Cathy Proctor, reporter for The Denver Business Journal, recently spoke to 30 Denver Law students. Ms. Proctor addressed trends in the energy sector in Colorado. Featured as part of the school’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program Speaker Series, Ms. Proctor has covered energy issues in the state and region for the Business Journal for more than 10 years.
The business audience in her readership, she said, is less interested in environmental issues per se, and more attuned to economic and financial dimensions arising from environmental concerns. She offered the example of a story she wrote portraying the smaller carbon footprint achieved by a building that was remodeled to become more green. The building manager reported to Ms. Proctor that the article inspired many readers to contact the manager to learn how they too might achieve the impressive energy savings that her story had reported were a product of the renovation.
She also noted that there are other state policy domains where legal expertise is needed. For example, the number of lawyers involved in drafting Colorado’s new oil and gas rules, passed in 2009, she said, was astounding.
She also impressed upon the law students the importance of regulatory regimes, such as Colorado State Amendment 37, passed in 2004, which caused utility companies to invest heavily in wind and solar power projects.
Ms. Proctor described a pair of ways in which the drive for renewable energy requires legal expertise. First, rules and regulations applied to “old energy” (e.g., natural gas and oil) are now being applied to the “renewable crew.” For example, siting windfarms on public lands has led the industry to anticipate potential impact on species important to the ecosystem and not yet on the endangered list; their goal in protecting these animals is to not add another species to the list. Second, she said, local owners don’t necessarily like solar panels or wind turbines today any more than they once liked oil rigs in the past—they represent change and naturally provoke a NIMBY (i.e., not in my back yard) response. Land use rules are key to siting these renewable technologies.
Lastly, Ms. Proctor offered advice about how companies in the news should respond to interest from the media. The typical journalist, she stressed, works on a deadline and is eager for information. An attorney answering a journalist’s call must be aware of and must establish clearly the ground rules guiding the conversation that follows: Are the comments “on-the-record,” for “background, or “off-the-record.” Once that is established, she urged the attorney not to deflect questions or refuse to answer them, rather to use the encounter to fashion the company’s response to the journalist’s inquiries about, for example, a lawsuit just filed against it.