A Free-Market Energy Blog

Resources for the Future: How Far Is Left? (energy statism on full display)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 20, 2016

“Veterans of earlier crises, economists prominently among them, suspected another rebirth of Malthusian fear and asked how [global warming] differed from the last several.”

– Robert Fri, “Global Warming: A Policymaker’s Dilemma” (President’s Report). Resources for the Future: 1988 Annual Report, pp. 6–7.

“The accumulation of large amounts of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is slowly raising the global temperature and disrupting climate patterns, with implications for economic stability worldwide. Research and analysis at RFF supports informed policy design and negotiations to address climate change on national and international levels.”

– Resources for the Future website (2016).

Oh how Resources for the Future (RFF) has bought entirely into climate alarmism and forced energy transformation for fun and profit. The two quotations above, a quarter century apart, say much.

I was reminded of old-versus-new RFF by its press release last week tied to President Obama’s final state of the union speech. For RFF, it was just another PR moment. To this historian, [1] it was a vivid demonstration of just how far Left RFF has come under soon-to-depart Philip Sharp, who has run RFF since 2005. [2]

RFF’s descent into Obama-like energy policy did not begin with Sharp. RFF went for the dough on climate under Paul Portney by simply assuming anthropogenic climate change to be problematic–a nondebatable negative externality. And that ‘government failure’ to address the ‘market failure’ was not worth a serious look in terms of rejecting (interventionist) mitigation in favor of  (noninterventionist) adaptation.

Imagine the opposite of what RFF could have done. One, they could have taken the mantle from Robert Mendelsohn and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to investigate the social benefits, the positive externalities, from CO2 emissions. Second, they could have explored government failure alongside market failure by bringing in public choice economics and the problems of renewable subsidies and mandates. [The Institute for Energy Research (IER), of which I am CEO, has filled that space.]

By neglecting its academic mission of truth-seeking in favor of premised alarmism, big money naturally came RFF’s way, government and private. And so a board member such as David Hawkins, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), was right at home.

Now to the present. Here is what arrived in my inbox on January 13th:

RFF Experts on the State of the Union

In President Obama’s final State of the Union, he urged Americans to look to the future: “But even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record—until 2015 turned out even hotter—why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” Research by RFF experts sheds light on the details:

On policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal land (which, according to the Washington Post, the White House will announce in the coming days):

  • RFF’s Alan Krupnick: “Federal coal seems like a logical target for launching a carbon pricing policy. . . . Such a policy would signal the Obama administration’s intent on reducing CO2 emissions (especially beyond what may or may not be achieved via the Clean Power Plan). And, it would set the precedent for a future, more substantive (and broadly applied) upstream charge on emissions.” Read the blog series or discussion paper.
  • On removing subsidies for fossil fuels:
    • RFF’s Joe Aldy of Harvard: “Oil and gas tax expenditures do not have a meaningful impact on US oil and gas production. . . . These subsidies could not reverse the decline in domestic production before 2008, and high oil prices and technological innovation, not subsidies, explain the rapid production growth in recent years.” Read the Resources article.

    On increasing solar energy and distributed generation:

    • RFF’s Tim Brennan: “Meeting the challenges of distributed generation requires that regulators can answer these questions regarding economies of scope and the portion of [a utility’s] fixed costs [versus that which varies with output].” Read the blog post.
    • RFF’s Richard Schmalensee of MIT: “The key to realizing the potential of the vast solar resource to help slow climate change is to develop lower-cost generation technologies that use earth-abundant elements and that thus can be scaled up without undue cost increases, and the fundamental research required is logically the responsibility of the public sector.” Read the journal article.

Any hint of opposition to Obama’s climate or energy policy in the above communication? What a love fest! Which raises the question: is consumer-driven, taxpayer-neutral energy policy not a live policy option at Resources for the Future? To which I would challenge any RFF economist: would you like to debate climate science and the efficacy of government subsidization of renewables relative to free market energy at one of your many policy forums?


[1] See “Resources for the Future: Away from Optimism” (Appendix D) In Bradley, Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy (2009), pp. 343–50.

[2] Sharp, scheduled to leave this summer, a through-going climate alarmist, stated: “Post-RFF, I am eager to focus my professional time on climate and energy issues and to teach a course about climate policymaking in our American political system.” Will the professor assume–or debate–the climate problem and need and ability of government to transform the consumer-driven economy?


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