White House Announces New Energy Review

Federal agencies will examine the nation's energy infrastructure every four years.

Laborers work on a section of pipeline in North Dakota in July 2013. President Obama unveiled a Quadrennial Energy Review of the nation's pipelines, transmission lines and other energy infrastructure Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.
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It's a power-up.

Capping a week that's involved an oil spill, water contamination from chemicals used in a coal mine, debate over newly tightened standards for coal-fired power plants, heightened energy consumption during the "polar vortex" and continuing arguments over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, President Barack Obama has launched the first regular review of the nation's energy infrastructure.

The project, titled the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), will go toward "ensuring that federal energy policies continue to meet the nation's economic, environmental and security goals," according to a statement posted to the White House blog and websites for the Department of Energy and Domestic Policy Council.

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The first review, the statement said, will focus on infrastructure for "transmitting, storing and delivering energy," including 200,000 miles of high-voltage power lines, 2.2 million miles of local circuits, 300,000 miles of pipelines, and hundreds of plants and storage facilities.

"The QER process launched today is designed to further address the challenge of leveraging America's domestic energy resources while strengthening our energy security and the health and resilience of our planet for future generations," the White House statement said.

The announcement comes amid a domestic energy boom – the United States is the world's top natural-gas producer, and it's producing more oil than it imports for the first time in decades – but also at a potentially fraught moment in energy policy.

On Monday, a freight train carrying crude oil crashed and caught fire in New Brunswick, Canada – at least the second such train to crash in less than two months.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House Committee on Natural Resources declared that the Obama administration's stricter standards for coal power plants amounted to a "War on Coal," and the president continued to delay a decision on the Keystone pipeline, a project environmentalists strongly oppose.

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"The controversy over the Keystone pipeline that the administration is still struggling with, and the fact that we've had these oil spills recently from railroad transports – [the review announcement] may well relate," says William Lowry, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies political science and energy and environmental policy.

Barry Rabe, an environmental policy professor at the University of Michigan, does not disagree.

"If you want to take advantage of a confluence of events and argue that energy is really important, that there are also a lot of somewhat encouraging technological developments in energy that have emerged over the past four or five years, this is a time to do it," Rabe says.

The wording of the review, Lowry says, also could offer something for everyone. A review of the nation's decades-old energy infrastructure is "overdue."

"Everyone can see something in it for them," Lowry says. "So the oil and gas supporters can see a need for upgrading and making our oil and natural gas transition more resilient, and then the environmentalists can see an opportunity to maybe create a smarter grid that would allow more renewable energies to come online and create greater efficiencies."

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