The 2010 Mid-Term Election and How it May Effect Energy Policy
No matter one's political persuasion, it's impossible to deny that the 2010 mid-term elections will have a big effect on American energy policy in the coming years and beyond. Right now, those discussions are being had in our statehouses by lawmakers. Soon, the laws they make will affect all fifty states. Which means as a New Yorker these new laws will translate directly to the numbers on your electric New York bill and the amount you pay for each gallon of gas. With all of the different opinions coming from so many different commentators, there's certainly no consensus as to the exact unfolding of events in the American energy sector. There are, however, strong trends that are worth examining.
In many ways, this election was particularly critical in terms of the future. Legacy technology and fossil fuels still account for the vast majority of our electricity. In the past few years, however, there has been a push to develop viable alternatives to the burning of natural gas and oil. Here in New York this is all true, our New York electricity is mostly powered by fossil feuls and the state has been pushing alternative energy. In order to incorporate solar, wind energy and others into the nation's power grid, state and federal governments must make a commitment to improve infrastructure, allowing these new facilities to be efficiently integrated into the American energy grid. These kinds of projects require money up front, though they result in long-term savings. When the Republicans captured control of the House in 2010, it meant that a true bipartisan effort would be needed to forge a renewable energy plan for the future.
Even though it's slightly more of an environmental and health concern than other kinds of alternative energies, nuclear power received a big boost from the results of the 2010 mid-term election. Many progressives are reluctant to push nuclear power because of the inherent difficulties in storing spent fuel rods and the fear of an accident similar to the one that occurred at Three Mile Island in 1979. Writing for Bloomberg, Jim Efstathiou Jr. and Jim Snyder assert that Republican control of the House means that nuclear power will be much more involved in the discussion. California's Henry Waxman, the current head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will likely cede control to Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who is in favor of increased use of nuclear energy. People on both sides of the aisle recognize that renewable energy must be a part of the future, so it would be nearly impossible to stop the momentum of solar and wind. Nuclear power, however, could have a much more prominent role in the future as a result of the mid-term elections.
A 2009 bill established a "cap and trade" policy for large producers of greenhouse gases. Power plants produce vast quantities of chemicals that can cause problems when these levels are too high. Excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for example, have been blamed by scientists for the increase in global temperatures. In order to curb the effects of climate change, the government turned greenhouse gas emissions into a commodity. When a company or agency needs to emit more greenhouse gases, they must negotiate with others to secure the rights to release the chemicals into the atmosphere. Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Robin Bravender point out that the new Republican-controlled House will be far less eager to engage in these kinds of programs. While environmental groups have been in support of cap-and-trade, many conservatives feel it is an unnecessary burden for business. With the Republicans in control of the House by over forty votes, policies such as cap-and-trade seem at risk.
Hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") is a method by which natural gas can be removed from thick layers of shale buried deeply in the ground. Over the past several years, this method has caused a great deal of controversy, sometimes in municipalities in which the technique has been used. While there are clear environmental concerns that must be addressed when fracking is done, the process indeed results in increased supplies of natural gas. The best part of an increase in the supply, of course, is the tendency for the price of the commodity to decrease. Andrew Maykuth, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, noted that the transition to Republican control in the House meant that the regulation of fracking would be less stringent. (Former advisor to President George W. Bush claimed that future regulation would be "sensible.")
One of the inevitabilities of living in a representative republic like the United States is that opinions will always shift, as will the laws made by those we put in charge. The back-and-forth that will arise as a result of the 2012 mid-term election will likely result in compromise that will allow the country to continue to grow and prosper