News

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.

Jeff Civins, “Texas Water Permit Fight May Foster More Takings Claims” (Law 360)

On August 28, 2013, a San Antonio appellate court issued the first major opinion involving groundwater takings under the new water rights doctrine the Texas Supreme Court established under its 2012 opinion, Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Day.

The appellate court found that the Edwards Aquifer Authority had committed a regulatory taking when it limited the amount of groundwater a pecan orchard could withdraw.  The decision has attracted considerable interest in the Texas water law community and could open the doors for many more takings claims.

In an August 29 article, Law 360 quoted Jeff Civins — a partner in the Austin office of Haynes and Boone, an Energy Center board member, and a UT Law adjunct — on the potential implications.

“The stream of litigation and potential that groundwater districts must foot the cost of those takings claims will put a great deal of pressure on water managers, said Jeff Civins of Haynes & Boone LLP. Civins said although the appellate court determined that the groundwater district and the state share liability for the takings claim, the state should step in and help, because the water management districts already have limited budgets and resources.

“’It’s not a regional issue, it’s a statewide issue and it should be dealt with on statewide basis,’” Civins said. ‘The practical impact going forward of the authority making these decisions and then facing litigation anytime somebody gets less than they think they’re entitled to is only going to be exaggerated because we now have less water to go around.’”

David Spence, “Businesses Back Greenhouse Gas Emissions Law” (New York Times)

In a New York Times story on a new Texas law giving state environmental regulators the authority to issue greenhouse gas permits, Professor David Spence explains the reasons that Texas has not regulate greenhouse gas emissions to date:

“Abbott and the state environmental agency say the EPA gave states an unfairly short time for developing the new permit rules.

“The accelerated timeline ‘gives room for argument’ that the state was wronged, said David Spence, a professor of business and law at the University of Texas at Austin. Still, he said, the requirements did not come out of nowhere. The Bush EPA believed it did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, he noted. It was the Supreme Court that indicated it should do so in 2007.

“Nonetheless, of all the states, ‘only Texas said, “We’re never going to regulate greenhouse gases,’” Spence said. ‘I guess everyone can draw their own conclusions over whether that’s a prudent interpretation of the law, or just political posturing.’”

David Spence, “How Enron changed regulation” (Marketplace)

A July 18 segment from NPR’s Marketplace explores the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s recent enforcement activities targeting financial companies.  For expert perspective, the segment quotes UT Law Professor David Spence.

“Banks have slowly gotten into that same space that Enron used to occupy,” Spence explains.  Financial institutions now dominate energy trading and, as a result, have greater incentive to manipulate energy markets.

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.