It’s no secret that Tulane Law’s environmental and energy track, as one of the school’s largest J.D. certificate programs, offers a robust array of academic opportunities. But it’s also an area that propels students outside the classroom and into the field, connecting with environmental and energy industry attorneys and professionals.
Through Tulane Law’s new ongoing partnership with Valero Energy Corporation and the law school’s award-winning Summit on Environmental Law and Policy, students get in-depth looks into key energy and environmental law issues – and into the overlap between these two powerful fields.
Energy law: Valero refinery visit
At the forefront of Tulane’s expanding energy law program, Valero hosts Tulane Law students each semester for a day exploring refinery operations at the company’s Norco, Louisiana facility and learning about the role of legal counsel in a large, complex corporation.
Students begin the day with an introduction to the company’s refining processes and safety precautions, then are outfitted in fire-retardant suits, hard hats, safety goggles and air monitors before surveying the refinery with a team of engineers. They see key components of the facility’s daily operations, touring the control room, crude oil processing unit, molten sulfur recovery furnace (described by the engineers as “real fire and brimstone”) and bubbling vats of waste water being treated.
“Before attending the field trip to the Valero refinery, I was really interested in seeing how things worked on the ground at a refinery,” said Katherine Van Marter (L/MS ‘16), a Tulane Law and Payson Center student.
The tour gives students a look into the refinery’s science and business processes so they can better understand its legal needs.
“The trip to the St. Charles Valero refinery was altogether a great experience that both introduced me to the oil refinery industry and provided me with a unique insight into the daily legal activities of a Fortune 500 company,” Albert Farr (L ’15) said.
After the tour, students meet with Valero’s in-house counsel, flown in from corporate headquarters in San Antonio, and outside counsel from New Orleans. The attorneys explain their efforts ensuring compliance with a complex host of regulations, including environmental, health and safety and even homeland security rules.
The attorneys also discuss the overlap of legal and social issues at Valero, highlighting the importance of fostering partnerships with each facility’s surrounding community. And they take on tough questions from students, addressing environmental and international issues confronting the oil and gas industry.
Students said the discussion with corporate counsel shed light on the company’s policies and the attorneys’ roles in advising their client.
“I am definitely more interested in in-house practice as a result of touring the refinery,” said Bryan Kitz (L ’15). “The lawyers offered great feedback and perspective.”
“Working in house seems like a great position, and the influence and ability that their in-house counsel has had in shaping their policies makes the opportunity to ‘change
from within’ very attractive!” Van Marter said.
Environmental law: Summit on Environmental Law and Policy
Back at Weinmann Hall, environmental law remains a powerful draw for Tulane Law students. Environmental students lead the annual Summit on Environmental Law and Policy, a two-day event covering a host of environmental and energy law issues.
Voted the 2013 Student Program of the Year by the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources, the summit attracts key figures from the environmental arena each year – and it’s orchestrated by a team of more than 50 students.
“There’s nothing else at Tulane Law with this degree of student programming,” said Emily Prince (L ’16), executive summit chair.
Students create the summit from the ground up, conceptualizing program topics, finding environmental leaders to participate in lectures and panels, creating a budget and raising funds, planning social media outreach and overseeing the details of each day.
Alison Dunbar (L ’16), the summit’s finance chair, described her experience as “an opportunity to develop my communication and organization skills,” plus “network with
individuals and organizations in the environmental law field.”
This year’s summit covered “Energy, Water, Wildlife and Beyond,” exploring the intersections between environmental, energy and water law. The program featured a record-breaking 23 panels on issues affecting local, regional and global communities, including climate change, fracking, endangered species and the contentious New Orleans levee board litigation.
“Ideally, we’d like to do everything we can to help the environment, but practically speaking, we also love our iPhones and other commodities. We wanted to focus on the overlap between the environmental and energy law fields this year,” Prince said. “So we had a strong energy focus but covered other topics like water and wildlife as well.”
The 2015 summit organizers connected with key figures in these arenas, securing keynote speakers Gen. Russel Honoré, commander of the U.S. Army’s Katrina joint task force, and Pat Mulroy, a leader in the international water community.
“It was surreal, getting to work with people who are such a big deal in their fields. It was scary at first . . . but I definitely learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to keep asking!” Prince said.
The summit is always open to the public and this year drew more than 800 attendees, including attorneys, academics, students and representatives from industry and government.