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November 04, 2020 Column

Chair’s Column

By Catherine P. McCarthy

As the incoming Chair of the ABA’s Infrastructure and Regulated Industries Section, I am grateful for the opportunity, and I look forward to working with Section members. Regulated industries owning infrastructure and providing service to the public are a national priority now more than ever. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated changes in the way we rely on the communications industry, underscoring the importance of communications infrastructure, services, and providers. This year’s presidential election will also highlight the importance of infrastructure. Issues central to the election include how our infrastructure will be developed, maintained, and financed, and also, how environmental considerations related to infrastructure should be weighed prospectively by government regulators, regulated service providers, and the public.

IRIS provides an invaluable opportunity to share legal knowledge and experience. Legal knowledge and experience pertaining to infrastructure and regulated industries is particularly transferable, as regulated industries (i.e., communications, energy, water, and transportation) face similar legal challenges. For example, legal issues related to physical or cyber threats are similar across various types of infrastructure and many regulated industries. IRIS members benefit from participation in IRIS through reading or writing for IRIS publications or its twitter feed, attending or presenting in IRIS CLE seminars or podcasts, attending an IRIS Young Lawyers event, or serving as a committee member. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have an interest in writing or speaking for IRIS, joining a committee, or virtually attending a Young Lawyers event.

This issue of Infrastructure provides timely commentary on the COVID-19–related challenges facing regulated industries. One article explores managing critical essential infrastructure while mitigating risk during the pandemic. Another article examines the use of cellphone technology to curb the spread and adverse effects of the pandemic. We anticipate that over the next few years, IRIS will maintain an ongoing discussion of business-continuity planning challenges faced by regulated industries.

IRIS is continuing its online programming and intends to provide more programs than typical while in-person meetings are not an option. IRIS will host webinars (at no cost for Section members) on October 21 (3:30–5 pm ET) and October 22 (1–2:30 pm ET). On October 21, our panel will discuss the growing issue of restrictions or outright prohibitions on natural gas as the next targeted fossil fuel. We will hear from a state regulatory commissioner, the chief executive officer of a national natural gas association, and a senior attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

On October 22, our program’s panelists will discuss the rapid increase in renewable generation in the United States. Speakers include a senior energy policy advisor who will discuss what a Biden administration may mean for federal climate change policy, a member of the New York State Climate Action Council who will update us on the steps New York is taking to increase its reliance on clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a Columbia Law professor who will assess the role that carbon capture and sequestration might play in coming years, and the climate policy director of a major U.S. utility holding company. As a reminder, our past CLE programs, such as the recent IRIS webinar on trends in water industry M&A, are available on the ABA website at no charge for Section members.

I also want to remind you about the ABA’s efforts on diversity and inclusion. The ABA website includes a Diversity and Inclusion Center that provides a useful roadmap to available ABA programming, resources, and information addressing bias, racism, and prejudice in the justice system and society. IRIS has a Diversity Plan that is also available on the ABA website. This year, IRIS plans to combine our efforts to reach out to law students and young lawyers to introduce them to IRIS with an effort to increase diversity in the pipeline of attorneys interested in working on regulated industry matters.

I especially want to thank Christian Binnig, the Section’s outgoing Chair, for his work for the Section and its members. Along with the help of our Section Director Susan Koz and other ABA staff, Chris’ efforts allowed IRIS to move through pandemic-related challenges smoothly. Most recently, Chris organized and hosted a very well-attended virtual Section meeting as part the ABA’s annual meeting. That IRIS meeting included an inspiring presentation by Trish Refo, the current ABA President, as well as a presentation and Q&A with the general counsel of a large utility holding company. While Chair, Chris also continued to produce written material for IRIS; for example, a recent Infrastructure publication included a Binnig article on the FCC’s media ownership rules.

In closing, I want to remind you that we recently began Section podcasts and plan to move more content online, so please consider visiting the IRIS webpage and following IRIS on Twitter (@AmericanBarIRIS). Very best wishes for continued good health.

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