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:
As the US Environmental Protection Agency finalizes a variety of regulations, how can the incoming Biden administration fulfill its clean energy agenda?
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized two long-awaited regulations this week, potentially hindering the Biden administration’s efforts to enact environmental policy under the Clean Air Act. This Monday, the Trump administration opted to keep standards on PM2.5 pollution the same, highlighting that levels of soot pollution have declined over recent years and neglecting recent research that connects exposure to PM2.5 pollution with higher COVID-19 mortality rates. And on Wednesday, EPA published a final rule that makes it harder for agencies to consider the indirect benefits of Clean Air Act regulations, such as how limiting mercury emissions has the ancillary effect of reducing PM2.5 pollution. These attempts to finalize a variety of environmental regulations just weeks before Trump leaves office reflect the degree to which deregulation has been central to this administration’s energy agenda; the regulatory scramble also makes clear that administrative law will be pivotal for President-Elect Biden’s clean energy ambitions.
RFF Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick expects policymaking under the Clean Air Act to be of central importance for the Biden administration. In a new blog post—the first in an ongoing series about the future of US climate policy—Krupnick suggests that many of Biden’s environmental priorities rely on key components of the Clean Air Act. Recently finalized environmental regulations—such as Monday’s rule keeping standards on soot pollution the same—“will create more work for the Biden administration” but nevertheless are reversible, according to Krupnick. Pointing out that General Motors already has withdrawn support for the Trump administration’s lawsuit with California, Krupnick predicts that Biden will reverse the current administration’s fuel economy rollbacks and work cooperatively with California. While control of the Senate remains uncertain, Krupnick emphasizes that many ambitious environmental policies do not necessarily depend on legislative support. “Most of these initiatives can be done administratively, so only limited (mostly budgetary) legislative support will be needed,” Krupnick says.
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How do lions move in and around national parks, and how can understanding such behavior inform conservation efforts and park management?
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a global economic downturn and curbed world travel, which consequently has slowed ecotourism—a vital source of funding for conservation efforts. In many cases, ecotourism aids countries where national governments struggle to gather the funds required for conservation, and research has found that ecotourism has proven essential for the protection of endangered species worldwide. For instance, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, government spending for animals increasingly is reserved for “militarized law enforcement aimed at poaching and the illegal wildlife trade,” which then leaves national parks to rely on ecotourism for other essential conservation efforts. As the world struggles with an “unprecedented” decline in biodiversity, West Africa has faced unique burdens even beyond the coronavirus: in Burkina Faso, national park officials have been forced to concentrate resources on resisting militant extremist groups that have been camping out in parks, and the instability has made it especially difficult for conservation groups to track lion populations.
On a new episode of Resources Radio, Daniel Raimi talks with Nyeema Harris, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, about her field research on lions in West Africa. Harris ended up spending a few extra months in West Africa this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which allowed her to continue working with park managers and government officials to determine how lions utilize space within and outside national park boundaries. With the goal of informing park management policy, Harris and her coauthors discovered that lions primarily are drawn to where prey is available, which is not necessarily in protected areas. Harris also discusses her involvement with events like Black Mammalogists Week, which highlight the work of Black environmentalists and foster community among Black scientists. “A number of events are meant to … showcase that Black people are here, that we are in these spaces, that we are contributing and enjoying the natural world,” Harris says.
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Cement production is one of the largest contributors to global carbon dioxide emissions. What can the US government do to reduce emissions from construction?
Global demand for cement has decreased due to COVID-19—and a dearth of construction projects is prompting many industry leaders to reconsider the sector’s carbon footprint. In recent years, local and state governments have worked to incentivize innovation in the construction sector by enacting more stringent procurement standards. For instance, a program in California uses state procurement dollars to purchase infrastructure materials (though not cement) that meet a statewide standard for emissions performance, while legislation before the New York Assembly would set similar procurement standards for concrete specifically. Some advocate for more federal leadership, too: a report from the US House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis this year proposes a federal “Buy Clean” program that would set standards for cement and concrete purchased by the US government. For his part, President-Elect Biden, without specifically calling out construction materials, has pledged to use federal procurement funds to “position the United States as the world’s clean energy leader.”
As University of New Mexico Professor Mahmoud Taha explores on a recent episode of Resources Radio, cement is responsible for about 8 percent of global emissions—higher than any nation besides China and the United States. Taha contends that “the government needs to interfere to … support new materials that [reduce] CO₂ emissions” and suggests that efforts to incentivize better behavior from companies could be effective at minimizing environmental impacts. At an RFF Live event last week, RFF Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick and panelists explored how one policy idea in particular—green procurement programs—could reduce emissions from the industrial sector, including from cement. “Why green cement and steel?” Krupnick asked, expanding on a recent report he authored. “These have relatively large carbon footprints, and they would be primarily embodied in products the government wants to procure, like buildings, roads, bridges, and so on.”
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