To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for American Indians. This week, we spoke with Hannah Wiseman, a professor at Penn State University who teaches and writes about energy and environmental law and land use regulation.
CPR: What motivated you to become an expert in energy law and a voice for a just energy transition in the United States? Is there historical context to this or a moment in history that stood out to you as motivation or inspiration?
HW: When I was working in Texas in 2008, two types of energy development were booming: hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas (“gas”) and wind energy. It became clear that we were at a major transition point. We could choose continued reliance on fossil fuels or we could substantially ramp up renewable energy. It turns out that in the United States, we chose both. We became the world’s largest oil and gas producer due to fracking, and we also greatly expanded renewables, but not by enough …
This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.
As President Biden continues to roll out executive orders prioritizing climate change, it is increasingly clear that there will be a relatively rapid U.S. shift toward renewable energy from the sun, wind and other sources.
Indeed, many states are already pushing ahead with ambitious renewable and clean energy policies. These policies will reduce air pollution, spur extensive economic development in rural areas and make progress on the climate front.
This “revolution,” as Biden calls it, is critical. But the bulk of renewables that have been built in the United States are large, centralized projects requiring thousands of miles of transmission lines — primarily in rural communities. A revolution that continues to prioritize these projects risks failure. It threatens to create an infrastructural path dependence like the one that “master builder” Robert Moses sparked in the 1950s. The federal highway …
When President Trump took office in 2017, the Department of the Interior quickly moved to lease nearly all offshore lands for oil and gas development. The map was astounding; for decades, there had been relatively limited drilling in offshore waters, and many state officials and advocates were shocked to see a proposal for such extensive leasing of offshore federal lands. Indeed, notoriously conservative Rick Scott of Florida entered into a handshake deal with former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to avoid drilling near the state. Trump's Interior Department also attempted to lease vast swaths of onshore public lands for fossil fuel development.
President Biden has predictably followed a different approach, announcing his intent to place a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal onshore and offshore lands. This is a sensible solution.
The United States is already working to transition to more low-carbon energy production, and oil …
Update: On February 25, 2021, the Senate confirmed Jennifer Granholm as Secretary of Energy.
President-elect Joe Biden is poised to name Jennifer Granholm to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees key energy efficiency standards, research, and development. Granholm is a former two-term governor of Michigan and a champion of using a clean energy transition to spur economic growth.
During the Trump years, the department repeatedly tried to defund important clean energy research programs. The department also weakened energy efficiency standards for appliances, light bulbs, and other consumer products. These actions damaged our country’s ability to reduce carbon pollution, combat climate change, and help those most burdened by high energy bills.
The Biden administration and Granholm must make energy justice a focus of their policy agenda. Here are five top priorities they can start on right away:
The EPA released its finalized rule for carbon emissions from existing power plants last week. The agency calls the rule the "Affordable Clean Energy" (ACE) rule, but it would be better named the "Advancing Coal Energy" rule given its explicit aim to keep old, dirty coal-fired power plants running.
A bit of background first for those who aren't familiar with the rule. The United States has made a great deal of progress cleaning up its power plants so they emit less air pollution – not just carbon dioxide, but also particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and other damaging pollutants. But much of the remaining air pollution comes from older power plants built before health-promoting clean air regulations were in place. Pollution from coal plants alone accounts for one-quarter of the value of all environmental damage in the United States, and all power plant pollution contributes to approximately 52,000 …
This post was originally published on ACSblog, the blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission.
On October 26, 2018, the comment period ended for a new rule that guts U.S. fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. If the final rule resembles the proposed rule, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (SAFE Vehicles Rule) will lock in old fuel efficiency standards, reversing Obama administration regulations mandating increased efficiency. Specifically, the "preferred alternative" expressed by the Trump administration's EPA is to keep 2020 standards for both passenger vehicles and light trucks through 2026, replacing current regulations that required enhanced efficiency during the six-year period. Further, the rule proposes to remove California's existing authorization to regulate carbon emissions from cars, preempting both California's regulation and other states that have adopted standards identical to California's.
This blunt about-face in …
It is widely recognized that President Trump has pushed an aggressive anti-regulatory agenda on the environmental front, but this agenda often hides a second, anti-free-market battle waged in the energy context.
For decades, Congress and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have worked to move the country toward competitive markets in the sale of wholesale energy – energy that generators sell to utilities, or which utilities sell to each other, and then to retail customers. Congress and FERC believed that introducing more competition into wholesale markets would reduce the cost of electricity for retail consumers because increased generation and access to generation would open up a previously limited supply. In staking out this approach, policymakers and administrators also recognized that competitive markets could encourage the construction of cleaner domestic energy resources.
In large part, this move has been successful. Deregulation of retail electricity markets has in some cases …
Professor Hari Osofsky of Pennsylvania State University co-authored this article with Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar and Florida State University College of Law Professor Hannah Wiseman. It originally appeared in The Conversation on October 13, 2017.
On Oct. 10, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt formally announced a repeal of the Clean Power Plan, regulation intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.
This follows a directive only a week earlier by Energy Secretary Rick Perry for the the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to start a process to essentially subsidize coal and nuclear power plants.
At first blush, these developments give the impression that the U.S. power sector is about to take a dramatic turn, and these decisions do indeed represent a significant shift in U.S. policy. But major changes on the ground are unlikely to happen overnight, or perhaps …
President Trump's first Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, released last week, aims to cut regulations across the board, but the broad swath of energy programs and regulations under the ax is particularly notable. The U.S. energy sector, finally catching up with the rest of the world, has modernized by leaps and bounds in recent years with the help of limited but targeted governmental support. But Trump's agenda would bring this all to an abrupt halt and send us skidding back into the dark ages of energy.
First, the agenda would cut the bulk of pending programming at the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This office provides critical support for energy efficiency and modern, clean, economically vital sources of energy, no small matter to our economy or our quality of life.
If energy efficiency measures were comprehensively …
When Congress extensively amended the Clean Air Act in 1970 to form the air pollution laws that we know today, it spoke in no uncertain terms about the breadth of federal authority in this area while also centrally involving states in the effort to clean up the nation's air. Congress directed the EPA Administrator to list the pollutants "which in his judgment" have "an adverse effect on public health and welfare" and are generated from "numerous or diverse" sources – pollutants known as "criteria" pollutants that threaten public health and the environment.1
To protect our health and the nation's valuable crops, buildings, and ecosystems, the EPA is required to establish maximum acceptable concentrations of these criteria air pollutants, and states have to write plans to keep them below those concentrations.2 If the plans do not meet the requirements of the law, Congress provided that …