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April 3, 2020 by Joseph Tomain

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part II

Read Part I of this pair of posts on CPRBlog.

The coronavirus has already taught us about the role of citizens and their government. First, we have learned that we have vibrant and reliable state and local governments, many of which actively responded to the pandemic even as the White House misinformed the public and largely sat on its hands for months. Second, science and expertise should not be politicized. Instead, they are necessary factors upon which we rely for information and, when necessary, for guidance about which actions to take and about how we should live our lives in threatening circumstances.

From all of this, three recommendations emerge:

  1. Regarding the precautionary principle, we should recognize there are two dimensions to the approach. First, moving slowly and watchfully can save lives. We cannot rush to put dangerous and ineffective drugs and other medical supplies on the market. At the same time, it is more important to oversupply resources than it is to wait until danger is upon us. The country should not have had to face shortages of masks or ventilators. Similarly, preparation for health crises cannot be abandoned. By way of example, the National Security Council Directorate for Global …

April 2, 2020 by Joseph Tomain
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In this time of pandemic, we are learning about our government in real time – its strengths and weaknesses; the variety of its responses; and about our relationship, as citizens, to those we have elected to serve us. Most importantly and most immediately, we have learned the necessity of having a competent, expert regulatory structure largely immune from partisan politics even in these times of concern, anxiety, and confusion.

One of life’s lessons that most of us have learned, most likely from our mothers, is that it is better to be safe than sorry. That bit of folk wisdom has been embedded in environmental law for about three decades, where it is known as the precautionary principle. Briefly, that principle can be explained this way: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for …

Aug. 21, 2019 by Joseph Tomain
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

For the past couple of years, President Trump's federal budget proposal has called for the elimination of a crucial Department of Energy program — the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The agency’s mission is to fund high-risk/high-reward energy research — that is, research that has transformative potential for the nation’s economic and energy needs but that is deemed too expensive or too risky for energy companies to fund on their own. Congress, though, has wisely resisted the president’s proposal, and continued to fund ARPA-E. But the White House has stubbornly proposed eliminating the program again this year.

Congress should hold firm.

Read the full op-ed on The Hill's website.

April 22, 2019 by Joseph Tomain
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In 1956, Texas oil geologist M. King Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would peak no later than 1970. Lo and behold, in 1970, oil production topped out at just over 9.6 million barrels a day (mbd) and began its decline. The predicted peak had been reached. Regarding the world oil supply – no worries. There were oceans of oil in Middle East deserts, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, new finds in the North Sea, as well as discoveries, largely offshore, of recoverable oil in other parts of the world, meant that the world was not running out of oil; just the United States was.

Domestically though, trouble was brewing on two fronts. For most of the century, U.S. oil imports were modest. Then, in the mid-1950s, oil imports reached 1 mbd and began climbing. From a consumer perspective, imported oil meant lower prices. But …

April 22, 2019 by Joseph Tomain
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Fossil fuels are reaching their consumption peak. By way of example, the United States has a surfeit of coal, but coal use is on the decline as natural gas and renewable resources replace the dirty fuel for generating electricity. Similarly, oil and natural gas are on the same decreasing consumption trajectory as recent data and modeling suggest.

Consider the following market facts that directly impact coal and reveal its consumption peak:

  • In Europe, fossil fuels peaked when renewables reached 3 percent of the market.  
  • The majority of new electric capacity comes from solar, wind, and natural gas.  
  • Today, local wind and solar can replace 74 percent of the coal fleet, and by 2025, it will be sufficient to replace 86 percent of the fleet.  
  • Since 2013, 100 banks have restricted or left coal lending.  
  • In 2016, Peabody Coal, the nation's largest coal company, declared bankruptcy after having …

Oct. 10, 2018 by Joseph Tomain
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This post is the second of a pair on the Trump administration's so-called "Affordable Clean Energy" (ACE) rule. You can read the first post here on CPRBlog. 

Industry Trends

In short, energy projections demonstrate a clear trend for clean energy and away from fossil fuels. These trends, directly and negatively, affect traditional electric utilities. About the time that rooftop solar financing was being consolidated by third parties such as SolarCity and Sunrun, utilities began to worry about a "death spiral." In such a scenario, customers would install solar rooftop panels, generate some or all of their electricity, and then either reduce their utility bills or, in some instances, sell their excess electricity back to the utility. To the extent that customers left the grid, the utility would have to recoup their fixed costs from a smaller customer base, thus increasing electricity prices and forcing more customers …

Oct. 8, 2018 by Joseph Tomain
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This post is the second of a pair on the Trump administration's so-called "Affordable Clean Energy" (ACE) rule. You can read the first post here on CPRBlog. 

Industry Trends

In short, energy projections demonstrate a clear trend for clean energy and away from fossil fuels. These trends, directly and negatively, affect traditional electric utilities. About the time that rooftop solar financing was being consolidated by third parties such as SolarCity and Sunrun, utilities began to worry about a "death spiral." In such a scenario, customers would install solar rooftop panels, generate some or all of their electricity, and then either reduce their utility bills or, in some instances, sell their excess electricity back to the utility. To the extent that customers left the grid, the utility would have to recoup their fixed costs from a smaller customer base, thus increasing electricity prices and forcing more customers …

Sept. 14, 2018 by Joseph Tomain
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This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report.

We have seen the pictures before. A man and his dog, both wet and disheveled, gliding down the middle of a residential street in a rowboat past downed power lines. As they drift, they pass the tops of cars parked at the curb, immobile. As they drift further, they see a woman and child standing on the roof of a darkened house, dazed.  Is the child missing a toy or maybe a pet? Is the woman missing a spouse or maybe a child?

Now consider sitting at home watching the game or a movie or the news when the TV flickers and then goes out, along with all the other lights and electrical appliances in your home. After a minute or two your concern rises as you reach …

July 26, 2018 by Joseph Tomain
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This post is part of a series on Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for the open U.S. Supreme Court seat, I was interested in his energy law opinions and began reading them together with some of his environmental law decisions. They seem to be written by two different judges.

Administrative law cases can be procedurally and technically complex. The role of the judiciary in those cases, however, is relatively straightforward. Congress passes legislation and directs an administrative agency to address identified problems. Agencies develop the expertise to gather and analyze data and to make choices and issue regulations. Disappointed parties have appeals available to them within administrative agencies and, if still dissatisfied, a party may ask a federal Court of Appeals for relief by way of overturning an agency determination.

The standards for overturning …

March 21, 2017 by Joseph Tomain
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Yale economist William Baumol has written extensively on the connection between innovation and economic productivity. He has demonstrated that the United States has long been committed to promoting innovation, and through innovation, virtuous circles of economic growth are created. Unfortunately, the current administration appears committed to curtailing, even stopping, that growth.

The president's first budget has many targets. One, though, directly contradicts Baumol's research and, more problematically, directly contradicts the U.S. Constitution. From the Founding, it has been a fundamental principal of the United States "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." Art. I, §8, cl.8. But the Trump 2018 budget imposes severe – some congressional Republicans call them draconian – reductions in these areas. Among the most drastic is the greater than 30 percent sledgehammer applied to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the elimination of the highly successful Advanced Research Projects …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 3, 2020

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part II

April 2, 2020

Precaution and the Pandemic -- Part I

Aug. 21, 2019

The Hill Op-ed: Congress Should Support Clean Energy Research and Development

April 22, 2019

Twin Peaks: The Fossil Fuel Edition -- Part II

April 22, 2019

Twin Peaks: The Fossil Fuel Edition -- Part I

Oct. 10, 2018

EPA's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule: Putting Money on ACE Is a Bad Bet -- Part II

Oct. 8, 2018

The EPA's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule: Putting Money on ACE Is a Bad Bet -- Part I