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:
Climate change is a growing concern for voters—but do they want to regulate fracking?
Environmental issues are key to Democratic primary voters, but there is a world of disagreement among the candidates on fracking, as this week’s debate made clear. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren support an outright ban, while former Vice President Joe Biden has only opposed new drilling on public lands, and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has expressed skepticism about fracking regulations altogether. This month, NPR reported on the complicated politics of fracking—some researchers fear that an aggressive response could prompt substantial job losses and alienate voters in major gas-producing states such as Pennsylvania. Residential proximity to fracking could very well impact electoral behavior and election outcomes. Assessing the connection is complicated, especially considering that different states have responded very differently to oil and gas development—with New York State pursuing a fracking ban, Texas avoiding substantial restrictions, and Colorado landing “somewhere in the middle.”
A new study from RFF researchers in the journal Energy Research & Social Science investigates how residential proximity to fracking in Colorado might have influenced levels of support for a fracking-related ballot measure that failed in 2018. That measure, Prop112, would have barred the construction of new oil or gas wells within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, and streams. RFF Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick, RFF Senior Research Associate Daniel Raimi, and Morgan Bazilian of the Colorado School of Mines find that voting precincts that housed oil and gas infrastructure were more likely to oppose the ballot measure and thus showed support for the industry. Some support for fracking can be attributed to partisan preferences—fracking is more common in rural areas, where voters lean conservative. But they also find that support for fracking is lower in areas where drilling activity has expanded the most since 2000, suggesting that resistance to fracking is burgeoning in the suburbs, where most new development has been centered.
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As climate change policies transition from nebulous ideas to concrete actions, what kinds of policy ideas are growing in viability across party lines?
Historically liberal-leaning states like California and New York have often taken the lead on climate policy, but as climate change impacts become increasingly clear, some conservative states are prioritizing mitigation strategies, as well. Utah’s Republican legislators are exploring policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality, in an effort to protect the state’s tourism industry and address air quality issues exacerbated by its mountainous geography. Similarly, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is taking proactive steps around climate change. Last summer, DeSantis appointed Julia Nesheiwat as Florida’s first chief resilience officer, a role that’s tasked with preparing communities for the impacts of sea level rise. And climate policy is growing as a priority for state leaders across the political spectrum: the Democratic governor of Louisiana, a traditionally conservative state with a powerful oil and gas industry, announced plans this week to hire its own chief resilience officer—a first for the state.
This week on Resources Radio, Julia Nesheiwat talks about the work she is doing as chief resilience officer to aid Florida communities in developing resilience and mitigation strategies to address the state’s unique climate risks. Nesheiwat discusses the diverse responsibilities of her role and describes how she works alongside leaders from government, academia, and the private sector to track the issues affecting all parts of the state and devise proactive solutions to the very relevant—and imminent—climate challenges. “There are no borders when it comes to these issues, and it’s certainly too expensive to go at it alone,” Nesheiwat says. “Seeing [communities] be able to work in a collaborative way and seeing that forming across the state to really help offset some of these issues—it’s truly progressing.” Nesheiwat also offers advice to communities looking to develop roles in government focused on tackling climate change. Listen to the podcast episode to learn more.
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Is forest bioenergy a viable alternative to fossil fuels?
Eight countries in the European Union are planning to phase out coal entirely by 2030, and Europe is heavily investing in forest bioenergy to take its place—under the assumption that the sector is “carbon neutral.” The European Union already heavily subsidizes forest bioenergy, which has facilitated a rapid expansion of the industry in Europe: by one estimate, 42 percent of EU renewable energy in 2017 came from trees, and that number is projected to increase as more coal plants are retired. While the bioenergy sector might be preferable to fossil fuel production, some scientists worry that forest bioenergy is not an ideal energy source, and opponents are cautioning against expanding the subsidies that make harvesting wood financially feasible in the first place. This skepticism is in part because forest bioenergy necessarily creates emissions in the short term, even if replenishing forests means that carbon neutrality could be possible in the long term.
These concerns surrounding the European Union’s retreat from coal-fired power point to a larger problem: because some say that “the science on biomass … isn’t totally settled,” it’s hard to create policy that doesn’t unduly burden forest managers or contribute to climate change. In a new series of explainers, RFF Senior Advisor Ann M. Bartuska and Senior Fellow David N. Wear explain how forest bioenergy is generated, what bioenergy tends to replace, and how to assess the true emissions of a forest bioenergy system. “Because of the complexity of forest regrowth, forest management, and land-use responses to a growing bioenergy sector, citizens need assurance that the bioenergy system is providing net benefits for climate goals and not generating harm to forested ecosystems and ecosystem service benefits,” they write. As forest bioenergy emerges as a sought-after alternative to fossil fuels in both Europe and the United States, Bartuska and Wear offer a variety of options and opportunities for policymakers.
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