This weekend I was reading through a new policy proposed by the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) in Pennsylvania to regulate the oil and gas industry. The regulations were posted on August 27, 2013, and the Board is taking public comments for 60 days. Apparently, an advisory board met many times over the past few years to develop this and other legislation relevant to the oil and gas industry in the state. I’m curious to know more about how the policy was developed and how the public comments will influence the final regulations. I understand the role that communication plays in public affairs, but it will be interesting to see it play out over the next couple of months. The DEP has promised to hold six open sessions with the public this fall for input and feedback on the legislation. The dates and times are not posted yet, but I hope to attend at least one.
Energy Policy vs. Environmental Policy
I’ve been reading more about energy policy lately, and at first glance, I was thinking about the new regulations as energy policy for the state. Considering the source of the regulations (PA Department of Environmental Protections), the policy, of course, has many environmental aspects too. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between environmental and energy policies, particularly when a policy includes elements of both. According to the DEP website, the goals of the legislation are to:
Ensure the protection of public health, safety, and the environment.
Protect public resources to minimize impacts from oil and gas drilling.
Modernize the regulatory program to recognize advances in extraction technology.
Specify the acceptable containment practices to prevent spills and releases.
With a focus on health, safety and the environment, the policy includes elements of energy and environment. I’m still trying to determine which it is.
Should we keep energy policy and environmental policy independent?
William Lowry (2008) notably argued in Disentangling Energy Policy from Environmental Policy that the two types of policy should be developed independently because the inclusion of environmental elements in energy policy makes the policy politically contentious and ultimately inhibits good policy development and implementation. Traditionally, the purpose of US energy policy is to ensure that citizens have access to an adequate supply of energy, to keep the costs of energy low, and to work toward energy independence. Environmental policy, on the other hand, tries to minimize the impact of business, personal, government and other actions on the environment as well as offer ways to encourage responsible use of environmental resources. When the two intersect (energy and environment), Lowry argues that they can work against one another.
Of course, he was not arguing against regulations of the energy industry, and the example of the recent PA regulations may not be a good one in this context. Maybe a better example would be national legislation such as the Energy Independence and Security Act from 2007 which provided funding for training for green jobs. Although green jobs are needed, some would argue that they should not be funded through energy policy.
That’s one perspective, but here’s what I think. There are advantages to including environmental elements in energy policy (and discussions about policy). First, one of the biggest hurdles in developing good energy policy is overcoming the lack of public will for energy policy when the economy is strong and the price of energy is low. However, I believe that including environmental values in the debate about energy could be a way to create a sense of urgency in good economic times, when cost and availability are not driving policy. I think we are seeing this with the calls for policy to help address issues of climate change. Although the cost of energy may not motivate changes in policy, the concern about the impact of fossil fuels on global warming may help spur some policy changes that move us toward renewable resources.
And, second, I think that our recent understanding of the link between energy use and global warming makes the inclusion of environmental elements in energy policy imperative. Energy policy that considers only resource availability, cost, and energy independence without addressing the impact of energy is not sustainable (and I would argue not ethical).
It is good to see PA address important issues regarding waste water treatment, public land use, and safety related to abandoned mines (all of which are in the regulations). So, regardless of whether the new regulations in PA are energy policy or environmental policy, they appear to be good policy for the state.
After thinking a bit more about my post yesterday on Energy Policy and Transitions, I realized that the US may be in the middle of a transition, due to the sudden discovery of a large reserve of shale gas.
According to a New York Times story published in August 2013, “By 2020, new oil and gas production could increase the country’s economic output by 2 to 4 percent beyond what it otherwise would be, add as many as 1.7 million jobs and perhaps reduce the bill for energy imports to zero, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute.”
Another study found that the Cost of Natural Gas Used in Manufacturing Sector Has Fallen due primarily to the increase in availability through shale extractions.
However, the benefits of shale gas need to be balanced with the environmental risks that fracking brings. Many advocacy groups have raised concerns about air and water pollution as a result of the extraction process. Careful consideration of these potential consequences is needed in the creation of reasonable energy policy.