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:
Can the Biden administration speed deployment of offshore wind without encountering resistance from coastal communities?
This month, the US Department of the Interior approved the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Construction will begin this summer, and the wind farm could power about 400,000 homes once completed. But getting to this point has hardly been smooth sailing: the Trump administration halted the Vineyard Wind project’s permitting process, which first began in 2017, in part because of intense opposition from some residents of the island. Driven by ambitious climate commitments, the Biden administration has moved to boost offshore wind, promising to speed the permitting process on similar wind projects and announcing a goal this week to swiftly increase the number of offshore wind projects off the coast of California from none to 12. Expanding offshore wind generation could prove essential for fulfilling US climate goals and competing internationally—the US offshore wind sector lags behind that of the European Union or China—but speedy approvals are no guarantee, given the steep up-front costs of such projects and the possibility of further resistance from coastal communities.
On a new episode of the Resources Radio podcast, Jeremy Firestone—the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware—reflects on the recent progress and future hurdles that confront offshore wind developments. Firestone notes that the cost of offshore wind has declined significantly in recent years and that the principal barriers to swift deployment are now “social and cultural.” Concerns about offshore wind are mixed: some residents dislike the aesthetics of a massive wind project along a pristine, rural coastline, while commercial fishers often fear that such projects could negatively affect their livelihoods. While some communities, such as those around Martha’s Vineyard, have strenuously resisted offshore wind projects, Firestone’s research suggests that public opinion about offshore wind is considerably more complex and that affected communities tend to respond positively to offshore wind. “A strong motivator of support is a vision of a clean energy future,” Firestone says.
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Private carbon markets incentivize farmers to prioritize climate-friendly agricultural practices. How can policymakers measure the success of these types of incentives?
A bipartisan group of policymakers is supporting a bill that would help farmers and ranchers participate in carbon markets and reduce emissions from the agricultural sector. The Growing Climate Solutions Act authorizes the US Department of Agriculture to establish a program to certify that private carbon markets meet certain standards for performance and to create a “one-stop shop” of information for farmers and ranchers about ways they can participate. Such markets typically pay farmers to employ climate-friendly practices like cover cropping and no-till farming and then sell climate credits to companies looking to offset their emissions. The bill’s proponents hope that reducing barriers to participation can help mitigate climate change and boost farmers’ bottom lines. While the Growing Climate Solutions Act still has to compete with other legislative priorities, it sailed through the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry earlier this month in a unanimous vote, and could get a floor vote this summer or be included in a major infrastructure package this year.
However, concerns about the viability of carbon markets still exist, in part because measuring how much carbon actually is sequestered when farmers and ranchers deploy climate-friendly practices presents methodological challenges. In an RFF and Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability event this week—part of a new event series about carbon farming—panelists discussed the challenge of monitoring, reporting, and verification for carbon farming and explored different approaches to incentivize farmers to reduce their carbon footprints. “What we really need to emerge are rigorous, standardized, agreed-upon rules of the road,” said the Nature Conservancy’s Kris Johnson. “We need to make sure that we come up with systems that are feasible for producers to participate in and that aren’t prohibitively costly.” For more insights about the potential of carbon farming to drive meaningful emissions reductions, including reflections from Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), watch a recording of the event.
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What suite of policies are available to the Biden administration for reducing emissions from the difficult-to-decarbonize transportation sector?
Last week, President Joe Biden toured a Ford factory and took an electric prototype of the iconic F-150 truck for a test ride. The visit signals the Biden administration’s interest in decarbonizing the transportation sector and fulfilling US climate commitments, but also points to the challenge of such goals: reducing emissions from car travel will require both buy-in from private manufacturers and interest from consumers. The Biden administration already has introduced some policies that can make the transition to low-emission vehicles easier; for instance, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has moved to allow California once again to set more stringent fuel economy standards than the federal government and has announced plans to unveil tougher federal standards this summer. The administration has proposed a variety of other policies to speed emissions reductions in the difficult-to-decarbonize sector, including point-of-sale rebates for electric vehicle (EV) buyers, a new tax credit for heavy-duty EVs, and more federal funds for research and development into renewable fuels for air travel.
An article from the new issue of Resources magazine—themed on offering policymakers insights about tools that can help decarbonize the major sectors of the US economy—reviews various strategies for reducing emissions from transportation. RFF University Fellow Benjamin Leard notes that the transportation sector is the largest source of national greenhouse gas emissions, but that considerable uncertainty about future demand (in part due to reduced travel from the coronavirus pandemic) makes it hard to gauge the emissions trajectory of the sector. Some policies, such as fuel economy standards, reduce emissions from vehicles; others, such as EV tax credits and Zero Emission Vehicle programs, promote adoption of low-emission vehicles. Air travel presents its own unique challenges—although greenhouse gas standards can drive emissions reductions and encourage innovation for a transportation source that is still heavily reliant on jet fuel. For more, read the article.
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