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:
How can we continue to reduce harmful levels of ozone in the air?
An industry-led challenge to a regulation that limits interstate pollution emissions failed last week in a US appeals court. The US Environmental Protection Agency regulates emissions of pollutants that produce harmful ground-level ozone; these emissions can cross state lines, pollute neighboring communities, and cause neighboring states to violate air-quality standards for ozone. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin enforcing an update to a rule that aims to reduce such interstate pollution. In a recent blog post, Resources for the Future (RFF) Senior Fellow Joshua Linn and Christopher Holt, an economic fellow at the New York University School of Law Institute for Policy Integrity, offer an additional policy approach for reducing levels of harmful ozone: targeting ozone emissions that are most likely to violate air-quality standards. “This targeting could be accomplished by introducing trading ratios, such that emissions rules are stricter for firms at locations or times of day that are more likely to see ozone violations,” say Holt and Linn.
How much can carbon capture and removal technologies contribute to climate goals?
Members of the carbon capture industry have banded together. The Carbon Removal Alliance plans to lobby the US federal government to support activities related to the capture of carbon dioxide at the point of emission and the removal and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Already, the US government has invested billions in carbon removal technology, which has garnered bipartisan support. Still, carbon removal tech must scale up prodigiously to become a meaningful contributor to emissions-reduction goals, says Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Nemet joined an episode of the Resources Radio podcast to discuss carbon dioxide removal. “Trees today are removing about two billion tons [of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere]; novel technologies are removing 0.1 percent of that,” says Nemet. “The scale-up and speed is the real challenge with these novel carbon dioxide removal technologies.”
How have the economic systems and ecosystems of the region around the Bering Strait evolved over time for Indigenous groups?
A decision from the Biden administration on whether to approve the Willow oil project in Alaska is expected within the next few weeks. Some Alaskans support Willow for the economic benefits it may bring to the northern region of the state, which neighbors the Bering Strait; others oppose the project because of the associated emissions and potential damage to the local environment. Willow would be the latest chapter of government activity that influences economic systems and politics around the Bering Strait. On a recent episode of the Resources Radio podcast, Brown University Associate Professor Bathsheba Demuth discusses the history of interactions between Indigenous peoples in the region and external influence. “The US idea was to take collectivist peoples and turn them into private property owners,” says Demuth. “The Soviet Union came in wanting to do exactly the opposite … They wanted to make people collectivists.”
Evergreen Time Machine
RFF research from our archives offers historical insight for the challenges in today’s news.
The centuries-old principle of freedom of the seas, which … guarantees that ocean fisheries are free and open to all corners, is the root cause of almost every modern problem of fisheries management
This week: Two-thirds of the world’s oceans are classified as international waters. These marine areas are unregulated and unprotected, which has contributed to depleted fishing stocks, a loss of ocean biodiversity, ocean acidification, and other negative environmental impacts. Over 190 countries have agreed on a landmark United Nations treaty that will enable international governments to address the lack of regulation in the high seas by designating biodiversity protection zones.
Disease Caused by Fungus Spreads in Southwestern United States
Valley fever, a disease caused by the Coccidioides fungus that lives primarily in dry soils in the southwestern United States, is becoming more common. The disease can produce symptoms that are similar to a respiratory virus and, in some cases, can be fatal or lead to long-term lung damage. Some scientists fear that the fungus may spread north and east as climate change exacerbates drought conditions in the United States.
“Coccidioides is just one example of many organisms whose range is expected to expand and change as humans continue to shape the environment,” says Rebecca Epanchin-Niell, a senior fellow at RFF. “Many species—from disease-vectoring mosquitoes to forest pests—are shifting their ranges as climate and land use change around the globe. These changes affect where species can live and their likelihood of encountering other species that they can harm. Hopefully, as our predictive modeling and understanding of these species improves, we can get better at responding by reducing exposure, detecting and diagnosing more quickly, and identifying more effective cures.”
In Focus: Regulating the Waters of the United States
The US House of Representatives passed a motion this week that would nullify an expansion of the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule in the Clean Water Act. This motion reverts the definition of WOTUS to laxer standards, given that the Biden administration revised the interpretation of the definition of WOTUS in December 2022 by extending it to include protections for wetlands and several other types of waterways. In the latest installment of our In Focus video series, RFF Fellow Hannah Druckenmiller discusses the recent history of the WOTUS rule and why the definition of WOTUS continues to be controversial.
How will domestic energy markets influence economic growth, global oil prices, technological innovation, and policy in the year ahead? In an RFF Live event next week, on March 16, RFF and the US Energy Information Administration will present and discuss key findings from the agency’s Annual Energy Outlook 2023 and how these findings could influence decisionmaking in the years ahead. RSVP here to attend the event in person or virtually.
The US Department of Energy requested comments from the public about a policy tool known as “demand pull,” in which the government creates a market for a technology by agreeing to buy that technology or related service ahead of time. RFF scholars have issued a response to many of the questions that the agency posed. “Demand-side policies have strengths and trade-offs as they pertain to the technology being developed, meaning that there is not a one-size-fits-all measure,” the researchers say in their comment to the agency.
New tax incentives, policies, research, and funding from the federal government are supporting the hydrogen fuel industry in the United States. On a recent episode of the Climate One podcast, RFF Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick discusses the burgeoning industry and addresses a concern about blue hydrogen—a form of hydrogen produced by consuming fossil fuels and then capturing and storing the carbon dioxide emissions. “If we stop ourselves from using the resources we have, just because of a philosophical issue of keeping [fossil fuels] in the ground, that seems to be tying one hand behind our back,” says Krupnick.
🎨 Climate in the Culture 🎵
The DC Environmental Film Festival (DCEFF) begins in the nation’s capital on March 16. The festival will screen films about climate change, agriculture, exploration, and other environmental topics in theaters across the city over the course of 10 days. Notable films at the festival include Geographies of Solitude, which follows an environmentalist who has lived on the remote Sable Island in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean for more than 40 years, and To The End, a documentary about four women in the United States who push for climate legislation, which culminates with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. These are among more than 50 other films at the festival—grab your popcorn.