Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
The Biden administration has promised steep emissions cuts. What combination of policy tools can help the United States get there?
President Joe Biden has announced sweeping emissions reduction goals—a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 relative to 2005 levels, and net-zero emissions by 2050—but details for the administration’s plans remain sparse. The United States is expected to announce more specifics at the COP26 conference this year, but those plans will hinge on action from Congress, where passing climate policy has historically been a challenge. The best chance to lay the groundwork for significant emissions reductions could come in a forthcoming infrastructure package, which the Biden administration hopes will include a clean electricity standard, a raft of tax incentives, and new investments in clean energy. Other policy tools are in play, too: despite skepticism from some White House officials, many Democratic policymakers want to set a price on carbon. But even if such a far-reaching bill could pass in a divided Congress, questions remain over whether these provisions alone could do enough to reduce emissions, especially in difficult-to-decarbonize sectors like transportation and industry.
In a new issue brief, RFF scholars in collaboration with Yale researchers assess the potential of three prominent policies that have been proposed as tools to reduce US emissions: clean energy tax credits, a clean electricity standard, and a carbon price that starts at $15 per ton. The researchers find that, while all policy tools significantly reduce emissions, none—whether implemented in isolation or all together—achieve the Biden administration’s goals of halving emissions by 2030. Regardless, they note that implementing all three policies while simultaneously funding electric vehicle charging infrastructure and residential building weatherization gets the United States quite close to its climate commitments. “While the policies we study may not achieve the administration’s emissions goals, they represent a significant down payment on those goals,” the scholars write. “They show that … these goals are within reach.”
Related research and commentary:
With a moratorium on new oil and gas leases now extending through June, how will the US Department of the Interior approach future reforms to the federal leasing program?
The US Department of the Interior has extended its moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands through at least June. A report on the program’s economic and environmental impacts is expected this summer, which could reveal the Biden administration’s broader plans for reforming the program; federal oil and gas leases have been an early focus for the Biden administration, given that the production and use of fossil fuels—oil, gas, and coal—from federal lands and waters accounts for around 25 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. The forthcoming review will consider specific policy tools, such as potentially raising royalty rates or indefinitely halting new leases, along with broader questions about the program’s mission and legacy, including whether the Interior Department has adequately considered public and tribal pushback to proposed oil and gas projects in the past. Secretary Deb Haaland, who has called the program “fundamentally broken” and has long supported significant reforms, already has reshaped department policy, revoking Trump-era rules that favored fossil fuels and issuing new orders that compel the department to more robustly consider climate change in its decisionmaking.
On a new podcast episode based on a Policy Leadership Series event earlier this month, former US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell discuss the Interior Department’s wide range of responsibilities and strategies for reforming the federal oil and gas leasing program. Jewell describes President Biden’s executive order halting new leases on federal lands as “absolutely sensible” and something that “needs to be done,” and she contends that a more competitive leasing process is essential for ensuring taxpayers get a fair return. Drawing parallels with another federal program that went decades without a comprehensive review, Jewell reflects on her own efforts to reform the federal coal leasing program, only for President Trump to attempt, unsuccessfully, to reverse the Obama administration’s reforms. “But that reversal actually got challenged in the court because we did it the right way,” Jewell explains. “We did listening sessions, and that’s how we should proceed for oil and gas.”
Related research and commentary:
- Blog: Protecting Public Lands: RFF’s Policy Leadership Series with Sally Jewell
- Explainer: Federal Climate Policy 108: The Oil and Gas Industry
- Working paper: Supply-Side Reforms to Oil and Gas Production on Federal Lands: Modeling the Implications for Climate Emissions, Revenues, and Production Shifts
What have been the impacts of climate change on agriculture in the midwestern United States, and how can farmers and policymakers mitigate future risks?
Two new studies suggest that climate change will have drastic economic and environmental impacts across the Midwest, and the region’s historically robust agricultural sector confronts unique dangers. One report from The Nature Conservancy takes a close look at Illinois and finds that climate change could bring more intense flooding events during the spring season—which could force the state’s farmers to delay planting seasons—along with higher temperatures and increased soil evaporation. Another report from Environmental Defense Fund finds that climate change could cause farm revenues in Iowa to decrease by $4.9 billion per decade, with cascading consequences for the state’s economic growth and employment. Smaller farmers could struggle the most to adapt, with possible implications for agricultural productivity and biodiversity, but some climate impacts can be mitigated if farmers adjust their methods with “technology advances and management tweaks.” Still, such strategies could be costly for farmers who already face economic headwinds and increasingly hazardous climate conditions.
On a new episode of Resources Radio, Cornell Professor Ariel Ortiz-Bobea elaborates on a recent journal article he coauthored about how climate change already has affected global agricultural productivity. Pointing out that climate change is having pronounced impacts on agriculture in some parts of the world, Ortiz-Bobea describes how the midwestern United States “is becoming increasingly sensitive to high temperatures … by a large factor,” in part because the region’s agricultural approach has become increasingly specialized, and thus more susceptible to shifts in the weather. But problems for agriculture extend beyond the Midwest and beyond the United States, as Ortiz-Bobea emphasizes that agricultural productivity has declined globally by about 20 percent since 1961, and future impacts—especially in hotter regions—could be stark. “Areas that are warmer tend to be hit the hardest,” Ortiz-Bobea explains. “That’s a big part of why you might see Africa and parts of Latin America and Asia being particularly hit hard in our results.”
Related research and commentary: