Local self-governance institutions, which emerge through a slow trial and error process, can solve common property resource problems. Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel Prize winner in economics, suggests in her work that the presence of local leaders is a prerequisite for the successful solution of commons problems.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, including alliances of profiteers and moralists who lobby for the same regulations, but for vastly different reasons. Whether such coalitions promote alcohol prohibition (as did the bootleggers and Baptists to whom similar “unholy alliances” are likened), tobacco restrictions, NAFTA, or climate-change policies, political entrepreneurs are the glue that holds them together.
In 2004 Logan, Utah, saw the opportunity to place a turbine within the city’s culinary water system. The turbine would reduce excess water pressure and would generate clean, low-cost electricity for the city’s residents. Federal funding was available, and the city qualified for a grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Unfortunately, Logan City found that a complex and costly federal nexus of regulatory requirements must be met before any hydropower project can be licensed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This regulation drove up costs in terms of time and money and, as a result, Logan City is not planning to undertake any similar projects in the future. Other cities have had similar experiences to Logan’s, and we briefly explore these as well. We find that regulation is likely deterring the development of small hydropower potential across the United States, and that reform is warranted.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a rule changing the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Under the status quo, whether or not a water body qualifies as jurisdictional “waters of the United States” is determined case-by-case and based on precedence, science, and case law.
Earlier this month, President Obama issued a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies, laying out his administration's new goals for renewable energy. The White House directivecalls for agencies to double their use of renewable electricity, which includes sources like "hydrokinetic renewable energy" derived from lakes, rivers, and man-made channels. Yet, to accomplish this noble goal, onerous government regulations may end up being the administration's own worst enemy.