Energy Policy in the Age of Emergency Governance
New White Paper from Sharon Jacobs and Ari Peskoe
We live in an age of governance by emergency. In February, President Trump declared a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border after lawmakers repeatedly denied his funding requests. Next, he declared a national economic emergency to prevent U.S. firms from doing business with the Chinese technology company Huawei. Most recently, he invoked a national emergency to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan without Congressional authorization.
These invocations are each significant. But they are also piecemeal, making them even more dangerous than a more comprehensive power grab. Each individual emergency declaration may appear justifiable, or at least insufficiently threatening to warrant dramatic response. Before long, however, we may find that the executive has come to rely on emergency invocation as a tool of governance in peacetime.
We fear that the electricity industry may be next in line for governance by emergency. Since early 2017, the Administration has sought to support certain unprofitable coal (and sometimes nuclear) power plants. The Administration’s justifications for bailing out decades-old power generators are a moving target, and have included reliability, a nebulous concept called “resilience,” and, most recently, national security.
Make no mistake: power system reliability is vitally important, and the electric system must be able to recover from both routine and extraordinary shocks. We do not deny that natural disasters and physical- or cyber-attacks are real threats. Our disagreement is with the Administration’s flirtation with statutory emergency authorities to remake the energy system.
In a jointly authored paper released today, we make two primary arguments. First, the electric power sector is not in crisis. Despite recent closures of coal-fired power plants, interstate power networks operate reliably, and the nation has more than enough generation capacity to meet demand. A mix of federally regulated market rules and reliability standards, including standards related to physical and cyber security, as well as industry protocols and state oversight, keeps the system in balance.
Second, we argue that statutory emergency authority in the energy space is highly circumscribed. We look at four statutes: the Federal Power Act, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, the National Energy Act of 1978, and the Defense Production Act. With respect to the first three statutes, emergency authorities may only be invoked in the face of an actual threat to the grid. These statutes permit a narrow range of actions tied to the particular emergency, and their authorities terminate upon the emergency’s end (or, in some cases, sooner). The Defense Production Act enables government subsidy of private sector goods and services, but only where deemed critical to national defense.
One thing is clear: these statutes are not roving licenses to advantage particular types of generation. Over the past two years, the Trump Administration has attempted to invent a crisis in order to funnel support to ailing coal-fired generators. Its rationales are unrelated to the public interest and unsupported by the government’s own research. Most recently, Secretary Perry has suggested that multiple statutory authorities might be combined to achieve these ends. But as we explain in the paper, addition of these statutory authorities does not create anything greater than the sum of their parts.
Lawmakers, regulators, and industry actors are confronting genuine questions about adapting the power system to modern challenges, from introducing greater levels of renewable generation to mitigating climate impacts. These complex challenges are properly dealt with in the context of existing reliability frameworks and established stakeholder processes. They are not the sort of questions that lend themselves to effective resolution by reflexive reaction to imagined emergencies.
See the full white paper here: Energy Emergencies vs. Manufactured Crises: The Limits of Federal Authority to Disrupt Power Markets by Ari Peskoe and Sharon Jacobs
Colorado Water Plan
The Getches-Wilkinson Center, in conjunction with many collaborators, has a strong interest in promoting implementation of the Colorado Water Plan (CWP). This entails work on several subjects, including agricultural water conservation and transfers, integrated land and water planning (including watershed planning), and improved Colorado River management. Read the most recent paper: Shepherding Appropriated Water Within Colorado and to Lake Powell for Colorado River Compact Security by Lawrence J. MacDonnell and Anne J. Castle, and visit Western Water Policy Program to find a full list of documents and resources.
Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) within a Human Rights Framework: Lessons from a Suriname Case Study
A report on lessons learned from the Merian Mine prepared by an Expert Advisory Panel, organized by RESOLVE. Read the Case Study.
A Roundtable Discussion on the No-injury Rule
A roundtable discussion featuring a diverse group of expert water jurists, water lawyers, water engineers, state water officials, and academics on Colorado water law and Colorado water policy. The workshop discussed one aspect of the state’s water law that is seen by some as impeding the type of flexibility needed to avoid a crisis-namely the “no-injury rule.” The full article appeared in the July 2015 issue of The Colorado Lawyer. Read more.
Navigating a Pathway Toward Colorado’s Water Future: A Review and Recommendations on Colorado’s Draft Water Plan
In the spring of 2015 the Getches-Wilkinson Center convened a group of renowned water policy experts to conduct a detailed review of the draft of the Colorado State Water Plan, with an emphasis on plan implementation, water management, climate change adaptation, and public water uses. This report reviews the current plan and provides conclusions and recommendations in five areas. Read the Report.