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On July 22, 2019, outspoken climate change advocate Al Gore found himself sitting second chair once again as a bill was signed into law. This time he sat not beside the President of the United States, but rather beside the Governor of New York. Moments after Governor Andrew Cuomo rapidly scribbled his name on the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, he passed the pen and paper to a grinning Gore. A resident of Nashville, Tennessee who holds no elected office in the State of New York, Gore’s signature had precisely zero legal effect—it served ceremonial and publicity purposes only. Among many other ambitious goals, the celebrity-endorsed state law he giddily signed man- dates that New York achieve one hundred percent carbon neutrality by 2050. Al Gore called it “the most ambitious, the most well- crafted legislation in the country.” But he was far from its only
fan; the law drew widespread praise across the climate policy community—and even from the Hulk.
New York State’s bold legislative steps to confront climate change came only months after New York City enacted its own “Green New Deal” on the municipal level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city. In April 2019, in celebration of Earth Day, the New York City Council passed the Climate Mobilization Act, a package of ten bills designed to keep the city on pace with the reductions set by the Paris Climate Agreement.8 One Councilmember applauded his work as “the single largest carbon reduction ef- fort in any city, anywhere.” Some of the media, however, focused on the law’s provisions related to environmentally conscious food choices and procurement, claiming the city banned its most famous culinary contribution—the hot dog.
New York’s state and city lawmaking exemplifies a multijurisdictional approach to the global climate crisis that has taken hold in various places across this and other countries. We are ushering
in the next generation of environmental laws, and those laws will largely be authored not by international negotiators or federal legislators, but by state and local officials. Where do these lawmakers, many of them part-time civil servants, look for guidance on bill language to properly address perhaps the most complex environmental challenge of our time? Unfortunately, the most influential provider of model legislation has to this point aligned against proactive climate action. A growing body of resources, including model codes and ordinances, could help fill the void. This work aims to draw attention to the imbalance in model lawmaking. It then examines the growing resources facilitating proactive climate change law at the state and local levels. Finally, it asks how well this model-law ecosystem fits with the principles of federalism in the context of the evolving environmental legal landscape.
* Associate Professor of Law, University of Maine School of Law. The author would like to thank Thea Johnson, Sarah Schindler, and William Sedlack for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts. Special thanks are due to Michael Gerrard and John Dernbach for their pathbreaking work on model climate policy and their guidance on this theoretical treatment of it. This Article also benefited from the Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship at Vermont Law School and the New Directions in Environmental Law Conference at Yale Law School and Yale School of the Environment. All errors are the author’s alone.