Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Special Counsel
Main: 303-830-2500
Direct: 303-376-4463
Mobile: 303-968-0674
Licensed in: Colorado, District Of Columbia, Montana, Wyoming

OverviewExperience & ResultsPractice AreasHonors & InsightsEducation & Admissions

Rebecca brings extensive experience, including having served as the U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management to her work counseling energy, oil and gas, renewable and mining companies on regulatory compliance. Because of her intrinsic knowledge of the intersection of business, law and policy, she is able to assist clients to solve complex and first-of-their kind federal permitting challenges.

Rebecca represented the first utility-grade solar project on federal land and highlighted and helped to solve permitting hurdles that resulted in permanent regulatory solutions. She represented two companies trying to develop biogenic methane on federal lands, working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to find a regulatory solution to the development of methane from federal coal. She represents several helium clients who sought development of helium on federal lands using outdated regulations that did not provide for security of tenure. She helped to persuade Congress to enact a statutory solution to this permitting impasse. She successfully defended BLM’s approval of an in-situ uranium mine and advised wind developers with projects on BLM, tribal and U.S. Forest Service lands. She counseled oil and gas, mining and pipeline clients through the National Historic Preservation Act § 106 compliance processes and guided energy and real estate clients with Endangered Species Act, Bald and Golden Protection Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act compliance.

In her position as a sub-cabinet official in the U.S. Department of the Interior, she led 12,000 employees, managed a budget of over $1 billion and provided policy guidance to three bureaus including BLM which has the responsibility for management of public lands and all federal onshore energy resources. She also implemented the President’s multiple-use management policies for mining, recreation, forestry, and wildlife on more than 261 million acres in the western United States. Rebecca has also served as the Assistant General Counsel for Domestic and International Energy Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy in the George H.W. Bush administration. Rebecca has testified before Congress repeatedly, is a frequent speaker, and has written numerous articles on natural resources, federal environmental and energy law and policy.

Rebecca has received numerous professional recognitions including her 2019 election as the President of Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, a 3,000-member legal scholarly organization. She is the fourth woman president in the Foundation’s 65-year history. In 2005, she was honored by the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest U.S. wildlife conservation organization, for her work in conservation while at the Interior. In 2011, she was appointed the Distinguished Natural Resources Practitioner in Residence at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law where she taught a semester-long seminar on natural resources law. She is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Rebecca is recognized in Colorado Super Lawyers® and as a Best Lawyers® rated attorney and has been selected to 5280’s Top Lawyers and Denver Business Journal’s Top Women in Energy and Who’s Who in Energy.

Rebecca serves on the Board of Trustees for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and as Chair of the Advisory Board to the Draper Natural History Museum. She is also the past Chair of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, past appointed member of the Jefferson County Open Space Advisory Committee and former Secretary of Western Energy Alliance.

