MoFo lawyers are recognized leaders in providing clients with strategic advice on developing and implementing sustainable business practices. But, we also practice what we preach by partnering with nonprofits that are breaking the mold when it comes to building a healthier, more sustainable future. From addressing climate change and protecting valuable land and water resources to jumping in when communities are affected by nature’s worst disasters, our lawyers are doing their part to ensure a more livable world for generations to come.
As a founding member of Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy (LSE), an initiative launched in conjunction with the Global Climate Action Summit, MoFo has pledged to provide $2 million in pro bono legal services for projects addressing climate change by the end of 2020. Our lawyers work closely with organizations that focus on developing and bringing to scale new approaches to building a more sustainable global economy.
MoFo lawyers are working with The Carbon Endowment (TCE) to structure and launch a nonprofit/for-profit structure that will allow the group to significantly reduce carbon emissions from coal by off-lining coal deposits while helping coal-dependent communities make a sustainable transition to a greener economy. The firm also assisted TCE in a deal with Chugach Alaska Corporation to sell its Bering River coal rights to New Forests. The sale and retirement of this Alaskan coal field will not only secure long-term income for the community and protect an environmentally significant location, but it is also projected to prevent substantial CO2 emissions by leaving 65 tons of coal in the ground.
Indoor wood fires for cooking, heat, and light, used by three billion of the world’s people each day, cause severe health problems for those who rely on them as well as environmental damage through deforestation and significant carbon emissions. Many models of cookstoves are intended to replace open fires and reduce these hazards, but which work best? Our pro bono client Nexleaf Analytics designed a remotely monitored home sensor system to measure cookstove performance. The data generated is being used by manufacturers to improve design and better understand use patterns, and to test pilot programs that pay homemakers for using the stoves.
Power for All is an NGO that advances renewable, decentralized electrification solutions as the fastest, most cost-effective and sustainable approach to universal energy access. The organization is committed to delivering access to energy to people who live in rural areas and lack reliable power. Power for All was originally a project of a UK NGO and was largely funded through the UK Department for International Development. When it decided to create a U.S.-based nonprofit, MoFo lawyers undertook the necessary corporate and tax work.
A multi-office team is helping The Nature Conservancy (TNC) bolster Washington, D.C.’s effort to control stormwater runoff, the highly polluting mix that results when rainwater washes oil, street waste, sediment and other pollutants into sewer systems and rivers. Our work focused on helping TNC to create a green infrastructure development company called District Stormwater, LLC, which aims to generate income while increasing participation in Washington, D.C.’s Stormwater Retention Credit program.
MoFo collaborated with The Nature Conservancy to design and implement a “reverse auction” to create “pop-up wetlands” by paying farmers to flood their fields, off-season, in California’s Central Valley. The Conservancy sought a cost-effective way to increase wetlands available to migrating birds, whose populations have suffered drastic decreases as the Central Valley has converted to agriculture. Now, using data collected by the eBird app, the Conservancy pays rice farmers in the birds’ flight path to keep their fields inundated with irrigation water from the Sacramento River as migrating flocks arrive. A recent analysis found that Bird Returns is having the desired impact, significantly increasing the number of shorebirds passing through this agricultural region.
Sixty percent of the world’s annual tuna catch comes from waters controlled by 16 island nations in the Pacific Ocean, including Palau. Overfishing and illegal fishing in this region could lead to the collapse of Pacific tuna fisheries, putting Palau’s economy and culture at risk. MoFo is working with The Nature Conservancy to help the government of Palau create a model program for sustainable tuna fishing. Using their expertise in regulatory guideline development, government-NGO partnerships, bid processes, and economics, MoFo lawyers helped Palau develop a new model for regional fisheries management, with regulations that increase local control and improve the fisheries’ economic and environmental performance.
Lawyers in MoFo’s San Diego office filed a patent application for the World Wildlife Fund and its inventive partners for a device to dispense vaccine pellets at specified rates over thousands of acres to protect prairie dogs from sylvatic plague. While prairie dogs are not endangered, they are an important food source for the critically endangered black-footed ferret. The patent application also aims to discourage individuals from using similar devices for purposes such as poisoning wildlife that are inconsistent with our client’s mission.
MoFo real estate, corporate, and government contracts lawyers support the work of the Billion Oyster Project. The Billion Oyster Project is creating and seeding oyster beds in New York Harbor that will improve water quality, provide a habitat for other marine species, and increase the area’s resiliency to storm surges. The project actively involves students at New York’s public high school for the maritime industries and many other schools as well as the restaurant industry and environmental scientists, all working together to restore a rich oyster culture to the waters of New York Harbor.
MoFo has created legal documentation for many land trust agreements and similar arrangements that permanently protect land against future development. In one transaction, the firm represented John Muir Land Trust, in partnership with the East Bay Municipal Utility District, in the acquisition of Carr Ranch, a 604-acre parcel in Contra Costa County. The Utility District will ensure that the ranch is permanently preserved as watershed land thereby protecting wildlife habitats, maintaining open spaces and natural scenery, and preserving the area’s ranching heritage. The firm has also advised Scenic Hudson on land acquisition. Scenic Hudson’s mission is to protect and restore the Hudson River, its riverfront and the majestic vistas and working landscapes beyond as an irreplaceable national treasure for America and a vital resource for residents and visitors.
The Nature Conservancy sought MoFo’s counsel to ensure that its Pooled Timber Fund complied with federal securities laws. Created with the nonprofit New England Forestry Foundation, the new fund allows conservation-minded landowners to donate their woodland to the Forestry Foundation. The income generated from selling the timber goes into a pooled fund that ensures the land is managed in accordance with the Forestry Foundation’s green-certified practices and will generate income for the fund’s beneficiaries while protecting precious wildlife and habitats. By leasing already protected land to the pooled fund, TNC is able to support the production of local wood products while increasing the carbon storage of remaining trees.
MoFo San Francisco land use lawyers partnered with client Francisco Park Conservancy to negotiate a precedent-setting public-private partnership that will create a magnificent public park in the heart of San Francisco. The new “Francisco Park” will replace an abandoned reservoir on Russian Hill and provide much needed open space with stunning views of the Bay. Our client, Francisco Park Conservancy, a neighborhood-based nonprofit, will fully fund the design, construction, and maintenance of the park while the underlying land will continue to be owned by the city.
MoFo litigators helped to defend the viability of “rails to trails” projects by filing amicus briefs in support of King County in Washington State in two cases that challenged the county’s public trail projects along old rail beds. “Railbanking,” authorized by a 1983 federal statute, permits railroads to allow trail agencies to preserve out-of-service rail corridors as trails until railroads need to use the land again. In both cases, the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of public access to trails using abandoned railroad rights of way, and rejected attempts by adjacent landowners to limit the rights of trail managers to use the full width of the right of way, including for utilities and public transit.