Natural Resources and Environmental Law Courses

UNM offers a variety of NREL courses, emphasizing issues relevant to New Mexico and the West. Every year we offer our three core courses for the NREL certificate: Administrative Law, Environmental Law, and Natural Resources (which focuses primarily on federal public lands). We generally offer a few other courses once a year, including Oil & Gas and Water Law. In both the fall and spring semesters we try to offer both a “drafting” course (such as Environmental Litigation or New Mexico Environmental & Administrative Practice) and a writing seminar (such as Environmental Justice or Climate Change & Energy). Our NREL clinic operates year-round, open to 8 students each in the summer, fall, and spring; students may also do an externship in any of UNM’s three semesters. We try to offer several other NREL courses every other year, including more specialized offerings in environmental law, water law, and oil and gas.


Course Frequency Key

A = offered every semester
B = offered one semester every year
C = offered every other year
D = offered when student interest and faculty availability allow

Animal Law

In this course, we will focus on a series of topics that relate to “animal law.” We will address the extent to which the legal system, specific cases, legislation and background cultural values have affected, and will continue to affect, the ways in which judges, administrators, politicians, lawyers, law students, legal scholars, and lay people see, speak about, and treat animals other than humans. This course will focus on the evolution, interpretation, and enforcement of laws relating to the use and treatment of animals in our society, evaluation of whether, how and why such laws should be modified, and the possible ramifications of such change. The course will cover a wide array of animal law issues, including the legal classification of animals as property, loss of companionship/emotional distress, veterinary malpractice, anti-cruelty laws, constitutional standing to sue on behalf of animals, and the development of laws relating to commercial uses of animals.

The course grade will be based on a combination of experiential and research projects or an exam.

Energy Law

This course examines energy law both doctrinally and in broader social, economic, and political contexts. Topics include the history, economics, and environmental considerations applicable to energy regulation; and regulation of public utilities, including state and federal price and other controls on the production, transmission, and sale of natural gas and electricity. The course will also examine laws designed to promote and regulate various forms of energy, such as natural gas, coal, hydro, wind, solar, and other renewables, and the nexus between energy regulation and climate change.

Environmental Enforcement

"Ultimately, enforcement of the law is what really counts." Evans v. Jeff D., 475 U.S. 717, 743 (1986) (Brennan, J., dissenting).

Environmental Enforcement takes students beyond what environmental law is to how it is applied. The course introduces students to the major mechanisms available to government agencies for enforcing environmental laws: administrative proceedings, civil litigation, and criminal prosecution. Enforcement by private plaintiffs through citizen suits will also be examined. Throughout the course, readings and discussions will focus on enforcement of major federal pollution statutes to protect land, air, water, and public health. Guest speakers will provide diverse perspectives from citizen plaintiffs, defense counsel, and others engaged in practice involving environmental enforcement. Through successful completion of Environmental Enforcement, students will become better prepared to represent any client, public or private, that may require legal counsel to address environmental violations. Students will also apply learning from many other courses and subject areas, including administrative law, constitutional law, civil procedure, criminal procedure, and evidence, as they work to solve problems through the practical context of environmental law. No prerequisites, but prior completion of Environmental Law and Administrative Law is recommended.

Environmental Justice Writing Seminar

Environmental justice is a significant and dynamic contemporary development in environmental law.
This writing seminar will focus upon the environmental justice movement and theway that people of color, the poor, indigenous communities and tribal governments have challenged the fundamental ideologies that support environmental policy and regulation. The course begins with an examination of various conceptions of justice, studies about disparities in environmental harms and benefits, and theories concerning the causes of such inequities. Seminar participants will then examine class and racial inequities in a variety of regulatory contexts, including risk assessment, standard setting, permitting, enforcement and the cleanup of contaminated lands. The course concludes with a look at various legal

tools used in the effort to achieve environmental justice, including citizen suit enforcement of environmental laws, claims brought under the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and various non-litigation strategies, including land use and planning tools, disclosure laws, and collaborative projects. Students will be required to write a research paper on an aspect of environmental justice that may meet the writing requirement of this two or three unit course.

The text used will be Rechtschaffen, Gauna and O'Neill, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: LAW, POLICY AND REGULATION (2ND Ed. 2009).

