In light of the impassioned debate regarding various aspects of global climate change, as well as the demand for reliable energy supply for swift economic recovery and stable economic growth in recent years, contemporary policy research on issues concerning energy and natural resources has gained more traction than at any other time in recent history. In this article, we attempt to characterize the recent trends of such research endeavors while reviewing related articles published in major scholarly journals in public policy and related fields of study between 2010 and early 2014. We found that the subtleties of recent energy policy studies revolve around issues pertaining to nuclear energy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and hydraulic fracturing operations, while such studies employ diverse theoretical and methodological approaches in analyzing various facets of energy policy process ranging from issue framing and agenda setting, to policy formulation and diffusion, to policy evaluation and feasibility assessment. We conclude this paper by discussing future research directions of energy policy issues.
energy policy; nuclear energy; energy efficiency, renewable energy; hydraulic fracturing
In light of the impassioned debate regarding various aspects of global climate change, as well as the demand for reliable energy supply for swift economic recovery and stable economic growth in recent years, contemporary policy research on issues concerning energy and natural resources has gained more traction than at any other time in recent history. Over time, energy and natural resources have been thought of as both sources of economic opportunity and concerns for socio-economic and ecological sustainability. As such, there are certain trade-offs related with extracting and utilizing natural resources in the process of producing energy for the welfare of society. The work of achieving balance between these trade-offs makes this an intriguing domain of policy research, as such policies concurrently support the use of natural resources while pushing for alternatives in order to keep up with societal energy demand while mitigating its negative externalities.
One of the important questions to be answered, in this regard, is how we, as policy scholars, have responded to this policy issue of vast ramifications and what kind of advice we are prepared to offer to society for an improved future. In answering this question in this article, we attempt to characterize the recent trend of research endeavors while reviewing a total of 44 relevant research articles published in major scholarly journals2 in public policy and related fields of study3 between 2010 and early 2014 as well as some important technical reports dealing with energy policy issues. More specifically, as presented in Table 1, previous studies we examined came from the following list of journals4: Ecological Economics (1), Energy Policy (2), Environment (1), Environmental Politics (1), Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (1), Policy Sciences (1), Policy Studies Journal (2), Polity (1), Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (1), Public Administration (1), Publius (1), Review of Policy Research (8), Risk, Hazards, & Crisis in Public Policy (15), Technological Forecasting and Social Change (1), The Energy Journal (1), and Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment (3). The geographical focus of reviewed studies ranges from USA (30 articles) to Europe (9 articles) to Canada (1 article), while four studies discuss energy issues on a global scale.1
Table 1. A list of reviewed articles and technical reports
The major topic areas that were addressed in the reviewed articles and reports, which comprise our primary concern in this research, are nuclear energy (17 articles), energy efficiency (9 articles), renewable energy (9 articles), and hydraulic fracturing operations (10 articles). Because of the complexities, risks, and challenges associated with the topic of nuclear energy, a number of articles were selected from Risk, Crisis & Hazards, and Public Policy in order to provide a comprehensive perspective on issues related to this energy source. Articles reviewed for the energy efficiency and renewable energy sections focus on specific policy options in some cases, however most of the articles were summative in nature and are used as reference for providing the landscape of knowledge and research. Hydraulic fracturing is an emerging issue and the articles reviewed represent a significant sampling of current research efforts. In the sections that follow, we elaborate on our findings that the subtleties of the recent energy policy studies revolve around issues pertaining to nuclear energy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and hydraulic fracturing operations, while such studies employ diverse theoretical and methodological approaches in analyzing various facets of the energy policy process ranging from issue framing and agenda setting, to policy formulation and diffusion, to policy evaluation and feasibility assessment. We conclude this paper by discussing future research directions of energy policy issues.
Over the past five years, research in energy policy has markedly focused on issues surrounding the use of nuclear energy, which is evidenced by the fact that over half of the articles reviewed here focus on research and observations related to nuclear energy. On a global scale, violent outbreaks and natural disasters derived from global climate change often occur to the vulnerable global energy infrastructure, threatening a secure energy supply (Giroux 2010). Further complications relating to the recent trend of the nationalization of energy assets and growing energy interdependence among nations, requires complex policies to secure energy for an increasing demand (Giroux 2010).
Global response to nuclear energy expansion has been broadly related to concerns regarding energy security and climate change. The tragic events of March 2011 in Fukushima, Japan, shifted public concern to issues of safety, justice and ethics (Butler, Parkhill & Pidgeon 2011) even while advances in used nuclear fuel (UNF) management practices, as exemplified by the cases in Sweden and Finland, hint at a technological and socio-political solution to the safe, permanent, and locally acceptable disposal of used high-level radioactive nuclear materials. Such advances could arguably function to sustain nuclear energy as a plausible energy alternative in the United States (Darst and Dawson 2010) but recent abandonment of the Yucca Mountain waste repository site by the Obama administration reflect existing concerns associated with the future of nuclear energy (Kraft 2013). For countries experiencing high socio-economic growth, nuclear energy can function to meet energy demands, but radioactive waste is still a significant source of negative public opinion. In the United States specifically, uncertainty in the legal structure of the nuclear industry and state level electricity sector deregulation (Heffron 2012), public concerns over environmental contamination, and low confidence in reactor safety complicate any chances for a nuclear revival (Duffy 2011).
Nuclear energy is created via exothermic (energy releasing) nuclear processes that generate heat and/or electricity. While nuclear fusion, fission, or decay are viable approaches for attaining energy, UNF is a byproduct that some believe to be harmful to the environment and humans if not maintained and stored safely. The evolution of UNF management has focused attention on risk perceptions, the stigma of radioactive materials, and finally, the role of public trust to attempt to understand failure in siting repositories and an ongoing political stalemate surrounding the disposal of UNF (Solomon et al. 2010).
While the evolution of policies regarding UNF management in the United States and Northern Europe has been characterized by cautious optimism, it has been noted that specific opposition to nuclear power has evolved to focus on the “back end of the nuclear fuel cycle”-- considerations for storage of “dangerous” used radioactive materials (Jenkins-Smith and Trousset 2010: 5). The issues concerning UNF storage are best understood by multidisciplinary approaches encompassing techno-scientific, socio-technical, socio-psychological, and socio-political perspectives (Jenkins-Smith and Trousset 2010; Litmanen et al. 2012). Policy debate dealing with UNF has also shifted from being a problem rooted in “scientific knowledge in nuclear physics and chemistry” to one of “engineering craftsmanship and social planning” (Jenkins-Smith and Trousset 2010: 7). The “co-evolution of technology and public opinion” is interdependent (Litmanen et al. 2012: 99) and successful technical solutions for the management of UNF are dependent on recognizing the “interconnectedness of human behavior to technological devices” (Langlet 2010: 90).
As such, the political environment holds a profound influence on UNF management practices. Historical analysis of the Soviet Union’s nuclear fuel system, which produced both military and civilian products, illustrates how changes to the political environment can impact decisions about the future handling of UNF (Hogselius 2010) and the undesirable consequences of expanding nuclear power with “no clear strategies for direct disposal” (Jenkins-Smith and Trousset 2010: 8). The governance of technological advancements in nuclear energy has taken a “participatory turn” with the intention of gaining greater public involvement in the process while attempting to earn public acceptance for nuclear energy expansion (Sundqvist and Elam 2010: 205). Sundqvist and Elam (2010: 205) critically examine the “democratization of expertise” in Europe and suggest that the overly procedural approach to this policy shift may prevent legitimate public concerns from being acknowledged. They further assert that allowing the process to circumvent public concerns actually functions to erode public confidence and trust in experts and political authorities, but that attention to the issue formation process could advance genuine participation.
Research to identify public concerns associated with UNF reveals complex processes at work. Risks tend to be evaluated by individuals based on potential hazards posed not only to themselves and their communities but also to future generations, (Drottz-Sjoberg 2010) and past experiences can have a profound impact on public acceptance of future nuclear policy (Laes and Schroder 2010). Facilitated engagement of multiple stakeholders prior to public discussions may provide a better understanding of perceived risks and inform more comprehensive nuclear energy policy (Poetz 2011). An examination of policy making processes in some European Union countries suggests that “opening up” policy choices, encouraging the use of participatory methods and efforts to gain local acceptance can have a depoliticizing effect (Lehtonen 2010). The research contends that public trust levels for state institutions play an important role in this relationship, but it is not yet clear in which direction the relationship flows (Lehtonen 2010). Policy design rooted on community “volunteerism” may prove useful to reduce the political cost as examples in Sweden and Finland suggest (Darst and Dawson 2010).
