SolarPanels-wide.jpg
March 18, 2020 by Alexandra Klass

Public Lands and Just Energy Transitions

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 open up a record number of acres for new fossil fuel development and to roll back Obama-era regulations designed to reduce methane emissions and other pollution associated with existing fossil fuel development. The current administration has thus used the public lands to boost the profits of major oil and gas companies at the …

Nov. 20, 2018 by Alexandra Klass
oil-well-jack-wide.jpg

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
boundary-waters-minnesota.jpg

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
ElectricalTransformer_wide.jpg

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
OIlTrain_Wide.jpg

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
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

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
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

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
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

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 …

Feb. 4, 2013 by Alexandra Klass
WorkerSafetyCollage_wide.jpg

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 energy costs. Indeed, according to one recent study:

taking into account products sold from the inception of each national appliance standard through 2035, existing standards will net consumers and businesses more than $1.1 trillion in savings cumulatively. … On an annual basis, products meeting existing standards reduced U.S. electricity use in 2010 by about 280 terawatt-hours (TWh), a 7% reduction. The electricity savings will …

July 13, 2012 by Alexandra Klass
GlobalWarmingCollage_wide.jpg

In a CPRBlog post in May 2011, I discussed the lawsuits filed on behalf of children against all 50 states and several federal agencies alleging that these governmental entities have violated the common law public trust doctrine by failing to limit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.  The suits were filed by Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit. The claims sought judicial declaration that states have a fiduciary duty to future generations with regard to an “atmospheric trust” and that states and the federal government must take immediate action to protect and preserve that trust.  At the time, I opined that although these claims were novel and would likely have little, if any, immediate effect on state climate policy, they relied on what has proved to be a flexible and powerful common law doctrine in at least some states.  As a result, I concluded …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
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

May 22, 2014

State Energy Policy and the Commerce Clause: Spotlight on Colorado and Minnesota

Sept. 20, 2013

EPA's Authority to Impose Emissions Regulations is Clear under the Clean Air Act