Environmental Law Survey

This course is designed to give students an introductory working knowledge of the major federal environmental laws addressing toxic substances, waste management, air pollution, water pollution, environmental impact assessment, and biodiversity. Some of these laws are implemented by state regulatory agencies (e.g., the New Mexico Environment Department) and have state law counterparts. Fundamentally, environmental regulation reflects a delicate balance among conflicting ecological, social justice and economic values. Active citizen involvement presents challenges to technology-oriented regulatory agencies. Scientific uncertainty and the global scale of climate disruption also present special complications. This course will examine these and other contemporary issues in environmental regulation.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES: Students will: (a) understand how the different environmental laws are structured and the range of regulatory strategies they use to address environmental problems; (b) learn to recognize actionable “triggers” under various regulatory regimes; and (c) be familiar with the regulatory processes that could pertain to the plans and actions of a potential client.

Federal Law of Water Resources

Federal Law of Water Resources deals with various federal laws and programs regarding water allocation and management, addressing these topics in more detail than is possible in the basic Water Law course. Areas of emphasis include federal water projects, reserved water rights for federal and tribal lands, interstate water allocation, and the effect of federal environmental laws on water management and use. Federalism in the development and control of water resources is a recurring theme of the course.

Global Warming

Global climate change is the major environmental threat of our era. Its effects are felt by all species, but especially on those who are poor, those whose livelihoods depend on nature (fishing, marine mammals) and those who live in regions under environmental stress (parts of Africa, for example). The entire ecological basis of life is affected by global warming and extinctions will accelerate.

The solutions to global warming require changes in our carbon based economy. There are exciting innovations occurring worldwide that point to the world’s ability to make these changes, but institutional factors (legal, political, economic) are key to progress.

This course will be a seminar in which we work together to understand the science behind climate change and how it will affect different regions of the world, the economics of change, and, most importantly, the role of law in bringing about change. The U.S. Congress is beginning to address global warming and our Senators are the most important players in the Senate. New Mexico and other states are also taking measures, prodded by the failure to act at a national level. After some thirty years of development of environmental law, this enormously complex problem calls on us to craft a legal approach that is effective and can command support from diverse interests. We will learn about cutting edge approaches to environmental regulation and international law.

Students will meet weekly for lectures and discussions. The practicum will put the student in the role of a participant in the debate, preparing a useful memorandum for a stakeholder. For example, a student might address a question for a staffer in the Congress, for a NGO, or prepare an environmental justice analysis for a local group.

Professor Fort has worked in environmental law for about 25 years with state government, environmental justice organizations (SWRIC, CBE-CA), national environmental groups, as well as in more traditional academic research and writing projects.

International Environmental Law

Acid rain; trans-Pacific dust; persistent toxic substances; stratospheric ozone depletion; marine pollution; climate change; extinction of species -- many serious environmental problems are transboundary or global. This course will examine how international law and institutions attempt to address problems that are typically beyond any one country’s capacity to solve.

The course will explore a number of crosscutting themes, including the dynamics of international negotiations (and associated domestic processes), the role of “soft” and “hard” law, “North – South” issues, the role of non-governmental actors, and compliance. We may also examine extraterritorial application of national law.

Class participation will be a significant component of grading.

Background in international and/or environmental law is desirable, but is not a prerequisite.

Land Use Regulation Planning

Land Use Law provides the law student with the background principles of land use law and acquaints the law student with federal, state and local statutes, ordinances and regulations which regulate land use. Students learn the appropriate legal source material for land use law. They are required to submit a written project which utilizes their course knowledge and research skills in the context of a local land use problem.

The course emphasizes the constitutional issues of land use regulation:

  1. Taking of private property for public use without payment of just compensation
  2. First Amendment: Land use regulation which involves speech, religion, assembly
  3. Procedural and substantive due process

The course then addresses the zoning system, innovative land use regulatory techniques, and special exceptions such as variances and non-conforming uses, the role of planning in the land use regulatory process, and the subdivision of land.

Attention is given to growth management issues and tools, including " The New Urbanism", in the context of contemporary New Mexico communities and the current drought. Land Use Law is related to other courses in the Law School curriculum, including Real Property, Natural Resources Law and Water Law, as well as Public Lands Law.

In preparation for their Projects, students must attend meetings of federal, state or local governing bodies, agencies, homeowners associations, etc..

Land Use Controls will be taught as an interdisciplinary course with the School of Architecture and Planning, Community and Regional Planning Program, with law students and graduate planning students having a unique opportunity to share their professional perspectives.

Natural Resources Law

This course surveys statutory and case law concerning federal lands, including undesignated Bureau of Land Management rangelands, National Forests, National Parks, and Monument Designations, while introducing students to environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, conservation transactions, wildlife, the Endangered Species Act, oil and gas and coal leasing, and hard rock mining on federal lands. Students also are introduced to legal issues involving the management and protection of state lands, with particular emphasis on examples from New Mexico that supplement the text. We have presentations from natural resource practitioners and from those involved in legislative change.

Natural Resource Seminar: Energy Development

This course is a discussion-based seminar exploring the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary natural resource challenges. Topics covered will vary each semester. The Spring 2009 course will focus on natural resource issues related to energy development. The laws and policies regarding both renewable and nonrenewable energy resources will be examined, along with their corresponding environmental impacts. A research paper is required, and students will provide presentations based on their research. Field trips will be included throughout the course to investigate local issues relevant to the class.

Oil and Gas Law

This course examines how the courts, legislative bodies and administrative agencies have adapted basic principles of property, contract and tort law to address the unique issues related to the development and production of oil and gas resources. The course will explore the nature of the interests created out of the oil and gas mineral estate and how these interests are protected. The oil and gas lease and its express and implied covenants will be reviewed as well as other basic contracts governing the production and sale of these resources. The role of the state in the regulation of oil and gas and the tools available to it including spacing, pooling and unitization will be examined. Public land issues and the relationships between the state, federal government and Indian Nations in the regulation of the oil and gas industry will also be explored. Finally, the course will addresses current issues related to coal methane gas production, horizontal drilling, split estates and the protection of ground water and the environment.

Legal Issues in Oil and Gas Development Seminar

This writing seminar examines unique contractual arrangements, environmental concerns, Federal and Indian land development problems, and other common and emerging issues that affect the oil and gas industry, including lease assignments, farmout arrangements, joint operations, drilling contracts, and gas purchase contracts; leasing, royalty valuation, and communitization on Federal and Indian lands; horizontal drilling issues; hydraulic fracturing issues; and the complex system of environmental laws that apply to oil and gas development, including species protection, CERCLA liability, and the application of the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, the Clean Air Act, and other environmental statutes and regulations. For this seminar, the instructor may also involve one or more guest speakers. Oil and Gas Law is not a prerequisite. This course will satisfy the Law School writing requirement and the writing requirement towards the Natural Resources Law Certificate.

Planning and Environmental Law

Where is the intersection of environmental, administrative, and land use/planning law? This 3 credit seminar explores the real world challenges confronting local and state governments in addressing growth and development in an age of climate change, declining water supplies, growing populations and other environmental stressors. The class will explore both the legal and political context in which land use planning and development occurs. A substantial portion of the grade will be a writing project (eg. drafting a local land use regulation; drafting legislation for the 2012 NM Legislative Session) which may be used to meet the UNMSOL writing requirement.

Practical Application of Water Law

This course will emphasize water law as practiced by people working in the field in New Mexico. The concept is to enhance students water law education by putting basic water law concepts into a practical context. The course will deal with water rights, including understanding the documents and administrative processes for permitting of water rights. There will also be an emphasis on understanding the adjudication process in New Mexico. Several practical exercises will be incorporated into the course to help students gain a better understanding of water law practice.

Water Law

Water Law deals with the laws and institutions governing water allocation and use, with an emphasis on water rights.  The primary focus is on the Western United States, particularly the prior appropriation doctrine and state laws dealing with groundwater use.  The course also deals with interstate water disputes and the water rights of federal and tribal lands.

Western Water Policy

Water policy is in flux now and attorneys are often in the center of change. This seminar will consider subjects such as water transfers, tribal water rights, the interrelationship of water quality and water allocation schemes, the role of the federal and state governments, the protection of biodiversity in aquatic ecosystems, and groundwater policies. If there are additional topics that interest people in the class, we will try to develop them. Students will write research papers, which may satisfy the Law School's writing requirement. The class is open to second and third year students and will be particularly appropriate for those who have taken other resource and environmental law classes. With permission of the instructor, it is also open to enrolled graduate students from other departments.

I chaired the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission that examined many of these issues. I am continuing to work with New Mexico organizations on creating state restoration programs. My academic writing is primarily in this field. I welcome the opportunity to work with a small group of students in developing new ideas and perspectives on this topic.

Water expertise will grow more important every year! This class will give you the broad perspectives necessary to help in the solution of societal and ecological challenges.