UNM Law School’s natural resources program shines at conference

August 18, 2017

The UNM School of Law Natural Resources and Environmental Law program cemented its reputation as one of the most active in the nation at the 63rd Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute in Santa Fe last month.

The Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation hosts several conferences offering in-depth coverage of various legal topics relating to mining, oil and gas, energy, public lands, water, environmental and international law.

Three UNM Law School faculty members and two alumni spoke at the Annual Institute, and several UNM Law School students and alumni were in attendance.

Jeanette Wolfley and Reed Benson

Professor Jeanette Wolfley (’82) and Walter Stern, Shareholder at Modrall Sperling, spoke on: “’Black Snakes’ or Infrastructure? The Dakota Access Pipeline Litigation and the Federal Government’s Tribal Consultation Obligations.”

Professor Reed Benson, the Don L. & Mabel F. Dickason Endowed Chair in Law, spoke on “Reviewing Reservoir Operations – Does the New Glen Canyon Dam Plan Show the Way?”

Professor Cliff Villa spoke on the Animal River spill at a Teachers Lunch for full- and part-time academic faculty.

Lara Katz (‘06) spoke on “Regulatory Haze – Air Quality Regulation of Natural Resources Industries Amid Changing Federal Leadership.”

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz (‘08) spoke on “Environmental Citizen Suits: What to Expect – and How to Litigate – Under the Trump Administration.”

Joan Drake (’01), was chair of the environmental law section. 

Summaries of the faculty talks are included below.

Black Snakes” or Infrastructure? The Dakota Access Pipeline Litigation and the Federal Government’s Tribal Consultation Obligations.

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project and the permitting activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) have become the focal point for important discourse concerning federal agencies’ tribal consultation obligations for infrastructure projects requiring federal approvals, permits, or licenses. Tribal nations play a key role in infrastructure development because they, like state governments, are the permitting officials for projects within their jurisdictions, and the federal government must consider impacts to tribal rights, whether on or off the reservation, when permitting pipeline projects. In the wake of DAPL, the federal government sought national tribal input on its consultation obligations arising under government-to-government policies and its duties under various environmental, historical, and cultural protection statutes. The presenters will discuss the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit challenging the Corps’ permitting and compliance process involving DAPL and the numerous federal laws requiring consultation. They will explore the federal government’s obligations to consult effectively with tribal governments, and what tribal consultation may mean for future national infrastructure development.

Reviewing Reservoir Operations – Does the New Glen Canyon Dam Plan Show the Way?

The federal government built hundreds of dams throughout the West during the 20th century, and most of them are now at least 50 years old. Many of the operating plans for these federal reservoirs are also decades old, and neither the Bureau of Reclamation nor the Corps of Engineers regularly reviews and revises these plans. This presentation will look broadly at some of the legal and institutional factors regarding these agencies’ dam operating plans, and some of the reasons why such plans should be periodically reviewed. It will then examine the Interior Department’s recent decision to revise its long-term operating plan for Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, as an example of the type of review that could help federal water projects better serve a range of needs.