Keeping an Eye on U.S. Environmental Sustainability: An Energy and Climate Policy Update

By Jovita A. Tolbert, National Alliance for Sustainable Communities

An affiliate of NASCSP, the mission of the National Alliance for Sustainable Communities (NASC) is “to create a sustainable future for all Americans.” Learn more at:

Looking Back, Heading Forward

  • The close of 2011 brought with it an end to a number of federal subsidies for renewable energy industries. Many industries are expected to push to have their subsidies reinstated during payroll tax cut negotiations this year. Others, such as ethanol producers, will be working to garner congressional support for policies to expand their markets. More specifically, the ethanol industry is looking to secure mandates for ethanol use as well as policy that will ensure a higher percentage of the product, relative to gas, is used by the nation’s drivers.
  • Some attribute December’s uptick in jobs to energy-related industries. For example, oil and natural gas extraction added 2,600 workers, utilities added 1,200, and 800 workers joined the pipelines workforce.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faced serious opposition last year as congressional opponents sought to curtail its authority. This is expected to occur once again in 2012. Nonetheless, EPA continues to regulate whole industries and pursue actions against individual companies that violate those regulations.

An Overview of the Action

  • The Energy Information Administration has released its Annual Energy Outlook 2012. The report projects rising domestic oil output and falling per capita use. This means U.S. dependence on imported oil may decline by over 1 million barrels per day by 2020.  The report also projects that coal use will shrink to 39 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 25 years. This would be down from 49 percent in 2007. For more information and to view the report, please visit:
  • For those following the Keystone XL oil pipeline developments, a legal analysis by the Congressional Research Service concluded that Congress could approve the Keystone permit that the President rejected earlier this month. The rationale for their conclusion is that a critical piece of the $7 billion project is a hookup from a pipeline that already runs to Cushing, Oklahoma and connects with Texas refineries. This would make Keystone an interstate rather than international project.  Considering the aforementioned, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the House may “attach Keystone approval to a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut that expires February 29th.”
  • The European Union is standing with the U.S., formally approving an embargo of Iranian oil and new sanctions on Iran’s central bank in an effort to push Iran toward new negotiations over its suspected nuclear weapons program. In response, Iranian officials have toned down threats that were pushing up oil prices.
  • Finally, the Department of Energy (DOE) has initiated efforts to spur the development of small modular nuclear power reactors. A draft funding announcement was posted on January 20th and the department will take public comments through February 17th. Congress has approved $67 million to be used for this purpose. To learn more, visit:

SOTU and FY 2013 Budget

  • During his State of the Union (SOTU) address President Obama remarked, “And nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.” He then shared that he would direct his administration to open more than 75 percent of the U.S. potential offshore oil and gas resources. Touting “an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy” the President also showed support for the development of natural gas and encouraged Congress to support “a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.” Reinforcing the latter, he stated, “I’m directing my administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes.” To learn more about the President’s energy plans, download the Blueprint for an America Built to Last report from the following website:
  • As an extension of the priorities mentioned in his SOTU, the President’s budget will be released on February 13th. The budget is likely to build on the proposal put forward last fall for consideration by the deficit reduction panel. Notably, the fall proposal sought to cut $3 trillion either through spending cuts or increased revenue.

Sources: Congressional Quarterly and