New Book Identifies 1000 Tools to Decarbonize the US Economy

 Although the likely horrific climate change impacts to much of life on Earth and particularly to poor vulnerable people and nations are becoming scarier every day, just in the last year or so more people are appearing in the public sphere in the United States demanding emergency government action approaching the scale and speed demanded by the problem.  Yet, so far, at least in the United States, there is little political action on climate change needed by the scale of the emergency facing the world. However, if the burgeoning public demand for government action is successful in initiating an “all hands on deck” response to climate change by all levels of government, private organizations, and citizens so desperately needed to avoid climate catastrophe, civil society will need legal tools and strategies to achieve the rapid economy-wide decarbonization.

The Environmental Law Institute has just published a new important book that identifies over 1000 legal tools that the federal, state, and local governments, as well as private entities, could use to decarbonize the economy. The book, Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States, has been edited by Professors Michael Gerrard from Columbia Law School and John Dernbach from Widener University Commonwealth Law School. The book contains a “legal playbook” for deep decarbonization in the United States, identifying well over 1,000 legal options for enabling the United States to address the greatest problem facing humanity.

Legal Pathways contains 35 chapters written by 59 experts which cover energy efficiency and conservation, fuel switching, electricity decarbonization, fuel decarbonization, carbon capture, and negative emissions, non-carbon dioxide climate pollutants,  and a variety of cross-cutting issues. The legal options in the book focus on federal, state, and local law, as well as private governance.

A summary of the book is available at

The book ends with organizing the tools that are identified earlier in the book by who the actor is identifying 333 tools for the US government and Congress, 20 tools for the US executive branch, 322 tools for the US federal agencies, 306 tools for US states and state governments, 53 tools for US state agencies, 97 tools for US state legislatures, 147 tools for companies, associations, NGOs, schools, individuals, and other private entities, 3 tools for US ports, 16 tools for public utilities, 6 tools for regional transportation organizations, 6 tools for independent system organizations, and 52 tools for public utility commissions, thus identifying 1513 tools that can be used by various actors.

Some of these tools will need additional legal drafting to be implemented in some jurisdictions. The authors of this book are working with a group of environmental lawyers who have committed to providing pro bono legal help with drafting legal documents necessary to implement the tools in the book. The project is in the process of constructing a website that will coordinate legal assistance. Questions about this can be directed to John Dernbach at

The tools to achieve deep decarbonization of the US economy identified in this new book, along with the 541 strategies deployed by 44 cities identified in the prior entry on this site, The Enormous Potential of Cities to Reduce GHG Emissions, 571 Strategies Adopted by 44 Cities Around the World, demonstrate that despite the enormity of the challenge facing the world to prevent dangerous climate change, huge reductions in GHG emissions are achievable if the political will to do so arises.


Donald A. Brown

Scholar In Residence and Professor

Widener University Commonwealth Law School



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