Chief of UNC center on environment: Duke Energy money won’t influence us

Protesters acting as Gov. Pat McCrory and Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good pass out samples of “coal ash kool-aid” in Charlotte.
Protesters acting as Gov. Pat McCrory and Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good pass out samples of “coal ash kool-aid” in Charlotte.

In February, the environmental law center at UNC School of Law changed its name to the UNC School of Law Center for Climate, Energy, Environment and Economics (CE3). This change recognizes CE3’s expanded mission to engage the intersection of law and policies governing those areas. The expansion is fueled in part by a leadership gift from the Duke Energy Foundation.

We have heard from many environmental organizations worried that a gift from a large private energy corporation that has faced its share of environmental violations will somehow influence the course of the law school’s work, including who its clinics will represent and how its environmental faculty and students will handle education around controversial issues such as coal ash.

Let me be clear that the gift from the Duke Energy Foundation comes with no strings attached and will not change how we do business beyond expanding our reach to help restore the environment and climate. Our clinics will continue to represent those who have not had traditional access to legal representation, our civil rights center will continue to examine discriminatory impacts on marginalized communities, including environmental ones, and CE3 will continue its work to help communities better prepare for the coming climate change that is outside of our control.

Why then accept a gift when it might give the appearance of undue influence on our law school? Because the old way of approaching environmental, climate, energy, and economic development issues no longer works. Historically, we have made decisions about energy usage with no or very little thought given to environmental impacts, and we have not fully addressed the importance of providing economic well-being while protecting our environment.

We are now in the midst of a revolution in how we use energy. We have the chance to provide the public access to energy and development while continuing to cut harmful pollutants and stabilizing our climate. But many legal and policy questions must be revisited. And those questions must be engaged by all stakeholders: citizens’ groups, businesses, and government.

That is why we welcome financial assistance from the Duke Energy Foundation in tackling these important issues. We may not always agree on the best overall solutions, but I am certain we will not survive the climate crisis and protect our citizens unless we engage the private sector in helping address the problems. At Carolina Law, our job is to train our students in the theory and practice of environmental, energy, natural resources and climate law. We cannot do that without a full understanding of all of our energy and environmental laws and policies and how they can be made better for the environment and the public.

Flatt is the director of CE3 at UNC School of Law.