Beginning this week, about a hundred college students and coaches will be experiencing a trial by fire, or if you like, trial before real judges on a real hot button issue: fracking.
They will be appearing in moot court sessions in which they will be arguing the pros and cons of the practice that has dramatically changed the US energy market. On the last day of the three-day encounter, the top students will be making their cases before real judges. One is a judge on the West Virginia Court of Appeals; another is a West Virginia Supreme Court justice. Two sit on US District Court benches in West Virginia.
The students must be prepared to argue both sides of the issue, said James Van Nostrand, associate professor of law and director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development. “That’s part of being a lawyer,” he said. “You might have an environmental philosophy but you might have to defend industry and vice versa. You might have an industry perspective but you may wear the hat of a government attorney who is trying to punish the polluters, so to speak.”
“The students will make their arguments, which are timed, and the bench will interrupt with questions. It’s very much like an oral argument,” he said, adding the final round is “very intimidating. It’s in a moot court room and the five judges will be sitting on the bench.”
Most of the contestants “are litigators. They like the action. They are good on their feet and it is stimulating for them. But it’s going to be scary,” he said.
At least one of the judges has been scripted to be “very aggressive in the questioning,” he said. “The idea is to not let the kids stand up there and give their argument. We want to interrupt them with questions and see if they can get back on track.”
Hosted by West Virginia University’s School of Law, the National Energy & Sustainability Moot Court Competition is sponsored in part by Chesapeake Energy.
The court case this year is between a fictitious natural gas company and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The gas company is involved in hydraulic fracturing throughout several mid-Atlantic states and is accused of violating the Clean Air Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Two exhibition teams from the WVU College of Law will compete against teams from 13 universities, American, Campbell, Florida State, Pace, Texas Tech, Colorado, Dayton, Houston, Maryland, North Dakota, Richmond, Utah and Wyoming. You can read WVU’s press release on it here.