Amy M. Jaffe, CFR's David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment and director of the program on Energy Security and Climate Change, gives an update on U.S. energy policy as part of CFR’s State and Local Officials Conference Call series.
Learn more about CFR’s State and Local Officials Initiative.
CASA: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Officials Conference Call Series. I’m Maria Casa, director of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
As you may know, CFR is an independent, nonpartisan organization and think tank focusing on U.S. foreign policy. Through our State and Local Officials Initiative we serve as a resource on international issues affecting the priorities and agendas of state and local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics, Foreign Affairs magazine, and briefings with CFR fellows. In particular, I would like to call your attention to our Election 2020 Series, including live events in New Hampshire, Texas, Michigan, and Florida scheduled over the next few weeks.
We are delighted to have participants from thirty-six states across the country joining us for today’s discussion. Our speaker is Amy Myers Jaffe, a leading expert on global energy policy, geopolitical risk, and energy and sustainability. She is the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at CFR. Previously, Ms. Jaffe served as executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California Davis and senior advisor for energy and sustainability at the Office of the Chief Investment Officer of the University of California Regents. She has taught courses in energy policy, business, and sustainability at Rice University, UC Davis, and Yale University.
Ms. Jaffe will open today’s call with opening remarks that will be on the record and posted on our website after the call. An off-the-record question-and-answer session will follow so as to promote candid discussion. During the question-and-answer session we encourage you to share your experiences and best practices.
So, Amy, thank you very much for being with us.
JAFFE: Thank you for having me.
CASA: Can you start—can you start by giving us an overview of the important aspects of U.S. energy policy as it stands and highlight implications for state and local governments?
JAFFE: Well, I think the most interesting element of energy policy in the United States today actually is the wide number of initiatives and directions that are coming from the state and local level. We have a lot of innovation, a lot of policy coming out at the initiative of states and cities, and I’ll talk about that in a minute.
The federal picture has been very different than the trend line coming out from the local level. You’re seeing a loosening of environmental regulation and a loosening of restrictions for permitting of energy infrastructure and a push to try to get more energy development, I think, across the board and around the country, but sometimes at a cost to environmental goals of the country. And indeed, just a little polling, the one policy that seems to be popular with everyone is the promotion of renewable energy; 71 percent of Americans, according to Pew Center polls, favor deployment—rapid deployment of renewables. On the Democratic side of the house, you see the big push coming for renewables coming from concerns about climate change. On the GOP side of the house, a lot more concern about national security and the resilience of renewables to provide power. So that’s sort of the landscape overview of where we sit.
I do think that there’s going to be more energy policy coming out of Congress. A lot of interest in carbon-sequestration technologies and how federal policy can get behind that. I see that on both sides of the aisle as an issue. I do think that the constituency for legislation at the federal level addressing climate change in some fashion is building, a little bit more than we’ve seen, in the last year or two. So I do expect that the election year will bring that topic forward.
On the federal level, the Democratic candidates have quite extensive energy and climate change initiatives in their campaign platforms. Just to give you a sense of it, Elizabeth Warren has pledged to have a ten-year plan to get the whole country to 100 percent renewable energy. Vice President Biden has a 100 percent target to get to net-zero energy by 2050 for the whole country. You see various focuses on green manufacturing, federal subsidies for transportation advances in green energy. Vice President Biden has an interesting initiative on carbon sequestration that would pledge funding for rural farmers to use soil methodology that would actually serve as a carbon-sequestration technology. And all the Democratic candidates are in favor of stronger regulation on methane leaks from industry.
I think more controversial for the federal election cycle will be the candidates that are proposing bans for fracking, whether that’s on federal land or more broadly. And that is popular and unpopular in different parts of the country.
But at the city and state level you’re seeing a lot of action. On the East Coast states there is a new initiative called the Transport and Climate Initiative. It has not been endorsed across the board by all the states that are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but it’s gaining momentum. There’s been public hearings on it.
One of the interesting things as states try to go to have a more aggressive policy in the transportation sector, we’re seeing new initiatives. Massachusetts just recently unveiled their net-zero plan for 2050. That included moving all their public buses to electric by 2040.
One of the interesting things that cities are doing in smaller regions—smaller cities is experimenting with temporarily providing free public transit. And one of the interesting things is, of course, the research shows that a lot of public transit, the buses, is focused on lower-income workers. And ridership rates have not increased in recent years, which I’m sure some of you might find surprising. And one of the questions that people have asked in different cities around the country—in Massachusetts, in Kansas, and elsewhere—is how much funding is actually required to provide bus service in a lot of places it’s already subsidized—city of Boston was looking at this closely—because the question is, should we be providing free public transportation? And in some cities they have experimented with that as a budget item, where they have found that they are able to absorb the cost of the busing system, and that it has actually allowed increase in ridership, and also in constituencies that are deeply concerned about social inequality and the burden of climate-change regulations on (low ?)-income Americans. Combining a transportation policy with free public transportation from the busing sector, you know, has proven in some locations to be a winner.
So, with that, I think I will stop my formal comments.
CASA: Thanks for that overview, Amy.
Are there any emerging energy technologies that you are particularly optimistic about?
JAFFE: Well, I think that there’s a wide host of technologies. One of the interesting things that’s happening today is all of these digital devices and products that we use, many of which could be positioned to be very energy-saving. And that is a range of items.
So you have—GM, for example, just launched a new venture that is a driverless electric transit car I guess is the way I would describe it—it seats maybe four to six people—that can be deployed in cities as a(n) on-demand transportation alternative. And you know, you might be thinking, those of you who are on this call or people who are listening later when the call is posted, is that practical? But you’ve already got cities in the United States that have experimented with what I call geofenced technology. So in Las Vegas, for example, there is a tourist bus that does the loop of the major sites, and that is driverless, and it can—it has not had any difficulty operating in sort of a ring road. And so I think we’re going to see more technologies like that, and they offer sort of an alternative to trying to force consumers to buy electric vehicles or incentivize consumers to buy electric vehicles, which has been slow going in some of the locations where states have had initiatives.
CASA: Oh, Amy, thank you for all this information and for sharing your perspectives with us today. And thanks to all of you across the country for joining us.
A reminder that you can follow Amy on Twitter at @AmyJaffeEnergy, and do let us know how we can best support the work you are doing by emailing us at [email protected] with suggestions.
So thank you again for joining us, and we look forward to continuing the conversation.