Research Assistant Opportunity, Summer 2014

Research Assistant Opportunity

NEPA Litigation Project

David E. Adelman
Harry Reasoner Regents chair in Law
The University of Texas School of Law

Recruiting for Summer 2013

Contact: David Adelman

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is often referred to as the “Magna Carta” of U.S. environmental law.  It marked a dramatic change in U.S. environmental policy and represented the first in a series of transformative environmental laws passed by Congress in the 1970s.  NEPA is distinctive in that it imposes only procedural requirements—as opposed to substantive standards—and broadly encompasses federal actions that “significantly impact” the environment, which can range from timber sales, to funding new highways, to implementing trade agreements, to military actions.  The intuition behind the law is simple—if federal agencies are required to identify the
environmental impacts of their projects and to examine options for mitigating them, they will be more likely to avoid environmentally destructive actions.  Information generated through the NEPA process also facilitates
public oversight of federal actions.  NEPA’s influence has been global because its framework for environmental reviews, exemplified by detailed “environmental impact statements,” has become a model for environmental
policies in more than 150 countries.

Over the past decade or so, legal scholarship has been greatly influenced by economic research methods and has increasingly incorporated sophisticated empirical methods.  However, the adoption of these methods has been uneven, with a disproportionate share of empirical studies occurring in certain fields of legal scholarship (e.g., intellectual property, corporations, torts).  While environmental law has been deeply influenced by scholarship at the intersection of law and economics, this work has not extended to empirical studies of litigation and has only recently included empirical work on rulemaking by federal agencies (i.e., issuance of regulations).  The proposed project would be among the first empirical studies of environmental litigation to utilize methods beyond descriptive statistics, and the first comprehensive study of litigation under NEPA.  This kind of work is long overdue, but one benefit to the lag in
empirical environmental scholarship is that the study design will benefit from work in other fields of law.  Recent studies of patent litigation, in particular, will provide valuable models for the study proposed here.

Legal scholarship tends to focus heavily on cases issued by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals.  In any given year, the Courts of Appeals collectively rule on about 20 cases that address issues under NEPA; the Supreme Court has issued just 17 opinions on NEPA claims since 1970.  Even granting the lesser precedential value of their opinions, the great majority of NEPA litigation occurs in the U.S. District Courts.  This project will collect comprehensive data on NEPA litigation in each of the three levels of the U.S. courts.  The data we plan to collect will encompass information on litigants and judges/circuits, the duration of litigation, the issues litigated (including success and failure rates), and the types of remedies and outcomes.  These data will enable us to examine patterns of litigation over time, to assess conventional wisdom about the importance of specific NEPA procedures, to evaluate differences in NEPA compliance across federal agencies, and to analyze litigation strategies and impacts.  Given the tractable number of cases filed, roughly 100-150 annually, constructing the data base is a readily achievable objective.  This work will be of broad significance to scholars working on environmental law and policy, officials in federal agencies, and policymakers, as well as lawyers in non-governmental organizations and private practice.


2014-2015 Energy Law Scholarship Competition


The University of Texas School of Law and the Texas Energy Law Association (“TELA”) are pleased to offer scholarships to rising 2L and 3L students at UT Law with a demonstrated interest in energy law. The number and dollar value of scholarships awarded by UT Law and TELA will vary from year to year based on funds available and the number of qualified applicants. UT Law and TELA cannot guarantee that scholarships will be awarded every year. Information on value of scholarships coming soon.

UT Law and TELA will award at least two scholarships for the 2014-2015 academic year. Scholarship recipients will be announced on April 2, 2014. Recipients will be recognized at the TJOGEL/TELA Spring Happy Hour on April 3, 2014 (visit the TJOGEL website for April 3rd Happy Hour time and location). Scholarships will be disbursed directly to UT Law and will be applied to the 2014-2015 school year.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Rising 2L and 3L students in good standing at UT Law (dual degree students are eligible).
  • Students with a demonstrated interest in energy law.
  • Students are eligible to receive UT Law and TELA scholarships for more than 1 year, but they must reapply each year.
  • Students who are not selected as scholarship recipients for their 2L year are highly encouraged to reapply for their 3L year.


  • Submit the application via email to Mauricio Pajon or in person at the Energy Center in  TNH 3.119 by Friday, March 28th, at noon.
  • Typed applications are preferred.
  • Fill in all blanks and include all materials requested.
  • Email questions to Mauricio Pajon.

