Combined UCS Blogs

New Update of the UCS Satellite Database

UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear (text only) -

A fresh version of the UCS Satellite Database has been posted. It includes launches through the end of 2016. Apologies for the delay this time; we will be back on schedule and have a new one shortly.

Here are some of the more interesting satellites new to the database:
Rendezvous and proximity operations
GSSAP 3 and 4, the new pair of Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness satellites (Fig. 1). The four GSSAP satellites, operated by the US Air Force, are built to surveil other GEO satellites using rendezvous and proximity operations (RPOs). Satellites that perform rendezvous and proximity operations get a lot of attention, as this technology can be used for surveillance and inspection, repair and refueling, but also for interfering with another satellite as an anti-satellite weapon. While the US appears to be significantly ahead in sophistication, Russia and China continue development of these capabilities.

Fig. 1 (Source: Air Force)

Position, navigation, and timing
The European Union augmented its Galileo position, navigation, and timing constellation with four new satellites, to bring the total on-orbit to 18, enough to move from a test system to one providing initial services (Fig. 2). This was the first time that the Galileo satellites were launched by a European rocket, the Ariane V, rather than a Soyuz. Full operational capability for the constellation is planned by 2020. The Galileo system is meant to provide a civilian and European alternative to the US Global Positioning System and Russian Glonass systems.

Fig. 2 (Source: European Space Agency)

Cutting-edge science and “unhackable” satellite communications
And China launched the Quantum Science Satellite, an experiment to test out quantum entanglement over long distances to better understand basic physics and to potentially develop quantum key distribution-based secure satellite communications (Fig. 3). If initial experiments are successful, the goal is to demonstrate this over long distances, between collaborating (and competing) labs in China and Austria.

Fig. 3 (Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature, Vol. 492, Issue 7427. Copyright 2012.)

March for Science: A Search for Truth, Trust, and Public Support

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

“Sure, this is nice and all, but be honest, can’t you prove just about anything with ‘a study?’” I’m all too familiar with this question, and I think it stems largely from one simple fact. As scientists, my colleagues and I spend too much time in our labs worried about truth and too little time connecting with the public and building trust. That’s why you’ll find me at the March for Science this weekend along with thousands of my friends and neighbors.

As a professor at Wayne State, the focus of my research is combustion. Almost everyone uses combustion every day. When controlled correctly, combustion in a car’s engine maximizes fuel economy, with a minimum of pollutant emission. These regulations directly impact the economy and public health. But from 2009 to 2015 vehicles sold from VW cheated on these regulations.

How was this cheating uncovered? It was research done a small university lab in the mountains of West Virginia that provided the data which alerted the public to this problem. The shocking part? The WVU study was published May 30, 2014, but the notice of violation from the air resources board did not go to VW until September 2015 and appeared only after VW had made its own public admission. The lack of communication among scientists, the media, and the public prevents environmental crises like this, and others, from reaching us quickly enough.

This is part of what the March for Science is all about. Getting attention paid to science and making sure science gets the support it needs. President Trump’s budget proposal cuts funding to basic science, slashing programs within the NIH, EPA, NASA between 10 and 30 percent, for a net savings of just less than 10 billion, while simultaneously ballooning spending in the military by 52 billion. This kind of policy shift away from science and towards the military is a dangerous shift in US priorities towards ‘might makes right.’  We must stand together against this dangerous idea.

Science brings us together because the essence of science is consensus. That’s a word I wish I heard more coming out of Washington. We must hold all elected leadership accountable to facts. Without support for and trust in science, we don’t have a common basis of facts to decide  what to do next.  I hope you’ll agree that the time is ripe to March for Science and that you’ll walk alongside me as I hold up my sign: “Science is pro-testing,” but if you can’t, then I hope to see you back in Detroit!

 

Dr. W. Ethan Eagle is a faculty member in Mechanical Engineering at Wayne State, and he supports the student-led effort to charter a bus from WSU to DC to attend the Science March on Washington. You can help support those students here https://www.gofundme.com/march-for-sciencewsu.  In Michigan, there are planned marches in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing. Find out more about the events at marchforscience.com.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Marching for Science and Climate Protects Our Communities

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Until three years ago, you could have called me a scientist, educator, or mentor—but not an activist or marcher. Over time, however, I have recognized that I have the knowledge, privilege, and responsibility to act and march to protect the communities I love.

Early in my studies at MIT, I believed I could only contribute to solving the climate change dilemma by creating energy efficient and renewable energy technologies. This all changed after I participated in the first People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014. Now I am convinced that activism as a citizen-scientist is an equally valid way to highlight problems and advocate for solutions.

Attending the People’s Climate March was a life-changing experience. I marched alongside more than 310,000 individuals in the heart of NYC to call our world leaders to start taking serious action against climate change. That day I understood the difference I could make by becoming part of something greater than myself.

Furthermore, I recognized that staying on the sidelines to claim “objectivity” as a scientist was not an option. Sitting this fight out would mean staying silent while I watched disenfranchised and vulnerable communities suffer. By staying silent, I would be denying my own relationship to these communities, my own humanity, and I would be ignoring my responsibility as a citizen to fully participate in the democratic process.

As a son of poor immigrants from Central America who grew up in the inner city, I am painfully aware that poor communities are disproportionately affected by environmental threats like climate change. For example, the tragic outcomes of Hurricane Katrina overwhelmingly affected low-income and minority communities. Of the 250,000 evacuees that arrived in Houston, and were housed in shelters, 90 percent were African American, of which 6 in 10 had incomes below $20,000. Today we see similar structural inequalities and issues arising from water contamination in Flint, Michigan, and in the potential impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Understanding that climate change, like other environmental problems, is an issue of equity and justice has further motivated me to take action. As Einstein once said, “those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” I believe scientists, engineers, and experts should be working not just to address climate change, but to do so in a way that empowers communities that do not have an equal seat at the negotiation table.

Therefore, as I prepare for the March for Science on April 22 and People’s Climate March on April 29, I want to remind my colleagues that science or technology alone will not solve the major challenges facing our society. Peaceful marches and protests are valid and necessary means of creating the societal momentum needed to make change. More importantly, if we are going to address these challenges in a fair and equitable way, we must use our privilege to empower and uplift the most marginalized communities in society.

If you can identify with me as a scientist, educator, person of color, or son or daughter of immigrants, then I ask you use your voice to speak up. For me that means marching to protect the communities I care about. I ask that you do the same. If we are truly going to protect and empower our urban and rural communities from an environmental and health hazard as big as climate change, we need everyone to fight.

 

Josué J. López is an educator, mentor, and active citizen-scientist. He is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research and MIT Lemelson Presidential Fellow. Josué was born in Los Angeles, studied in Houston, and now feels like a true Bostonian. He has worked on educational initiatives focused in promoting ‘green’ careers to inner-city youth. Most recently, he has analyzed investment and marketing trends in clean tech and contributed to a blog for the New England Clean Energy Council.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Top Clean Cars from the 2017 New York Auto Show

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

I just got back from checking out the 2017 New York Auto Show and eating a couple dirty water hotdogs in the process. Here are my top picks for the clean cars that were on display and headed to a showroom near you.

Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid

The 2017 Kia Niro. Photo: Kia Motors

The 2017 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid is a well-proportioned crossover utility vehicle that – like all electric vehicles – can be plugged into any regular grounded electrical outlet to charge its 8.9 kWh battery pack. The Niro’s electric drivetrain is paired with a traditional gasoline-fueled engine that will kick in after the 25 mile electric range is exhausted. Though 25 miles might seem paltry, keep in mind that over a quarter of Americans commute under 5 miles to work and another quarter commute under 15 miles each day. The Niro can help those with longer commutes greatly reduce their gasoline use and emissions too.  Having a relatively small battery pack also means that the Niro will have fast charging times. Level 2 charging (from a 240V outlet like one used for a home washer / dryer) will only take a little over an hour to totally refill the Niro’s batteries. The Niro is expected to hit the U.S. market later this year, and will be upgraded to an all-electric version for European markets in 2018.

Chevy Bolt

The 2017 Chevy Bolt might be a game changer for the EV industry. Photo: Chevy

I’ve covered the Bolt before, but the NY Auto Show gave a lot of attention to this all-electric offering from Chevy, and the Bolt remains an indicator for whether electric vehicles will ultimately succeed in the U.S. Don’t worry, the signs are encouraging given what the Bolt and other electrics have to offer.

The 2017 Bolt is MotorTrend’s Car of the Year, will go 0-60 in just 6.5 seconds, and has an estimated all-electric range of 238 miles. These performance stats should help the Bolt appeal to gearheads and eco-drivers alike. With a price tag of around $30,000 after the federal tax credit, joining the electric transportation revolution won’t be a strain on many new car buyers’ wallets, especially considering that the average new car price in 2016 was up to $33,560.

The Bolt’s battery pack can get 90 miles of charge in just 30 minutes from optional DC fast charging, far less time than it takes me to pit stop with my toddler on my way up north for holidays.  A full charge will take about 9 hours via slower level 2 charging, not a big deal considering that electric vehicle drivers have found that over 80 percent of their charging has been done at home – and mostly overnight. And, perhaps most importantly, the Bolt will save you money on fuel. Driving on electricity costs about half as much as driving on gasoline and can cut your vehicle emissions in half compared to similar gasoline vehicles.

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (Plug-In Version)

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first electric minivan in the U.S. Photo: By author

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid is a plug-in version of Chrysler’s popular minivan lineup with a horribly confusing name. At first glance you might mistake this for a traditional gasoline-hybrid without a plug, but no, it actually has a plug and rechargeable battery pack.

The Pacifica Hybrid will have a 16 kWh battery pack that will give it 33 miles of all-electric range, and a gasoline-powered V6 engine that is good for a combined 32 mpg after the battery is depleted, which is really quite good for a large minivan. Other minivans typically get around 20-22 mpg. Level 2 charging can give the Pacifica a full charge in just 2 hours, while level 1 charging from any normal household outlet will take about 12 hours.  Confused about the difference between fast and regular charging? Check out this primer.

WardsAuto gave the Pacifica Hybrid engine high marks as an outstanding “propulsion system,” and the NY Daily News thinks the Pacifica is the best minivan you can buy. These accolades are both important and warranted, as this Chrysler is the first plug-in minivan sold in the U.S., and a critical step toward giving U.S. consumers electric options to choose from among different types of vehicles.

Cadillac CT6 Plug-In

2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In. Photo: Cadillac

I’ve got a soft spot for Cadillac. My grandfather exclusively drove jet black Cadillac’s with cream white interiors until he had to stop driving, and I still remember what it felt like to climb into a passenger seat that felt more like a top-of-the-line barcalounger than car seat.

Cadillac is also a quintessential American luxury brand, and has been idolized in countless movies and hit songs. So, I was glad to see Cadillac present a plug-in version of their flagship sedan at the NY Auto Show. The 2017 CT6 Plug-In is an electric / gasoline hybrid that puts out 335 horsepower and a respectable 31 miles of all-electric range from a 18.4 kWh battery pack that also lets it run up to 78 miles in an extra fuel efficient mode. Overall, this model boasts a 62 mpg combined EPA rating, which is extremely impressive for a heavy luxury sedan. The 2017 Audi A8, by comparison, only gets 22 combined mpg.

Recharging the CT6 will take about 4.5 hours and can also be charged via any regular home outlet. Oh, and don’t forget that this beast will sprint from 0-60 in an estimated 5.2 second, which makes it nearly as quick as the Twin-Turbo version. So, if you’ve got around $75,000 to drop on a dope ride, you might want to consider the CT6 Plug-In as a fashionable and fuel efficient way to cruise.

Volkswagen e-Golf

The 2017 VW e-Golf. Photo: VW

Volkswagen is trying to make amends for its transgressions (see Dieselgate). As part of these efforts, which include investing in electric charging infrastructure, the German automaker is set to update an all-electric version of its popular hatchback.

The 2017 VW e-Golf uses a 35.9 kWh battery pack that gives it an estimated 125 miles of all-electric range on a single charge, plenty for many commutes and enough for weekend warrior road trips with a charge pit stop along the way. Volkswagen also made the previously optional 7.2-kW onboard charger standard, meaning that the recharge time from a 240 volt power source (like what is used for a home washer / dryer) has dropped to less than six hours. A DC fast charger that can replenish the battery to 80 percent of its capacity in about an hour, and VW also upgraded the electric motor, dropping its 0-60 time to 9.6 seconds.

