Energy Policy (12-8-08)

Untitled Document

Energy policy involves many issues of interest to the geoscience community, including resource development on public lands, environmental regulations, climate change, nuclear waste disposal, and research related to fossil fuels and alternative energy resources. In contrast to previous years, Democrats stand at the helm of the 110th Congress. Changes in committee chairmanships, such as California Democrat Barbara Boxer replacing Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee may focus more attention on the effects of energy usage on the environment. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has made it clear that issues such as incentives for the energy industry and climate change will be priorities. General background information on the issues surrounding energy policy is available from several Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports available from the National Library for the Environment.

Recent Action

Obama Promises “New Chapter" in U.S. Leadership on Climate Change
President-elect Obama made a surprise videotaped appearance on November 18, 2008, at the Governors' Global Climate Summit. He commended the governors on their commitment to fight global warming even though “Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership.” Obama promised that his presidency “will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.”

Specifically, Obama pledged to institute a federal cap-and-trade system and to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emission to 1990 levels by 2020, with an additional 80% reduction by 2050. Obama promised to invest $15 billion per year to develop clean energy in the private sector including solar, wind, biofuels, nuclear, and clean coal. In this way, Obama aims to produce 5 million new green jobs.

Part of Obama’s message was directed towards the delegates who will attend the next phase of United Nation negotiations on a new climate treaty in Poznan, Poland, in early December. “Your work is vital to the planet,” he said, promising that once he takes office “the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

Several days after Obama’s speech, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced that she plans to introduce a cap-and-trade bill and legislation providing up to $15 billion per year in grants for alternative energy technology in January. The  EPW Committee will hold a hearing “as soon as possible” at the start of the 111th Congress according to E&E Daily. (11/08)

To view the video clip of Obama’s speech, visit:

Senator Bingaman Outlines Energy Priorities for 111th Congress
In a speech given at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on November 17, 2008, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) outlined his priorities for the 111th Congress as Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Bingaman hopes that a combination of President-elect Obama’s leadership and bipartisan congressional engagement will make possible “real progress” on comprehensive energy policy.

Bingaman believes climate change legislation needs to be “more streamlined than what we have been considering to date” and referred to 10 general principles he has developed. He emphasized the need to focus on preliminary legislation that will “reduce both the complexity and the cost of any eventual cap-and-trade bill.” For example, Bingaman advocated for Congress to move immediately to fund energy technology advances, not to wait for revenues from possible cap-and-trade legislation. Other next steps include creating a national renewable electricity standard, investing in the creation of a “smart and robust national transmission grid,” and pursuing carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

Additional priorities mentioned in the speech include promoting increased efficiency standards in buildings and possibly appliances as well. Bingaman called federal investment in innovation and STEM education “totally inadequate.” He referred to the American COMPETES Act as evidence of bipartisan support in this area and requested a renewed effort by the new Congress. In regards to drilling on the continental outer shelf, Bingaman suggested that the best next step is a comprehensive inventory of offshore resources. The call for such an inventory was included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 but was not sufficiently funded.

A copy of Bingaman’s speech, including the 10 principles, is available at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Website. (11/08)

Federal Rule Making: Last Minute Environmental Actions
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a final rule regarding emergency withdrawals of public land from energy production and mineral extraction to protect natural resources in the December 5, 2008, Federal Register. The rule retains the power of the Department of the Interior Secretary to make emergency withdrawals but limits congressional authority. This rule is related to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s withdrawal of public lands for uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. (11/08)

USGS Assessment of Gas Hydrate Resources in Alaska
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there are 85 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable gas resources within methane hydrates on the North Slope of Alaska. Methane hydrates are ice-like solids that occur naturally under low-temperature, high pressure conditions. The assessment, released on November 12, 2008, was based on existing assessment methodologies for conventional oil and gas resources and the assumption that gas hydrates can be produced using existing technologies. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently working in collaboration with industry to field test production potential of gas hydrates using in the North Slope region. Research so far indicates that conventional oil and gas technologies can be used to extract gas hydrates.

A USGS fact sheet about the assessment is available. A more detailed report describing the assessment will be published by the USGS in the next six months. (11/08)

Minerals Management Service Begins New Offshore Drilling Process
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) announced the beginning of the process to start potentially new offshore drilling at sites at least 50 miles off the coast of Virginia on November 13, 2008. A 45-day public comment period about leasing off of Virginia’s coast will extend until December 29 and that process will be followed by an environmental impact analysis. If the process is allowed to proceed and no potential problems are discovered in the analysis then MMS could start leasing in the area in 2011. MMS estimates that there could be as much as 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the area. Actual drilling and tapping into these resources could take as long as another decade or two, which shows that new offshore drilling, like many other “new” energy resources will take time to develop. Thus policymakers need to consider energy supply and demand in short term and long term strategic planning for the nation and the world.

