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:
Electric vehicles are generating renewed attention under the Biden administration. Can policymakers increase consumer interest in electric vehicles by considering how best to expand the nation’s underdeveloped electric vehicle charging infrastructure?
Electric vehicles (EVs) are having a moment, boosted by a new president with ambitious goals to speed their deployment, far-reaching commitments from industry leaders, and even a splashy Super Bowl ad boasting that the United States can one day dominate the global EV market. President Joe Biden has taken swift action to back up his campaign’s many EV commitments, pledging to replace hundreds of thousands of federal government vehicles with electric alternatives. Industry has adapted to the new administration, with major automakers reversing their support of the Trump administration’s relatively permissive fuel economy standards and planning to work with Biden on curbing emissions; for example, General Motors has committed to sell only EVs by 2035. But these plans hinge in large part of the availability of charging infrastructure, a key determinant of consumer interest in EVs. For his part, Biden has aimed to build 500,000 public charging stations by 2030, although how this administration will approach such a drastic construction project remains unclear.
In a new blog post, part of an ongoing series in tandem with the University of Maryland’s Transportation Economics and Policy Blog, RFF Senior Fellow Joshua Linn explores various approaches for expanding EV charging infrastructure across the United States. According to Linn, locating new charging stations based on current EV driving patterns misleadingly assumes that new EV owners will behave just as current EV owners do. In addition, an exclusive focus on expanding home charging could exclude the millions of Americans who do not own garages or carports. Instead, Linn contends that collecting more data from experimental approaches, such as smaller-scale pilot programs in key locations, could save resources and clarify where infrastructure is most needed. “Making investments in charging infrastructure as quickly as possible might be tempting,” Linn writes, “but starting gradually and experimenting with different investment approaches would lead to a more cost-effective transition to EVs.”
Related research and commentary:
Can city governments develop novel, and uniquely effective, emissions reduction strategies that can be replicated elsewhere?
This week, Seattle passed a ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings, joining a growing cohort of US cities that have sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reforming the buildings sector. After Berkeley, California, became the first US city to ban all gas power in new buildings two years ago, dozens of other cities across the nation have followed suit with similar plans to reduce methane emissions and boost electrification. While responsible for a relatively modest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions nationally, buildings contribute significantly to cities’ carbon footprints—representing two-thirds of the emissions from New York City, for instance—so limits on natural gas present a chance for mayors to act on ambitious climate commitments. But the growing mobilization of cities could be slowed in some places by less climate-conscious state governments: Tennessee and Arizona already have passed legislation that prevents municipalities from prohibiting gas power in buildings, and a handful of other states are considering similar bans.
In other words, city governments often exert broad power and can implement sweeping policy changes—unless higher levels of government take issue. But according to former Toronto Mayor David Miller on a new episode of the Resources Radio podcast, cities are able to navigate these governance challenges and are uniquely positioned to address climate change. Miller contends that national and state governments can get bogged down in the legislative process, while cities—which typically control building standards, transportation networks, and urban planning—by comparison “actually do things.” He points to green innovations introduced across the globe as examples of cities that are spearheading solutions that can be deployed successfully on a wider scale, such as a cap-and-trade system in Tokyo and emissions standards for buildings introduced by two New York City mayors. “It’s when mayors are able to think about meeting the needs of people, jobs, and doing the right thing to climate, that you really have a solution,” Miller says.
Related research and commentary:
Sea levels are likely to rise drastically due to climate change. Can we quantify the value of access to accurate information about coastal flooding for low-lying communities?
New research indicates that sea levels could rise even more quickly than many current projections suggest. Conducted by University of Copenhagen scientists, the study uses data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change covering past decades of sea level rise to project future trends, and posits that a half meter of sea level rise by the end of the century could occur with just a 0.5°C temperature increase. Though it’s just one study within a growing body of research about the impacts of climate change, the report comes as sea levels have risen dramatically over recent decades. For instance, a report released last year from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looks closely at US coastlines and finds an “extraordinary” increase in high-tide flooding, with especially pronounced impacts on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. NOAA also projects that high-tide flooding could be five to 15 times as common by 2050, underscoring how decisionmakers must act quickly to minimize climate damages in low-lying areas.
In a new report, RFF scholars assess the economic value of some uses of NOAA’s Digital Coast site, an online platform that offers tools and training sessions to help its users make better coastal management decisions. Senior Research Associate Kathryne Cleary and Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick provide more detail about one case study from their report—also coauthored by RFF’s Seth Villanueva and Alexandra Thompson—in an accompanying blog post, describing how the platform has enabled decisionmakers in Jackson County, Mississippi, to speed up their planning process to move wastewater treatment plants away from sites affected by storm surge. The Jackson County Utility Authority’s decision to relocate these plants, which likely would have happened a year or two later absent tools available through the Digital Coast platform, ultimately saved $1.1 million to $2.2 million in avoided damages from flooding—suggesting that the Digital Coast offers substantial benefits with its many tools, data sets, and trainings. “As the impacts of climate change intensify,” they write, “these coastal management tools could prove even more beneficial.”
Related research and commentary: