Student Wins National Environmental Law Writing Competition

January 14, 2015

Texas A&M School of Law 3L Matt McGowan3L Matt McGowan

3L Matt McGowan, Texas A&M Law Review articles editor, has been selected as the winner of the national White River Environmental Law Writing Competition by the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law for his article titled “Locomotives v. Local Motives: The Coming Conflict, Statutory Void, and Legal Uncertainties Riding with Reactivated Rails-to-Trails."

As the winner, McGowan’s paper will be published in the March 2015 issue of the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law (VJEL), and he will receive the $1,000 first-place prize.

"Matthew's article thoroughly impressed our review committee," said VJEL editor-in-chief Andrew Minikowski, in a press release. "The depth at which his article explores the legal ramifications of rails-to-trails reactivation far exceeds the existing academic literature on the topic.”

“This is such a tremendous honor. I can't express my gratitude to the folks up at the VJEL enough,” McGowan said.

“To think, I was ready to throw in the towel -- convinced this paper would forever sit on my hard drive,” McGowan shared. “I was about to give up and forget about the whole thing, but my adviser, Professor [Timothy] Mulvaney, just flat refused to let me and kept insisting that I keep working on it. I'm so glad he did. I definitely encourage other students to never, ever give up on their papers. Keep working, reworking, and re-reworking them.”

“It was a pleasure working with Matt, and I am not surprised that he won this award,” Professor Timothy Mulvaney said.

The paper, inspired by McGowan’s personal interest in mountain biking and professional interest in property law, examines the legal challenges associated with the rails-to-trails program, which converts out-of-service railway easements into recreational nature paths. What happens if the railroad wants to restart service in those corridors?

“A litany of scholars have been wrestling with legal questions surrounding the conversion of deserted rail corridors to recreational trails for the past three decades. In this paper, Matt adds an important voice to the conversation by thoughtfully shifting the topic on its head. He focuses on the issues that could arise as railroad companies seek to reactivate these corridors for rail use," Mulvaney continued. "I expect that Matt’s work will serve as an important resource as scholars begin to explore the many implications of our nation’s return to rail.”

The well-respected VJEL, considered by many as a top environmental law journal, has a global audience. The writing competition was open to any student pursuing a juris doctor or master of laws degree at an accredited U.S. law school.

Read the competition winner press release here.