Collaboration represents another important aspect in dealing with nuclear energy issues. A secure global energy supply requires international stakeholders to come together to develop a security framework that can reinforce the vulnerabilities of the energy infrastructure (Giroux 2010). Collaborative efforts between repository and social scientists may also provide solutions to issues relating to UNF management (Bonano et al. 2011). Social, economic and political factors are all relevant in the evaluation and selection of UNF management options, and socio-political issues in particular have the ability to affect the complexity of repository sitings and the development of new national policy for more permanent storage of nuclear waste (Bonano et al. 2011). A working relationship between repository and social scientists can contribute considerably to the successful identification, evaluation, and resolution of issues related to public confidence and acceptance of a repository (Bonano et al. 2011). Social scientists can also assist in communications regarding the technical aspects of UNF storage to the public and help to “frame policy in terms and values that matter most to the public” (Bonano et al. 2011: 13). As nuclear energy issues move from being centered on technical knowledge to encompassing social and ethical implications, collaborations between policymakers and social scientists become more salient (Solomon et al. 2010).
Equally important is the mitigation of “perceived risks” of nuclear energy from a risk communication perspective. Multiple strategies have been employed to downplay risks commonly perceived by the public. A rebranding of nuclear energy in Canada, for instance, goes beyond a message of clean and green energy to produce subtly nuanced messages that underscore the engineering, scientific and technical aspects while deemphasizing any environmental and health risks by developing messages “for different audiences by point to its social relevance, by highlighting the vital nature of its core activity to society in general, by demonstrating the illegitimacy of those who criticize it, by developing an organizational image of social worth, and by enhancing its local and national reputation” (Eyles and Fried 2012: 4). A unified message created through visual and verbal cues that are context bound and designed to lessen perceived risks has been found to encourage trust in industry experts and emphasize local benefits that will remain resistant to outside criticism (Eyles and Fried 2012).
Laes and Schroder (2010) contemplate the tendency of society to draw boundaries and repeat historical reconstructions, making it difficult to recognize the issues associated with nuclear energy from any other perspective. As a result, alternative solutions to these issues remain hidden. The issues associated with nuclear power as reviewed here may allow society to “understand the particular constellation of factors that led to the situation being as it is right now” with a chance at developing policies to handle commonly agreed upon issues (Laes and Schroder 2010: 194). Perhaps political consensus can also function to marginalize other expertise and with it, reduce the opportunities to discover alternative solutions either now or in the future (Laes and Schrod 2010). “Contextual expertise” and scrupulous examination are valuable policy making tools (Laes and Schrod 2010: 201). The ultimate goal is to support the progress of energy generation technology in the safest and most effective manner. As different global actors decide upon their own energy focuses, those choosing nuclear energy will have a dynamic set of challenges to address for implementation.
A second important topic illustrated by the review was energy efficiency. This area of energy policy is accompanied by numerous policies such as fuel efficiency standards, building energy efficiency codes, and tax credits for energy efficiency retrofits. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (2013), these policies can be categorized into six broad categories: (1) utility public benefits programs and policies, (2) transportation policies, (3) building codes, (4) combined heat and power, (5) state government initiatives, and (6) appliance energy standards. This classification illustrates the broad spectrum of focus for energy efficiency policies that can be at a state or local level and can be focused on industry or built systems. The vast array of combinations of policies and programs relating to energy efficiency has fostered a dynamic space for evaluation of policy implementation as well as theoretical discussion related to policy diffusion. Energy efficiency is touted as the most feasible and immediate energy source for increasing energy security, which necessitates a proper analysis of the efficacy of various current energy saving practices.
