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Environment 2015: Energy, Water and Wildlife (20th Annual Tulane Summit on Environmental Law and Policy)


February 27, 2015 - February 28, 2015


New Orleans, LA

ELI was pleased to co-sponsor Tulane Law School's preeminent student-run conference. Each year the Summit brings together prominent advocates, policy makers, and environmental minds. This year's session discussed issues at the local, regional, national and international levels. Fifteen panels and two keynote speakers presented their views on pressing critical environmental issues, such as groundbreaking lawsuits, water planning, and endangered species protection.

Panel Descriptions

Prairie Dogs, the Endangered Species Act, and the Limits of Federal Power

Can the federal government protect prairie dogs, cute, a favorite hunting target, a nuisance to landowners, and a keystone species for more than fifty others … and now itself threatened with extinction? A federal court has recently said “no”. Others courts with similar species have said “yes”. We heard from participants on this litigation horizon on the outcomes the fate of many other species may depend.

The Climate Change Case

Section 111D of the Clean Air Act is the vehicle for dramatic, new EPA proposals to curb carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses which have been a political football for two decades. A Supreme Court decision forced the agency to act. Are the actions now outlined, requiring serious limits on carbon emissions, within EPA’s authority? And what, if so, will Congress do?

The Future of Solar: Making Solar Power a Reality

The most promising incentive for advancing solar power has been a process for allowing residential and commercial generators – the panels on their roofs – to feed back into the energy grid. How does that happen, how does Louisiana handle it, and how does industry now calculate electricity costs and rates?

Fracking 1: Where’s the Water?

The fracking process has, until now, consumed enormous volumes of water, often taken from lakes and rivers that are also important drinking water supplies, aquatic habitat, and valuable recreation resources. How are these impacts managed in Louisiana, and how is the industry responding to these issues across the country?

Fracking 2: Who Gets to Decide?

St Tammany Parish and local jurisdictions in many states have banned or seriously limited fracking operations within their borders. Are these valid exercises of municipal power, or are they preempted by state laws promoting fracking across-the-board? The question is coming up frequently, and the answers are split. We examine them and their consequences with two Tulane law alums now representing interests on both sides of the conflict.

Justice in Action: Big Cases with Big Impact

While the BP prosecution winds through its fifth year, there is much more enforcement action led by the US Department of Justice. It does not make many headlines, but it sends powerful signals through industry that compliance with law is a serious matter, with serious consequences. This panel tells the history of two of the biggest government verdicts in recent history through the eyes of the attorneys who prosecuted them (one a Tulane alum), complicates mixes of science, politics and law.

Opening the Arctic 1: The Environment, Shipping and the Impacts of Climate Change

Warming seas and rising seas are having dramatic effects on the Arctic ecosystem. At the same time new opportunities are opening for shipping, the Northwest Passage in effect, sought after by European explorers for more than three centuries. This panel opens a discussion of how climate change works in the Arctic, and its importance to the maritime industry.

Opening the Arctic 2: What Now?

Polar Bears, Native Americans and the Impacts of Climate Change. Some of the most dramatic effects of Climate Change are on species already threatened with extinction, including the polar bear, and native populations along the coast, also threatened. This panel explores the problems and the prospects for managing them under existing law. What can or should be done?

Levee Board Suit: Where Now?

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority lawsuit seeking damages from 97 oil companies for coastal harm is moving towards its first year anniversary in litigation, with separate rulings so far from courts in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Meanwhile, several parishes and levee authorities have filed similar actions, all pending. The state legislature, meanwhile has enacted legislation intended to bar the litigation, the applicability and legality of which is also in court. In short, a multi-ring circus on shifting sands.

Plenary: Urban Transportation … Who Are Roads For?

Urban transportation dependent upon the automobile has, despite enormous expenditures, run into ever greater congestion, hours lost in traffic, pollution illnesses and deaths, and, now, dramatic shortages in its gas-tax fueled trust fund.   Cities around the world, London, Paris, Bogata, Denver, are experimenting with new transportation modes, and Manila in the Philippines among them, where citizens have made a bold claim for half of the roadways for alternative transportation modes. This panel compares developments in Manila to those here in New Orleans, two pieces of this mosaic.

Energy: For Independence or for Export? The Plaquemines Coal Terminal and Beyond

This panel discusses the shifting rationales for accelerated energy production, and in particular its application to coal mining and exports.

Environmental Justice in Lake Charles, Louisiana: Is It Possible?

The national boom in natural gas production has brought a bevy of new industries to Lake Charles, an area already dominated by chemical plants, around which small communities of long-standing sit besieged by pollution and other disproportionate impacts. Two of these communities, Willow Springs and Mossville, have been on the front lines of citizen action for many years. Mossville, primarily African American with roots going back to the Civil War, is now the target of a massive buyout by chemical giant Salsol. This panel discusses several facets of the struggle there.

Big Bears and Wildlife Corridors, East and West

The two dominant bear species of America, the Black Bear in the east and the famed grizzly of the west face different challenges, but most at issue the impact of human intrusion and loss of habitat. One question is whether corridors providing special protections and safe transit between bear populations hold promise for long term sustainability, and if so how might they be established. Two bear experts will discuss their particular experiences with the Louisiana Black Bear and the Grizzly, both currently listed as endangered species.

The Children Speak: The Atmospheric Trust Cases

In what may the boldest climate change cases ever launched, a series of lawsuits has been filed against several states claiming that their failure to regulate carbon emissions violates the public trust in the atmosphere itself … for which today’s children and those yet unborn are the primary losers. While the application of public trust principles to the atmosphere is novel, its application has grown in the US and abroad from roots in the protection of navigable waters to riparian areas, beaches, parks and other public amenities. This case not only challenges the courts, it challenges the mind and a status quo gridlocked by climate change denial, heavy industry opposition and the limits of existing statutory law.

Ocean Winds: What is the Future of Ocean Wind Power?

Offshore wind energy presents a range of technical, economic, political and navigation issues. While the US industry suffered a recent blow with the apparent demise of the Cape Wind project, similar projects overseas are booming. This panel discusses these issues and developments as several parts of a scenario that may hold great promise for sustainable energy around the world.

For available recordings of many of the panels noted above, please go HERE.