News

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 http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/centers/energy/.

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.

Mary Kelly, “Behind the Scary Water Headlines” (Austin American-Statesman)

Austin American-Statesman, Dec. 15, 2012

Behind the Scary Water Headlines

By Mary E. Kelly

It’s hard to look at any media in Texas today without being confronted by a dire outlook on the state’s water future. The jarring effects of a deep drought and the steep price tag attached to the state’s water plan definitely make for attention-grabbing copy. But for those who care about sustainable management of our limited water resources, property rights and fiscal discipline in the state budget, it’s worth a look behind those headlines.

There is little disagreement that it is time for action. However, instead of throwing money at unnecessary, expensive reservoir projects that would inundate productive private lands, state funding should come with a clear set of priorities that focus on water efficiency, land stewardship and developing the science and technology that we need for a sustainable future.

Layered upon the eye-opening stories of drought are predictions that Texas population may grow by more than 80 percent by 2060. Based on that projection — which may itself be overstated — the state water plan proposes at least $53 billion in new water supply projects, including over 20 proposed new reservoirs, with half of that cost to be picked up by state taxpayers. The staggering price tag is based on a projected increase in annual statewide water use, from about 14 million acre-feet today to over 22 million acre-feet by 2060 (at current rates of use, an acre-foot is roughly enough water for three Austin households for a year).

Appropriating billions of dollars to “fund the water plan” won’t bring the rain our land, lakes, rivers and aquifers need to recover from drought. Instead, we have to recognize the stark, if unpleasant, reality: a growing Texas is faced with the challenge of learning to live within our water limits.

Nevertheless, there is an important role for state funding in moving Texas towards a more sustainable water future. Here is a proposed four-point approach:

First: Get realistic about projected water demand. The Legislature should not take the inflated projections of the water plan as our inevitable fate.

The municipal sector accounts for the bulk of the increased use projected by the state plan. Adding up the forecasts made by regional water planning groups results in a projected 2060 municipal use of 8.4 million acre-feet per year, more than double the 2010 use of 4.1 million acre-feet per year reported by the Texas Water Development Board.

One region of the state (centered on the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex) accounts for almost a third of the projected municipal water demand increase by 2060. Many cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area project that each customer will still be using about the same amount of water in 2060 as a customer does today (well over 200 gallons per capita per day). Regional planners then added a 25 percent “contingency factor” to bump up projected demand even further. This contrasts with 2060 per capita projections in El Paso, San Antonio, Houston and other cities of less than 150 gallons per capita per day. Not coincidentally, the DFW region is proposing big-ticket reservoirs and pipelines as necessary to meet demand by 2060.

The legislature should not encourage these and other overinflated demand projections by allocating state funds now for condemning productive private lands for reservoirs that may never be necessary. Instead, the state should be willing to allocate taxpayer funds only to those projects that meet demonstrable, near-term water needs in a cost-effective manner and where local funding is insufficient to pay the project cost. Furthermore, the Legislature should require the Texas Water Development Board to review per capita projections made by the various regions to determine whether or not they are reasonable.

Second: Focus on efficiency. The clear trend over the last couple of decades shows that improved efficiency can help Texas live within its water limits, and efficiency strategies are almost always much cheaper than big new infrastructure projects. If there is going to be state money allocated, a sound fiscal approach means that it should first go to the literally hundreds of conservation strategies identified in the state water plan. We can serve many more people with the same amount of water.

Third: Support private land stewardship that benefits water resources. The farms and ranches at the heart of our state’s natural and cultural heritage give rise to the water flowing in our rivers and filling reservoirs and aquifers. These lands have suffered mightily during the recent extreme drought. The legislature should enact cost-effective, market-based incentives to help private landowners manage their properties in ways that build resilience to drought and enhance overall water supply for all Texans.

Fourth: Invest in the science, technology and institutions we need to sustainably manage water resources now and in the future. State agencies are struggling to maintain basic river flow monitoring and water rights administration; budgets for groundwater science have been cut; and many local groundwater districts lack sufficient resources to do their job well. Investing a reasonable amount of state funds in science and vital state and regional agencies to improve management of water is not frivolous spending, it’s essential to solid 21st century water management.

In addition, the state could spur private sector development of new technology. As innovations in El Paso and other areas have shown, both brackish groundwater desalination and water reuse can greatly ease pressure on limited freshwater resources and help drought-proof communities. Giving a modest boost to research and development in these areas would not only assist in meeting genuine water needs, it would likely create good-paying jobs and help Texas companies lead the way to better water management across the country.

As the 2013 Legislature tackles the state’s many pressing needs, water certainly should be on the agenda. The goal, however, must be a fiscally responsible package that promotes sustainable water management.


Mary Kelly, founder of environmental consulting firm Parula, LLC, is a water lawyer who provides environmental analysis and advocacy services to non-profits, foundations and other organizations. She previously held various positions with the Environmental Defense Fund.

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: http://ontheroadwithariphillips.com/.

 

The Integrated Watershed Science Graduate Portfolio Program

The Integrated Watershed Science Graduate Portfolio Program (the “GPP”) provides graduate students at UT Austin the opportunity to supplement their current degree program with an interdisciplinary study of watershed issues.

GPP students complete twelve hours of study focused on integrated watershed science, policy and planning, and fieldwork.  Through this additional focused study, GPP students are able to take advantage not only of UT-Austin’s resources and learn from both the unique local landscape of Central Texas and their fellow students from other disciplines.  As a result, GPP students complete the program with a broader understanding of water issues. GPP students also give a professional presentation on their research.

For more information visit the Environmental Science Institute website: http://www.esi.utexas.edu/students/graduate-students/integrated-watershed-studies 

Integrated-Watershed-Science-GPP PDF with program information.

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.

AIPN Student Writing Competition and Student Scholarship Program

It is time for the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators (AIPN) annual Student Writing Competition and Student Scholarship Program.

The prize for the winners of the AIPN Student Writing Competition includes registration, travel and accommodations for the AIPN International Conference. Essays should be an original work of no more than 4,000 words on any specific issue of the student’s choice which is directly related to international petroleum negotiations, such as matters of contract, law, or policy. The deadline for submission is May 13, 2012.

For the AIPN Scholarship Program, AIPN will be underwriting eight scholarships in the amount of US $5,000 each, which will be awarded to up to eight students for the academic semester beginning in Fall 2012. Applicants must apply by June 1, 2012. The scholarships will be disbursed over the Fall Semester 2012 and Spring semester 2013 ($2,500 each semester). The funds will be paid directly to the recipient’s college or university to offset tuition. Previous AIPN Scholarship winners are not eligible to participate.

These are just two examples of the AIPN’s efforts to encouage student interest in the international energy industry. Students can join the AIPN for only $25 per year. The on-line application for membership in the AIPN can be found at https://www.aipn.org/StudentMembershipInfo.aspx.

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.

Melinda Taylor, “Austin, Travis County, U.S. Fish and Wildlife face litigation over endangered species protection” (Austin American Statesman)

In a August 9, 2010 article about endangered species protection in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, the Austin American-Statesman quotes Melinda Taylor on the potential impact of a planned environmental lawsuit against government officials.

“The challenge by the environmental groups has legs, said Melinda Taylor, executive director of the Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration and Environmental Law at the University of Texas. She also represented the Travis Audubon Society during negotiations to create the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

“‘Do we want to blow up the Balcones (plan) in this region? I would suggest not. But if it results in positive pressure on the government to complete (the preserve and the refuge), that’s a good outcome,’ Taylor said. ‘But I don’t think we want to go back to the days of fighting over a single permit, making it hard to make conservation happen on any meaningful scale.”‘