Environmental lawyers support the environment; energy lawyers are against it. Right?
These two areas of practice often fall prey to broad generalizations that seek to value one over the other, or create the idea that society must choose to accept one over the other. The fact of the matter is, though, that both types of lawyers do the same thing: seek to maximize human development and societal benefit while minimizing environmental impact.
What do energy lawyers really do?
Energy lawyers don’t hate the environment. An “energy lawyer” could mean many things, but usually refers to a lawyer working in either the oil and gas sector, the renewable space, or public utilities. Day to day work could include reviewing permits and land contracts, analyzing local and federal laws and statues, and generally handling all legal matters for their organization’s activities.
While an energy lawyer may see their daily tasks as menial, there is a deeper meaning to what they are doing: enabling human development and progress by producing accessible energy for consumers with minimal impact on the environment. By facilitating energy development, they are enabling every aspect of modern society, from transportation to materials like plastics.
As far as the environment goes, ask any energy lawyer and they will tell you—when natural resources are involved, not considering the environmental impact of their development would be neglecting to do a critical part of his or her job. The deliberations energy lawyers make should not be characterized as “how much environmental damage can we get away with,” but rather “how can we maximize society’s benefit from these resources while reducing any negative externalities?” The latter reflects the complexity of what energy lawyers really do.
Are all environmental lawyers the same?
All environmental lawyers are not radical enviro-nazis who want to litigate any human impact on the Earth to zero, taking down energy companies in the process. They are smart, passionate, and specialized legal experts who work to create and understand regulations that seek to mitigate human’s impact on the environment. This does not automatically mean that they hate all forms of human development and energy.
In fact, primary employers of environmental law specialists include energy companies. The government is also a major source of demand for environmental lawyers, with the Environmental Protection Agency employing legions of attorneys to enforce environmental regulations.
The only hostility that many interpret from environmental lawyers is when they are rigorously attacking energy or chemical companies for violating laws by contaminating water supplies or contributing to local pollution. This does not mean that they do not support energy. This means they are good at their job and are seeking enforcement of the laws. What’s wrong with that?
The common ground
What are both practice areas’ goals rooted in? Progress and development. It’s not just producing energy—its producing energy to enable people to pursue their daily lives with ease. It’s not just protecting the environment—it’s protecting the environment in a way that best allows future development.
Energy lawyers often work side by side with environmental lawyers to reconcile the balancing of these objectives. Society does not benefit and people do not thrive when the environment is destroyed, nor when the don’t have access to affordable and reliable energy.
When you think of these two professions as working together towards sustainable development, you will realize that no, they are definitely not opposites, but rather inseparable complements.