Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Winter Afternoon Walk in Colorado

There is nothing quite like a winter afternoon hike in the mountains to remind oneself of the majesty and beauty of nature.

I love this type of solitude so much that I spent the last daylight hours of the year (at least in the U.S. Mountain Time Zone) at a place called Elk Meadow Park, which is about 25 miles (35 k) west of Denver.

I visit Elk Meadow (click here for a trail map) regularly throughout the year. It has its charms in every season, and particularly so in winter when the days are short and late afternoon walks can be cold and sometimes wet if it is snowing. The elevation at Elk Meadow is about 8,000 feet or 2,700 meters more or less and so a chilly day in Denver can be very cold at Elk Meadow

On my New Year's Eve walk, I was entirely by myself. I did not see another person on the trail, thus making the afternoon walk even more enjoyable.

However, when I say I was by myself I should correct this -- actually there was plenty of action in the park, but just not of the human kind! I saw deer, birds, one fox, and elk tracks. While it seems -- from the perspective of a human -- that the forest has gone to sleep for the winter, the reality is that the creatures that live in the forest are busy with their own daily routines.

As I walked along, snow crunching under my boots (and very good ones at that, recommended by my good friend Chris Lloyd, of Oxford, England, with whom I have walked in Elk Meadow many times), I thought about what a joy it is to live so close to such a wonderful setting. The walk in the woods quickly reminded me of the beauty of nature, as well as all that I was lucky enough to experience in 2009 in Europe and North and South America.

Denver and Colorado are very special places -- I think all who come here to study or live will agree. The vastness of the state and national parks, which are literally on our doorsteps, remind us of the wonders of the mountains and the opportunities to enjoy them.

As daylight changed to winter's darkness, I thought about my friends in other parts of the world who are enjoying the long days and warmth of summer. In particular, program alums in Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago, Jakarta and elsewhere came to mind.

Our cold and short days will soon give way to more sunlight and warmth. But for now it's winter in Colorado, a beautiful and wonderful time in its own right.

Commercial Real Estate Owners Looking to Solar Panels to Boost Revenues

It is no surprise that the past year has been a challenging one for many sectors of the economy, not least the owners of commercial real estate. However, some times good results can come from bad situations and this may be the case with commercial real estate.

The Financial Times ("Solar Power Boost for US Rental Outfits," Dec. 23, 2009) has reported that, "Real estate trusts are showing an increasing interest in renting roof space to companies and utilities that can install and manage solar panels on top of their buildings."

A number of real estate owners including ProLogis and AMB Property consider rooftop solar projects as significant business opportunities, according to the FT piece.

Paul Adornat, a BMO Capital Markets investment analyst, told the FT, "An industrial building can completely satisfy all of its electricity needs plus put some additional power back into the grid."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Chinese Firms Finalize Investments in Ecuadorian and Kazakhstan Copper Interests

China's investment in the natural resources sector continues to boggle (at least non-Chinese) minds. This week two more deals of major importance have been announced.

In one deal, the China Railway Construction Corporation and Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Holdings agreed to pay nearly $700 million Canadian in cash to purchase Vancouver-based Corriente Resources, which owns the mining rights to several copper deposits in Ecuador.

No sooner was that deal announced, than London-traded Kazakhyms, another copper producer, received a $3 billion loan from the Chinese Development Bank and a Kazakh sovereign wealth fund. According to the Financial Times, the loan will allow Kazakhyms to fully develop a copper project located in northern Kazakhstan ("Kazakhyms Gets Funding From China," Dec. 30, 2009). In 2009, the total Chinese investment in Kazakhstan reached $13 billion, the FT reported.

The enormous internal demand in China for infrastructure-related development is driving the country, and its state-related firms, to acquire the rights to more and more natural resources.

Stay tuned. It seems likely that the Chinese have only just started their purchasing spree. And for those more interested in China, the "Comparative Environmental Law" course I teach beginning in January 2010 will focus in part on environmental and natural resources developments in China.

Tort Actions a Path to Reducing Carbon Emissions? Bad Idea Says The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page

Despite the lack of real progress at the UN Climate Change Conference recently in Copenhagen and "with a failure in the U.S. Senate looming this coming year," trial lawyers and green pressure groups have joined forces to try to reduce carbon emissions by filing "nuisance" law suits against major carbon emitters, The Wall Street Journal editorial page has opined ("The New Climate Litigation," Dec. 28, 2009).

