The Center for Law, Energy, & the Environment (CLEE) believes solving our most pressing environmental challenges requires actionable research, training, and engagement to accelerate the implementation of solutions.
CLEE tackles climate change and other environmental challenges at the local to global scale through the development and implementation of equitable and effective legal and policy solutions. Our expert staff leverages the world’s leading public research university to engage community leaders, government, business, and other stakeholders; to lead timely and practical research initiatives; and to train leaders to take action on our most pressing environmental problems.
- Pragmatism: CLEE focuses on answering “how” questions and implementing timely and practical climate and environmental solutions
- Collaboration: CLEE convenes policymakers, stakeholders, and other interested parties to tackle complex problems
- Integration: CLEE builds expert multidisciplinary teams to solve problems
- Equity: CLEE is committed to representing and including diverse perspectives to design and implement equitable solutions
- Experience: CLEE’s experienced team of government leaders and experts brings invaluable practical knowledge to our work
In the News
How are wildfires impacting California, and how are those impacts evolving? A wide variety of wildfire impacts are either not tracked or not reported, thereby limiting our ability to make informed decisions in wildfire mitigation and recovery efforts. And this truncated access to essential information and data has the potential to lead us to unsustainable solutions; for example, if we judge wildfire impacts by the number of acres burned each year and focus primarily on reducing that number, the rational response might be to bolster fire suppression. To do so, however, would ignore a wide range of other social and ecological impacts and the opportunity to improve overall ecological and community health and resilience.
The California’s Year in Fire project, in partnership with the Climate & Wildfire Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, advances a framework for a more complete picture of evolving impacts and consequences, and provides more robust data points to inform meaningful solutions.
California’s goal to eliminate internal combustion engine sales by 2035 poses challenges for lower- and moderate-income residents, hindering their access to electric vehicles (EVs). Barriers include limited EV charging stations, exacerbated by lower home ownership and inadequate grid infrastructure in lower-income communities.
To address this, UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) partnered with the City of Watsonville. Due to its location, demographics, and ambitious policy goals, Watsonville represents a potential model and case study for other cities around the state grappling with how to boost EV charging infrastructure. CLEE conducted stakeholder interviews and a convening in Watsonville in May 2023, and developed a set of policy recommendations for both state and local entities to accelerate investment in EV charging infrastructure in Watsonville, which could inform other cities facing similar challenges and seeking to meet state targets and residents’ needs.
California has increasingly emphasized efforts to develop voluntary agreements (VAs) with water users as a means of achieving regulatory goals in certain watersheds. In theory, a VA can combine the protectiveness of a regulatory backstop with the creativity and flexibility of a negotiated deal to produce outcomes as good as, or better than, those achievable through strict application of regulatory requirements alone. However, reality has not always measured up to this ideal. This policy paper uses the Bay-Delta watershed as a case study to inform five principles to guide the appropriate use and evaluation of VAs.
Every year, we take some time to reflect on CLEE’s mission and what we have accomplished towards that end. Our 2023 Snapshot report showcases our work over the past year and our strides in three strategic areas:
- Actionable Research: Developing and disseminating research that directly informs and influences policy and practice.
- Training and Education: Equipping current and future environmental leaders with the knowledge and skills to make a difference.
- Communication and Engagement: Nurturing the continued growth of an informed and engaged community.
These are the pillars of our new strategic plan, providing a structure for building on CLEE’s 18 years of expertise and experience. Your partnership and support have been instrumental in our journey and will remain so in the months and years to come. The challenges we face are daunting, but we are optimistic that together, we can create an even more meaningful impact.
Please join us in celebrating our achievements and recommitting to the pursuit of sustainable and equitable environmental solutions.
CLEE’s new report, “International Monetary Fund Reform for Climate Resilience,” describes how the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a multilateral institution charged with maintaining global economic stability and growth, can help steer the international community toward a more sustainable economic future.
The report analyzes how current IMF lending and advising practices inadvertently worsen the climate crisis and the associated financial risk, and it outlines a comprehensive approach to address these challenges and overcome political, financial, technical, and institutional barriers to action.
