August 27, 2011
In Case You Missed It - The Week of August 21-27
* On Tuesday, an earthquake of a 5.8 magnitude hit Virginia, causing the North Anna nuclear power plant reactor to temporarily shut down (Wall Street Journal). Twelve other nuclear plants "felt" the quake but did not shut down (NY Times).
* The State Department "released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline Project," which, if built, will carry oil from Canada's oil sands through the United States.
* The United States Geological Survey published a substantially lower estimate of technically recoverable natural gas in the Marcellus Shale (underlying New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and other Appalachian states) than the Energy Information Administration's previously-published estimate of 410 trillion cubic feet. The USGS believes that the shale has about 84 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable reserves (NY Times).
* Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whom the public had criticized for his response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, stepped down (LA Times).
August 26, 2011
Must Read Energy Books
The most recent edition of the ABA Journal inspired me. Its cover story is the feature "30 Lawyers Pick 30 Books Every Lawyer Should Read."
This got me thinking. What are the must-read energy, or energy law and policy, books out there?
Looking around a little, I found one person's answer. Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, came up with these "13 Energy Books You Need to Read":
- Consuming Power by David Nye
- Petrolia by Brian Black
- The Prize by Daniel Yergin
- Energy Policy in America Since 1945 by Richard Vietor
- Technology and Transformation in the American Electric Utility Industry by Richard Hirsh
- The Bulldozer in the Countryside by Adam Rome
- Soft Energy Paths by Amory Lovins
- Energy at the Crossroads by Vaclav Smil
- Hubbert’s Peak by Ken Deffeyes
- A Golden Thread by Ken Butti and John Perlin
- Sorry Out of Gas: Architecture’s Response to the 1973 Oil Crisis by the Canadian Centre for Architecture
- Wind Energy Comes of Age by Paul Gipe
- The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart
Madrigal's is a fascinating, insightful list. I'm still wondering: what's my list of must-read energy and energy law/policy books?
More to the point, what's yours?
Study on Warfare and Changing Climate
Following on my recent post, a new study in Nature finds that warfare may increase in times of changing climate. According to Monagbay.com, "researchers found that El Niño conditions, which generally cuts rainfall and raises temperatures in the tropics, may have played a factor in one-fifth of the world's total conflicts during the past 50 years. El Niño conditions occur every 3-7 years. While the study did not examine global climate change in conjunction with conflict, the study links a warmer world to a more conflict-prone one, as least in the tropics."
- Blake Hudson
August 25, 2011
Call for Presentations - Washington & Lee Law Journal of Energy, Climate, and the Environment Symposium 2012: "Reclaiming Environmental Federalism"
Please see the attached call for presentations: Download Call for presentations JECE Symposium 2012. In addition, here is the website. A brief blurb:
"The Washington and Lee Journal of Energy, Climate, and the Environment (JECE) is proud to issue this call for presentations at our 2012 symposium. The symposium will take place on Friday, February 17, 2012 at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia, and will feature legal scholars and practitioners discussing state-based energy and environmental regulation ("environmental federalism"). If you have recently written on this topic and would like to be a part of the symposium, please contact the journal at JECE@law.wlu.edu. If you have not yet published, please e-mail us your manuscript or abstract, and we will consider it for the symposium, as well as for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal."
- Blake Hudson
The Obama Administration's Regulatory Reform Initiative
Last January, the Obama Administration announced a major regulatory review initiative. In its executive order, the administration directed federal agencies, among other things, to “consider how best to promote retrospective analysis of rules that may be outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and to modify, streamline, expand, or repeal them in accordance with what has been learned.” The announcement caused some consternation among progressives, including many environmental law professors. Many wondered why, at a time when regulatory gaps are a huge problem (see, e.g., climate change or regulation of toxic substances), the president was echoing some of the anti-regulatory rhetoric more commonly associated with his Republican critics.
This week, the White House announced the initial results of that effort. Cass Sunstein’s White House Blog post describing the effort is available here, and more detailed reports from individual agencies are available here. Press coverage has not been extensive; apparently, real-world regulatory reform does not grab the attention of newspaper editors. However, the press reports do tell us, to no one’s great surprise, that Eric Cantor and the Chamber of Commerce are not impressed.
The agency reports contain quite a lot of information, and a comprehensive summary is well beyond the scope of a blog post. But a quick review of the environmental agencies’ reports supports a few preliminary observations:
- From reading the AP’s story, one could easily form the impression that this effort doesn’t have significant environmental implications. In fact, the reports describe dozens of initiatives potentially affecting environmental protection. EPA alone highlights thirty-five different initiatives ostensibly taken in response to this Administrative directive. USDA, DOI, Commerce, DOE, and the CEQ also all describe initiatives with potentially significant environmental consequences. I have not reviewed the reports of other agencies—DOT, for example—whose work has significant environmental implications, but there may be environmentally-relevant initiatives described there as well.
- Discerning which agency initiatives were triggered by Obama’s order and which would have happened anyway isn’t easy. Most of the agency reports purport to distinguish efforts previously underway from new efforts. But, as EPA’s report explicitly points out, regulatory review already was a major part of agencies’ agendas even before Obama spoke up. It’s not hard to imagine that many agencies, in an effort to seem responsive to the Administration’s call and to make the Administration’s initiative look consequential, credited Obama’s order for actions they would have taken anyway.
- With most agencies, the proposed actions can be roughly divided into two categories: first, fairly specific actions that agencies are proposing to take in the relatively short term; and second, broader regulatory initiatives with still-highly-uncertain results. The former category includes actions like transitioning from paper to electronic reporting of chemical health and safety data; the latter would include the ongoing effort to rewrite the joint NMFS/FWS regulations for implementing section 7 of the ESA.
Within the former category, I did not see anything that jumped out as a major regulatory retrenchment. Instead, many of the efforts appeared to involve streamlining reporting processes, usually in sensible ways, and some (for example, reducing NEPA reporting requirements when USDA approves the removal of logging roads, or protecting renewable energy projects on BLM lands from competing mining claims) seem likely to provide environmental benefits. Of course, many of the proposed initiatives touch on areas of environmental law in which I’m no expert, and the agencies of course are trying to put their initiatives in the best possible light, so don’t take my word for it. Nevertheless, in the initial phase, this looks a lot more like sensible regulatory adjustment than ill-advised regulatory gutting.
For the long-term actions, the story may get a little more complicated. Many of the longer-term initiatives involve potentially major rule changes. The section 7 effort is just one example; changing the section 7 regulations could have big consequences, positive or negative, for endangered species protection. That agencies are contemplating such rulemaking processes shouldn’t really be surprising, however. Every administration undertakes major regulatory initiatives, with or without a Presidential impetus like Obama’s January order, and with every administration the outcomes of those rulemaking processes have important environmental implications. The reports are just a reminder that the Obama Administration has been, and will continue to be, no different.
- Agencies are showing a lot of interest in NEPA. Not surprisingly, it’s the primary focus of the CEQ, and DOI, USDA, and Commerce all describe efforts to look at their NEPA compliance processes.
- What’s most prominently (and happily, in my view) missing from these reports is evidence that the Administration is backing off on climate regulation. In this report, at least, EPA appears to be sticking to its guns. Other agencies, if they address the subject at all, are identifying measures to streamline approvals for renewable energy projects. So while legislative efforts to address climate change seem dormant for the foreseeable future, EPA’s embattled administrative efforts will continue.
- Dave Owen
August 23, 2011
New Jersey, RGGI, and Republicans
A month ago I wrote about overallocation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Intiative (RGGI). I mentioned that in addition to its overallocation problem, RGGI has had threats of withdrawals from New Hampshire and New Jersey. Last Friday, it became very likely that Governor Christie will indeed pull New Jersey out at the end of 2011. He vetoed a bill (S. 2946) that the New Jersey legislature passed to try to block him from doing so. Christie's stated reasons for leaving RGGI are that it is ineffective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that it is raising the price of electricity (but see a good critique of the latter reason here).
Perhaps there is a silver lining: Christie accompanied his veto with a statement acknowledging that climate change is real and that human activity “plays a role” in it. He thus joins the thin ranks of Republicans with a national profile who are crazy enough to trust scientists, in the words of presidental candidate Jon Huntsman.
