Melinda Taylor and Jeremy Brown, “Texas water plans must consider endangered species” (San Antonio Express-News)

Energy Center executive director Melinda Taylor and research fellow Jeremy Brown published an Op-Ed in the July 7th edition of the San Antonio Express News on the recent 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Texas did not violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through the operation of its surface water program. The opinion also reverses a Corpus Christi court decision holding that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) caused the deaths of 23 endangered whooping cranes during the 2008-2009 drought. Taylor and Brown warn that “[e]ven though it won the case, the TCEQ will need to develop strategies that balance the needs of humans and the natural environment if it is to avoid future conflicts with the ESA and the rare species the law is intended to protect.”

Melinda Taylor, “Chicken kicks up legal skirmish in oil patch” (Houston Chronicle

June 27 Houston Chronicle article quotes Energy Center executive director Melinda Taylor on a challenge to the lesser prairie chicken’s threatened status by the oil and gas industry. According to the story, “At issue is whether the government can rely on voluntary agreements with landowners to preserve habitat for the imperiled species, or whether the only guarantee is to declare a species endangered and thereby severely limit its habitat for commercial use.” Lawsuits challenging the decision have been filed by a number of industry groups, municipalities, and the state of Kansas. “Protecting the chicken is particularly complex because its range is so vast, stretching over five states [Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas]. How federal courts decide the case could influence how other troubled species with multi-state territories are protected,” Taylor said. “It’s not easy because there is no other model,” Taylor said of the efforts to reverse the species’ decline. “It’s the model because it hasn’t been done before at this scale.”

Tom McGarity, “Judge upholds jury verdict for family in Texas fracking case” (Miami Herald)

The Miami Herald quoted professor Tom McGarity in a June 20 story on a pivotal case involving toxic emissions from gas and oil drilling where the presiding judge accepted a jury verdict that awarded $2.9 million to a family who said the emissions have made them sick. According to the story, “Judge Mark Greenberg issued a one-page ruling late Thursday denying a motion by Aruba Petroleum to reject the jury’s verdict. Among Aruba’s arguments rejected by Greenberg were that Bob and Lisa Parr did not prove the emissions that made them sick came from Aruba wells.” “Losing the case was not good for the industry,” said McGarity. “My guess is the industry will coalesce around this case. The industry will want to stop the dam from breaking wide open. … This is where they will take a stand.”

Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law and Business to be Established at UT Austin

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law and Business will be established jointly by the School of Law and the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

The naming of the center was approved on May 15, 2014 by the University of Texas System Board of Regents.

The mission of the interdisciplinary center will be to provide the finest educational opportunities in the U.S. to students pursuing careers in energy. The center will also provide critical analyses of legal, business and policy questions related to energy and the energy industry, both domestic and international, including an emphasis on Latin America.

The center will combine three existing centers at the university: the School of Law’s Center for Global Energy, International Arbitrations, and Environmental Law; the McCombs School’s Energy Management and Innovation Center; and the School of Law’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Latin American Law, which the Board of Regents honorifically named for Hutchison last July. The Center for Latin American Law was formally established in 2013 but is not yet active. The new Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law and Business will unite the expertise and resources of these three centers.

“We are proud this new center will be named for such a wonderful public servant who has a long and cherished relationship with our university,” said UT Austin President Bill Powers. “This exciting new venture will help us continue to establish The University of Texas at Austin as the country’s premier energy university.”

“We are proud to name the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business in honor of an outstanding public servant and distinguished University of Texas at Austin alumna who has supported energy studies from a broad perspective for many years, including the legal, managerial, and policy issues relevant to the energy industry,” added Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System. “This new center will combine the expertise and resources associated with three existing centers in law and business at UT Austin and provide a world-class, innovative educational experience to students and researchers, and balanced and incisive analyses to policy makers.”

Hutchison is a distinguished alumna (B.A. 1962, J.D. 1967) and staunch advocate for centers of excellence in higher education. She retired from politics in 2012 after serving for nearly 20 years as a U.S. senator from Texas. She joined Bracewell & Giuliani in 2013 and represents clients in banking, energy, transportation, telecommunications and public policy. She is active in supporting both the School of Law and the LBJ School of Public Affairs and has ardently promoted the importance of research and diversity within higher education.

Read brochure about the KBH Center at UT Austin.

Energy Center Convenes International Arbitration Conference in Santiago, Chile, June 5-6 2014

On June 5 and 6, 2014, the Energy Center convened a conference in Santiago, Chile, that focused on emerging trends in the use of international arbitration to resolve energy disputes in Latin America. It was the first conference on the topic ever held in Santiago. The goal of the event was to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas between Latin American experts and specialists from the United States and Europe on critical issues related to energy and arbitration.

Chilean Under Secretary of Justice Marcelo Albornoz opened the conference with remarks about the importance of energy in the global economy and thanked the Energy Center and The University of Texas School of Law for hosting the event. Over the course of two days, six panels of experts from energy companies, law firms, and universities discussed issues relevant to investor-state disputes, the jurisdiction of arbitrators and the roles of courts in reviewing arbitral awards, remedies in arbitration, and the importance of human rights and environmental considerations in arbitration proceedings. Professor Larry Sager from UT Law made closing remarks.

The conference was sponsored by five law firms – Bofill Mir & Álvarez Jana Abogados, Cleary Gottlieb, Debevoise & Plimpton, Gardere, and Vinson & Elkins. In addition, the Centro de Arbitraje y Mediación de Santiago, the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, the International Chamber of Commerce Chile, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration sponsored the event. Over 130 lawyers, students, business people, and academics from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, the U.S., and elsewhere registered for the conference. The Energy Center’s executive director, Melinda Taylor, said the event was a resounding success. “The discussions among the panelists and the audience were thoughtful and productive. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with many of the individuals and the institutions that participated in this important conference.”

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From left to right: conference participant; conference faculty Professor Victor Ferreres Comella, Pompeu Fabra University and Carlos Saavedra Teran, in-house counsel, YPBF-Andina; Chilean Under Secretary of Justice Marcelo Albornoz; and Professor Melinda E. Taylor, executive director, Energy Center.

David Spence, “Fracking pits state vs. locals,” (Houston Chronicle)

In a May 5 opinion piece, professor David Spence argues that “there are now indisputable rumblings caused by [hydraulic fracturing] in local communities across Texas.” Community protest is increasing, in Spence’s words, “as local residents find themselves at odds with both natural gas developers and state laws, policies, and economic interests.” “Authorizing local governments to tax mineral interests or share in state royalty or tax revenues is one form of compensation. Direct compensation from producers to local communities is another,” Spence recommends. He concludes that “[w]ithout local participation in the financial benefits of fracking, local anti-fracking rumblings may build and continue to spread.”

Tom McGarity, “West blast victims need more than lip service from state” (Houston Chronicle)

The Houston Chronicle published an Op-Ed from professor Tom McGarity on the need for Texas legislators to ensure public safety with new regulations after a massive fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14, injured 226 and leveled nearby homes in the community of West almost exactly one year ago.

In it, McGarity argues that although the Chemical Safety Board “concluded that both he fire and the resulting explosion were ‘preventable[,]‘ … “Texas has no Occupational Safety and Health Administration to promulgate protective standards and inspect workplaces for occupational hazards.”

“What we need is a thorough investigation into the authority of TCEQ to regulate the storage and use of highly toxic and reactive chemicals, legislation granting the agency sufficient power to force companies to that store and use such chemicals to take proper precautions and to make surrounding communities (and especially fire department personnel) aware of the risks posed by such chemicals and an appropriation of sufficient funds to do the job,” McGarity recommends.

David Spence, “U.S. an oil and gas exporter? Not as crazy as it sounds” (San Antonio Express-News)

Professor David Spence, with assistant director for energy and technology policy at UT Austin Energy Institute Fred Beach, published an Op-Ed in the May 1 San Antonio Express-News on the notion that the U.S. could begin exporting both oil and natural gas given domestic production spikes.

In it, Spence and Beach argue that “[t]he ban on the export of U.S. crude oil, enacted amid the oil crisis of the mid-1970s, might have made political and even economic sense at the time, but 40 years it begs to be re-examined.” “Since U.S. consumers and businesses would only suffer from fuel price volatility, it would seem logical that the U.S. should do all it can to unfetter markets, stabilize prices and live up to its reputation as the global champion of free markets,” they recommend.

Jeff Civins, “Texas Rulings Could Ease Permit Battles At TCEQ” (Law360)

In a May 2 article, Law360 quoted professor Jeff Civins on recent Texas appellate rulings that give broad discretion to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in determining whether opponents of proposed air- and water-quality permits are entitled to a formal administrative hearing, potentially allowing applicants to avoid lengthy court battles and years of delay. “[T]he contested case hearing process, which Texas adopted in the mid-1970s, gives people opposed to a project ‘a significant gun to hold to the head of a project developer,’” says Civins. “[T]he recent rulings are ‘more process than substance … [f]rom an applicant’s perspective, you’ve got to be a little discouraged.’”

Tom McGarity, “Texas Family’s Nuissance Complaint Seen As a Win Against Fracking” (Capital Public Radio)

Capital Public Radio quoted professor Tom McGarity on a May 4 story on what’s been called the first anti-fracking verdict in the U.S. after a Dallas jury awarded nearly $3 million to a family who said they were poisoned by a natural gas drilling operation near their North Texas ranch. The verdict is unique, according to McGarity. “It is rare for any case to go to the jury in a civil case, just simply because most settle,” he says. “[Aruba Petroleum] apparently decided to draw the line, which as it turns out was not necessarily a very good decision.”