News

ASL-VT Partner to Teach Course in Law and Engineering

GRUNDY, VA (MARCH 9, 2020) — A new course exploring both the legal and engineering components of natural resource projects, programs and permits is being taught this semester at the Appalachian School of Law (ASL) in Grundy, Va., through a partnership with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

The course, “Natural Resources: Why Lawyers and Engineers Need Each Other,” is comprised of law students at ASL and graduate level engineering students at Virginia Tech. It examines a wide variety of natural resource topics where law and engineering intersect, according to Taylor Corbett, ASL Natural Resource Law Fellow.

“This class really serves to help law students and engineering students better understand the kind of collaboration needed,” Corbett said. “It helps law students better understand what engineers do and helps engineering students better understand things from the legal standpoint.”

ASL Professor Mark (Buzz) Belleville, director of the Natural Resource Law Center at ASL, who is teaching the class related to the law for ASL, agreed. Dr. Kray Luxbacher is teaching the engineering side of the class for Virginia Tech.

As the program is structured, during each class in the semester, a distinct project or program related to natural resource law and engineering examines how the two are interconnected.

“For instance, an attorney applying for a SMCRA permit for a new mining project will need an engineer to create a reclamation plan upon mine closure,” Corbett said. “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.”

Belleville and Corbett noted there are many instances where lawyers and engineers benefit from working collaboratively — whether that is in designing underground mines to comply with Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) requirements; developing soil erosion plans to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); planning coal ash impoundments to comply with the Clean Water Act; or ensuring that local zoning laws are met.

The class meets one evening a week through a 14-week period. Two substantive lessons are presented on-line and asynchronously and in addition, two field trips are planned – one to visit Coronado Coal’s Buchanan mine, near Oakwood, in March; and the other, to visit MountainRose Vineyards, a winery located on a reclaimed surface mine site, at the end of the semester.

Ten of the class sessions are video-connected between ASL and Virginia Tech. Three classes are set up for student presentations.  Lecture topics include those focused on the oil and gas boom: hydrofracking, horizontal drilling and extracting shale resources; designing pipelines under the National Environmental Policy Act (with a focus on the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines); designing habitat conservation plans under the Endangered Species Act (with a focus on the Mountaineer Wind Farm in West Virginia; securing coal mining permits under SMCRA and the Clean Water Act (with a focus on mountaintop mining in Appalachia); reclaiming hydroelectric dams under the Federal Power Act (with a focus on the Klamath River dam removal and working with indigenous communities); when (precious) metal resource conflicts with wildlife resources (with a focus on the Pebble Gold mine in Alaska); and drilling in deep water, what could go wrong? (with a focus on the Deepwater Horizon disaster).

Groups of law and engineering students will be required to collaborate for a written product and presentation regarding a particular law and engineering case study as a part of the course.

“We hope this is the beginning of a new phase in our relationship with Virginia Tech, as there are a number of areas where natural resource law overlaps with engineering,” Belleville said.

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Media Contact: Cathy St. Clair – 276.202.0383 or cstclair@asl.edu