America's IMBY era for energy

Yet, Obama’s public pledge to accelerate natural gas development is now being undercut by the actions of one of his own agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency announced earlier this month that it’s moving ahead with hydraulic fracturing standards that will almost surely slow shale gas production in the years to come and dissuade new entrants from making major investments. Add this latest hurdle to the administration’s obstacle course for U.S.-based energy projects, from lengthy permit delays for deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the BP accident, to reneging on funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, to the recent decision to deny a permit for the job-creating Keystone XL pipeline.
 

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In my view, this is but the latest outgrowth of the NIMBY movement. “Not in my backyard” has been the mantra of local opponents of energy projects for years, if not decades. What started as a popular outcry by local communities opposed to what they saw as eyesores has been absorbed by the environmental movement. And lest you think NIMBYism is only a problem for incumbent energy producers, I’d refer you to recent setbacks in tapping wind energy off the Massachusetts coast, solar energy in California, and siting renewable energy transmission lines across the country.
 
If we as a nation are truly interested in taking ownership over our energy future, of positioning our economy to create jobs and not subtract them, then what we need is fewer obstacles, not more of them.
 
If we can agree on that basic premise, then America must embrace an IMBY mentality. In this new era of U.S. energy development, cooperation – not divisiveness – will rule the day. Environmental stewardship will be a hallmark of the IMBY era because there will be a clear delineation between projects that should fall under the purview of the federal government and those that should be left to the states. In my view, the federal government has a role – indeed, a responsibility – in ensuring that appropriate public lands are made available to help produce energy in all forms.
 
By all accounts, we have access to natural energy sources – both fossil-based and renewable – that should last us for decades, if not centuries. But that’s how long it’s going to take to tap those sources if the federal government continues at its current sluggish pace for approving the use of public lands. After years of giving the Interior Department more authority to pre-approve public land for energy development, it’s time for them to start identifying the right places. The department’s recently revised plan to open up 17 solar energy zones in the U.S. West is one revision too many, and not near enough considering how much domestic energy potential remains untapped.
 
By contrast, oversight of energy development on privately held land should be left to the states. Few outside the industry understand that hydraulic fracturing has been effectively and efficiently regulated by states for decades. There hasn’t been one confirmed case of groundwater contamination stemming from hydraulic fracturing since it was first employed in 1949. It would be impossible to improve on this safety record, but the EPA wants to give it the old college try anyway.
 
An “all-of-the-above” energy strategy for America cannot and should not mean that we cede the field to other energy producing nations. There are common sense ways to balance smart environmental stewardship with the energy demands of a strong and growing nation. If we want to fulfill America’s enormous promise tomorrow, then we have to take ownership over our energy future today – and there’s no better place to start than in our own backyard.
 
Dickerson, chief operating officer at the U.S. Department of Energy from 2006 to 2008, now serves as lead partner of Haynes & Boone LLP’s clean tech practice group in Houston and host of “The Energy Makers”, a regional radio program and podcast (www.theenergymakers.com).