The Missing Piece on the Energy/Environment Team

No, not the Interior Secretary (although he/she is missing, too). If we are going to do something about climate, then we need to develop some sort of international negotiating strategy, because we can’t mitigate climate change unless we get the Indians and the Chinese on board.

Currently, the lead agency for such a process is the State Department, but in my view, that needs to change. Hillary Clinton is going to have enough on her hands without also giving her the brief of the perhaps the most complex international negotiation in history. In any event, the State Department bureaucracy is ill-suited to handle these sorts of things: it doesn’t coordinate well across agencies, its powerful regional bureaus have little use for environmental issues, and it does not have good connections with the domestic interests that will have to be on board for a climate agreement.

Instead, as I argue in a piece coming out in a few weeks in the Northwestern University Law Review, the lead agency should be the office of the United States Trade Representative. Getting a climate agreement requires trading across issue areas, and USTR is the best agency to do it (although it also has its flaws). In addition, USTR’s has vast expertise in getting executive agencies and domestic interests to sign off on political and economically sensitive deals.

At this stage, we don’t know Obama’s choice for that job: everyone is talking about Becerra, but he might not want it. If he does, he has an excellent environmental record (and his trade record is much more pro-free trade than the naysayers claim, about which more later), and he could fill the job well.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.