Pursuing Their Passion

Kyle Weldon '18

Alumni Interview

Kyle Weldon

Kyle Weldon, a Texas A&M University School of Law 2018 graduate, spoke virtually with the Texas A&M Agricultural Law Society in March, 2021. Weldon is currently a litigation associate at Harris, Bogle, and Finley in Fort Worth, Texas.

Prior to law school, Weldon designed premium supplements for a cattle feed company, having received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Animal Science. This work piqued his interest in law for two distinct reasons. First, it required him to stay informed of all regulations governing the antibiotics the company sold. Second, his conversations with local farmers alerted him to the various legal problems they faced, such as easements, estate planning, and pipeline contracts.

While working towards his JD at A&M Law, Weldon worked directly with adjunct professors Jim Bradbury and Tiffany Dowell Lashmet on a handbook for Texas farmers and ranchers. The handbook centers on fence law and regulation in Texas and is currently available on the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension website. Weldon was also heavily involved in the Agricultural Law Society. He emphasized the importance of taking one of A&M’s natural resource classes and how important those classes were in crafting his love of natural resource law. He also urged students to take as many writing classes as possible to learn “the backbone of legal practice.”

Weldon has now enjoyed three years at Harris, Bogle, and Finley working in oil and gas litigation. Before the pandemic, Weldon noted that he got to travel around the United States interviewing and deposing clients about their oil and gas issues. Now they come to him. He was also happy to report that he has been back in the office since June 2020, following strict protocols.

Students, on the cusp of graduation, had several questions as to how the pandemic will affect the legal profession. Weldon noted that everyone in the legal field has been striving to maintain normal life as best as possible. He has been impressed by the benefits of some of the online changes and suggested that students take advantage of previously out-of-reach CLE and legal events being held virtually, such as the American Agricultural Associations’ webinars.

Weldon also recommended students stay up to date on the transition from the Trump to Biden administration as recent graduates will likely be responsible for understanding the implications of those changes.

Alexis Long '20

Recent Graduate Pursues Love of Water Law at River Authority

Alexis Long

Alexis Long is Associate General Counsel to the Trinity River Authority of Texas (TRA). Long graduated from Texas A&M University School of Law in 2020. As someone who identified their love for the field of environmental law early in her law school career, Long dove headfirst into any and all opportunities offered by the EENRS Law Program. She participated in two environmental capstone projects offered during her time at the law school, and a field study course in Israel that explored water, energy, and dispute resolution issues. When reflecting on her hard work in these programs, Long noted that she was building her network as much as she was building her resume.

Long grew to love the value provided by real-time problem solving that she learned while walking the line between overcommitting her time and missing out on opportunities. While gaining connections in the field and honing her ability to troubleshoot legal questions, she was also able to get involved in opportunities not typically offered in a traditional law school class.

The water law field is extremely close-knit, Long explained. Her dedication to networking and hard work during her time in law school helped build the foundation for her current career. At her present position, Long is able to focus on a single client: the TRA. Long emphasized that working for a water distributor is an extremely rewarding career. Not only does she get to tackle a myriad of legal issues from contract drafting to property law, she also gets to see her work pay off in real-time. She said that every day spent in the office helps give back to local communities by helping them gain access to one of the most important utilities: clean water. Long noted that even when she’s dealing with the same topic for the entire week, each day presents a new, rewarding challenge.

For current students, Long’s best advice is to get as involved as possible in the sector of law you are passionate about. Water law can be a difficult field to break into outside of the major firms, so Long recommends that current and graduating students constantly keep an eye out for opportunities. Careers change and can take dramatic turns, so continue to “keep an eye out, and don’t be afraid to try new things.” Long encourages current students to stay focused and get to the finish line because the experience along the way will be worth it.

Hope SheltonHope Shelton ’18

Alumna Career and Opening Shelton Regulatory Consulting

Hope SheltonHope Shelton

Former student, Hope Shelton, took the time to share with the EENRSLP about her jump into the working world and how she came to open up Shelton Regulatory Consulting, LLC with her father. She also gave some of her best advice for law students and young lawyers.

What is Shelton Regulatory Consulting, LLC? What sort of work do you do?

Shelton Regulatory Consulting, LLC is primarily a natural gas pipeline safety consulting company. I expect to expand into other sectors of oil and gas safety and have even considered oil and gas policy work, but for right now, I focus on providing consulting services to natural gas pipeline operators. 

