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:
The Inflation Reduction Act is projected to help the United States reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver substantial progress toward national climate goals—but not enough to meet these goals fully. What policies could help the United States close the gap?
Ørsted, the world’s largest developer of offshore wind energy, canceled a project off the coast of New Jersey last week. The firm cited supply-chain bottlenecks, high interest rates, and increasing costs as reasons for the cancellation. Southern Company similarly signaled a measured retreat from renewables projects by delaying the shutdown of its fossil fuel–fired power plants, given expected increases in demand for electricity. And an effort known as the Carbon Free Power Project was abandoned this week due to low subscription rates for the nuclear power on offer. Such challenges in the private sector can jeopardize reductions to US greenhouse gas emissions that the Inflation Reduction Act aims to deliver, say Maya Domeshek and Dallas Burtraw, scholars at Resources for the Future (RFF). In a new blog post, Domeshek and Burtraw discuss an additional policy—a national cap on emissions in the power sector—that could improve the likelihood of the United States meeting its national climate goals. The emissions cap would require reducing emissions in the power sector 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2030—the so-called “80x30” target. “Adding the emissions cap on top of the Inflation Reduction Act guarantees that the United States will achieve the 80x30 target, regardless of other variables,” say Domeshek and Burtraw.
The United States needs to expand the infrastructure of the electric grid, but constructing transmission lines is slow. What additional solutions could help the United States upgrade the grid?
The US Department of Energy has announced $1.3 billion to support the development of three new interstate transmission projects. Two of the projects will facilitate power connectivity among southwestern US states, with the other transporting electricity between New England and Canada. The funding, provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is part of the Biden administration’s wider efforts to expand and upgrade electricity infrastructure in the United States. However, the funding represents only a fraction of national-level needs, says RFF Research Associate Molly Robertson. In a new article on the Common Resources blog, Robertson discusses a recent RFF report that explores four additional solutions that could complement new transmission lines and help prepare the grid for higher electricity demand and variable supply of electricity. “Each of these investments can deliver unique benefits in terms of relieving congestion in the transmission system, serving demand for electricity, and increasing the reliability of electricity infrastructure,” Robertson says.
What happens when saltwater contaminates freshwater in coastal areas, and why is this contamination becoming more common?
The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, which oversees the city’s water infrastructure, will include strategies for protecting the supply of drinking water against contamination from saltwater, called saltwater intrusion, in a new master plan. Saltwater intrusion occurs when saltwater encroaches on freshwater resources, like rivers and aquifers. In October, an underwater wedge of saltwater traveled up the Mississippi River and threatened the drinking-water supply in New Orleans. The effects of climate change—sea level rise and drought, in particular—likely will increase how often saltwater intrusion occurs in many coastal areas. On a recent episode of the Resources Radio podcast, RFF Senior Fellow Becky Epanchin-Niell discusses the implications of saltwater intrusion for coastal ecosystems and economies. “When these freshwater resources become contaminated with salt, it can affect a lot,” says Epanchin-Niell. “It affects our drinking water. It affects water for irrigation. It can cause die-offs of species in different ecosystems.”
Texans Vote for State Fund to Help Build Emergency Natural Gas–Fired Power Plants
On election day this week, Texans voted in favor of Proposition 7, which will create a state fund that provides low-interest loans to energy developers to build so-called “dispatchable” electricity generators—but only if certain types of fuel-based power plants generate the electricity. At the moment, natural gas–fired power plants are the most likely to benefit. Texas officials have asserted that the proposition will improve the reliability of the electric grid in Texas, which has failed during extreme weather events in recent years.
“The proposal reflects a commonly held belief that thermal resources are the only reliable source of electricity,” says RFF Research Associate Molly Robertson. “But plenty of dispatchable gas plants underperformed or were unavailable during the winter emergency in Texas in 2021, which led to extended power outages and sky-high prices. A more important step toward grid reliability in the region may include investment in resilience improvements and transmission that connects dispersed generation networks—rather than relying on new thermal generation.”