Last year, the e-Golf SE started at $29,815 (before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any state or local incentives). If the 2017 model holds the line on that pricing when it goes on sale early in 2018, it should stay competitive with the Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt among the most affordable all-electric vehicles ready for prime time.

Why Scientists Are Fighting Back: We’ve Had Enough of Trump’s War on Facts

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Next Saturday, in Washington, DC, and in hundreds of rallies around the world, scientists and their supporters will stage what is likely to be the largest gathering of its kind in history. The March for Science, an idea hatched by a few enthusiastic people on Reddit, has mobilised scientists and their supporters as never before.

As a colleague observed: “You know you’re in trouble when scientists take to the streets.” He’s right. I’ve worked closely with scientists for decades and, by training and temperament, they tend to be happiest in the lab, testing and retesting experiment results – among the last groups of people you might expect to find protesting.

So, why are they grabbing placards now? Because an unprecedented attack on science, scientists and evidence-based policymaking is underway in the US federal government.

Nowhere is the attack more ferocious than on the issue of global warming, where the Trump administration has taken a wrecking ball to the modest but important policies put in place by President Obama. First among them is the Obama administration’s signature Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limit on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which Trump has vowed to repeal.He has also pledged to “reopen” (which could well mean “weaken”) hard-won vehicle fuel economy standards that have already begun lowering carbon emissions and oil consumption. Meanwhile, in a tragic example of wilful blindness, Trump has abolished a rule requiring federal agencies to consider how large federal projects affect climate change and how climate impacts, such as sea level rises and drought, might affect the long-term viability of the projects themselves. This is akin to erecting a building on a fault zone without considering earthquakes.

Thankfully, bureaucratic hurdles make it hard to accomplish these goals with a stroke of the president’s pen. But if the administration succeeds, it may increase by billions of tons the emission of global warming gases and other pollutants that endanger our health; burden our children with much higher costs of fighting climate change; cede the United States’ clean energy prominence to other countries and make it much harder to meet the goals the US set as part of the 2015 international Paris agreement on climate.

There is nothing subtle about Trump’s antipathy to science. As a candidate, he dismissed decades of established scientific evidence by calling global warming a “hoax” and he has displayed an unprecedented disregard for facts and evidence throughout his brief presidency, even on matters as trivial as the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

He picked cabinet members for crucial posts who prominently display their ignorance about or disdain for science. Scott Pruitt, his choice to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency, has stated publicly that he does not accept that carbon dioxide emissions are a primary cause of climate change. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, thinks funding research on global warming is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The anti-science approach extends far beyond climate science. In one of Pruitt’s first official acts, for example, he overruled the recommendation of his own agency’s scientists, based on years of meticulous research, to ban a pesticide shown to cause nerve damage, one that poses a clear risk to children, farmworkers and rural drinking water supplies. What’s more, Trump hasn’t even yet followed in the time-honoured tradition of appointing a presidential science adviser. His proposed budget cuts government science across the board, reducing vital research and data gathering on topics such as sustainable farming methods, weather prediction, the fate and transport of air pollutants and clean energy technologies.

The attack on science is coming not only from the Trump administration. Private groups, such as the fossil-fuel funded Heartland Institute, have mailed extraordinarily misleading booklets entitled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming (sic), vowing to make sure that every school science teacher receives this disinformation presumably to weaken the consensus the climate change is real and burning fossil fuels is its primary cause.

Even more worrisome, Congress is using a radical tool called the Congressional Review Act to eliminate numerous public safeguards that took years to develop and is actively working to pass bills that make it harder for federal agencies to issue science-based safeguards for public health and safety. One bill, for example, would prevent academic scientists – but not industry-funded scientists – on federal advisory boards from weighing in on scientific issues within their expertise.These attacks are profoundly unacceptable to many scientists and collective outrage over them has propelled the March for Science and the People’s Climate March planned for the following Saturday.

Yet something even bigger also seems to be brewing. For a long time, many of us have believed that facts speak for themselves, and scientists could remain on the sidelines to avoid “politicising” their work. The recent election and its aftermath have clearly triggered a dramatic re-evaluation of these norms. We have learned – the hard way – that we can’t take respect for facts and science for granted and a large and growing “fact-based” community is rising up. This grouping includes those who rushed to airports to protest against the ban on Muslim immigration and the public and private attorneys who demonstrated in court that the policy had no facts to support it. It includes those who have packed town hall meetings to block a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and shown that the replacement bill fixed no problem at all (except perhaps the tax increases that were levied on the rich to pay for expanded healthcare).

This fact-based community includes journalists who are calling out falsehoods despite being branded enemies of the American people. It includes political leaders from both parties who have insisted upon a thorough investigation into allegations of Russian influence over the election and taken seriously the information assembled by career intelligence officials.

What unites these disparate acts is the principle that demonstrable facts and evidence – not fake news, alternative facts, supposition or innuendo – must form the backbone of public decisions. It is what separates a democracy from a theocracy, monarchy, or dictatorship, all forms of government in which “the truth” is whatever the ruler says it is.

My organisation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, with its more than 500,000 members and supporters, has joined with allies from the climate, environmental justice and labour movements to help organise both the March for Science and the People’s Climate March.

As the demonstrations are likely to show, an enormous number of people understand what is stake. The greatest attack on science in memory may wind up spurring the greatest mobilisation of scientists, and allies far and wide, we have ever seen.

This post first appeared in The Guardian.

Photo: Wikimedia

Watts Bar Lacks a Proper Safety Culture

UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear (text only) -

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a Chilled Work Environment Letter to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on March 23, 2016, about safety culture problems at the Watts Bar nuclear plant. TVA promised to take steps to restore a proper safety culture at the plant.

Nearly 13 months later, has a proper safety culture been restored at Watts Bar?

No, according to a report issued April 19, 2017, by the TVA Office of the Inspector General (TVA OIG).

Fig. 1. (Source: D. Lochbaum)

The TVA OIG report paints a very disturbing picture of conditions at Watts Bar. I monitored safety culture problems at Millstone (1996-2000), Davis-Besse (2002-2004), and Salem/Hope Creek (2004-2005). The problems described in the TVA OIG report are comparable to the unacceptable conditions that existed at Millstone and Davis-Besse. A difference is that the NRC did not allow Millstone or Davis-Besse to operate until those safety culture problems were corrected to an acceptable level.

The TVA OIG report explains why TVA keeps reporting that the chilled work environment at Watts Bar was confined to the Operations Department and did not contaminate other work organizations at the site: The TVA Office of the General Counsel instructed the Employee Concerns Program and others within TVA not to use “chilled work environment” and to use “degraded work environment” instead. So, while TVA cannot find chilled work environments outside Operations, they find “degraded work environments” almost every place they look. But through an artifice of semantics conjured up by TVA’s attorneys, no chilled work environments are being found.

The TVA OIG didn’t buy the semantics: “Additionally, when 75 percent of a work group at a nuclear utility perceives that they are working in a chilled environment as is the case with ECP at TVA, it would seem reasonable to conclude that there is a chilled work environment in that group and unreasonable to pass it off as a ‘degraded work environment’.”

How bad is the chilled work environment at Watts Bar? The TVA OIG report indicates that 75% of the Employee Concerns Program (ECP) staff did not feel safe to raise concerns without fear of retaliation. ECP is supposed to be the organization that workers with safety concerns can go for help resolving them. When the helpers feel chilled, how can they truly help workers?

The ECP hired two individuals from outside TVA in February 2016 to conduct an independent investigation of the work environment at Watts Bar. According to the TVA OIG, this investigation was independent and forthright, but the ensuing report was anything but independent. The TVA OIG reviewed emails and interviewed the independent investigators and found that “the term ‘chilled work environment’ was edited out of the text of the report by ECP personnel.” In fact, the independent investigators did not write the six-page Executive Summary for “their” report—ECP wrote it. ECP wrote that a “degraded work environment” rather than a “chilled work environment” existed at Watts Bar. TVA OIG reported being unable to find “degraded work environment” being used within TVA or elsewhere prior to this “independent” report.

One of the two independent investigators told the TVA OIG that TVA management “did not like the fact that he stated that TVA management contributed to the poor SCWE [safety conscious work environment]” at Watts Bar. He was not invited back to participate in subsequent debriefing activities which “he attributed to management’s reaction to his report-out to them of the results from Phase I.” In other words, TVA shot the messenger.

The TVA OIG report states that “both the independent investigation commissioned by TVA and the SRTR [Special Review Team Report] were inappropriately influenced by TVA management” and that “the independent investigators were told by TVA ECP what they could and could not put in their report and the Executive Summary of that report was written by ECP, not the independent investigators.”

As to whether the chilled work environment issues were confined to the Operations Department, “Through personnel interviews conducted by OIG investigators, it was learned that many instances of HIRD [harassment, intimidation, retaliation, and/or discrimination] have occurred or have been alleged to have occurred in Operations and in other departments at WBN [Watts Bar Nuclear].” More specifically, surveys conducted during 2016 after workers raised concerns that led to the NRC’s Chilled Work Environment Letter being issued reveal safety culture issues outside of the Operations Department at Watts Bar.

Maintenance Department: 36% of workers feel free to report problems and concerns. 55% of workers believe they could report problems and concerns without fear of retaliation. 91% of the workers witnessed behavior contrary to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

Chemistry Department: 50% of workers feel free to report problems and concerns. 50% of workers believe they could report problems and concerns without fear of retaliation. 50% of the workers witnessed behavior contrary to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

Security Department: 34% of workers believe they could report problems and concerns without fear of retaliation. 67% of the workers witnessed behavior contrary to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

Engineering Department: 67% of workers believe they could report problems and concerns without fear of retaliation. 66% of the workers witnessed behavior contrary to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

Radiation Protection Department: 78% of the workers witnessed behavior contrary to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

The TVA OIG explicitly states “TVA’s continuing denials have been found to be incorrect by the NRC and independent assessors: a chilled work environment exists in at least several departments at WBN and within the ECP program itself.”

The TVA OIG makes an interesting observation regarding the 51 actions that TVA identified as necessary to correct the problems expressed in the NRC’s Chilled Work Environment Letter—none of them pertain to TVA’s upper management. The TVA OIG states “It is certainly worth considering whether this might be at least a contributor, if not a root cause, of the failure of any of the CAPRs [corrective actions to prevent recurrence], remediation plans, and the like to correct the continuing recurrence of chilled work environments at TVA over the past decade.” Indeed!

Watts Bar Needs a Proper Safety Culture

The TVA OIG report makes it extremely clear that Watts Bar lacks a proper safety culture and that lack is broader than just within the Operations Department.

Watts Bar needs a proper safety culture because it is the fundamental foundation for nuclear safety overall. If workers do not raise safety concerns—either out of fear of retaliation or out of distrust that management will correct them—the inventory of unresolved safety concerns increases over time. Nuclear power plants are robust and require a large number of failures and malfunctions before an incident morphs into a disaster. The rising number of unresolved safety concerns reduces the number of failures needed to facilitate such transformations.

Proper safety cultures cannot be acquired from eBay or Amazon. Senior managers must make it happen. If TVA’s senior managers can’t or won’t make it happen, either TVA needs new senior managers or NRC needs to write TVA another letter—a stronger letter perhaps along the lines of a Show Cause Order compelling TVA’s lawyers to explain why Watts Bar can continue to operate safely with “degraded work environments” all over the site.

In the meantime, if Watts Bar experiences a disaster, it won’t be an accident. It’ll be an outcome of operating a nuclear power reactor with a safety culture documented to be woefully inadequate.

I’m Marching for the Same Reason Preservationists Have Always Marched—to Save Places and the Communities They Anchor

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

As a historic preservationist, I often find myself in common cause with my nature conservation colleagues. So I took note last year when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature adopted a startlingly blunt message:  The ecosystems that underpin our economies, well-being and survival are collapsing. Species are becoming extinct at unprecedented rates. Our climate is in crisis. This is the moment to get it right, they said, but our window of opportunity is closing.  

Given the inter-linkages of nature and culture in the global landscape, I couldn’t help but wonder what IUCN’s warning meant for our cultural ecosystems and what are the opportunities to safeguard humanity’s heritage? These are big questions… and a big opportunity to help supply some answers is at hand.

An unprecedented mobilization

The end of April will witness an unprecedented mobilization on the climate question. It begins on April 22 with the March for Science to defend science, scientists, and evidence-based policy-making and culminates with the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29.