In addition to the time needed to tap into new offshore resources, the next Congress may choose to re-instate the moratorium on new offshore drilling that lapsed at the end of fiscal year 2008. Some members have called for a new moratorium, however, congressional leadership seems to be open to further consideration of the matter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has expressed interest in letting states decide whether to permit offshore drilling from 50 to 100 miles off of their coasts. Senate Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) declined to suggest any specific action regarding drilling by his committee. Virginia’s governor and state legislature favor offshore drilling off of Virginia and if the next Congress decides to adjust federal policy regarding offshore drilling, the MMS process in Virginia may move forward.

The MMS also announced a five-year plan to allow offshore drilling elsewhere, including off the coasts of California and Florida. Both states have expressed opposition to such drilling and it is unclear how far this plan may go. (11/08)

NRC Committee Meets to Discuss Domestic Energy Options
The National Research Council’s (NRC) Committee on Earth Resources (CER) held a session open to the public entitled “Extractable Energy Resources: Domestic Options for the Next Two Decades” on November 18, 2008. Guest speakers presented on topics including uranium supply and nuclear power, the regulatory status for carbon sequestration at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the offshore leasing process at the Minerals Management Service (MMS), energy resource-related land use of Bureau of Land Management  (BLM) lands, and an economic assessment of the state of petroleum.

In addition, CER members led a discussion with invited guests and other audience members about what the focus of the CER’s future work should be. Suggestions included doing a life cycle analysis of renewable technologies and carbon capture and sequestration to determine how green they truly are, creating a report on workforce issues, and evaluating regulatory structures to determine how they could be streamlined. Another key recommendation was that the CER should be prepared to give an “elevator pitch” to the Obama team to establish themselves as a resource for the next Administration. (11/08)

An agenda for the meeting is available at the NRC website.

Previous Action

Agencies to Issue Multiple New Rules Before the End of Bush Administration
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are set to complete new rules on a wide variety of environmental and public land issues before the end of the Bush Administration. Rules can take a long and difficult path to approval and once implemented can take a long and difficult path to change. Many past administrations go through a flurry of last-minute rule-making before they leave office and the Bush Administration, which has issued more rules and regulations than any previous administration, is in a sprint to complete additional rules before President Bush leaves office. Likely rule changes of note to the geoscience community include the following.

Several changes are likely for the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review that would favor industry and increase pollution. One change would require regulators to determine if utilities undergoing repair and maintenance are emitting more pollution on an hourly basis instead of an annual basis. Using an hourly rate versus an annual rate could make it easier for utilities to comply with pollution limits without upgrading their facilities with expensive pollution reduction infrastructure. EPA estimates the change would lead to about 74 million more tons of emitted carbon dioxide per year. Other changes include allowing “fugitive” emissions, such as leaks from pipes and fittings at petroleum refineries and allowing “batch process facilities” like oil refineries and chemical plants to ignore emissions when determining whether a new source review is needed.

Interior is working on a rule to allow visitors to national parks and wildlife refuges to carry loaded guns and to alter offshore leasing rules for renewable energy generators. The Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to complete changes to the regulations related to the Endangered Species Act. The Office of Surface Mining is working on new rules for mountaintop coal mining related to protections for waterways and to exempt such practices as permanent coal waste disposal facilities.

The Bureau of Land Management hopes to complete rules on issuing leases for commercial oil shale development after Congress allowed a moratorium to expire and to eliminate a regulation that allows for emergency withdrawals of public land from energy or mineral production to protect natural resources. NOAA plans to change rules governing federal fisheries management and perhaps create what would be the world's largest marine wildlife sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean.

Plans and changes are announced in the Federal Register. A summary of Federal Register notices of interest to the geoscience community are included in each monthly review, however, if you would like more timely notice, please visit the daily announcements of the Federal Register. (10/08)

Senate Energy Summit Becomes the Last Stand on Energy Legislation
The 110th Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law in December 2007. The law increases vehicle fuel efficiency standards and provides other conservation, efficiency and alternative energy provisions that legislators thought were missing from the previous major energy law, the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Throughout the second session of the 110th Congress in 2008, legislators discussed and introduced additional energy bills to address continuing energy issues. At first the energy bills were often discussed in relation to climate change legislation and Congress seem prepared to consider energy policy that dealt with climate change.

In the summer, oil prices skyrocketed and the focus switched to supply and demand issues and new offshore oil and gas drilling. A push to end the moratorium on new offshore drilling that is normally part of the Interior appropriations bill caused significant acrimony and shut down the appropriations process. On September 17, the House approved a bill (H.R. 6899) that would expand offshore drilling and incentives for alternative energy. Then a “gang of 10” senators proposed compromise legislation that would allow some more offshore drilling combined with more funding for alternative energy. The gang grew to a super gang of as many as 22 senators and seemed to be gaining momentum in early September.

With the support of Senate leadership, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an unusual all-day energy summit on September 12, 2008. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed their support for the summit and compromise legislation in their opening remarks. Afterwards, Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) led a bipartisan discussion between as many as 20 senators and two panels of witnesses.

