The Chair’s Comments: Here’s To Living In Interesting Environmental Law Times

By Stanford Davis Baird

In the last EENR newsletter, I remarked what an interesting time it is to practice environmental law. Evolving environmental policy, changing regulations, and interesting court cases make this a fascinating area of law. Two cases involving North Carolina lawyers that were in the news during the weeks since our last newsletter highlight this fact even more. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. appears to break new ground in Clean Water Act jurisprudence and challenges long-held and accepted notions regarding point source discharges. This is an important case that may well be combined with a recent Ninth Circuit case from Hawaii for appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a different case, on April 26, 2018, a federal jury awarded $50 million in punitive damages to neighbors of large-scale hog farms in Eastern North Carolina. Considered by many a landmark test case, this verdict challenges fundamental assumptions regarding hog farm operations in the multi-billion dollar industry in North Carolina. There is certain to be much more activity in the agricultural torts space going forward. These cases are further reminders that there is rarely a dull moment for followers of environmental law.

In the collection of articles we will  publish in advance of our Section Annual Meeting next Friday and Saturday in Asheville, please note the theme of change and evolution: an update on emerging contaminants and GenX as well as the application of Blockchain technology in the food safety space. Blockchain is top of mind in many industries and economic sectors, including electric power generation, renewable energy, and energy storage. It will be interesting to see how Blockchain impacts so many areas in the years to come.

As we reach the end of 2017-2018 NCBA fiscal year and close another year for the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Section, it is important to thank the people who have worked to make the year a successful one. First, special thanks go to Andrea Bradford and Kate Leahy, our NCBA staff liaisons for Section activities and CLE programming. Both Andrea and Kate are tremendous assets to the NCBA and our Section and have devoted many hours to our activities and programming this year. Next, our CLE Committee Chairs and planners for the 2018 Annual Meeting also deserve special recognition. Amy Wang, Mary Katherine Stukes, and Alex Elkan have invested a lot of time and energy to coordinating the program for our upcoming meeting in Asheville. If you see them at the Annual Meeting, please take a moment to give them your thanks as well. Last, thanks to those Section members who have been active in committee activities and reports over the past year. Special mention goes to dedicated members of the Cleanup & Waste Programs Committee (you know who you are!) as well as newsletter editors Laura Boorman, Matt Tynan, and Hayes Finley. Thanks to each of you.

In closing, I look forward to seeing a large contingent of Section members and sponsors at the EENR Annual Meeting in Asheville next Friday and Saturday, May 11-12. We have been planning and looking forward to the three-state program for nearly two years now, and we hope it will be a great success. The joint conference will be a unique opportunity to network with peers in Georgia and South Carolina and could set the groundwork for similar joint programs in the future.