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Infrastructure Snags: What’s So Hard About Moving Energy? Infrastructure Snags: What’s So Hard About Moving Energy?

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Infrastructure Snags: What’s So Hard About Moving Energy?

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(Photo by Steeve Duguay/AFP/Getty Images)

What challenges does Washington face with its network of infrastructure—including pipelines, railways, and transmission lines—that move energy around the country?

One of the overlooked challenges of America's oil and natural-gas boom of the last several years is pretty simple: how to move it around. The country's infrastructure that maintains our energy consumption was built based upon different assumptions of where we extract oil and natural gas, and before many parts of the nation decided to shift to producing more renewable energy.

 

A recent series of oil-train crashes has also highlighted the safety and environmental dangers of transporting flammable energy. The Obama administration is looking to tighten rail regulations in the wake of these accidents. In addition, communities along railways moving coal are concerned about the health impacts of those shipments.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska underscored the importance of modernizing the nation's energy infrastructure in a speech last week.

"Everybody wants to talk about that [the energy boom], but unless you can move that, you're stranded," Murkowski said. "This is not just limited to our fossil fuels. It's how we move our wind, our solar, our renewables."

 

She continued: "This is going to be our big challenge moving forward. And it's going to be expensive."

That's not all. On Friday, President Obama announced a new quadrennial energy review that will over the next year focus on how the administration can enhance infrastructure to help manage the country's new energy needs.

What role does the federal government fill in a challenge like this? In this era of energy abundance but fiscal austerity, how can Washington fund energy-infrastructure projects?

What are the specific challenges to efficiently transporting fossil fuels? How do those differ from the obstacles confronting renewable energy?

 

How can the federal government partner with local governments, which often face the brunt of paying for and maintaining infrastructure projects?

Will the administration's new task force—created by its quadrennial energy review—help address these challenges? Or is it not enough?

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