The bulk of my services include preparing for and representing operators in pipeline safety audits conducted by the State and Federal agencies [PHMSA - Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration - is the federal agency, and the states where I do the most work in are regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, and New Mexico Pipeline Safety Bureau]. When you think of pipeline companies, you probably think of big companies like BP and Exxon, maybe even XTO or ETC. These larger operators have a compliance department that handles recordkeeping, reporting, and safety inspections. But there are many more smaller operators who may have a pipeline in connection with their primary business or they're just getting started owning and operating a pipeline, or their previously unregulated line became regulated because of a population change nearby. These small operators don't have the budget to hire a compliance person full-time, so they contract out that work to me. I prepare them for pipeline audits, and I represent them during the audit. I also provide the written programs/manuals that are required, perform annual filings, and provide general consulting advice on the regulations and how to comply. 

How long have you operated Shelton Regulatory Consulting?

I have been in business for a year now. I opened this company with my dad in June/July 2019. Half of the clients have been using my dad's company for years for compliance services (think of surveys and maintenance) and used my dad informally for consulting. The other half are clients who have reached out because they were referred by either another client, consultant, or industry person. 

Why did you branch out into consulting? What work did you do before you opened up Shelton regulatory Consulting?

Before we opened the business, I worked in Austin at the State Capitol working on policy as a staffer in a Senate Committee. When the Legislative Session ended, I made the choice to leave the policy world and start this company. As a staffer, I analyzed bills and the policy behind those bills. As a consultant, I analyze regulations and interpret the lawmakers' intent. The two jobs, on the surface, do not compliment the other, but the day-to-day work is very comparable. The skills I gained in the legislature greatly enhance my abilities as a consultant. 

The consulting idea was not born in the months after Session and before I created the business. When I was accepted to A&M Law, my dad started putting the idea in my head and I worked in the compliance department at a pipeline company in Fort Worth my 1L summer. After Session ended, I finally felt prepared and confident enough to open the business in spite of the fear of the unknown.    

What would you say to a student or young lawyer who is interested in branching out on their own?

It doesn't matter if you don't know everything. What matters is that you know the people to ask, and their willingness to help you. 

You also need to be sure you know yourself first. If you thrive being around people, working with people, having someone set your schedule, and having someone to report to, I don't suggest going out on your own. You have to take responsibility for any and all mistakes, for work done and not done, for expenses, and for your education. It's incredibly rewarding, but it can also be scary at times. 

What draws your clients to work with you?

The clients I work with are primarily small operators. The answer, I believe is, necessity. The regulations are complicated for a lay person to understand, and the inspections are intense, highly focused on the written programs and the language of those programs and can result in fines that are expensive.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is helping my clients. Whether it be by solving a complicated regulation question or ending an audit with no violations. I enjoy knowing that I was able to help them using the skills I've learned in school and work. For me, when I graduated law school I didn't realize how much I had learned until I was helping clients every day using the skills I acquired in those three years. 

What does work-life balance look like for you?

Being self-employed and working from home means I have to set boundaries for personal and work. I think many people now have an idea of what this is like after being required to work from home due to the Covid-19. I set boundaries for chores and personal time to occur only limited amounts during the day when I'm working, and I set boundaries for work to occur only limited amounts during the evenings or weekend. If I didn't set boundaries, it would be all too easy to work through my evenings and weekends without a break, but I know from law school that I can get burned out and my work will suffer. 

Although I do have to point out that during "audit weeks" I generally have to work on the weekend prior to preparing for the audit and after hours during the week to both work on audit-related items and work on issues for other clients that arose while I was in an audit. Work-life balance is much more unhealthy during these weeks.

What advice would you like to give 2020 graduates?

Be there for your friends and find friends to be there for you. The bar exam isn't your last hurdle--it's just a hurdle. Once you take it and pass, you're still going to have big things happen that you need strength for. For some, it will come immediately when looking for a job and facing rejections. For others, it may come later when they're looking for a second job, having financial troubles, or getting divorced. You have to have friends to support you, and in turn, you have to be there to support your friends. It can be hard to stay in touch once everyone moves away and starts their life, but it's so important to do so. 

What advice would you give a current law student?

Learn how to handle the stress now. Life isn't going to get less stressful as you get out of school. Right now, everything is structured with classes, reading lists, projects, and exams. When you leave school, all of that structure is gone, so you have to learn how to structure your life and work on your own.  Basically, you have a lot of stress right now, but it's limited in duration. When you're out, that stress can feel neverending. So you really have to learn now how to handle it and not let it overtake you.

Cheryl Massey Barnett HeadshotCheryl Massey Barnett ’04(TXWesLaw)

Alumna Profile

Cheryl Massey Barnett HeadshotCheryl Massey Barnett

Cheryl Massey Barnett is a graduate of Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. She currently works at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 as a Branch Chief in the Office of Regional Counsel’s Air Enforcement Branch. Region 6 of the EPA addresses environmental issues in Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and 66 Native American Tribes. Barnett has been involved in environmental issues since her family moved to a small Texas town with significant environmental issues. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Political Science from Texas Christian University intending to pursue environmental law. She graduated from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in 2004. During law school, she interned at both EPA Region 6 and the Texas Commission Environmental Quality. Following graduation, she worked for non-profit organizations in DFW and then worked in Houston representing domestic abuse victims. Barnett was in and out of court every day, handling custody cases, protective orders, and providing support to victims.  

