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:
With the US government considering relief for companies affected by COVID-19, can mining companies justify a need for federal funding?
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, the mining sector is facing new economic challenges. Many mines, even in remote areas seemingly far from the pandemic, are temporarily halting production. And while the broader economic slowdown threatens all sectors, coal mines are uniquely imperiled by the pandemic, as reduced economic activity could dramatically reduce electricity demand for an industry that was already struggling to stay afloat. Concerns are mounting, too, at open coal mines about the safety of workers, who spend their days in close quarters and are already susceptible to lung damage, which heightens the risk of severe complications from COVID-19. Reflecting the unique position the mining sector finds itself in—potentially noxious to workers yet a key source of jobs in mostly rural areas—Pennsylvania’s governor initially recommended that mines cease production, before quickly backtracking the next day and deeming the industry “essential.”
With the coal mining industry uniquely precarious, and other types of mines facing uncertain financial futures, many companies are lobbying for a shift in federal policy toward supporting mines. A long-running complaint from the mining sector has been that America’s protection of national monuments has left too many lands off limits and stifled economic development. However, in a new episode of the Resources Radio podcast, RFF Senior Fellow Margaret Walls discusses her recent research with RFF colleague Matthew Ashenfarb and RFF alum Patrick Lee, related to the economic effects of national monuments, which found that new monument designations do not negatively impact surrounding industries. “We looked at the effect on mining, livestock, grazing, and forestry … When we look at that together, we find no effect—either positive or negative—on jobs in those sectors,” Walls says. For more on how national monuments can actually benefit local economies, listen to the podcast.
Related research and commentary:
How does climate change affect the availability of clean water?
To commemorate this week’s World Water Day, the United Nations released an expansive report surveying the current state of water resources across the world and assessing how climate change will impact the accessibility of water in coming decades. The European Union, which declared a “climate emergency” last November, released a statement upon the release of the report, contending that “we must adapt to the water effects of climate change to protect health and save lives.” Recent developments in the spread of coronavirus have clarified the necessity of clean water, as around three quarters of households in lower-income countries lack access to water and soap. And looking beyond the immediate pandemic, climate change increases the likelihood of extreme weather events and makes flooding more likely, thus potentially enabling the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera.
Over the past year, RFF experts have offered significant contributions to water resources literature and provided key insights for policymakers concerned with how climate change intersects with water policy discussions. In one blog post, RFF Senior Advisor Ann M. Bartuska and RFF University Fellow Casey Wichman explain how the increased likelihood of extreme weather events, like droughts and floods, are impacting the accessibility of water. “Climate change and development activity are shifting the amount and availability of freshwater, affecting our water supply, and straining our aging infrastructure,” they write. “Affordability and access to safe drinking water are a pressing equity issue.” The prognosis for water is not necessarily grim, though: on a recent episode of the Resources Radio podcast, guest Lisa Mandle, lead scientist at Stanford’s Natural Capital Project, discusses how efforts to protect natural infrastructure, like watersheds and wetlands, can avert significant flooding damages.
Related research and commentary:
As many government agencies reduce services or temporarily close in response to the coronavirus pandemic, why are US plant inspection stations functioning as normal?
Even as the US government encourages social distancing to fight the spreading coronavirus, many federal agencies are continuing business as usual—but the fate of government inspectors depends on the agency that employs them. The Food and Drug Administration, for instance, is “halting all routine surveillance inspections of facilities that manufacture food” and will cease all overseas inspections at least through April. Meanwhile, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which has sole discretion over inspecting plant imports, is keeping open all its plant inspection stations as part of the agency’s goal of “protecting the health and value of America’s agriculture and natural resources.” Industry groups as diverse as the American Soybean Association and the Society of American Florists have been advocating that their industries’ imports continue unimpeded, which presents challenges for agencies that are concerned with protecting their workers from coronavirus but also committed to ensuring that companies and consumers can access essential goods.
Plant inspections might not intuitively seem an essential government service, but the policies in place help avert pressing threats posed by invasive plants and animals. In Resources magazine’s issue 203, a new story from Cole Martin (yours truly) reflects on the unique history of invasive species in the United States and discusses how research from RFF Senior Fellow Rebecca Epanchin-Niell informed a recent policy shift in how APHIS inspects plant imports. Until recently, the agency instructed inspectors to examine about two percent of each arriving shipment. But “[APHIS] recognized that this might not be the most efficient strategy, both because it was an inconsistent means for gathering information, but also because it equally targeted low- and high-risk material,” Epanchin-Niell says. For more on the robust, risk-based approach to inspection that Epanchin-Niell and her collaborators recommended, read the article.
Related research and commentary: