Legal Updates

“Balanced Prosperous Energy Future” on Public Lands?

On March 17, 2015, Secretary Jewell presented what was billed as a “major speech” to describe her vision of a “balanced prosperous energy future” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Directly tying the U.S. “energy transformation” to the recovered U.S. economy, she noted, “The energy revolution we experienced in the past six years helped spur the recovery, but it has also been accelerated by the policies our country [read: the Obama Administration] has put in place.”

Secretary Jewell said that since 2008, U.S. oil production grew from 5 million to 9 million barrels per day and U.S. dependence on foreign oil is at the lowest point it has been in more than 30 years. She continued, “The amount of solar energy has increased ten-fold, and wind energy has tripled since 2008 . . . Families are driving farther than ever on a tank of gas . . .These shifts in U.S. energy markets aren’t marginal or temporary: They are tectonic shifts.”

But, she added, “you can’t talk about energy without talking about climate change.” She posed this question to the audience, “How do we modernize our energy programs to anticipate the new energy future?” Her prescription for meeting this challenge is interesting.

According to the Secretary, we “modernize” U.S. energy policy by increased federal regulation of fossil energy and federal promotion of renewable energy. To achieve this energy future, she highlighted these Obama ongoing and new reform efforts:
 Continuation of the 2010 onshore oil and gas leasing reforms that added two new layers of NEPA review before lease sales and reduced annual lease sales in any one state to one a quarter in geographic rotation. Results to date: BLM leasing at an historic low in last 25 years.
 Increased regulations for off-shore oil and gas drilling post-Macondo including: well design, production systems, blowout prevention and well control equipment.
 New fracking rule for oil and gas on federal and tribal lands—out this month.
 New methane controls for onshore oil and gas to cut “emissions and wasted gas that result from venting and flaring.”
 New stream protection regulations for coal mining operations.
 New off-shore oil and gas rule to “raise the bar on blowout preventers and well control measures.”
 New rules for off-shore Alaska oil and gas exploration.
 New reforms of the federal coal program to ensure a “fair return,” to federal and state governments and greater transparency and competitiveness.
 New coal regulations to answer this question: “How do we manage the coal program in a way that is consistent with our climate change objectives?”
 New oil and gas royalty policy – BLM will be taking comments on raising oil and gas royalty rates.
 New inspection fees for oil and gas (Congress needs to okay this request.)
 New legislation to eliminate oil and gas “tax credits and incentives” and invest instead in wind and solar incentives.
 More use of planning efforts like Master Leasing Plans “to open up access to resources in the right places” and close access to oil and gas leasing by “identifying places that are too special to drill.”
 Continue planning and policy efforts to promote on and off-shore renewable energy in order to expedite permitting times for renewable energy.

The Secretary concluded her list of regulatory reforms by stating that as a “grandmother,” she is “determined to make energy development safer and more environmentally sound in the next two years.”
Will this prescription of more federal regulation for fossil energy support the “tectonic shift” in U.S. energy production or act as a brake on the U.S. energy revolution? That is not a difficult question to answer.

Link to text of Secretary Jewell’s remarks: