NRDC’s Richard Schrader: Don’t Kill All the Lawyers

Reader Contribution by David Schimke
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Photo by Unsplash/Wesley Tingey

While complaints (and countless jokes) about our increasingly litigious society are commonplace, and often understandable, there’s reason for environmentalists across the political spectrum to hug a lawyer.

So says Richard Schrader, legislative director for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York and New England. During a keynote address delivered on the second day of the 2010 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, entitled How We Can Win after Climate Change Defeat, he convincingly argued that global climate change has reached a boiling point, and then spoke passionately about what can be done to change its trajectory.

The first step step? Take a page from the past and haul polluters and energy wasters into court. “Most major federal legislation comes after there’s been a series of successful litigations,” said Schrader, the former director for the New York State Trial Lawyers association.

For instance, Schrader argues, President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970 after citizens waged a series of successful court battles against industrial polluters and put pressure on the nation’s politicians. The Clean Water Act, signed into law two years later, was born out of a similar scenario. This is especially noteworthy given the current political environment, Schrader points out, because the oil, gas, and coal industries have so much money to throw around on Capitol Hill. Since the environmental movement cannot keep pace financially, high-profile suits are an effective way to shape public opinion and force local representatives to address environmental issues, along with corporate malfeasance.

Along with pursuing civil suits directed at specific offenders, Schrader also believes environmentalists should from alliances with anti-trust lawyers, since they could get in the way of further consolidation in the gas and oil industries.

“The energy industry’s lobby is so powerful,” Schrader says. “They spend $20 million a year on lobbing fees; every couple of weeks the API (American Petroleum Institute) alone takes15 to 20 Congressman golfing.” Which is why, “twinning our successful environmental movement with an anti-trust movement could be effective.”

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