But I must wonder whether Republicans like Christie and Huntsman are standing firmly on the safe side of the climate abyss (see below) or trying to stand in the middle? Now that they acknowledge the problem of climate change, what policies do they actually support to address it?
- Lesley McAllister
August 22, 2011
That Darn Treehugging Military - a Thorn in the Climate Change Denier's Side
The military looks good in green. We've known that for quite some time and a trip to your local Army/Navy store will demonstrate as much. As committed as Greenpeace or WWF may be to the natural environment, the military is the one branch of society that is committed enough to actually dress in a way that blends with nature. Whether military camouflage takes the appearance of a desert, an ocean, or a rain-forest, the military adjusts.
But this poorly executed comedic metaphorical imagery may not be too far from the truth. While Fox News may talk a great deal about the military, it appears the military has not been watching Fox News and it's reporting on climate change of late. The Pentagon has called climate change a "destabilizing geopolitical force" and that climate change "may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict." Thirty-three U.S. Generals and Admirals have asserted that "Climate Change is Threatening America's Security." A Lieutenant Colonel at the U.S. Army War College has written a report titled "Water: U.S. Strategic Response to Conflicts Over a Finite Resource." The U.S. Navy has expressed concern over the "risk and uncertainty" created by climate change and has even engaged in "war games" in order to "assess its ability to respond to possible climate change-related conflicts around the world." These games "involved scientists, water specialists, climatologists, aid workers, intelligence officials, business analysts and military officers" - now that is a collection of individuals not welcome on the set of Rush Limbaugh....they might just say something with which he disagrees.
Now the military is training its guns on energy efficiency and is moving away from oil toward renewable forms of energy. As evidenced in this story, the U.S. Army recently determined that one out of eight Army casualties in Iraq resulted from the protection of fuel convoys. Thus a move toward renewable energy and energy efficiency aligns with military goals - protecting the lives of soldiers. We have already seen this in the context of our reliance on foreign oil - our individual reductions at home and a move toward renewables could dramatically reduce our implication in conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere. Yet for some reason, segments of society typically associated with hawkishness and military strength seem to be the least interested in reducing their carbon footprint - a contradiction of ideology to say the least.
Nonetheless, "the military is quickly becoming a leading buyer of cutting-edge renewable energy technology." Perhaps the greatest potential for this surge in investment is moving technologies to a place of commercial viability, as has happened in the past with GPS and the Internet. From solar and wind powered military bases to robots that run on wave energy, the military is leading the way.
One analyst recently summed it up best: "At a time when many conservative lawmakers are strongly opposing renewable energy and denying the science of climate change, it’s interesting that the Department of Defense – the nation’s largest energy user, representing 80% of federal sector energy consumption – remains fully committed to reducing energy consumption and developing renewable energy technologies."
I think if I really want to practice what I preach I should adopt the approach of the military and begin wearing Realtree camouflage to class (though, being from the woods of Alabama this would not be so unusual for me). In all seriousness, we could all learn from the military on matters of the environment. The military has not always been a bastion of environmental awareness, and a myriad of environmental problems are caused by and remain a part of military life. But unless the military is truly engaged in a vast left-wing conspiracy (I am pretty sure I will be the only person on the entire internet to type the phrase "military is truly engaged in a vast left-wing conspiracy..."), then I think we all should listen to what they have been saying recently about the environment - doves and hawks alike.
- Blake Hudson
August 21, 2011
Offshore Oil and Gas For Sale
On Friday, the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced that on December 14, 2011, in New Orleans, BOEMRE will auction off oil and gas leases covering about 20.6 million acres ("3,900 unleased blocks") in the Gulf of Mexico. BOEMRE will increase the minimum bid amount from $37.50 to $100 per acre for leases at depths of 1,312 feet and greater; the minimum bid price at "shallower depths" will remain at $25 per acre, and the leases will cover depths ranging from "16 to more than 10,975 feet." (BP drilled its ill-fated Macondo well at an approximate 5,000-foot depth, for perspective.)
This announcement follows a BOEMRE decision earlier in August to conditionally approve Shell Offshore, Inc.'s Revised Exploration Plan for Beaufort Sea drilling near Alaska. With its conditional approval on August 4, BOEMRE also released its Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the project.