Designing Cost-Efficient Surveillance to Control Invasive Species

Invasive species can cause substantial reductions in a region’s ecological, industrial, and human welfare, and often require significant control expenditures. The Emerald Ash Borer, for example, established itself in the United States in the early 1990s and has caused the death of hundreds of millions of ash trees and is estimated to cause billions of dollars of costs and damages annually.  Currently, New Zealand is threatened by the establishment of similar wood borers and bark beetles, pests that pose a substantial threat to the country’s forest industry, as well as to its urban and natural forests. In a new journal article, with New Zealand colleagues Eckehard G. Brockerhoff (Scion), John M. Kean (AgResearch), and James A. Turner (AgResearch), we ask: How much should New Zealand invest in surveillance, and where should traps be placed, to cost-efficiently monitor for new wood borer and bark beetle invasions?

To control newly established invasions and limit their damages, new populations must first be detected. And the sooner that an invasion is detected, the less expensive and more successful eradication or control efforts are likely to be—lessening the costs and damages associated with the invading species.  Greater investment in surveillance upfront reduces the expected costs and damages from new invasions, but this can be quite costly; and gauging what level of surveillance spending will produce the most cost-effective results, and where on the landscape those resources should be targeted, is difficult for managers and policymakers to assess. Read More

Improving the Efficiency of Coal Plants under EPA’S Clean Power Plan

This is the sixth in a series of questions that highlights RFF’s Expert Forum on EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Readers are invited to submit their own comments to the questions and/or the responses using the “Leave a Comment” box below. See all of the questions to date here.

RFF asks the experts: how can coal power plants reduce emissions and be made more efficient—and at what cost (building block #1)?

The emissions rate targets assigned to states are built on four building blocks that EPA says represent best practice in reducing emissions throughout the electricity system. Building block #1 focuses on measures to make coal plants more efficient. EPA seeks comment on its proposed finding that the average heat rate for coal power plants (the heat content of fuel input per unit of electricity output) could be improved by 6 percent on average across the fleet. Do such opportunities exist, and at what cost? Would they lead to emissions reductions?

anthony-licata

 

“The evidence suggests EPA’s finding is technically plausible and economically reasonable—given that the agency adopts a flexible approach to achieve compliance.”
—Dallas Burtraw, Darius Gaskins Senior Fellow, Resources for the Future (See full response.)

 

 

anthony-licata

“EPA’s conclusion that 4 percent improvement using “best practices” is possible at no or low cost was based upon an analysis [that]… did not consider any technical aspects of the facility, or if any characteristics changed over the 11 year period, including a change in operating mode… whether the facility conducted a retrofit …or if the facility changed coals.”
—Anthony Licata, Partner, Licata Energy (See full response.)

 

 

 

RFF on the Issues: Global wildlife declines; US emissions rise

Global Wildlife Declines

New research by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London has revealed that the global population of vertebrate species has dropped 52 percent in the past four decades. The Living Planet Reportpoints to human activities as the primary reason for the decline,” and names habitat destruction, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species as the biggest ongoing threats to biodiversity.

In the newest issue of Resources magazine, RFF’s Rebecca Epanchin-Niell highlights strategies to prevent and mitigate invasive species impacts, and notes that the economic and environmental damages caused by invasive species are likely to be exacerbated by the “wild card” of climate change. She writes: “The hallmark characteristic of invasive species is their adaptability, and it is possible they will be best positioned to take advantage of longer growing seasons, expanded ranges, and other phenomena associated with a warming world.”

US Emissions Rise

The US Environmental Protection Agency has reported that US greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2013, up 0.6 percent—or about 20 million metric tons—from 2012. The increase was “driven by the continued dependence on coal by power plants” in the electricity sector, a problem that EPA hopes to address through the building blocks used to create the “best system of emission reduction” in its proposed Clean Power Plan.

In a new Resources infographic, RFF’s Anthony Paul and Sophie Pan assess the four building blocks individually to determine the emissions reductions that would result if one or more did not survive legal scrutiny. Paul and Pan note in a blog post that block #1 (dealing with heat rate improvements at coal boilers) makes reduction contributions similar to those of blocks #3 (clean energy) and #4 (energy efficiency), with block #2 (concerning natural gas generation) making the largest contribution.

This Week in the RFF Library Blog

Each week, we review the papers, studies, reports, and briefings posted at the “indispensable” RFF Library Blog, curated by RFF Librarian Chris Clotworthy.


