Debate Over Executive Order Can Prompt New Look at Inconsistent Energy Regulations

Among the flurry of executive orders signed by President Trump in the past two weeks, one pertaining to regulatory oversight has drawn a share of controversy, yet it also opens up a conversation about current regulatory impediments to clean energy development.

The Trump order directs federal agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new regulation they add, “unless prohibited by law.” Furthermore, the order requires that the “total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero,” meaning the cost of any new regulation cannot be more than the combined costs of the two rules that are being repealed.

There is ongoing debate over how the order will be implemented, due to the limitations as to what federal agencies are permitted by law to do. But the subject of regulation has always been one that requires a nuanced conversation. No one should doubt the need for oversight of our natural resources at the local, state and federal levels to assure their integrity, while also protecting the public health and wellbeing.

Still, it is incumbent upon those who enforce those regulations to insure that they are fair, equitable and based on sound science. And while the Trump order may carry big political overtones, it can also serve to address those regulatory issues that seem to run counter to the innovations and clean energy goals they aim to promote.

For example, for the past several years the EPA has operated under the aegis of outdated models and data as it carries out its oversight of ethanol-blended transportation fuels, claiming that the blends actually increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to conventional gasoline. This incorrect assertion stems from an EPA fuel effects study (“EPAct study”) and a vehicular emissions computer model called MOVES2014, both of which have been demonstrably proven again and again to be well behind the findings of more recent studies, and need to be updated. Among the new studies, is one released just last month by USDA showing GHG emissions associated with corn-based ethanol in the United States are about 43 percent lower than gasoline when measured on an energy equivalent basis.

EPA would also do well to recognize higher-octane, lower carbon transportation fuel pathways – specifically those that certify blends of ethanol in the 25-30-percent range, which are viable, near-term solutions for meeting the very aggressive fuel economy and emission targets for model years 2022-2025 cars and light trucks.

USDA, EPA and the Department of the Interior should work with the new Congress and finally standardize the definition of “biomass,” which the congressional General Accounting Office says currently has 14 different regulatory and statutory definitions, a morass that impedes the development of a low-carbon, power-generating resource.

The wind and solar industries, along with the electrical transmission sector, have long lamented the protracted and costly pace of regulatory approval needed to upgrade the nation’s grid. Efforts to get the sanctions to build and operate new transmission lines can take as long as a decade and with a price tag in the billions of dollars. County ordinances, state regulatory agencies and federal government oversight have splintered the process that enables the delivery of clean energy from more remote locations in the nation to areas with high energy demand. Efforts to mediate these issues and harmonize the regulatory authority among the various players should be put on the front policy burner to optimize the benefits of vast new energy sources.

Renewable energy advocates should renew efforts at the local level where zoning laws can put up roadblocks to wind and solar projects, as seen recently in Michigan, where two counties have put wind development on hold pending an effort to sort out local regulations. Similar disputes have arisen in Virginia and North Carolina, as well as an effort that recently failed in Wyoming that would have penalized utility companies for purchasing wind energy.

Attacks by utilities and state legislatures on net-metering continue to consume the time of many state utility regulators, who must be shown the data proving solar rooftop systems do not increase rates for non-solar customers but, in fact, reduces the utility’s grid outlays and reduces public health costs.

The 25x’25 Alliance understands the critical need for regulation at all levels of government. However, we believe that the debate launched by the Trump administration’s executive order aimed at federal regulations can serve as a call to all policy makers to re-examine the rules and standards now on the books and take the action necessary to insure the outcomes they produce result in benefits for the public without crippling the modernization and forward-thinking they should aim to promote and protect.

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