In 2007, Barnett moved to the EPA Region 6 office. Barnett found her experience at the non-profit helped develop her litigation skills and equipped her to litigate and negotiate environmental enforcement cases at the EPA. Early in her EPA career, Barnett served as a staff attorney in the air enforcement group, which meant daily meetings consisting of settlement negotiations for administrative and judicial cases, case analyses, and researching federal applicability of state laws. As Branch Chief, Barnett still attends those meetings but has a more advisory role on-air enforcement cases in EPA’s Region 6 coordinating enforcement with state counterparts, EPA headquarters in Washington D.C., and the Department of Justice. She is also currently working on a Clean Air Act case where she serves as Special Counsel for the Department of Justice.

Within the EPA, attorneys are divided by media, meaning that there are dedicated groups of attorneys who handle water, air, and waste enforcement actions. Although Barnett has had some cases involving water and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, her primary focus is the enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Enforcement cases originate in several ways. For example, for the last several years, the EPA has conducted flyovers of energy extraction sites in the Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford Shale Basin south of San Antonio. Since these sites are often unmanned, the EPA sends helicopters mounted with FLIR cameras to observe any unauthorized emissions. Also, if there is a hurricane or force majeure event in Region 6, EPA responds and addresses non-compliance situations. Historically, the air enforcement group has enforced Clean Air Act compliance at coal, power, gas, paper, and cement plants. Most recently, Barnett settled a significant paper mill compliance case in Arkansas. Barnett notes that Region 6 is often busy due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, a major hub for energy production.

During law school, Barnett found it helpful to take courses in environmental law because it gave her a baseline understanding of both the terminology as well as how the environmental law field operates. She encourages law students interested in pursuing environmental law to take as many environmental courses as they can throughout law school, even if they seem more general, such as administrative law. She also said that the law clinics and her internships throughout the summers guided her career path. Barnett commented that it is hard for students to picture what their day-to-day life will look like after law school; however, doing internships and clinics can make that picture clearer. Barnett explained that the EPA, even prior to the global pandemic, allowed her to have a more flexible schedule. Barnett also noted that any students interested in pursuing a career at the EPA or the federal government, in general, should look into internships and taking courses within the subject matter.

Colton LauerColton Lauer ’18

Q&A with Alumnus Colton Lauer

Colton LauerColton Lauer

Colton Lauer, Texas A&M School of Law ‘18 is a Water Master for the Montana Water Court, located in Bozeman. The Water Court is a specialty court under the direct supervision of the Montana Supreme Court engaged in the adjudication of all existing water rights claims in the state of Montana. In 1973, the State required all persons owning or claiming a water right in Montana to file Statements of Claim establishing a prima facie case for the existence of their water right by 1982. An existing, or historical, water right is a water right with a priority date senior to July 1, 1973.  

The Court has a Chief Water Judge and an Associate Water Judge as well as several Water Masters and various Court staff. Water Masters, acting similarly to magistrate judges, consolidate cases, manage cases, approve settlement agreements, hold trials, and issue Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law regarding water rights claims after reviewing evidence in the record. As part of the adjudication process, the Court issues decrees in river basins throughout the state to provide notice to water users of the way in which water rights filed in a basin are claimed. The Water Court hears objections to water right claims appearing in each decree, and also resolves issues flagged by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The goal of the adjudication is to issue “final decrees” in each basin in Montana.

What drew you to this particular field of law? Why did you choose to apply to be a Water Master? 

I became interested in water law and policy due in part to my time growing up in Arizona, where water is a very scarce resource. Witnessing how water law, policy, and scarcity affect farmers, ranchers, municipalities, and everyday life drove me to research and explore the field. During my time at Texas A&M, this interest in water law was fostered and encouraged by professors like Gabriel Eckstein and Vanessa Casado Pérez. I applied for a position as a Water Master at the Water Court because the position offered an opportunity to be directly and deeply involved exclusively in water rights adjudication.

What does an average day at work look like for you?

An average day includes case consolidation and management, evaluating evidence, making decisions, and issuing orders. Whether the Water Master is requesting more evidence, managing a case, or making Findings and Conclusions, plenty of time is used to review and analyze evidence, draft and issue orders, and organize how a basin will be adjudicated.

The case consolidation is the process whereby a Water Master reviews water rights claims, and issues with those claims, and consolidates them into Water Court Cases.  An initial consolidation order effectively “kicks off” a case. When consolidating a case, a Water Master might set a filing deadline, settlement deadline, or bring the parties together in a status conference. Case management may involve holding status conferences to determine how the case should proceed, managing a hearing track, or reviewing and ruling on requests such as motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, or motions for extensions of time. When evidence is filed with or heard by the Court, a Water Master reviews and analyzes that evidence to determine if an issue is resolved, if more evidence is needed to support a stipulation, or if the evidence establishes certain facts. At the end of a case, whether concluded by trial or settlement, a Water Master drafts and issues Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in a Master’s Report, which recommends to the Court that certain changes be made to a water right claim.

With the COVID-19 outbreak it has been a very creative process. Even though we, as a court, are a little technologically behind, I still have a lot to do. I have to go into the courthouse to get all the paperwork for each file, as anything recent is going to be on a claim file. This means after I get the files, I can then do just about everything at home via remote access to the office. We’re doing pretty well and operate as best as we can, given the circumstances. Everything is now done via email and it’s actually streamlined the court process and made it a little faster because fewer things have to be printed and passed off.

What are the biggest issues that the Court face on a day-to-day basis? 

One issue that comes to mind is public participation. While many people do participate in cases, there are some who do not. Public participation is vital to determining how to accurately describe water rights in Montana so that they can be enforced and protected in the future. For example, there are times when I request additional information to resolve an issue on a claim and receive no response. That can only make it difficult to determine the facts if the issue is complicated, and can also affect the accuracy of that claimant’s water right regardless of the issue’s complexity. For that reason, it is important that claimants review their claims and the claims of their neighbors, update the state records if they change addresses or sell their property, and participate in the adjudication process.

Were there any classes or experiences you had at Texas A&M that helped prepare you for your current job? 

The writing classes I took in law school taught me how to draft legal documents, and the water law courses and experiential courses gave me exposure and knowledge into the world of water law and prepared me for the “real world.” Classes of note include several of water law courses taught by Professor Eckstein and the Natural Resources Capstone course co-taught by Professor Eckstein and Adjunct Professor Howard Slobodin (with the Trinity River Authority). I learned so much and am grateful for the knowledge and passion those professors imparted on me and am thankful for the opportunities offered by Texas A&M School of Law.

Describe some interesting aspect of your job: 

One of the most fascinating things about being a Water Master in Montana is learning about the history of the state. Adjudicating historical water rights, some of which may be hundreds of years old, makes a Water Master a bit of a history detective. During the course of adjudicating a basin, I get to review historical evidence and learn about the history of the basin in which I am adjudicating water right claims. Sometimes I even see evidence dating back to the “old west,” such as journals, maps, or other documents from the 1880s (typically copies, but interesting nonetheless). This aspect of my job means there is always something new to learn with each case, and I love seeing and learning more and more about the history and people of the Treasure State.

What advice can you offer to law students? What can law students do to prepare for work in a job like yours?

Take advantage of opportunities, travel when you can, never give up, and take “the leap.” It is important to take part in programs, classes, or conferences in your area of interest to learn more and expand your interest. I was able to attend the 16th World Water Congress in Cancun, Mexico, during the summer between 2L and 3L year as I was a member of the organizing committee/ambassador for Texas A&M. I also took a field study trip to Central Mexico with Professor Eckstein to learn about water rights in farming communities.  You may also meet people who could help you along the way. Travelling, especially through Texas A&M, is something that broadened my perspective and helped me grow as a person and a professional, and I would highly recommend going on those trips when you are able to do so. 

It is also very important to never give up. It sounds cliche, but even though you may get discouraged with your studies and in your job searches, if you keep at it, you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve. Finally, I encourage all students to “go out and leap.” I suppose this is my way of saying “just do it.” Participate in the mock trial tournament. Apply for that job. Accept that job offer in another city. Talk to that professor or attorney who might help you. You never know where you may wind up!

Stacey DowellStacie Dowell ’17

Q&A with Alumnae Stacie Dowell, Associate Counsel with the Trinity River Authority

Stacey DowellStacie Dowell

Stacie Dowell has been working for the Trinity River Authority (TRA) since 2012, when she was hired as a paralegal. Having graduated from Texas A&M School of Law in 2017, she is now an associate in that legal department. In her role, she encounters a  wide variety of legal issues spanning contract, employment, business, property, and water law.

What drew you to the Authority? Why did you choose to apply for a position with the general counsel?

That is actually a funny story, I didn’t actually apply to the Authority, I was approached by them for the position. The current General Counsel’s wife was a paralegal at a family law firm, and she was looking for her replacement as she was leaving the firm to have her first child. I applied for the position at the family law firm, and she gave my resume to her husband for consideration. The Authority’s General Counsel then called me about the position and I went in for the interview.

What does an average day look like for you?

On a typical day I may draft, review or revise contracts, respond to a public information request, and advise staff on various topics such as land rights acquisition, governmental procurement guidelines, and personnel matters.

What issues does the Authority address as an agency?

The Authority is one of several agencies that ensure that we have adequate water supplies now and for the future of the Trinity River Basin.  We do that by participating in regional and state water planning, and by securing new water rights to meet future needs.  The Authority is also becoming involved in flood mitigation activities in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and several years of significantly above-average rainfall.  The Authority’s primary business line in the Metroplex is wastewater treatment.  The clean effluent discharged becomes a source of water supply both in the Metroplex and the southern Trinity River Basin.

How closely does the Authority work with municipalities such as the City of Fort Worth?

The Authority is the largest wholesale provider of wastewater treatment services in the State of Texas. The Authority works with over thirty cities in the Metroplex, to which it provides both wholesale wastewater treatment and treated water supply.  The majority of the Authority’s customers in the basin are cities.

What other organizations does the Authority work with regularly?

The Authority operates in a regulated environment.  We frequently work with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Water Development Board, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers.  We also participate in a number of water-related organizations such as the Texas Water Conservation Association and National Waterways Conference.  Those organizations provide policy making support at both the state and federal levels.

As the population grows, what are some of the most pressing questions the agency has to evaluate?

As the population continues to grow, river authorities have to consider the best ways to meet future water demand.  The population of Texas is on track to double by 2070.  While conservation can help meet additional needs, new supplies must also be developed. In addition, we have to balance the additional demands created by recurring droughts with the best ways to manage the historic flooding we’ve seen in recent years.

What roles do you see the legal community playing in the future with regards to resource allocation?

Lawyers play a critical role with regard to water supply allocation.  Water lawyers aid in securing new water rights, drafting contracts that convey supplies, and also contribute to policy making in Austin with regards to water.  They work with engineers and hydrologists to meet both current and future demands.

What advice can you offer to law students? What can law students do to prepare for work with an agency like the TRA?

I would recommend getting a firm grasp on the basic legal principles of contract law, civil litigation, business, and property law.  An agency like TRA encounters issues within those areas pretty regularly, and having a sound knowledge of those subjects will give you good footing to build on. I would also tell law students to take time  to relax; and although you need to take law school seriously, try not to take it too seriously.

Scott McDonaldScott McDonald ’88(TAMU) ’95(TXWesLaw)

Alumnus Scott Mcdonald is EPA Region 6, Office of Regional Counsel, Branch Chef, Water Enforcement Division

Scott McDonaldScott McDonald

Scott McDonald graduated from Texas A&M University with a BBA in Finance in 1988 and later attended Texas Wesleyan School of Law (now Texas A&M University School of Law). McDonald began his career practicing corporate law with firm in Round Rock, TX before joining the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)’s Litigation Division in 1999.  In this role, he handled cases involving water, air, and waste for two-years in Austin, Texas, followed by two-years in TCEQ’s Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Office. In 2002, Mr. McDonald began working for EPA Region 6 in the Office of Regional Counsel, Enforcement Division, where he dealt with the  Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and RCRA (hazardous waste statute).  Since 2006, he has served as the Water Branch Chief for Region 6.

What are the responsibilities of the Water Branch Chief?

As Water Branch Chief, I provide legal advice and policy recommendations to the Regional Counsel, Regional Administrator, Division Directors, and client programs. I also assist with the interpretation and application of federal and state laws, regulations, policy, guidance, and statutes such as the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). I direct, supervise, and manage staff attorneys, paralegals, administrative assistants, budget and resources, including implementation of policies; assignment of cases and projects; and maximizing resources to achieve agency objectives.

My additional responsibilities include drafting, issuing, and filing a wide variety of documents (motions, briefs, orders, complaints, settlements) involving complex legal cases that require knowledge of regulatory laws, permitting requirements, compliance standards, waste management, and pollutant discharge (NPDES) programs. Moreover, I ensure that administrative and judicial actions brought by my branch against the regulated community are legally sound and justified whereby the violations alleged and penalties assessed are supported by applicable laws, regulations, and policies. I also represent EPA and the legal division in external dealings, meetings, and interactions with the general public, citizen groups, regulated community, Congressional staff, and fellow agencies such as state, county, and municipal departments. Lastly, I support client programs in regulating various industrial sectors such as manufacturers, oil and gas producers, land developers/builders, and municipalities.

What changes have you seen take place at the agency throughout your career?

The EPA has remained essentially the same within the agency mission and objective “to protect human health and the environment.”  Our vision within the Enforcement Division is to make environmental compliance common throughout the country to achieve clean air, water, and land by ensuring compliance with Federal environmental laws thanks to partnerships with States and Tribes.  Even though faces have changed and managers have left, the staff still works hard in performing their various duties.  EPA Region 6 (Dallas office) alone has 11 Divisions and 50 branches, each with its own unique function and purpose. The agency primarily consists of scientists and engineers who are dedicated to their jobs and produce high quality work product, inspection reports, sampling data, etc.  By following proper protocols and procedures, our technical staff develops good, sound cases supported by evidence, which makes the attorney’s job much easier.  I believe our legal office has a strong, effective working relationship with the different client programs.  EPA’s goals and objectives remain the same, however, various Administrations define priorities differently which may impact EPA’s focus and funding from year to year.

What are some of the key environmental issues presently facing EPA Region 6?

EPA headquarters discusses with the ten Regional offices where together they  decide which areas to focus on for the upcoming year. There are several different areas we focus on. One, high priority for us is creating cleaner air for communities by reducing excess emission of harmful pollutants. This includes both volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”) and hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”). Second, we will focus on reducing hazardous air emissions from hazardous waste facilities. The Agency has found that air emission violations associated with the improper management of hazardous waste remains widespread, thus we will particularly focus on improving compliance with hazardous waste Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities and Large Quantity Generators with regulation that control organic air emissions from certain hazardous waste management activities.

Additionally, the EPA is committed to stopping aftermarket defeat devices for vehicles and engines. The Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to set standards application to emission from a variety of vehicles and engines. Unfortunately, the EPA have found that numerous companies and individuals have manufactured and sold both hardware and software specifically designed to defeat the required controls on vehicles and engines, thus increased enforcement is needed. Moreover, the EPA will prioritize reducing significant noncompliance with national pollutant discharge elimination system permits. Compliance with National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permits is critical to protecting our nation’s waters. Relatedly, we are focusing on reducing noncompliance with drinking water standards at community water systems.

Do you have any recommendations for students interested in working for the Environmental Protection Agency?

I recommend taking as many environmental courses as possible during law school to establish a comprehensive knowledge base of environmental law and related issues.  Taking several environmental courses will not only expose students to more practice areas, but also increase your chances of being selected for EPA attorney positions. 

We often have law students and recent graduates apply for EPA positions who attended law schools such as Vermont and Lewis & Clark, which provide specialized Environmental curriculums, so the more courses the better.  I also recommend taking oil & gas classes, as well as real estate and real property-oriented courses.  Those subject matters frequently overlap and come into play when practicing Environmental Law.


Stephanie Bradley FryerStephanie Bradley Fryer ’17

NRS Alumna Flies Solo

Stephanie Bradley FryerStephanie Bradley Fryer

Stephanie Bradley Fryer, a dynamic student during her time at Texas A&M Law and enterprising attorney since graduating in 2017, has not slowed down one iota. Fryer recently hung her own shingle with the establishment of Stephanie Bradley Fryer PLLC. In an effort to further enhance the services she provides to clients, Stephanie also serves as Of Counsel to Rincker Law.

After graduating from Texas A&M Law, Fryer worked as an associate attorney at a firm in her hometown of Stamford, Texas, where she practiced agricultural law and in areas relating to the ag sector, including estate planning and administration, real estate law, and oil & gas law.  Fryer now continues a similar focus at her own firm where she offers legal services for estate planning, real estate, and business planning to rural landowners.

Fryer points out that estate planning and administration is probably an area of law that people least intuitively think of as relating to agriculture and natural resources, but as Fryer explains, “The planning I do is for a lot of people like my grandparents, who want to make sure that their family farm—their land asset—is around for the next generation.”

Personal connections in the small town and its surrounding area in which she practices serve Fryer well in her legal profession. Her background in the ag industry and growing up on her own family farm also provide her with the experience and ability to relate to her clients.

These roots not only provide her with the background necessary to run her practice, but also keep Fryer exceptionally busy in another line of business: Fryer is a fifth generation landowner in Texas and spends evenings helping her family operate their cattle ranch after weekday hours in her law office.  She then spends weekends in Oklahoma with her husband on his family’s fourth generation farm where they run a commercial cattle operation that requires her to travel weekly between southwest Oklahoma and west Texas.

These personal ties to family farming help Fryer build rapport with clients and assist them in navigating legal issues related to land and agriculture. The majority of the issues that come across Fryer’s desk have a direct connection to natural resource law.

“We deal with imminent domain issues and pipelines, trying to write in favorable terms for landowners about what (oil & gas) companies can and cannot do,” she explains. “We review leases to check that the language includes simple things like requiring companies to pick up trash, and if they tear up grass then requiring them to replant it.”

Another conversation Fryer often has with her clients regards environmental conservation aspects of managing land. Discussions often involve cost savings opportunities of environmental preservation, i.e. how conserving resources often equates to conserving money. From her perspective, the myriad areas of law related to natural resources are not polarizing. Agriculturalists, environmentalists, and companies exploring and mining resources are all equally concerned with sustainable development.

