Friday, April 8, 2011
I noted in a recent "Property and Renewable Energy" post on Land Use Prof Blog that I am teaching a "Law of Electricity" seminar this semester, which describes the laws that apply to all phases of electricity production (from the siting and construction of generation to transmission and distribution). The course focuses primarily on wind energy, and I have assigned each of my students to compose a portion of a model wind energy code for Oklahoma and to suggest how portions of the code could benefit other states' energy policy projects. As part of the project we have begun to speak with state senators and representatives in Oklahoma to identify the policy challenges facing wind and other energy industries. One point raised in a recent call struck me as particularly relevant to professors teaching in this area and looking for creative projects for students. One state senator expressed frustration over the lack of energy "facts" from neutral third parties, such as information on the current and projected price per kilowatt hour of electricity from all energy sources--both traditional and renewable. If state legislators want these facts, why not have our students research, compile, and analyze them and send them to policymaking bodies? The facts could be combined with relevant legal analysis, such as comparisons of local, state, and federal energy subsidies and other laws that have affected the pace of various forms of energy development. Students in policy, economics, business, or science programs might be better equipped to provide many of these neutral third-party facts, but it seems that law students have an important role to play, too. If federal policymakers in Washington benefit from hoards of white papers and briefs from active research institutions, why not give state and local policymakers similar information that could better inform their decisions?
Professor Michael Gerrard at Columbia Law School is already putting this idea in action through the Center for Climate Change Law's Model Municipal Ordinance Project; the Center is currently seeking comments on its model ordinance. Other law schools have also begun providing valuable information on energy to local, state, and federal policymakers. To name a few, the University of Houston's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Center presented carbon trading ideas to federal policymakers at the conclusion of its "Practice of Carbon Trading Class," which included business and law students. Berkeley Law's Center for Law, Energy & the Environment similarly involves students in analysis of energy policy, as does the University of Colorado Law School's Center for Energy & Environmental Security, the University of Connecticut School of Law's Center for Energy and Environmental Law, the UC Davis School of Law's California Environmental Law & Policy Center, the UNC School of Law's Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation and Resources, Pace Law School's Pace Energy and Climate Center, Stanford's Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, San Diego School of Law’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center, the University of Texas School of Law's Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Law, the University of Tulsa's and George Kaiser Family Foundation's National Energy Policy Institute, and Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment. I am sure that I have omitted key institutions here; I welcome comments and additions.
With the rise of energy and environmental policy work in law schools, I also pose a question: Are state policymakers getting the message? How can we better distribute the valuable information produced by bright law students so that policymakers have access to the neutral, third-party information that they are demanding? In a world of overabundant information, it seems that classes embarking on code writing projects or policy whitepapers should include communications students to ensure that the information produced does not go to waste.