UT Law Students Form Environmental Moot Court Team, Win Best Oralist Award


Photo of the three members of UT Law's environmental moot court team
Teammates (from left to right) Lindsay Dofelmier, David Fisher, and Nora Gay at the NELMCC

Over the February 22-23 weekend, UT Law students competed at the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition hosted by Pace University School of Law in White Plains, New York. The team, composed of three 2Ls – Lindsay Dofelmier (the Energy Center’s summer 2013 intern), David Fisher (the inaugural Energy Center Fellow), and Nora Gay – were the first ever from UT Law to compete in the competition, which drew nearly 80 teams from law schools around the country.

Coached by UT Law Professors Natalia Blinkova and David Nix, the team represented fictional parties Jacques Bonhomme, Shifty Maleau, and the State of Progress in a Clean Water Act case, which required them to prepare arguments for each party on issues ranging the scope of the Act’s citizen suit provision to the determination of point sources and navigable waters. The team prepared a brief on behalf of Mr. Bonhomme in November 2013, and represented all three parties in oral arguments throughout the competition. They were awarded three “Best Oralist” awards between them at the competition.

“It has been a great opportunity to improve our oral advocacy and brief-writing skills,” said team member David Fisher. “And we learned quite a lot about the Clean Water Act along the way.” The three team members hope to compete again in the competition next year, aided by their faculty coaches.

Energy Center to Sponsor Students at Harvard Environmental Justice Conference

The Energy Center will sponsor two UT Law students to attend this year’s National Association of Environmental Law Societies conference, being hosted by Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law Society on March 28-29.

Applying: The sponsorship is open to all UT Law students with a commitment to environmental law.  To apply, students should submit a resume and short letter (one page) explaining their interest in environmental justice to Jeremy Brown at by Monday March 3 at 5 pm.

About the Sponsorship:  The Energy Center will cover travel expenses, hotel for up to three nights, and registration fees, if applicable.  The center’s administrative assistant will work with students to make travel bookings.

About the Conference: In recognition of the 20th anniversary of President Clinton’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice, the theme will be “Environmental Justice: Where Are We Now?” The conference will focus on three themes: progress on the goals of environmental justice, social justice aspects of today’s national and international environmental movements, and strategies to ensure that environmental justice is a priority in future environmental work.  Conference highlights include:

  • A keynote address by Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Friday evening
  • A plenary address by the “father of environmental justice,” Dr. Robert Bullard
  • An interview with UT Law’s Gerald Torres, who, as counsel to the Attorney General, drafted the President’s groundbreaking Executive Order on Environmental Justice,
  • Presentations by Professor Michael Gerrard, Columbia University, and Professor James Grijalva, University of North Dakota School of Law
  • Panels with environmental justice community leaders from around the country, including, among others, Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, based on West Harlem, NY, Pamela Bush, Lead Organizer of the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, in Dorchester, MA, Kalila Barnett, Executive Director of Alternatives for Community and Environment, and Caroline Farrell, Executive Director, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Delano and San Francisco, CA, and
  • An event honoring the life and career of Luke Cole, co-founder of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment

Energy Center Co-Hosts Workshop on Texas Water Financing

On February 21, the Energy Center partnered with the UT Office of Sustainability and the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution to host a workshop on a set-aside for conservation and reuse in Texas’ new water financing laws.

Melinda Taylor stands at podium
Melinda Taylor, UT Law Energy Center

In November 2013, Texas voters by a roughly three-to-one margin approved Proposition 6, which amended the Texas Constitution and the Texas Water Code to create a new water infrastructure bank, the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT).  SWIFT was capitalized with a $2 billion appropriation from the State’s Rainy Day Fund and is subject to a twenty percent set-aside – codified at § Texas Water Code 15.434(b)(2) – for conservation and reuse.

The legislature charged the Texas Water Development Board with responsibility for implementing and managing the new financing scheme.  The workshop explored the issues and opportunities the agency will face.

For slides, audio, and a program from the event, please click here.

Energy Center Releases Environmental Law Internship Guide

In conjunction with UT Law’s Environmental Law Society and Career Services Office, the Energy Center has released a guide to environmental law internships.

The guide includes information about dozens of internship opportunities and is intended to serve as a guide for law students seeking summer and school-year placements.

While the guide includes positions with the federal government and national nonprofits, the primary focus is on Texas.

Melinda Taylor, “Lesser prairie chicken losing ground in Texas, other states” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Energy Center director Melinda Taylor, with scientist and former Defenders of Wildlife vice president of policy Timothy Male, published an op-ed in the January 29 Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s impending decision on whether to list the lesser prairie chicken (LPC) as endangered.  Taylor and Male warn that a state-led conservation plan alone would not sufficiently protect the LPC.  For the species to survive, it will also need strong federal protection.