center of this structure, many other areas of law play important roles—corporate, securities, real estate, property, international trade, intellectual property, tax, human rights, contracts, criminal, and others. 

ICLEI has partnered with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, housed in Columbia University Law School, to help our members tackle some of the questions they face. Across five 1-hour, open-conversation clinics, Sabin Center experts can help you solve the operational challenges you face—through legal compulsion, where necessary.

Bring your questions to ICLEI staff and Sabin Center’s dedicated lawyers, who understand the profound implications of what might seem like subtle differences in statutory or regulatory language in our series of safe, unrecorded calls. These calls are open to government staff in ICLEI member cities, towns, and counties only.

Contact: Tom Herrod and Kale Roberts at iclei-usa@iclei.org for information.

Clinic 1: Municipal natural gas bans and all-electric construction requirements

April 20 | 1pm Eastern

Local governments across the U.S. are beginning to consider phasing out natural gas use from new buildings through bans on new natural gas connections or through all-electric or electric-incentivized building codes. Due to limitations of state law, cities’, towns’, and counties’ ability to enact these types of requirements varies considerably across localities. Join us for a discussion and opportunity to ask questions about this evolving area of building decarbonization.

Questions you might ask:

  • Why do some municipalities enact all-electric construction codes while others prohibit new natural gas connection outright?
  • What options does my local government have if we don’t have local building code authority?
  • What if my state legislature has preempted natural gas bans?

Clinic 2: Building performance standards

May 18 | 1pm Eastern

Building performance standards are performance-based requirements for existing buildings — they set an energy use or carbon emissions cap or standard based on a building’s size and use type. Performance-based requirements can be contrasted to prescriptive requirements, which expressly require measures like fuel switching or weatherization measures.

Questions you might ask:

  • What are the differences between the building performance standards that have been enacted in cities like New York, Washington, DC and St. Louis?
  • Can my local government enact a building performance standard if we do not have building code authority?
  • How can/should building performance standards be used alongside other building requirements?

Clinic 3: Federal preemption of state and local vehicle standards

June 15 | 1pm Eastern

Federal laws like the U.S. Clean Air Act and the U.S. Energy Policy & Conservation Act restrict states and local governments from enacting certain types of vehicle standards. How does this play into local policies like congestion pricing and low emissions zones?

Questions you might ask:

  • Why can’t local governments in the U.S. allow only low-emissions vehicles into downtown areas, as in London’s low emissions zone (LEZ)?
  • What do these federal laws have to do with regulating taxis and TNC vehicles like Ubers and Lyfts? Can cities require these vehicles to be electric?
  • What else can a city do to scale up electric vehicles given these federal law constraints?

Clinic 4: Carbon taxes, fees or other charges

July 20 | 1pm Eastern

Some cities have considered taxing or otherwise imposing a fee on carbon emissions or a subset of carbon emissions — perhaps on building emissions or on miles driven. Local authority to impose taxes and fees varies depending on state law. 

Questions you might ask:

  • What is the difference between a tax, a fee, and a penalty?
  • My city does not have authority to impose new taxes. What steps can we take to ensure a charge is viewed as a fee and not a tax?

Clinic 5: City engagement in Public Utilities Commissions proceedings.

September 21 | 1pm Eastern

Description coming soon.


About the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law
The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law develops legal techniques to fight climate change, trains law students and lawyers in their use, and provides the public with up-to-date resources on key topics in climate law and regulation. We work closely with the scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and with governmental, nongovernmental and academic organizations. Our activities are spearheaded by Michael Gerrard, Faculty Director of the Sabin Center and Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School, and Michael Burger, Executive Director of the Sabin Center and Senior Research Scholar at Columbia Law School.

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