There was consensus among the witnesses that a successful energy plan must be comprehensive. Suggested components included large scale modernization of the power grid, setting an economy-wide price for carbon, development of clean coal and carbon sequestration technologies, and energy-use revenue decoupling policies to make people more aware and conservative in their energy use. Panelists urged the U.S. to diversify energy sources, including geothermal and an expansion of nuclear power use. Many witnesses were particularly in favor of reducing energy demand through efficiency and thus reducing the amount of all energy resources needed in the future. Long-term planning and steady funding support for energy research and development (R&D) were consistently suggested to help the U.S. deal with our energy challenges and avoid recurring crises in the future. Ideas for practical “quick fixes” included imposing a 50 mile per hour speed limit on highways, smart metering, and education for small and medium-sized businesses about what they can do to save energy.

There was unanimous agreement among panelists that drilling will be an important facet of any energy solution. The world is 85-90 percent dependent on fossils fuels and one panelist explained that “eliminating those fuels any time soon is impossible as we currently have nothing to replace them at scale.” At the very least, drilling for oil in a selective and environmentally sound manner is important to support our transition to alternative energy sources and greater efficiency. Corporate leaders testified about the ability of the U.S. oil industry to respond to a demand for increased domestic production and about the needs of other industries in relation to possible future energy plans.

Although Senate Majority Leader Reid hoped the summit would lead to action in the Senate before the close of Congress, no bill has been introduced.

Click here for a more detailed summary of the energy summit.

Witness testimony and a webcast of the energy summit are available here. (9/08)

Bipartisan Energy Legislation Prepared for Congress’ Return
Prior to the August break, Congress was locked in a heated energy debate, each party trying to pass its own energy legislation.  The lack of agreement prevented any legislation from passing .  In preparation for Congress’ return in September, a bipartisan group in each chamber has been preparing a member-driven comprehensive energy bill that will require concessions from both parties. 

The Senate “Gang of 10” is led by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).  The other eight members are Senators John Thune (R-SD), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Blanche Lincoln (D-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Mark Pryor (D-AK).   

The House working group includes thirteen members.  The eight republicans are: Representatives Rob Bishop (UT), Shelly Moore Capito (WV), Robin Hayes (NC), Timothy Murphy (PA), John Peterson (PA), Henry Brown (SC), Thelma Drake (VA), and Dan Burton (IN).  The five democrats are: Tim Walz (MN), Gene Green (TX), Nick Lampson (TX), Jim Costa (CA) and Neil Abercrombie (HI).

Both working groups have yet to formally release their bills and have continued to negotiate the terms over the August recess.  It is speculated that both the House and Senate bills will open up parts of the outer continental shelf (OCS), but that the federally controlled leases will be at least 50 miles offshore.  The bills will also put large amounts of money into conservation and renewable fuels programs.  The House bill will probably put 40% of the leasing revenues towards those programs and split the rest between the federal and state governments.  The Senate bill proposes putting $80 billion towards alternative transportation fuel and conservation measures with $30 billion coming from the oil revenues.

The all encompassing bills hope to garner support from otherwise staunch opponents to offshore drilling.  For one, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has avidly opposed drilling off the coast of California since she was elected in 1987, and as the Speaker, has prevented any offshore drilling votes on the House floor.  However, during the August recess she stated that while she still opposes offshore drilling, she would permit a vote on ending the ban as long as it was part of a comprehensive energy package that includes conservation and renewable energy initiatives and withdrawals from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. 

The concern for Democrats is that Republicans will push for drilling amendments to be added to the appropriations bills.  It is expected that a continuing resolution (CR) will be needed to fund the government next year.  As debate is postponed on the Department of the Interior Appropriations bill and Republicans threaten to use those bills as a battleground for the OCS drilling debate, there is concern of a government shut-down if a CR does not get passed.  Though a shut-down is highly unlikely, the necessity of passing a CR and coming to an agreement in the energy debate has bolstered support for the bipartisan initiatives.  (08/08)

Bush Lifts Ban on Offshore Drilling
On July 14, 2008 President George W. Bush lifted the 18-year-old executive ban on expanding offshore drilling, a ban that was put in place by his father, President George H.W. Bush.  Last month, the President asked Congress to lift their ban, saying he would then lift the executive moratorium.  Congress resisted his request, causing President Bush to move ahead without lawmakers.  The move does not completely open up the continental shelf to drilling, since Congress continues to renew a separate ban as part of the Department of the Interior (DOI) appropriations bill as they have done since the early 1980s. However, now the President can accuse Congress of blocking oil and gas exploration because, as he said, “Now the ball is squarely in Congress' court.”

The move is viewed as highly political, adding more pressure to an already intense energy battle consuming Congress.  With increasing prices at gasoline pumps and calls to become less reliant on foreign oil, the option of offshore drilling has been gaining political and public support.  In recent polls, the majority of the public is in favor of offshore drilling.  Even Democrats who have been staunchly opposed in the past are working on measures to open up offshore leases, or at least pass legislation showing their support of domestic production.  Still, Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate remain adamant about upholding the ban. They note that new leases will not reduce current gas prices and companies already have leases they are not pursuing.  The debate has become so contentious that it has brought progress on individual appropriation bills to a stand still in both chambers. 

The Democrats continue to push bills aimed at curbing energy speculation and extending tax credits for renewables while Republicans try to add amendments on offshore drilling, oil shale, and coal-to-liquids.  If the DOI appropriations bill is delayed past the end of the fiscal year in September and a continuing resolution fails to be signed, then the President’s executive order could allow drilling in the outer continental shelf (OCS).  The stalled negotiation over energy legislation is garnering attention from the “Gang of 10,” a bipartisan group advocating a plan that would require concessions from both sides.  Their proposed plan calls for relaxed leasing bans on the OCS, repealing oil industry tax breaks and funding major investments in renewable energy and conservation. The gang is planning to draft a bill over the August recess, which they hope to move on the Senate floor in September. (07/08)

USGS Releases Assessment of Oil and Gas in the Arctic
On July 23, 2008 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released an assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle of which 84 percent occurs in offshore areas.  The estimates of 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were determined using a geology-based probabilistic methodology and account for 13 and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources, respectively. The study included resources considered technically recoverable using existing technologies, but did not include economic factors, the presence of permanent sea ice or oceanic water depth in the determination. 

Brenda Pierce, a USGS scientist involved in the assessment, indicated that after the release of the World Petroleum Assessment in 2000, USGS realized a large part of the world, the Arctic, which covers about 6 percent of the Earth’s surface, was missing from the estimate. The four-year effort, resulting in the first map of Arctic sedimentary basins, drew upon research and data from Canada, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Arctic assessment presented challenges due to a lack of data for the region and as Donald Gautier, USGS geologist and lead for the assessment project, said the study would not have been possible if not for the “generous help from a number of international organizations and individuals.”

USGS officials noted that this is an inventory of resources and not a call for increased drilling activities.  “Before we can make decisions about our future use of oil and gas and related decisions about protecting endangered species, native communities and the health of our planet, we need to know what's out there,” said USGS Director Mark Myers. “With this assessment, we're providing the same information to everyone in the world so that the global community can make those difficult decisions.” 

For more information on the USGS Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal and to see the results of the assessment, please visit (07/08)

Energy Bill Driven Into Law

After clearing Congress with large majorities, the Energy Independence and Security Act (H.R. 6) was driven to the White House in a hybrid vehicle to garner the President's signature. President Bush signed the measure into law (Public Law 110-140) without hesitation on December 19, 2007. The major component of the bill is a requirement to raise corporate average fuel economy standards for cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The measure includes incentives to help the U.S. auto industry reach these standards. Other key components include a requirement to use 36 billion gallons annually of biofuels by 2022, phase-out the incandescent light bulb in four to six years and more appliance and federal building efficiency targets.

The final measure does not include a requirement for utilities to use more renewable energy or a tax package that would have expanded tax incentives for the renewable energy industry and increase the taxes on large oil companies to offset the costs. Democratic leaders have pledged to continue to consider these items in future legislation.

The energy measure also includes authorization of funds for research and development (R&D), some of it in the geosciences. The House Science Committee, whose members were heavily involved in this part of the legislation, put out a press release summarizing the science in the bill.

The press release states "The bill directs new investments in solar energy, ocean and wave energy, and new geothermal technologies that can be deployed in every part of the country. It significantly expands research into biofuels, so that we realize the potential of new fuels like cellulosic ethanol. In addition, this bill will help advance energy storage technologies that are critical to more widespread use of renewable electricity and advanced batteries for vehicles. Finally, and importantly, this bill provides significant increased investment in technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, helping to ensure that we can continue to use our country's vast coal supply in cleaner and more efficient ways."

More details about the energy bill are available from Thomas. (12-26-07) 

Energy Bill Still in Play

Although Congress was on recess at the end of November, congressional staff and members were busy trying to negotiate compromises on an energy bill the Democrats would like to complete in December. The compromises to the Senate and House bills include small changes to fuel efficiency targets, biofuels, and taxes on renewable energy.

For fuel efficiency, congressional negotiators are trying to maintain the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ) target of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 in the original Senate bill, but are being asked to give automakers fuel efficiency credits for flexible-fuel vehicles, consider separate mileage standards for light trucks and cars and give automakers more time to reach the 35 miles per gallon quota.

For biofuels, the request for 3 billion gallons of "advanced biofuels" to come from sources other than corn is being pushed forward from 2016 to 2013 in the hope of easing corn prices and in recognition of advances in biofuel research. Four items in the original bills appear unlikely at this time to be included in the final bill in order to garner enough votes for passage. The four include a requirement for utilities to use minimum amounts of renewable energy, a rollback of the oil industry's share of a tax break for manufacturers, a measure to recover oil royalties lost in the late 1990s and an extension of tax breaks for renewable energy.

CAFÉ standards have not been changed since they were introduced in the mid-1970s. An energy bill that includes new CAFÉ standards would be a major accomplishment in the politically rarefied air around Capitol Hill. (12-11-07)

InterAcademy Council Releases Energy Report

The InterAcademy Council Board is composed of presidents of fifteen academies of science and equivalent organizations-representing Brazil, Chile, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the African Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) and others. On October 22, 2007, the InterAcademy released a report entitled "Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future"
The report, commissioned by the governments of Brazil and China, identifies and details the scientific consensus framewok for directing global energy development, by laying out the science, technology and policy roadmap for developing energy resources to drive economic growth in both developed and developing countries while also securing climate protection and global development goals.

