Professor Joseph A. MacDougald '96, executive director of the Law School's Center for Energy and Environmental Law, provided UConn Today with a Q&A about the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Utilities Air Group v. Environmental Protection Agency which challenged the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Below is an excerpt from the UConn Today story.
Q. Why is climate change a hard problem for the law to address?
A. I tell my Climate Law students that climate change represents one of the “big ones” in law – the hard problems. Our whole legal system is based on drawing fixed lines on the ground. Property rights used to be measured using rivers and streams as boundaries. Even today, surveyors throughout Connecticut think they know where a wetlands boundary is because they measured it. Naturalists know where an endangered species lives because they surveyed it. Homeowners know that beach houses own the property in front of them as far as the mean high tide line. Climate change challenges the static boundaries that make up legal rights, as rivers, animal ranges, and sea levels move more rapidly than ever before. What if the high property tax-paying coastal properties become less viable over time? What if an entire village in Alaska, like the native village of Kivalina, has to move because of sea level rise? Who bears the burden for a climatic harm that has been building up over centuries? And finally, how should the law address man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, the primary cause of climate change?