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How does Dispute Resolution fit into an “All of the Above” Energy Policy?

Posted on June 5, 2014 by Steve Shapiro

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In this one man’s opinion, this question is critical. If we are going to succeed in becoming energy independent, as well as a resource to Western Europe during trying times with Russia, and stewards over the earth; ensuring a safe and toxin free environment for generations that follow, we must understand ADR.

The question is critical in this one man’s opinion if we are going to succeed in becoming energy independent, a resource to Western Europe during trying times with Russia, and stewards over the earth ensuring a safe and toxin free environment for the generations that follow.

Why is ADR critical in accomplishing these goals? The obvious answer, yet challenging aspect, are the multiple opinions, economics, and politics surrounding each and every energy decision. All one has to do is look at the tension around the decision-making process surrounding the Keystone Pipeline. Whatever your predilection is, if we are going to be making sound decisions in the future around the development and allocation of important resources then all views must be respected, heard, and understood. There are important and heartfelt views on topics such as tar sands oil production, or shale gas production – - but without some forum to work through the issues how are we going to get there?.

I remember a water rights dispute that I was mediating in Southern California where there was a very difficult trade-off being negotiated between water flow for fish, and water flow for human health as the local water districts required the water for agriculture and human consumption. Yes it was a lengthy negotiation, yes there was a somewhat manageable group of people involved in the negotiations, and yes there was a clear administrative and litigation appeals process, but when participants clearly listened and understood the difficult issues there was a sense of decency in working through the trade-offs. We see efforts like this all the time. Yet how can it become the norm on larger and somewhat more challenging matters?

These types of development questions are usually termed as “upstream” matters. The “downstream” questions are equally as important. For example, we know that there are millions if not billions of dollars being spent on lobbying on all sides of the coal issue. The EPA continues to promulgate regulations that pose stricter emission standards on coal production. However, unless there is an economic solution to care for the towns and employees whose livelihoods have depended on coal production, finding the right transitional model is going to be difficult. This stands true for the mines, the transportation contracts, and production/generating facilities, and all the workers and investors whose lives are tied into these decisions. ADR can, should, and will play an important role in this effort.

I do not pretend to have any of the answers here, and admittedly maybe the questions can be focused in a more open way to draw a more directed dialogue, but they must be asked. I will address other issues like spent nuclear fuel, transmission infrastructure development, and distributed forms of generation in later blogs. In the meantime what can we do to raise the question: how do we make these decisions in transparent and thoughtful ways that are in our great nation’s best interests?

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