News Types: Press Releases

Wendy Wagner Testifies before House Committee on TSCA Reforms

Professor Wendy Wagner testified November 13 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on S. 1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which if passed would result in the most significant changes to one of the bedrock federal environmental laws – the Toxic Substances Control Act – in more than a generation.  To read her testimony, please click here.

 

Energy Center Publishes White Paper on Financing Water Infrastructure

The Energy Center has released a white paper exploring bills the Texas legislature passed earlier this year to finance water infrastructure.  The white paper - Paying for Water:  The 83rd Legislative Session and the $2 Billion Water Infrastructure Bank – analyzes policies that it finds could have “profound and long-lasting impact on Texas water law and water resources.”

Center Launches Fellowship for Law Students

The Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration and Environmental Law at The University of Texas School of Law has created a new fellowship program that recognizes students interested in pursuing careers in one of its three core subject areas.

For its inaugural fellow, the center selected David Fisher, a Victoria, Texas, native who intends to pursue a career in public interest law, focusing on the convergence of international law, human rights and environmental policy.

“This fellowship is an incredible way for me to harness UT Law’s unmatched reputation in energy and environmental law and its strong presence in Latin America,” said Fisher, who received his bachelor’s degree from UT Austin in 2012 and is expected to complete his J.D. in 2015.

The center will provide fellows with $2,500 per semester and allow them to contribute to its programming and policy research. Through the fellowships, students will develop expertise in cutting-edge issues, cultivate relationships with leading practitioners and receive mentorship from center staff.

“One of the foundational purposes of the center is to enhance educational opportunities in energy, international arbitration and environmental law,” said Melinda Taylor, who is the executive director of the center. “The fellowship perfectly complements the curricular and extracurricular opportunities the center already offers.”

To be eligible, students must be entering or currently in their second or third years, and must have demonstrated a commitment to practicing in one of the center’s subject areas.

Student Group Petitions Texas to Revise Controverisal Drought Rule

The University of Texas Regulatory Oversight Group (UTROG) has petitioned the Texas Commisison on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to revise a regulation that allows the agency to selectively suspend water rights during droughts.

The petition calls for TCEQ to add procedural safeguards, improve conservation requirements, and further limit the circumstances under which the agency can exercise the rule.

“The Drought Curtailment Rule represents a well-intentioned first effort to craft a mechanism that could balance competing interests while shepherding the state through water shortages,” the petition states. “Recent litigation and policy debates have resulted in controversy about the rule and its implementation. These proposed amendments are designed to clarify the circumstances under which the executive director can suspend senior water rights and incentivize conservation.”

UTROG consists of students who are participating in a law school seminar in environmental regulation and are overseen by two professors. In preparing the petition, students consulted with leading water lawyers and reviewed comments the TCEQ received when it initially proposed the drought rule.

Energy Center Releases White Paper on PACE in Texas

The Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration and Environmental Law at the University of Texas School of Law has published a white paper that uses a bill now winding through the Texas legislature as a springboard to explore recent trends in property assessed clean energy (PACE).

PACE is a mechanism that allows property owners to voluntarily subject their properties to tax assessments. The assessments are similar to those historically used to pay for public projects like sidewalks or streetlights but instead finance conservation improvements on privately owned property.

In the late 2000s, PACE appealed to captivated environmental policymakers as a means of promoting the adoption of energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy improvements. Actions by federal mortgage regulators stunted the use of PACE for single-family homes, however, and until relatively recently chilled the growth of PACE programs.

Lately, however, state and local governments have reoriented PACE around commercial real estate and attracted new supporters and capital sources.

Texas passed PACE enabling legislation in 2009, but it never led to the development of an operational PACE program. This legislative session, a bill that is steadily moving through the capitol would correct certain drafting flaws in the original enabling legislation while building upon evolving PACE best practices. In particular, the bill would:

  • Refocus PACE around commercial, industrial and multi-family properties;
  • Allow counties and coalitions of local governments to launch PACE programs;
  • Allow the PACE financing of water conservation improvements
  • Permit PACE borrowers to obtain financing from third-party lenders;
  • Require existing lenders to consent to PACE liens

For more information, please contact the white paper’s author, Jeremy Brown, at jeremybrown@law.utexas.edu or 512-232-1408.

 

OSHA Admits Program Flaws, in Response to Student Petition

In March, as part of a practial seminar in environmental litigation, University of Texas School of Law students petitioned the Ooccupational Health and Safety Administration to make changes to a program intended to reward high-performing workplaces and to encourage greater voluntary safety measures.

Working under the name University of Texas Regulatory Oversight Group (UTROG), the students identified several critical flaws in the OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and petitioned for the agency to address these flaws through a formal rulemaking.

In its response to UTROG, OSHA declined to amend the program due to “current budgetary constraints” but acknowledged VPP’s shortcomings.

“We share your belief that making more information regarding VPP participants available via the OSHA Web site will increase transparency, accountability and accessibility within the program,” wrote Douglas J. Kalinowski, OSHA’s director of cooperative and state programs. “We also agree that increased accessibility of this information will help share VPP participant experiences and best practices … [W]e will definitely explore ways to implement your suggestions as part of a larger effort to improve the program and address the VPP Review Team recommendations.”