The editorial said in part:
What unites these cases is the creativity of their legal chain of causation and their naked attempts at political intimidation. "My hope is that the court case will provide a powerful incentive for polluters to be reasonable and come to the table and seek affordable and reasonable reductions," [Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal] told the trade publication Carbon Control News. "We're trying to compel measures that will stem global warming regardless of what happens in the legislature."

Mull over than one for a moment. Mr. Blumenthal isn't suing to right a wrong. He admits that he's suing to coerce a change in policy no matter what the public's elected representatives choose.
The editorial goes on to worry that:
The courts would become a venue for a carbon war against all. Not only might businesses sue to shackle their competitors...but judges would decide the remedies against specific defendants. In practice this would mean ad hoc command-and-control regulation against any industries that happen to catch the green lobby's eye.
Well that's certainly one side of the "climate litigation" argument. The trial bar (and some states' attorneys general for that matter) undoubtedly has another. This is an issue that is not going away anytime soon (in the absence of strong federal action on the matter), and will undoubtedly make for some interesting posturing by all sides of the carbon issue.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sturm College of Law Joins the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law

The University of Denver Sturm College of Law has become a member of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law.

According to the IUCN Academy, environmental legal education is an important contributor to the rule of law and to environmental governance. Environmental legal education is essential for achieving sustainable development, and can be delivered by means of:
Development and delivery of programs aimed at building university teaching capacity in environmental law;
Generation of global research programs with major partners to feed into national and international environmental law and policy agendas; and
Convening major international conferences and exchange through the efforts of its Secretariat and its electronic communications.
DU Law Prof. George (Rock) Pring, who was instrumental in DU's joining the academy, said, "It is exciting for DU to become an active member of the IUCN's Academy of Environmental Law, as it is the premier body of environmental law professors globally."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New "Environmental and Energy Insights" Blog Published by Stanford School of Law

The Stanford University School of Law has recently launched a new blog called "Environmental and Energy Insights." The insightful and timely blog, which is authored by several Stanford law professors, is well worth a look.

A recent posting, "Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Clean Air Act -- What's Next," is an excellent example of the type of content one can expect to read. This particular piece notes that the EPA's recent "endangerment finding" as related to greenhouse gases is simply a bargaining chip that may be used by an Obama Administration desirous of having the Congress reduce greenhouse gas emissions by legislation (a point this blog also has made in several previous postings).

In any case, if energy is your area I'd suggest bookmarking the Stanford blog.

(Muchas gracias a Sergio Stone por esta idea.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Renewable Energy "Webinar" Hosted by DU College of Law: Legal Challenges and Opportunities Discussed by National Experts

The University of Denver Sturm College of Law recently hosted an American Bar Association Standing Committee on Environmental Law sponsored "webinar" entitled, "Renewable Energy: Legal Challenges and Solutions for the Green Economy." The event, which included a panel of presenters who were physically located in the law school building, was broadcast over the web to locations all around the United States.

What made the event particularly remarkable was the extremely high quality of panelists and moderators, all of whom were from the Denver metropolitan area. In that sense, the event highlighted the growing importance of Denver -- and Colorado more generally -- in the development of the green energy economy.

The "cross country" gathering was welcomed by Associate Dean Fred Cheever, a well known environmental law professor in his own right. Dean Cheever was followed by moderator Howard Kenison, the former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Environmental Law and a Denver-based partner in the firm of Lindquist Vennum LLP. Mr. Kenison, who is also a graduate of the DU College of Law and will serve as the law school "practitioner in residence" in the spring 2010 semester, introduced the impressive panel of speakers:
Mr. Futch noted the currently in Colorado 55 percent of the total electricity load is regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, while 45 is not. Thus, he suggested that there is "no real leverage from a regulatory perspective" for nearly one-half of the state's electricity. He also asserted that "putting a price on carbon" is one of the key elements in promoting the development of renewable energy. "A high tax or price per ton of $60 or higher on carbon is required to move past incremental gains in renewable generation," he said.

