News Types: Press Releases

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 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.”

Students Comment on Alaska Fracking Regulations

The University of Texas Regulatory Oversight Group (UTROG) submitted comments today on disclosure provisions of hydraulic fracturing regulations proposed by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC)

UTROG consists of students who are participating in a law school class in environmental regulation and are overseen by two professors.  In preparing the comments,  the students reviewed regulations adopted in other states and met with UT Law alumni with experience working on fracking matters.

The proposed Alaska rule has attracted attention because, unlike existing fracking regulations, it does not include trade secret protections.

“In Alaska, geologists have identified 42 trillion feet of cubic natural gas in North Slope shale formations that could be produced using current technology,” the comments explain.  “While these reserves present Alaska with tremendous opportunity, the AOGCC should be mindful of the experiences that Texas and other states in the Lower 48 have encountered in developing their shale resources.”

To that end, the comments recommend the AOGCC consider seriously the public interest in disclosure and the downsides associated with trade secret protections.  The comments proose a set of minimal requirements that should accompany any trade secret regime the AOGCC decides to incorporate into the final version of the rules.

UT Law Squad Competes in ’13 Vis Moot

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The premiere moot court focused on international law issues – the William C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot – has begun its annual

in Vienna, with the team from the University of Texas School of Law considered to be a particularly strong contender.

The purpose of the moot is to foster the study of international commercial law and arbitration for resolution of international business disputes through its application to a concrete problem of a client and to train law leaders of tomorrow in methods of alternative dispute resolution.  This year, the problem centers on a multi-party dispute stemming from a contract for more than $2 million worth of polo shirts produced by a subcontractor that was found to use child labor.

“This is a problem that stretches across multiple national jurisdictions and raises difficult substantive and procedural issues,” said Karl Bayer ’76, an Austin-based arbitrator who is coaching the UT team along with Energy Center Executive Director Melinda Taylor ’86 and Renee Kolar ’12, herself a recent Vis participant.  “Our students have analyzed it thoroughly and have developed some powerful arguments.”

The UT team, which is being sponsored by the Energy Centre, has four members – Rebecca Bennie, Jonathan Schultz, Zachary Chittick, Brett Rosenthal.  For months, the students have devoted their Wednesday nights and more than a few weekends to drafting their brief and sharpening their oral arguments.

In fact, as the competition approached, the students rehearsed before prominent international arbitration practitioners like Jim Loftis ’90, the head of the International Dispute Resolution practice at Vinson & Elkins and the chair of the Energy Center’s advisory board.

“UT fields a good team every year, but this year our team is truly exceptional,” Taylor said.  “We have high expectations for them.”

Course in Environmental Regulation Debuts New Public Interest Arm, UTROG

Over the last two years, the University of Texas School of Law has been offering an innovative course that requires students to write petitions, comments, and other regulatory products in lieu of seminar papers.  The students (called collectively the University of Texas Regulatory Oversight Group, or UTROG) focus on particularly complicated environmental problems for which there is often a lack of engagement by at least one main affected group, whether it be the general public, farmers, or small businesses.

Since there are no clients, identifying both the problem and possible solutions for these applied projects are done primarily by the students in ways reminiscent of the open-ended public interest work of the 1970’s.   Over the last two years, the Group has tackled issues ranging from worker protection standards, to trade secret protections, to fracing, to drought prevention.

On March 20, 2013, UTROG launched its first work product – a petition, directed at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  The petition requests OSHA to provide more public information on the high performing facilities programs.  Facilities that qualify to be part of this particular OSHA program enjoy reduced enforcement and a reputational boost for being classified as particularly safe, but the facilities’ application and record of exemplary compliance are not publicly available.  What is worse, after qualifying, several of these “best performers” appear to have maintained unsafe workplaces that caused the death of workers.   The petition can be found here.

Stay tuned on the fate of the OSHA petition as well as other work products that will be emerging soon from the course.  It is our hope that UTROG may be the beginning of a larger network of courses at other law schools.  If you are interested in learning more about UTROG, please contact Wendy Wagner or Jeremy Brown.

Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Law launches new blog, UT Law Grid

The Law School’s Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Lawhas rolled out a cutting-edge legal blog with an inaugural post on hydraulic fracturing from Professor David Spence.

UT Law Grid will contribute to vital academic and policy debates in the Energy Center’s core subject areas with regular updates from University of Texas professors, prominent practitioners, lawmakers, and policy experts. In particular, as the Texas Legislature begins its 83rd session in January 2013, the Center will use the blog to participate in relevant policy discussions around water and energy issues.

“The Center already acts as an academic node, bringing together leading lights in energy and environmental law,” said David Spence, an associate professor at the Law School and the McCombs School of Business.  “It was only natural for the Center to have a virtual presence that reflects its role within the university.”

Spence’s post explores issues surrounding the most game-changing innovation in the energy industry this century, hydraulic fracturing.  Specifically, the post considers environmental benefits of natural gas and hydraulic fracturing compared to the use and extraction of coal and argues that anti-fracking laws may protect the local at the expense of the broader environment.

“David Spence has stature in energy law and, with connections to both the business and the law schools, embodies the inter-disciplinary spirit of UT Law Grid,” said Melinda Taylor, the Energy Center’s executive director and a senior lecturer at the Law School.  “His post could have easily been an opinion piece in a top newspaper, and we are grateful that he has chosen our blog as a forum for his work.”

Going forward, UT Law Grid will build upon Spence’s piece with related posts on fracking land-use laws and new fracking regulations that the Texas Railroad Commission is creating. The scope of the blog will be as encompassing as that of the Energy Center itself, however.

The blog will take advantage of the Energy Center’s location, in the capital of the state that is home to the energy industry, but it will have global vision and will draw from the Energy Center’s international activities, particularly in Latin America.

“We have to prepare our students to practice in areas such as energy and environmental law that are increasingly global in scope,” said Ward Farnsworth, dean of the Law School and John Jeffers Research Chair in Law. “Fortunately, the University of Texas has an outstanding reputation around the world, and the Energy Center and David Spence are making that reputation even stronger.”

UT Law Grid, with Spence’s piece and other posts, is available on the Energy Center’s home page, at

About the Energy Center:  The Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Law at the University of Texas School of Law offers an extensive and unique curriculum to students interested in these areas of the law. The Center is also a focal point for interdisciplinary analysis, debate, and discussion of the legal and policy issues relevant to energy, arbitration, and the environment.

Student Reports on Energy, Environment in Southwest

This past summer Ari Phillips, a graduate student at UT Austin pursuing a dual degree in journalism and global policy studies, hit the road to report on energy and environmental issues across the Southwest.

He raised money for the project, called “Energy and Climate Change in the Southwest” via Kickstarter and kept a blog going with link to all his stories:


Energy Center Creates Research Fellowship for Recent Law Grad

In the near future the UT Law Energy Center will be looking to hire a one-year fellow. The fellow will ideally fill several roles. These might include co-teaching classes, preparing white papers or law review articles, carrying out research, or convening a colloquium on a topic of interest. The fellow may also catalyze work on a particular substantive issue related to the environment or energy, or, ideally, the intersection between them that is of interest to one or more of the Center faculty.

UT Law Student Wins Postgrad Fellowship to Brazil

Shannon Gentile Sims, J.D. Class of 2011 was recently awarded the Institute for Current World Affairs Forest and Society Fellowship. For the next 2 years she will be living in Brazil and studying stakeholder involvement in the governance of the South Atlantic Coastal Forest, the Mata Atlântica. The Mata Atlântica runs the extent of the eastern seaboard of Brazil, and only about 7% of the original forest cover remains. Recent proposed amendments to the Forest Code in Brazil (that recently passed through the lower legislature) will create loopholes that will for example, allow some past deforestation crimes to be forgiven. There is evidence of a 60% increase in deforestation just in the months since this amendment was proposed. Ms. Sims will study the impacts of the passage (or failure) of these amendments, through the use of her legal background and photography skills.