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Monday, January 28, 2013

Energy from Shale: The Hydrofracturing Controversy: A Compendium



Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing this vital resource. There are questions whether hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment.

This 227-page Compendium opens with an examination of energy policy issues facing the 113th Congress. The ensuing sections cover a myriad of issues directly and tangentially related to hydraulic fracturing. Activated hyperlinks within those documents steer you to scores of additional documents focusing on hydrofacturing and related issues.


Date of Report: January 10, 2013
Number of Pages:228
Order Number: C12035
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Energy Policy: 113th Congress Issues



Carl E. Behrens
Specialist in Energy Policy

Energy policy in the United States has focused on three major goals: assuring a secure supply of energy, keeping energy costs low, and protecting the environment. In pursuit of those goals, government programs have been developed to improve the efficiency with which energy is utilized, to promote the domestic production of conventional energy sources, and to develop new energy sources, particularly renewable sources.

Implementing these programs has been controversial because of varying importance given to different aspects of energy policy. For some, dependence on imports of foreign oil, particularly from the Persian Gulf, is the primary concern; for others, the indiscriminate use of fossil fuels, whatever their origin, is most important. The contribution of burning fossil fuels to global climate change is particularly controversial. Another dichotomy is between those who see government intervention as a positive force and those who view it as a necessary evil at best.

Energy policy was an important issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, and there were sharp differences between the positions of President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and between most Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The Obama Administration has vigorously pushed energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, at the same time claiming to encourage development of oil and natural gas resources. President Obama has declared global climate change a major issue. The Romney campaign argued that the Obama Administration has blocked oil and gas development, and declared that so-called green technologies are too expensive to compete in the market. Alternative energy funding, according to Romney, should be concentrated on basic research. On global climate change, Romney acknowledged that human activity contributes to global warming, but claimed there is no consensus on its extent or severity. He opposed unilateral measures that do not include actions by developing countries.

The 112
th Congress did not take up comprehensive energy legislation, but numerous bills were considered on specific energy issues. Several notable bills that passed the House but were not taken up by the Senate were H.R. 4480, aimed at increasing leasing of federal land for oil and gas production; H.R. 2401 and H.R. 3409, which would have limited EPA’s issuance of new emissions restrictions for coal-fired power plants; and H.R. 6213, which would have prohibited the Department of Energy from granting loan guarantees for innovative and renewable energy projects.


Date of Report: January 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: R42756
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Hydropower: Federal and Nonfederal Investment



Kelsi Bracmort
Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

Charles V. Stern
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Adam Vann
Legislative Attorney


The 112th Congress has examined numerous energy sources to determine their contribution to the nation’s energy portfolio and the federal role in supporting these sources. Hydropower, the use of flowing water to produce electricity, is one such source. Conventional hydropower accounted for approximately 8% of total U.S. net electricity generation in 2011. The use and support of hydropower is likely to remain an active issue area for the 113th Congress.

Hydropower has advantages and disadvantages as an energy source. Its advantages include its status as a continuous, or baseload, power source that releases minimal air pollutants during power generation relative to fossil fuels. Some of its disadvantages, depending on the type of hydropower plant, include high initial capital costs, ecosystem disruption, and reduced generation during low water years and seasons.

Hydropower project ownership can be categorized as federal or nonfederal. The bulk of federal projects are owned and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These projects are typically authorized and funded by Congress. Nonfederal projects are licensed and overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Considered by many to be an established and renewable energy source, hydropower is not always discussed alongside clean or other renewable energy sources in the ongoing energy debate due to its potential environmental impacts. However, hydropower proponents argue that hydropower is cleaner than some conventional energy sources, and point to recent findings that additional hydropower capacity could help the United States reach proposed energy, economic, and environmental goals. Others argue that the expansion of hydropower in the form of numerous small hydropower projects could have environmental impacts and regulatory issues similar to those of existing large projects.

The 113
th Congress may face several issues as it addresses how hydropower fits into a changing energy and economic landscape. For example, existing large hydropower infrastructure is aging; many of the nation’s hydropower generators and dams are over 30 years old. Proposed options to address these concerns include increasing federal funding, utilizing alternative financing, privatizing federally owned dams, and encouraging additional small-capacity generators, among other options. Whether to significantly expand or encourage expansion of hydropower is likely to require congressional input due to the uncertainty surrounding the clean and renewable energy portfolio within power markets. Potential expansion of hydropower projects could take place by improving efficiency at existing projects or by building new projects, or both. Another important topic is the rate at which FERC issues licenses for nonfederal projects, which some find slower than ideal. Others defend the licensing process due to the environmental and other statutes with which agencies must comply. Other controversial issues related to hydropower in the current Congress include funding for potential changes to the rate structure of the Federal Power Marketing Administration (PMAs) and federal support for removal of hydroelectric dams. Legislation to address these issues was introduced in the 112th Congress in the House (H.R. 2842 and H.R. 6247) and the Senate (S. 629).