Read the report: International Monetary Fund Reform
The movement of goods through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the L.A. region. The South Coast Air Quality Management District has reported that the Ports are “the single largest fixed source of air pollution in Southern California.” And neighboring communities—predominantly low-income communities of color—bear the brunt of this pollution, suffering from smog and toxic air pollution from port equipment.
This new report surveys the biggest obstacles to speedy electrification, including inadequate grid and charging infrastructure, evolving zero-emission technology for cargo handling equipment, and fear among communities and workers of job loss and of increased emissions from expanded port activities. The report also presents policy solutions to get around these obstacles.
California’s local governments, which include cities, counties, and special districts, play a pivotal role in shaping the State’s transition to a decarbonized economy. However, jurisdictions across the state have varying levels of success in implementing climate policies and programs. CLEE’s new report, Getting to Implementation: The Status of Local Climate Action in California, summarizes the results of a statewide survey on local governments’ efforts to address climate change, conducted in partnership with the Institute for Local Government(opens in a new tab) (ILG).
The California Local Government Climate Activity Survey, which was open from April to May 2023, gathered information on existing efforts to address climate change, opportunities for strategic climate policy and planning, and barriers to the timely implementation of climate solutions. The survey was designed to help assess the current status of climate action planning efforts and policy implementation, identify opportunities and barriers to move from planning to implementation, and increase understanding of resource constraints, barriers, and opportunities to advance action across a range of policy areas.
The report authors want to thank Next 10 for their support and partnership on this project.
Groundwater basins are mismanaged throughout California and the world, with dire economic, social, and environmental consequences. Managed aquifer recharge is emerging as an important method for bringing groundwater budgets into balance. However, although the best sites for recharge are often located on private property, property owners typically are not incentivized to invest in groundwater projects for the benefit of the basin. To address this gap, our team is supporting the development of recharge net metering (ReNeM), a new incentive structure that compensates private entities for operating groundwater recharge projects on their land.
CLEE led a team of co-authors from UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz to publish an economic analysis of ReNeM in Nature Water, titled “Recharge net metering (ReNeM) is a novel, cost-effective management strategy to incentivize groundwater recharge.” The article showcases ReNeM’s affordability and cooperative promise; it provides water managers with a method for understanding ReNeM’s financial implications; and it enables expansion of this new approach to groundwater management elsewhere.
Read the article: Recharge net metering (ReNeM) is a novel, cost-effective management strategy to incentivize groundwater recharge, Nature Water
On August 11, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the launch of the Responsible Carbon Management Initiative, outlining principles for industry developers to abide by, providing framework for the prioritization of “safety, environmental stewardship, accountability, community engagement, and societal benefits in carbon management projects.” (DOE) In an official comment on the initiative responding to their “Notice of Intent and Request for Information Regarding Launching a Responsible Carbon Management Initiative,” Ken Alex, Director of Project Climate, along with CLEE Research Fellows Shivani Shukla and Gil Damon, urge the DOE to consider methane in the design of the Initiative.
Read our comment letter: Comment Letter re: U.S. Department of Energy Responsible Carbon Management Initiative
The Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance (opens in a new tab)(CEVA), led by Ceres, is a collaborative group of companies focused on accelerating the transition to EVs. Our new report for CEVA, in partnership with Ceres, offers recommendations for major corporate EV fleet purchasers for how they can help ensure EV supply chain sustainability. It summarizes the market status of the batteries, U.S. policy context, and key initiatives for improvement.
Access the full report here: Electric Vehicle Batteries: A Guidebook for Responsible Corporate Engagement Throughout the Supply Chain
Read more about our larger initiative here: Building a Sustainable Electric Vehicle Battery Supply Chain
Developers and communities in California have an opportunity to ensure that offshore wind energy and infrastructure projects empower and uplift communities by negotiating and implementing robust Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs). A Community Benefits Agreement, or CBA, is a legally binding, enforceable contract signed by project developers and community groups or coalitions of groups. CBAs can help create space for residents to have a voice in the future of their communities and can expand economic opportunity and make development more equitable. CBAs can also increase transparency and enforceability of outcomes, boost coalition building, and clarify outcomes. CLEE’s Issue Brief, Offshore Wind & Community Benefits Agreements in California: An Introduction, examines Community Benefits Agreements and explores how they might be relevant in the California offshore wind context.
Among all the sectors California leaders need to address to achieve statewide carbon neutrality by 2045(opens in a new tab), existing buildings (which are responsible for over 10 percent of state emissions)—in particular existing residential structures—are among the most difficult to decarbonize. The state has established a range of different programs to address the problem, including a number of appliance-specific and whole-building retrofit subsidy programs, but public funds are inadequate to cover all the needed upgrades. Our report, The Future of California Energy Finance, a collaboration between CLEE and the Energy Institute at Haas(opens in a new tab), considers the future of California energy finance and lays out strategies to supplement and improve the reach of California’s consumer financing programs.
California’s insurance industry faces significant risks from climate change, including both the transition risks facing all financial institutions as the global economy shifts toward decarbonization and the singular combination of physical risks—wildfire, drought, coastal hazards, extreme heat—that threaten California’s communities and businesses.
CLEE’s report, Looking Forward, explores the field of climate risk scenario analysis—a key instrument to assess financial risk in projected future scenarios—and makes recommendations for the California Department of Insurance to design scenario analysis exercises and engage California insurance companies in forward-looking risk assessment. The report analyzes precedent and decision-making criteria for structural elements such as “top-down” (regulator-led) versus “bottom-up” (insurer-led) exercises, scope of risks assessed, time horizons, strategic partnerships, and more.
When there is not enough water to satisfy all demands, water must be allocated among competing human and environmental uses. California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is responsible for ensuring that surface water is diverted and used in accordance with state and federal legal requirements and policy priorities. Our new report, Managing Water Scarcity, explains how to bring the SWRCB’s capabilities in line with California’s needs. The report describes the legal context for water right curtailments in California, summarizes the history of curtailment practices in the state, and recommends actions California can take to build an effective framework for curtailment. The SWRCB can implement some of the actions we recommend on its own. But we also recommend swift and decisive legislative action to clarify and enhance the agency’s tools and authority.
CLEE’s March 2023 whitepaper, Stakeholder Engagement in California Offshore Wind, summarizes key themes heard throughout the 2022 stakeholder engagement series about the general planning process, equity and environmental justice priorities, environmental considerations, tribal government input, developer perspectives, and fishing industry input. Examples include requests for greater inclusion and engagement with stakeholders, better transparency and accessibility of data sources that inform decision making, additional studies and data collection, prioritization of community and economic benefits, development of long-term workforce training opportunities, expansion of infrastructure development plans (e.g., transmission), and clarity on permitting requirements, among others.
Supercharging Electrolyzers: Boosting Zero-Emission Hydrogen Production and Deployment in California
California to decarbonize its electricity grid
and achieve carbon neutrality. Yet today zero-emission hydrogen is roughly triple the cost of traditional fossil-based hydrogen production. Electrolyzer project developers also face hurdles around producing, storing, transporting, and facilitating cost-effective purchases of their zero-emission hydrogen.
In December 2021, San Francisco issued a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that envisions an ambitious and equitable climate future for the city. The CAP details emissions reduction strategies across six categories: energy supply, building decarbonization, transportation and land use, housing, green infrastructure, and waste reduction. The CAP puts forth 159 actions to achieve net-zero emissions citywide by 2040 while rooting decisions in racial and social equity, economic opportunity, public health, and community resilience.
CLEE’s report, Funding San Francisco Climate Action, analyzes funding and financing strategies to generate sufficient revenue for San Francisco’s CAP while advancing equity and ensuring smart implementation.
Drawing on over 50 interviews and two expert workshops with climate finance and policy experts, City leaders, and community stakeholders to understand priorities and best-fit strategies, the report recommends a group of immediate- and medium-term revenue generation mechanisms, alongside a number of priorities for implementing the CAP (such as city staffing and coordination) and ensuring equity (including oversight councils and impact assessments).
Clean Takeoff: Policy Solutions to Promote Sustainable Aviation in California
What actions can California policy makers take to help decarbonize the state aviation sector? CLEE’s new report, Clean Takeoff: Policy Solutions to Promote Sustainable Aviation in California, describes opportunities to advance sustainable aviation in California.
