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. Today is Earth Day! But every day at Resources for the Future, we aim to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through rigorous economic research and policy engagement. Keep reading, and send us your feedback. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
Can any available policy options reduce carbon emissions while keeping oil prices from increasing?
The Biden administration recently announced that it will resume oil and gas leasing on public lands. The announcement comes as fuel prices have increased following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has affected energy markets even as the global economy recovers from COVID-19. Royalties for these leases—the share of revenues that companies pay the federal government from the sale of fossil fuels extracted on public lands—have been raised from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent. The increased royalties are meant to provide taxpayers with a greater return from the new leases as President Joe Biden aims to increase domestic energy supply. A new blog post by RFF Fellow Brian C. Prest explores how policies focused on fossil fuel supply—such as the recent moves by the Biden administration—when paired with demand can both minimize impacts on energy prices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Prest warns that short-term solutions that focus solely on either supply or demand will not necessarily yield results that meet both political and climate needs. “The desire to secure oil and gas supplies for immediate needs is understandable. But that goal does not preclude progress on longer-term climate objectives,” says Prest. “It is vital to recognize the synergies created by pursuing supply- and demand-side policies in tandem.”
With electric vehicles emerging as a viable alternative to gas-powered vehicles, can the United States access the needed resources to make the transition?
With gas prices spiking, electric vehicles (EVs) may seem like increasingly viable alternatives, even amid issues related to supply chains, high demand, and low inventory. Now, EV suppliers must tackle another challenge: sourcing the nickel found in EV batteries. Biden administration officials have noted the Russian invasion of Ukraine as underscoring the need for US-based battery production, and these statements echo Biden’s announcement of public and private investments that are aimed at expanding the supply of minerals needed to manufacture products like EVs, computers, and solar panels. The question of whether domestic resource supplies can sustain demand and economic growth has been relevant for decades. Originally published in 1963, an article from RFF researchers Hans H. Landsberg, Leonard L. Fischman and Joseph L. Fisher—with a new introduction by RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell—asks whether the United States can count on its natural resources to sustain economic growth. The first of three 70th anniversary issues of Resources magazine highlights this article from the archive. “The limiting factor usually is not the physical volume of any substance within the confines of the earth, but the cost of obtaining the desired materials and making them useful,” the authors concede.
How can we best leverage available data to make good decisions, even when the future is uncertain?
Earlier this month, SpaceX helped the German national space agency launch a new satellite known as the Environmental Mapping and Analysis Program, or EnMAP. The satellite’s mission is to provide high-quality images of Earth’s land and water surfaces. EnMAP uses over 250 colors to identify light waves reflected by objects on Earth, to assess how landscapes and ecosystems are changing—which provides highly accurate information that can be used to forecast future weather events and climate. RFF’s VALUABLES Consortium, a collaboration with NASA, measures how satellite information benefits people and the environment when those data are used to make decisions. The newest explainer in the Value of Science series from VALUABLES explores how to conceptualize the value of data even when future events are highly uncertain. “Earth science data provide a host of information that decisionmakers can use to assess the probabilities of various states of the world,” say the explainer authors Yusuke Kuwayama and Sarah Aldy. “When the information sharpens the accuracy of these probabilities (i.e., the likelihood of rain or a hurricane) and allows us to make better decisions, that information is a resource that has socioeconomic value.”
Will Federal Support for Nuclear Generators Efficiently Reduce Carbon Emissions?
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the launch of the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, an effort to continue the operation of nuclear generators to meet climate goals. The program allows nuclear plants to apply for “certification,” after which they can submit bids for financial support from DOE. Although the program was authorized in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, DOE released its final guidance recently and will begin accepting applications in May. Each generator also must provide evidence that their continued operation will reduce the net power sector emissions in the region where the nuclear plant operates; the program solicits evidence that the continued operation of nuclear plants will displace fossil fuel combustion, rather than supersede renewable energy sources. “Policies like these illustrate the need for a greater understanding of marginal emissions rates, in addition to average emissions rates, to better assess the emissions benefits of supporting these generators,” says RFF Research Associate Molly Robertson, who submitted comments to DOE about the Civil Nuclear Credit Program alongside RFF’s Dallas Burtraw, Karen Palmer, and Daniel Shawhan earlier this year.
This year, oil prices have risen as high as $120 per barrel in the midst of a Russian war in Ukraine, communities bouncing back from a pandemic, and related uncertainties. Next week, on Thursday, April 28, RFF will host an event at which speakers from the US Department of Energy, the Center on Global Energy Policy, research firm ClearView, and RFF will discuss the causes of this volatility, related historical context, and how short- and long-term policy actions may address prices in the near future. RSVP here.
The third event in an RFF Live series about forest products will take place on Wednesday, May 4. The webinar will explore how working forests can bring the United States closer to our climate goals and provide a sustainable supply of wood products. The panel will include speakers from the USDA Forest Service, the National Alliance of Forest Owners, International Paper, the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, and RFF. The event is happening in the same week as the World Forestry Congress. RSVP here.
In a new Resources Radio podcast episode, geology professor Erika Wise discusses her research, which combines paleoclimate data from tree rings with historical climate data drawn from artifacts such as ship logs and diaries, to glean insights about the North American climate of the mid-1800s. “The way that we can have confidence in our models,” says Wise, “is how well do they replicate the past climate?”
In a recent podcast episode, RFF President’s Council Member Kathryn D. Sullivan speaks with Tim Dunn, the founder and chief investment officer of investment management firm Terra Alpha Investments. Sullivan talks with Dunn about his work bringing environmental, social, and governance investing to the financial services sector.
In a new Resources Radio podcast episode, Matt Shields of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory discusses how to achieve President Biden’s goal to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030. “The design of the vessels, the design of the port, and the design of the turbine need to be synchronized,” says Shields. “It’s really this systems problem that would benefit from coordination between all these different entities in the supply chain.”
This figure from a timeline in Resources magazine, which was published on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, reflects on how much has changed since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring kicked off a wave of environmentalism in the 1960s. This graph shows the precipitous decline of several air pollutants since the Clean Air Act amendments passed in 1970.