Below is a brief summary of the report taken from the council's web site:
The report was produced by a study panel of 15 world-renowned energy experts, co-chaired by Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the United States, and José Goldemberg, former Secretary of State for the Environment for the State of São Paulo, Brazil.

"Lighting the way" establishes the best practices for a global transition to a clean, affordable and sustainable energy supply in both developing and developed countries. The report addresses incentives that can accelerate the development of innovative solutions, provides recommendations for financial investments in research and development and explores other transition pathways that can transform the landscape of energy supply and demand around the globe.

In addressing mitigation of the environmental impacts of energy generation and use, "Lighting the way" informs global action on climate change, such as implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, agenda setting for the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, and ongoing multinational talks on future global action to reduce greenhouse emissions.
"Lighting the way" also confronts the unequal access to energy experienced by the one-third of the world's population without access to basic energy services, and makes recommendations for addressing this disparity as well as for promoting national and global energy security.

The full report is available online. (11-19-07)

National Academies Releases Its Future of Coal Report June 20, 2007

On June 20, 2007 the Committee on Coal Research, Technology and Resource Assessments to Inform Energy Policy released a prepublication version of their report. The final version which will include minor editing will be available to the public from the National Academies web site in August to September.

Senators Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) requested the Academies to examine coal research and development (R&D) for the entire fuel cycle with emphasis on "upstream" R&D such as the mining, processing and transport of coal. They also ask the committee to highlight any stumbling blocks to increase coal production and to develop a national coal R&D strategy for the next 25 years. In 2005 the federal government spent $538 million on coal R&D but over 90% of the funding went to "downstream" R&D such as utilization and transmission.

According to the committee, coal accounts for about 23% of total U.S. energy use and about 50% of U.S. electricity generation. About 92% (1.1 billion tons) of the coal mined every year is used for electricity generation. Conversely, industrial and commercial use of coal has steadily declined for the past 50 years. The committee noted that the outlook for coal use will depend on several factors such as carbon dioxide emission policies adopted in the future, future electricity demand, and availability of alternate energy sources. It is because of this uncertainty that the committee estimated that by 2020, the use of coal could grow by 25% above 2004 levels or decline by 15% below 2004 levels. Estimates beyond 2020 become even more unclear; in 2030, projections of coal demand could grow from 70% above or 50% below 2004 levels. However, the committee was confident that coal use would increase in the U.S. and other countries such as India and China would have the largest increase in consumption up through 2020.

The committee provided an estimate of coal reserves in the United States. The country has sufficient coal through 2030 at current consumption rates and will probably have enough coal for 100 years. The committee was unable to determine whether the often quoted "250 year supply of coal" projected by Energy Information Administration (EIA) was viable.

Based on their coal reserve estimates, the committee recommended that a coordinated effort between states, industry, and government agencies to provide a "comprehensive accounting of national coal reserves within the next 10 years." The current reserves estimates are based on studies done in 1974 and more recent small area surveys suggest that only a small fraction of estimated reserves are reachable with current mining techniques. The committee further recommended that the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) be the lead agency in this effort. The committee estimated that this study would cost $10 million per year for 10 years. Additionally the committee also recommended that the USGS conduct an assessment of the nation's carbon capture resources and that an additional $10 million per year be spent for 5 years to conduct this research.

As the easily mined coal is exhausted, mining will become more challenging and hazardous. The committee stated that mines will probably have to go deeper, increasing the risk of collapses and exposure to toxic or explosive gases. The committee recommended that an additional $35 million be spent to reduce exposure to hazardous conditions and improve worker training. They recommended that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health be the lead agency.

The committee also recommended increased spending for improved environmental protection and land reclamation. Acid mine drainage and hill top removal are among some of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed. The committee recommended an additional annual funding of $60 million for R&D research and that the Office of Surface Mining be the lead agency in conducting this research.

Mine productivity over the last 3 decades of the 20th century improved by two to three times, but in recent years improvements have been incremental. The committee suggested this might be correlated with the minimal amount of federal funding (0.2 percent of total coal R&D) for mining technologies over the past decade. Therefore the committee called for $30 million annually from federal funding as well as $30 million annually from non-federal funds to support advanced coal processing and optimization of coal resources. The Office of Fossil Energy at the Energy Department would serve as the lead agency for this research.

Taking into account all of the committee's recommendations an additional $144 million would be spent on "upstream" R&D funding bringing the total spending up from $46 million per year to $190 million per year. Coal will be a major source of energy in this country for at least the next few decades, so it is essential to have a thorough assessment of coal resources, improved technologies for efficient, safe and environmentally sensitive extraction and improved methods for environmental protection and reclamation after the mining is done.

A press release from the National Academies about the report is available here.

