Alhough difficult to estimate, the monetized estimates of environmental damage are not trivial, with most commentators finding coal to have the highest damage costs and natural gas the least. Thus there are regular attempts to either strengthen or change environmental regulations, which could alter the trajectory of energy development, extraction, and use of fossil fuels in the future. For instance, defining appropriate limits on the amount of very fine particulates that should be allowed to leave vehicle exhausts and combustion stacks is an ongoing area of health research. Similarly, increased production of natural gas from shale formations raises a variety of water quality issues.40
The AEF Committee is aware that government agencies, industry, and other stakeholders are currently working on many of these issues and that many of the potential problems will be resolved in the normal course of doing business. Still, the question arises as to whether or not existing laws, regulations, and enforcement capabilities will be sufficient to handle, both from a substantive and a public-perception viewpoint, the changes that may be coming over the next few decades within the fossil-fuels system.
In principle, a complex set of regulations that cover the use of fossil fuels is in place or can be changed to guide future fossil-fuel development. Examples of landmark federal legislation include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act. In addition, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) are in place. Moreover, many states have passed legislation that affects use and development of energy facilities. The regulatory systems represented by all these legislative actions provide the opportunity for society to address emerging environmental concerns; the challenge is to make sure that the legislation is kept up-to-date and that funding for state and federal regulatory and enforcement programs keeps pace.
In addition, deploying many of the technologies discussed in this chapter will present environmental issues that are unfamiliar to the public or will lack appropriate regulatory frameworks. If not addressed properly and early enough, public
See, for example, naturalgas.extension.psu.edu/Environmental.htm.