UHLC's EENR symposium tackles myriad energy industry issues throughout North America

Professor Darren Bush introduces Dean Leonard M. Baynes' panel discussion at the 1st Annual Conference on North American Environment, Energy and Natural Resources symposium at the University of Houston Law Center.

March 28, 2017 Oil and gas law professionals throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico recently gathered for the "1st Annual Conference on North American Environment, Energy and Natural Resources" at the University of Houston Law Center.

The symposium was sponsored by the Law Center, University of Calgary Faculty of Law and Blank Rome. The two-day event was divided into four sections: Impact of Global Climate Change Initiatives on Energy Systems; multi-lateral agreements and their impact on energy systems; systemic challenges to sustainable energy development; and multi-jurisdictional energy systems.

"This program is a great opportunity for scholars, practitioners and policy wonks to engage in an international discussion on the effects of climate change and the internationalization of energy production and distribution in Mexico, Canada, and the United States," said Professor Darren Bush, director of the Law Center's Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center.

"This conference brings together experts spanning North America from government, academia, and the private sector as they shed light on problems and solutions in today's rapidly changing environment."

The opening keynote speech was delivered by William K. Reilly, of the American University Center for Environmental Policy. Reilly was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H. W. Bush. He also has served as president of the World Wildlife Fund. Reilly was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 as co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling to investigate the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Reilly pointed to statistics that show an increasingly rising sea level since 1993, and told the audience to take heed of humans' impact on climate change.

"The planetary climate is changing," he said. "The overall temperature is increasing faster than it has for many millennia. There are some indications it's raising faster now in the 21st century than it did in the 20th. The hottest 10 years have occurred in this still young 21st century. The consensus of scientific opinion is that human activities are a significant contributor to climate change, including sea level rise."

The first panel, moderated by Law Center lecturer Tracy Hester, focused on alternative sources of power. It opened with Chidinma B. Thompson, a partner, barrister and solicitor with the Canadian law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Her talk centered on the legal agenda needed to transition to a low-carbon energy economy. 

Thompson was followed by Miriam Grunstein, a nonresident scholar at the Rice University Baker Institute's Mexico Center, whose talk was titled "Mexico is Soaking up the Sun: The First Electricity Auction in Mexico and the Triumph of Solar Projects."

The panel's third speaker, Megan Reilly Cayten examined the opportunities and challenges of energy integration between the U.S and Mexico. Cayten works as an emerging markets infrastructure specialist and board member of the National Environmental Education Foundation.

The symposium's second keynote address, titled "Blast from the Past: EIAS May Become the Most Important Global Climate Change Initiative of All," was delivered by Victor Flatt. Flatt is the Thomas F. and Elizabeth Taft Distinguished Professor in Environmental Law and director of the Center for Climate, Energy, Environment and Economics at the University of North Carolina Law School.

Flatt said many activists in the U.S. are seeking out existing legal regimes to force the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. He emphasized the need for environmental law to continue to protect consumers. Despite uncertainty and a failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., Flatt emphasized the importance of environmental law acting as a protector for consumers.

"In the current climate, it's important that we think about the basic purpose of environmental law," Flatt said. That is to ensure that no one harms your health or environment for their own profit. We're at a time where the environment can be protected, climate can be stabilized and energy can be provided to people for economic growth."

Following Flatt was a panel discussion titled "International Politics of Climate Change in the Age of Trump featuring Brigham Daniels, a professor at the Brigham Young University School of Law and Blake Hudson, the Burlington Resources Professor of Environmental Law at LSU's Paul M. Hebert Law Center. Charles Irvine, a partner at Irvine & Conner LLP and an adjunct Law Center professor moderated the talk.

Law Center Research Assistant Professor Julian Cardenas Garcia moderated the third panel discussion, "Environmental Sensitivity and Voluntary Compliance by Energy Firms. The participants were Praveen Kumar, executive director of the Gutierrez Energy Institute at the University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business.

The symposium's fourth panel discussion featured Law Center associate professor Gina Warren and Gabriel Collins from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Their discussion focused on one-click energy and implementing three-dimensional groundwater management in a Texas groundwater conservation district. Law Center Affiliate Scholar Ricardo Colmenter served as moderator.

The first day of the symposium concluded with a reception, dinner and address from Hon. Hilary C. Tompkins, a former solicitor in the United States Department of the Interior.

Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes led the opening panel on the symposium's second day that focused on environment, energy and natural resources under the Trump administration. The panelists were Alex Juden, secretary and general counsel at Schlumberger, Kay McCall, president, CEO, and general counsel at Noble Environmental Power, Tony Trevino, general counsel Lewis Energy Group, William Turcotte, senior vice president and counsel at Noble Corp. and William P. Swenson, the executive vice president and general counsel at Hilcorp Energy Company.

The penultimate panel featured Hannah Wiseman, a professor from the Florida State University College of Law, Maria del Pilar Rodríguez Ibáñez, a professor of law at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and Allan Ingelson of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. Topics ranged from the governing of local and unconventional oil and gas impacts within preemption gaps, challenges and opportunities for social impact assessments in Mexico, and regulatory issues of reuse and recycling of produced water from hydraulic fracking. The moderator was Margaret Anne Hill, a partner at Blank Rome.

The final keynote address, "Integrated North Energy Systems: The U.S. and Canadian Contributions," was a collaboration between James Coleman, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law, and Fenner Stewart, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law.

Coleman and Stewart detailed the differences between federal arrangements in Canada versus the U.S. as it relates to energy issues.

"In Canada we felt like we had a relatively clear model in regards to power transmission and natural gas pipelines getting approved," he said. "If you had a local matter of local production, that's going to be decided by the provinces. If you have a pipeline within one province, that's going to be decided by the province.

"If it's inter-provincial then the federal government decides it and none of the provinces can interfere. That's been the rule historically, but now it's being questioned. A new decision has said that a province not only can, but has to make its own independent decision on inter-provincial pipelines. That is a radical shift."

"Federalism in Canada isn't as much of a federalist arrangement as you might think of it in the United States," added Stewart. "In the U.S. you have a federal constitution and state constitutions. Most of the power resides with the state with the federal government that holds everything together. In Canada, we have a very strong federal government. The provinces do not have their own constitutions."

The symposium concluded with a final panel that included Roxana-Andreea Mastor, an LL.M. global energy fellow at Vermont Law School, who discussed displacement and climate change. She was followed by Alejandra Bueno, an attorney with Cacheaux, Cavazos & Newton and chair of the AEM Bi-National Energy Committee. Bueno discussed the challenges and opportunities of expanding cross-border energy infrastructure. It was moderated by Mark James, senior research fellow and assistant professor at Vermont Law School.

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