The prepublication version of the report is available here. (7/9/07)

National Geographic and the Norwegian Embassy: World Environment Day Conference June 5, 2007

The theme for this year's United Nations (UN) World Environment day was "Melting Ice - a Hot Topic." The Norwegian Embassy along with the National Geographic Society held a conference at the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington D.C. to draw attention to the effects of climate change on the Arctic environment and future options for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to Dr. Robert Corell, Director of Global Change at the John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and Environment, CO2 levels are the highest they have ever been in the past 600,000 years. Evidence of this comes from frozen gas bubbles buried deep in Antarctic ice which provide a paleoclimate model of Earth's atmosphere. Right now CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is about 385 ppm, which is causing an increase of absorbed solar energy which is warming Earth, melting glaciers, and causing a rise in sea level. Will Steger, a polar explorer, said that the Larsen A and B ice shelf breakup that took place between January and March of 2002 is evidence of rapid global warming. The mass melting of glaciers could cause serious concerns with respect to sea level rise. Steger stated that if the glaciers on Greenland melted, global sea level would go up by 24 feet, causing severe consequences for coastal cities across the globe.

Other dangers exist besides sea level rise. In the summer, the sun melts the first few inches of permafrost in the Arctic tundra; beneath the permafrost are billions of tons of methane. Should the overlying permafrost melt, it would cause a release of methane into the atmosphere which would not only accelerate the rate at which solar heat is trapped but also cause serious local environmental concerns. At the present rate of warming, in 50 years 50% of the permafrost would be gone and in 100 years about 90% would be gone. The melting of permafrost and sea ice is accelerated by the actual melting process; earth and water absorb more solar energy as opposed to ice which reflects the majority of solar heat back into space. In the Arctic sea, the summer ice minimum has decreased by 20% and there is less recovery every year. This has caused serious problems for coastal communities. In the past coastal communities were protected by the build up of sea ice barriers from the harsh pounding of the sea. Since these barriers have melted it has caused the punishing waves to completely obliterate some of these communities to the point where they are uninhabitable or they simply do not exist anymore.

Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Congressman John Larson (D-CT) were also in attendance at the conference. Both stated that the world is at a tipping point; the choices made today can destroy the environment and ruin the economy or these choices can mitigate the effects of climate change and provide humanity with sustained economic growth. Both noted many solutions being worked on by Congress to address climate change and reduce reliance on foreign oil, such as increased use of biofuels, deployment of carbon capture technology for electric power plants, creating a low carbon fuel standard bill and improving the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. An audience member inquired as to whether Congress has considered the effects of ethanol on fresh water supply. Inslee made the analogy that today's biofuels are much like that of the Wright brothers' airplane; this is the first step and while it does provide some improvements to addressing energy and climate issues the development of better technologies will continue. Larson added that the U.S. has everything it needs to start addressing climate change; it is simply a matter of government will to ensure that these mitigation measures take place.

The government of Norway has taken a lead in several climate change mitigation measures. Ambassador of Norway Knut Vollebaek stated that his country is committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 30% by 2030 and further reduce emissions by 80% in 2050. Norway plans to accomplish this goal with the help of carbon capture sequestration (CCS) technology. Currently Norway has three CCS projects underway: Mongstad project, Shell/Statoil (CO2 in this project is being used for enhanced oil recovery) and the Kårstø project. These programs will help develop cheaper CCS technology which other countries can model similar programs after. The success of future programs will also depend on a tax on carbon of about $25 per metric ton. Norway hopes to deploy full scale commercial CCS technology by 2014.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Greenhouse Gas R&D Program, CCS technology started in the 1970's when oil companies began injecting CO2 into reservoirs for enhanced oil recovery. In this process oil is pushed towards the well and the CO2 remains safely and securely in the ground. In fact the best storage areas of CO2 are depleted oil and gas fields, because their geology is well known. Suitable geologic conditions include a porous permeable reservoir (sandstone or limestone) with an impermeable layer or cap rock above typically shale and a known structural or stratigraphic trap. Deep saline aquifers are another avenue for CO2 storage, however, the geology of saline formations is not as well understood as depleted oil fields and continued research into saline aquifers is needed. CO2 stays underground for several reasons: first, as the CO2 is pumped down into the reservoir it becomes a liquid under higher pressure. This causes much of the CO2 to become stuck within the pore spaces, known as residual trapping. However, CO2 is more buoyant than water and some of the CO2 will rise up to the top of the formation where it will be stopped by an impermeable layer of rock. As time passes the storage becomes even more secure as the CO2 reacts with salt water. The CO2 dissolves in the salt water, making it heavier than the water around it; this causes the water with CO2 to sink to the bottom of the formation. This process is known as dissolution trapping. The dissolution of CO2 in water forms weak carbonic acid and this can react with surrounding minerals, forming new minerals that coat the rock grains thus binding the CO2 to the reservoir.

The list of potential sites for CCS is vast, with suitable locations on every continent capable of holding hundreds of years' worth of CO2. This technology is proven, and it can greatly reduce the amount of future CO2 emissions which cause global warming. However, laws and regulations need to be set in place to allow for full commercial deployment of CCS, and the proper commercial framework needs to be developed if this technology is going to be economically viable. (6/22/07)

Fuel Economy Standards Addressed in Senate
On May 8, 2007, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted to increase automotive fuel-economy standards and allow federal prosecution of oil price gouging that occurs during emergencies. The bill (S.357) would increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, with a four percent annual increase in the standard in subsequent years. Both cars and light trucks would be subject to these requirements, while larger vehicles such as buses would be exempt.

