Twice a month, 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. Keep reading, and feel free to send us your feedback; we hope this newsletter continues to evolve and improve. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
How might current federal court cases have a significant impact on future climate policy?
More than a dozen court cases in recent years have been filed by state and local governments around the United States in attempts to pin liability on corporations for exacerbating climate change. In one example, the city of Baltimore sued oil companies for abetting climate change and costing the city in damages from flooding, sea level rise, and people sent to hospitals. Fossil fuel companies have worked to move these lower-court cases to the Supreme Court in “an effort to force action through litigation rather than legislation,” but the Baltimore case was sent back to a lower court. The Baltimore case has gone through multiple appeals that largely revolve around procedural arguments, instead of the original charge brought by the city. Several other recent cases that did make it onto the Supreme Court’s docket could have substantial influence on climate policy in the United States—even if their relevance to environmental regulations isn’t obvious. In a conversation with RFF Board of Directors Chair Susan F. Tierney, RFF University Fellow Jonathan Wiener and Georgetown Law Professor Lisa Heinzerling argue in the current issue of Resources magazine that cases such as the court’s rulings against COVID protections, along with the pending West Virginia v. US Environmental Protection Agency, could broadly curtail efforts to limit carbon pollution.
This issue of Resources is hot off the presses and continues to mark the occasion of the 70th anniversary of RFF. Whereas the February issue looked back at the legacy of RFF, this latest issue of Resources focuses on the present, covering the high-impact current work of RFF and celebrating the organization’s people, who contribute to RFF’s mission in all kinds of ways.
As gasoline prices soar to some of the highest levels we’ve ever seen, what policy strategies might help or hurt the situation for constituents?
In early May, gasoline prices reached their highest yet, exceeding $4.00 per gallon on average across all US states for the first time ever. Some US states have tried blunting the impact on consumers by pausing gas taxes, which in California are $0.51—the highest in the country. California has been considering policy options to help alleviate the high cost of gasoline, such as tax cuts, rebates for car ownership, free public transit, or targeted tax relief—options that vary in terms of who benefits across socioeconomic class. For those who can afford electric vehicles, the high up-front investment can be “significantly cheaper to refuel and repair over the long haul” than gas-powered counterparts, depending on several factors that include gasoline prices and available tax credits. A blog post coauthored by the new director of RFF’s Transportation Program, Beia Spiller, explores the option of cutting gasoline taxes in terms of the potential impacts on people and the environment. “Experts are predicting that high gasoline prices are here to stay, potentially fueling the implementation of longer, or indefinite, tax holidays,” Spiller and coauthor Heather Stephens say, “which in turn could lead to detrimental impacts on equity and the environment in the long run.”
Corporations increasingly are announcing commitments to reduce their carbon emissions. Can federal regulations help ensure that decarbonization strategies such as carbon offsets achieve the outcomes we’re aiming for?
The London City Airport this week has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. “We want to be credible with our sustainability road map,” says airport CEO Robert Sinclair about the plan, which involves some measure of carbon offsets. Offsets, a means of reducing carbon emissions from one source by sequestering carbon elsewhere to compensate for direct emissions, can leverage strategies like large-scale tree planting or renewable energy projects. But offsets can get complicated, and not just because countries such as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are reconsidering their involvement in forest-related international offsets. In March this year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed rules that will require public companies to include climate-related disclosures in their statements and reports. A recent Common Resources blog post on the topic examines some complications with corporate climate pledges and carbon offsets. “The SEC climate disclosure rule could promote enhanced environmental integrity and more efficient offset markets,” argues RFF University Fellow Joseph E. Aldy, “by indicating that corporations covered by these requirements also should disclose how they have insured the environmental integrity of the offsets.”
On Friday, May 27, RFF Transportation Program Director Beia Spiller, along with other expert panelists, will discuss ways of accurately valuing and compensating distributed energy resources in the electric grid. The speakers will weigh in on the potential future of related policy decisions and how various approaches may affect related outcomes. RSVP to the event here.
As nations map out pathways to net zero, border carbon adjustments—taxes applied to goods that are imported from countries with less ambitious climate policies—can help level the playing field for international trade among countries that have varying levels of carbon pricing and environmental regulations. A new issue brief coauthored by RFF’s Raymond Kopp, Billy Pizer, and Kevin Rennert explores a different approach: designing a decarbonization policy for the industrial sector that would apply a fee to goods based on the carbon intensity of certain products. The issue brief discusses challenges to industrial decarbonization and domestic competitiveness and the role that border carbon adjustments play in the “hard-to-abate” sectors.
On June 29, as part of the annual conference of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, RFF and the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment (EIEE) will host a policy session about border carbon adjustments. A panel of scholars will discuss border carbon adjustments in terms of the environmental impacts, economic impacts, and potential to influence climate ambition. Speakers will include RFF’s Raymond Kopp, Billy Pizer, and Carolyn Fischer, along with EIEE’s Francesco Bosello. Register to attend the online event here.
On June 27, RFF and EIEE will host a hybrid webinar and in-person event about the energy transition and how to approach related policies in a way that helps correct existing and transition-induced inequalities. The workshop will focus on employment, public buy-in, and differential impacts of policies and climate risks. Speakers will include EIEE’s Massimo Tavoni and Elena Verdolini. Register for the event here.
A recent episode of the Resources Radio podcast explores RFF’s history and impact on policy and economics over the past 70 years. Two RFF-ers with vast institutional knowledge—recently retired Vice President for Research and Policy Engagement Raymond Kopp and RFF University Fellow Kerry Smith—discuss how conducting research has changed during their careers and how RFF has helped shape the evolution of environmental economics.
A new publication in Nature Energy, coauthored in part by EIEE’s Giovanna d’Adda and Massimo Tavoni, investigates the consumer effects of adding energy cost information to European Union energy labels. Their research indicates that including energy classes on energy-efficiency labels produces a trade-off between short-term economic savings and higher search costs when it comes to consumer purchases of new refrigerators.
This graph from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tracks the amount of heat stored by Earth’s oceans over more than half a century. A clear trend indicates that the ocean has warmed dramatically since 1955.