The most recent elections have emboldened climate skeptics, but polls show that 70 percent of Americans say climate change is happening and a majority understands that humans are responsible for it. These marches will help clarify just who among us stands on the side of climate action.

My passion for historic preservation calls me to be counted in that number

Historic preservation is by definition forward-looking. What aspects of the past will the present save for the future?  Melting ice and permafrost, increases in sea level and extreme temperatures, more frequent and intense storms give this question new urgency.

The impacts of climate change threaten historic buildings across the US as well as the communities they anchor and the livelihoods and traditions that define us. National Landmarks at Risk, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that even the country’s most iconic and historic sites including some of our most treasured national parks face an uncertain future.

Thankfully, fighting threats to heritage is nothing new to us. Historic preservation isn’t partisan, but it is political—and it always has been. Anyone who’s ever fought to save a historic building from a wrecking ball knows that. This is a movement that stared down reckless “urban renewal,” and highway building and helped turn the tide on careless sprawl. And now we face a changing climate.

Historic Preservationists at the 2014 Peoples Climate March in New York City. Photo: Andrew Potts

Now it’s time to get to work

As the US National Trust for Historic Preservation has warned, climate change is not merely a physical threat to our cultural heritage; it also challenges our understanding of what it means to “save” a place. While the challenges are complex, all our prior battles have prepared us for this moment. Now it’s time to get to work.

One of historic preservationist’s strengths has always been its practical utility. We win when we stress that preservation and human progress are synergistic, not mutually exclusive. But too few of us our following this proven strategy when it comes to climate change.

Many of the resources we seek to preserve–from archeological sites to traditional and indigenous knowledge–hold valuable information on how earlier cultures responded to changing environments, can be part of a lower energy demand future, and can inform us about the origins of modern climate change. The National Park Service’s 2016 Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy puts it best:  “Through the tangible and intangible qualities they hold, cultural resources are also part of the solution to climate change.”

It’s time for us to lead

As with so many other crises, cultural resources are a source of community resilience, an asset to be leveraged. Historic preservationists have been down this road many times and it’s time for us to lead. Correction: it’s past time. It’s past time for historic preservationist to make clear our commitment to use the tools of our movement in service of climate action.

How could we not stand on the side of those committed to preserving tribal and other communities on the front-lines of global change?  Where else would you expect to find us when sites that weave the very fabric of our shared history—from Ellis Island to the Everglades, Cape Canaveral to California’s César Chávez National Monument—are at risk?

So why will I be marching in the March for Science and the People’s Climate March later this month? And why under the banner of historic preservation?

Simple: as a historic preservationists, I’m in the saving-places business and some places I care about need our help.

Author bio: Andrew Potts is a partner at the law firm Nixon Peabody, where he focuses on financing for historic rehabilitation projects. He is the former executive director of the US National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. 

Is Progress Stalled on Clean Energy? Nah. Look at What States are Doing.

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

There is a lot of discouraging news coming from Washington DC these days when it comes to addressing climate change. The Trump administration has vowed to repeal key policies to lower greenhouse gas emissions (such as the Clean Power Plan), and is re-opening, which may mean “weakening,” others (such as fuel economy standards for cars). The head of the EPA (the EPA!) is urging President Trump to pull out of the international Paris Agreement. And his budget director thinks that funding climate science research is a waste of money.

Yet, when one leaves the beltway, one sees progress. From many businesses that are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and bringing products and technologies to market that make cleaner forms of energy available and cost-effective. From cities that are using their powers of planning, zoning, and municipal purchasing to create sustainable cities.

And from state governments, which have all the tools they need to transition to clean energy. States can establish overall greenhouse gas reduction goals, and back those goals with laws, regulations and incentives. States can put a price on carbon, either acting individually (California) or regionally (RGGI). States have pervasive control over electric generation through their regulation of utilities, and can use energy efficiency standards, renewable portfolio standards, long-term contracting requirements, and net metering rules to mandate or incent efficient and renewable energy.

States issue building codes, which they can use to make buildings more energy efficient. States can directly invest in infrastructure, such as mass transit and EV charging stations, to lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. And if they follow California’s lead, they can require cars sold in their states to be fuel efficient and/or electric.

As UCS’s Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking shows, many states are using these tools effectively, and making dramatic progress on the ground. And while many of the leaders are the blue coastal states you might expect, it is very heartening to see that success has geographic and political diversity.

Some salient examples: South Dakota has the highest percentage of in-state generation from renewables, while Wyoming has the most renewable energy coming on line in the next few years. Iowa does the most to help businesses purchase renewable energy. Arizona is a leader in efficiency. Texas invested $7 billion to build transmission lines, making it by far the largest generator of wind energy in the country.

It is clear that on the state level, in sharp contrast to Washington, DC, there is bi-partisan support for clean energy. Whether motivated to avert climate impacts, reap air quality benefits, create new jobs or diversify the energy supply, a large and growing number of states are using the tools they possess to make progress. And that is at least a partial antidote to the bad news coming from Congress and the Trump administration.

That being said, the state ranking also reveals the need for improvement. Many states do not have greenhouse gas reduction goals or a set of laws to achieve them. Sales of electric vehicles as an overall percentage of the fleet are low in all states. Many southern and southwestern states are not taking advantage of a resource—plentiful sun—and have very low penetration of rooftop solar. Many northern states are wasting energy and money because they don’t have strong energy efficiency targets.

My hope is that this new analysis, and the pressure that can be exerted by active and engaged citizens, will help broaden the areas in which all states can succeed, and turn the state laggards into leaders. At a time when progress in Washington, DC has stalled, this is our best path forward.

Who’s Driving Clean Energy Momentum? Ranking State Progress

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Clean energy has been having a really good run in recent years: costs falling, scale skyrocketing, millions of people enjoying its benefits. And the future is looking bright in a lot of ways, with technologies, customers, and policies coming together in beautiful harmony for a whole lot more progress to come.

When it comes to the role of our 50 states in creating this great clean energy momentum, which ones do we have to thank? That’s what the new Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking from the Union of Concerned Scientists set out to discover. As for how to figure out who’s tops, that title says it all… if you just look at each piece.

Let’s break it down, build it up, and see what we get. (And some of the answers just might surprise you.)

Gauging leadership on clean energy momentum

The map gives a sneak peek at the results from the new analysis.

And here’s how the pieces of the title come into play:

Clean energy. Our focus was the electricity sector, but that turns out to include a range of pieces, and it’s important to think about the multiple dimensions of “clean energy”:

  • Renewable energy—wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and bioenergy—is an obvious component, but certainly not the only one.
  • Energy efficiency figures in strongly in terms of how we make progress: Doing more with every electron means needing less electricity from some of our dirtiest sources, and having our renewable electricity take us further.
  • Transportation electrification is an increasingly important piece of the power sector picture, and cleaning things up. For most US drivers, electric vehicles (EVs) give strong environmental benefits. And those benefits are going to keep going up as the country’s electricity mix gets cleaner.

Our new analysis includes all three sectors.

Momentum. This is one of the things that’s unique about this analysis. We were interested in capturing not just where states are now, but also where they’ve come from recently, and where they’re headed.

Clean energy momentum covers “now” things like the renewable electricity fraction of a state’s generation, its electricity savings, its EV sales, and its clean energy jobs.

But it also includes the “where ya coming from?” piece, like how much a state’s renewables fraction has increased recently, and how much its power plant pollution has decreased.

And momentum in the clean energy space is about the “still to come” part—how much renewable energy is happening in the near future, and what kind of policies (for renewables, efficiency, and carbon pollution, for example) will give clean energy oomph in the years to come.

Our analysis measures all that.

For clean energy, the best direction is up (Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL).

State. Why focus on the states, when we need the federal government to be doing its thing? It’s clear that we need both.

States have been a powerful, positive force for progress on clean energy, through different political climates and different federal administrations. Given the uncertainty of leadership from Washington, D.C. (to put it mildly), we definitely need states to continue to lead in each of these areas, to keep the momentum going—and growing.

That’s why focusing our analysis on state performance made sense… not as the whole picture, but as a key part of the picture.

Ranking. We wanted to keep this simple, easy-to-understand, while covering the bases that needed covering. So our ranking incorporates a dozen metrics covering that range of sectors and time periods.

And we wanted to keep it grounded. The assessment gauges how states are doing relative to a really important yardstick: their peers. For each of the metrics, states could earn up to 10 points. We let the best-performing state define that top end, and set the zero-point level based on the worst-performing state. States got their points for that metric based on where they were on that worst-to-best scale.

The envelope, please

So, all together, those pieces give us Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress. And when we put it together and look at the numbers, here’s what we find.

The top performers overall include a mix of West Coast, Northeast, and Midwest states (see graph).

One surprise is who ended up on top. Yeah, I get that California might not seem like a shocker. But we were really careful, in designing the analysis, to make sure the metrics didn’t give extra credit to big states, so that we’d have a level playing field for measuring leadership. All the figures were “normalized” in some way, with calculations per capita, per household, as a percent of generation or car sales or whatever. And yet California still tops the rankings.

Interestingly, the Golden State gets there not by being at the head on a bunch of metrics—it is #1 only on one (EV sales as a percent of overall car sales last year)—but by being a stellar, all-around performer. It shows up in the top-five list for a total of seven metrics, and top-10 for still another.

In spot #2 is Vermont, which leads on two of the metrics: clean energy jobs per capita and carbon reduction target. But it also has a total of five top-five appearances, in electricity savings, energy efficiency policy, and EV adoption. Its record of 10 top-10 appearances is the most of any state.

Massachusetts captures #3 with the strongest energy efficiency resource standard (a leading policy for driving efficiency), and top-five performances also in residential solar capacity per household, electricity savings, clean energy jobs per capita, and carbon reduction targets. And it earned nine top-10s.

Rhode Island, #4, is in there because of its top electricity savings numbers, and its top-five-ness in pollution reduction and policies around renewables, efficiency, and carbon reduction.

And Hawaii rounds out the top five. The Aloha States tops our residential solar metric (by a long shot) and is a strong performer for EV adoption and renewables policy.

Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York, and Iowa round out the top 10 states. And those states are followed by Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada.

Solar is hot! Thank leading states near you (Credit: Derrick Z. Jackson).

Metric surprises

But the results are a lot more than the top overall states. The nice thing about the multiple metrics is getting to see not just who leads overall, but who leads on different pieces. And looking at it that way produces some surprising findings. For example:

  • South Dakota may not be the first name that comes to mind when you’re thinking about renewables, but it turns out to have the highest renewable energy portion of its in-state generation—hydro, yes, but also wind. It also ties with New Hampshire for the top spot in our power plant pollution reduction metric. That makes SD one of only two states (with Vermont) to get two #1s.
  • Wyoming might bring to mind coal, not clean energy, but it tops our metric on new renewable energy capacity—how much is being built around now and in the near future, per capita and as a percentage of new power plant capacity.
  • Those who know wind might not be surprised to see Kansas somewhere on the leader board, and indeed it is: #1 for the increase in its renewable energy generation percentage, based on a tripling of its wind (from 8% of its in-state generation to 24%).
  • For clean energy jobs per capita, the basis for another metric, Vermont tops the efficiency piece (along with overall clean energy jobs per capita) and Nevada leads on solar, but tops on wind jobs is North Dakota.

While our main focus is on the states that perform well across metrics, it’s helpful to see who’s moving forward in different ways.

Pedal to the metal

Overall, the range of metrics incorporated in the UCS Clean Energy Momentum State Ranking paint a picture of state successes and a 50-state race for clean energy leadership. And the analysis points to recommendations for states as they build on clean energy momentum and continue strong progress toward a new energy future, like these:

  • States have to continue to drive clean energy momentum by adopting policies for continued progress in a whole lot of areas, from renewable energy and efficiency, to vehicle electrification, to economy-wide reductions in global warming pollution.
  • States should focus more on making sure that everyone shares in the benefits of clean energy, particularly low-income households and communities of color, those who are most affected by power plant pollution and other imbalances in the electricity sector.
  • States have got to push the federal government to accept its own responsibility for leadership in the clean energy space, given the value of strong national policies in a lot of these areas.

But, however we do it, we need, as a society and a country, to be picking up the pace. For clean energy jobs. For clean air and better public health. For a more just energy system.

And with an administration in the White House that seems more enamored of the brake pedal than the accelerator, where states are willing and able to lead on clean energy, we need them to be even more solidly in the driver’s seat.

To clean energy momentum, then—and step on it!

