3 Energy Issues No One's Talking About

Here's a look a some important energy issues that have stayed out of the limelight.

Nuclear Energy

But oil isn't the only energy source America could export. The nation's vast supplies of coal and natural gas are valuable to growing nations abroad. Still, not everyone is keen on sending energy sources overseas. For starters, transporting coal to ports would involve some not-so-picturesque byproducts and environmental concerns.

"There's some opposition in Oregon to building better ports [equipped to handle the increased volume of exports]," Lynch says. "It's partly NIMBY as in 'We don't want more coal trains going through our backyards' and partly environmental as in 'We don't want China burning more coal.'"

With natural gas exports, some opponents fear shipping more abroad could push up prices here in the States. But, Lynch doesn't see much logic in that.

"Nobody says don't send lobsters to Boston to keep the price low in Maine," he adds.

Nuclear. Nuclear energy provides about 20 percent of the nation's electricity—a bedrock part of the electricity grid, according to experts—but lately, there's been a lot of uncertainty about the future of the industry, especially when it comes to disposing of spent fuel.

[Read: In Canada, China Sees Greater Opportunities to Secure Oil Reserves.]

With Yucca Mountain in Nevada eliminated as a candidate for a national repository for nuclear waste, nuclear power plants have no long-term option for storing waste. Instead, they now store the waste on site in pools or casks. Efforts are underway to identify a new site, but no time frame has yet been set.

A recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision ruled that a temporary solution is not good enough to meet federal environmental standards. As a result, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has halted issuing new licenses for nuclear power plants, putting at risk the expansion of nuclear power in the United States.

Although the decision doesn't immediately affect any power plants, the speed bump could push back application processing for a year or more.

"What the impact [of the court ruling on potential future plant licenses or renewals for existing licenses] will be is hard to say," says David McIntyre, a spokesman for the NRC. "On new reactors, there are only three on schedule to be completed over the next couple of years and hopefully we'll have resolved this issue by then."

In the meantime, the NRC is focusing on addressing the court's ruling, McIntyre stresses. The agency's response, and hopefully more certainty for the industry, should be coming out soon.

Until then, new nuclear energy reactors—and the future of the industry—are on hold indefinitely.

Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandey.