The SEER 20th Section Fall Meeting and Conference turned out to be nothing like what I expected. And that was a very good thing. As a third year environmental law student actively looking for a paying, legal job, I could not have asked for a better opportunity to meet and interact with some of the most prominent attorneys in environmental, energy and resources law. Three aspects of the Conference intrigued me the most; the environmental attorneys, the panels, and the Conference iPhone App (yes, they have an app for that).
The Environmental Attorneys
It turns out, the attorneys who call themselves environmental attorneys are an extremely ideologically diverse group of professionals. When I boarded the plane for Austin, Texas, I thought I was heading for an open-ended discussion between environmentally minded attorneys and professionals, questioning one or two industry attorneys who reluctantly agreed to sit on one of the Conference’s panels. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Rather, the Conference brought together not only environmental attorneys, but attorneys and professionals from every type of practice impacted by environmental laws and regulations. Being held in Austin, Texas, and focusing on energy law in general, the Conference saw heavy attendance from attorneys representing the energy, oil, natural gas industries. Traditional “environmental” attorneys, specifically environmental plaintiff and government attorneys, found themselves as the minority in many of the Conference’s sessions. The industry heavy mix of environmental attorneys allowed for seemingly balanced discussions that weighed both environmental and economic concerns associated with current and proposed environmental laws and policies. As it should, the Conference discussed environmental law, not environmentalism.
However, the conflicting views and interests of the environmental attorneys did manage to boil over. During the very first panel, “Legal Guidance for U.S. Energy Providers in the Era of Shifting National Energy Policy,” an attorney in the audience got up and questioned the panel consisting of general counsels from Valero Energy, Entergy, Exxon Mobil, and ConocoPhillips. The attorney questioned not only the panel, but also SEER itself, for organizing a pro-industry panel for the very first session of the Conference. In a hold-your-breath moment, the attorney looked around the room of over 200 environmental attorneys and demanded to know why SEER had put a pro-industry panel together. Why would SEER put such a pro-industry panel together? The answer is simple. Although the panel adamantly advanced their argument that the environmental regulations of the oil and gas industry inhibit the growth of jobs and the economy, they provided a needed counter balance to traditional environmentalism. The panel, and the other industry and environmental defense attorneys at the Conference opened up the discussion and put all concerns of environmental law on the table. Economic interests drive many of the policies that dictate environmental law, and many of the panels made sure it was discussed.
The panels were intriguing, insightful, and most excitingly (at least for me), brought out environmental law star power. Besides the first panel mentioned above, two other panels stood out as being exceptionally good; “Environmental Impacts of Oil and Gas Production in Shale Formations: Policy, Perception, and Reality,” and “Environmental Law Before the Supreme Court.”
The panel on oil and gas production in shale formations focused primarily on horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The panel consisted of Jill Cooper, Encana Oil and Gas, the Honorable Michael Krancer, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and Hannah Wiseman, Assistant Professor at Florida State University College of Law. The panel primarily discussed industry concerns with hydraulic fracturing regulation. The main argument, asserted primarily by the outspoken Krancer, argued that the state of Pennsylvania and the country as a whole needed hydraulic fracturing and natural gas for a clean, reliable, and low-cost energy future. Krancer further argued that the federal government, specifically the EPA, had no business in regulating hydraulic fracturing. Krancer and Cooper stressed the importance of leaving the regulation to the states. Wiseman found herself alone on the other side of the argument. Having written extensively on the issue, she laundry-listed the environmental concerns and dangers associated with hydraulic fracturing. However, the panel and the audience did not take her points well. Having graduated from Yale Law School in 2007 and looking young enough to be a senior in college, Krancer and the audience completely overshadowed her arguments. The stark contrasts between the differing views of the panelists, and the audience in general, made for an exciting, heated panel.
The panel on the environmental cases before the Supreme Court reviewed the cases recently argued, specifically EPA v. Sackett, and the potential impacts of the cases that the Supreme Court will hear this term. The panel consisted of Virginia Albrecht of Hunton and Williams in Washington, D.C., Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal in Washington, D.C., and Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, CA. Although not nearly as heated as the panel on hydraulic fracturing, the panel discussed the impacts and reasoning behind a number of Supreme Court cases. Having argued for the Sacketts in EPA v. Sackett before the Supreme Court, Damian Schiff’s insight was particularly interesting. The Sackett case, challenging the lack of pre-enforcement review for EPA enforcement actions, resulted in a decision 0-9 against EPA. Schiff intrigued the audience with his account of the case, and how he took a Clean Water Act issue and turned it into a winning property rights case before the Supreme Court.
The Conference iPhone App
Although the Conference App had nothing to do with any substantative aspect of the Conference, it still was pretty freaking cool. It had maps, schedules, participant contact info, Twitter feeds (@ABAEnvLaw), and all other info you might need to have at your fingertips. I was able to sit in one session, and check my phone for updates on other concurrent sessions taking place right down the hall. The App was interactive, personalizing the conference, while also connecting participants, panelists, and organizers to each other. In an iPhone-obsessed world, the App was a great addition to an already great conference.