Climate and Energy Program News

Legal Headaches Await Efforts to Ax Social Cost of Carbon ($)

Gutting a controversial method that federal agencies use to weigh climate change damages could come at a high legal price, analysts say. Under the Obama administration, agencies used a metric, known as the social cost of carbon, to estimate the hidden costs of carbon dioxide emissions. That is, they assigned a dollar value to asthma attacks exacerbated by poor air quality or damage wrought by rising seas. Billy Pizer, faculty fellow at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, comments in ClimateWire.

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Exploring a New Mechanism to Cut Carbon Pollution in RGGI

On the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, Jackson Morris writes that the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is one of the most successful climate programs ever created. In a webinar co-sponsored by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Morris notes that he will help explore one of the ways we might make it even better, through creation of a new Emissions Containment Reserve (ECR). The basic idea: an ECR is a potential tool that could help us cut carbon pollution faster, at a lower cost. 

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Where will Clean Power Plan Organizers Refocus their Efforts? ($)

Think tanks and other groups around the country for the past few years have convened officials and run modeling looking at how states could comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. As the fate of the Clean Power Plan remains uncertain under the Trump administration, those organizers turn their focus to the contemporary questions states face as they navigate a still-changing electricity system. In ClimateWire, Tim Profeta, director Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said the Nicholas Institute's work "on climate policy and clean energy extends beyond a single policy. Ultimately, power sector planning does not occur in four- or even eight-year increments."

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The Social Cost of Carbon

In an interview with Public Radio International’s Living On Earth, Nicholas Institute faculty fellow Billy Pizer discussed recommended changes in the social cost of carbon—the subject of a recent report he co-authored—and why social cost evaluations are crucial to tackling carbon pollution. Pizer noted that such evaluations have been used in more than 100 government cost-benefit analyses, most notably for the Clean Power Plan. Asked about energy department transition leader Thomas Pyle’s suggestion that the incoming Trump administration might consider lowering the social cost value or getting rid of it completely, Pizer said, “I think it would be problematic. I mean, generally when we do cost-benefit analysis, the goal of government policy should be to try to improve welfare for the American people and for people around the world, and there needs to be a way to do that mechanically, and the social cost of carbon is the way that you do that. It's not a Republican or Democratic idea. It's an economic idea.”

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$500,000 USDA Grant Funds Study on Impacts of Using Oilfield Wastewater for Irrigation

Duke faculty have received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to lead a multi-year project evaluating the potential human health impacts and sustainability of using produced water from oilfields to irrigate crops. The research will focus on the use of the wastewater on agricultural lands in California’s Central Valley.

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Report Recommends New Framework for Estimating the Social Cost of Carbon

To estimate the social cost of carbon dioxide for use in regulatory impact analyses, the federal government should use a new framework that would strengthen the scientific basis, provide greater transparency, and improve characterization of the uncertainties of the estimates, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report, which was put together by a committee that included Nicholas Institute faculty fellow Billy Pizer, also identifies a number of near- and longer-term improvements that should be made for calculating the social cost of carbon.

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Nicholas Institute Publishes Paper on CO2 Strategy ($)

Even if judges or his successor scrap President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan” for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, federal law gives regulators and interest groups other ways to push the issue, a team that includes researchers from Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and UNC Chapel Hill said in a paper released today. The paper authors say that one likely channel is an expansion of the “ambient” air-quality standards that now target well-known pollutants like carbon monoxide, lead and ozone, the Durham Herald Sun reports.

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Proposed Carbon Tax Equals Higher Fuel, Utility Prices; Southern Utah Representatives Respond

In an effort to address climate change and clean air issues in Utah, Rep. Joel Briscoe of House District 25 recently stated he intends to propose a carbon tax during the 2017 legislative session similar to that enacted in 2008 by British Columbia. The St. George News article cites a study by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity showed a 5 to 15 percent decrease in emissions with “little net impact, either negative or positive, on provincial economic performance.”

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Can Private Investment Make up for Trump-Era Policy Retreat? ($)

Increasing investor confidence in clean energy technology is a leading challenge to wringing carbon dioxide emissions out of the U.S. power sector, says a new paper from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. EnergyWire cites the new working paper, which suggests that the "recent U.S. presidential election has increased uncertainty regarding federal policy related to greenhouse gases and highlighted the fact that although policy goals can be powerful drivers, innovation can also benefit from private investment, private action, and public-private partnerships."

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Research Maps Countries that will be Most Impacted by Large-Scale Coral Reef Loss

New evidence from Duke environmental researchers points to the devastation coral reefs could face in the next few decades—which would affect human populations around the world. ”Some scientists have held out hope that there would be reef areas that could escape the harm of climate change, but we find that most reefs will be affected by either warmer seas or more acidic oceans,” said Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Linwood Pendleton. “2016 has been one of the worst years in memory for coral bleaching. This fact is demonstrated by this year’s bleaching event that affected nearly all of the Great Barrier Reef.”

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