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EENR Conference experts say energy transition is a balancing act of resource equity, economic growth and environmental protection eenr event attendees

Attendees engage in discussions at the 8th Annual North American Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Conference hosted by the University of Houston Law Center.

Mariesha Keys - Headshot

Gina S. Warren and Susan Bickley

Mariesha Keys - Headshot

Tracy Hester and Catarina Gonzales

May 29, 2024 — Energy lawyers, academics and industry leaders discussed the critical need for resource management approaches to navigate the country’s evolving energy landscape during the 8th Annual North American Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Conference hosted this spring by the University of Houston Law Center.

Catarina Gonzales, UHLC alumna (LL.M. ’11) and newly appointed Commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and Tracy Hester, Associate Instructional Professor of Law and Co-Director, Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources (EENR) Center at UHLC opened the conference with a fireside chat addressing environmental concerns in Texas.

“Texas is booming, and that's bringing a lot of challenges,” said Gonzalez who highlighted the state’s population and economic growth as a significant factor contributing to increased energy demands.

“We have a dual mission at the agency: … protecting our health and environment … and economic development,” said Gonzalez.
The conversation also extended to water supply and rights, an often-overlooked aspect of TCEQ.
“The biggest issue facing the state is water availability,” said Gonzalez. “The agriculture industry needs a predictable and reliable supply of water.”

She noted the scarcity of water decimated the sugar industry in Texas with the state’s last sugar mill closing earlier this year.
According to Gonzalez, the Texas Farm Bureau says the state’s heavily water-reliant industries “cotton and citrus are at risk.”
Chinonso Anozie, Assistant Professor of Law at Willamette University College of Law, analyzed the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Justice40 on disadvantaged communities.

While the IRA does not explicitly mention disadvantaged communities, Anozie said “We are under an administration that focuses on environmental justice and reducing the disproportionate impact on minority communities or disadvantaged communities.”

The Justice40 initiative, put in action by the Biden Administration Executive Order 14008, ensures “that at least 40% of overall benefits of climate and clean energy investment go to communities that are disadvantaged or have environmental justice concerns.”

He highlighted federal initiatives and funding opportunities aimed at supporting clean energy and climate projects in these disadvantaged communities, such as the Environmental and Climate Justice Grant Program, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, the Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment Program, and the USDA Assistance for Rural Electric Cooperatives, among others.
Anozie acknowledged challenges such as state and local permitting delays, community acceptance and opposition, potential environmental risks, and distrust of industrial practitioners.

He suggested solutions such as “community engagement, education, and transparency” to reduce adverse impacts and build resilience in communities.

Cody Johnson (J.D. ‘09), UHLC alumnus and Chief Executive Officer at SCS Technologies LLC, noted the heightened focus on energy security due to the Russia - Ukraine war and its implications for renewable energy.

“You can’t prosecute war with wind and solar. If we want to reach our carbon neutral goals, we are going to have to do that with carbon capture and sequestration,” said Johnson.
Deonne Cunningham Nauls (J.D. ’06), UHLC alumna and General Counsel for Skylar Capital Management LP, emphasized energy market impacts.

“The scarcity pricing for winter 2025 in areas in Europe due to this war increases a potential energy crisis for years to come, particularly if this agreement is not reached between Ukraine and Russia.”

The conference concluded with an announcement of the inaugural EENR Scholarship ($10,000) for the best environment, energy, and natural resources article, awarded to UHLC student Frank Chambers for his paper titled “The Nuclear Option: Securing Environmental Justice Benefits Through the Movement to Replace Coal Power Plants.”

Co-sponsors of the event are the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Center, UH Energy, Blank Rome LLP, Susan Bickley and Gina S. Warren.

Watch the presentation videos from the 8th Annual North American EENR Conference:

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