Curriculum

WVU Law: Energy, Environmental and Sustainability Classes

The WVU College of Law currently offers a broad curriculum of courses focused on energy, the environment, and sustainability. A list of the classes linked to their course description is provided below. For more information about the classes and how to register, please contact Professor James Van Nostrand, Director, Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, james.vannostrand@mail.wvu.edu, or (304) 293-4694.

Energy Law & Practice

This course considers energy law issues in context and as part of the larger practice of law. The course first considers energy issues across the traditional law school curriculum, including Torts, Property, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Business Associations, and Administrative Law. The course then provides practical exposure to key legal and regulatory issues related to how energy is produced, distributed, and consumed, and the legal, economical, and environmental differences and similarities between energy sources.


The Science and Technology of Energy

Lawyers practicing in the energy industry will be expected to have a basic knowledge of the science and technology of the industry, and this course is designed to provide that background information, along with the associated legal issues. This course focuses on the scientific principles and technology associated with the extraction of energy resources; generation, transmission and distribution of electricity; and emerging energy technologies (e.g., hydraulic fracturing, biofuels, solar, energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration) as well as more traditional energy sources (hydro, nuclear, fossil fuels).

Some of the questions we will consider: How does the hydraulic fracturing process work? How could West Virginia’s biomass and/or geothermal potential be used to generate electricity? What does “clean coal technology mean, and what is involved with carbon capture and sequestration? This course will include guest lecturers from the specialty science and technology areas on the WVU campus, so that students have the opportunity to learn about these issues from the experts in their respective areas. Students will also have some exposure to the handling of scientific evidence in legal proceedings, and the presentation and cross-examination of expert testimony, which should be of great value to students who expect to litigate energy-related cases, in either administrative or court proceedings.


International Environmental

This course is the law school’s primary course covering the law of climate change, and is also an opportunity to develop arbitration skills. We will spend approximately 6-7 weeks of the course on climate change law. First, we will study the international conventions (framework convention and Kyoto Protocol). Next we’ll study U.S. domestic alternative approaches to climate change, since the U.S. is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol. We will also spend the last 3-4 weeks of the semester conducting a mock international arbitration on a problem involving climate change law. Students will be divided into teams and will review discovery, prepare and/or cross-examine an expert witness, and deliver opening and closing arguments. This will all be done in an international arbitration format. The course also covers other international environmental treaty regimes, especially on biodiversity, chemicals management (including nuclear waste), and ozone depletion.


Law Land Use and Sustainable Development

The policies and practices governing land use within communities are fundamental to sustainability and protection of natural resources, including ground and surface water quality and quantity. This course will examine the role of land use planning, and implementing regulatory and non-regulatory tools, in achieving sustainability objectives. Legal aspects of comprehensive plans and zoning and subdivision ordinances will be explored, including principles of judicial review.

The course will include a review of various techniques for protecting land essential to watersheds through conservation/riparian easements and other land and water conservation strategies; land use planning and ordinances to protect ground and surface water quality and quantity; and local strategies for smart growth and climate change management, adaptation and resiliency.

The course begins with a hypothetical involving a typical residential development. The purpose of this hypothetical is to illustrate how land use regulation affects a project. From there, we start with the common-law method of land-use control—nuisance law. We give students a flavor of both urban and rural land-use issues, as well as cases from West Virginia, so we will supplement the casebook. This section will also discuss right to farm laws. These acts are one example of a statutory response to the perceived inadequacy of the common-law approach. Another example is land-use regulation. At the end of this section, one general thread of the course is in place: the tension between private ownership of land and the impact that land uses have on others.

The next section introduces the students to the subject of land-use planning. To start, it discusses the evolution of planning as a discipline and then situates planners within a larger array of players in the land-use game. This helps the students understand who they would interact with if they were to practice in this area. We round out this section with the course book’s materials discussing the content and effect of the comprehensive plan and the prospect of planning at larger scales. The next section focuses on zoning, which is framed as one way of implementing a comprehensive plan. At its core, this chapter is regulatory and administrative in nature. The students receive a very practical understanding of how zoning law works, substantively and procedurally through the use of examples from land use disputes nationally and in the region.

Next, another form of plan implementation, subdivision regulation, is examined. We supplement these materials with a real-world example and, if time allows, we will examine the residential subdivision process in Morgantown.

The next section deals with takings claims. Zoning and subdivision regulation, of course, raise these matters. Usually the students have a great deal of experience with the legal rules from first-year property. We attempt to build on that understanding by taking them further into how these claims are litigated. From here, the course will focus on local environmental law (including climate change), smart growth, and conservation easements.


Nuclear Law & Policy

This course examines the nuclear power industry in the United States, including the Atomic Energy Act, the regulatory practices and policies of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a survey of recent developments in the industry. The course will also discuss the role of nuclear energy in the context of climate change.


Environmental Protection Law

This survey course introduces students to energy, environment, and sustainability law and policy issues. Students will examine the development of environmental law from its common law tort roots through the birth of the “environmental movement” and the enactment of federal environmental regulatory laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Surface Coal Mining & Reclamation Act. An overarching goal of the course is to expose students to “real world” environmental issues they may face in practice and the principles, doctrine and process lawyers use while representing clients in environmental and natural resource matters.


Seminar: Issues in Energy Law

This seminar provides an understanding of a variety of issues regarding energy law and policy, both past and present, in the United States. A research paper on an energy law issue is required.


Seminar: Human Rights and the Environment

This seminar examines human rights and social justice issues that arise when the interests of families and communities clash with industrial development/operations, and natural resource extraction. Issues studied may include those relating to shale gas hydrofracking, mining of uranium/asbestos/and coal, disposal of hazardous and nuclear wastes, and human exposure to toxic substances released into the environment. These activities frequently occur in communities of color and lower income neighborhoods. The role of lawyers and the courts in assuring adequate access to justice for these communities is examined. The seminar was the first to address “Environmental Justice” as a topic of scholarship and study in American law schools. A research paper is required. The paper will explore current human rights, legal and environmental justice issues faced by a specific community.


Energy Law Survey

This is an introductory energy law course that provides an overview of the law and regulatory policies that govern and affect the energy industry. The course includes a review of the various energy sources, economic regulation of the energy industry, and briefly examines alternative and renewable energy sources.


Renewable Energy and Other Alternative Fuels

This course focuses on the energy industry of the future, with a particular emphasis on the convergence of energy and environmental issues. The course includes renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biofuels); “clean” energy sources (nuclear, coal and natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration); energy efficiency; demand response and smart grid technologies; renewable portfolio standards; and climate change and carbon markets.


The Energy Business: Law & Strategy

This course examines the systematic use of law and regulation for strategic purposes in the energy industry. This course studies the use of law as a business strategy across markets and reviews the evolution of energy law from a business perspective. The course also considers how energy law has and can be used to pursue (and oppose) the goals of those doing business in the energy sector.


Energy Regulation, Markets and the Environment

This course examines the economics of the energy industry, and includes principles of cost of service regulation for regulated energy companies as well as alternative regulatory approaches to setting energy prices. The course will also include an examination of market-based approaches to energy and environmental issues, including emissions trading and renewable energy credits.


Coal, Oil and Gas Law

This course examines the nature of ownership of subsurface minerals; methods of transferring ownership thereof, partition among co-owners, analysis of leasehold estates, and rights and duties thereunder, coal mining rights and privileges.


Permitting and Siting of Energy Facilities

This course focuses on regulatory approvals to develop energy facilities, including all forms of electricity generation (thermal power plants, solar, wind, geothermal, hydro), energy resource production (coal, natural gas), and energy distribution (pipelines and transmission lines); principles of eminent domain.


Agriculture and Rural Land Use Law

Law and regulation of agriculture and rural lands affects each of us every day – the types of food we eat, the types of communities we live in, and the types of energy we consume. This course will consider the impact of various aspects of law on agricultural and other rural lands. Course coverage includes the Clean Water Act; federal Farm Bill subsidies; sustainable agriculture; intellectual property rights in genetically-engineered organisms; food labeling and consumers’ rights; rural land use conflicts and conservation easements; and landowners’ rights in siting of unconventional energy development.


Natural Resources Law

This course focuses on the delicate balance the law attempts to strike between conservation and extraction of our nation’s natural resources. Course coverage includes regulation of mining on public and private lands; National Forest law and regulation of private forestry; state regulation of water rights; the history of U.S. land acquisition and disposition; and judicial review of agency actions under the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

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