Airplane travel is responsible for more than 2 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, with non-CO₂ emissions raising the total climate impact further. While no existing zero-emission technologies can power all flights today, sustainable aviation fuel represents the most promising immediate solution to reduce emissions from aviation and will remain key to decarbonizing long-haul aviation, even in 2050.
In response, Governor Newsom called for a 20 percent clean fuels target for the aviation sector in July 2022, and the steps described in Clean Takeoff could help the state achieve those goals while maximizing air quality and economic co-benefits in communities near airports and production facilities.
Ahead of the Herd: Policy Solutions to Accelerate Livestock Methane Emissions Reduction in California
- Creating an interagency one-stop shop for greenhouse gas, quality, water quality, and other data reporting and technical assistance;
- Updating the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard to better assess life-cycle impacts and additionality of digester projects and support environmental health protections while increasing certainty for operators;
- Accelerating approval of and increasing financial support for new enteric emission reduction strategies.
Implementing SB 743: Design Considerations for Vehicle Miles Traveled Mitigation Bank and Exchange Programs
The California Environmental Quality Act requires government agencies and developers to mitigate the environmental impacts of new discretionary projects, including impacts to transportation. Under new state law and guidelines, many agencies are using VMT, which focuses on total vehicle trip-miles generated by a new project regardless of where they occur or how much traffic they cause, as the new measurement of impact. Mitigating VMT impacts of new projects creates the opportunity—and potentially the need—to conduct mitigation at locations other than the development site. To carry it out, CLEE and others have proposed “bank” and “exchange” programs to manage these capacities. Our new report, Implementing SB 743, advances these proposals with a set of recommendations for state agencies like Caltrans and local governments to develop bank and exchange programs that build on their existing environmental mitigation efforts.
Hot, Cold, & Clean: Policy Solutions to Promote Equitable and Affordable Adoption of Heat Pump Retrofits in Existing Buildings
In 2022, the California Energy Commission set out an ambitious target of deploying 6 million heat pumps by 2030. With more than 14 million existing residential homes in the state, more than 75 percent of California’s existing buildings built before 1978, and heat pumps installed in only 6 percent of new construction, the state has a long way to go to meet its goals.
To address this challenge, CLEE and UCLA Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment convened state, local, utility, housing and environmental leaders to develop priority solutions for promoting equitable and affordable adoption of heat pump retrofits in existing buildings. As our new report, Hot, Cold & Clean, describes, point of purchase, installation, and financing challenges can stymie deployment. But, the report captures the progress in deploying heat pumps since our 2021 report Building toward Decarbonization and identifies additional policy solutions to overcome remaining barriers.
Driving Equity: Policy Solutions to Accelerate Electric Vehicle Adoption in Lower-Income Communities
To achieve state goals of 40 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction (below 1990 levels) by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2045, California must significantly reduce emissions from transportation, which is the single greatest source of statewide (and national) emissions. In 2020, Governor Newsom issued an executive order calling for a complete phase-out of new fossil fuel vehicle sales by 2035, and in April 2022 the California Air Resources Board proposed an update to its Advanced Clean Cars regulation to achieve that target. However, the majority of electric vehicle models on the road are new, relatively high-cost models and the most ubiquitous and convenient charging options are in the garages of single-family homes in wealthier communities. Our new policy report, Driving Equity, outlines strategies to promote equity in California’s electric vehicle transition.
Branching Out: Waste Biomass Policies to Promote Wildfire Resilience and Emission Reduction
In response to California’s deadly over the past several years, government and private landowners are removing more debris and residual material from forested areas, such as removing dead trees and creating fire breaks. One strategy to improve vegetation management outcomes is to support markets for this residual material through wood products, chips and mulch, or other end uses. To do so, state and local leaders will need to weigh the consequences of various end uses to ensure human and environmental health factors into decision making and to ensure debris removal does not promote additional cutting of “green” forest material, among other considerations. Our new policy report recommends various pathways for establishing a sustainable market for this material while observing parameters on the source and timeframe of the material collection to ensure activities promote wildfire resilience.
To advance this conversation, CLEE convened a small group of experts in late 2021 to discuss opportunities to improve the market for debris material. CLEE’s new policy report, Branching Out: Waste Biomass Policies to Promote Wildfire Resilience and Emission Reduction, recommends various pathways for establishing a sustainable market for this material.