On August 1 and 2, I attended the 2019 Texas Environmental Superconference, modestly subtitled “The Greatest Superconference on Earth.”

Government Officials
The federal and state officials addressing the conference included EPA’s David Ross, assistant administrator of the Office of Water.  Mr. Ross mentioned two particularly difficult issues, the definition of “waters of the United States” (See 06/03/2019 Alert) and the issue of contaminants traveling through groundwater to reach surface water (See 10/01/18, 12/10/18, 01/07/19, 01/21/19, and 02/25/2019 Alerts).  As to the definition of waters of the United States, he acknowledged the issue presented challenges to the regulated community, the courts, and EPA, but the EPA would most likely have a new rule proposed in 2019.  Regarding contaminants traveling through groundwater, he said EPA would likely await the decision of the case before the U.S. Supreme Court before taking formal action.

Erin Chancellor from EPA Region 6 responded to a last-minute call to speak and touted EPA’s recent achievements, specifically mentioning how the current EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule is better than the Clean Power Plan proposed during the Obama administration.

Kenneth Wagner, Secretary Energy & Environment-State of Oklahoma noted that seismic activity in Oklahoma appears to have decreased dramatically, a development he attributed to companies being much more careful in their subsurface injection of waste from oil and gas development. (See 06/24/19 Alert)

Jason Hill, Deputy Solicitor for Energy and Mineral Resources, US Department of Interior, described how the agency was taking steps to lower page counts of Environmental Impact Statements.  Mr. Hill noted from his trial and appellate experience that judges routinely limit the number of pages in briefs, and most lawyers think these page limitations make for better submissions.  Department of Interior has issued guidance limiting standard Environmental Impact Statements to 150 pages; 300 pages for unusually complex submissions.

Policy Analysis
Thomas McGarity from the University of Texas School of Law discussed the political issues facing the electric power industry, including the effects of decreased coal consumption, based on the research he did for his latest book Pollution, Politics, and Power-The Struggle for Sustainable Electricity.  From the same faculty, Melinda Taylor addressed the challenges from increased energy development for communities in West Texas, especially the Big Bend Area.

Pam Giblin touted the “Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan,” named for two former Secretaries of State who are members of the Climate Leadership Council, for which Ms. Giblin is a Senior Policy Advisor.  The Plan would impose a revenue neutral carbon dioxide emission fee, starting at $40 per ton and gradually increasing.

It was another great conference, and thanks to Jeff Civins and the Haynes & Boone team for their effort, as well as to all planners, speakers and participants.