Experience & Results
  • Advised a Natural Gas Act-regulated pipeline company with Mineral Leasing Act permit requirements on federal agency lands on the East coast (BLM, USFS, USCOE)
  • Advocated for a helium company seeking to permit and develop federal helium wells in Utah and modernize federal helium law
  • Assisted a 1300 MW pumped hydropower energy storage project in California in obtaining a BLM project right-of-way
  • Represented Western Energy Alliance and oil and gas companies in a federal lawsuit to enforce compliance with the Mineral Leasing Act
  • Provided strategic permitting advice to the first utility solar project on public lands in California; developed first-of-their kind solutions to BLM regulatory hurdles
  • Successfully represented in-situ uranium company in Wyoming in federal litigation challenging the mine’s BLM permit
  • Represented a renewable energy company before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in an energy resource planning proceeding
  • Represented the oil and gas industry as an expert witness before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on federal preemption
  • Represented a wind company seeking to permit projects on U.S. Forest Service lands in California
  • Advised a CSP solar project in Nevada on successful resolution of siting conflict between Department of Defense and Department of the Interior
  • Represent oil and gas companies with lease issuance and APD challenges before federal courts in D.C., Montana, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming and before the D.C. Court of Appeals and Tenth Circuit
Practice Areas
  • Environmental Law
  • Government Relations
  • Renewable Energy/Utilities
  • Mining
  • Oil and Gas
  • Public Lands
  • Eminent Domain
  • Appeals
  • Listed by Lawdragon as one of the “500 Leading U.S. Energy Lawyers”, 2023
  • The Best Lawyers in America©, Energy Law and Natural Resources Law, 2013-2024
  • Colorado Super Lawyers®, Energy and Natural Resources, 2015-2024
  • 5280 Top Lawyers, Natural Resources, 2015-2023
  • Denver Business Journal, Top Women in Energy, 2014
  • Denver Business Journal, Who’s Who in Energy, 2012-2014
  • Law Week Colorado, Barrister’s Best, Colorado’s Best Renewable Energy Lawyer, 2012
Professional & Community Involvement
  • Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, President (2019-2020), Vice President (2018-2019), Secretary (2017-2018), Board of Directors (2015-present), Trustee, Special Institutes Advisory Committee Member, Special Institute on Advanced Public Land Law Co-Chair (2017), 60th Annual Institute Chair (2014), Founder of Portia’s Lunch (1996-present)
  • Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Trustee and Governance Committee Vice Chair (2019)
  • Draper Natural History Museum, Advisory Board Member and Chair (2015-2019)
  • American Bar Foundation, Fellow (2016-present)
  • Jefferson County, Colorado, Open Space Advisory Committee Member (2006-2018)
  • Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Board Member and Chair (2011-2017)
  • Western Energy Alliance, Board Member and Secretary (2008-2015), Advisory Board Member (2015-present)
  • University of Colorado, Center of the American West, Board Member (2007-2015)
  • University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, Distinguished Natural Resources Practioner-in-Residence (2011)
  • U.S. Department of Energy, National Petroleum Council Member (2007-2010)
Publications & Presentations
  • Quoted in “Dems want to kill oil and gas leasing. Here’s why it matters,” EnergyWire, August 6, 2019
  • Quoted in “Ex-govt officials on rulemaking: ‘through a glass darkly’,” EnergyWire, March 6, 2019
  • Presenter, “Outdoor Recreation on Federal Lands: Opportunities/Challenges,” Wallace Stegner Center 24th Annual Symposium, March 21, 2019
  • Presenter, “Becoming a Professional Fixture in Your Community,” GGI Best Practices and Developing Leaders Conference, September 21, 2018
  • Presenter, “Western Playgrounds/Outdoor Recreation: Who Cares?” The Wallace Stegner Center 23rd Annual Symposium—Public Lands in a Changing West, March 15-16, 2018
  • Presenter, “President Trump’s ‘America First’ Energy Plan, Policy & Personnel,” Wyoming State Bar Energy & Natural Resources Section, ENR Section Summit, June 8, 2017
  • Presenter, “Doing Public Land Policy: The Solar Example,” University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Distinguished Natural Resources Practitioner-in-Residence Seminar, April 24, 2017
  • Presenter, “Using FLPMA to ‘Zone’ Energy,” University of Colorado Law School, FLPMA Turns 40, October 21, 2016
  • Moderator, “Public Land States in the 21st Century,” University of Wyoming, Landscape Discussion on Energy Law & Policy in the Rockies, October 14, 2016
  • Author/Presenter, “Multiple-Use Management in a Zero-Sum World,” ABA SEER 24th Fall Conference, October 7, 2016 (view accompanying PPT here)
  • Quoted in “How a Utah designation transformed politics in the West,” Greenwire, July 13, 2016
  • Author, “How to prevent loving Colorado’s outdoors to death,” The Denver Post, June 24, 2016
  • Quoted in “Locals Worry BLM Plans May Exclude Their Voices,” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, April 21, 2016
  • Presenter, “Why Should You Care about BLM’s ‘Planning 2.0’?” Energy & Environment Symposium, April 21, 2016
  • Co-Author, “Toward Planning 2.0: The New Landscape of BLM Planning,” 93 Denv. U. L. Rev. Online 49, November 2015
  • Presenter, “Hot Energy Topics on Public Lands at the end of the Obama Administration©,” Energy Mineral Law Foundation Annual Institute, Amelia Island, FL, June 2015
  • Quoted in the June 22, 2015 issue of Gas Daily, published by Platts, a division of McGraw Hill Financial (read the article here)
