EELU Sponsors “Climate Change and the Law in 2023,” Featuring Government, Nonprofit, and Private-Sector Attorneys

Energy expert Jim Rossi, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair in Law, moderated a panel focusing on climate change policy, litigation, and lawyering in Tennessee in 2023. The wide-ranging discussion focused on how the Inflation Reduction Act and debates about climate change affect the day-to-day work of environmental lawyers working in government, public interest, and private practice in Tennessee.

Panelists included Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation General Counsel Jenny Howard, Southern Environmental Law Center Staff Attorney Trey Bussey, and Bradley Partner Bart Kempf.

Takeaways from the discussion:

  • The Inflation Reduction Act was “gamechanger legislation” that is accelerating the transition to clean energy. “The IRA enables communities to access the benefits of good projects designed to expand sources and distribution of clean energy,” Bussey said. The Southern Environmental Law Center is focusing on eliminating policy barriers that might prevent communities from accessing IRA funding. “IRA makes a lot of funding available, but implementation has to happen at the state and local level. The SELC is well-positioned to support that and to help folks on the ground transform their communities,” Bussey said.
  • The IRA provides economic incentives to invest in low-income and energy-producing (e.g., coal) communities, in the form of grants, loans, and rebates aimed at “building a clean energy economy. “The IRA does more than most previous legislation I’m familiar with to encourage investment in underserved, disadvantaged communities,” Rossi said.
  • States and local communities play a significant role in determining how best to use IRS funds. “I’m struck by the fact that this is an environmental law panel, and we’re talking about laws that basically dole out money,” Kempf said. In his current practice, he noted, “we’re spending a lot of time advising clients how to develop solar project in energy communities under the IRA, and clients are very focused on these incentives.”
  • Environmental law practice now encompasses transactional and financing work, as well as litigation and assistance with navigating federal and state regulations. “It’s fascinating to me how many areas of law now touch environmental projects,” Kempf said.
  • Focusing on factors that impact long-term business investments is an effective way to work around the politization of climate science. These include access to water and affordable energy and risks such as flooding, storms, and droughts. Businesses and communities care about energy costs and availability and the long-term sustainability and profitability of their investments.
  • Government permitting of energy projects is attracting more scrutiny, due to concerns about environmental justice and long-term sustainability, according to Howard.

The panel discussion was made possible by the Sally Shallenberger Brown EELU Program Fund, endowed in 2021 by Martin Shallenberger Brown ’92.