Saturday, May 16, 2009

May 2009 Commencement: A Great Day for the Graduates & A Great Day for the University of Denver

There are few days in life that are more satisfying than those when one can watch, recognize, and enjoy the success of many others. A graduation day is just such an occasion, and I've just had the great good fortune today of watching as our program's class of 2009 graduated this morning.

The morning, which dawned as a gray, chilly affair, did not take long to emerge into a warm, Colorado sunshine-filled day that marked an endpoint and a new beginning point for our graduates. And what a class they've been!

However, before making some personal reflections, let me speak about the diversity of this class. We had graduates from nine countries: Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. In terms of states in which our students have studied, the list is equally impressive: California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Put another way, this was our most diverse class ever. The richness and understanding that these students brought to the life of the law school was enormously impressive. Not one or two, but many, many professors, other students, and staff have told me how much the diversity of the graduate program adds to the Sturm College of Law. And may I briefly digress for just a moment: All of us owe a great debt of gratitude to Lucy Daberkow, Assistant Program Director, for her unwavering commitment to all of our students -- be they from near or far -- and her appreciation of the role that diversity plays in the life of our graduate community. To Lucy all of us say, "muchisimas gracias!"

The diversity helps all of us in the sense of learning about different points of view, becoming friends with individuals from places thousands of miles from our own places of birth, coming to respect the combined points of view that make the world the challenging but opportunity-filled place that it is. If past experience is any indication, these new graduates will continue to benefit for many years to come from what they have learned and seen at DU.

All of us here are much the better for having had the opportunity to learn from these great students and people.

So it is with equal parts of sadness to see them leave, but with high expectations for the contributions to our world that they will make that I write this. These grduates will never leave the "community" they have been a part of this past year, and we will fondly remember their time here.

Now I would like to share just a few of the many pictures (please note that more pictures will be available soon on the program's homepage) that capture the meaning and significance we have been a part of today.

Left to right: Stephen Ziri (LLM graduate, Nigeria); David Southland (LLM graduate, U.S.); Professor Tonye Oki (a 2005 LLM graduate, originally from Nigeria); Lucy Daberkow (Assistant Director, originally from Mexico); Don Smith (Director, the U.S.). The two "chicas" in front of Ms. Daberkow are in our class of 2025!

Don Smith and Misty Sims (LLM graduate, U.S.).

Don Smith and Helyna Bledsoe (MRLS graduate, U.S.)

Let to right: Jared Hayes-Mazzocco (MRLS, U.S.); Elizabeth DiNello (LLM, U.S); Lucy Daberkow; Don Smith; Kathryn Sachs (MRLS, U.S.); and Emily Smith (MRLS, U.S.).

Friday, May 15, 2009

2008-2009: Outstanding Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Graduate Students

The University of Denver Sturm College of Law Student Awards Ceremony today marked a special event for many who will graduate tomorrow.

In the graduate program there are many high achieving and extremely talented individuals, but there can only be one Master's of Law (LLM) student and one Master's of Resource Law Studies (MRLS) student at the top of his or her respective group.

It gave me great pleasure on Friday to recognize before several hundred friends, family, and other students, the two students from our program who earned the highest grade point average as compared to his or her peers.

The top LLM student award went to David Southworth, and the top MRLS student award went to Julia Verdi.  David joins a select group of LLM graduates who have won this top honor.  Julia, on the other hand, has the satisfaction of knowing that she is the first MRLS student recognized with this award.

Tomorrow when David and Julia walk across the stage to receive their diplomas they will do so with the knowledge that their hard work, dedication, and commitment to success have earned them places in our program that will live on far into the future.       

New Electric Capacity: Wind and Gas Move to the Top of the Class

New U.S. electric generating capacity by fuel type in 2008 indicates that wind power is the most popular form of additional generation among U.S. shareholder-owned electric utilities.

According to the "EEI 2008 Financial Review," by the Edison Electric Institute, a trade organization of investor-owned electric utilities, newly announced wind capacity totaled 4,914 megawatts, gas totaled 3,868 megawatts, and hydro totaled 2,409 megawatts. Where was coal? Dead last among six categories at a paltry 68 megawatts.

This hardly means that coal is out of the picture -- in fact, the EEI report says that in 2008 coal accounted for 48.5 percent of total electric output in the U.S. versus 52.8 percent 10 years ago. And the report notes that coal "is expected to remain the nation's primary generation fuel for the foreseeable future."

