Harvard Law School professor Richard J. Lazarus offered new insights into climate law in a Harvard Kennedy School webinar on his new book, “The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court,” Thursday.
Kennedy School professor Joseph E. Aldy — who served as a Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Environment during the Obama administration — hosted the event, the latest installment of the Regulatory Policy Program webinar series. The series aims to invite policy experts who are leaders in conversations about the effectiveness of regulatory policy and who cross disciplines.
Lazarus, who has argued before the Supreme Court on 14 occasions, spent the talk outlining the arc of his book. He said he kept two goals in mind while writing: to show the general public both sides of Supreme Court advocacy and to explain challenges that stand in the way of environmental litigation.
He recounted the difficult road to victory in what he describes as the most consequential Supreme Court decision in environmental law: Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, a 2007 case which Lazarus called “environmental law’s Brown v. Board of Education.”
The Massachusetts decision, which predated the 2008 election of President Barack Obama by just a year, laid the groundwork for the Obama administration’s efforts to address climate change through new regulations. Realizing the regulatory authority afforded by the Massachusetts decision, the Obama administration asserted that they were “all in” on climate change, according to Lazarus, ultimately leading the United States to join the Paris Climate Agreement.
Initially, Lazarus foresaw the story ending neatly — but he said the didn't foresee an unexpected final plot twist: the election of President Donald J. Trump, who withdrew from the Paris Agreement in 2017. Still, he said he believed it was necessary to avoid substantial discussion of Trump in the book because he wanted readers to focus on the story of the Massachusetts case on its own.
“I did not want this book to become another Trump book — to be wed to the latest event of the moment,” Lazarus said.
Aldy complimented Lazarus’s ability to make a complex case accessible to a broad audience in the new book.
“Within environmental law, he’s got to be the number one expert in the world at helping understand environmental law and the Supreme Court,” Aldy said.
“Climate change is really complicated. The people like a good story,” he added.