Research on energy efficiency included case studies and comparative policy analyses. The research approaches were used to evaluate the implementation of current energy efficiency policies that have already been adopted. A primary focus in this sector of energy policy is Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (e.g., Carley 2011; Carley 2012; Carley and Browne, 2013). These standards require utilities to reduce anticipated load with energy efficiency measures and are mainly adopted at the state level. The policy is gaining popularity; however, studies find its effectiveness can be increased through complementary policies such as energy tracking and flexibility mechanisms such as banking or borrowing (Carley and Browne, 2013). The implementation of these standards has seen varying success across the United States, and the current research aims to evaluate effectiveness in obtaining goals based on desired outcomes (e.g., Brown, 2014; Foulds and Powell, 2014). Desired goals include reducing electricity consumption, and this outcome is not always achieved as a direct result, so future research should aim to examine the entire spectrum of effects by setting these standards in place. Databases of information, such as the Homes Energy Efficiency Database in the United Kingdom, show promising applicability in the space of local energy policymaking processes in order to examine correlations of energy efficiency implementations and geographically-oriented local policies (Foulds and Powell, 2014). Other case studies were employed in U.S. states to further examine energy efficiency policy implementation, and some of this research examined the sources of policy preferences. A Colorado case study used questionnaire data to examine the influence of factors such as climate knowledge, risk perceptions, and ideological beliefs on preferences for energy efficiency policies (Elgin and Weible 2013). Climate knowledge was found to be less of a determinant in comparison to the other two factors when it came to policy preferences related to energy and climate change. From these policy analyses and case studies, it is apparent energy policy research needs to continue to expand upon administrative evaluations for effectiveness in order to inform future policy decisions.
One reviewed article representative of this expanded approach utilized its findings on energy efficiency policy to contribute to the theoretical frameworks of multiple streams and punctuated equilibrium, focusing on the United Kingdom from 2006-2010 (Carter and Jacobs, 2013). Based on a review of agenda setting during this time period, the authors found that transitions or changes in policies happened in policy windows that were open much longer than would be predicted by previous theoretical parameters. Party politics and policy entrepreneurship from government ministers were found to play stronger roles than what had been modeled in the past (Carter and Jacobs 2013). Though this theoretical discussion is rare in energy policy research, it reveals an opportunity to expand upon the growing observations in the field of public policy to better inform future decision-making.
Method improvements for measuring energy efficiency impacts and policy effectiveness have been investigated focusing on improving analysis through the inclusion of variables that expand upon the energy intensity measure over time (Filippini and Hunt, 2010). Changes in energy intensity can be influenced by a number of economic factors and external technological improvements that don’t reflect the local policy environment and efforts underway to undergird energy efficiency. A methodological improvement can involve controlling for these other factors to examine the true energy efficiency measures in place (Filippini and Hunt, 2010). This type of research helps expand the frame of reference beyond energy intensity and allows for the scope of energy efficiency research to focus on relevant policy impacts.
In addition to this methodological research, there is an opportunity for informative outreach and communication regarding energy efficiency options. The National Academy of Sciences performed a national survey where public estimates of energy savings were underestimated for options such as installing more efficient light bulbs and appliances (Attari et al., 2010). Many respondents favored limiting use as the best approach to reducing energy consumption. This method of energy reduction is part of energy efficiency. However, there is a misunderstanding of the significant cost savings associated with energy efficiency investments that would reduce energy consumption by having a complementary impact when combined with limiting use. These consumer-facing energy knowledge studies help round out the policy analysis and public administration studies that focus on policy implementation. The goal of these studies is to examine if the efforts to inform society are aligned with the policy outcomes desired from a policymaker perspective (Attari et al., 2010).
These reviewed articles paint a dynamic picture for energy efficiency that includes considerations for proper policy analysis, a need to address public opinion and knowledge, and potential sources of information for refining policy options. The next section will continue this narrative of analysis improvement as it relates to renewable energy policy options.
Renewable energy continues to gain traction as more policies are put into place to incentivize its production and set goals for increasing use. Renewable energy comes from sources that naturally replenish on an anthropogenic timescale (i.e., it will be available infinitely for human use). These forms of energy are not exempt from requiring some extraction of natural resources because of the translational and transmission infrastructure needed to obtain usable electricity from the sun, wind, water, and earth, but natural resource extraction becomes less intensive in this medium, and related policies focus upon taking advantage of the benefits found in renewable energy use and production, which include less pollution and increased energy security.
A popular state-level policy for supporting this source of energy, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), has been highlighted as a research topic in cross-state analyses to evaluate the effectiveness of its implementation (Carley and Browne, 2013; Fischlein and Smith, 2013; Schelly, 2014). The standards require utilities and other electricity providers to include renewable energy sources in their energy portfolio. In turn, more renewable energy generation is spurred. As of 2012, twenty-nine states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards, and eight states have enacted Renewable Portfolio Goals (Carley and Browne, 2013).