The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in the United States has increased rapidly in recent years. This increase has highlighted the importance of a national charging network for EVs. In a forthcoming event in RFF’s Policy Leadership Series, Cathy Zoi will sit down with RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell to discuss her insights about current and future US strategies to electrify the transportation sector. Zoi is the former CEO of EVgo, one of the nation’s largest developers of fast-charging EV stations, and served as an Assistant Secretary and Acting Under Secretary at the US Department of Energy during the Obama administration. RSVP to attend the event in person or online.
For the United States to decarbonize its economy, the country must reduce its national production and consumption of fossil fuels substantially. While reducing fossil fuel use is essential to mitigating climate change, the transition away from fossil fuels also poses risks for communities that historically have been economically dependent on fossil fuels. In an upcoming webinar hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, RFF Fellow Daniel Raimi and University Fellow Julia Haggerty will discuss the challenges associated with this transition. RSVP to attend the webinar.
The recent release of the film Killers of the Flower Moon has renewed conversations about oil and gas development on Native American lands. In last week’s episode of the Resources Radio podcast, University of Denver Assistant Professor Angela Parker discusses the history of oil production on Native American lands, the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of oil production, and the implications for communities of this type of resource extraction. “The last number I saw was that tribal lands are producing about 3 percent of domestic production, but tribes are sitting over the largest untapped reserves of oil,” Parker says.
A concern surrounding climate goals in the United States is the economic resilience of communities that have economies which historically have relied on fossil fuels. In a recent Common Resources article, former RFF scholar Daniel Propp and current Senior Research Associate Wesley Look examine how the town of Tonawanda in New York State navigated fiscal challenges when a nearby coal-fired power plant closed and how Tonawanda’s experience can inform other communities in transition. “Tonawanda is an example of a community in which a proactive response to the energy transition prevented immediate negative consequences and secured the time to develop long-term solutions,” say Propp and Look.
Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) refers to the capture of carbon dioxide at the point of emission and the subsequent transport of the gas for storage or alternative applications. CCUS can help reduce emissions from the industrial and power sectors; however, the pipelines that transport carbon dioxide can disturb the environments and communities in the areas that the pipelines span. In a recent journal article, RFF scholars Jhih-Shyang Shih, Alexandra Thompson, Alan Krupnick, and collaborators analyze the environmental and social impacts of a pipeline network for carbon dioxide and offer suggestions for determining the pathways of these pipelines. “A small increase in pipeline length (and cost) significantly avoids large environmental and social impacts,” they say.
Border adjustment mechanisms impose a fee on imported goods based on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that were emitted during the production of the goods. Three senators have introduced a new bill, the Foreign Pollution Fee Act, as a potential border adjustment mechanism that the United States could implement. In a recent issue brief, RFF scholars Milan Elkerbout, Kevin Rennert, and Raymond J. Kopp break down the policy elements of the Foreign Pollution Fee Act. “The introduction of the Foreign Pollution Fee Act represents another important milestone in the development and consideration by the US Congress of border adjustment mechanisms,” they say.
🎨 Climate in the Culture 🎵
Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese’s newest film, tells the story of a series of murders of Osage Native Americans in the early twentieth century. The Osage Nation had become wealthy due to revenue from oil leases on the Osage Nation Reservation, and each member of the nation received a percentage of this revenue, known as a headright. “These headrights, in today’s dollars, could be the equivalent of $500,000 of passive income a year,” says Angela Parker, an assistant professor at the University of Denver, on a recent episode of the Resources Radio podcast. The film portrays a plan executed by William Hale, a rancher who lived near the Osage Nation Reservation, to inherit Osage headrights. Hale and others “were going to try to consolidate the headrights through a combination of marriage to one person who could hold headrights, and then murder of family members of that person that was married to a non-Native,” says Parker. The film, adapted from a book about the murders by David Grann, is now in theaters.