Maria Cantwell (D-WA) proposed an amendment to allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and prosecute price gouging following national disasters. Concerns were raised about the amendment that will be addressed further in a June floor debate. "This bill is not perfect, but it's a constructive step towards addressing our nation's energy crisis and reducing our dependence on foreign oil," said Ranking Member Ted Stevens (R-AK). He expressed concern that Cantwell's amendment could hurt small, independent gas stations in the wake of emergencies. The bill was also criticized by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who raised concerns about harming auto manufacturers, saying it would be unwise to force companies "to make incremental improvements to meet an arbitrary standard set by the Congress."

The committee did not address environmentalists' concerns that a provision in the compromise could allow the Transportation Department to delay the new CAFE standards if it determines that they are not "cost effective." Under the bill, the department could assess numerous factors in making such a determination, including increased prices for consumers, health and environmental factors and national security issues related to oil imports. (6/18/07)

Advanced Energy Agency Measure Gains Momentum
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced the Energy Research Act of 2007, or S. 696, in late February. The bill establishes an Advanced Research Projects Administration-Energy (ARPA-E) to initiate high risk, innovative energy research to improve the energy security of the United States. Aimed at reducing foreign energy imports and improving the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, the bill promotes revolutionary changes in the critical technologies that would promote energy competitiveness, brings cutting-edge science and engineering to the market, and encourages greater innovation in energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.

The full text and summaries of all bills are available from Thomas. (04-10-07)

Energy Policy Propels Geoscience into the Congressional Spotlight
Like the climate change debate, the 110th Congress is also keenly focused on energy policy and in many cases the two are intimately coupled in discussions and proposed legislation. Congress held multiple hearings across many different committees about energy policy and considered measures to diversify the nation's energy portfolio, improve efficiency and conservation, reduce the nation's demand for imported fossil fuel products, reduce the environmental impacts of energy use, improve global energy security and enhance research and development to meet future energy needs. Many of these measures will require geoscientific information and help from geoscientists and engineers working in applied geoscience fields.

Among the many energy hearings, the House Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development February 28 hearing on "A Ten Year Energy Outlook" was particularly informative. Guy Caruso, the Energy Information Administrator was the first witness and he reviewed the recently released Annual Energy Outlook, 2007. After summarizing some pessimistic numbers about future energy demands, he told the committee he wanted to end his testimony on "a note of optimism" which drew faint laughter. He then noted that EIA's energy outlook in the 1970s had projected energy use in 2006 that was at least 50% off the mark, so future projections for 2030 might also be too high. Caruso was followed by Jim Wells, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Wells was very pessimistic as he presented the results of a GAO report entitled "Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs". He indicated that the Energy Department's research and development (R&D) has been a failure since 1978 because the nation has not reduced its dependence on fossil fuels by any significant fraction. He concluded that cheap energy is now gone and the future will be "unsettling" for consumers.

The second panel of 6 witnesses focused on a ten year outlook for energy R&D. All of the witnesses agreed that the federal government and the private sector in the U.S. was not spending enough on R&D. They also agreed that the U.S. needs to consider a diverse energy portfolio to meet future demand and that all energy resources should be adequately supported with R&D funds because all of these resources will be needed now and in the future. Professor Daniel Kammen from the University of California, Berkeley documented a disturbing decrease in energy R&D spending by the government and the private sector. He noted that the U.S. invests about $1 billion less in energy R&D than it did a decade ago. All of the representatives who attended the hearing, including the Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) and Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH) agreed that energy R&D spending should be increased and their committee would like to support appropriate increases for energy R&D.

The EIA Energy Outlook for 2007 is available at:

The GAO report on energy R&D is available at their web site

President's State of the Union Addresses Energy and Climate
In his seventh State of the Union Address, President Bush presented the nation with an ambitious new energy plan that focuses on increasing fuel economy and alternative fuel availability, stating that the nation's dependency on foreign oil "leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could…do great harm to our economy." Coining a new catch phrase, President Bush urged Americans to "reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next ten years." Such a reduction would, the Administration claims, allow the United States to cut total imports by about three-quarters of the oil now imported from the Middle East.

Achieving the President's "twenty in ten" goal, however, demands a dramatic increase in the availability of alternative energy sources. The President challenged lawmakers and private industry to replace 15 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption with alternative fuels by 2017. "It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply, and the way forward is through technology," he said. He also asked Congress to reform Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and to extend the current light truck rule, which would reduce the projected annual gasoline use by 20 percent. The President also asked Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels by 2027, a move that would provide approximately 97 days of net oil import protection.

And in historic break from his past reluctance to acknowledge climate change pressures, the Present asserted that his energy plan will "help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change."

In his rebuttal, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) noted that "this is the seventh time the president has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from energy independence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternative energy programs." In their joint statement, Senator Reid and Representative Pelosi commended the President's goals for energy independence and commented that "we now must get straight to work on a real national energy policy."