Natural Gas: Federal Approval Process for Liquefied Natural Gas Exports
What GAO Found. Since 2010, of 35 applications it has received that require a public interest review, the Department of Energy (DOE) has approved 3 applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) and 6 applications are conditionally approved with final approval contingent on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) issuance of a satisfactory environmental review of the export facility. DOE considers a range of factors to determine whether each application is in the public interest. After the first application was conditionally approved in 2011, DOE commissioned a study to help it determine whether additional LNG exports were in the public interest. Since the 16-month study was published in December 2012, DOE issued 7 conditional approvals (one of which became final) and 1 other final approval (see fig. below). In August 2014, DOE suspended its practice of issuing conditional approvals; instead, DOE will review applications after FERC completes its environmental review. – via US Government Accountability Office

Sage Grouse Habitat Produces $1 Billion in Recreational Spending
[U-T San Diego] Visitors to federal rangelands with significant tracts of sagebrush pumped about $1 billion into the economy in 11 Western states last year, according to a study released Tuesday by advocates of protecting sage grouse across the region. The study is the first of its kind to examine the direct and indirect economic impacts of recreation spending tied to U.S. Bureau of Land Management property with habitat for sagebrush-dependent species, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. – via The Pew Charitable Trusts

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The Role of Renewable Energy in EPA’s Clean Power Plan

This is the fifth in a series of questions that highlights RFF’s Expert Forum on EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Readers are invited to submit their own comments to the questions and/or the responses using the “Leave a Comment” box below. See all of the questions to date here.

RFF asks the experts: Does EPA make appropriate assumptions regarding the deployment of renewable energy in its proposed Clean Power Plan?

One way for states to reduce their carbon emissions is to expand their renewable and low-carbon power generating capacity; this is building block #3 in EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. EPA assumes that each state can increase its renewable energy generation to achieve a “best practices” scenario—a level it says is “reasonable and consistent” with existing policies that have already been implemented by a majority of states. This assumption directly influences the stringency of each state’s carbon emissions target. Does EPA make appropriate assumptions regarding the deployment of renewable energy in its proposed Clean Power Plan?

megan-ceronsky“The Clean Power Plan . . . bases state targets on an average of existing renewable energy policies in different regions of the country. By taking this approach—effectively looking backwards—the proposal fails to reflect the dynamism in renewable energy deployment that is happening across America.”

—Megan Ceronsky, Director of Regulatory Policy & Senior Attorney, Climate & Air Program, Environmental Defense Fund (See full response.)

 

jeremy-richardson“Despite the potential for improvement, the important message here is that EPA’s framework provides an opportunity for states to include renewables in their compliance plans. States are free to go beyond the levels of renewables that EPA estimated in order to meet their emissions rate reduction target—and they should, since this is a cost-effective option nationwide.” 

—Jeremy Richardson, Senior Energy Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists (See full response.)

 

ray-williams“The reasonableness of the assumption underlying the renewables building block depends on: (1) the renewables market potential in each region; and (2) the ability of the state and the key participants in each state to realize this potential in a reasonable period of time. . . . There may remain an opportunity to improve the construction of this building block.” 

—Ray Williams, Director, Long-Term Energy Policy, Energy Procurement Department, Pacific Gas & Electric (See full response.)

Is There Really Bipartisan Consensus on Benefit-Cost Analysis of Regulation?

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Beyond obvious rhetoric, are there discernible differences among the ways that Democrats and Republicans tackle economic analyses of federal regulations? Yes—and no, according to our content analysis of all the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) annual Reports to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations (or, for our purposes here, Reports) issued during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations (since 1997). Although there are many similarities in the Reports across administrations, our analysis reveals some differences between the ways that Republicans and Democrats consider the impacts of regulations.

  • The role of OMB. First, although all the Reports seek to enhance the overall quality and analytic rigor of regulatory impact analyses (RIAs), they differ on the role played by OMB in the process. The early Bush-era Reports tend to place OMB in the top-down position of gatekeeper for rulemaking and overseer of the quality of the analysis.In contrast, the Reports issued during Democratic administrations, especially during the Obama era, place OMB in more of a hands-off approach, relying on greater transparency and openness of agency rulemaking processes to incentivize quality analysis.

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RFF on the Issues: Corporate tax inversions; Confronting climate change

Corporate Tax Inversions

The White House recently released new regulations designed to make tax inversions by US companies “significantly less profitable.” The rules will discourage—not stop—companies from moving their headquarters overseas, acting as a temporary means of capturing US corporate tax revenue while Congress works to develop more permanent and extensive measures.

RFF Fellow Marc Hafstead suggests that taxing emissions can be a viable long-term solution to corporate tax inversion. He writes: “Carbon taxes have the potential to raise billions of dollars each year that could finance the type of tax reform that would make US corporations more competitive and reduce their incentive for inversion. . . . A bill that establishes a carbon tax while reducing corporate tax rates could satisfy members on both sides of the aisle.”

Confronting Climate Change

In President Obama’s remarks at the United Nations Climate Summit, he emphasized the importance of a coordinated international effort to combat climate change and warned that “no nation can meet this global threat alone.” The president also reiterated the US pledge to meet its 2020 carbon emissions goals, highlighting the importance of securing similar commitments from other major polluters.

This year’s summit is considered by many to be a litmus test for the viability of a global climate agreement ahead of the 2015 UN conference in Paris. As RFF University Fellow Robert Stavins of Harvard notes, representatives should focus on gaining commitments from all members, eliminating the unsuccessful two-tier participation system of the past and “breaking the logjam that has prevented progress” since the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate Change Policy Imperatives: Let’s Not Neglect Adaptation

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Buriganga River near Dhaka, Bangladesh (source: uncultured / flickr)

Each succeeding year in which the world fails to agree to forceful and binding commitments to slash releases of greenhouse gas emissions underscores the increased urgency of complementary measures to strengthen resilience to impacts of global warming that may no longer be avoided or sufficiently mitigated through just emissions reduction. Framing that dilemma in shorthand confronts us with the combined imperative of mitigation and adaptation.

To be sure, that duality has never eluded serious efforts to deal with climate change—whether in academic or policy circles. Anyone who has a copy of a 1989 RFF Press publication on a bookshelf will note on its spine the title, Greenhouse Warming: Abatement and Adaptation. And the 1992 RFF Press book, Global Development and the Environment: Perspectives on Sustainability, contains a chapter that, for its time, is an unusually strong argument for the concurrent pursuit of both emissions mitigation and adaptation—the latter, with particular emphasis on drought and water resource management. Read More

This Week in the RFF Library Blog

Each week, we review the papers, studies, reports, and briefings posted at the “indispensable” RFF Library Blog, curated by RFF Librarian Chris Clotworthy.


American Gas to the Rescue? The Impact of US LNG Exports on European Security and Russian Foreign Policy
The US shale gas boom has already helped European consumers and hurt Russian producers by expanding global gas supply and freeing up liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments previously planned for the US market. This has strengthened Europe’s bargaining position, forcing contract renegotiations and lowering gas prices. US LNG exports will have a similar effect… – via Center on Global Energy Policy

The Effect of Natural Gas Supply on US Renewable Energy and CO2 Emissions
Increased use of natural gas has been promoted as a means of decarbonizing the US power sector, because of superior generator efficiency and lower CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal. We model the effect of different gas supplies on the US power sector and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Across a range of climate policies, we find that abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future. Without a climate policy, overall electricity use also increases as the gas supply increases… – via Environmental Research Letters 

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Belt and Suspenders and More: A Look at the Incremental Impact of Energy Efficiency Subsidies

CoverLawmakers employ a number of policy instruments to promote energy efficiency, including regulatory mandates, information campaigns, and technology subsidies. For energy-consuming durable goods, consumers often purchase products ultimately eligible for a subsidy because of their design under an energy efficiency standard and marketing subject to government-required information disclosure policies. Appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and clothes washers, for example, fall into this category—they are subject to minimum energy efficiency standards set at the federal level and eligible for various rebates and tax credits, and manufacturers are required to disclose typical annual energy usage. Against the reality of limited resources and in a complicated landscape of overlapping, often redundant policy tools in play, what is the incremental impact of energy efficiency subsidies on energy outcomes, and why is it important?

In a new RFF discussion paper, we investigate the impact of the largest subsidy program for energy efficient appliances implemented in the United States.  Determining the incremental impact of subsidies in this context is important for three reasons. First, subsidy instruments, such as tax credits and rebates, have frequently been “turned on” for short periods of time and then “turned off” (for example, through the one-time 2009 economic stimulus bill, occasional tax extender bills, and occasional utility rebate programs). For this reason, subsidies, in practice, appear to be a marginal policy measure where energy efficiency is concerned. Second, subsidies are the marginal policy lever on the extensive margin, which facilitates our analysis since we clearly observe when the programs turn on and off, in contrast to the gradual changes in the revision of minimum efficiency standards and mandatory information disclosure. Third, such subsidies may be employed to an even greater extent in the future, making current analysis important for future decisionmaking. Read More