Natural Gas in the Big Picture:

by Joseph Tomain | February 26, 2013

With advancements in hydraulic fracturing technology, shale gas has dramatically altered domestic energy in the United States.  Some commentators claim that shale gas can address all of our major energy problems. Some consider natural gas a bridge fuel to a clean energy future.  Bills in Congress proposing a federal “Clean Energy Standard” have included natural gas as a qualifying “clean” fuel source. President Obama’s recent State of the Union address emphasized natural gas and renewable energy as important to reshaping American energy use.   

Given the projected impacts of climate change, we have reached a point when the air and water impacts of natural gas development call on policymakers to sort through some key questions with care: How will current and future energy policy position natural gas, explicitly or by default, relative to fossil energy alternatives like renewable energy?  What role should natural gas play in the U.S. energy landscape in the coming decades?  If it is a bridge fuel, where is it leading? Are we poised to over-rely on natural gas, at the expense of rapid renewable energy development?

It is hard to overstate the significance of the energy transition that the United States is currently experiencing. Take a quick peak back: from 1949 until about 2005, U.S. energy exports were flat; imports continued to rise, particularly petroleum; and production and consumption largely grew in tandem.  In 1970, as domestic oil production peaked, consumption and ...

Not-So-Smart ALEC: The Right Wing vs. Renewable Energy

by Frank Ackerman | February 25, 2013
Cross-posted from Triple Crisis. Renewable energy is clean, sustainable, non-polluting, reduces our dependence on fossil fuels, improves the health of communities surrounding power plants, and protects the natural environment. Who could be against it? Answer: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobbying group that is active in drafting and advocating controversial state legislation. They’re not just interested in energy: in recent years ALEC has supported Arizona’s restrictive immigration legislation, the “Stand Your Ground” gun laws associated with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and ...

Justice Delayed

by Catherine O'Neill | February 22, 2013
Outgoing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson made environmental justice a priority at the agency. As her tenure draws to a close, EPA released its Plan EJ 2014: Progress Report in January, summarizing the agency’s considerable advances toward this important goal. The EPA deserves accolades for the seriousness with which it has treated the issue and for the progress it has made to address the unique and disproportionate burdens that environmental contamination visits on American Indian tribes and their ...

The Missing Energy-Water Roadmap

by Dave Owen | February 19, 2013
In the 2005 Energy Policy Act, Congress recognized that energy and water supply issues are deeply intertwined, and required the Department of Energy (DOE) to report on their nexus and make recommendations for future action within two years. (42 USC 16319).  DOE started this important work, but never finished it.  DOE’s initial report, issued in 2007, hinted at the complexity and seriousness of the energy-water nexus.  It discussed both how supplying energy requires water and supplying water requires energy.  For ...

National Energy Policies and the Environment: Can the National Environmental Policy Act Provide a Harmonizing Framework?

by Robert Glicksman | February 18, 2013
Energy policy in the United States is inextricably linked with questions of environmental protection. Thus, for example, the Obama administration will soon be called upon to decide whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, how much (and what kind) of regulation to impose on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction, whether to regulate carbon emissions from existing coal-burning power plants, what proportion of federally owned lands should be devoted to mineral extraction, and whether to allow the expansion of oil ...

EPA's IRIS Program Still on GAO High Risk List

by Matt Shudtz | February 15, 2013
This week, GAO provided a helpful, unfortunately annual, reminder that EPA must do more to keep the IRIS program relevant for chemical risk management.  For the fifth year running, EPA’s programs for chemical risk management (IRIS among them) have been deemed in need of attention to avoid becoming so ineffective as to be considered a waste of agency resources.  GAO notes minimal progress by the IRIS program on completing assessments in the last two fiscal years (4 assessments each year).  ...

Change in Leadership at the SBA Offers Opportunity for Charting a New Course for Controversial Office of Advocacy

by James Goodwin | February 15, 2013
Earlier this week, Karen Mills, the current Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), announced her intention to leave office, opening up another second-term vacancy for President Obama to fill in the coming months.  The SBA position is unlikely to attract as much media attention or pundit speculation as the EPA or Energy Interior posts, but it could have a big impact on whether the Obama Administration is able to take on the long to-do list of public health, safety, ...

Two Years Later, OSHA's Rule to Protect Workers from Deadly Silica Still in White House Review

by Thomas McGarity | February 14, 2013
[[Ed. Note: This post is a reprint, with minor updates, of McGarity’s post one year ago on the first anniversary of the proposed silica rule arriving at OMB. Little has happened on the issue in the past year – except more people have been sickened or killed by silica exposure.]] Today marks the second anniversary of an event that received little media attention, but marked a major milestone in the progression of a regulation that is of great importance to ...

