Resources for the Future

Resources for the Future

Resources for the Future (RFF) is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research -- rooted primarily in economics and other social sciences -- on environmental, energy, and natural resource issues. Although RFF is headquartered in Washington, D.C., its research scope comprises programs in nations around the world.


RFF was established in 1952 on the recommendation of a federal commission established by President Harry S. Truman and chaired by William S. Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Reflecting wartime concerns of the day, the commission identified the need for an independent organization to analyze the supply and availability of the country’s natural resources. [Darmstadter, Joel. [ Hans H. Landsberg and Sam H. Schurr: Reflections and Appreciation] "The Energy Journal" Vol 24, No 4. October 2003.] Initially funded by grants from the Ford Foundation, RFF directed its early work at assessing natural resource scarcity and import dependence.

RFF played a pioneering role in the field of resource economics. Today, the organization's research falls under five key focus areas: energy and the environment, regulating risk, transportation and urban land use, the natural world, and environmental and public health.

Although RFF scholars are free to express individual opinions in their research, the organization a whole does not take institutional positions on legislation or regulatory policy. RFF characterizes itself as objective and independent, "acting as a neutral broker of sound information and data." [ Sharp, in McGann, James. "Think Tanks and Policy Advice in the United States: Academics, Advisors and Advocates". Routledge, 2007. ISBN 9780415772280. p135.]

RFF publishes Resources, a quarterly magazine, as well as discussion papers, issue briefs, and reports. Its book publishing operation, RFF Press, publishes book-length works by RFF staff and outside researchers, academics, and journalists.


RFF is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. In fiscal year 2006, RFF's operating revenue was $10.6 million, the majority of which came from individual and corporate contributions, foundation and government grants, and investment income. [ Resources for the Future 2006 Annual Report] ] The United States Environmental Protection Agency, Goldman Sachs & Co., the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation currently represent RFF’s top five donors. [ "Business Guide to Partnering with NGOs and the United Nations 2007/2008: A report by the UN Global Compact and Dalberg Global Development Advisors."] p502-505.] The organization's research programs make up the bulk of its expenses, amounting to almost 75 percent in 2006.

elected Notable Figures

Several researchers from RFF's early years helped shape the future of the organization.

John Krutilla was a central figure at RFF from 1955 to 1988. In his 1967 paper "Conservation Reconsidered," Krutilla identified the economic value of undisturbed natural environments like rivers and forests. Published in the "American Economic Review", the paper became "a benchmark in the economics of conservation" and provided a basis for including preservation benefits in policy analysis. [Saxon, Wolfgang. [ John Krutilla, 81, Economist Who Focused on Environment (Obituary)] "New York Times", July 20, 2003.]

Allen Kneese joined RFF in 1961, and his work on water quality management led him to argue that market-based incentives like pollution taxes were more efficient than conventional regulation. Kneese's ideas, revolutionary in the 1960's, laid the groundwork for the sulfur dioxide emissions-trading program established by Congress in 1990. [ Rauch, Jonathan. [ Ideas Change the World – and One Think Tank Quietly Did] "Reason Magazine", October 4, 2002.] Kneese demonstrated that market mechanisms could reduce both pollution and costs to the economy by leaving it up to each polluter to find the cheapest and easiest way to comply.

Hans Landsberg began his work at RFF in 1960, specializing in energy and mineral economics. His contributions included lead-authorship of "Resources in America's Future" (1963), a thousand-page volume examining the role of natural resources in the U.S. economy and projecting their long-term availability. [ [ In Appreciation: Dr. Hans Landsberg] "Resources," Fall 2001. Issue 145; p17.] Both this and another 1963 RFF publication, "Scarcity and Growth", set out the fundamental idea that the impact of growth on environmental quality was a much more significant problem than any threat of natural resource shortages. Portney, Paul. [ 50th Anniversary Symposium and Gala Dinner: Welcoming Remarks] October 15th, 2002.]

RFF also conducted notable research on the electromagnetic spectrum. [ Harvey J. Levin] 's book " [ The Invisible Resource: Use and Regulation of the Radio Spectrum] " (1971), applied a market-based approach to utilizing the spectrum. Twenty years later the Federal Communications Commission recognized his approach and began licensing and auctioning these airwaves.

RFF Leadership

Philip R. Sharp became president of RFF on September 1, 2005. Prior to joining RFF, Sharp served ten terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Indiana (1975 to 1995). He then joined the faculty of the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Currently, Sharp is co-chair of the Energy Board of the Keystone Center and serves on the Board of Directors of the Duke Energy Corporation and the Energy Foundation. He is also a member of the Cummins Science and Technology Advisory Council and serves on the Advisory Board of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and on the External Advisory Board of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative. [ [ Phil Sharp] Resources for the Future.]

Paul R. Portney served as president of RFF from 1995-2005. Portney joined the research staff of RFF in 1972. From 1986-1989 he headed two of its research divisions, and in 1989 he became its vice president. In June 2005, Paul Portney became dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. One journalist assessed Portney's tenure at RFF by saying that "he never shied away from using the facts to challenge business interests that reflexively opposed all regulation, or environmental groups that never met one they didn’t like." [ Pearlstein, Steven. [ Think Tank Leader's Principle Wisdom Will Be Missed] "Washington Post", June 15, 2005.]

Current Projects and Impact

A major part of RFF's current work involves research on climate change. Several RFF researchers contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Among the RFF researchers who have participated in the nearly two decades since the IPCC was founded are Senior Fellows Alan Krupnick, Roger Sedjo, William Pizer, and Richard Morgenstern. [ [ RFF Researchers Share in 2007 Nobel Peace Prize] ]

RFF Senior Fellows Raymond Kopp and William Pizer organized the U.S. Climate Policy Forum in May 2006 to analyze climate change policy options. The Forum brought together 23 companies from many sectors of the U.S. economy whose feedback contributed to the November 2007 report, "Assessing U.S. Climate Policy Options: A report summarizing work at RFF as part of the inter-industry U.S. Climate Policy Forum."

RFF is also engaged in policy research to address the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Headed by Senior Fellow Ramanan Laxminarayan, the Extending the Cure project "explores incentive-based policies to protect antibiotic effectiveness, a valuable shared resource." [ [ Extending the Cure] ] The program released its inaugural report, "Extending the Cure: Policy Responses to the Growing Threat of Antibiotic Resistance", in March 2007.


External links

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