April 30, 2019 — U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher said the biggest question facing Congress is how to transform the country's infrastructure to make it more resilient and prepared for inevitable climate change during her keynote address Friday at the third annual North American Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Conference.
The two-day symposium, "North American Energy & Environmental Policy and the World: Diverging Approaches and Synergistic Opportunities," was held at the Greater Houston Partnership Tower in downtown Houston.
"We are facing an existential crisis with climate change, and for the first time in a long time Congress is talking about that," said Fletcher, D-Houston. "We're not talking about whether to do something about it, we're talking about what to do.
"Sea level rise is expected in the Gulf coast at double the rate of the east coast and the west coast. Nearly 45 percent of our national refining capacity is along the Gulf coast, a region that will be hit by worse storms as the oceans continue to warm. This is a scientific issue, but it's also a national security issue. We need to be talking about things in those ways where we're making those connections for people."
Fletcher represents Texas' 7th Congressional District and was elected in November. She began her two-year term on Jan. 3, and is the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and also serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She said Houston and the surrounding region will remain vulnerable to severe weather events without improvements.
"What we know following Hurricane Ike and now that we've been through Hurricane Harvey, we know that we are susceptible to massive rain events, flooding and the potential for storm surge," Fletcher said. "All of which have really frightening implications for what they could do if we don't have a good infrastructure that's resilient and ready to handle those things.
"Across the board, our infrastructure has been given a D-rating by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Our water systems, pipelines, flood systems, roads, waterways and airports are all critical systems for the nation. It is a top priority for this Congress to make sure that we are putting together an infrastructure bill, and I know it's a priority for the administration. There's a lot of optimism that we are going to put together an infrastructure package that will move through."
In a question-and-answer session with the audience, Fletcher was asked about her thoughts on House Resolution 109, also known as the Green New Deal.
"My sense is that it's a conversation starter," she said. "There's a lot of people in Congress who have co-sponsored, signed off on it or endorsed it who have said, 'We think it's aspirational, we think it's a good idea to be focused on some of these things, so we're signing on.'
"I'm not in support of Resolution 109. I don't think it's the right approach, I don't think it's the right answer. But I do think it's the right question — what does our future look like, and how do we get there?"
The topic of the conference's first day was energy infrastructure buildout. The first panel, "The Future of U.S. Law and Litigation on Pipeline Buildout," was moderated by Elizabeth Trujillo, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law. James Coleman of the SMU Dedman School of Law discussed pipeline midstream infrastructure. Margaret Anne Hill and Frank Tamulonis III, attorneys at Blank Rome, gave an overview on the legal issues of building pipelines. Victor Flatt, the Dwight Olds Chair in Law and faculty co-director of the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center, commented on the National Environmental Policy Act and streamlining. The panel's last speaker, Elizabeth Kronk Warner of the University of Kansas School of Law gave remarks on pipelines and indigenous communities.
The second panel, "The Future of North American Energy Markets," was moderated by Fenner Stewart of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. Kristen van de Biezenbos, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, delivered a presentation titled, "Will there be a Canadian pipeline buildout and LNG?" Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Energy Chief Officer at the University of Houston and a professor of petroleum engineering, gave commentary on North American energy markets and the world. Law Center Research Assistant Professor Julian Cárdenas Garcia's presentation focused on opportunities in Mexico and other parts of the Western Hemisphere oil and gas plays. The last panelist was Cesar Romero, a visiting scholar at the Law Center and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Dundee in the U.K. His portion of the panel was titled, "Enhancing electricity transmission integration across North America: Could Regional Trade Modifications be Considered a Lost Opportunity?"
The first day of the conference concluded with the Dean's Panel, moderated by Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes. The panel consisted of executives at a variety of energy businesses who are all Law Center alumni including:
The second day of the conference began with a theme of "Changes in Energy, Environment, and Climate Policy in North America."
The opening speaker was Joseph McMonigle, a senior advisor at Blank Rome, who provided a Washington, D.C., perspective on the energy industry and was followed by Stewart who gave an overview of carbon pricing in Canada. The first panel of the day featured Cárdenas Garcia who was joined by Matthew Thomas, a partner at Blank Rome, in a panel on international trade, NAFTA 2.0 and energy.
Law Center Professor Blake Hudson, the A.L. O'Quinn Chair in Environmental Studies moderated the next panel, "Renewable Generation: Offshore and Onshore Buildout. Speakers included Joan Bondareff of Blank Rome, who discussed the future of offshore wind, and Troy Rule of the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law whose presentation was titled, "Out of Bounds: Regulated Utilities' Growing Presence in Competitive Markets."
Gina Warren, the George Butler Research Professor of Law at the Law Center, moderated the conference's last panel, "Integrating Renewables on the Grid." Speakers included Christopher Lewis of Blank Rome, Manan Parikh of Wood Mackenzie, and Heather Payne of Seton Hall University School of Law.
Hudson and Susan Bickley '84, a partner at Blank Rome, gave concluding remarks. The conference was co-sponsored by the Law Center’s Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center, Blank Rome, the University of Calgary Faculty of Law and the Greater Houston Partnership.