RFF/Stanford/USA Today Poll Shows Majority Support for Regulating Power Plant GHG Emissions

The first round of results from the RFF/Stanford/USA Today poll was released today and it shows that a majority of the US favors doing something to address the threat of climate change, although there is substantially less agreement about what exactly to do. There’s a lot to dig into that’s relevant to climate policy options we analyze here at RFF.  For example, the poll finds that 54 percent of respondents supports the US government requiring power plants to limit their emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants. That number is up from recent years, but it’s down slightly from its high in 2007.

Full wording of the question and historical responses are below:


VERSION A: For the next items, please tell me for each one whether it’s something the government should require by law, encourage with tax breaks but not require, or stay out of entirely.  Each of these changes would increase the amount of money that you pay for things you buy. …First…Next… 

VERSION B: For the next items, please tell me for each one whether it’s something the government should require by law to try to reduce future global warming, should encourage with tax breaks but not require, or stay out of entirely.  Each of these changes would increase the amount of money that you pay for things you buy. …First…Next… 

[AFTER READING EACH ITEM, INTERVIEWER PAUSE, THEN ASK] “should the government require this by law (pause), encourage it with tax breaks, or stay out of it entirely?”

 Q36_5: Lowering the amount of greenhouse gases that power plants are allowed to release into the air?











Require by law









Encourage by tax   breaks









Stay out of way   entirely









Don’t know/Refused



























Full particulars of the poll:

Resources for the Future/Stanford University/USA Today poll, Conducted by Abt SRBI, Interview dates: Nov, 20 – Dec 5, 2013,  801 adults nationwide, margin of error: +/- 4.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level

Expect more results in the future on both climate and energy topics - the precise wordings of the questions and responses discussed in today’s USA Today story are available here.  We’ve been lucky to work closely with RFF University Fellow Jon Krosnick and Bo Macinnis, both of Stanford, on the this poll.

States Can’t Take the Credit, But They Do Matter

In America, the story goes, states lead on climate policy and the federal government follows. That argument is probably overstated a bit today, but it will become increasingly true in the future.

Cap-and-trade programs in California and the Northeast and renewable portfolio standards across the country are the only major policies in place aimed specifically at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With EPA now working hard on the first federal emissions-cutting program for power plants (the largest-emitting sector) in the form of Clean Air Act performance standards for existing sources, states are unsurprisingly lobbying to preserve the programs they have in place and their freedom to regulate as they see fit. The states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and, separately, a group of 15 states (including California, Colorado, and Illinois ) organized by the Georgetown Climate Center have both submitted open letters to EPA encouraging the agency to make regulations as flexible as possible while leaving broad discretion to states and allowing them to take credit for progress made already.

Both letters overstate their case a bit by pointing to recent emissions reductions as evidence that state climate policies have been successful – the 15-state letter, for example, claims that “Through market-based programs, renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency resource standards and funding commitments, utility planning, and other efforts, our states have reduced carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 20 percent from 2005 to 2011.”

It’s of course true that US emissions have declined significantly in recent years, but state climate policies probably haven’t played a large role. Most such policies are either just now coming into effect (as in California) or are in effect but aren’t currently binding (as in the RGGI states, and in many states with renewable portfolio standards). Some policies, like state-level energy efficiency standards, have been in place for longer, but they’re relatively small and their timing doesn’t match up with the post-2008 reduction in emissions either. Moreover, emissions have gone down nationwide, not just in states with robust climate policies. This doesn’t mean the policies aren’t important, but they almost certainly aren’t the cause of the emissions reductions. Arguing that they are requires more evidence than correlation alone. The states are probably hurting their case by arguing otherwise, since critics can attack this claim instead of the states’ actual proposals.

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Valuing Conservation in the Context of Climate Change

In the twentieth century, flooding caused more deaths and property damage in the United States than any other natural disaster. Most climate models predict that flooding will worsen in the future, a prospect that is leading a growing number of communities to explore the use of natural areas as protection against extreme events. These areas are currently providing flood mitigation benefits. They store floodwaters and lessen the flow to area streams and rivers; in coastal areas, they may protect against storm surge and flooding from hurricanes. Perhaps most important, by remaining undeveloped, they reduce exposure to storms. But how much more valuable will the lands become if floods are more frequent or severe in the future

With our coauthor, Ziyan Chu, we recently came up with a dollar value of these climate resilience benefits for the case of a specific investment in natural areas in the state of Missouri—the Meramec Greenway. The greenway is an area of mostly forested protected lands extending along 108 miles of the Meramec River. In an earlier study, we estimated the benefits—flood damages avoided and recreational and aesthetic benefits—and the opportunity costs of the lands under current conditions. In this study, we calculated the additional benefits that the greenway might provide in four climate change scenarios, two in which peak discharges increase and two in which the frequency of flooding increases.

First and, in our view, foremost, the greenway provides a substantial flood mitigation benefit right now, even before considering increased risks from climate change. According to our estimates, the current protected lands yield an average annual benefit in the form of avoided flood damages of $13.1 million a year, or about $6,000 per acre. If climate change causes peak discharges to rise by 30 percent, an increase consistent with some of the (limited) literature on how climate change will affect flood risks in the region, the benefits of the greenway are $4.5 million higher. If peak discharges rise by 50 percent, which we look at as an upper bound, the benefits of the greenway are $7.9 million higher. If the frequency of flood events doubles, the benefits double. And finally, if the frequency of only the worst events doubles (the 100-, 250-, and 500-year events), we find that the benefits increase by just $1.2 million, or 9 percent.

Our methodology calculates the benefits from reduced exposure to flooding—that is, the benefits from keeping developed properties out of harm’s way. It does not calculate the additional hazard mitigation benefits that might be provided by forest cover in terms of altering the hydrology of the riverine environment. In our setting, these benefits are likely to be much smaller in magnitude than those from reduced exposure. In other settings, a more comprehensive assessment may be worthwhile, though we feel that reduced exposure is a first-order concern in all locations. More research into the timing issues with climate change may also be worthwhile. We find that our benefit estimates are lowered by a sizeable amount if flooding worsens gradually over time and if we discount future benefits. These dynamic issues deserve further study, particularly if climate resilience is a motivator for conservation activities today.

Communities considering conservation investments to improve resilience to climate change need to think about the benefits and costs. Our analysis provides some guidance on first steps to doing that.



RFF on the Issues

Note: RFF on the Issues will be on hiatus until 2014.

Cross-State Air Pollution

A “slim majority” of Supreme Court Justices appear in favor of federal regulations imposed by the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which addresses air pollution that drifts across borders. While opponents to the rule say that the US Environmental Protection Agency is overreaching and usurping states’ rights, others say the agency is trying to “serve as an ‘honest broker’ between competing state interests.”

In a recent Marketplace interview, RFF’s Dallas Burtraw notes that downwind areas that currently have poor air quality “typically will have more stringent requirements on facilities located in those states” than upwind areas that contribute to the problem. New regulations would impose greater costs on upwind states, but Burtraw points out that states in the Northeast are already paying a “hidden tax”—health impacts from being exposed to air pollution.

Post-Sandy Green Infrastructure

One year after Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey residents are making efforts to invest in environmentally sustainable storm protection. Oceanfront locals aim to “make the coast more resilient by using ‘soft’ infrastructure projects,” such as beach replenishment and wetland conservation, which also offer “recreational and other benefits that improve everyday life” for communities.

In a recent Resources article, RFF’s Anna Brittain writes: “Investing in green infrastructure may be worthwhile, even if more costly than traditional approaches, because the social and environmental benefits may exceed the additional costs.” Research in RFF’s Center for the Management of Ecological Wealth focuses on a variety of ways to build resilience through green infrastructure—read more here.

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. Check out this week’s highlights below:

Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 Through 2013
Average new vehicle CO2 emissions rate and fuel economy in the US achieved record levels in MY 2012, and have improved in 7 of the last 8 years, according to the newly released…annual “Trends” report… — via U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy
The term “geoengineering” describes an array of technologies that aim, through large-scale and deliberate modifications of the Earth’s energy balance, to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic climate change. Most of these technologies are at the conceptual and research stages, and their effectiveness at reducing global temperatures has yet to be proven. Moreover, very few studies… — via U.S. Congressional Research Service

Economic Analysis of Proposed Revised Waters of the United States
An Obama administration rule proposal that would expand the reach of federal Clean Water Act oversight would have a net economic benefit of as much as $263.9 million a year, according to a document purported to be an administration analysis. — via U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Gas Rush: New Projects to Increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 91 Million Tons a Year
95 new projects at oil, gas, or petrochemical plants will increase greenhouse gas emissions 91 million tons annually, or about as much as the output from 20 large coal plants.  The estimates are based on Clean Air Act permits or permit applications since January 1, 2012. — via Environmental Integrity Project

Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Key Issues
TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would transport oil sands crude from Canada and shale oil produced in North Dakota and Montana to a market hub in Nebraska for further delivery to Gulf Coast refineries. The pipeline would consist of 875 miles of 36-inch pipe with the capacity to transport 830,000 barrels per day. Because it would cross the Canadian-U.S. border, construction of Keystone XL requires a Presidential Permit from the State Department. — via US Congressional Research Service

For more from the RFF Library blog, click here.

Space Launch Risk Redux

Indemnification, the nation’s approach to managing some of the risks associated with the launch of privately owned rockets carrying our satellites for telecommunications, Earth observations, supplies for the International Space Station, and other services, is on its way to becoming a new annual rite of winter.  Specifically, the federal government (taxpayer) indemnifies a portion of the financial liability in the event of harms to people and property in the flight path.  As we wrote a year ago, Congress has tended to authorize indemnification for a year at a time.  The US Senate has just agreed on a two-year extension and the House, a one-year extension with language to spend the next year conducting hearings on the provisions.  Among the issues raised are the effects of the indemnification on private and government launch risk management, a peculiar “doughnut hole” where launch companies are indemnified for only a range of losses, and why the government is covering the risk at all. To inform the upcoming debate, we call attention to three key considerations as noted in our last post.

RFF on the Issues

Social cost of Carbon and Electricity

The White House has revised the data used in its evaluation of the social cost of carbon (SCC), resulting in a change from $21 to $38 per metric ton in the central case estimate. The technical support document is open for public comment and officials are interested in understanding “the strengths and limitations of the overall approach.”

Imposing a carbon tax on power generation based on the SCC would change the mix of technologies and fuels used to produce electricity, according to RFF’s Anthony Paul, Blair Beasley, and Karen Palmer. In new research focusing on a range of SCC values, the authors find that lower SCC estimates favor gas substitutions for coal, whereas “higher estimates induce switching to wind and nuclear generation.”

Limits to Ingenuity

A group of researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute examined the effort of villagers in China to replace the dwindling bee population by pollenating apple trees by hand—which resulted in a 30 to 40 percent growth in apple production. However, the authors caution against “the danger of allowing the logic of the market to drive conservation policy.”

According to RFF’s James Boyd, humans cannot always depend on ingenuity to “save the day.” He writes: “It’s also hard to imagine how we would innovate our way around the loss of natural resources important to our cultural identity or sense of beauty and wonder. There aren’t many substitutes for the relatively untouched expanse of Alaska’s North Slope if what matters to you is its very wildness.” Boyd also moderated a discussion between historians, ecologists, economists, psychologists, and entrepreneurs to examine such issues. Video is available here.


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. Check out this week’s highlights below:

An Apparent Hiatus in Global Warming?
Global warming first became evident beyond the bounds of natural variability in the 1970s, but increases in global mean surface temperatures have stalled in the 2000s. Increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, create an energy imbalance at the top-of-atmosphere (TOA) even as the planet warms to adjust to this imbalance… — via Earth’s Future

Use of Internal Carbon Price by Companies as Incentive and Strategic Planning Tool
More than two dozen of the nation’s biggest corporations, including the five major oil companies, are planning their future growth on the expectation that the government will force them to pay a price for carbon pollution as a way to control global warming… — via Carbon Disclosure Project

Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature
We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth’s measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today’s young people, future generations, and nature. — via PLoS ONE

Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Obeys a Simple Scaling Theory
Ten years ago, US natural gas cost 50% more than that from Russia. Now, it is threefold less. US gas prices plummeted because of the shale gas revolution. However, a key question remains: At what rate will the new hydrofractured horizontal wells in shales continue to produce gas? We analyze the simplest model of gas production consistent… — via Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences

Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises
Climate is changing, forced out of the range of the past million years by levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not seen in the Earth s atmosphere for a very, very long time. Lacking action by the world s nations, it is clear that the planet will be warmer, sea level will rise, and patterns of rainfall will change. But the future is also partly uncertain… — via National Academies Press

For more from the RFF Library blog, click here.

The Warsaw Climate Negotiations, and Reason for Cautious Optimism

This post originally appeared on Robert Stavins’s blog, An Economic View of the Environment.

The Nineteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-19) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came to a close in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday, November 23rd, after what has become the norm – several all-night sessions culminating in last-minute negotiations that featured diplomatic haggling over subtle changes to the text on which countries were finally willing to agree.  The key task of this COP was essentially to pave the way for the negotiations next year at COP-20 in Lima, Peru, as a lead-up to the real target, reaching a new international climate agreement at the 2015 negotiations in Paris to be implemented in 2020, when the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol comes to an end.  If that was the key objective, then the Warsaw meetings must be judged to be at least a modest success – the baton was not dropped, rather it was passed successfully in this long relay race of negotiations.

Before going further, I would like to acknowledge something else about COP-19 in Warsaw, namely the excellent logistics.  Anyone who suffered through the disastrous logistical arrangements for COP-15 in Copenhagen will not take this for granted.  Perhaps ironically, in the years I’ve been participating in these annual events, the two best organized conferences (in terms of logistical arrangements) were the two Polish COPs – COP-14 in Poznan in 2008 and COP-19 in Warsaw this year.

As I have written in many previous essays at this blog, the challenges standing in the way of an effective international climate change agreement are numerous and severe.  A brief historical account is necessary to explain the significance of what transpired in Warsaw.  However, if you’re familiar with international climate policy, particularly the history of these international negotiations, I suggest you skip the next section and move directly to “Issue #1:  Making Progress toward a Post-Kyoto Agreement.”

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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. Check out this week’s highlights below:

Economics of Climate Change in East Asia
This regional study includes the People’s Republic of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Mongolia and examines how strategies for adapting to climate change up to 2050 can be combined with measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in East Asia. Besides discussing climate model results for costs of adaptation in infrastructure, coastal protection… — via Asian Development Bank

Historical Trends in Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Alberta Oil Sands (1970–2010)
The carbon intensity (CI) of Alberta oil sands production has significantly decreased over the last 40 years, according to a new study by a team from Stanford University published as an open access paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters. — via Environmental Research Letters

Tracing Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide and Methane Emissions to Fossil Fuel and Cement Producers, 1854–2010
DotEarth: …Yes, those rapacious miners and drillers of ores, oil and gas. How dare they? The findings came from the Climate Accountability Institute, an entity led by Richard Heede, whose company, Climate Mitigation Services, advises companies, municipalities and others on how to cut greenhouse gases, and Naomi Oreskes, the Harvard historian and co-author of “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.” — via Climatic Change

Exaggerating the Employment Impacts of Shale Drilling: How and Why
Energy development in the Marcellus and Utica shales has generated far fewer jobs than industry supporters claim, according to a new regional study. The six-state economic report is critical of employment estimates that include jobs from ancillary industries like engineering services and freight trucking. Adding those jobs overstates the shale industry’s employment impact, the study says… — via Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative

EPA Standards for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Power Plants: Many Questions, Some Answers
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is downplaying both the costs and benefits of EPA’s pending climate new source performance standard (NSPS) for future power plants, saying it will neither have a major impact on reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) as some supporters claim or hasten the decline of coal-based power as critics say. — via Congressional Research Service

For more from the RFF Library blog, click here.