Date of Report: January 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42579
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Electric Power Sector: A Compendium



This Compendium contains a wealth of information on topics including energy tax incentives; energy storage for power grids and electric transportation; privacy and cybersecurity for smart meter data; EPA’s mercury and air toxics standards; lighting industry trends; federal agency authority to contract for electric power and renewable energy supply; potential energy sources qualifying under the Clean Energy Standard; EPA’s proposed rule for cooling water intake structures; and a discussion of whether biopower is carbon neutral.

The electric power industry is in the process of transformation. Since 1978, technology improvements, changes in the economics for generating electricity, and new federal laws and regulations (such as the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, the Energy Policy Acts of 1992 and 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) orders, have created a new competitive landscape for electricity. Competition is occurring on the wholesale level, and some states have moved toward retail competition. Other states have retreated from open markets due to concerns over impacts on power prices. Congress continues to face the issue of how much to intervene to ensure a reliable and affordable supply of electricity throughout the United States.  

The electric utility system is vulnerable to outages due to system operator errors, weather-related damage, terrorist attacks, and shortages of transmission and generating capacity. The blackout of 2003 in the Northeast, Midwest, and Canada highlighted the need for operations improvements and greater standardization of operating rules. Pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, FERC named the North American Electric Reliability Corp. as the electric reliability organization required by the act. The ERO is developing mandatory and enforceable standards for the sector to ensure bulk power reliability.

Another provision in EPACT05 required the Secretary of Energy to study congestion on the transmission system. A competitive bulk power market depends on adequate infrastructure. Transmission systems were developed for limited movements of electricity, not the regional power transfers that have become common. Even though transmission of electricity is considered interstate commerce, siting transmission lines remains the responsibility of the states. EPACT05 gives the Secretary of Energy the federal power of eminent domain to obtain rights-of-ways for transmission lines in designated areas if states do not act to site them. Congress is expected to continue oversight on the implementation of EPACT05.

The electric power sector is dependent on adequate fuel supply. The power system has become increasingly dependent on natural gas to fuel new power plants, raising concerns about dependence on a fuel sometimes viewed as supply-limited and subject to price volatility. The most abundant domestic fossil fuel is coal, but the future use of coal is uncertain due to global warming concerns. Greater use of nuclear power may be constrained by the cost of building new plants and the availability of federal financial supports. One answer may be renewable power, but these technologies are still under development and are dependent on federal financial incentives. The resolution of these types of issues, which raise concerns over what kinds of new power plants should be built and how they should be fueled, may ultimately turn on congressional decisions on climate change.

Date of Report: January 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 424
Order Number: C12012
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Energy Efficiency: A Compendium



The energy crises of the 1970s spurred the federal government, and some state governments, to mount a variety of energy policies to address concerns about oil import dependence, high energy prices, and overall energy security. Since then, additional economic and environmental concerns—especially international competitiveness, air pollution, and climate change—have also driven policy proposals to support efficiency.

As the nation seeks to reduce imported energy and to increase production from “clean” domestic sources, there may continue to be interest in additional federal spending, tax incentives, and regulatory measures to further help overcome market barriers to efficiency measures. Also, any future efforts to create a cap and trade program for greenhouse gas emissions could include auctions of emission credits to generate revenue that could, in part, be used to fund energy efficiency initiatives.

Although energy efficiency measures may often be less costly than new supply, market barriers often prevent measures from being implemented. For example, because home builders do not expect to pay the energy bills, they tend to design building shell features and choose energy-using equipment based on “first cost” rather than “life cycle” cost. As a result, new homes may lack operationally cost effective end-use energy efficiency measures (e.g. thermal windows and a high efficiency furnace). Also, electric utility companies were designed to make profits by selling ever-greater amounts of electricity, instead of providing incentives to customers to reduce demand by improving energy efficiency. To address such barriers, an array of funding, tax incentives, and regulations (primarily equipment efficiency standards) have been enacted to encourage energy efficiency improvements.

Date of Report: January 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 151
Order Number: C12005
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