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Feb. 22, 2021 by Alexandra Klass

Lessons from the Texas Grid Disaster: Planning and Investing for a Different Future

This post was originally published on Lawfare. Reprinted with permission.

It is now a week out from the start of the massive Texas grid failure that has resulted in numerous deaths; millions of people plunged into darkness; scores of communities without clean water or heat in record cold temperatures; and billions of dollars in catastrophic damage to homes, businesses and the physical infrastructure that supports them. Critical questions surround the causes of this massive disaster and how to plan for the future so that a tragedy of this scale does not happen again.

At this point, there are many facts that Americans already know. Contrary to the spurious claims by Gov. Greg Abbott as well as numerous right-wing politicians and pundits, freezing wind turbines and the state’s history of supporting renewable energy development did not cause the grid to fail. Indeed, wind turbines outperformed grid operator expectations, despite the extreme cold, and the outages would have been worse without the wind energy that remained online. Instead, the state’s electric grid failed for a very simple reason—because Texas power plant operators do not insulate their facilities for sustained cold temperatures. As a result, pipes and equipment needed to …

July 21, 2020 by Alexandra Klass
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Reprinted by permission of MinnPost.

Minnesota has a proud history of holding bad corporate actors accountable — from tobacco companies to opioid manufacturers — when they knowingly conceal damaging information about their products from regulators and the public. This is particularly true when that secrecy results in harm to public health, private property, and public resources.

In late June, Attorney General Keith Ellison acted in Minnesota’s tradition of guarding the public interest when he filed a consumer protection lawsuit against three of the nation’s largest fossil fuel entities — ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute (API). In the lawsuit, he seeks to recover civil penalties and restitution for the harm to Minnesotans caused by these companies’ decades-long efforts to intentionally mislead the public about the relationship between fossil fuels, the climate crisis, and the resulting harm to public health, agriculture, infrastructure, and the environment.

Described ‘potentially …

March 18, 2020 by Alexandra Klass
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This post is part of a series related to the March 12 Conference on Public Lands and Energy Transitions that was hosted by the George Washington University Law School's Environment and Energy Law Program.

Our vast public lands and waters are both a major contributor to the global climate crisis and a potential solution to the problem. The extraction and use of oil and gas resources from public lands and waters produce 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If the public lands were its own nation, it would be the fifth largest global emitter of GHGs.

The scale of this problem has been exacerbated by the current administration. Since the start of the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior – the primary federal agency charged by Congress with managing the use of public lands and waters – has used its statutory authority to …

Nov. 20, 2018 by Alexandra Klass
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Originally published in The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

Like many areas of law, energy policy in the United States is both national and local. The boundary lines delineating federal and state authority are not always clear, leading to tension and disagreement between federal and state authorities. When tensions get too high, Congress can, and often has, stepped in to override state control in order to promote national interests. But when Congress faces partisan gridlock, an increasing number of disputes are resolved in the courts.

Over the past century, Congress has slowly carved out significant swaths of energy policy for federal control: oil and natural gas exports; automobile fuel economy standards; interstate transmission of electricity; permitting approval and eminent domain for interstate natural gas pipelines; and permitting approval for hydropower facilities and nuclear facilities. But much activity remains under state control: approval of interstate and intrastate oil …

July 17, 2018 by Alexandra Klass
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This op-ed originally ran in the Duluth News Tribune.

Any Minnesotan who has ever dipped a canoe paddle, pitched a tent, or laced up a hiking boot while visiting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness can tell you why it is the nation's most-visited wilderness area and considered a crown jewel of Minnesota. Unfortunately, Twin Metals, a subsidiary of the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta PLC, has its eye on the area in hopes of operating a sulfide-ore copper-nickel mine, bringing one of the world's most toxic industries to the edge of the Boundary Waters. Despite the devastating impact expected on the local economy and environment, President Donald Trump's Interior Department is bending over backwards to support the push to pollute.

If allowed, Twin Metals is expected to locate its processing plant on the banks of Birch Lake, a popular fishing and recreation lake that flows into the …

Jan. 23, 2017 by Alexandra Klass
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There are few reasons for the Senate to confirm former Texas Governor Rick Perry as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and many reasons to oppose his confirmation. He famously vowed to abolish the DOE when he ran for president in 2012 (along with several other federal agencies) but then could not even remember the name of the agency when asked about it during the Republican primary debates. One might have guessed at that time that he knew very little about what the agency actually did. This lack of knowledge has been borne out during the confirmation process. 

Governor Perry now says that he has learned a bit more about the mission and responsibilities of the DOE, which include defense-related energy projects, the national laboratories (Argonne, Fermi, Los Alamos, etc.), and providing funding and technical expertise for a wide range of public- and private-sector …

May 20, 2015 by Alexandra Klass
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The major oil pipeline spills along the Santa Barbara coast and into the Yellowstone River in Montana this past year are only the most recent chapters in the growing list of major spills associated with oil transportation in the United States. These recent spills of 100,000 gallons and 50,000 gallons of oil, respectively, follow a nearly 1 million gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil from an Enbridge pipeline that burst in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010, and other similar spills around the country. These spills and many others like them have resulted in significant harm to public health and the environment, created panic among residents, and forced state officials to declare states of emergency in affected area.

These more frequent pipeline spills are inevitable in light of the massive increases in oil and gas production in North America since 2007. Technological developments …

May 22, 2014 by Alexandra Klass
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Within the past month, two federal district courts—one in Colorado and one in Minnesota—have issued important decisions on the constitutionality of state clean energy policies. Both cases raised the same legal issue, namely, whether the state laws in question regulate extraterritorially in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. But the courts reached different results in each case and, more importantly, the Minnesota and Colorado policies reviewed by each court were quite different from each other even though both involved efforts to promote clean energy within the state. Some of the recent commentary on the two cases has downplayed the significant differences between the two state policies in question, leading to confusion about the implications of the courts’ rulings.

First, a bit about the dormant Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate …

Sept. 20, 2013 by Alexandra Klass
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This entire week, the coal industry and electric utilities have been decrying the EPA’s proposed rule, released today, limiting CO2 emissions from new coal-fired power plants. Experts predict the proposed rule will place limits on coal-fired power plants that will make them impossible to operate in the absence of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, which will significantly increase the cost of running existing plants and building new plants. These costs, as well as today’s low natural gas prices (and low wind prices in some areas), will transform coal from the low cost option for electricity generation in many parts of the country to a higher cost option. In the press, the coal industry and utilities contend that CCS technology is little more than a pipe dream. They argue that the rules will violate the Clean Air Act because CCS is not a commercially …

Feb. 8, 2013 by Alexandra Klass
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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 and nuclear production for nearly a century and, more recently, to support the development of domestic renewable energy. Until 2005, virtually all energy-related tax expenditures and benefits went toward stimulating domestic oil and gas production with the amount claimed by renewable energy almost negligible.

In recent years, tax benefits for renewable energy have surpassed that of fossil fuel production. For instance, in 2011, the breakdown …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 22, 2021

Lessons from the Texas Grid Disaster: Planning and Investing for a Different Future

July 21, 2020

Ellison extends a proud history: Holding ExxonMobil and Koch accountable

March 18, 2020

Public Lands and Just Energy Transitions

Nov. 20, 2018

Federalism 'Collisions' in Energy Policy

July 17, 2018

Duluth News Tribune Op-Ed: U-turn on Twin Metals a Massive Giveaway of Irreplaceable Public Resources

Jan. 23, 2017

Uninformed and Unqualified: A Brief Run-Down of Rick Perry's Energy Department Nomination

May 20, 2015

The Reality of U.S. Oil Transport