By Andrew Cohen
The fast-rising importance of energy issues, and their link to the environment, is reshaping the work of a Berkeley Law think tank and prompting it to change its name.
The newly minted Center for Law, Energy, & the Environment (CLEE) has tackled energy matters since its inception in 2006 under the name California Center for Environmental Law & Policy. But the more it emerged as a player at the intersection of energy and environmental policy, the more it saw fit to highlight that fact.
“Considering about 80 percent of climate change challenges have an energy component, that intersection is extremely important,” says Rick Frank, CLEE’s executive director. “The name change is reflective of our adding talented staff in the energy arena and putting a greater emphasis on these issues as they affect the environment.”
CLEE’s energy leaders are helping California transition to renewable energy sources and crafting reforms that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improved fuel standards, more efficient vehicles, and low carbon thresholds. The center is also working with state leaders on revising transportation and land-use policy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
True to its collaborative mission, CLEE partners actively with many other units—on campus, in California, and across the nation—and hopes to have an oversight role on energy policies and programs.
“Our position within UC Berkeley is a tremendous asset,” says Frank. “The partnering opportunities are phenomenal.” By collaborating with the UC Energy Institute, Haas School of Business, Goldman School of Public Policy, Berkeley Institute for the Environment, and Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative, among others, Frank says CLEE “fosters interdisciplinary research truly geared toward practical public policy solutions.”
Steve Weissman spearheads CLEE’s energy work as its associate director for energy law and policy. Hired in September 2008, he was an administrative law judge and policy advisor for the California Public Utilities Commission and created its alternative dispute resolution program. Weissman has also drafted legislation and written guidebooks on several energy-related issues, and he recently developed a popular energy policy course that he teaches at Berkeley Law.
Further fortifying CLEE’s energy mettle is Professor Dan Farber, faculty director of the law school’s highly regarded environmental law program. The program has received more than 20,000 viewings worldwide of its online environmental law and energy law classes. Farber also heads the Energy and Resources Group, a campus-wide unit that promotes sustainable energy programs.
Along with Frank, Weissman and Farber are guiding CLEE’s work on several projects that will affect energy policy and confront pressing societal concerns.
One of those projects is AB 32, the California bill that established a groundbreaking program to achieve quantifiable, cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Among other things, the center is analyzing problems that could stall the new program, facilitating stakeholder workshops, vetting draft reports with agency leaders, and offering legislative briefings.
The think tank is also helping implement California SB 375, which took effect January 1. This bill ties regional and municipal planning efforts to greenhouse gas reduction targets. Partnering with UCLA’s law school, CLEE will conduct a series of workshops on these issues, starting with one in March at UCLA that focuses on SB 375 followed by one in June at Berkeley Law that explores barriers to renewable energy.
Filling an oversight void
“The state’s programs and policies are cause for great hope,” says Weissman. “But success will require constant vigilance and adjustment, careful coordination among lawmakers and regulatory agencies, and real innovation. There’s currently no neutral organization conducting oversight of these efforts, reporting the success and failure of various programs to the public, or comprehensively developing and proposing improvements.”
Other energy-related CLEE programs include crafting a plan to eliminate all direct carbon emissions from U.S. electricity plants, reducing the amount of energy needed to deliver water, and researching state initiatives to help form a renewable energy program that doesn’t overly restrict interstate commerce.
The center is also working to ensure that energy policies don’t unfairly burden low-income neighborhoods, and researching why thin film solar cells currently affixed to buildings and generating electricity in parts of Europe aren’t reaching similar penetration levels in the U.S.
“People have worked on some of these issues for a long time but now energy policy really is on the front burner,” Farber says. “Given the seriousness of the challenges involved, I don’t think that should change anytime soon.”