ABA Environmental Law Conference

At the ABA Environmental Law Conference in Denver, the two main themes are:

  • Energy extraction (mostly oil and gas) law and regulation
  • Brownfield development, litigation, and real-estate sales

The attendees seem to be mostly big-firm lawyers who represent corporate clients, and, secondarily, regulators. This mix is very different from the mix at the Yosemite Environmental Law Conference, where NGO and petitioners-side environmental lawyers are dominant. As far as I’ve noticed, the Nature Conservancy and my NGO, Advocates for the Environment, are the only environmental organizations at this conference.

This morning’s session focused on the Clean Power Plan. The industry lawyer complained “how can coal plants survive when they have to aggregate their emissions with renewable sources to pass muster?” Has he considered that part of the point of the CPP is that coal plants are not supposed to survive? We need to put them out of existence as quickly as possible. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal program, pushing this agenda, is one of the most successful environmental campaigns in history, and probably the most important campaign occurring now.

Energy Folks Don’t Get It

I’m sitting here in the first session of the ABA Environmental Law Conference in Denver. Most of the attendees are from industry or government; there are few lawyers at the conferenceĀ from environmental organizations. We’re listening to Norman Bay, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado.

Bay presented a deck of slides showing how “unconventional production,” i.e. fracking and horizontal drilling, has dramatically brought down the price of producing natural gas and oil. Coal-based production of electricity has been declining, but natural gas, not renewables, is filling in for coal. He happily presented an EIA conclusion that the U.S. will be a net energy exporter by 2030.

Hickenlooper, who started out as an oil and gas geologist, and is very sympathetic to oil and gas interests in Colorado, was also enthusiastic about the U.S. exporting oil and gas soon. He was very upbeat that cheap natural gas isĀ resulting in reduced GHG emissions and cheap energy. He characterized this as a win-win.

On dealing with anti-fracking protestors Hickenlooper stated that 9 out of 10 times when you listen to the protesters, you can reach an accommodation. This is of course wrong.

There’s no sense at all in the room that we need to stop producing oil and gas world-wide as soon as possible to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Perhaps the worst effect of fracking is that it lowers the cost of oil and gas production, extending the period during which we burn these fuels, postponing our day of reckoning.