Sheila Hollis has been having fun in energy law since the late 1970s
Published in 2014 Washington DC Super Lawyers magazine
on April 25, 2014
Updated on May 29, 2014
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter donned a cardigan sweater, took a seat by the fireplace in the White House library and told Americans the country was in an energy crisis.
The light bulb had not yet gone on for most Americans, but attorney Sheila Hollis understood the significance.
At the time, Hollis, still in her 20s, was acting as the first director of the Office of Enforcement of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. There, she helped establish the fundamental energy enforcement and compliance policies that remain in place today.
“It was a tremendously exciting time, helping to lay the foundation for something so vital,” she says. “We were heading into uncharted territory, knowing that the work we did would make an impact for years to come. I just loved everything about it.”
Hollis, now chair of the Washington, D.C., office of Duane Morris and a member of the firm’s executive committee, is still focusing on her first love—energy—with a side of water and environmental matters. She represents municipalities and other government bodies, as well as power and natural gas industries, in the United States and around the world. Her work has taken her to Central and South America, China, East Africa, Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia.
“[Liquefied natural gas] export matters that encompass opportunities for enhancing our energy stature around the globe are an arena that I particularly enjoy,” she says. “After 40 years of U.S. imports of energy, it is a tremendous change to embrace the concept of more freedom of choice in energy policy. We are poised to shift the basic assumptions about our place in the world as an energy importer.”
Hollis feels privileged to be hard at work on a number of projects seeking to develop gas reserves for U.S. consumption as well as export. “Essential to making this all work is a close adherence to environmental and land use laws by producers, availability of infrastructure to encourage development of transportation and distribution and wise use of oil and gas reserves,” she says.
The first woman president of the Energy Bar Association, Hollis is a natural pioneer. Her grandparents were Irish immigrants who headed west from Philadelphia to Colorado. Her grandfather, a step dancer who emigrated from Tipperary, Ireland, was ill with tuberculosis when his train crossed the prairie. Her mother, a geological draftsman, designed nuclear weapons at Los Alamos. Her dad was working on a doctorate in neuroanatomy.
Hollis, a precocious only child, grew up listening to adults discuss complicated topics.
“They expected me to understand whatever they were talking about,” she recalls. “So, I did.”
She uses that skill every day.
“A cutting-edge issue in which I am heavily involved is the transition of clients dealing with the complexities of aging electric generation, both coal and nuclear,” Hollis says. “Confronting the realities of possible plant closures, and the impact on communities, labor, tax base and reliability and availability of power, is a tremendous challenge. In some cases, entire communities have structured their world around the generation facilities. Many times, the plant workers are highly skilled and trained, embedded in the community and among the most highly paid in the area. Yet the lights are starting to be turned off; and planning how to absorb the changes, to obtain the fairest treatment possible for all involved, including the generators, is a major challenge, calling upon the visionaries from all perspectives.”
Outside of the plants, the average American doesn’t need to look far to see the evolution of energy on an everyday basis.
“Appliances are more efficient. Cars are more efficient. Buildings are designed better,” Hollis says. “We have reduced water use, especially in industry.”
Hollis also notes that behind the scenes, corporations have grown their ranks of compliance and risk officers to make certain that businesses meet regulatory standards, the kind of positions that were scarce when Hollis led the Federal Enforcement Office.
“It is not in their best interest not to toe the line,” she says. “Energy is a huge concern for everyone, and will continue to be so.”