Click here for more on our clean energy momentum analysis from colleagues on the Midwest results, the California perspective, the big picture, and more.

Clean Energy Momentum in the Midwest

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A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists ranks state leadership on clean energy momentum across the country. Here’s a look at how the Midwest fared.

The analysis for the new report, called Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress, uses 12 metrics, which assess key trends in the state deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the electrification of vehicles. The metrics also gauge progress in areas of job creation, pollution reduction, and the state policy environment for driving clean energy.

Midwest findings

Jobs are one really important aspect of progress on creating clean energy momentum. Wind jobs are rapidly growing in the Midwest. In terms of raw numbers, Iowa is number one in the region, with over 6,000 people employed in the industry (the fourth highest in the country), followed by Kansas, Illinois, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The jobs metric in the UCS analysis looks at per-capita figures for each technology; for wind per-capita, North Dakota is first in the region and the country, with almost 3.8 wind jobs for every thousand residents, followed by South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas.

For solar jobs, Ohio is first with 5,831 solar jobs, then Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. For energy efficiency jobs in the Midwest, Illinois is by far the winner with 89,830 total energy efficiency jobs in the state and is number three nationally. For energy efficiency per-capita, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Kansas did very well.

For a look beyond jobs, let’s dive a little deeper into some key Midwest states—what UCS’s new analysis suggests they’re doing well at, and where they might be able to build up their scores.

Iowa

The Iowa State Capitol

Iowa is the shining star of the Midwest, coming in at number 10 nationally. Iowa has always been strongly committed to renewables, and was the first state to implement a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in 1983. Iowa currently generates over 36% of its electricity from wind power, and has 6,911 MW of installed wind capacity. And the Hawkeye State certainly isn’t done; they came in second place overall based on new renewable energy capacity under development.

Iowa also scores well on the analysis’s metric that focuses most strongly on the corporate piece. States can make it easier for businesses to purchase and use renewable energy in various ways. Iowa is number one nationally in this, based on the ease with which in-state companies can buy clean energy from utilities or third parties.

UCS’s analysis also suggests ways Iowa could improve its ranking. Iowa could create a global warming emission reduction target, for example. Vermont scored first place in this category, with their GHG reduction goal that calls for a 50% reduction in emissions from the 1999 level by 2028, and a 75% reduction by 2050. Iowa could also increase their installed residential solar capacity.

Iowa currently only has 39 MW of installed solar capacity, compared to leading states that have thousands of megawatts of solar.

Minnesota

Minnesota is second in the Midwest in UCS’s new analysis, scoring number 12 nationally due in part to its success in reducing power plant emissions. This is a reflection of Minnesota’s progress in renewable energy generation, with 21 percent of its energy coming from renewables, and it reflects the state’s shift away from less efficient fossil-fueled power plants. Last fall, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved Xcel Energy’s 15-year resource plan that will retire nearly 1,400 megawatts (MW) of coal capacity and move the state’s largest utility towards 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Minnesota scored 8th nationally on their state target for reducing global warming emissions. This is due to the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which set a goal for reducing GHG emissions in 2015 to a level 15% below the 2005 level, 30% below in 2025, and 80% below in 2050.

Minnesota could improve on the amount of installed residential solar capacity per household. Possible increases in renewables in the state could be achieved through increasing the states renewable energy standard from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2030. Doing so would build on the success of the previous standard as well as get more solar on roofs in Minnesota.

Another area of needed improvement is electric vehicle adoption. How quickly a state is harnessing the public health and environmental benefits of electrifying the transportation sector is another important dimension of clean energy momentum. In 2016 less than half a percent of the cars sold in Minnesota were electric vehicles. This metric could improve with the adoption of a zero emission vehicle regulation, incentive programs, or infrastructure investments for EVs.

Illinois

Source: Peter Juvinall – NREL.

Illinois ranks number 19th nationally, but number two (behind Iowa) in corporate renewable energy procurement. The Land of Lincoln is also doing well on reducing harmful power plant emissions by retiring coal plants, and focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

And Illinois has set itself up for a lot more clean energy, thanks to the recent passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) which will help the state continue to decrease emissions, and increase the adoption of solar in the state. Illinois currently has 70 MW of installed solar, which will greatly increase thanks to the FEJA.

Michigan

Michigan came in at number 27, but performed better than any other Midwest state on electric vehicle adoption.

Michigan has had numerous coal plant closures in the state in recent years. And it looks like progress in that direction will continue; DTE Energy has already shuttered three coal-fired coal plant units, and has plans to close another eight by 2030.

Areas for improvement included the amount of installed residential solar capacity. The estimated distributed solar photovoltaic capacity in the state is 31 MW, which is equal to 8.2 W per household (way below the leading states, which have many hundreds of watts per household).

Thankfully, Michigan recently strengthened its renewable portfolio standard to 15% by 2021, from 10 percent by 2015, with requirements to build renewable energy resources within the service territories of Michigan utilities.

Next steps

With the Trump Administration’s focus on undercutting action on climate policy at the federal level, state leadership is more important now than ever. States must focus on a range of policies to keep momentum and continue to reap the benefits of clean energy including economic development, job creation, and cleaner air and reduced public health risks.

An Earth Day Salute to States Leading the Clean Energy Transition

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Earth Day is Saturday. The annual event always inspires me to reflect on where the country has been and where it’s headed in terms of protecting the land, water, air, plants, and animals that share our planet with us humans.

In an age where basic environmental issues are becoming hyper-political, I am encouraged by a new analysis UCS just released that proves just how much progress we’ve made across the country to lower pollution—both the kind that makes us sick and the kind that warms our atmosphere—by investing in electric vehicles, energy efficiency, and clean, renewable sources of electricity.

Wind power on the San Gorgonio Pass. Source: Flickr/Clark

The report looks at clean energy progress across all 50 states, and ranks them in terms of leadership on a number of policies and programs, including advancement of renewable energy and energy efficiency, jobs created in clean energy, and programs that limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Not surprisingly, California earned the top spot overall by performing well in a number of categories that were analyzed, including placing first on electric vehicle adoption and second on the amount of residential rooftop solar per capita. It also ranked high on other metrics, such as electricity savings, clean energy jobs per capita, and the strength of its renewable energy and global warming emissions policies.

Following California were Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York, and Iowa. Progress was so widespread that 35 states demonstrated enough clean-energy momentum to score in the top 10 in at least one metric, while 21 states scored in the top 10 in at least three categories.

While California’s leadership on renewable energy and energy efficiency already serve as a model for other states, the Golden State should not rest on its laurels. The state has a large economy—the sixth or seventh largest in the world depending on the year. Investments we make here ripple throughout the world. With so much at stake or stalled at the federal level, California will play an extremely important role in making sure clean energy momentum across the country does not lose ground.

La energía limpia, el progreso de los estados y qué podemos hacer

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Un nuevo análisis de la Union of Concerned Scientists clasifica el progreso de los estados en la transición hacia la energía limpia. ¿Por qué es importante?

Hablé con mi co-autora del informe, Paula García, sobre las razones principales por las cuáles es importante la energía limpia, así como para entender cuáles son los estados líderes.

¿A qué nos referimos con energía limpia?

John Rogers: Paula, el informe se llama “El progreso de la energía limpia: Clasificación del avance de los estados”. Hablemos de cómo lo hicimos. ¿Puedes describir para nuestros lectores el análisis que llevamos a cabo?

Paula García: Por supuesto. Para nuestro análisis nos enfocamos en la energía limpia desde tres perspectivas. La primera incluye la energía renovable como la solar y la eólica. La segunda aborda la eficiencia energética, la cual nos permite hacer mejoras en edificaciones para reducir el consumo de electricidad, aumentar la comodidad y ahorrar dinero, tanto en la casa como en el negocio. Y la tercera tiene que ver con los vehículos eléctricos.

JR: Y esos los incluímos porque representan una importante área de avance de la energía limpia, debido a los beneficios medioambientales que traen, y el hecho de que son un área de rápido crecimiento en los Estado Unidos.

PG: Así es. Entonces incluímos estas tres áreas. Y la forma en que analizamos el avance que han logrado los estados es usando indicadores para medir su progreso reciente, dónde se encuentran en este momento y hacia donde se dirigen.

¿Por qué es importante la energía limpia?

JR: Excelente. Entonces, ¿Podrías explicarle a nuestros lectores porqué consideramos que es importante la energía limpia?

PG: Hay muchas razones por las cuales como sociedad necesitamos tener una mayor representación de la energía limpia en nuestra vida diaria. Por ejemplo: la energía limpia es una fuente sólida de generación de empleo. Y estos empleos no solo benefician a quienes trabajan en esta área, sino también a la economía del lugar donde residen estas personas.

JR: Y el hablar de la energía limpia sugiere que hay razones que tienen que ver con la salud pública…

PG: Sí, las centrales eléctricas por décadas han emitido agentes contaminantes como el dióxido de azufre y óxidos de nitrógeno. Estos contaminantes son sumamente nocivos para la salud pública por cuanto tienen serias repercusiones, por ejemplo en enfermedades pulmonares como el asma.

El uso de la energía limpia en este caso es una herramienta fundamental para reducir el uso de esas centrales, y por ende los niveles de agentes contaminantes.

JR: Y esos efectos dañinos no afectan por igual a los residentes dentro de un mismo estado…

PG: Así es. Las estadísticas nos muestran que las personas más expuestas a esa contaminación son aquellas de bajos recursos y que pertenecen a grupos minoritarios étnicos y raciales. Esto tiene unas implicaciones muy negativas afectando desproporcionadamente la salud pública de estas comunidades. Por ejemplo, las personas puertorriqueñas tienen la más alta tasa de ataques y muertes a causa del asma.

JR: Esos contaminantes tienen un efecto directo lamentable en la salud de muchas comunidades. ¿Y el dióxido de carbono?

PG: Totalmente. Este es otro de los agentes emitidos por las centrales eléctricas—

JR: —especialmente las plantas de carbón

PG: Sí. Y esas emisiones de dióxido de carbono son una de las principales fuentes que generan cambio climático. Y los efectos del cambio climático lamentablemente a quienes afectan de forma más drástica es a las mismas comunidades de bajos recursos y de grupos étnicos y raciales minoritarios.

JR: Los efectos de que hablamos son inundaciones u olas de calor, por ejemplo, para los cuales comunidades de menos recursos están menos preparadas para responder, tanto físicamente, en cuanto a la infraestructura, como financieramente, en cuanto a tener los recursos económicos como para reconstruir sus viviendas, recuperarse y prosperar.

PG: Por esto la transición hacia la energía limpia es tanto y más importante en términos de que sus beneficios lleguen a todo las personas.

JR: Y hablamos aquí no solo de la reducciones de los contaminantes que mencionaste y el cambio climático, sino que también de los trabajos, los cuales pueden ser de gran beneficio también en nuestras comunidades más necesitadas.

¿Quiénes son los líderes?

JR: Entonces, en cuánto a los estados y el progreso de la energía limpia, ¿qué hallamos?

http://blog.ucsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/UCS-Clean-Energy-momentum-state-ranking-heat-map-Spanish.mp4

PG: Lo primero que encontramos es que el avance de la energía limpia está pasando a lo largo de todo el país; desde la costa pacífica hasta la costa atlántica, así como en el medio oeste, encontramos estados que están a la vanguardia.

California ocupa el primer lugar en la calificación general, debido a sus esfuerzos en muchísimos frentes. Desde la adopción de vehículos eléctricos, el gran desarrollo de la energía renovable, la amplia generación de empleos en energía limpia y su liderazgo en políticas energéticas y climáticas.

En el noreste Vermont, Massachusetts y Rhode Island van a la cabecera por sus esfuerzos en temas de eficiencia energética, y desarrollo de energía renovable.

Y en el medio oeste encontramos a Iowa dentro de los 10 primeros estados que están liderando esta transición hacia la energía limpia.

¿Por qué es importante enfocarnos en el progreso de los estados?

JR: Hablemos de la importancia del liderazgo de los estados en el avance dado la situación política nacional en que nos encontramos.

PG: Bueno, es vital entender que están haciendo los estados para que esta transición hacia la energía limpia sea una realidad, especialmente en este momento en que existe una gran incertidumbre con respecto a cuál va a ser el liderazgo desde la Casa Blanca. Hasta el momento es difícil percibir acciones federales favorables en temas de energía limpia.

