Energy regulation in the United States is now at a crossroads. The EPA has begun the process to officially repeal the Clean Power Plan and currently has no plan to replace it with new rulemaking to regulate carbon emissions from the U.S. energy sector. Even though the Clean Power Plan is more or less at its end, its regulatory structure stands as a model of the way decision-makers in the United States regulate the energy sector and the environment. Since the beginning of the modern environmental legal system, decision-makers have chosen to silo the system. Statutes and agencies focus on just one media or one issue. Tackling the climate crisis will inevitably require an integrationist model of lawmaking. The Clean Power Plan took the same problematic route as past regulation. While the Clean Power Plan rightfully addressed rising carbon levels, it failed to account for another growing problem associated with climate change: quickly depleting water resources. Although the consequences of the energy-water nexus are clear, U.S. decision-makers continue to ignore the need to integrate energy and water decision-making. Continuing to compartmentalize environmental problems, rather than addressing climate change impacts in a holistic manner, will not bring about the results that are desperately needed.
The tools needed to integrate decision-making exist throughout the three branches of government. Congress can and should step in to pass a new statute, which establishes a legal mandate on agencies to fully consider the implications of energy policy and energy regulation on water resources. The federal courts can read a legal requirement into the Clean Air Act or the Administrative Procedure Act that would require federal action in the energy sphere to account for impacts on water resources. Finally, the President can use his power to force federal agencies to consider water resources more thoroughly than in the past. While some of these mechanisms may be hard to envision given the current political atmosphere, implementation is necessary to ensure water and energy security in the face of a growing climate crisis.
Energy-Water Nexus, the Clean Power Plan, and Integration of Water Resource Concerns into Energy Decision-Making,
Mich. J. Envtl. & Admin. L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjeal/vol7/iss1/7