“The Obama Administration brought out the worst in RFF in the last eight years. Will the Trump era of new energy/climate thinking be intellectually respected and debated under RFF’s new president, Richard Newell? One can only hope that RFF does not become Fortress RFF.”
“RFF’s blockade against critics of climate alarmism/forced energy transformation is a sad case of intellectual back-of-the-bus, separate-water-fountain discrimination.”
“RFF has trenchantly avoided a real debate over the ‘social cost of carbon’ (SCC). Yet the assumptions behind the Obama Administration’s SCC are highly disputable, and reasonable assumptions can flip the sign from positive to negative (as in CO2 has net benefits) to eviscerate any case for pricing CO2.”
Maybe it is only because they have to.
Resources for the Future (RFF), founded in 1952, describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan organization that conducts rigorous economic research and analysis to help leaders make better decisions and craft smarter policies about natural resources and the environment” that is “committed to intellectual excellence and practical solutions.”
Full of PhD economists, it started out this way. But it got intellectually off track in the 1970s, going Malthusian. And the global warming issue ruined a core of its activities, beginning in the 1990s under Paul Portney. New head Philip Sharp took the partisanship (assuming, not debating the issue) more Left in his 11-year tenure. And now it is under new leadership heading into a new policy era. 
The Trump era is bringing free market energy/environmental ideas to the center of political power. And there is evidence, at least on paper, that the once-centrist, now-Left RFF is rethinking their relevance and role in the intellectual debate. Nowhere is this more relevant than with RFF’s bread-and-butter bête noir, the green greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).
As an historian of energy thought, I have spent a lot of time studying the output of RFF. In fact, I might know more about the history of the organization than their own staffers. Here are some of my posts on RFF at MasterResource:
I have, I believe, all of the books and studies from the first decades of the organization, and I have kept an eye on them since. Paul Portney (a great guy personally by the way) brought the institution Left under all the funding opportunities back in the 1990s. To me, all pretense of objectivity died the day that David Hawkins, director, Climate Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, joined RFF’s board. That was on Portney’s watch.
RFF’s New (Trump-era) Pitch
|Leaders and policies change. Uncertainty is real. Information is key.|
Okay, but will the heralded information be reliable, as in ‘may the best ideas be presented and debated’, even the case against regulating CO2 as a pollutant?
For example, RFF has trenchantly avoided a real debate over the “social cost of carbon” (SCC). Yet the assumptions behind the Obama Administration’s SCC are highly disputable, and reasonable assumptions can flip the sign from positive to negative (as in CO2 has net benefits) to eviscerate any case for pricing CO2.
One anecdote. Pundit Jerry Taylor was invited to speak at an RFF carbon pricing panel a few months back. Cato-era Taylor, who was against CO2 regulation, was never invited to so present. But the new Jerry Taylor, funding his (misnamed) Niskanen Center from pro-carbon-tax sources, now politically correct to RFF, was invited (more here).
RFF’s blockade against critics of climate alarmism/forced energy transformation is a sad case of intellectual back-of-the-bus, separate-water-fountain discrimination.
Back to RFF’s new pitch ….
In this time of change, Resources for the Future (RFF) remains dedicated to independent, actionable research to inform practical solutions that strengthen the environment and the economy. We will continue to provide economic insights for smarter energy, climate, and natural resource policies. We will continue to explore new questions and facilitate forward-looking dialogues on issues top of mind for decisionmakers in the United States and around the world.
Will RFF’s “new questions” include the (previously) politically incorrect? What, for example, is the opportunity cost of climate-related regulation, whether instituted by taxing CO2 or regulating energy demand and supply? What are foregone private or public goods?
Maybe the real question behind the question is whether RFF can intellectually diversity and still attract its Left-of-center funding. And would board member Hawkins of NRDC resign in protest?
Back to the pitch:
Your investment in RFF means that together we will continue to provide objective research and analytical frameworks to help our leaders make smarter decisions. We can’t do this without you. While few details are known about the energy and climate policies of the incoming administration, your support now is more important than ever….
Humm …. “While few details are known about the energy and climate policies of the incoming administration, your support now is more important than ever.” Does this mean that RFF will be a bastion of opposition to the changes, precluding opposing viewpoints from their seminars and publications? Or is this fundraising plea (RFF has a very rich endowment) in anticipation of a massive cutback in taxpayer funding for climate alarmism and forced energy transformation?
One can only hope that RFF will begin inviting top scholars for new views of climate-related regulation and the efficacy of politically enabled energies such as industrial wind power and on-grid solar, not only ethanol?
And if they can invite a Jerry Taylor, who has no significant intellectual or academic bona fides (as RFF would define them), they can invite such PhD energy economists such as Robert Murphy (IER), Ben Zycher (AEI), David Kreutzer (Heritage), Roy Cordato (John Locke), or other critics of carbon pricing to take a chair alongside their mainstays?
The Obama Administration brought out the worst in RFF in the last eight years. Will the Trump era of new energy/climate thinking be intellectually respected and debated under RFF’s new president, Richard Newell.
One can only hope that RFF does not become Fortress RFF.
 For a history of RFF, see Robert Bradley, Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy (M & M Scrivener Press: 2009), pp. 219–222, 343–350.