Despite support for RPS policy implementation, policy analyses revealed policy inconsistencies within the states and the need to align goal-setting with incentives, such as feed-in tariffs and solar energy incentives and rebates (Schelly, 2014), to expand renewable energy use. Utilities often service regional customer-bases, making it difficult to manage separate policy regulations (Carley and Browne, 2013). This direct policy analysis has been complemented by research into funding directions and informational databases for renewable energy innovations in previous decades (Fischlein and Smith, 2013; Liang and Fiorino, 2013). Dependable and consistent research and development support has lead to improvement in innovation and underscored the significance of providing sufficient funding for relevant policies (Liang and Fiorino 2013). This support is crucial, as renewables are currently still on the periphery of the overall energy transmission infrastructure. Ideology at the citizen and the governmental level also plays a crucial role in determining the effectiveness of RPS (Carley and Miller 2012). For standards that were stringent and strictly enforced, the governmental ideology drove policy adoption, whereas standards that were voluntary reflected an influence from citizen-level ideologies (Carley and Miller 2012).
Other policy options to support renewable energy include net metering and renewable energy certificates (Carley and Browne, 2013). Net metering applies to renewable energy generation because it allows a consumer to offset electric energy provision by producing at-home or on-site electricity generation. This serves as an incentive for smaller-scale renewable energy. As of 2012, forty three states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, have adopted state net metering policies, while three states implemented voluntary net metering guidelines for utilities (Carley and Browne, 2013). Renewable energy certificates, another popular policy option, allow for property rights of renewable energy generation (EPA, 2008). More research is needed to evaluate the certificate markets and how they are helping states achieve their goals related to renewable energy (Carley and Browne, 2013). Net metering and renewable energy certificates are framed as supporting policies of RPS reflecting the importance of further energy policy research into their effectiveness and impact on progress toward the outlined standards.
A paradigm shift is on the verge in the renewable energy sector. For example, in Germany and other countries in Europe, there are aspirations to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy sources, as shown in policy analysis studies (e.g., Hohmeyer and Bohm 2014; Nilson 2011). The time horizon for the transition is mid-century (2050), and policies will play a key role in incentivizing the utilization of renewable energy sources and in further construction of electricity grids (Hohmeyer, 2014). The reality of massive water consumption requirements for extracting fossil fuels in a time of increasing water scarcity lends greater urgency to the move towards renewable energy (Keith et al. 2012). There is promise in expansion efforts as options such as wind resources see further integration, even in smaller scale operations (Weiner and Koontz, 2010). The inclusion of renewable energy resources will take an amalgamation of these small-scale efforts to bolster the regional and national efforts for energy transitions. A lack of storage capacity remains the main hurdle for employing renewable energy at a larger scale into the grid. Current efforts underway at the Argonne National Research Laboratory in Chicago aim to increase the energy density of batteries by a factor of five at a fifth of current commercial costs within the next five years (Wernau 2012). This ambitious research initiative will shift electricity transmission to demand response and fundamentally change how energy is transferred, and will open up the discussion far beyond the extraction of natural resources. The main takeaway from the renewable energy research is the necessity of effective policies to accelerate the ongoing transition to these new energy resources.
In regards to energy efficiency and renewable energy, there are clear examples of success, as well as room for improvement. Similar areas for improvement rest in increased utilization of informational databases (e.g, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard state databases, Homes Energy Efficiency Database), education and outreach, and policy analysis framing. Renewable energy is still limited in opportunities for expansion due to insufficient infrastructure, but this foundation should evolve with time. Energy efficiency policy options are available and can help bridge the gap to a sustainable energy future as renewable energy options continue to develop.
Finally, some of the recent literature discusses the emerging issue of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) from various analytical angles. Hydraulic fracturing is a non-traditional drilling method that allows the profitable extraction of natural gas from deep underground shale rock formations by injecting a high-pressure fluid consisting of water, sand, and chemicals in order to fracture the shale and release the natural gas. Utilizing this unconventional drilling technique, the shale gas industry is expected to bring prospective benefits to local economies, but it also poses potential risks associated with environment degradation and negative health impacts in affected regions. Due mainly to uncertainties embedded in speculations over various aspects of such benefits and risks, public attitudes toward fracking practices, not to mention those of directly involved interested parties, are diverse, often generating political controversies that garner significant attention from policy scholarship.
