Transitioning to a sustainable energy economy: the call for national cooperative watershed planning.

Author:Drobot, Ann E.
  1. INTRODUCTION II. THE ENERGY-WATER NEXUS: HOW ENERGY AND WATER ARE LINKED A. Energy Supply and Fuel Production Are Water Dependent 1. Water Use in the Energy Generation Process a. Water Use by Cooling Process b. Water Use by Fuel Type 2. Water Use in Fuel Production a. Oil b. Oil Shale c. Coal d. Natural Gas e. Nuclear f. Biomass B. The Reciprocal Side: Water Supply is Energy Dependent III. THE GATHERING STORM: CURRENT AND FUTURE THREATS TO THE NATION'S WATER RESOURCES A. Potential Impacts from Projected Population Growth B. Predicted Impacts from Climate Change-Related Conditions 1. Predicted Source Impacts 2. Impacts from Mitigation Measures IV. COMPARTMENTALIZATION OF ENERGY POLICY AND WATER POLICY UNDER CURRENT REGULATORY REGIMES A. Energy-Based Regulation that Integrates Water-Related Issues 1. FERC Hydropower Licensing a. The Pre-Application Process b. Factors Considered by FERC in Its Licensing Decisions 2. NRC Nuclear Power Plant Licensing a. The Environmental Report b. The Site Safety Analysis Report B. Water-Based Regulation that Integrates Energy-Related Issues V. ENERGY AND WATER POLICY: DOES IT HELP OR HINDER? A. Energy Policy B. Water Policy VI. CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS: STEPS TOWARD ACHIEVING A "MORE SUSTAINABLE ENERGY" ECONOMY A. Challenges Associated with Pursuing National Watershed Planning The Concept of Federalism B. Challenges Associated with Pursuing National Watershed Planning Identifying the Appropriate Governance Structure C. Taking Steps Toward Achieving a More Sustainable Energy Economy: Cooperative National Watershed Planning and Management 1. OPLMA: The Integration of Energy and Water PoKey on the Federal Level 2. OPLMA Title VI: The Integration of Federal and State Watershed Planning Efforts 3. Cooperative Watershed Planning. Ensuring Participation by the States VII. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    Climate change looms as a defining issue of the 21st century, pitting the potential disruption of our global climate system against the future of a fossil fuel-based economy. (1) The United States energy sector exists at the center of this defining issue. Because greenhouse gas emissions from the energy industry are a primary component in what is said to be anthropogenic-induced climate change-related impacts, (2) curbing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector has been and will continue to be the focus of the policy debate concerning effective mitigation and adaptation strategies. The United States energy sector also exists at the center of national efforts to break our addiction to foreign oil in order to achieve energy independence. Given that 51% of the 6.9 billion barrels of oil consumed in the United States in 2009 were imported from foreign countries, (3) achieving energy independence will be no small undertaking, particularly in the face of steady forecasted growth in United States' energy demand. (4) In the context of both climate change and energy independence, developing a "more sustainable energy economy" has become the battle cry for today's policymakers.

    But what does a more sustainable energy economy look like? As described in the current Administration's National Security Strategy released in May 2010, a more sustainable energy economy incorporates the development of clean energy technology, increases the use of renewable energy, and reinvigorates nuclear power. (5) For example, in response to the "real, urgent, and severe" dangers associated with climate change, the Administration targets actions that will "stimulate our energy economy at home, reinvigorate the United States domestic nuclear industry, increase our efficiency standards, invest in renewable energy, and provide the incentives that make clean energy the profitable kind of energy." (6)

    Similarly, regarding our dependence on foreign oil which "undermine[s] our security and prosperity" (7) and "leave[s] us vulnerable to energy supply disruptions and manipulation and to changes in the environment on an unprecedented scale," (8) this Administration calls for the transformation of our energy economy, the accelerated deployment of clean energy technologies, and the increased use of renewable and nuclear power. (9)

    As well intentioned as policymakers may be to shore up national security, to devise effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, and to lead in the development of clean energy technology--be it for the betterment of our economy or to promote more environmentally sustainable solutions--no single misstep will undermine their efforts to develop this "sustainable energy economy" more than the failure to consider one of the energy sector's most fundamental components--water. The interdependency between water and energy, often referred to as the "energy-water nexus," (10) cannot be overstated. Nor can the significance that each plays in today's society. Our society is dependent on energy. Energy is a fundamental component of delivering clean water; cultivating food; operating industry; powering homes, offices, hospitals, and schools; and providing transportation.

    By the same token, our society is dependent on water. Water is essential to life on earth. It is critical to continuing economic activity, to the proper functioning of earth's environment, and to the maintenance of biodiversity. (11) It is also an essential component in energy generation and fuel production and, as such, will play a key role in whether we achieve energy independence, are successful in climate change-related strategies, or lead in the development of clean energy technology. In essence, water is a key component to developing a "sustainable energy economy."

    Because water is an essential component in developing a sustainable energy economy, ensuring that the demand for water does not outpace the available supply is crucial to achieving these national energy-based goals. Water resource limitations have already interfered with attempts by the energy sector to expand energy production, (12) and the "green" energy sector is not immune from these challenges. (13)

    Policymakers should be aware of recent studies that paint a troubling picture of the alarming rate at which our freshwater resources are being depleted. (14) Groundwater levels in some regions have dropped "as much as 300 to 900 feet over the past 50 years" (15) and the rate of aquifer pumping often outpaces the rate of recharge. (16) High demands to meet both human and industrial needs, drought conditions, and contamination contribute to water scarcity in many regions of the United States, (17) including, most recently, the southeast region which historically has housed abundant supplies of freshwater resources. (18) Now, like the southwest, ecological systems in the southeast are starting to exhibit signs of stress as stakeholders scramble to secure their "fair share" of a resource once thought to be limitless. (19)

    Recent drought conditions in the southeast region, which reduced water resources to exceedingly low levels and set off water wars between states. (20) provide some insight into the impact that water scarcity could have on energy generation. In water-stressed areas of the country, power plants will increasingly compete with other water users and tradeoffs will occur, raising increasing concerns over which use is more important: water to support domestic uses, food supply, or energy production. (21)

    This Article advances the notion that creating a "sustainable energy economy" in support of the current Administration's energy policies cannot be achieved without first charting a course toward achieving sustainability of our nation's water resources. Because current energy policies make significant demands on water resources that are already stressed and are expected to undergo even greater assault from increased demands and climate change-related impacts, the path to a Sustainable energy economy must involve the integration of two highly compartmentalized policy areas--energy policy and water policy. The integration of these policy areas will start policymakers down the path toward achieving sustainability of our water resources, a goal that this article maintains will require large-scale cooperative watershed-based management and planning that takes into account the dynamics of the energy-water nexus.

    Part I of this Article details the energy-water nexus, a concept that describes the interdependency existing between energy and water. The energy-water nexus provides the framework for understanding how decisions made in energy policy could impact our nation's water resources and, in turn, how the diminished state of these resources could undermine energy-based policy initiatives. This Part details the "water footprint" (22) of various methods of electricity generation and fuel production and briefly addresses the reciprocal side of the energy-water nexus--how water supply is dependent on energy.

    Part II provides an overview of the challenges already threatening the sustainability of our nation's water resources. These challenges include burgeoning population growth--including projected national population shifts--and the concomitant increase in energy and water demands, and climate change-related direct and indirect impacts. This Part provides the contextual framework under which policymakers currently operate when making energy-based policy decisions that could exacerbate challenges already faced by stressed water resources.

    Part HI explores the limited degree to which energy policy and water policy have been integrated in existing energy-based and water-based regulatory regimes. This Part concludes that, with the limited exception of power generation facilities that fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), we are far from achieving the integration of energy policy and water policy necessary to achieve sustainability of our water resources in support of a...

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