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:
Which provisions of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan have the potential to boost clean energy and mitigate the impacts of climate change?
This week, President Joe Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, a $2-trillion package aimed at transforming the nation’s infrastructure and laying the foundation for a clean energy future. The plan makes clear that the Biden administration hopes to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050 through programs that touch almost every corner of the US economy. Major climate provisions include a clean energy standard, a program to plug oil and gas wells, and a massive influx of federal spending on clean energy research. While some conservative policymakers have balked at the plan’s price tag, Biden says that increases in federal spending could be offset by increasing corporate tax rates and eliminating subsidies that benefit fossil fuel companies. Still, the plan is just a starting point for negotiations and is likely to develop over the coming months as the administration navigates a narrowly divided Congress and considers possibilities for passing an infrastructure package through the Senate’s reconciliation process.
In a new blog post, ten RFF scholars reflect on the American Jobs Plan, highlighting notable policy ideas and pointing to potential challenges for the administration’s infrastructure agenda. Assessing the clean energy standard, Alan Krupnick notes the administration hopes to make nuclear power and carbon capture eligible for clean energy credits, which could spur market expansion and technological innovation; he also suggests that a clean energy standard give extra credit to decarbonized hydrogen and to natural gas that is produced, processed, and delivered with low methane leaks. Karen Palmer and Sue Tierney highlight the administration’s efforts to boost research, development, and demonstration of new technologies “as necessary reforms to the US electricity system.” But Biden’s efforts could be bolstered by additional proposals that the policy road map does not mention: Benjamin Leard finds that the administration’s electric vehicle plans don’t do enough to speed scrappage of gasoline-powered vehicles already on the road, while Marc Hafstead and Michael Toman note that a carbon tax could help the administration achieve its emissions reduction goals.
Related research and commentary:
As the Biden administration begins reviewing the boundaries of two national monuments in Utah, what’s its broader strategy for conserving US lands?
In her first trip as President Biden’s Secretary of the Interior this week, Deb Haaland is visiting the areas surrounding the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and meeting with local stakeholders to discuss the monuments’ boundaries. Early in his administration, former President Trump reduced the monuments by a collective two million acres, as his administration sidestepped concerns from local tribes and pushed for more development on federal lands. Biden issued an executive order earlier this year asking the US Department of the Interior to review these two monuments’ boundaries and has made conservation a priority, halting fossil fuel leases on federal lands and specifically pledging to protect 30 percent of US land by 2030. Such a massive undertaking—currently, only 12 percent of US land is permanently protected—will require swift action from Haaland, whom Biden has asked to help devise a sweeping conservation plan by late April.
At an RFF Policy Leadership Series event this week, former US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell discussed a range of public lands and conservation issues with RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell. Reflecting on her own efforts at the Interior Department to review federal coal leases, Jewell highlighted Biden’s efforts to reform the federal oil and gas leasing program as a critical step toward mitigating climate change and decarbonizing the US economy. However, Jewell added that Biden’s goal of conserving 30 percent of US lands by 2030 “is achievable, but is not achievable on public lands alone” and emphasized that engaging public, private, and indigenous landowners alike will be necessary for federal conservation efforts. She also suggested a memorable general framework for conservation efforts: “Protect the best and improve the rest.”
Related research and commentary:
How can building energy codes, and similar policy tools that reduce emissions from the buildings sector, be even more ambitious and effective?
Last month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a sweeping bill that boosts clean energy, supports environmental justice, and commits the state to net-zero emissions by 2050. But the legislation passed only after months of disagreement over the bill’s reforms to building energy codes, which set energy efficiency standards for new construction. In essence, Massachusetts has a state-level code, but for the last decade has also allowed municipalities to abide by a more ambitious “stretch code.” Dozens of cities, many of which have attempted to ban new natural gas hookups, asked Baker this year to allow cities to promulgate a “net-zero” stretch code that aims for even greater reductions than the existing stretch code. But construction companies objected, fearing that such a policy could raise housing costs and deter development, and Baker vetoed two earlier versions of the bill due to concerns over the possible economic ramifications of an aggressive standard. The state now has 18 months to develop guidelines for the updated stretch code, including when different types of buildings will be impacted and how “net zero” will be calculated.
In a new explainer from RFF’s ongoing Federal Climate Policy Toolkit series, RFF’s Kathryne Cleary and Karen Palmer explore how various policy tools—including building energy codes and performance standards—can drive emissions reductions in residential and commercial buildings. Including emissions from electricity use in buildings, the sector accounts for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions have risen over recent years. The primary strategies to reduce emissions include improving energy efficiency or substituting clean energy technologies for appliances that rely on fossil fuels, but these reforms often require high up-front costs. Building age, and the age of appliances inside those buildings, vary widely, too, which “makes designing policies to reduce emissions a daunting task,” according to Cleary and Palmer. But the scholars point to various policies already in place—such as the federal government’s many appliance standards and the District of Columbia’s energy intensity standard—and highlight key considerations for policymakers who are looking to design similar programs.
Related research and commentary: