From Surviving to Thriving -- Energy Infrastructure: Beyond Repair

by Joseph Tomain | September 14, 2018

This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.

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 for your cell phone and call the power company. Your local utility responds that they are aware of the problem and that repairs will be made within the hour.

Now consider the fate of the island of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Six months after the hurricane, people are still without power. Maria initially left 3.4 million U.S. citizens without electricity, and it became known as the apagón, or super blackout. As a result of the apagón, schools, homes, and businesses were ...

Trump's Proposal to Replace the Clean Power Plan Endangers Public Health and the World's Climate

by Joel Mintz | August 30, 2018
This story was originally published by The Revelator. In his first 19 months in office, Donald Trump has repeatedly defied established presidential norms — so flagrantly that it almost obscures the many ways he's changed national policies for the worse. But despite all the scandals and mean-spirited tweets, it's likely that his most enduring impact will be his administration's systematic, reckless dismantling of ongoing efforts to curtail human-caused climate change. The miseries of global climate disruption are already upon us. ...

The 'Affordable Clean Energy' Rule and Environmental Justice

by Alice Kaswan | August 29, 2018
For disadvantaged communities, the so-called Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) falls far short of the protections and opportunities included in the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration rule that the Trump EPA is now attempting to repeal and replace. One of the Clean Power Plan's (CPP) essential features was its recognition that the electricity sector operates as an interconnected system. Because of its system-wide approach, the CPP could achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants by encouraging utilities ...

What's Ahead for Trump's Pro-Coal Rule?

by Daniel Farber | August 28, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. You've already heard a lot about Trump's pro-coal ACE rule. You're likely to keep hearing about it, off and on, throughout the next couple of years, and maybe longer. I've set out a rough timetable below, and at the end I discuss some implications. Step 1: The Rulemaking  Aug. 2018 Notice of proposed rule issued (clock for comments starts with publication in the Federal Register) Oct.-Nov. 2018 Comment period closes (60 days after clock starts, unless there are ...

A Loss for Trump -- and for Coal

by Daniel Farber | August 23, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. Understandably, most of the attention at the beginning of the week was devoted to the rollout of the Trump administration's token effort to regulate greenhouse gases, the ACE rule. But something else happened, too. On Tuesday, a D.C. Circuit ruling ignored objections from the Trump administration and invalidated key parts of a rule dealing with coal ash disposal. That rule had originally come from the Obama administration, and the court agreed with environmentalists that it was too weak. ...

Judge Brett Kavanaugh: Environmental Policymaker

by Joseph Tomain | July 26, 2018
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 ...

The Hill Op-Ed: Trump's Policies Blasting at the Foundations of Conservation in Public Land Law

by Robert Glicksman | July 19, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. Last month, two Inspectors General issued scathing reports about their departments' behavior. The Justice Department's IG got all the attention, while largely overlooked was a disturbing report from the Interior Department IG, who concluded that the agency had no reasonable rationale for halting a major study of the health risks of mountaintop removal mining. The study was already under way, and nearly half of its $1 million price tag had already been spent, but Secretary Ryan Zinke and ...

What Hath FERC Wrought?

by Daniel Farber | July 12, 2018
At the end of June, in a vote divided along partisan lines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handed down a sweeping order that will impact electricity markets in a wide swath of the country – likely at the expense of renewable energy and nuclear power. Unfortunately, like Trump's power plant bailout, the result may be to delay the closing of coal-fired power plants. That's a serious problem. A new study by researchers at Resources for the Future shows that ...

Trump's War on Progressive, Competitive Energy Markets

by Hannah Wiseman | June 13, 2018
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 ...

Symposium on Regulatory Safeguards Features Warren, Frosh, Three CPR Scholars

by James Goodwin | June 04, 2018
Tuesday afternoon, three CPR Member Scholars – William Buzbee, Lisa Heinzerling, and Rena Steinzor – will be among the experts featured at a major symposium on the threats facing our system of regulatory safeguards. The symposium, The War on Regulation: Good for Corporations, Bad for the Public, was organized by the Coalition of Sensible Safeguards (CSS), which CPR co-leads as an executive committee member, and will include a keynote address from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and closing remarks from Maryland ...

Let a Hundred (Municipal) Flowers Bloom

by Daniel Farber | May 17, 2018
In the era of Trump, one bright spot remains what's happening in cities across the nation. Here are some numbers: 402 U.S. mayors have endorsed the Paris Agreement and announced their intention of meeting its goals, while 118 have endorsed the goal of making their cities 100 percent renewable. A bit of quick research provides a sample of what some major cities are already up to: Atlanta. Atlanta's city council has set ambitious goals: 100 percent renewable energy for city ...

Promoting Energy Innovation

by Daniel Farber | April 13, 2018
An MIT professor has a great idea for a molten metal battery that could outperform lithium batteries. Of course, like many great ideas, this one might not pan out. But even if it does pan out technically, Grist explains one reason why it might never get to the commercial stage: Ultimately, the thing that makes lithium-ion so tough to topple is something called the "experience curve." The curve maps how, over time, in many different sectors, increases in scale lead ...

Climate Change in the Courts

by Daniel Farber | April 02, 2018
There are three important climate lawsuits pending in federal court. Here's the state of play and what to expect next. In the first case, Oakland and San Francisco sued leading oil companies. They claim that the companies' production and sale of fossil fuels is a public nuisance under California state law. They seek an abatement fund to pay for sea walls and other infrastructure needed to address rising sea levels. This lawsuit was originally filed in California state court, but ...

Coal and Nuclear Plant Bailout Would Be Unjustified Use of DOE's Emergency Authority

by Joel Eisen | March 30, 2018
It's no secret that the Trump administration and coal companies have drawn a bullseye on reversing coal's declining fortunes in wholesale electricity markets, where competition and inexpensive natural gas have driven coal's market share down from 50 percent in 1990 to about 30 percent today. Feeling bullish about their prospects in a sympathetic administration, owners of coal and nuclear plants have tried to extract subsidies to prevent what they view as premature retirements of large power plants.  This January, the ...

County Prosecutor in Washington State Indicts Construction Company Owner for Trench Collapse Death

by Katie Tracy | February 01, 2018
On the morning of January 26, 2016, Seattle police were called to a construction site where a worker, Harold Felton, was trapped in a collapsed trench. By the time officers arrived, the rescue operation had turned into a recovery; Felton, 36, had died at the scene.  Felton was working as part of a two-man team employed by Alki Construction to replace a sewer line. According to the police report, 10 minutes before the trench collapsed, the man working alongside Felton ...

The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

by Daniel Farber | December 27, 2017
The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan would require utilities to improve efficiency at coal-fired power plants and reduce the use of those plants in favor of generators using natural gas or renewables. Head of EPA Scott Pruitt claims EPA can only require CO2 cuts that can be accomplished by utilities “inside the fenceline” of a power plant. Under his interpretation, EPA could require a utility to increase the efficiency of a coal-fired plant. But, he assumes, his interpretation would rule ...

OSHA Delays Critical Protections as Worker Deaths Increase

by Katie Tracy | December 20, 2017
President Trump planned and then starred in his own ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, symbolic of all the safeguards for health, safety and the environment that he intends to shred while in office. This mockery of the administration’s obligation to ensure the public is protected from harm caused by corner-cutting businesses coincided with the release of the Administration’s fall 2017 regulatory agenda. What this political stunt — and the rhetoric that goes along with it — really means, however, is that ...

Trump's Newspeak

by Matthew Freeman | December 19, 2017
"You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?" Winston Smith, 1984 Donald Trump has never been known for the breadth of his vocabulary. In his case, I’ve always assumed that was a marker of a not particularly curious mind. The guy’s openly contemptuous of higher education; he says he doesn’t read books because he gets what he needs to know ...

Energy

When it comes to energy policy, the nation faces difficult choices. Researchers have made important strides on bringing renewable sources of energy into the mainstream, gradually replacing more familiar, but nevertheless unsustainable, high-polluting sources of power for our homes, cars and factories.

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