By Andrew Cohen
A generous gift commitment to the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) from Daniel Yost ’98 and his husband Paul Brody launched a program aimed at accelerating the pace of climate change response by California decision-makers. The new Sacramento Briefing Series will enhance ways to effectively bring top-quality research to legislators, their staff members, and the general public in a fervent effort to address rising concerns about rising temperatures.
A Bay Area-based technology transactions lawyer and former mayor of Woodside, California, Yost advises state and local officials on policies encouraging zero-emissions technologies. Working with CLEE as an advisory board member sparked his interest in creating the Ideas to Action Fund to fuel this new endeavor.
“There’s no shortage of high-level ideas to address climate change,” says Yost, a current or former board member of several environmental organizations. “Most people who have thought about it can rattle off a few ‘solutions’ to solve a piece of the problem if enacted. But there’s a shortage of thoughtful, well-researched policy proposals that reflect a knowledge of the regulatory landscape and fill existing gaps.
“Legislators are busy and the nature of the job is that most need to be generalists with some knowledge across a range of policy areas. The CLEE Sacramento Briefing Series is one way that legislators and their staffers can be brought up to speed on actions they can take to address key climate, energy, and environmental issues.”
The briefings will offer detailed policy ideas and inform legislative and policy action in pragmatic ways. This academic year, the center will deliver four or more state-level executive branch and/or legislative briefings to elected officials and their staff — and potentially to interested members of the public, philanthropic community, and media.
“This new effort will provide additional opportunities for us to share our work with policymakers,” CLEE Executive Director Louise Bedsworth says. “We are very fortunate to have received generous support from Daniel and Paul to support this initiative.”
California’s leading role
With its economic heft and influence, California has long been a pivotal player in addressing climate issues, and several key U.S. environmental laws originated there. But now, with one-third of the state legislature composed of new members, there’s a learning curve to meet.
The Sacramento Briefing Series seeks to leverage CLEE’s strength as a trusted and reliable source of information, enhance its strong connections with policymakers, address agency siloization to promote a more integrated policy approach, and extend the audience reach for the center’s reports.
Two recent briefings about CLEE’s recent work on water rights curtailments launched the program. Other topics may include a report on climate’s risk to the insurance sector led by former state insurance commissioner Dave Jones, the California-China Climate Institute briefing papers series identifying opportunities for U.S.-China collaboration, and forthcoming research from the Climate and Wildfire Institute.
“We’re at a critical point in addressing environmental problems,” Bedsworth says. “We need to increase the pace and scale of implementation and we’re hoping our work can help to make this happen. By engaging more with policymakers, we can share our work, but also learn about what they need to support action.”
Several state agencies the project has in mind are already CLEE funders and partners, including those focused on fire safety, water resources, environmental protection, and energy. Describing the center as an honest broker widely trusted to act in the public interest, Yost sees it well positioned to make a lasting impact.
“CLEE has the experience to develop thoughtful policy proposals and to evaluate proposals that are brought to them,” he says. “The goal of the Ideas to Action Fund is to turn good ideas — regardless of their source — into actions that legislators can take in CLEE’s areas of focus. The center’s priorities, including taking rapid action to address climate change, align with our own.”
In the spotlight
Yost and Bedsworth note that the federal system looks to states and localities to act as laboratories to experiment with new initiatives, and that any successful policy started in California stands a viable chance to be duplicated in other states, federally, or even internationally.
“CLEE is fortunate to be located in California, where we have robust policy frameworks and broad public and political support for environmental action,” Bedsworth says. “This allows us to really dig in on the nitty gritty of implementation and test and develop approaches that can be a model for other places. We hope that as we grow this new program, we’ll be able to reach policy audiences in California and beyond.”
Yost hopes the gift inspires others to offer pro bono assistance for climate nonprofits, spur their law firms to help CLEE develop new regulatory approaches, become involved in local community efforts on housing, building codes, and energy choice providers, and contribute financially.
“This is an all hands on deck moment for climate given the relatively slow pace of action up to this decade,” Yost says. “Each tenth of a degree matters and we’re not doing enough to limit warming. The good news is that many solutions — clean technologies and increasingly effective policies — are coming into view.
“Increasingly, the public sees the need for action and their elected officials are willing to act if they have well-designed policy options presented to them.”