Transportation & Energy Issues

The Transportation and Energy industries are a bedrock of the U.S. and global economy. Both industries intersect with antitrust, environmental and administrative law.

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Transportation & Energy News and Information

Public Infrastructure

A Century Plus of Power and Light

This issue features the fifth in a series of essays celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Infrastructure and Regulated Industries Section. Casey Wren, Mark Strain, and Everett Britt trace the growth of electric power—and the involvement of lawyers in the process—from Thomas Edison’s first commercial central power plant on Pearl Street in Manhattan in 1882 to the current day. Our authors tell the story of how the commercialization of electricity transformed the way people lived, as well as the practice of law. Electric utility bond lawyers created the first open-ended mortgages to “finance the phenomenal growth of capital,” political lawyers were “necessary intermediaries between the growing industry and the state,” and labor lawyers “mediated the often contentious relationships between management and the emerging unions.” But among the most valuable legal specialists, according to the authors, were the public utility administrative lawyers, “who dealt with the various regulatory authorities that almost all states established in the first two decades of the twentieth century to supervise the accounting, financial, territorial, and rate aspects of electric utility service.” One hundred plus years later, the idea of “public utility law,” as the Section acknowledged with its name change, is too narrow to reflect what practitioners in the electric and other infrastructure industries actually do. Lawyers were present at most, if not all, of the technological, political, and regulatory developments of the past century in electric power. What will the next century bring? According to the authors, electric power “will remain the muscle of mankind, and lawyers will continue to play their essential role in representing people and whatever institutions are in place to provide what will still be, in whatever form, an essential public service.”

One Hundred Years of State Utility Regulation

This issue of Infrastructure features the fourth in a series of essays celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Infrastructure and Regulated Industries Section. In “One Hundred Years of State Utility Regulation,” the authors trace the evolution of public utility commissions in their respective states (California, Illinois, and Virginia) and find common themes. State commissions “originated from popular anger, distrust, and fear of monopoly enterprises —in most cases, the railroads—and they have never abandoned those roots.” State commissions have often been subject to the public perception that they are “too cozy” with the industries they regulate and the three-way tug of war among state commissions, legislatures, and governors continues. The authors suggest that the “increasingly higher stakes in terms of dollars, social impact, and legal complexity” will push state commissions toward “more formal rules of practice and procedure, more emphasis on transparency in dealing with utility personnel, and probably more frequent resort to state court reviews.”