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K.K. Duvivier Teaches An Ethic Of Environmental Justice | Print |  E-mail

by Susan Dugan

When funding for her first job fresh out of Williams College – with degrees in geology and English – dried up, like so many Americans before her, current DU Law Professor K.K. DuVivier packed up her car and headed west. “I had gotten a job at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York. They are known for history and art but actually have a basement full of rocks. I had been working on an exhibit, but New York State ran out of money back then, so I basically lived out of my car for months.”


A Former geologist turned environmental lawyer, k.k. duvivier was recently voted Best Law Professor at the University of Denver Law School. Duvivier is committed to nurturing  the idealism that brought many of her students to study law in the first place.

After exploring possible relocation venues in Idaho, New Mexico, and Color-ado the southern Illinois native set her sights on Denver. “I know the job market’s hard right now. But I think kids think we all easily found jobs back then. The truth is, there was a geologic conference at the Colorado School of Mines: I got a list of attendees and wrote to any company that had more than two people attending, because I figured they were big enough to hire somebody.”

The campaign paid off, and she landed a job as the first woman ever hired by a French uranium exploration company, working out of Lakewood. “The first week I came in the office and they sent me back home to change my clothes, so we could helicopter into Waterton Canyon. There’s actually a uranium mine there not being used anymore; they were looking for uranium and fortunately didn’t find it. But I loved it because I was back in Denver every night and hiking around during the day.”

Transferred to Texas after about nine months in Colorado, DuVivier worked there another year-and-a-half before returning to Denver. “I was thinking of going to grad school in geology but my best friend talked me into law school. I knew I wanted to live in Denver, so I got my law degree at the University of Denver.” Upon graduating in 1982 she began practicing natural resources law, first at Sherman & Howard and later at Arnold & Porter.

At a Colorado Mountain Club dance in 1983 she met her current husband Lance Wright, with whom she has recently designed and built a near zero-energy home – following highly exacting German Passive House principles that far exceed American standards. When he asked her what she did for a living, she told him she used to be a geologist, before disclosing her current profession. “I never planned to be a lawyer. I come from a family of scientists and my dad, a pediatrician, asked me why I would leave an honest profession like geology to become a lawyer. So I knew many people didn’t like lawyers, but people love geologists. We dated and I had a house on South Franklin and he moved in with me. It was pretty serious and we met each other’s families and then he said, ‘Oh, I’ve decided I’m moving to Idaho.’ Without you, it was clear. So he left.”

She soon met her first husband – a school psychologist from a similar background who grew up not far from where she did – at a singles country-western dance class she’d attended with Lance’s younger sister. The couple married in 1985 and had two children. “I had my daughter while working at Arnold & Porter and then started working at the City Attorney’s office. I loved the job, but my first husband thought we should move to Boulder because it was a better place to raise children. But Denver had a residency requirement so I could no longer work for the City (of Denver).”

DuVivier landed a job teaching legal writing at CU-Boulder for the next 10 years, and the couple eventually divorced. “I was trying to keep the house for my kids, and I couldn’t stay at CU because the legal writing people aren’t on a tenured track. There was a position for a tenured-track director of the Legal Writing program at DU. I’d been writing a column on legal writing for the Colorado Bar Association (CBA) and a lot of people knew me from that. I got the job and really loved it, but there was a lot of pressure. I was still commuting because I didn’t want to disrupt my kids – and my ex-husband committed suicide while I was working there.”

In 2008, she shifted back to natural resources, teaching both energy law and mining law, and in 2009 spent a year as director of DU Law’s Environmental and Natural Resources Program. She currently serves as vice-chair of public service for the Renewable, Alternative, and Distributed Energy Resources (RADER) Committee of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER), and is chair-elect of the Association of American Law Schools’ Natural Resources and Energy Section. Her extensive resume includes six years as vice-chair of the ABA Hard Minerals Committee, plus 10 years chairing or vice-chairing the Appellate Practice Subcommittee of the Litigation Section of the CBA. She has presented at several national conferences and published in numerous law journals, and was inducted as a member of the American Law Institute in 2006.

During the five years she spent commuting from Boulder to Denver, DuVivier kept envisioning buying a home within walking distance of work. “Once I was able to move in 2005, I found this place on South Gilpin and it was perfect. It was a really cute 800-square-foot wooden house near the (DU) Ritchie Center where I work out. Light rail wasn’t in yet but I knew it was coming.”

About a year later, comfortably settled in, with her son now attending DU High School and her daughter away at college, Wright came back. “I hadn’t seen him in all this time and he emailed to see if I wanted to have a drink. I was like, ‘Well, my son’s here; do you want to have dinner with me and my son?’ When I got home he was standing on the steps with flowers and he said, ‘I made a big mistake when I left you 22 years ago and I don’t want you to go another day without knowing that I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ And I thought, OK, that’s kind of a shock. But we went to dinner and the next day my son said, ‘Wow – you really hit it off with that guy.’ So, after a week or so I said, ‘OK, let’s give this a try.’”

Wright moved in and the couple married four months later. A former ranger with the U.S. Forest Service turned custom green home designer and builder, he convinced K.K. to build a new, 2,140-square-foot, three-bedroom home on the existing lot the following year, rather than trying to expand the current house. “It was very badly designed for energy efficiency,” she says. “You could sit in the living room and basically feel the air blowing through the room. The front had lots of glass facing west, so it got really hot. My son graduated in 2007 and I took a sabbatical in 2007-2008 so Lance could get it done before I had to go back to school.” One of the most energy efficient houses in Colorado, the home received a 2012 Renewable Energy & Sustainable Design in Building award from the Colorado Renewable Energy Society and was featured in their 2009 Solar Home Tour.

Long passionate about renewable energy, DuVivier authored the book, The Renewable Energy Reader, published in 2011 and already in its second printing, and is under contract for an additional book. “The one I’m under contract for is more purely a textbook,” she says. “This one’s a crossover. I talk about history and the technology of each of the different renewable resources and summarize the different legal issues that related to it. This is the first law-specific renewable energy book I know of. I sort of tell a story that begins with the sun because the sun is the source of all renewable energy – solar power, wind power, hydropower. It’s not a typical law book – it includes lots of pictures and I tried to make it fun to read.”

Some of the most formidable challenges DuVivier sees for advancing renewable energy involve property law. “It evolved to help oil and gas and even hydro,” she says. “But I don’t know that our system is as responsive now. People are so cautious because of what they don’t like about what’s happened with oil, gas, and water that they’re not letting property law evolve to help wind.”

Reactions to environmental problems experienced as a result of traditional energy technologies continue to hamper renewable energy development, DuVivier believes. “In 1969 we had NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires you to think about the environmental consequences – an end game – before you do something; but oil, gas, nuclear and geothermal all got in under the wire before that. They still have to go through NEPA but there have been categorical exclusions such as with Deep Water Horizon. They said, ‘We’ve already done offshore oil and gas drilling before so we don’t have to go through the full environmental analysis.’ But because renewables are new and unknown, they can’t even get a foothold. They can’t get the long-term leases and permits they need to find financing, even though the environmental impacts of wind are not anywhere near the kind of long-term damage you’re facing (when something goes wrong) with oil and gas.”

Recently voted “Best Law Professor” by DU students, DuVivier loves teaching and tries to make even her first-year civil procedure class both fair and fun. “Unlike undergrad where you’re being graded all through the semester and you can correct, in conventional law school they get up there first year and talk at you, sometimes grill and embarrass you for three or four months, and then you get an exam and it’s not like what you did in class at all. I have my previous exams on the internet so they’re not surprised. I use PowerPoints and videos.

“I have one that I show early on about this big bank that foreclosed on this couple and they didn’t even have a mortgage with them; the papers had gotten all messed up. So they found this guy right out of law school and they said, ‘Aren’t you afraid of going up against this bank as a brand new lawyer?’ And he said ‘Yeah, but it’s the right thing.’ And then he won! It makes students feel like, yeah – this is why I’m in law school. Because as bad as lawyers’ reputations may be, nine out of ten of them start for altruistic reasons.”


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