Kristen Thall Peters was selected as the guest editor of the Green edition of the “Contra Costa Lawyer” magazine which was published this September. Kristen is also the President of the Real Estate Section of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, as well as Co-Chair of Cooper, White & Cooper’s Green Practice Group. A handful of experts in the area of “green” law in Contra Costa County were selected as contributors to the magazine, including, Cooper, White & Cooper’s own Dee Ware, Co-Chair of the firm’s Green Practice Group, who wrote an article entitled “The Rush to Jump on The ‘Green’ Bandwagon”. This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Contra Costa Lawyer, the official magazine of the Contra Costa County Bar Association.  Reprinted with permission.

What is a Green Practice Group? As co-chair for my law firm’s Green Practice Group, I can tell you that our interdisciplinary attorneys draw on the firm’s depth of talent and expertise in environmental, land use, real estate, construction, and tax law, as well as general commercial litigation.

In reality, the environmental compliance programs we put together for clients 20 years ago are very similar to the sustainable practice programs we put together for them today. And the licenses, leases, purchase agreements and permits that we negotiated for renewable energy companies in the 1970s are still in the same format as those we negotiate for such clients today (albeit on much more favorable terms to energy producers due to increased demand), as are the professional design contracts, building leases, development agreements, etc. And the manner in which we litigate misrepresentation or breach of contract claims are still the same. So why should your firm have a special practice group?

As the awareness of the impact of human activities on natural systems increases, so does the demand of both the government and the consumer to minimize those impacts. This demand is causing the laws to change quickly, many of which affect numerous facets of both our and our client’s businesses.

For example, in 2006, California adopted the California Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as AB32. This law created a comprehensive, long-term plan for California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. To create this plan, which was approved in December 2008, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff worked with a broad range of stakeholders to develop different strategies, both small and large, to achieve the reduction. One of those strategies relates to tire pressure. While current Federal law requires auto manufacturers to install tire pressure monitoring systems in all new vehicles beginning September 1, 2007, owners of older vehicles lack this tool to help them reduce their climate change emissions. So, effective July 1, 2010, CARB adopted a regulation that will require California’s automotive maintenance industry to check the tire pressure of every vehicle they service. The 40,000 service providers subject to the regulation include smog check stations, engine repair facilities and oil service providers.

Having a multidisciplinary team that stays abreast of every facet of current green issues helps us better serve our clients regardless of their industry. Thus, in this instance, due to the monitoring of the plan implementation at CARB by our air experts, we were able share this information internally so it could be provided to the firm’s large and small gas station and automobile repair facility owners.

Our bar is also made up of a multidisciplinary team. Members of our association are a group of friendly and knowledgeable lawyers, making the task of both developing alliances within our community and staying abreast of the changing law an easy one. I encourage you to get involved in one of the Bar Association’s practice area sections (such as the Real Estate Section, if you are interested in the green subject matter of this edition) to learn more, while networking with some great local attorneys.

Not only is the government searching for ways to minimize impacts to the environment, but so is the consumer: both our clients and their customers. Moreover, they want the businesses with which they do business to be green as well. While the creation of our firm’s Green Practice Group gave us a way to brainstorm and keep each other informed, it also gave us a way to show off that we are green. And each one of you can do this as well.

While this edition provides an overview of some very important current green issues to help you stay abreast of the changing law — green building, green insurance, and greenwashing — it also provides an overview of our county’s Green Business Program through which both you and your clients can become certified.

In the world of green business, law offices are no exception. You, too, can switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products and have energy efficient lighting; however, you must also work to reduce your paper use as our profession’s paper-use practices (which currently make law offices environmentally notorious) are outdated. By printing less, printing double sided, utilizing an electronic filing system, and reusing “one side clean” paper, we are wasting-not (and thus paying less!). Go green to save green! 

Kristen Thall Peters is a partner in the Walnut Creek office of Cooper, White & Cooper LLP, and president of the Bar Association’s Real Estate Section. In addition to holding a B.A. in Environmental Sciences from U.C. Berkeley, she was an Environmental Protection Specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prior to attending law school.

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