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The Growth of Environmental and Energy Law Education in Pennsylvania

Author: John W. Carroll

8/23/2018
The Growth of Environmental and Energy Law Education in Pennsylvania

Reprinted with permission from the August 23, 2018 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

A recent informal survey of the nine Pennsylvania law schools (University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Penn State, Dickinson, Widener, Villanova, University of Pennsylvania, Drexel and Temple) shows that each school offers basic courses in environmental law and at least some aspects of energy law. There is also an increasing focus on linking environmental law and energy law into new ways of teaching the legal and policy connections between these two fields. While each law school strives to offer a “national” perspective on legal issues, the emergence of Pennsylvania’s vast reserves of shale gas as a major international producer of natural gas has clearly impacted the breadth and depth of energy and environmental curricula at several law schools, most notably Pitt and Penn State. At other schools, the threat posed by climate change and the relationship of greenhouse gases to combustion of carbon-based fuels has brought focus to issues of sustainability and renewable sources of energy.

How do the nine law schools address these issues as they strive to educate the next generation of energy/environmental lawyers? The following summary, while incomplete, offers a glimpse into the variety of courses and other offerings at each law school.

All of the law schools offer a basic course in environmental law and all but one offer a basic course in energy law. Some schools delve deeper into these areas of law to offer courses in oil and gas law, natural resources law, climate change and shale gas. Those schools that offer a wider array of course offerings in the related fields of environment and energy include the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Duquesne University School of Law; Villanova University– Charles Widger School of Law and Pennsylvania State University Law School. Pitt relies on a deep pool of adjunct faculty composed of practicing attorneys who bring their practical experience to teach niche courses in the environment/energy space, such as water and shale gas development taught by David Overstreet from K&L Gates. Adjuncts and lecturers are utilized by several of the law schools to offer breadth of knowledge in a wider array of courses, notably David Mandelbaum at Temple, Charlie Howland at Penn and Villanova, Kevin Abbott and Jennifer Smokelin at Pitt, and David MacGregor at Drexel. A few of the law schools have full-time faculty with notable expertise in the environmental/energy field, such as John Dernbach and Don Brown at Widener, Amy Sinden at Temple, Nancy Perkins and Steven Baicker-McKee at Duquesne, and Ross Pifer and Dean Hari Osofsky at Penn State.

In addition to course offerings, several law schools have clinical programs devoted to environmental law issues, which often intersect with energy development projects. Several law schools offer certification programs in environmental law, and several sponsor student-run environmental law societies. Pitt created the Energy Law and Policy Institute in 2015 to “develop new courses in the field of energy law, with a particular focus on helping students develop practice-ready skills.”

Several law schools support specialized law journals, such as Villanova’s Environmental Law Journal, Pitt’s Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law, and Duquesne’s Energy and Environmental Law Journal.

Much of the environmental curricula offered in law schools includes a focus on the negative externalities of energy generation, starting with the extraction of carbon fuel sources (coal, oil, natural gas) and generation of electricity by combustion of those sources. Water and air pollution are the primary foci of state and federal regulations enacted to address the environmental impacts of energy production. Courses offerings also, however, force students to confront the negative externalities of renewable energy sources, such as wind power’s impact on migratory birds or hydroelectric projects’ impact on endangered species.

In order to provide context to energy policy questions, some courses seek to put energy consumption in a historic context. For example, whale oil -> kerosene -> electricity for lighting homes, even as electrical generation has progressed in a less linear, more diverse manner from coal to fuel oil to natural gas to wind to solar to hydroelectric and other renewables. Nuclear power remains a viable source of energy due to its lack of carbon emissions. Each of these fuel sources poses legal and policy questions that the future generation of lawyers will have to debate and sort out.

A recently published law school textbook titled, “Energy, Economics and the Environment,” Eisen et.al., Foundation Press, gives a glimpse into the scope of energy law education that is being offered to law students today. Topics covered in this book include the following:

  • Public utility principles and the electric power industry
  • Generation, transmission, distribution
  • Rate regulation principles
  • Cost-of-service rates vs. market-based rates
  • Electric power markets
  • Competition in power supply, open access transmission, least cost dispatch
  • Conservation, efficiency and the smart grid
  • Energy efficiency standards for appliances; demand response
  • International energy markets
  • Coal and liquid natural gas exports
  • Coal production
  • Underground mining externalities (black lung, subsidence, acid mine drainage)
  • Oil and gas production
  • Oil and gas lease; rule of capture; pooling and unitization; fracking; regulations
  • Oil and gas pipelines
  • Federal regulation; eminent domain issues
  • Controlling externalities of fossil-fuel-fired electrical generation
  • Clean Air Act; greenhouse gas emissions; coal ash; cooling water
  • Renewable power
  • Solar; wind power; geothermal
  • Hydroelectric power
  • Nuclear energy
  • Transportation fuels
  • Gasoline and additives; electric automobiles.

In conclusion, the fields of environmental law and energy law are inextricably entwined, and the next generation of lawyers practicing in the intersection of these two disciplines are being well-trained at each of Pennsylvania’s law schools.

Intern Thomas Lopez, of Widener University Commonwealth Law School, conducted the survey of law schools referenced in the article. 

The material in this publication was created as of the date set forth above and is based on laws, court decisions, administrative rulings and congressional materials that existed at that time, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.

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