“A lot of people don’t think about the agriculture industry and people in agriculture as caring about natural resources, but everything we do depends on air, water, weather, land,” Fryer explains. “It all affects our ability to keep land in the family. Cattle ranchers are also grass farmers because we take into consideration not overstocking so that grass doesn’t die, and when it comes to water issues—we have limited supplies of water, so WOTUS rules affect clients just like they affect my family.”

Fryer admits that her initial interest in agriculture stems from her upbringing, but her decision to be involved in the agriculture industry through the law came via her work with the USDA before law school. Once in law school, Fryer took advantage of every opportunity to be involved in TAMU Law’s NRS program as well as extra-curricular opportunities with the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA).

One of Fryer’s most memorable experiences in law school was an international trip to Guanajuato, Mexico with Professor Eckstein: “There were a lot of agricultural issues to follow in Guanajuato and my interest in policy and law grew as a result of the experiences on that trip, especially as related to trade issues between countries.”

Not only was this trip inspiring to Fryer and her legal career, but the opportunity to travel abroad and discuss legal issues on an international level cemented Fryer’s approach to law school.

When asked whether she had any advice to current law students interested in a career in natural resources, Fryer says, “Go out of your comfort zone. Whatever you are interested in, be involved in those clubs. Go to the meetings, hand out your card, and stay busy. Build bonds with professors who are in areas of law that interest you. You only have three years to take advantage of those opportunities, and attorneys won’t answer as many questions for free once you graduate.”

Fryer certainly followed her own advice and stayed busy during her time at TAMU Law. Given her current success in and out of the law office, it is clear that she has not let up on that drive to stay busy in her professional life.

Brett A Miller NRSBrett Miller '16

A&M Former Student Pursuing a Passion

Brett A Miller NRSBrett Miller

Texas A&M University School of Law alumnus Brett Miller (class of 2016) fondly recalls his time in law school, especially those classes and learning opportunities with Natural Resources Systems Professors Gabriel Eckstein and Harry Sullivan. Miller, who now uses his legal education as a part of the investment team at Water Asset Management (WAM) in Fort Worth, emphasizes that the diversity of natural resources classes at Texas A&M Law have served him well in his career.

During law school, Miller completed many natural resources courses including Oil & Gas, Energy Law, Environmental Law, International Petroleum Transactions, Water Law, and an immersive experience in Mexico on Water Law. Coupled with his work as Professor Eckstein’s research associate, these experiences led to several publications and presentations that catapulted Miller’s career.

As part of his job with WAM, Miller spends much of his time on the road—traveling across Texas to locations in the Permian Basin, deep east Texas, and the Gulf Coast, searching for surface water and groundwater deals and managing due diligence on potential acquisitions—for a company that owns water assets in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and California. He speaks with both landowners and water-industry professionals to source and negotiate “buy-side” and “sell-side” transactions related to those assets. Miller emphasizes that the foundation for his career in the investment realm includes distinct channels represented by divergent legal regimes and the regulatory separation between surface water and groundwater.

“An interdisciplinary approach to my job is crucial,” explains Miller. “When we buy land associated with water rights, many different areas of law come into play: water, oil & gas, real property, transactional, corporate, private equity, and finance. Understanding the legal foundation, therefore, allows investors to take measured and calculated risks sequentially, and undervalued water supply assets have the potential to generate desired returns in the marketplace.”

Miller credits his experiences at Texas A&M law for setting him on his career path in the water-industry, and is glad to know that the NRS program is growing: “Bringing in more NRS faculty and increasing the program size is good for the interdisciplinary aspect. Getting oil and gas, water, and environmental legal minds under the same umbrella can definitely get more people engaged.”

Today, Miller remains involved in many groups, including the Institute for Energy Law, and other organizations that focus on conserving wetlands like Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited. Since graduation Miller has published Navigating the Confluence: Sources of Reconciliation Flowing Between the Human Right to Water and Economic Efficiency (available here); co-authored and published a chapter in the Drainage Reuse Initiative Feasibility Study for the Harris County Flood Control District; and authored a chapter on Hydraulic Fracturing Interactions with and Implications for Groundwater.

Jessica Foster NRSJessica Foster '16

Q&A with Former Student

Jessica Foster NRSJessica Foster

Texas A&M Law Graduation:
 May 2016

Current Workplace and primary practice areas:
Kelly, Durham & Pittard LLP, with a focus on civil appeals and litigation support.

Other Workplaces between graduation and present day:

  • The Law Firm of Caleb Moore, PLLC, primarily focused on foreclosure defense, real estate, consumer litigation, small business litigation matters.
  • Texas A&M University, as a research associate working on issues surrounding groundwater laws on the Texas-Mexico border.

Q: What do you like about the parts of your practice that pertain to natural resources?
First, the clients our firm represents are landowners fighting a groundwater permit in arid New Mexico. They have actively stuck with this fight for ten years now. Their dedication and diligence is inspiring, and it restores faith to see those who have the ability to take action do it on behalf of other communities fighting similar battles.

Second, areas where water law jurisprudence remains open to development (such as New Mexico), I am able to argue for fundamental interpretations and applications of law that could have lasting impacts on the water law and policy of that jurisdiction.

Third, the ability to understand that science, law, and policy must be considered together opens doors to helping solve problems using multidisciplinary approaches—an ability valuable to others.

Fourth, the work tends to be collaborative and creative. Because people often recognize the urgency of these natural resources issues, they are often more open to collaboration and creative work than I have experienced in other areas professionally. This collaboration and the integrated thinking natural resources law trains you to use is, to me, far likelier to result in creative, responsive solutions to these issues.

Q: Do you belong to any organizations or professional groups involved in natural resources related platforms or legal issues?
I am a member of the environmental/natural resources and energy sections of the Texas Bar Association and the Dallas and Tarrant County Bars. I am also part of an environmental working group that brings legal, political, and economic professionals together with experts in agriculture, energy, psychology, corporate accounting, and journalism to move society toward communities that are resilient in water, energy, and food resources in response to climate change.

Q: How do you think this gives insight into your legal practice?
Challenging yourself to roundtable with non-lawyers (or non-coworkers) about issues from a multidisciplinary perspective—and from competing perspectives—is key to avoiding insular thinking. That big picture thinking also helps me make policy arguments and even steer my advocacy.

Q: Were you involved in any natural resources groups or programs during your time at Texas A&M Law?
I traveled with students from Texas A&M’s water management and hydrological science program to Guanajuato, Mexico, to work together on groundwater issues at the University of Guanajuato. I participated in natural-resource-related poster competitions at TAMU’s Water Daze series and at the Property Journal’s symposium on marijuana law. I also worked pro bono to help the Big Bend Conservation Alliance oppose the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in far West Texas.

Q: How do you think your involvement in those groups, programs, or with Professor-mentors affected or continues to affect your career path?
Invaluably. Professor Gabriel Eckstein has been my mentor in water law since teaching me in the subject and taking me on as his research assistant. With Professor Eckstein, I have been able to:

  • Co-author a paper and presentation on water laws related to oil and gas for the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation;
  • Help edit Professor Eckstein’s The International Law of Transboundary Groundwater Resources, the first major publication on the subject;
  • Help edit international water publications for the United Nations and conduct research for United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization’s online database;
  • Work after graduation as a research associate for TAMU, which allowed me to conduct the first major survey of groundwater laws on the Texas-Mexico border; and
  • Present my research and evaluate its transboundary implications at the 2017 World Water Congress in Cancun, Mexico.

Focusing on these issues—not well understood by many—gave me marketable expertise within a year of graduation. This work has also afforded me the credibility to work more independently on water cases.

Professors Gina Warren and Jim Bradbury have also made concerted efforts to involve me in natural resources work, in and outside of the classroom. More than anything, these professors influenced me by seamlessly transitioning how they viewed me, from student, to colleague, to friend. This gives the profession a collaborative feel. In my experience, this is largely unique to our law school and not to be taken for granted.

Because of these professors’ mentorship, I am taking an active role in the things I care about and engaging at a higher professional level than I expected previously.

Q: More generally, how do you think your experience at Texas A&M Law has affected your continued practice in natural resources?
Compared with other institutions, Texas A&M Law places greater value on agriculture, on natural resources, and on ensuring that science guides law and policy. In practice, science and engineering professionals are heavily involved in water cases. I think I am able to engage with them in a more effective way because of my Texas A&M Law background.

Q: What advice would you give to current and prospective law students?
Think big. Engage with the scientific community and learn to speak their language. Do not forget to imagine. Read books that challenge you to consider new philosophies and start conversations about them. Write out your ideas, on blogs or in papers. One paper I wrote for Professor Warren’s class was an idea that is now receiving funding and may lead to new career opportunities in the future.

Take your professors, former employers, and others you respect out to lunch just to ask their thoughts on the world and pitch them your ideas. Volunteer on big projects you care about. For me, these have turned into jobs and helped develop a meaningful network of peers.

Cambodia Angor Wat MariMarializa Kelly ’15

International Internship

Cambodia Angor Wat MariMarializa Kelly

Texas A&M University School of Law graduate, Marializa Kelly (JD ’15), joined the public interest law firm Vishnu Law Group in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for three months (late September through December 2016). While there, Mari worked with the team led by International Advisor Brian Rohan to complete a draft environmental code for Cambodia. The draft code was scheduled for completion before the end of 2016.

Mari’s ​placement is among the first Texas A&M University School of Law international internships and is partially sponsored by the School of Law’s Global Law Program.

Follow Mari's travels and work in the blog posts here.