Earlier studies on this issue focus on the assessment of positive economic impacts of shale gas industry on regional economy. Analyzing the cases surrounding Marcellus shale in the state of Pennsylvania, for instance, Considine et al. (2010) claim that fracking-based gas extraction industry is projected to boost local economy with growing economic activities, job creation, and increased state and local tax revenues, even though Kinnaman (2011) questions the methodological validity of their optimistic estimation of economic impacts. Quite contrastingly, some studies pay attention to several undesirable consequences of the implementation of such drilling technology, including possible contamination of groundwater supplies derived from the use of toxic fracking fluids (e.g., diesel and benzene) and inappropriate wastewater management, overconsumption of groundwater in the extraction process that can aggravate the long term sustainable water supply, and the potential adverse effects on land use, noise, and air quality accrued to affected local residents (e.g., Davis 2012; Davis and Fisk 2014).
Given these contentions with contrasting analytical claims, policy scholars seek to understand public attitudes toward issues pertaining to fracking operations and examine why some people are supportive while others are not. Based upon a national survey of 1,061 American adults conducted in 2012, for instance, Boudet et al. (2013) claim that a majority of American citizens are not familiar with hydraulic fracturing and do not hold a clear position on the related issues. However, when they investigated 435 survey respondents who showed a relatively strong opinion on fracking from the same survey, they found that support and opposition are evenly split and those who are older, well-educated, politically conservative, exposed to television news at least once a week and perceive positive economic or energy supply outcomes are more likely to support fracking, whereas those who are female, egalitarian, exposed to newspapers more than once a week, familiar with hydraulic fracturing, and predict negative environmental impacts are more apt to oppose fracking. Similarly, based on a national survey of 2,400 Americans who are older than 16, administered in 2012, Davis and Fisk (2014) report similar findings with women or urban residents being more inclined to oppose fracking and accordingly more supportive of government regulations on related drilling operations. More importantly, they further argue that there is a tendency to oppose fracking and support current or increased levels of regulations among those who hold Democratic Party affiliation and pro-environmental policy attitudes (Davis and Fisk 2014), which implies that the fracking issue has become a political agenda.
Various efforts to properly characterize the political nature of the fracking debate and related policy-making process are further attempted by recent studies. One of the important aspects in understanding fracking policy-making is the fact that state politics, rather than national politics, dominate the related policy space, and local-level policy friction is especially important to consider (Arnold and Holahan 2014; Rabe and Borick 2014; Rinfret, Cook, and Pautz 2014). In a comparative study of Colorado and Texas on the politics of fracking, for example, Davis (2012) emphasizes the role of political control and entrepreneurial leadership in the formation of the regulatory policies related to fracking by arguing that, when compared to Texas, Colorado installed more stringent regulations on hydraulic fracturing operations to protect the environment in 2007-8, primarily because Democrats, who historically tend to be more progressive on environmental issues, won both the governor’s office and majorities in both chambers of the state assembly in 2006, while former Democrat Governor Bill Ritter utilized his entrepreneurial leadership for strengthening regulatory initiatives in the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) that authorizes most decisions affecting drilling operations in Colorado. In a similar vein, throughout an investigation of state level policies requiring the disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking procedures, Fisk (2013) reports that states with more liberal elected officials tend to have stricter disclosure rules than states with more conservative government officials. Heikkila et al. (2014) extend our understanding of the state-level fracking chemical disclosure policy by attempting to explain how and why the related policy changes occurred in Colorado in 2011. According to Heikkila et al. (2014), though gas industry and environmental groups had fundamental disagreements on the use of fracking methods in shale gas extraction and on the concerns regarding negative impacts on the environment and public health, both groups agreed that such chemical disclosure mandates were necessary, which translated into the installation of more stringent fracking regulations in Colorado. This suggests that in order to properly understand variations in fracking policies across space and time, we must give attention to internal dynamics of the policy process, such as major stakeholders’ attitudes and behaviors, including negotiation-based strategic agreements on certain aspects of policy arrangements within a particular subsystem, as well as broader contextual factors that shape such political playgrounds.
In an attempt to comprehend the intellectual trajectory of energy policy research development in this article, we have identified and elaborated on a few key topic areas of scholarly attention in the energy policy domain, such as nuclear energy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and hydraulic fracturing operations. In the following, while summarizing our previous discussion, we further discuss what is absent from the current research effort and what work remains to be done to provide useful future advice to society in this aspect.