Phasing out Fossil Fuels

by David Driesen | February 13, 2013
We will phase out fossil fuels.  We have no choice. They are a finite resource and at some point they will run out.  Admittedly, coal will not run out nearly as quickly as oil, but sooner or later all fossil fuel resources will run out.  The only question we face is whether we phase out fossil fuels before we have set in motion climate disruption’s worst effects or instead just allow a phase-out to occur through price shocks and shortages ...

Administration Warns of Food Inspectors Being Furloughed From Budget Sequester -- But Moving Forward Separate Plan to Unilaterally Take Poultry Inspectors Off the Job

by Rena Steinzor | February 12, 2013
This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Media Manager Ben Somberg. The White House issued a fact sheet last Friday presenting “Examples of How the Sequester Would Impact Middle Class Families, Jobs and Economic Security.” The consequences of the impending budget cuts from the “sequester” are not some abstract problem; they’re serious dangers, like this one: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture food products while ...

Subsidizing in Spurts: Our Production Tax Credit Policy, or Lack Thereof

by Lesley McAllister | February 12, 2013
Taxes and energy are subject to constant partisan debate. Both are at play in politically-charged discussions about the government’s role in promoting renewable energy, particularly wind energy. Since 1992, the federal government has granted a production tax credit (PTC) (currently 2.2¢ per kilowatt/hour (kWh)) for production of certain renewable energy. The credit initially focused on wind, closed-loop biomass, and poultry-waste energy resources; in 2004 Congress expanded the program to include open-loop biomass, geothermal, and several other renewable energy sources. With ...

The Legacy of Subsidizing Fossil Fuels

by Alexandra Klass | February 08, 2013
Often lost in today’s debates over whether to continue tax benefits for renewable energy is a historical perspective on the significant support the federal government has provided and continues to provide the fossil fuel industry. Tax benefits for the energy industry as a whole totaled over $20 billion in 2011, which is, and historically has been, about 2% of total U.S. tax expenditures. In general, the United States has used tax benefits to first support development of domestic fossil fuel ...

Antibiotic Resistance and Agency Recalcitrance

by Lisa Heinzerling | February 06, 2013
Eighty percent of the antibiotics used in this country are given not to humans, but to animals destined for the human food supply.  Most of these antibiotics are given to the animals not for the purpose of treating active infections, but for the purposes of promoting growth and preventing infection in the microbe-rich environment of the modern factory farm.  For over 40 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been collecting evidence that this agricultural practice contributes to the ...

The Precarious Legality of Cost-Benefit Analysis

by Daniel Farber | February 05, 2013
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. Cost-benefit analysis has become a ubiquitous part of regulation, enforced by the Office of Management and Budget. A weak cost-benefit analysis means that the regulation gets kicked back to the agency. Yet there is no statute that provides for this; it’s entirely a matter of Presidential dictate. And reliance on cost-benefit analysis often flies in the face of specific directions from Congress about how to write regulations. There are a few exceptions, such as regulations involving ...

Climate Progress Possible With Energy Efficiency Standards for Appliances -- Under Laws Congress Already Passed

by Alexandra Klass | February 04, 2013
President Obama's focus in his second inaugural address on the need to address climate change was welcome after many months of near silence on this critical issue. While tackling climate change will require significant efforts limiting emissions from power plants, automobiles, and other sources, the President has recognized in the past that improving energy efficiency in general, and setting stricter energy efficiency standards for appliances specifically, can have a major impact on reducing both U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and consumer ...

CPR Report: Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy Dances to Big Business's Tune

by Sidney Shapiro | January 29, 2013
Congress created the Office of Advocacy (Office) of the Small Business Administration (SBA) to represent the interests of small business before regulatory agencies.   It recognized that, unlike larger firms, many, if not most, small businesses can’t afford to lobby regulators and file rulemaking comments because of the expense involved.  The Office was supposed to fill this gap by ensuring that agencies account for the unique concerns of small businesses when developing new regulations.  Instead, as new reports from the Center ...

Executive Review of Regulation in Obama's Second Term

by Matthew Freeman | January 28, 2013
CPR Member Scholar David Driesen of Syracuse University has an op-ed in the January 28 Syracuse Post-Standard making the case that the President should reinvigorate his regulatory agenda, in part by diminishing the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs' power to stifle regulations. He puts the argument in the context of the pressing need for action on climate change, writing: Obama should put an end to obstructionist OIRA review in light of the urgency of climate disruption and the failures this review ...

Exempting Climate Mitigation from OIRA Review

by David Driesen | January 24, 2013
Cross-posted from RegBlog. Nobody seems to have noticed, but the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) recently recommended abolition of review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) based on cost-benefit analysis (CBA). Its report on recommendations for the second Obama Administration made this proposal the sixth item in a list of seven executive orders that Obama could issue with a "Stroke of the Pen" (from the report’s title). In place of CBA-based review, which has often stymied or delayed needed environmental ...

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