Por tanto, ahora más que nunca es fundamental entender cuáles son los estados líderes en energía limpia y como replicar y multiplicar sus éxitos. Esto sin duda contribuirá a mantener y acelerar el ritmo de adopción de la energía limpia. Y por ende el que podamos compartir sus beneficios con todos y cada uno de nosotros.

¿Cómo puedo contribuir con esta transición?

JR: ¡De acuerdo! ¿Qué pueden hacer, entonces, nuestros queridos lectores para mantener e impulsar el avance de la energía limpia?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian

PG: Hay muchas formas de contribuir con esta transición. Empezando con participar activamente en los procesos de toma de decisiones a nivel local, estatal y federal. Es importante informarse sobre qué acciones sus representantes están tomando en temas de energía limpia y exigirles que activamente presionen por un mayor progreso en esta área.

Así mismo, justamente la próxima semana vamos a tener una gran oportunidad para expresar de forma contundente nuestro poder como sociedad para exigir acciones inmediatas “en defensa de nuestro clima, nuestro ambiente y nuestra salud”. El sábado 29 de abril vamos a tener la Marcha del pueblo por el clima en Washington, DC, y todos y cada uno de ustedes están invitados a unirse a este movimiento. Yo estaré ahí marchando!

JR: ¡Ahí voy a estar yo también!

Y vale la pena mencionar otra importante forma para que nuestros lectores participen en la solución de los grandes desafíos que enfrentamos, tanto en el campo energético como en el de “los problemas más apremiantes de nuestro planeta”: únanse a la Union of Concerned Scientists. Así podrán estar al tanto de lo que está pasando y de cómo pueden apoyar nuestros esfuerzos.

PG: ¡Completamente de acuerdo!

Photo: Black Rock Solar/CC BY 2.0, Flickr

EPA Should Not Delay an Update to Its Chemical Facility Safety (RMP) Rule

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As you may know, Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is delaying or “reconsidering” numerous science-based safeguards, generally at the behest of industry. One of the rules caught in this delay is a very important update to the EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP). After initially staying the rule for 60 days and then an additional 90 days, Administrator Pruitt has proposed a new rule to delay the implementation of the RMP update until February 2019. My colleague covered how ridiculous the idea is here.

The EPA should not delay critical safeguards to help prevent chemical disasters. Communities, first responders, and workers need this protections in place immediately.

The EPA should not delay critical safeguards to help prevent chemical disasters. Communities, first responders, and workers need this protections in place immediately.

Earlier today, EPA held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. in order to hear comments from stakeholders on a potential delay (let’s not overlook the fact that the only hearing on this proposal was being held in Washington, far away from many of the low-income communities and communities of color that would have the most to lose if the rule were to delayed).

UCS took this opportunity to provide some initial feedback and amplify the voices of many of the affected communities who could not attend the public hearing today. My colleagues Charise Johnson, Amy Gutierrez, and myself, all testified. You can see our prepared comments below.

The agency is currently taking written comments on the proposed delay. We hope that you will join us and tell Administrator Pruitt that the time for delays is over. The EPA should immediately implement its updates to the RMP rule.

***

Comments by Yogin Kothari:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on the proposed effective date of the Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule final amendments.

My name is Yogin Kothari. I am here both as a concerned citizen and on behalf of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. With more than 500,000 members and supporters across the country and across the political spectrum, we work to improve public policy through the application of rigorous and independent science. We also advocate for adequate transparency and integrity in our democratic institutions, along with improved public access to government scientific information.

Last year, I testified at a public hearing hosted by the EPA, alongside community and industry stakeholders, on the importance of modernizing EPA’s RMP rule, which had not been updated in over two decades.

It was heartening to see EPA take my remarks, along with those of more than 60,000 others over the course of two years, to carefully inform and finalize a rule that requires covered facilities to follow common sense best practices to enhance emergency preparedness and makes communities safer.

The process to finalize the final amendments was extensive and rigorous. Everyone had ample opportunity to participate. This included multi-agency stakeholder input, public listening sessions throughout the country, multiple national webinars, a request for information before the proposed rulemaking, a small business advocacy review panel, a regulatory impact analysis, a notice and comment period, and extensive interagency and OIRA review. 

Ultimately, it became evident that there was a critical need to update the RMP rule to prevent injury and death for workers, first responders, and fenceline communities, especially for low-income communities and communities of color, which live in the shadow of danger from many high-risk chemical facilities.

That is why it is shocking, and extremely disappointing, that the EPA has decided to hold this hearing in Washington, D.C. because many communities across the country that have the most to lose if this rule were delayed don’t have an opportunity to make their case today.

Let me be clear: by delaying the implementation of this rule, and by denying impacted communities a voice in this absurd reconsideration, you are putting the public at risk. Think of this as you go back to your comfortable Washington, D.C. home tonight: if this rule is further delayed, these communities will continue to face increased risks of a chemical disaster. These communities know better than almost anyone in this room the importance of these basic protections.

When the initial delay was announced, many community organizations, from California to Texas to Delaware to New Jersey, expressed their dismay. The NJ Work Environment Council (NJ WEC), a coalition of about 70 labor, community, and environmental organizations working for safe, secure jobs and a healthy, sustainable environment, said:

“The RMP Rule final amendments should be implemented immediately. This is an opportunity for EPA to take action and ensure industries using hazardous substances are safer and more secure.  We see no credible reason to delay implementation given the amount of stakeholder engagement, including industry, safety advocates, and other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

Furthermore, they said, these modest requirements  are needed to save lives. Improving coordination between chemical facilities, firefighters, and other local emergency planners and first responders is a common-sense reform. I could not agree more.

NJWEC also shared:

“New Jersey has already proven to be a successful testing ground for implementing a safer technology analysis. In 2008, New Jersey adopted rules that required facilities to conduct inherently safer technology (IST) reviews and submit reports to the state.

These reviews have prodded facility management to take measures to protect millions of workers and community residents from serious, preventable hazards. For example, in New Jersey nearly 300 water and wastewater treatment plants that formerly used highly dangerous chlorine have switched to safer processing methods.

There’s no reason to delay these federal requirements, especially when we look at the success of New Jersey.”

The modest improvements to the RMP rule, which in reality are best practices, should take effect now. Communities and scientists have long been calling for an update. EPA’s own data showed that there were more than 1,500 serious incidents at covered facilities from 2004 – 2013, resulting in 58 preventable deaths and more than 17,000 preventable injuries. If the rule were to be delayed until 2019, can we really afford to have an additional 300+ incidents that will result in additional injuries and death when we know that we had an opportunity to put some key best practices in place to prevent these disasters?

When accidents and disasters happen, fenceline community members (including children in many cases), frontline workers, and first responders will unnecessarily remain in harm’s way. EPA finalized this rule to help prevent chemical disasters and save lives.

Communities across the country do not need more process. They do not need more delays. They need action.

Thank you.

***

Comments by Charise Johnson:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on the proposed rule to further delay the effective date of the Risk Management Program Rule final amendments..

My name is Charise Johnson. I am here on behalf of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. With more than 500,000 members and supporters across the country, we are a nonpartisan, non-profit group, dedicated to improving public policy through rigorous and independent science. The Center for Science and Democracy at UCS advocates for improved transparency and integrity in our democratic institutions, especially those making science-based public policy decisions.

We also work to improve public access to government scientific information. The final amendments include crucial improvements to public access to RMP data.  A delay of this rule is a delay in access to information that the public has a right to know and hampers the ability of affected communities to know and prepare for chemical risks.

I first want to recognize that many of the communities that would be most impacted by a decision to delay the updates to the RMP rule are also the communities that lack representation, and the ones whose voices are often drowned out. In my comments, I hope to amplify their voices, and their continuous fight for environmental justice.

Despite years of petitioning the federal government to adopt stronger measures to prevent chemical disasters, this is the first major update to the prevention requirements of EPA’s chemical Risk Management Program in more than 20 years, adding important, modest protections for vulnerable communities. The rule seeks to prevent accidental releases at facilities that use or store certain extremely dangerous chemical substances and require facilities to conduct inherently safer technology reviews. Fence-line communities face the highest danger along with workers and first-responders when these accidents occur. Maybe you have been fortunate enough NOT to have to worry about an explosion, fire, or leak from the over 12,000 facilities that use or store toxic chemicals in the U.S and are covered by this rule.  But many of our families and communities—especially communities of color or low income communities — are not so lucky.

This is the case for our partners from Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, or TEJAS. In 2015, TEJAS invited me to join a “toxics tour” through the East Houston community of Manchester. Within 15 minutes, I had to ask if we could please roll the windows up, because I was having difficulty breathing. The air was thick and sweet with benzene emissions from a nearby facility. The smoke plumes rising from a nearby refinery set the backdrop for the only community park, a park where children were playing. Metal crushing facilities bordered the ship channel on one side, on the other, a public bike trail.  This is real life every day for the people living in Manchester, as well as other communities and neighborhoods across the country.

More often than not, the people facing the greatest risks are people of color and/or living in poverty. In a recent report, UCS and TEJAS found that in Houston, for example, a significant population of the communities of Harrisburg/Manchester and Galena Park live within one mile of an RMP facility. 90 percent of the population in Harrisburg/Manchester and nearly 40 percent of the population in Galena Park lives near an RMP facility. These communities are predominantly made up of people of color and have higher poverty rates than the rest of the city.

We are disheartened that the long-awaited revision to the RMP rule has been delayed. The amendments to the RMP rule could and will reduce risks associated with and improve emergency response to catastrophic chemical facility incidents. By delaying the rule, we are deciding to put the best interests of industry over public health; we are continuing to keep communities at risk. This rule is critical for fence-line communities, workers in these facilities, and those first responders who arrive at these facilities during an accident.

***

Comments by Amy Gutierrez:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on the proposed delay of the effective date of the Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule final amendments.

My name is Amy Gutierrez. I am here both as a concerned citizen and on behalf of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. I am also here on behalf of our half million members, both scientists and activists who believe that science should have a pivotal role in public policy.

I want to highlight three sections of the rule that I think are critical and should be implemented as soon as possible. The first, analysis of inherently safer technologies. This should be considered a business best practice. The facility is not required to implement these safer technologies, nor do they have to release this information to the public, rather a business should know if there are ways to make their work safer for their workers and those who live near the facility. Second, third party audits for accidents or near misses. This also represents a business best practice. If I owned a business and something went awry, I would want to get to the bottom of the incident to make my operations safer. Last is better coordination of emergency management and personnel. Regardless of the cause of the West Fertilizer plant explosion, emergency responders and Local Emergency Planning Commissions should have knowledge of critical information before running into the facility. Had this coordination been in effect, those 12 firefighters who heroically ran into the plant would be here today.

I would like to close with a community focus. I know our partners the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS) will be speaking but I wanted to highlight my trip to Manchester and its effect on my outlook of this rule. The communities most affected by this rule are for the most part not in this room today. But make no mistake; their lives are the ultimate measurement of the need for this rule to take place as soon as possible. I went on a toxics tour with TEJAS and couldn’t help but notice that as they took me by a road of the chemical facilities that on the other side were homes. Outside those homes two children were playing soccer in a parking lot, breathing in these releases while trying to enjoy a summer day. I have family that lives in the neighboring city of Pasadena, TX and I worry whenever I see a news notice that another chemical release has occurred that they are outside during recess. No community and no family should have to worry about a chemical disaster taking their partner, child, or local hero from their lives. I urge you to implement this rule as soon as possible for those fence line communities who need these common sense protections most.

***

Just a reminder: UCS provided extensive comments during the development of the updates to the RMP rule, and many of our members and partners joined in support. We hope that you will continue to join us in championing common-sense best practices at high-risk chemical facilities and enhanced emergency preparedness measures in order to protect fenceline communities, workers, and first responders.

Farmers to Trump: Don’t Walk Away from Climate Action

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

There’s a little good news from farm country. Last week, the National Farmers Union (NFU)—a grassroots organization representing 200,000 farmers, fishers, and ranchers with affiliates in 33 states—publicly urged President Trump to keep the United States’ commitment to global climate action.

I was thrilled, and a little surprised, though I shouldn’t have been.NFU has supported the Paris Agreement since its adoption in 2015, and the nation’s second-largest farm organization is progressive when it comes to environmental issues. Still, the NFU’s strongly-worded statement was a good reminder that farmers aren’t a monolith, and that while some farm groups have their heads stuck firmly in the sand, there’s hope for a future in which farmers help avert the worst impacts of climate change on the land and our food supply.

