Natural Resources Law

Natural Resources Law Curriculum

ASL offers a Certificate in Natural Resources Law for students who want to practice in the natural resources, energy or environmental field. The cornerstone of the Certificate is our dynamic and exciting Natural Resources Law Curriculum. The program offers several introductory classes, such as Natural Resources Law and Environmental Law, designed to familiarize students with the law and issues. Additionally, ASL offers upper-level classes that allow students a chance to study cutting edge issues like Sustainable Energy, which focuses on the legal implications of policies and technologies that seek to minimize carbon emissions in the development and delivery of energy. Also available is Oil & Gas Law, which examines correlative rights of surface and mineral owners, and the rights to explore, mine and extract, develop, and transportation. ASL continues to innovate its Summer offerings by offering short courses (two-week terms) like the Law of Renewables, Oil & Gas Law and Introduction to Natural Resources.

Administrative Law

Examines the role of the formal and informal administrative processes in our society, and emphasizes the powers and procedures common to all administrative agencies and the relationships among the legislative, judicial, and executive branches in the development of public policy.

Appellate Advocacy (Natural Resources)

Appellate Advocacy – Natural Resources Section is course which provides second year students with the opportunity to further develop their skills as a legal writer and oral advocate in the area of Natural Resources Law. The course focuses on appellate theory and practice, standards of review, advanced appellate brief writing, and the art of appellate oral argument. Students will complete at least one major writing assignment and participate in a class wide moot court competition. This course is mandatory for students wishing to compete on one of ASL’s competitive Natural Resources moot court teams.

Coal, Oil, and Gas Law

Coal, Oil, and Gas Law applies property law and contract law principles to a complex natural resource, and evaluates resource rights from the perspective of the developer, the property owner, and the regulator. Specifically, students will become familiarized with the legal, business, and environmental issues facing the coal, oil, and gas industries by covering the following topics: (1) nature of ownership of subsurface minerals; (2) methods of transferring ownership; (3) implied rights; (4) surface rights; (5) leasing; (6) royalties; and (7) environmental and regulatory issues. Students will engage in class discussion of current topics as well as participate in extensive practical skills exercises.

Doing and Undoing Environmental Regulations

With new presidential administrations come new environmental policies. After a slew of congressionally-enacted environmental laws in the 1970s and 1980s, EPA and other federal agencies set out to implement and enforce those laws through rule-making, and presidents complemented such rule-making with executive orders and enforcement priorities. Perhaps in no other area of law, at least in recent years, do new administrations impose their priorities more than in the rules and policies relating to the environment, energy, land use and climate change. This course will explore the legal and administrative tools that are available to new administrations to change or erase the environmental policies of their predecessors, as well as the legal and administrative obstacles new administrations face in such efforts. The class will look broadly at policy changes between administrations dating back to the 1970s, before looking into specific rules and policies that have been reversed with the more recent changes of administrations, paying specific attention to the dismantling of Obama-era environmental regulations under the Trump administration. The Administrative Procedures Act, the Congressional Review Act, Executive Orders, prosecutorial discretion, enforcement policies, and taking new positions in litigation will all be explored for their impact on attempts to effectuate environmental policy and regulatory changes between presidential administrations. This two-hour course will combine seminar-style lectures with class discussion and debate, and will culminate in a final exam.

Energy & Utility Law and the SCC

Students will examine Energy and Utility Law issues through the lens of important Virginia Supreme Court cases. The course will include such topics as coal, oil and gas, utilities, and administrative appeals. For each case, students will receive relevant briefs, statutes, Court rules, and cited materials.

Environmental Crimes & Torts

Environmental Crimes and Torts will cover major cases as well as the elements and prosecutorial procedure of criminal actions under major U.S. environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. The course will also discuss major issues and special issues surrounding toxic torts. The course will be a combination of lecture and practical work with the primary assessments for the course consisting of several relatively small drafting assignments such as a complaint; answer; motion to dismiss; motion for a new trial; or a portion of any of these. Prerequisites: Torts and Criminal Law.