Repeal of Oil and Gas Tax Incentives
On January 18th, the House passed the Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act of 2007, or the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007 (H.R.6), in a 264 to 163 vote. Part of Congress's first 100 hours, this legislation is designed to reduce the nation's dependency on foreign oil by investing in clean, renewable, and alternative energy resources.

The bill, which has yet to pass the Senate, would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to repeal tax incentives for domestic oil and natural gas production. It would also require companies to renegotiate 1998 and 1999 leases in the Gulf of Mexico that lack price thresholds triggering royalty payments. According to a Platts Inside Energy article, Democrats have estimated that the value of the bill to federal coffers would be about $14 billion. This money would be directed to a "strategic energy efficiency and renewable energy reserve," which would be made available to "offset the cost of subsequent legislation" geared toward the research and development of clean renewable energy technologies.

Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) said "We will begin to move in a new, clean direction on energy and put an end to the free ride that big oil has had under the Bush Administration and this bill is a beginning. It is the beginning of a change in direction, away from subsidizing an industry that doesn't need extra financial incentives, and towards the technologies that do need a helping hand."

The bill, however, does not have widespread support. Although 36 Republicans voted in favor of H.R.6 in the House, it is expected to encounter significant opposition from the rest of the Republican Party. Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL) has voiced his opposition to the bill, saying it "will raise energy prices for American consumers, stifle domestic energy production, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy."

Research and Development to Meet Future Energy Needs
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a 73-page report on "Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs" in December 2006 and the report was posted online in January. The summary starts with a very stark historical budget fact "DOE's total budget authority for energy R&D dropped by over 85 percent (in real terms) from 1978 to 2005, peaking in the late 1970s but falling sharply when oil prices returned to lower levels in the mid-1980s. "

The GAO examined the (1) R&D funding trends and strategies for developing advanced energy technologies, (2) key barriers to developing and deploying advanced energy technologies, and (3) efforts of the states and six selected countries to develop and deploy advanced energy technologies. The GAO also spoke with DOE officials and scientists and stakeholders outside of DOE. The report concludes that Congress should consider stimulating a more diversified energy portfolio by focusing R&D funding on advanced energy technologies.

The full report is available online as a pdf at:


Energy policy, a hot topic on Capitol Hill, has become coupled with the issue of climate change as policymakers focus attention on fuel efficiency and renewable energy options. In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush introduced the Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI), which provides for a 22-percent funding increase for clean-energy technology research at the Department of Energy. The goal of AEI is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy and transform the national energy economy by promoting the development of cleaner sources of electricity production. The President's 2008 budget request includes $2.7 billion to advance the AEI, a 26 percent increase above the FY 2007 request of $2.1 billion, and 53 percent above FY 2006.

A year later, in his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush presented the nation with an ambitious new energy plan that focuses on increasing fuel economy and alternative fuel availability, stating that the nation's dependency on foreign oil "leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could…do great harm to our economy." President Bush urged Americans to "reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next ten years." Achieving the President's "twenty in ten" goal, however, demands a dramatic increase in the availability of alternative energy sources. The President challenged lawmakers and private industry to replace 15 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption with alternative fuels by 2017.

The Energy Information Administration, however, projects that fossil fuels will remain the nation's primary source of energy for decades. The Gulf of Mexico and the outer continental shelf (OCS) have received a lot of attention in recent months as policy-makers debate opening up more area to drilling for oil and natural gas. The mismanagement of royalties from offshore oil and natural gas leases in 1998 and 1999 has also received congressional attention. Leases made during these years omit essential price threshold language that triggers royalty payments to the federal government. As of January 2007, the omission has caused a revenue loss of about $1 billion for the federal government. If left uncorrected, the mistake could cost the Treasury about $10 billion.

Nevertheless, in August 2006, the 109th Senate voted to pass the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (S.3711) which would open 8.3 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas drilling. The bill now needs to be reconciled with the much broader House bill, the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act (DOER, H.R. 4761). The House bill would lift the 25-year moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas off most of the U.S. coastline. States have the option to maintain the offshore drilling ban within 100 miles of their coastlines.

Congress has also moved to address the growing demand for scientists and skilled employees in the energy industries. Within the House bill, part of the federal revenue generated from offshore drilling royalties would fund the Energy and Mineral Schools Reinvestment Fund Act (EMSRA). Funds would be distributed to petroleum, mining, applied geology and geophysics schools to support education and research and to encourage the growth of professionals in the energy workforce. Additional funds would be available for K-12 science education. H.R. 4761 would also establish the National Geo Fund to fund geologic mapping, geophysical and other seismic studies, earthquake monitoring programs, and preservation and use of geologic and geophysical data.

Addition information on energy legislation in the 109th Congress is available at

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily, Greenwire, House of Representatives, Library of Congress, and Government Accountability Office.

Contributed by Erin Gleeson, AGI/AAPG Spring 2007 Intern, Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, Paul Schramm, AGI/AIPG Summer 2007 Intern and David McCormick, AGI/AIPG Summer 2007

Background section includes material from AGI's Energy Policy Overview for 109th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 8, 2008.