WRI's Bianco says U.S. can simultaneously achieve emissions reductions and economic growth

What policies and technology innovations are needed to help the United States achieve a balance of significant emissions reductions and economic growth? During today's OnPoint, Nicholas Bianco, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, discusses a new study that builds on the themes established in WRI's New Climate Economy report, suggesting advances that could ensure a strong economy despite carbon constraints.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Nicholas Bianco, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute. Nicholas, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Nicholas Bianco: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Nicholas, WRI has released a new study that builds on the themes established in your New Climate Economy report. This time, you take a closer look at the economic and climate goals of the United States. Big question is can the U.S. achieve a balance of significant emissions reductions and also economic growth?

Nicholas Bianco: Yes. We think that we can. So what we've done in this analysis is we've gone real deep into five sectors for the U.S. economy to try to ground the findings of the global report to show exactly what can happen in the U.S. in very specific terms, and what we do is we look at electricity generation; energy efficiency; vehicles; we look at hydrofluorocarbons, which are commonly used as refrigerants; and natural gas systems, and we find in each case, there are opportunities for the U.S. to reduce its emission of greenhouse gases while providing net benefits to American consumers, American businesses, and improve public health.

Monica Trauzzi: So it's often argued, certainly here in Washington, that emissions and economic goals are out of sync. There's serious concerns about the impacts of emissions regulations on the coal industry. Is there a way to get around the fact that coal-heavy states will be negatively impacted economically by emissions reduction regulations?

Nicholas Bianco: So I think there's multiple ways that you can look at that question. When we look at this question, we were examining were the different emerging technologies that produce new opportunities, and certainly, what we find is that time and time again, there are opportunities to advance these new technologies at home in a growing number of states. Now, are there challenges for coal-producing states themselves? Certainly, and I think that's where good public policy comes into play and finding smart ways for those workers to transition and for smart ways for those communities to continue to thrive.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, so let's take a look at the policies that the Obama administration has implemented and proposed. Do they sufficiently propel the U.S. towards both climate action and economic prosperity?

Nicholas Bianco: So I think the policies that have been put in place to date are a very important step, but there's certainly much more to be done. What we've looked at is sector by sector, where we find that there's certainly a number of things that the federal government is doing, and many of those policies are the types of things that actually follow -- that demonstrate these very trends, that, in fact, you can reduce emissions while providing net overall benefits for American consumers, American businesses. But the question is, is there more that can be done? And certainly, we find that there are, in particular numbers of areas where there's policies that can be adopted that help create better investment climates for these new technologies as well as sustaining new policies in order to provide a consistent and long-term market signal for those businesses so that they have the right -- the certainty that they need to make investment decisions.

Monica Trauzzi: So let's dig in a bit. What do some of those policies look like?

Nicholas Bianco: Sure. So for something like the power sector, certainly, a very critical part is providing the certainty that you can have through, say, regulations. In this case, EPA is moving forward with the Clean Power Plan, but certainly, Congress also has opportunities to provide that same sort of certainty so that companies are building the right types of infrastructure. And this is really an important question today, in particular, where you have a number of companies that are trying to determine how to comply, in particular, with mercury regulations in the near term, and we have companies that have plants that are 40, 50, 60 years old that are determining whether or not to reinvest in those plants, to put controls on them, in some cases, for the first time, or whether they should be moving forward with the technologies of tomorrow.

But there's certainly much more that can be done as well. So for instance, in the power sector, there is a need to continue to promote research and development, but there's also opportunities to improve the types of incentives that are already in place, to reduce the inefficiencies in their design. There's, likewise, opportunities to move -- to improve access to financing, and what we do in this report is try to go through, sector by sector, to lay out what some of those policies are that can, again, help improve the climate for investment.

Monica Trauzzi: So technological innovation comes up quite a bit in the report. It's critical to the discussion. It's being actively pursued internationally. But how does the United States compare and compete with its global counterparts when it comes to innovating on the technology?

Nicholas Bianco: Great. So one of the -- we did not look, in this particular report, in terms of how each country across the world is stacking up technology by technology, whereas everything being produced, but what I can say is that we see, time and time again, there are U.S. manufacturers that are rising to the challenge. We see this with a number of U.S. manufacturers that are moving forward with electric vehicles; we see many of the wind turbines -- most of the wind turbines that are being installed in the U.S. being built here in the U.S.; we see a lot of the solar that's being built in the U.S. -- or that's being installed in the U.S. being built in the U.S., and this goes on and on. And maybe one of the best examples is in hydrofluorocarbons, where we see, really, U.S. manufacturers leading the way with the development of the next generation of low global warming potential alternatives.

Monica Trauzzi: You highlight some specific states and businesses that have had success in leading the charge. Who stands out to you, and what are the primary lessons learned that should be spread nationally?

Nicholas Bianco: Well, what's actually really exciting to us is that there isn't one state that we can single out here. There's no one business that we can single out here. What's exciting is that there's so much happening on the ground in so many places. Certainly, when we look at energy efficiency, for example, we see 24 states that already have mandatory programs that are generating $2 to $5 of savings for every $1 invested. We see fantastic examples of solar energy outcompeting gas, outcompeting coal, outcompeting nuclear in Texas. We see great work on the ground in the Northeast and California to continue to promote electric vehicles by providing the right infrastructure, and likewise, the same is true when we look at the corporate side. We see, again, lots of American manufacturers, like DuPont and Honeywell, that are moving forward with the next generation of technologies. We see many -- we see a number of companies that are already moving forward to begin using those alternatives. Coca-Cola alone has 1 million coolers out, in use, that are HFC-free already.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Very interesting. We'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Nicholas Bianco: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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