Thursday, August 09, 2012

Not All Energy Permits Are Created Equal

The federal government's approach to permitting new energy projects is always subject to political pressure. What's new in recent years is the continued favor shown to renewable energy even after revelations of financial favoritism and sloppy due diligence.  The administration has fast-tracked permits for solar and wind energy development.  The good news is that these specific projects are in the West, where sunshine and wind are abundant.  We can at least say that they're not putting solar panels on the Alaskan tundra, where the midnight sun probably shines at an uneconomic angle.

The difficulty in praising this development is that the federal government's own research shows that hydrocarbon projects are more bountiful sources of employment and economic growth.  The Department of the Interior touts the 1.5M jobs and $275B in GDP from oil, gas, and mining leases in federally-owned land. That's a hefty chunk of change, so you'd think an argument for speedier permitting on such projects would find an audience more easily than arguments for permitting of renewable energy projects.  Well, think again.  DOI is moving cautiously on offshore drilling leases by not including new regions in its regulatory regime.

I believe federal regulation of energy production should be as agnostic toward sources as technology, geology, and geography will allow.  That means regulatory decisions should be in the hands of scientists and engineers.  This is always too much to ask but I'll ask for it anyway.  I wonder about the cost-benefit analysis behind Uncle Sam's energy permitting process, and whether the benefit is colored by political pressure.