NFU farmers are climate leaders

In his statement last week, NFU president Roger Johnson put it simply: “The Paris Agreement is vital to enhancing the climate resiliency of family farm operations and rural communities, and it allows family farmers and ranchers to join carbon sequestration efforts that stimulate economic growth in rural America.”

At its annual convention in March 2016, NFU members voted to “lead the way” on climate change. The policy resolution they adopted notes that farmers and rural residents are “a large part” of the climate solution because of their role in generating renewable energy and sequestering carbon in soils. It commits NFU to educating its own members about ways they can “adapt to the effects of climate change on their respective operations, as well as the enormous economic benefits that homegrown renewable energy brings to our rural areas.”

And it endorses policy solutions, including a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and voluntary conservation practices that focus on water quality and quantity concerns. Not least, the NFU resolution urges Congressional funding of land-grant universities and the USDA “to do the necessary research to help farmers and ranchers better increase the water holding capacity and resiliency of our nation’s soils through changing cropping patterns, production and conservation practices, and carbon sequestration.” (Otherwise known as agroecology. Nearly 500 scientists agree.)

A year later, NFU is making good on its commitment. In addition to the statement about Paris, the organization has launched a change.org petition calling on Congress to include “opportunities to enhance climate resiliency and mitigate climate change” in the 2018 farm bill. That petition has more than 30,000 signatures. And through its Climate Leaders program and Facebook group, NFU has created a forum to spread awareness and spur action by farmers.

Climate action is good for farmers

NFU says it’s taking this stand because its members are on the front lines of climate change, and are already feeling the volatility of our changing climate. Indeed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the nation’s farmers not only can be part of the climate solution, but they must in order to survive.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the media, as evidenced by a spate of recent coverage. A fifth-generation Iowa farmer describes (here, also cross-posted here) the climate challenges and opportunities he sees for himself and his fellow farmers. The New York Times earlier this year identified a subset of farmers in conservative states who are practicing climate-friendly agriculture without ever talking about the climate. And the Huffington Post has the stories of six farmers who are taking a whole range of actions on their land—employing water-conserving practices, or diversifying crops—in order to increase their climate resilience. (One of them even has a 35-page climate adaptation plan!)

Denial and delay put farmers at risk

At the same time, too many farmers will not publicly acknowledge climate change. An annual survey of Iowa farmers asked respondents about their views on climate change in 2011, and again two years later. The 2013 results moved slightly in the direction of agreement that climate change is happening and that humans are mostly to blame. Still, only 16 of farmers surveyed took that view, while a much larger fraction of respondents—nearly a quarter!—agreed with the statement that there is “not enough evidence to know with certainty whether climate change is occurring or not.”

This misperception is aided and abetted by the nation’s largest and most powerful farm organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation (Farm Bureau, for short). A lumbering dinosaur, the Farm Bureau continues to pretend climate change isn’t really happening, or if it is, no one can really know why. A cynical policy statement on its website sows doubt: “Some scientists,” the statement says slyly, have connected human activities to increased average global temperatures, and “some scientists” have predicted more extreme weather. Then it cuts to the chase: “Imposing regulations based on unproven technologies or science causes increased costs to produce food, feed, fuel and fiber without measurably addressing the issue of climate.” (emphasis added)

Such rhetoric inflames the worry of many farmers that accepting the reality of climate change will make them vulnerable to new costs, a very serious concern right now with rock-bottom prices for farm products, farm incomes plummeting, and debt escalating. That’s why it’s important to point out how climate-smart farm practices can help farmers save money on input costs, improve soil health, and perform better in drought and flood conditions. And how, instead of imposing new costs, this kind of farming could create new revenue streams for environmental services.

Farmers need information and technical support

While some farmers are plowing ahead with climate action and others are following the Farm Bureau’s non-lead, a third subset is uneasy about what climate change will bring but unsure of what to do. And this group hasn’t received enough help to date. Yes, the Obama USDA boosted climate-related research—spending more than $650 million since 2009, according to then-Secretary Vilsack last year—and in 2014 established a network of regional “climate hubs” to translate science into practical advice and assistance to farmers. But the nation’s farmers need even more information, education, and support, and they need to be hearing about the need for climate action from people they trust.

Unfortunately, President Trump and his agriculture secretary nominee Sonny Perdue (who may finally be confirmed by a Senate vote scheduled for next week) aren’t exactly inspiring confidence on that front. Like his would-be boss, Perdue has a history of public climate skepticism, and it’s an open question whether he’ll move to reverse progress made by his predecessor to help farmers cope.

All this is why NFU’s vocal support for real action to combat climate change and adapt to the reality of our climate future is so important.

So today I’d like to say thank you to the 200,000 farmers of NFU. We need you, and we’re glad to stand with you.

Why I March for Science: The Frightening Risks We Aren’t Talking About

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

This post has also been published at ScienceNode.org.

“Thank you, Dr. Goldman. That was frightening.” Moderator Keesha Gaskins-Nathan said to me after I spoke last week as the only scientist at the Stetson University Law Review Symposium. My talk covered the ways that the role of science in federal decisionmaking is being degraded by the Trump administration, by Congress, and by corporate and ideological forces. Together these alarming moves are poised to damage the crucial role that science plays in keeping us all safe and healthy. This is why I will march for science this Saturday.

Science-based policy as we know it could change forever. Indeed, some of its core tenets are being chipped away. And a lot is at stake if we fail to stop it. We are currently witnessing efforts by this administration and Congress to freeze and roll back the federal government’s work to protect public health and safety, Congress’ attempts to pollute the science advice that decisionmakers depend on, and the appointment of decisionmakers who are openly hostile to the very missions of the science agencies they now lead.

A democracy rooted in science

We cannot afford to make policy decisions without science. This is why I will march. Photo: UCS/Audrey Eyring

America has a strong tradition of using evidence to inform policy. Past leaders of this country understood the value of making sure independent science—without the interference of politics—could inform government decisions. There are, of course, factors beyond science that go into policy decisions, but the scientific information feeding into a policy process should remain unaltered. This system works. While it is imperfect, this has by and large allowed the nation to ensure scientific integrity in policy decisions and prosper.

For example, under the Clean Air Act, air pollution standards are developed to protect public health. Let’s take ground-level ozone. Every five years, the EPA conducts exhaustive research on the relationship between ozone and health. A team of ozone experts from universities and other institutions across the country convene to discuss the science and make an official recommendation to the agency. The EPA then uses the scientific recommendation to set a new ozone standard.

This process allows science to be collected and debated separate from the policy discussion in a transparent way. This means the public can scrutinize the process, minimizing the potential for political interference in the science. The process also means the public will know if the policy doesn’t follow the scientific evidence and can hold decisionmakers to account (as they have in the past).  But largely, this process has worked. Even in the face of tremendous political and corporate pressures, the EPA sets science-based air pollution standards year after year.

Threats to science-based America

We cannot afford to make decisions any other way.  But now, this very process by which we make science-based policies in this country is under threat.

  • Our decisionmakers have deep conflicts of interest, disrespect for science, and aren’t being transparent. This is a recipe for disaster. How can our leaders use science effectively to inform policy decisions if they can’t even make independent decisions and don’t recognize the value of science? EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, for example, this month said that carbon dioxide “is not a primary contributor to global warming.” (It is.) This blatant misinforming on climate science occurred on top of his extensive record of suing the agency over the science-based ozone rule I just described (among other rules). This type of disrespect for science-based policies from cabinet members is an alarming signal of the kind of scientific integrity losses we can expect under this administration.
  • Congress is trying to degrade science advice. A cornerstone of science-based policy is the role of independent science advice feeding into policy decisions. But Congress wants to change who sits on science advisory committees and redefine what counts as science. The Regulatory Accountability Act, for example, would threaten how federal agencies can use science to make policy decisions. Past versions of the bill (which has already passed the House this year and is expected to be introduced soon in the Senate) have included troubling provisions. One mandated that government agencies could only use science if all of the underlying data and methods were publicly available–including health data, proprietary data, trade secrets, and intellectual property. In another case, the bill added more than 70 new regulatory procedures that would effectively shut down the government’s ability to protect us from new threats to our health, safety, and the environment. It is a dangerous precedent when politicians—not scientists—are deciding how the scientific process that informs policy decisions should work.
  • Scientists face intimidation, muzzling, and political attacks. No one becomes a scientist because they want a political target on their back. But this is unfortunately what many scientists are now facing. While it won’t be enacted in its current form, the president’s budget shows the frightening priorities of the president, which apparently include major cuts to science agencies like the EPA, Department of Energy, and NOAA. Communication gag orders, disappearing data, and review of scientific documents by political appointees in the first month of the administration have created a chilling effect for scientists within the government. Congress has even revived the Holman Rule, which allows them to reduce the salary of a federal employee down to $1. It is easy to see how such powers could be used to target government scientists producing politically controversial science.
Hurting science hurts real people

Importantly, we must be clear about who will be affected most if science-based policymaking is dismantled. In many cases, these burdens will disproportionately fall to low-income communities and communities of color. If we cannot protect people from ozone pollution, those in urban areas, those without air conditioning, and those with lung diseases will be hurt most. If we cannot address climate change, frontline communities in low-lying areas will bear the brunt of it. If we cannot keep harmful chemicals out of children’s toys, families who buy cheaper products at dollar stores will be hurt most. And if we cannot protect people from unsafe drugs (FDA), contaminated food (USDA, FDA), occupational hazards (OSHA), chemical disasters (EPA, OSHA, DHS), dangerous vehicles (DOT) and unsafe consumer products (CPSC), we are all in trouble. This is about more than science. It is about protecting people using the power of science. We have everything to lose.

But we can take action. We can articulate the benefits of science to decisionmakers, the media, and the public. We can hold our leaders accountable for moves they make to dismantle science-based policy process. And we can support our fellow scientists both in and outside of the federal government. It starts with marching, but it cannot end here.

Science Just Saved My Daughter—The Most Important Reason Why I #StandUpForScience

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

The morning of April 4, 2017 began with excitement. My family and I were ready to fly to Boston, where we were to meet up with friends and their children at the geography conference. Our five-month old baby Amaia had lost some weight and been all kinds of fuzzy over the last two weeks, so we stopped to see her doctor in the morning thinking she would get some antibiotics for a stomach bug and we would be on our way.

Instead, the doctor called the National Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC, and told them we were coming. Amaia had not nursed or soiled a diaper for too many hours, and her constant grunting told the doctor something was wrong. At the emergency room, things got jarring quickly. The blood, stool, and urine work did not reveal any infections or much else.

But when doctors ordered fluids and these kicked in, her grunting and difficulty breathing got much worse. At that moment, a lot of medical professionals started coming and going into our room. We got scared when we saw what looked like paramedics standing back ready for action, gloves on, ready to go.

It was obvious to us they were waiting for our Amaia to crash so they could jump and resuscitate her.

Cardiologists explained to us that Amaia had a rare condition called cor triatriatum, which means “three atria in the heart” (instead of the normal two!), a congenital malformation in her heart. An extra layer of heart tissue was making blood flow difficult, and worse, it was making fluids flow into the lungs. The surgeon told us very flatly that we either allowed her to be operated on to remove the tissue, give her a blood transfusion, and rebuild the septum, or her heart would collapse at any moment and she would not live.

There was no decision to make, no real choice in front of us. I know the hospital makes one sign consent forms because there are legal issues and people who have religious or other objections to blood transfusions or surgery. My wife believes in God and science; I believe in science and trust the medical professionals to do what they do best.

I looked each of them in the eye before they took her and saw confidence and professionalism. I pleaded to them silently to bring my girl safely back to me.

They did. Amaia spent 6 hours in the operating room. She came out around midnight and we saw her little, fragile but unfathomably resilient body fight for her life. She is now at home recovering quite nicely from her ordeal.

In retrospect, I’ve asked myself how doctors and nurses were able to diagnose and correct her certainly fatal heart malformation. The answer is science. Science built up over the centuries, with increasing medical knowledge, along with technology.

First, doctors conducted blood, urine, and stool analysis on Amaia to rule out viral infections or bacteria. Then X-rays of her chest revealed fluid in the lungs. An electrocardiogram (EKG) showed that the electrical signals of her little heart were off. The final proof of evidence and the “aha!” moment for doctors came with an echocardiogram (a Doppler image of the heart’s structure), which showed clearly that there was a third chamber in the left side of her heart.

A team of the best pediatric cardiologic surgeons, nurses, nurse practitioners, and anesthesiologists worked to install a cardiopulmonary bypass— essentially a pump—to reroute her heart’s blood, lower its temperature, stop it for a few hours, and operate to restore our daughter’s heart. She recovered in state-of-the-art cardiac intensive care and heart and kidney recovery units at the hospital, all made possible by scientific discoveries, technological developments, and the care and compassion of the medical personnel.

Being a social scientist, I’ve also asked myself why there was not a clear line of evidence and medical inquiry that led doctors straight to her condition. After talking to the medical personnel, I’ve come to the conclusion that in spite of the advanced state of today’s medical sciences, there is much more to research and understand so we can cure and manage more diseases.

You see, Amaia’s condition occurs only in 0.1 – 0.4 percent of all cases of heart disease. EKGs and echocardiograms done in utero during my wife’s pregnancy did not find anything wrong with her heart. These facts suggest to me that there are knowledge as well as technological limitations to our medical sciences.

These gaps in understanding can only be filled with more research, more funding, and more scientifically sound investigations. But the current administration has proposed to slash the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the main federal medical research institute—by nearly 20 percent! Why is this important?

If the top research papers in an internet search are an indicator, it can be said that a lot of the research that made possible a surgical cure for Amaia’s heart disease was funded by the NIH.

There is more to government-funded science, of course, than the NIH. Worrisome proposed budget cuts have combined with political interference in science to create a toxic environment at other federal agencies that work to protect our health. President Trump has taken a “wrecking ball” approach at demolishing climate protections; his head of the EPA consistently denies the reality of climate change; and Trump’s racist and misogynist attacks on immigrants weaken both science and the social fabric of the United States that contributes to a fact- and evidence-based scientific culture.

I am not willing to stand by as science-based protections to air, water, soil, and tiny hearts like Amaia’s are compromised in the name of the special interests of polluting industries. That’s why I will march for science this Saturday April 22.

And I am not alone in this. Early reports are coming in that across the country and world, scientists, teachers, parents, workers, and more, are getting ready to highlight the value of science to public health and the environment and to stress that political interference and the wholesale disregard for protections to our health and environment are unacceptable.

Scientific understanding of the world at all scales—the microscopic, the human body, the planet—is needed to face the challenges that threatens us. Our baby Amaia survived her first trial due to the power of the women and men of science. We must all #StandUpForScience together.

No President Should Be Able to Start a Nuclear War Single-Handedly

UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear (text only) -

Among the general craziness of the 2016 presidential campaign, you can be forgiven if you missed one particular crazy piece of information: the president of the United States currently has the authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons without input from anyone. This has actually been the case for decades, but the campaign brought it to the attention of the general public, many of whom were hearing it for the first time and were understandably surprised, and even somewhat alarmed, at the idea.

Moreover, the president’s sole authority holds even if he is ordering a first strike—an attack that is not in response to a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies, but rather the first use of nuclear weapons, either in an ongoing conflict or to initiate a new one. This last case may be extremely unlikely, but there is currently no law that rules it out.

As former Vice President Dick Cheney said in a 2008 interview, the president “could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen. He doesn’t have to check with anybody, he doesn’t have to call Congress, he doesn’t have to check with the courts.”

The usual policy for working with nuclear weapons requires that two people be present and in agreement before undertaking any procedure. The president should not be exempt from this rule when deciding to launch a first strike. Photo: mako

If, like me, you think this situation makes no sense, then there is some good news—Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) are trying to change it. They recently introduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017, which would prohibit the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress. This common-sense step would prevent the president, the sole individual with the authority to launch U.S. nuclear weapons, from single-handedly starting a nuclear war.

While the 2016 campaign may have been the catalyst, the underlying problem is independent of who is in office. No single individual should have the authority to launch a nuclear war without extensive discussion, debate, and consideration of all the possible implications. As former Secretary of Defense William Perry has said, “a decision that momentous for all of civilization should have the kinds of checks and balances on Executive powers called for by our Constitution.”

Check out our fact sheet available on the Markey-Lieu bill, or read on for more information on why it is so important.

Current Situation

As it stands, the president could wake up tomorrow and simply notify the military that he had decided to order a nuclear strike. There is no requirement that he consult with anyone. He could choose to talk to advisers first, but whether or not he did, no one could stop him if he decided to go forward.

Once he made his decision, the president would use a card, often called the “biscuit,” that he or an aide carries at all times, to read a code to authenticate his identity to the senior officer on duty in the Pentagon’s “war room.” The war room would then prepare the order to send to launch crews on submarines and at command centers for land-based missiles. The time from when the president gives the launch order to when the crews receive it would be only minutes. Land-based missiles would be launched within about five minutes of the president’s order, while it might take about fifteen minutes for submarine-based missiles to launch. And once launched, these missiles cannot be recalled.

In 1974, President Richard Nixon—the last president to draw attention to the significant downsides of this system—noted, “I can go back into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes 70 million people will be dead.” Later that year in the thick of the Watergate scandal Nixon was emotionally unstable and drinking heavily, leading Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to instruct the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “any emergency order coming from the president”—such as a nuclear launch order—should go through him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger first. Schlesinger had no real authority to do so, however, and it is not clear what might have happened if such an order had actually come. The same would be true today—there is still no military or civilian official or group with the authority to countermand a presidential order to launch nuclear weapons.

What Would the Bill Do?

The Markey-Lieu bill states that “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the President may not use the Armed Forces of the United States to conduct a first-use nuclear strike unless such strike is conducted pursuant to a declaration of war by Congress that expressly authorizes such strike.” The bill defines a first-use nuclear strike as “an attack using nuclear weapons against an enemy that is conducted without the President determining that the enemy has first launched a nuclear strike against the United States or an ally of the United States.”

Why Does the President Have Sole Authority?

The main reason the president has had sole authority to launch a nuclear strike is the perceived need to ensure a swift response to an incoming nuclear attack. During the Cold War, U.S. leaders feared a “bolt from the blue” attack by the Soviet Union, which could destroy US land-based missiles if they were not launched quickly. A decision about whether to launch a retaliatory strike would need to be made in the ten minutes or so between the time the incoming attack was detected, data analyzed and conveyed to the president, and when the missiles landed.

The nuclear command system was therefore designed for speed rather than deliberation. Its main purpose was to allow the president to launch U.S. nuclear weapons quickly, before they could be destroyed on the ground. This was always dangerous, and has long been unnecessary as well, since the U.S. has submarine-launched missiles that are invulnerable to such an attack and ensure that the U.S. can maintain a deterrent. UCS believes that the United States should end this risky practice by removing its land-based missiles from hair-trigger alert and eliminating rapid response options from its war plans.

However, until the president and the military agree to end these prompt launch options, the Markey-Lieu bill does not affect them. It also intentionally and specifically does not restrict the president’s ability to immediately order the use of U.S. nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack.

The situation the bill addresses is the decision to launch a first strike—when the United States is the first to use nuclear weapons against an adversary. In this case time constraints on decision making do not apply, so the streamlined decision process that might be needed in a retaliatory strike is not required. Regardless of whether the decision is to unleash a nuclear first strike as the first move in a conflict, or to use nuclear weapons first in escalating an ongoing conflict, the president would have time to consult with advisers and Congress before making such a potentially world-altering decision.

A Nuclear First Strike Is an Act of War

Make no mistake about it, as the bill states, “By any definition of war, a first-use nuclear strike from the United States would constitute a major act of war.” Nuclear weapons have unparalleled destructive power; their use would break a taboo of more than seventy years. The Constitution clearly establishes that the power to declare war belongs to the Congress alone. Therefore, this bill simply makes explicit an existing Constitutional requirement on the president.

Moreover, bringing Congress into the process would lessen the chance that such a decision could be made irrationally or impulsively. The decision to use nuclear weapons is potentially the most important decision this nation could make, with grave consequences for every citizen of the United States and the world. A decision to use them first should be undertaken only with the utmost caution and—especially in a democracy—should not be left up to any single individual.

Behind the Carbon Curtain: How the Energy Corporatocracy Censors Science

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

In my forthcoming book, Behind the Carbon Curtain, The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech (University of New Mexico Press), I tell the stories of scientists, artists and teachers who have been silenced by the collusion of energy corporations and public officials. My purpose is to provide witness, to record events, to give voice—and in so doing to shift the balance of power ever so slightly to bring us closer to a tipping point of outrage and change.

These stories and my analysis will not change society—at least not these alone. But maybe they will as part of a national narrative that includes the families in Pennsylvania driven from their homes by leaking methane, and whom energy companies compensate only in exchange for their silence. The nation’s story includes the citizens in West Virginia who were sued for libel by a coal company for criticizing the industry in a newsletter. And our country’s narrative involves the professor in the University of Oklahoma’s ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics who was intimidated into silence when an oil tycoon and major donor demanded the dismissal of scientists studying the link between fracking and earthquakes. Free speech is under attack by the energy industry across the nation.

I’d like to share a few vignettes from the varied and disturbing tales of censorship to provide a sense of what is happening in Wyoming and elsewhere.

A typical fracking operation requires 2 to 8 million gallons of water (along with 40,000 gallons of various, often toxic, chemicals, including acids, alcohols, salts and heavy metals). The outpouring of tainted waste water is dumped into lined evaporation pits. Behind the pit can be seen the drill rig and tanks that provide fracturing fluid for the drilling (photo by Ted Wood).

In 2001, Dr. Geoff Thyne was a research scientist in the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources when he was contacted by a reporter from the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle who was investigating the development of an enormous gas field in southeastern Wyoming. When she asked Thyne how much water would be needed for fracking, he offered a range of figures based on the available scientific literature.

After the story came out, a University vice president notified School of Energy administrators that Noble Energy and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming were on the warpath. Thyne explained to the frenzied administrators that he’d, “made the comments based on my experience as a member of the scientific advisory board for the current EPA hydraulic fracturing study.”

At a meeting with university and corporate bigwigs, Thyne was ordered to write a full retraction. Mark Northam, the director of the School of Energy Resources, told Thyne: “I will edit your letter and you will sign it. You shouldn’t have said anything and don’t say anything ever again.”  Thyne relented to the director’s revisions, but the scientist refused to retract his estimates of water usage. Soon after, Thyne was fired and told that: “Mark Northam gets a lot of money from these oil companies and you are screwing with that.”

The Sinclair Oil Refinery in the eponymously named town of 450 stalwart souls. The Wyoming plant processes crude oil at a rate equivalent to the output of about ten fire hoses running 24 hours/day. In 2013, the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied a $707,000 fine for workplace safety violations—the largest such penalty in the state’s history (photo by Scott Kane).

In 2008, the University of Wyoming’s Office of Water Programs was headed by a committed climate change denier who dismissed the findings of the world’s leading experts by saying, “All these climate change models look like a bunch of spaghetti.” Director Gregg Kerr defended the fossil fuel industry by asking, as if this were a serious question, “Are we going to stop energy production and starve to death?”

He convinced the university that any mention of climate change was politically untenable. So Dr. Steve Gray, the state climatologist, met with fierce administrative resistance when he fulfilled his obligations to the people of Wyoming and spoke about climate change.

Eventually, Gray realized that “there was no chance to expand the program to better meet the State’s needs.” He left Wyoming for the US Geological Survey’s Climate Science Center in Alaska, where, Gray says, “It’s not hard for people to see the relevance of climate change when your village is falling into a river as the permafrost melts.” So it is that Steve Gray was the last state climatologist of Wyoming.

In 2014, nobody would’ve foreseen a problem with updating the Next Generation Science Standards, unless they were privy to emails from the chairman of the State Board of Education. Ron Micheli objected to the inclusion of climate change as “fact” rather than “theory” in the Next Generation Science Standards and he insisted that, “The ice pack is expanding [and] the climate is cooling.”

In the waning minutes of the spring legislative session, Wyoming’s politicians passed a budget footnote prohibiting the use of state funds to implement the science standards. The bill’s author explained that the standards treat “man-made climate change as settled fact… We are the largest energy producing state in the country, so are we going to concede that?” At issue was not the veracity of the science but the vitality of the energy companies. The governor defended the use of ideological indoctrination with a rhetorical question, saying: “Are the Next Generation Science Standards…going to fit what we want in Wyoming?”

We live in a time in which people take it to be normal that most everything is treated as a commodity—including speech. And in this frenzied marketplace, the energy industry has purchased academic positions, scientific questions, and classroom curricula.

But perhaps there’s hope. Prompted by years of legislative and corporate meddling, the editorial board of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle [subscription required] put the situation into stark terms:

What is the value of academic freedom? That’s the question all Wyomingites should be asking themselves. To state lawmakers, it is a commodity that can be bought and sold, like coal or oil… What was once non-negotiable at UW now has a price tag on it. Lawmakers have sold the school to the highest bidder—the energy industry…

The journalists also incisively portrayed the nature of self-censorship, which may be the most insidious manifestation of oppression in the scientific community. There is no doubt that researchers simply decide not to pursue certain lines of inquiry, fearing retribution by legislators, CEOs and administrators. But my colleagues at the University of Wyoming have been adamant that they will take what comes, rather than asking me to be quiet. Living behind a carbon curtain of silence is too high a price to pay.

 

Bio:  Jeffrey Lockwood earned a Ph.D. in entomology from Louisiana State University and worked for 15 years as an insect ecologist at the University of Wyoming.  In 2003, he metamorphosed into a Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities in the department of philosophy where he teaches environmental ethics and philosophy of ecology, and in the program in creative writing where he is the director and teaches workshops in non-fiction.  His writing has been honored with a Pushcart Prize, the John Burroughs award and inclusion in the Best American Science and Nature Writing.  You can follow his work through his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

Sustainable Agriculture on the Chopping Block in Iowa

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There has been unsettling news out of my former home over the last week, as the Iowa legislature plays politics with critical scientific research in the state. In the closing days of the legislative session, two budget bills moved swiftly that could force the closing of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, a nationally recognized center for sustainable agriculture research. There were also threats to a research center dedicated to mitigating flood impacts (which I wrote about last year for its excellent forecasting that literally helped saved lives), but that appears now to be safe.

A little bit of background: the Leopold Center was established in 1987 by Iowa’s Groundwater Protection Act. This law passed as the farm crisis of the 1980’s was raging (it is estimated that nearly one-third of the state’s farms went out of business) and there was growing recognition of the problems associated with soil degradation and water pollution. Forward-thinking Iowa legislators came up with a funding stream – a small fertilizer and pesticide tax that generates several million dollars a year – to be dedicated to research on alternatives that offset the economic and environmental impacts of agriculture.

The resulting funding stream launched several important research enterprises—for example, a center studying health effects of environmental contaminants at the University of Iowa, long-term agricultural research sites across the state, as well as the Leopold Center, which is based at Iowa State University. Since that time, the Leopold Center’s competitive grants program has funded research that benefits both rural and urban constituents, with projects that range from local food infrastructure to crop diversification to beginner farmer programs. Many of the innovative topics the Center has investigated are now widely accepted largely thanks to its efforts, so it’s important to recognize how critical this type of rare funding support is for encouraging and spreading transformative ideas.

Research far and wide has benefited from the Leopold Center

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture supported two research projects of mine related to cover crops while I was a graduate student at Iowa State University. It was invaluable professional development as an early career scientist, and I know that many other students had similar experiences that wouldn’t have been possible without these critical funds.

The Leopold Center’s research not only supports progress at the state level, but also has direct application to progress on a national level.

Our own research here at the Union of Concerned Scientists has benefited from the Leopold Center’s novel work. In our 2016 report, Growing Economies, we evaluated the economic impact of more local food purchasing in the state of Iowa. We were able to do that using survey data generated by the Leopold Center, in which institutional and intermediate food purchasers were asked about their ability to support local food. And in Subsidizing Waste, we calculated the economic impact of scaling up the integration of perennial vegetation into corn and soybean fields, to save money on water clean-up costs. The STRIPs project has long been supported by funding from the Leopold Center. Finally, a report we’re preparing to release next month will detail how a crop rotation system developed at Iowa State and supported by the Center could be expanded, spreading economic and environmental benefits across the state and the Corn Belt.

Also, earlier in my career while I was a Ph.D. student at Iowa State University, I received two Leopold Center research grants to study the long-term impacts and farmer adoption of cover crops. That was an invaluable professional development opportunity for me as an early career scientist: from developing the proposal to helping administer the project and to making decisions on dollars spent.

If a research center like this disappears, it would be yet another significant blow in the broader conversation over how much funding goes toward sustainable agriculture. In a recent analysis, we looked at competitive grants program within the USDA, concluding that agroecological research (similar to projects supported by the Leopold Center) is woefully underfunded, with less than 15 percent of funding going to projects that included any element of this type of work. We need more of this type of research, not less, and nearly 500 Ph.D. level scientists agree.

Lawmaker claims “mission accomplished” in sustainable agriculture (LOL!)

An Iowa state representative this week in an interview claimed: “A lot of people felt that the mission for sustainable agriculture that [the Leopold Center] undertook, that they have completed that mission.” The same lawmaker also claimed that sustainable agriculture research at Iowa State can continue, but through other channels. These comments either suggest an utter lack of understanding around the reality of sustainable agriculture, or otherwise reveal the politics fueling these budget bills.

The agriculture and natural resources committee budget bill directs the Leopold Center to shut its doors this summer, and directs their funds to another center at Iowa State University. The other center does not currently have a track record of transparently administering research dollars, and has a far narrower scope than the current vision of the Leopold Center.

Comments to the tune of “someone else will do the research” always give me pause. The common thread I’ve noticed is that research deemed duplicative or unnecessary often simply doesn’t jibe with financial interests. It is easy to see that research describing less use of pesticides, for example, might be viewed as controversial to powerful business interests. (Many examples of this already exist!)

Further, to claim “mission accomplished” on sustainable agriculture is laughable, and hints at willful ignorance about the current economic and environment realities in Iowa. They bear similarities to the 1980s: soil erosion and water pollution remain persistent and costly challenges, and farm incomes have been steeply declining for several years.

Research should be free of interference even when the politics are thorny

Even though it might not be popular for those with a financial stake in the status quo, the  research made possible by the Leopold Center plays a critical role in the future of the state, if not the nation, and has broad public support. So it’s hard not to see this incident as part of the larger political attacks on science, with parallels to the Trump Administration’s numerous attacks on climate action.

In addition to research funds, the Leopold Center supports a diverse dialogue by bringing in valuable speakers and lectures to Iowa State’s campus; I shudder to think how that important dialogue will change if the state legislature votes to close its doors. The Center has a successful and important track record benefitting local and national public interests, and I hope it stays that way.

Chevron Denies Climate Risk to Shareholders While Supporting the Spread of Climate Disinformation

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In preparation for its annual shareholders’ meeting next month, Chevron Corporation has issued its 2017 Proxy Statement. Unfortunately for investors concerned about climate change, this major oil and gas company continues to downplay the profound risks its product poses to Earth’s climate.

In a new report cited in the proxy statement, Chevron insists that its risk exposure in a carbon-constrained world is minimal, although it acknowledged in annual financial filings the increased possibility of climate-related investigations and litigation. In the proxy statement, the company’s Board attempts to convince shareholders that Chevron’s political activities—which include support for groups that spread climate disinformation—are in shareholders’ long-term interests.

Pressure continues to mount on major fossil fuel companies like Chevron to renounce disinformation on climate science and policy and begin to plan for a world free from carbon pollution. Here’s a preview of some of the key climate-related issues on the agenda at Chevron’s annual meeting on May 31 in Midland, Texas.

Systemic economic risks

There is substantial backing in the business and investor communities for strengthening and harmonizing climate-related financial disclosures by companies in all sectors. The Financial Stability Board (FSB) is an international body that monitors and makes recommendations about the global financial system. Recognizing the potential systemic risks posed by climate change to the global economy and economic system, the FSB set up a Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) chaired by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In December 2016, the TCFD released its Recommendations Report. The TCFD recommended disclosure of climate-related financial risks in mainstream (i.e., public) financial filings. Specifically, the TCFD recommended that companies disclose what a 2° Celsius scenario would mean for their businesses, strategies, and financial planning.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and other stakeholders have provided comments on the TCFD’s Recommendations Report, which is expected to be taken up by the leaders of G20 countries this year.

Now is a good time to consider how Chevron’s 2017 financial filings measure up to these mainstream recommendations and expectations.

2°C scenario planning

Increasingly, shareowners of major fossil energy companies are calling for annual reporting on how climate policies may affect their business in light of the globally agreed target to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This year, Chevron shareholders have put forward a resolution calling for annual planning on 2°C scenarios, along with a proposal on transition to a low-carbon economy. In 2016, the 2°C scenario planning resolution won the support of more than 40% of Chevron shareholders.

In our inaugural Climate Accountability Scorecard released last October, UCS assessed how Chevron is planning for a world free from carbon pollution—and scored the company “poor.” We recommended that Chevron:

  • Publicly acknowledge the Paris climate agreement’s long-term goal and its implications for the swift transition to global net-zero emissions;
  • Disclose emissions resulting from the company’s operations and the use of its products;
  • Set and disclose initial near-term company-wide targets to reduce emissions from its operations and the use of its products;
  • Develop and publicly communicate a clear plan and timeline to deepen emissions reductions consistent with the Paris agreement’s long-term goal.

In the 2017 proxy statement, Chevron’s board recommends a “no” vote on both the 2°C scenario planning and transition to a low-carbon economy proposals. The Board asserts that Chevron’s report “Managing Climate Change Risks: A Perspective for Investors,” released last month, substantially addresses the issues raised by its shareowners in these resolutions, despite a lack of such disclosures in the company’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting.

This report comes to some extraordinary conclusions, including:

  • “…Chevron’s current risk management and business planning processes are sufficient to mitigate the risks associated with climate change.”
  • “…the current risk exposure to the Company even in a restricted GHG [greenhouse gas] scenario is minimal.”

Yet “Managing Climate Change Risks” is not a robust analysis of the potential business, strategic, and financial implications of climate-related risks and opportunities for Chevron. It fails to meet the expectations of shareholders or align with the TCFD recommendations. Among its shortcomings, the report:

  • Provides no description of how 2°C scenario analysis is integrated into Chevron’s investment decision making or strategic business planning;
  • Includes limited discussion of market and technological risks to Chevron’s business model and provides no detail on its current or projected low-carbon investments;
  • Does not acknowledge climate-related risks to Chevron’s reputation;
  • Provides some information about Chevron’s assessment of climate-related physical risks, but does not disclose how it determines their materiality or how it plans to manage these risks in the future.
Potential investigations and litigation

In contrast to the rosy outlook presented in “Managing Climate Change Risks,” Chevron’s annual 10-K report for 2016 (filed in February 2017) acknowledged that “Increasing attention to climate change risks has resulted in an increased possibility of governmental investigations and, potentially, private litigation against the company.” This is an extraordinary admission, for several reasons:

  • Companies only have to disclose to investors risks that could have a “material adverse effect” on them—that is, risks to their bottom lines. Most companies resist identifying a risk as material until they have no choice but to do so.
  • To date, only ExxonMobil is known to be under investigation by governmental authorities—specifically, the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts and the SEC. Chevron is apparently concerned that it, too, could face scrutiny for misleading investors and consumers about climate change.
  • Up until recently, Chevron has been limited in its climate-related risk disclosure to the SEC. After pressure from UCS and investors, the company did expand its disclosure of physical risk at its refineries, but didn’t explicitly mention climate change like this year’s disclosure does.

In last year’s Climate Accountability Scorecard, Chevron scored only “fair” on fully disclosing climate risks to its shareholders. It remains to be seen whether these additional disclosures will improve Chevron’s score in this area.

Direct and indirect lobbying

Growing numbers of investors are also seeking more information to assess whether lobbying by major oil and gas companies is consistent with the companies’ expressed goals and in the best interests of shareholders. Chevron again faces a proposal from shareholders requesting annual reporting on direct and indirect lobbying activities and expenditures.

In 2016, 27% of Chevron shareholders voted for such a proposal, and the company has not taken any steps that are likely to reduce shareholder concerns in this area.

This year’s resolution cites Chevron’s lack of transparency about its membership in and contributions to trade associations and industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute (API), Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Business Roundtable, US Chamber of Commerce (US Chamber), and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

UCS’s Climate Accountability Scorecard rated Chevron “egregious” in the area of Renouncing disinformation on climate science and policy, due largely to its affiliation with groups like API, WSPA, the US Chamber, and ALEC that spread disinformation on climate science and policy.

Shareholders should not tolerate Chevron’s efforts to dismiss and deny the very real risks posed by climate change to our planet, to the company’s business model, and to their investments. They can send a strong message to the company’s management and board by voting in favor of climate-related shareholder proposals at next month’s annual meeting.

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