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.
Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
What federal policies are available to reduce emissions from large vehicles in the transportation sector?
The US Environmental Protection Agency has updated emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles for the first time in more than 20 years. The new standards focus on emissions of nitrogen oxides and aim for a 48 percent reduction in the pollutants by 2045. Congress has resisted the move and voted last month to overturn the rule, though President Joe Biden is expected to veto that resolution. Part of the federal strategy for reducing emissions from the transportation sector is to invest in electric alternatives, which Resources for the Future (RFF) researchers Emma DeAngeli and Nafisa Lohawala discuss in two new blog posts—part of a special series that explores incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act which encourage the electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. In the blog series, the researchers explore the implications of these incentives for auto manufacturers, the electric vehicle market, and electricity infrastructure. “These big vehicles pollute a lot, yet they’re a vital part of our transportation sector,” the authors say. “So, electrifying [medium- and heavy-duty] vehicles is a great way to eliminate their emissions and reduce their environmental impact.”
How do wildfires affect housing prices?
California’s first- and fourth-largest insurers announced that they will not approve any new home or commercial insurance policies in California, citing the “rapidly growing catastrophe exposure” of wildfires and other natural disasters in the state. These announcements come as insurance companies across the country are feeling the financial burden of disasters that are driven by climate change, with insurers reducing coverage in Florida, raising premiums in Colorado, and pulling out of Louisiana entirely. In a new blog post, RFF researchers share findings from their recent study of a California law that requires some house sellers to disclose their property’s wildfire risk—a risk that can influence insurance premiums and the overall cost of owning the home. The researchers note that disclosure reduces home sale prices in higher-risk areas. “Our results suggest that disclosure matters to homebuyers and that, without disclosure, homebuyers do not fully incorporate the risk of wildfire into their decision to purchase a house,” they say.
How can cities adapt and become more resilient as heat waves grow in intensity with climate change?
Climate impacts do not exist in isolation. For example, if a major heat wave coincides with a blackout, then residents could see a cascade of negative effects—such that more than half the city would need emergency care to cope in a place like Phoenix. As climate change makes heat waves more common and exacerbates their effects, cities are working toward both reducing urban heat and improving the ability of residents to keep cool. One of these cities is Las Cruces, New Mexico, the subject of a recent Resources Radio episode about urban heat islands. Las Cruces Sustainability Officer Lisa LaRocque discusses the particular vulnerability of urban areas to heat, inequities in heat risk, and solutions being implemented in Las Cruces and elsewhere. “Although this doesn’t sound like heat mitigation, the more we stop using fossil fuels and shift to efficient, well-insulated systems, the more resilient we will be during extreme heat events,” says LaRocque. This episode joins four others in a special Climate Hits Home series, with the latest about flooding in Appalachia.
Wildfires in Canada Are Producing Drastic Declines in US Air Quality as Smoke Travels South
Canada is on track to have its worst wildfire season ever, and smoke from fires in Quebec this week are causing drastic declines in air quality across the northeastern United States. The air quality impacts have spread as far south as South Carolina; Washington, DC, had the first Code Red advisory for air quality since 2011; and New York City residents on Wednesday experienced the worst air quality among any major city in the world. In New York, a Code Purple warning indicated that air quality was very unhealthy for the general population, with air traffic suspended briefly at the city’s LaGuardia airport due to low visibility from the haze.
“This trend is concerning because wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to health—especially for very young and very old people. Spring this year has been unusually warm and dry throughout much of Canada, which is why we’re seeing such an extreme—and early—fire season there,” says RFF Fellow Matthew Wibbenmeyer. “We’re fortunate that air quality has improved significantly in the United States over the past several decades, but wildfire smoke more and more frequently is causing severe degradations in air quality during the summer and fall. And the effects now are reaching beyond the western United States, where we typically expect to see smoke impacts.”
June is the start of hurricane season. As communities prepare, RFF Fellow Yanjun “Penny” Liao reflects on what people can do to build resilience in the wake of these devastating storms. Catch her insights in our latest In Focus video.
The Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office handles hundreds of billions of dollars that go toward financing ambitious energy projects and accelerating the clean energy transition. On Tuesday, June 20, Director of the Loan Programs Office Jigar Shah will join in-person and virtual audiences for a Policy Leadership Series event at RFF. Shah will speak with RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell about funding the clean energy transition, technological innovation, and lessons drawn from his career as a clean energy entrepreneur. RSVP here for the in-person or virtual event.
Passenger vehicles on US roads have been trending larger. This general increase in the size of new vehicles could be explained by various factors, including consumer preference, manufacturing costs, and shifts in production to meet regulatory requirements. In a new blog post, RFF Senior Fellow Joshua Linn explores the extent to which regulations have driven this trajectory of vehicle size in the United States. “The standards for [greenhouse gas] emissions and fuel economy have provided a substantial incentive to increase vehicle size or convert cars to light trucks,” says Linn.
Wildfires, long a feature of life in the American West, are becoming more common and more destructive. A recent episode of the Resources Radio podcast features Kimi Barrett, a research and policy analyst at Headwaters Economics, in a discussion about the ecological function of wildfires and how local and state governments in the West are mitigating related risks to communities. “The issue is not so much that wildlands are burning out of control as it is that homes and communities are underprepared,” says Barrett.
What’s needed for a transition from diesel to electric in the transportation sector? A new podcast episode from Green Business Impact features Beia Spiller, an RFF fellow and director of RFF’s Transportation Program, who discusses the challenges and opportunities in the transition from diesel to electric among large trucks and buses, the critical minerals involved in manufacturing electric vehicle batteries, and more. Listen to the episode.
As renewable energy resources become more crucial to the US energy system, the adequacy and reliability of these resources become increasingly important. But traditional means of assessing resource adequacy don’t always apply to renewable energy, due to its unique characteristics like intermittency and seasonality. A report from RFF scholars Molly Robertson, Karen Palmer, and Todd Aagaard summarizes the related challenges, solutions, and insights from a February workshop hosted by RFF. “[Resource adequacy] stewards must adapt to the evolving nature of electricity generation and demand as the grid decarbonizes,” they say in the report.
Land conservation groups vary in their size and budgets; partnerships formed among them could enhance their efficiency and effectiveness. RFF University Fellow Kailin Kroetz and Senior Research Associate Alexandra Thompson worked with other scholars to explore the prevalence of partnerships in land conservation and the connection between a group’s mission and their tendency toward partnerships. They published their work as a peer-reviewed journal article, finding that partnering organizations use more environmental language in their mission statements than socioeconomic phrases. “Our evidence that organizations with environmental goals are engaged in partnering raises questions about whether they are pursuing mutual goals or attempting to generate complementary benefits,” say the authors.
Source: Atlas EV Hub via Politico Power Switch.
March 2023 saw the highest-ever monthly sales of electric vehicles in the United States, with about 115,000 sold. Even so, the market share of electric vehicles slipped to 8.7 percent from its peak of about 10 percent in December 2022.