However, there are formidable questions on the horizon for coal-fired power. The Economist reports ("The Writing on the Wall," May 7, 2009), that 97 coal-fired power plants have been cancelled or rejected since 2001 while coal plants planned for development have dropped to 60 from 150 in the last five years.

Then there is the issue of a carbon-constrained U.S. economy. EEI says, "The increasing likelihood that Congress will impose a national cap on carbon emissions makes it difficult to confidently predict" total electric output based on coal over the next 20 years. "Coal usage will be shaped by market fundamentals, state and federal greenhouse gas emissions policies, and the availability of cost-effective technologies that capture and sequester GHG emissions from coal-fired facilities," the EEI says.

It is way premature to abandon coal as a primary generation fuel. But it is not to early to be thinking about a steady decline in coal's percentage of total generating capacity.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We're Now on Facebook!

Our masters program in Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy graduate program is now on Facebook.

Our program’s name in Facebook is “Environmental and Natural Resources Grad Program.” Individuals with a Facebook account should conduct a search (within Facebook) to locate the page.

Facebook is a social networking site, but its potential as a marketing tool is clear. Lucy Daberkow, Assistant Director of the program, said, “This social networking site attracts millions of users, so the possibilities for students and alumni to communicate with each other are tremendous. Prospective students as well as current students and alumni can visit the program’s Facebook page and view pictures, student and program information, job postings, and event calendars."

“Program applicants know they can contact Director Don Smith or me for guidance, but because Facebook provides a free-forum format, applicants can ask questions directly to former and current students and acquire a different point of view,” Ms. Daberkow said.

If you have questions about how to access the Facebook page, please contact Ms. Daberkow at or call 1.303.871.6324.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hugo Chavez: "To the People What is the People's"

Over the weekend Venezuelan troops in combination with PDVSA, the country's state-owned oil firm, seized the assets of more than 50 oil service companies operating in Venezuela.

In marking the occasion, President Hugo Chavez announced, "To God what is God's, and to Caesar what is Caesar's," adding, "Today we also say: to the people, what is the people's," the Financial Times ("Caesar Chavez Drives Campaign of Oil Seizures," May 11, 2009) has reported.

The FT reported that the "surprise move" was a result of the service companies' threat to suspend work until they were paid.

The larger issue is what this latest development means in the context of the willingness of foreign companies to invest in the oil and gas rich Latin American country. David Voght, managing director of oil and gas consultancy IPD Latin America, told the FT, "Venezuela's aggressive fiscal terms and the country's trend toward nationalization of oil industry activities will make it more difficult to attract foreign investment and competitive bids from qualified operators."

Monday, May 11, 2009

What to do About Coal (II): Look Towards China?

Yesterday's posting called attention to a recent CBS News 60 minutes show regarding the use of coal to power a large percentage of American electricity generating facilities.

But of course the "challenge" associated with coal is how to reduce the carbon emissions associated with burning it. Until recently if one had suggested that American operators should look overseas, and to China in particular for some answers, the laugh would have been audible even over the Internet!

However, today's New York Times ("China Outpaces U.S. in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants," May 11, 2009) reports that "China has emerged in the past two years as the world's leading builder of more efficient, less polluting coal power plants, mastering the technology and driving down the cost." The importance of this development cannot be understated since today China burns a greater amount of coal than Europe, Japan, and the U.S. combined.

According to the story, China is building one technologically advanced coal-fired power plant a month. Hal Harvey of Climateworks, a California based financier of projects aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions, put it this way: "The steps they've taken are probably as fast and as serious as anywhere in power-generation history."

The most sophisticated Chinese plants achieve a 44 percent efficiency compared to about 40 percent for similar U.S. plants. But this is a far cry from China's least efficient plants, which achieve efficiency in the range of the mid-20s to mid-30s in percentage terms.

Maybe the West needs to take a closer look at what the Chinese are doing. Will the next generation of American coal-fired plants be built with Chinese expertise?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What Do We Do About Coal?

CBS News 60 Minutes program recently broadcast an eye-opening, if somewhat disconcerting, story about coal generated power in the United States.  Put simply, "What do we do about coal?"

"The Dilemma Over Coal Generated Power" put the spotlight on Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy.  Among other things, Rogers, whose company annually emits 100 million tons of carbon dioxide, says it is "inevitable in my judgment" that soon the company and other major carbon emitters in the U.S. will be required to reduce their emissions.  The show also features James E. Hansen, a senior climate scientist at NASA.

For those interested in the energy/environment challenges that we face, this 12-minute show is quite enlightening.