Environmental Law & Policy

Environmental Law & Policy examines selected topics in the law governing the protection of air, water, and land from pollution. Class sessions cover: (1) brief overviews of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; (2) the impact of Climate Change on the permitting process; (3) additional areas of environmental law having regional connections, including mine permitting and regulation; (4) current “hot” topics in environmental law, including the political and bureaucratic aspects of environmental regulation; (5) emerging notions of environmental justice; and (6) the role of citizen enforcement, including the implications of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions dealing with the issue of standing.

Law of Coalbed Methane

This course will provide students with the opportunity to explore the unique legal issues associated with coalbed methane gas. The course will fall into three segments. Part one will provide a brief introduction to coalbed methane’s history, production, and development. Part two will then comparatively examine ownership theories. Finally, part three will present each ownership theory through state and federal case-law.

Mineral Title Search and Examination

Mineral Title Search and Examination will familiarize and provide the students with an overview of the process of examining mineral titles and rendering legal opinions on title in the context of mineral production and development. Students will gain hands ¬on experience by conducting mineral title examinations in regional courthouses as well as drafting title opinions. The course will focus on examining title to Appalachian mineral properties, including natural gas and coal. The course will include a hands-on title search component where students will research the title from public records, learn how to identify conveyances and exceptions, and how to construe a mineral severance deed. The course will cover examining the title and identifying potential problems with the title, such as mortgages, easements, inadequate legal descriptions, improperly acknowledged documents, powers of attorney, foreclosures, bankruptcies, unpaid taxes, deed restrictions and reverters.

Natural Resources Law & Policy

Natural Resources examines the specialized property rules governing estates in natural resources, the correlative rights of surface and mineral owners, and the rights to explore, mine and extract, develop, and transport natural resources, with primary emphasis on “hard” minerals. As a compliment to existing courses in Administrative and Environmental law, the course examines selected issues of natural resources regulation from the perspective of the regulated community.

Natural Resources: Why Lawyers and Engineers Need Each Other

This course is a collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Mining Engineering Department and will explore both the legal and engineering components of projects, programs and permits involving our natural resources. Each class will discuss a distinct project or program. For instance, the attorney applying for a SMCRA permit for new mining project will need an engineer to create a reclamation plan upon mine closure. The engineer designing a pipeline crossing under a scenic trail will need a lawyer to explain what standards the design must meet under the National Trails System Act. Designing underground mines to comply with MSHA, soil erosion plans to comply with NEPA, and coal ash impoundments to comply with the Clean Water Act and local zoning laws are among the many other instances where lawyers and engineers need to work collaboratively.

Solar Energy Law & Policy

Students explore the significant challenges in development and deployment of solar energy, including regulatory and litigation burdens (both locally and nationally), jobs, the price of solar, and increased energy demand. Students will also gain an understanding of historical and current solar law and policy, both regionally and on the national scale.

Supreme Court Survey of Energy Law Cases

Students will examine energy law issues through the lens of important Virginia Supreme Court cases. The course will include such topics as coal, oil and gas, utilities, and administrative appeals. Students will work in teams to analyze and argue cases before Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan (retired). For each case, students will receive relevant briefs, statutes, Court rules, and cited materials.

Sustainable Energy Law

Students explore the significant challenges facing the energy industry today, including climate change concerns, energy independence and security, traditional pollution, regulatory and litigation burdens, jobs, the price of electricity, “peak” supply, and increased energy demand. Students will gain an understanding of historical and current energy use, law and policy, both globally and nationally. The class is built around the following units: the international regime; national energy and environmental policy; coal law and policy; natural gas law and policy; transportation and oil; nuclear and renewable energy; and legislation and litigation. Students will represent nations in mock climate treaty negotiations; debate the “hot” energy issues of the day; and advise “clients” on energy-related regulations and agreements. Reading materials are compiled from source documents (treaties, regulations, laws and court decisions), government and industry studies and reports, and current commentary. There is a significant paper due at the end of the class.