Alison Gocke, an environmental law scholar with expertise in energy from both the scientific and legal perspectives, will join the University of Virginia School of Law faculty this summer.

Currently a Harry A. Bigelow Teaching Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, Gocke holds a J.D. and M.S. in the environment and natural resources from Stanford and earned her B.A. at Princeton University.

After law school she clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, then served in a joint legal fellowship with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Yale Law School’s Environmental Protection Clinic. In the latter role, she oversaw the clinic, which included both law and environmental studies students, and also taught an introductory course on environmental law. In the first part of the fellowship at the council, she joined the Climate and Clean Energy Team, working on litigation related to federal vehicle emissions standards, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We are so thrilled to welcome Alison to the faculty,” Dean Risa Goluboff said. “Her hands-on experience in environmental and energy law and policy, and the innovative scholarship she has developed out of that experience, offer an exciting complement to our faculty. That she approaches these important subjects from a number of vantage points — taking into account history, theory, doctrine and practice — enables her to identify and develop insights that others miss.”

Raised in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Gocke became interested in the environment and science through family hikes and experiments encouraged by her mother, who studied biology.

“She would have us test the pond in our backyard to find out what bacteria was growing in it, or build little model fuel cell cars,” Gocke said.

While pursuing her studies in environmental science as an undergraduate, she participated in a summer project in South Africa investigating the impact of climate change on fish populations. As she and project team members traveled the country to gather fish samples, a farmer mentioned how important legal structures were to encouraging environmental sustainability in the nation.

“It clued me into the idea that if we wanted to tackle some of our major environmental challenges, this was not going to just be a scientific problem. It was also a legal and a regulatory problem,” she said.

She ultimately majored in intellectual and cultural history at Princeton, while minoring in environmental studies.

At Stanford, Gocke again took an interdisciplinary approach, studying energy systems while working on her law degree. Classes in clean tech, energy policy, climate change and the principles of batteries supplemented her legal studies. It was “crucial for me to learn about energy technology to better understand how we regulate and govern the grid,” she said.

While she was completing her graduate studies, however, she always had in the back of her mind an interest in academia. Her professor at Princeton, well-known historian Dirk Hartog, told her early on that she should be a professor, an idea she resisted at first, thinking she wanted to work on environmental issues on the science or policy side.

“It took me a bit to recognize that, of course, he was right,” Gocke said.

Her research has focused on energy and administrative law.

While working with Stanford’s Woods Institute on a project on the regionalization of California’s electricity grid, she wrote her first published paper, “Nodal Governance of the U.S. Electricity Grid,” in the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum.

Another paper focuses on a leading administrative law issue known as the major questions doctrine. “Chevron’s Next Chapter: A Fig Leaf for the Nondelegation Doctrine” was published in the UC Davis Law Review. The doctrine relates to the tension between an agency’s authority to regulate aspects of society under its purview and the limits the Supreme Court has drawn when it says agencies need clear statutory authorization to regulate issues of major national significance, such as greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s a much more doctrinal paper about one of the biggest questions in environmental law today, which is just how much deference agencies get, and whether we’re heading toward a situation where the [Environmental Protection Agency] will not be able to regulate greenhouse gases significantly under the Clean Air Act,” she said.

Gocke’s forthcoming paper is about how the power of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to authorize permits for interstate natural gas pipelines has been wielded differently over time.

“In the last 20 or so years, FERC has received hundreds of pipeline applications, and they’ve denied only two of those applications,” she said. But in FERC’s early days during the New Deal and the decades after, coal, railroad and labor interests competed against natural gas interests to limit the approval of such applications.

“It was one of the biggest issues being fought at the time,” she said. “But as the opposition from coal and labor has collapsed and natural gas has become the major source of electricity generation in the United States — it’s about 40% of utility scale electricity generation right now — you’ve seen a shift in how FERC approaches natural gas pipeline approvals.”

Professor Michael Livermore, who leads the Law School’s Program in Law, Communities and the Environment, or PLACE, said Gocke’s work will grow the program and the school’s offerings.

“With her focus on energy governance, she will complement and expand our existing environmental program in an area of increasing importance,” Livermore said. “Her scholarship is carefully grounded in the practical realities and complex dynamics of energy law and policy — from complicated state-federal interactions to the environmental justice consequences of energy infrastructure. She brings a deep knowledge of U.S. energy law as it has unfolded in the past century to help solve today’s pressing energy challenges, most importantly the urgent need to decarbonize the economy in response to climate change risks.” 

Gocke said she is looking forward to the “wonderful community” at UVA.

“The scholars are friendly and they care about the junior faculty and about building a sense of community within the Law School,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier to call this place home.”

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