David Hurlburt said there is a growing trend among states to identify renewable nergy zones, places that combine high quality renewable energy sources and can be developed with single, as opposed to multiple transmission lines. However, he noted that the legal landscape is "Balkanized between states and the federal government." Moreover, there are different strategies at state and federal levels about how to implement renewables.

John Herrick, who has taught (and continues to teach) "Renewable Energy Project Finance," at DU for the last 10 years, offered the view that "public-private partnerships" with respect to renewable energy projects will become more important as the economic stimulus funds begin to wind down. Moreover, Mr. Herrick said that transmission is a "huge issue" since renewable energy generation is of limited value unless transmission lines are available to transport electricity from generating sites to load centers. Finally he suggested that there is a "civil war" currently going on in the environmental community. On one side are those whose objective is clean energy. On the other side are some who are using the National Environmental Policy Act to "slow down" projects. It is not clear at this point which perspective might prevail, he said.

Frank Prager began by noting that Xcel is "preparing for a carbon-constrained economy." He said that in 2008 Xcel's generation portfolio included 13 percent renewable sources (primarily wind) and that by 2020 that number would grow to 25 percent. Currently Xcel owns 120 megawatts of renewable generating capacity, with the remainder of their renewable generation being purchased through power purchase agreements. Among the key questions that Xcel is facing include:
  • If there is a limited pool of "clean energy investment dollars," where should investments be made?
  • Currently state and federal renewable policies are beginning to overlap; they should be made seamless.
  • Future technology development related to renewable sources is a primary concern. "We have to have policies that encourage future investment," he said.
What was most striking to me -- beyond the actual issues discussed -- was the fact that the DU law school has on-going relations with nearly all of the speakers and their organizations, something that will only serve to benefit our program and future students. It is difficult to imagine being able to assemble such an impressive panel who live and do business in the same area anywhere else in North America.

The importance of challenges and opportunities associated with renewable energy are growing all over the nation, and especially in Colorado. Coupled with DU's range of externship opportunities, there is no better place to study about this increasingly important area than right here in the shadow of the front range of America's Rocky Mountains.

You can listen to the entire conference by clicking here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An End, A Beginning: The Natural Rhythm of Our Professional Lives

On Friday December 18, 10 of our program's students moved from the status of "student" to the status of "graduate."

As the "December 2009 Graduate Recognition & Reception" took place in the law school forum, and family members, friends, professors and others assembled to celebrate the moment, I reflected on our graduate program students who completed their studies at the end of this semester. For me, it was a moment of enormous satisfaction for the students, their families, and all those who care about them. Without question, the students -- and those around them -- have invested much time and energy in their journey to this meaningful moment.

The diversity of this group was impressive indeed with graduating members of our "community" including students from Chile, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the United States. Moreover, their dedication to hard work and commitment to improving how the world uses natural resources and protects our environment also were on my mind.

But most of all, I thought back to the first day that Lucy Daberkow, the assistant program director, and I met these women and men. Many came from long distances and have made significant sacrifices to pursue their dream of earning a degree from the University of Denver. Between the time they first arrived and now, each faced his or her own challenges, which often included both disappointments and successes. To be sure, we are extremely proud of all of them as a group and each of them as individuals.

I would not be honest if I said that there was not a slight bit of sadness in my heart as I thought about the beginning of courses next January and the reality that most of them would not be in Denver. In many instances, Lucy and I have had the enormous pleasure of welcoming them into our community and sharing with them the rhythms of life within this community. Children have been born. Couples have been married. Jobs have been obtained. Birthdays celebrated. Scholarships won.

Thus, put into a larger perspective the sadness that Lucy and I may have is soothed in large measure by knowing that while these individuals have ended one part of their lives (i.e., their education at DU), they are just beginning the next phase of their lives. And in this next phase, many -- if not all -- will make significant contributions to their chosen areas of environmental and natural resources work.

The sadness of an ending is balanced by the joy of a beginning, and the knowledge that what ties us together as a community is far stronger and enduring than any physical distance will ever represent.

We wish all of our graduates good health, much success, and a promise of working for a better future for all of us. Felicitaciones y buena suerte. Congratulations and good luck.