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Posts Tagged ‘Energy Policy’

Natural Gas Offers an Opportunity for Success, Not a Guarantee

December 12th, 2013

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Remember that movie “The Jerk”, in which Steve Martin plays a monumental idiot who stumbles into a fortune, and then blows it all on things like a giant stuffed camel and a private nightclub in his basement? Ultimately, Martin’s character is rescued by family members who prudently invested the money he’d occasionally sent them—providing both a happy ending and a life lesson about responsible resource management.

Technological developments like hydraulic fracturing have suddenly given the U.S. access to a fortune in natural gas, which is already providing opportunities for economic growth. And recent studies like those being conducted by Environmental Defense Fund further support the tremendous environmental opportunities presented by natural gas, including climate change mitigation. But opportunity alone does not guarantee success. A certain amount of planning and public support can help ensure we maximize the benefits of this resource, and avoid being… jerks.

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Stick to Targeted and Discrete Policies

May 15th, 2013

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Energy policy is difficult to move, in part because there’s really no such thing as a “must-pass” energy bill. It doesn’t carry the same urgency or institutionalized process as certain annual taxing and spending bills, and it certainly doesn’t generate the same passion in the electorate as health care, immigration, or other social policy priorities. Let’s face it…energy policy is the stowaway, not the train. You can slip a discrete energy policy into a larger vehicle, as we saw with the PTC’s inclusion in the fiscal cliff deal. But building a large, comprehensive energy bill in this political era is basically the equivalent of a dozen stowaways standing by the tracks deciding to tie themselves together. Good luck with that, guys.

Recent movement of hydropower and efficiency bills, along with bipartisan support for master limited partnerships and ARPA-E, has shown us the potential for passing targeted energy legislation in this Congress. Perhaps these particular issues are unique in that they tend to gin up relatively little controversy. But an incremental and targeted approach can be effective with contentious policies as well. Returning to our earlier example, the PTC for wind has become a target of hyper-conservative groups in recent years. Yet a significant block of Republican lawmakers, including tea party favorites like Steve King and freshman class president Kristi Noem supported the extension. To be precise, they actually FOUGHT for it, pressuring their leadership and colleagues to move the provision. Focusing solely on the PTC for wind allowed geography to trump partisanship. This prioritizing of parochial issues over political ideology is a well-known phenomenon in energy policy, and it has often provided opportunities for compromise and progress in Congress. But the influence of the “geography effect” is diminished once the policy in question is merged with others that are of less interest or that present a conflict for lawmakers.

For the House and Senate, the strategy that seems to be showing the most promise is to keep it simple (and practical), stupid. Smart policy initiatives will minimize variables that give lawmakers a reason (or an excuse) to vote against clean energy interests that matter to folks back home. And they will take advantage of unique coalitions that each individual issue can bring to the table based on geography, local economies, etc. Legislators can also encourage the Administration to continue its use of executive orders to increase efficiency and clean energy procurement within federal agencies, and to pursue collaborations with industry to iron-out regulatory hurdles that could slow the adoption of clean technologies.

The bottom line is, there is plenty to be done. It just can’t be done all at once. So pick your spot on the apple and start taking a bite.

This piece was originally published in the National Journal Energy Experts Blog.

Energy Policy after 2012

October 23rd, 2012

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Summary points

  • Thanks to continued partisan gridlock, major congressional action on energy is unlikely after the 2012 elections. However, this could change if there is a deal to address the budget deficit or if one party makes significant gains in seats.
  • Domestic oil and natural gas production will continue to grow under either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
  • A second Obama administration would be likely to seek to accelerate the commercialization and deployment of clean energy through a mix of tax incentives, encouraging private financing, and regulation of conventional and climate pollutants.
  • A Romney administration would be likely to focus on increasing domestic conventional energy production by reducing environmental regulation, particularly on coal-burning power plants, and opening more public land to oil and natural gas development. Excluding basic research, government incentives for clean energy would most likely be eliminated.

Introduction

In 2008, the price of natural gas in the United States was roughly $8 per thousand cubic feet (tcf), coal was used to generate more than 47 per cent of all electricity, and there was a consensus among Democrats and Republicans that climate change was real, caused by humans, and needed to be addressed immediately. It seemed only a matter of time before the country adopted a cap-and-trade system similar to one backed by both parties’ presidential nominees.

Four years later, the energy landscape has changed dramatically. Cap-and-trade is on the ash heap of history, and climate change and clean energy have become enormously politicized. The price of natural gas has dropped as low as $2.25 per tcf thanks to the hydraulic fracturing drilling process (fracking) that has given the United States access to more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and sent domestic coal use into a precipitous decline. That same fracking technology has led to a domestic oil boom, with imports dropping to 42 per cent of use, the lowest level in two decades. Clean energy, particularly wind and solar, also saw a boom in the early years of the Obama administration thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

The growth in domestic shale oil and gas production seems inevitable. But the broader future of US energy faces much more uncertainty. There are enormous differences in how the two candidates would approach regulation of energy production and generation, climate change and America’s competition in the global clean energy race. Polling shows that these issues will have little impact on the decisions voters make. But they will have enormous implications for the price and source of the energy Americans consume, the success of America’s energy industries and the fate of international efforts to stem climate change.

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Doing Hard Time in Fossil Fuel Prisons: Is Public Investment in R&D Un-American?

June 17th, 2011

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This piece was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

The June 15 House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing (PDF) on federal energy programs smacked of science fiction. A government agency is actually doing its job. Fuel for cars made from sunlight, wind turbines that could be suspended in the air like kites on their own power, a method to capture carbon dioxide based on the human lung; all are possibilities that the Department of Energy (DOE) is helping explore.

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