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Environmental Law: Energy & Climate Change

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Environmental Law
Energy & Climate Change

Energy and climate change issues are growing in importance and are beginning to affect every area of environmental law. These issues present new opportunities with non-profit firms and government agencies, and they are also a growth area for private law firms.

Public Interest: Many environmental lawyers focusing on an energy or climate change practice work in public or non-profit agencies, where the mission is to protect humans or the earth in connection with various environmental concerns, such as acid rain or ozone depletion. These include such organizations as the Alliance for Affordable Energy, Climate Solutions, the Greenhouse Network and the Sierra Club. These public interest lawyers may engage in advocacy efforts to convince governmental agencies to adopt sound policies when the agencies make rules and regulations, and they may also represent clients engaged in advocating new legislation [...]

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Energy and climate change issues are growing in importance and are beginning to affect every area of environmental law. These issues present new opportunities with non-profit firms and government agencies, and they are also a growth area for private law firms.

Public Interest: Many environmental lawyers focusing on an energy or climate change practice work in public or non-profit agencies, where the mission is to protect humans or the earth in connection with various environmental concerns, such as acid rain or ozone depletion. These include such organizations as the Alliance for Affordable Energy, Climate Solutions, the Greenhouse Network and the Sierra Club. These public interest lawyers may engage in advocacy efforts to convince governmental agencies to adopt sound policies when the agencies make rules and regulations, and they may also represent clients engaged in advocating new legislation or policies. Other lawyers with non-profit firms provide more direct services, assisting citizens or community groups to deal with environmental problems.

Government/Regulatory Work: Environmental lawyers who want an energy or climate change practice may also work for government agencies that focused on environmental issues, including, among others, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, or their state and local equivalents.

Energy regulatory work at the federal level is primarily with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). There are also a variety of equivalent regulatory commissions at the state level.

Those focused on policy issues may also work on a Congressional Committee staff, or as a senior staffer on any one of the government agencies whose mission it is to develop rules to implement broad legislative objectives, such as the EPA or the Federal Trade Commission. Those representing the decision-makers in government must think about how to make the rules, what the best rules are, and how to motivate and align the agencies and institutions that will implement those rules.

Private Sector: In some law firms, the climate change practice is aligned with the regulatory and/or environmental practices, and the energy law practice forms a separate group. Because climate change is a new and developing area of law in the U.S., most of the climate change work involves rulemakings and litigation. In other firms, these lawyers form part of the energy and project finance team, because the practice principally consists of carbon trading and carbon projects, which is very similar to the more traditional practice of energy trading and energy projects.

Project development and finance, particularly renewable energy projects, is a growing area of energy law. Energy and climate change practices are far more developed abroad (where regulations on emissions and trading markets already exist) than in the U.S., but this field is developing fast. Legal work includes reviewing regulations to understand relevant agency requirements, as well as advocating new rulemaking to address new energy sources (e.g., solar, wind, offshore wind, geothermal). On behalf of their clients, energy lawyers participate in ratemaking and rulemaking proceedings, lobby for favorable legislation, and advocate for license, project and merger approvals. Energy regulatory practices are often similar to litigation practices in terms of attorney work product and participation, but matters are typically resolved on a much more contracted timetable.

Energy lawyers often work jointly with regulatory/environmental lawyers, particularly on obtaining air and water permits and complying with other environmental impact requirements. Law firm clients include public utilities, municipalities, financial institutions, power marketers, private equity firms, independent power producers and generators, project developers, and Department of Energy contractors. Matters may include strategic planning and corporate restructuring, debt and equity securities issuances, transmission access, and energy marketing and trading. Energy lawyers may represent clients before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, state public utility commissions, other federal and state agencies, and federal and state courts. Sub-specialties can include energy finance and transactions, electric energy, nuclear energy, oil and gas and renewable energy.

No matter where you work in this area, you are likely to be calling on several different skill sets. An energy law practice generally combines a regulatory practice with some transactional and trade work. Most energy lawyers will also handle some litigation as well as advocacy before regulatory bodies during their careers. Like one or two other specialty practices (tax or patent litigation), energy and climate change practices are highly specialized and require a lot of expert knowledge, so litigation generalists are less likely to be handling the litigation in this area.

Lawyers have an opportunity to make an impact in many parts of this rapidly growing area of environmental law. Climate change lawyers track legislative and regulatory developments at state, federal and international levels. As they advise clients on climate policy issues, they can support the development of corporate institutional climate policies and strategies, assisting clients with the challenges and opportunities emerging from the various regulatory and corporate responses to climate change.

 
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