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For most of American history, the federal government did not play an active role in the energy industries. During the Great Depression and into the years of WWII, the federal government began to establish a fragmented regulatory framework, with many agencies participating. Furthermore, the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons initiated the era of nuclear regulation. However, the energy crises of the 1970s forced the federal government to consolidate its scattered regulatory framework that had developed piecemeal in the previous decades. With the creation of the Department of Energy in 1977, a national energy plan emerged for the first time. The stated purpose of federal energy laws and regulations is to provide affordable energy by sustaining competitive markets, while protecting the economic, environmental, and security interests of the United States.

Early regulation began with the Federal Power Act of 1920, which created the Federal Power Commission. Amended in 1935, and 1986, the Federal Power Act allowed a regulatory framework to develop. In 1977, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was established within the newly created Department of Energy and assumed the functions several agencies, including the Federal Power Commission. FERC is an independent regulatory agency that oversees the natural gas, oil, and electricity markets in the U.S. FERC regulates the transmission and sale of these energies (except the sale of oil), provides licenses for hydroelectric plants, and reacts to environmental matters that arise. The Commission is headed by five presidential appointees, only three of which can be from the same political party, who serve five-year terms. FERC utilizes an internal dispute resolution system, reducing the number of disputes that reach the federal courts. The nuclear power industry is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), whose mission it is to protect the public health and safety from nuclear radiation and waste. The NRC also promotes the common defense through a regime of rulemaking, inspection, and licensing.

In recent years there has been a shift towards deregulation of various energy industries. Deregulation aims to increase market competition in order, ultimately, to serve the goal of cheap, reliable energy. The trend is most progressed in the electricity market, where in many states consumers can now choose their suppliers. To label this as “deregulation” is somewhat of a misnomer, however, since government oversight still plays a central role. Rather, historically vertically integrated power companies are breaking apart to create competition at every step of the chain from production to consumption.

Title 42 of the U.S. Code entitled “The Public Health and Welfare” has many chapters devoted to energy issues, as does Title 16 and Title 30 of the U.S. Code. See also, Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which deals with various energy matters.

See also:

  • Natural resources
  • Environmental law
  • Land use

Federal Material

U.S. Constitution
  • CRS Annotated Constitution
U.S. Code
  • Energy:
    • 16 U.S.C. Chapter 12 - Federal Power Act of 1935
    • 16 U.S.C. Chapter 46 - Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA)
    • 30 U.S.C. Chapter 3a - Leases and Prospecting Permits
    • 30 U.S.C. Chapter 29 - Oil and Gas Royalty Management
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 73 - Development of Energy Sources
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 84 - Department of Energy Organization Act
    • 43 U.S.C. Chapter 34 - Trans-Alaska Pipeline
  • Nuclear Energy
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 23 - Atomic Energy Act
  • Natural Gas
    • 15 U.S.C. Chapter 15b - Natural Gas Act of 1935
    • 15 U.S.C. Chapter 15c - Alaska Natural Gas Transportation
    • 15 U.S.C. Chapter 60 - Natural Gas Policy Act
  • Oil
    • 15 U.S.C. Chapter 55 - Petroleum Marketing Practices
    • 22 U.S.C. Chapter 40 - Oil Pollution
    • 26 U.S.C. § 4064 - Gas Guzzler Tax
    • 33 U.S.C. Chapter 40 - Oil pollution
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 78 - National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska
    • Alternative Sources
    • 16 U.S.C. Chapter 47 - Hydroelectric Power
    • 30 U.S.C. Chapter 27 - Geothermal Energy
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 71 - Solar Energy
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 74 - Nonnuclear Energy R & D
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 96 - Biomass Energy and Alcohol Fuels
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 98 & Chapter 99 - Ocean Thermal Energy
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 100 - Wind Energy Systems
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 128 - Hydrogen
    • Conservation
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 77 - Energy Conservation
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 81 - Energy Conservation and Renewal
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 91 - National Energy Conservation Policy
    • 42 U.S.C. Chapter 93- Emergency Energy Conservation
Code of Federal Regulations
  • Title 10 - Energy
  • Title 18 Chapter 1 - Conservation of Power
Federal Judicial Decisions
  • U.S. Supreme Court:
    • Recent Energy Decisions 

State Material

State Judicial Decisions
  • N.Y. Court of Appeals:
    • Energy Decisions

Other Material

  • Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency

Federal Agencies:

  • Department of Energy
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
  • DOE Energy Information Administration
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • DOT Office of Pipeline Safety
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Congressional Committees:
    • Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
    • House Committee on Energy and Commerce
  • Energy Bar Association
  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE)
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE)
  • World Energy News

[Last updated in November of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]