Early research agendas on nuclear energy were primarily conceived as technical, but later research calls attention to the interdependence among technical, social, psychological and political processes. Much research argues that nuclear energy potential for expansion may hinge on public acceptance, continued expert collaboration, and stakeholder engagement. It is further suggested that an understanding of public risk perceptions and the role of trust in stakeholder relationships are integral to attaining the genuine public involvement needed for public acceptance. Equally important, in this regard, is to establish effective communications based upon more nuanced messages that are tailored to conform to various stakeholders’ intrinsic values, attitudes, and preferences, while also striving to achieve technological innovations that can make cheaper and safer, non-carbon-emitting methods of power generation possible. Of course, this line of inquiry of recent studies reviewed are not reflective of the aftermath of the tragic events of 2011 in Fukushima, and perhaps we will need to wait a few more years to see research articles published in major public policy journals incorporating a more systemic investigation on the impact of Fukushima on the aforementioned policy dynamics from a policy scholar’s perspective. Nevertheless, in the wake of recent swift changes in global public attitudes against the use of nuclear power after Fukushima, it is obvious that many countries have decided to revisit their previous nuclear energy policies. As a result, some countries (e.g., Japan and Germany) took a more restrictive stance on the use of nuclear power while other countries (e.g., France, Brazil, China, and Russia) remained reliant on nuclear technology for a significant portion of their power generation. Further policy research is expected to offer advice by examining the role such dynamics discussed in previous nuclear energy policy research have played in establishing such contrasting policy responses, which will help clarify the recipe for successful participatory and collaborative approaches in the formation and implementation of future nuclear energy policy.
The vast array of combinations of policies and programs relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy (e.g., tax credit program, Home Energy Affordability Loan, updating Energy Conservation Codes, Complete Streets Policy, setting energy saving goals, standard-setting goals for renewable energy, and Property Assessed Clean Energy District) have fostered a dynamic space for evaluation of the efficacy and effectiveness of such policy options and their implementation practices as well as an opening of the theoretical discussion on policy innovation, learning, adoption, and diffusion. Many previous studies on this particular topic area, however, tend to emphasize structural, institutional, and, more recently, network characteristics that can impinge upon outcomes of collective decisions regarding whether they would entrench or retrench such policy options at various jurisdictional levels. Though such macro- or meso-level analysis made meaningful contributions to the progress of related policy research programs, policy scholars also need to focus on micro-level analysis based upon methodological individualism. As far as policy diffusion is concerned, for instance, we have focused upon nation-to-nation or state-to-state diffusion mechanisms at the system or subsystem level, but an equally important question to be answered regards why and how policy elites actually make their individual decisions, as they are conceived to have more direct significant influence on policy adoption decisions, which ultimately translate into policy diffusion within a particular policy subsystem.
Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction is an important policy issue of emerging attention in the energy policy subsystem, and a growing number of policy scholars have begun examining various aspects of this unconventional gas extraction method, which leaves economic, environmental, and socio-political consequences of such practices in question. By nature, the issue of fracking is quite similar to that of the nuclear energy debate, in that while both can be thought of as low-carbon-emitting energy sources, presumably allowing them a comparative advantage to traditional fossil fuels (especially when considering ongoing climate change concerns), both hold dire socio-political ramifications, particularly in affected regions. As the issues concerning nuclear energy have evolved from technical to socio-political and psychological while moving toward a collaborative and participatory approach rather than traditional top-down decision making, policy scholars will need to examine the efficacy and effectiveness of such bottom-up policy making mechanisms with regard to policies dealing with the issues of hydraulic fracturing, and more importantly, should be ready to answer inquiries regarding what conditions allow the greatest efficacy for such an approach, while considering the role of trust among engaged stakeholders based upon effective communications. In so doing, further attention should be given to those questions related to what kind of lessons we can learn from research findings from several U.S. states, such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, and New York where fracking has become a very salient political issue and how we can apply such lessons towards understanding policy relevant processes in other parts of the country.
The authors are appreciative of the invaluable input of Hank Jenkins-Smith, Sarah Trousset, Nina Carlson, A. Kate Miller, and two anonymous reviewers.
1 It is noteworthy that our journal selection is somewhat limited in that the journals selected for review are published mostly in the United States and not inclusive of all the energy policy related journals published worldwide. Readers should make note of this while they read and interpret the results of this study.
2 This includes, but is not limited to, political science, policy analysis and management, energy and environment studies, economics, and risk studies.
3 The number in the parenthesis shows the number of articles reviewed from a particular journal.
4 The US concentration in the geographical focus of reviewed energy policy studies is mainly due to the fact that most journals we examined are US-based.