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 would a clean electricity standard—like the one that senators are considering for a future infrastructure package—impact the environment and public health?
Infrastructure negotiations in Congress remain in flux, and it is not yet clear whether a clean electricity standard (CES) will pass. After a team of bipartisan lawmakers first agreed on a $1.2-trillion bipartisan package that focuses primarily on physical infrastructure, Senate Democratic leaders announced Wednesday that they will aim to pass an additional $3.5-trillion package through the Senate’s reconciliation procedure. Echoing assertions from White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy that a CES is essential to any infrastructure package, the proposed framework reportedly includes budgeted space for a CES. Though the details of the policy are unspecified, it would need to abide by the Senate's strict rules for reconciliation. While separate proposals exist in the House, Democratic senators have been designing a CES that meets Biden’s climate goals while also abiding by these rules; that plan reportedly involves incentivizing utilities—rather than requiring them—to deploy more clean energy.
A new report by the Clean Energy Futures project and RFF’s Dallas Burtraw and Maya Domeshek assesses the economic, environmental, and health impacts of a CES that reaches 80 percent clean electricity by 2030. The study is one of the first to provide geographically detailed air quality and health benefits for an “80x30” CES. Overall, the authors estimate that an “80x30” CES would produce $637 billion in climate benefits—far outweighing the economic costs—and more than $1.13 trillion in health benefits, largely due to substantial improvements in air quality across the country. The scholars note too that policymakers might pursue what they call a “reconciliation clean electricity standard,” which uses “economic incentives that are designed to achieve specific clean energy targets” rather than stringent requirements for utilities, but they note that such a policy would achieve functionally similar results as a conventional standard. “The estimated net benefits of our illustrative 80x30 CES are large, widespread, and far outweigh the costs,” they conclude.
Related research and commentary:
What key energy provisions are being considered for inclusion in a bipartisan infrastructure bill?
This Wednesday, the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed the Energy Infrastructure Act, a far-reaching bill that senators expect will feature in ongoing negotiations around a bipartisan infrastructure package. President Joe Biden and policymakers from both parties agreed on a basic framework for a broader infrastructure bill last month, but left out key details on “power infrastructure, including grid authority.” The same day that policymakers announced the agreement, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) released the Energy Infrastructure Act, which allocates almost $100 billion toward grid resilience and clean energy projects and aims to fill energy-related gaps in the current framework. The bill provides funds for projects related to advanced energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) that were initially approved by the Energy Act of 2020; a federal program to clean abandoned wells; and efforts to mitigate wildfire risks. Amid uncertainty about whether Democrats can agree on passing a subsequent infrastructure package through the Senate’s reconciliation process, the bill could increase the odds that major clean energy provisions become law this year.
A series of new RFF issue briefs describes the possible economic and environmental impacts of key provisions from Manchin’s proposed Energy Infrastructure Act. One issue brief from RFF’s Daniel Shawhan and Kathryne Cleary considers the provisions that would appropriate funding for advanced nuclear, geothermal, diurnal storage, and carbon capture technology RD&D, as initially authorized by the Energy Act of 2020. They point to recent RFF research which shows that additional funding for advanced energy RD&D yields significant benefits, but they also note that expected emissions reductions would increase if Manchin’s bill allocated as much funding as the Energy Act allows. For more on how RFF research connects to Manchin’s proposal, an issue brief from Daniel Raimi considers parts of the bill that earmark billions of dollars for a federal program to plug abandoned oil and gas wells, and an issue brief from David Wear considers Manchin’s proposal to target wildfire management efforts to 10 million acres of federal land that have “very high wildfire hazard potential.”
Related research and commentary:
What can members of the public do to help scientists detect and eradicate invasive species?
Last month, a giant “murder hornet” was found just north of Seattle, Washington, sparking concern among experts. The hornet—native to parts of Asia and first discovered in the United States in late 2019—appears to have expanded its range; it was first observed in a rural area farther north, near the Canadian border. Although the insect is not dangerous to humans (despite its intimidating name), the hornet preys on honey bees and can wipe out an entire bee colony in mere hours. Scientists are particularly concerned because of the hornet’s status as an invasive species—a non-native species that has no natural predators in its new habitat. Without predators, these animals can spread unencumbered, upending ecosystems and local economies in the process. While the hornets are a particularly high-profile invader, invasive species are a pervasive and widespread problem across the United States; for example, non-native insects have infected citrus across Florida, rendering much of it unsellable, and flammable cheatgrass has exacerbated wildfire risk in California.
On a new episode of Resources Radio, RFF Senior Fellow Rebecca Epanchin-Niell discusses how everyday citizens contribute to identifying and eradicating these invaders. Epanchin-Niell points to the giant murder hornet as an example of an invasive species that was first noticed by a public citizen. “This was discovered by somebody stepping out on their front porch and seeing this giant, crazy-looking hornet,” Epanchin-Neill explains. “They ended up calling local authorities, and it ended up leading to a lot of efforts across Washington and Oregon [to try] to keep the species from establishing.” This type of citizen-led detection is not uncommon; according to Epanchin-Niell’s research with other RFF scholars, more than a quarter of invasive species in the United States are first noticed by members of the public. She adds that these kinds of informal observations can be especially useful to scientists, as early detection is one of the best tools for eradicating invasive species. Going forward, Epanchin-Niell says that governments can make reporting species sightings even easier for the general public.
Related research and commentary:
This week’s #FactOfTheWeek takes from a recent RFF study about the effects of a clean electricity standard.
TimSiegert-batcam / Shutterstock
A study coauthored by RFF’s Dallas Burtraw and Maya Domeshek estimates that a clean electricity standard that’s designed to reach 80 percent clean electricity by 2030 would produce $637 billion in climate benefits. These benefits outweigh the expected costs of $342 billion.