  • Presenter, “Top Ten Things Your Friends and Family Need to Know about Fracking,” National Oil and Gas Royalty Conference, November 4, 2014
  • Co-Author, “Citizen Initiatives: Power to the People or More of the Same?”, American Bar Association’s GPSolo Magazine, November/December 2014, Volume 31, Number 6 (an abridged and edited version of that which appeared in ABA’s Natural Resources & Environment Magazine, Spring 2014, Vol. 28, No. 4)
  • Lecturer, “Lifecycle of a Federal Well,” University of Denver Sturm College of Law, October 15, 2014
  • Presenter, “Fracking, Federalism and Federal Environmental Law: Is the Oil & Gas Industry Exempt From Major Laws?” Garfield County, Colorado Energy Advisory Board Meeting, August 7, 2014
  • Co-Author, “Anti-Fracking Initiatives: Power to the People or More of the Same?” Natural Resources & Environment Volume 28 | Number 4 | Spring 2014
  • Presenter, “Is The Oil and Gas Industry Exempt From Major Environmental Laws and What About That Fracking Loophole?” University of Colorado, Center of the American West, March 18, 2014
  • Presenter, “The Role of the Conservation Community in the Development of Domestic Energy and Interior Policies to Mitigate Wildlife Impacts,” Boone and Crockett Club dinner for the 79th Annual North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, March 12, 2014
  • Co-Author, “Oil and Gas Development is Key to U.S. Future, Don’t Ban It, Regulate It,” The Christian Science Monitor, October 23, 2013
  • Co-Author, “The Global Impact of U.S. Oil and Gas Development,” The Denver Post, August 24, 2013
  • Presenter, “From Washington to City Hall: The Federal Role in Energy Regulation,” Mesa State University Energy and Environment Symposium, May 16, 2013
  • Presenter, “The Frac Debate: Why Should You Care?” Colorado Petroleum Accountants Society Education Day, May 9, 2013
  • Co-Author, “The Sequester’s Effect on Mineral Payments to Colorado on Public Lands,” Law Week Colorado, Vol. 11 | No. 18 | May 6, 2013
  • Presenter, “Smart from the Start: Expediting NEPA for Federal Renewable Energy Projects,” American Bar Association Public Land Symposium, April 18, 2013
  • Lecturer, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Federal Regulation,” Sturm College of Law, Oil & Gas, Spring 2013
  • Presenter, “Obama Energy Policy on Public Lands: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” Public Land Section, Utah Bar Association, March 19, 2013
  • Co-Author, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Supply Protection – Federal Regulatory Developments,” Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Journal, November 2012
  • Co-Presenter, “The Role of Natural Gas as a ‘Bridge’ Fuel,” Natural Resources Law Center’s Annual Clyde O. Martz Summer Conference, June 7, 2012
  • Co-Author, “Water: The Fuel for Colorado Energy,” The University of Denver Water Law Review, Volume 15 | Issue 2 | Spring 2012
  • Author/Presenter, “Lessons Learned from Streamlining NEPA,” Rocky Mtn. Min. L. Fdn., Special Institute, October 2011
  • Author/Presenter, “New (and Old) Energy on Public Lands,” Colorado Bar Association, October 2011
  • Author/Presenter, “Energy & Water: Federal Clean Water Act Case & Policy Update,” Montana Water Seminar, September 2011
  • Author/Presenter, “Uranium Mining: Challenges of Agency Coordination,” UR2011 SME National Uranium Mining Conference, September 2011
  • Moderator, “Public Land Wind and Solar: Lessons Learned and New Guidance,” Infocast Webinar, June 2011
  • Author/Presenter, “Managing Cultural Resource Issues on Indian Lands,” Natural Resources Development on Indian Lands Special Institute, Paper 6, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute, March 2011
  • Presenter, “The Past, Present and Future of Our Public Lands: The Role of Public Lands in the Energy and Climate Debates,” University of Colorado Law School, Martz Conference on Law and Policy, June 2010
  • Presenter, “Federal Wind Energy Policy and Permitting,” Denver Chapter of the Women of Wind Energy, April 2010
  • Lecturer, “Federal Energy Policy and the Department of the Interior,” University of Colorado, Western American Studies Certificate Program, March 2010
  • Presenter, “Stimulating NEPA: Oxymoron or Not?,” CLE International, December 2009
  • Author/Presenter, “Renewable Power Projects on Federal Lands: Wind and Sun and the FLPMA Right-of-Way—is it Working?” Energy Development, Special Institute, Paper 10, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute, September 2009
  • Presenter, “Permitting Solar and Wind Projects on Federal Lands: FLPMA & Interior’s New Energy for American Initiative,” Webinar, August 2009
  • Co-Author, “Expanding Use of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Renewable Energy Development on Public Lands,” Public Lands and Resources Committee Newsletter, ABA July 2009
  • Presenter, “Western Water Law and Policy in the New Administration: Water and Energy,” University of Colorado Martz Conference on Law and Policy, June 2009
  • Author/Presenter, “State Surface Owner Protection Laws: Tales of Preemption, Federalism and a Changing West,” Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Journal, Vol. 45, No. 1, July 2008
  • Author, “Coalbed Natural Gas Produced Water Handling: New Challenges for a Key Issue,” International Energy Law and Taxation Review, August 2007
  • Co-Author, “Produced Water: Water Rights and Water Quality: ‘A “Meeting” of the Waters’?,” Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute, 2006
  • J.D., University of Denver, 1978
  • M.A., University of Denver, 1975
  • B.A., University of Denver, Phi Beta Kappa, 1974
Bar Admissions / Qualifications
  • Wyoming, 1978
  • Colorado, 1986
  • District of Columbia, 1995
  • Montana, 1995