Each week, 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. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
How will the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources pursue ambitious solutions to climate change in the new Congress?
Progressive policymakers hope to pass a range of far-reaching climate policies this term, such as a federal clean energy standard and stricter limits on fracking. But Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate legislator and the new head of the influential Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, aims to chart a path that focuses more on incentives and innovation. After helping negotiate a major energy innovation package with Republican leaders on the committee last year, Manchin continues to emphasize his preference for bipartisan compromise and his aversion to legislation passed with a narrow majority through the reconciliation process. Still, the coal-state senator—who once sued the US Environmental Protection Agency over mining rights as governor of West Virginia—has evolved on energy issues during his time in office and acknowledges that policymakers need to take action around climate change. He and ranking member John Barrasso (R-WY) have signaled that they will prioritize energy innovation and economic support for fossil fuel workers over the coming two years.
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hosted this session’s first hearing on climate change this week, convening experts to discuss global emissions trends and progress to date on addressing climate change. At the hearing, RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell spoke about how energy sources and emissions have shifted in the United States in recent years and sketched out technological options now available for decarbonizing the power, transportation, and industrial sectors. Ultimately, Newell contended that successful policies would spur technological innovation and incentivize companies and consumers to do more to reduce their emissions. “Innovation flourishes when accelerating demand for new technology is coupled with robust support for research and development,” Newell said. “We need to get to net zero as quickly as possible. Exactly when that is is going to depend on how technologies unfold, how policies unfold, and how market conditions change.” For more, read Newell’s written testimony and watch a recording of the full committee hearing.
Related research and commentary:
- Testimony: Testimony to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Establishing a Baseline of Global Climate Facts
- Blog: Science-Based Estimates for the Social Cost of Carbon Will Underpin Sound Climate Policy
- Magazine: Technology-Inclusive Climate Strategy: An Open Race with Many Winners
Fossil fuel companies have expressed a willingness to work with the Biden administration on addressing climate change, though they’ve balked at policies that limit oil and gas production. How can these companies assure the public that their climate commitments are substantive?
On his second day in office, President Joe Biden suspended new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits on federal lands, sparking backlash from the fossil fuel industry. However, resistance to new regulations on oil and gas production comes after many of these same companies and industry groups had expressed a willingness to cooperate with President Biden on addressing climate change, in some cases endorsing carbon pricing or stricter controls on methane pollution. The US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute now fear that Biden’s plans to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands could prompt job losses in energy-producing states, shift production overseas, and increase energy prices for Americans while doing little to reduce emissions. Oil and gas companies also have argued that they’re already doing enough to tackle climate change; for example, ExxonMobil announced this week that it will invest $3 billion in energy projects that lower emissions and support 20 carbon capture and storage projects globally.
These oil and gas companies confront a complicated new reality under the Biden administration, during which they’ll need to contend with both stricter environmental regulations and mounting public demands to do more around climate. On a new episode of Resources Radio, Tisha Schuller, founding principal at Adamantine Energy and former president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, discusses her new book and contends that oil and gas companies must significantly change their operations in response to climate change. Schuller identifies three key “disruptors” that threaten the oil and gas industry, including the rise of environmental activism as an economic force and demands for accountability from climate-conscious millennials. Despite these challenges, Schuller sees a path forward for the modern oil and gas industry, if these companies become more willing to engage and lead on climate issues. “The most important resource that we as an industry bring to this is 150 years of entrepreneurial spirit,” Schuller says. “We have reinvented ourselves time and time again.”
Related research and commentary:
- Podcast: Can the Oil and Gas Industry Lead on Climate?, with Tisha Schuller
- Journal article: Partisanship and Proximity Predict Opposition to Fracking in Colorado
- Working paper: Supply-Side Reforms to Oil and Gas Production on Federal Lands: Modeling the Implications for Climate Emissions, Revenues, and Production Shifts
How is the clean energy transition impacting isolated communities that historically have been dependent on fossil fuels?
Construction on what will be Montana’s largest wind farm commenced this year, with plans for the plant to go online in 2022. But the facility’s location has generated more attention than its electric capacity, since it is being built in Colstrip, a community with a coal plant that has recently confronted economic headwinds. Two of Colstrip Power Plant’s four units went offline in 2019, and the fate of the rest of the facility is in jeopardy, too, given that four of the plant’s remaining six owners are based in states that will impose bans on coal-fired power. The facility’s environmental legacy—which in 2018 was the 11th-largest single source of domestic greenhouse gas emissions—is a source for concern, too, as the plant’s owners have been ordered to pay $285 million to clean up excessive levels of toxic coal ash from the two shuttered units that contaminate the town’s groundwater. While the wind farm promises jobs, many coal workers fret about their economic futures if more of Colstrip Power Plant’s units go offline.
The energy transition in Colstrip mirrors larger forces nationwide, as more coal plants shut down and many miners lose their jobs. A new case study—part of RFF and Environmental Defense Fund’s ongoing Fairness for Workers and Communities in Transition series—looks closely at how the uncertainty about Colstrip Power Plant’s future has impacted coal communities, and whether efforts from policymakers have offered sufficient economic and other assistance. The report’s authors contend that transition planning has been largely uncoordinated and that “planning efforts would be enhanced if communities, regulators, plant operators, and others coordinated their activities and funding decisions with clearly defined goals.” A similar case study assesses economic support efforts in another community struggling amid the long-term decline of coal—Athens, Ohio—and concludes that federal grant efforts have proven most effective when they provide flexibility for grantees and meaningfully engage with local stakeholders.
Related research and commentary:
Judge Vacates Trump Administration’s Controversial “Science Transparency” Rule
This week, a federal judge in Montana struck down a rule issued in the final weeks of the Trump administration, which limited the US Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to consider studies that utilize confidential data, such as private health records. RFF Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick previously wrote about an earlier effort to implement a “science transparency” rule, which he contended was ill-conceived.
“Because there was no trust in the Trump administration to seek better environmental outcomes instead of just reducing regulatory costs, proposals like the ‘transparency’ rule were dismissed by the scientific community as cudgels to weaken standards,” Krupnick now says. “Rather than passing a new ‘transparency’ rule, the Biden administration could work hard to restore the public’s trust in science and be vocal about its efforts to repudiate the Trump administration’s attempts to discredit science, from COVID to climate change to air pollution regulation to the conduct of regulatory impact analyses.”