Combined UCS Blogs

New START is a Winner

UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear (text only) -

U.S. military leaders continue to strongly support New START, the arms control treaty between the United States and Russia that limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed, long-range nuclear weapons by 2018.

Gen. Hyten, Gen. Selva testify in support of New START before the House Armed Services Committee, March 8, 2017

The problem is that President Donald Trump is apparently unwilling to listen to their sage advice.

Back on January 28, in his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump reportedly attacked New START, calling it a “bad deal.” It seems any agreement this president did not personally negotiate is a loser.

And that is unfortunate, because according to the Reuters report that broke the story, Putin had raised the possibility of the two countries using New START’s built-in option to extend the treaty’s life by five years. Such an extension is definitely in the US national security interest: From boots-on-the-ground inspections to detailed data exchanges, the treaty provides verification and predictability that US military leaders consistently desire.

Strategic Commander is “Big Supporter”

Just last week, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who as commander of the U.S. Strategic Command is responsible for all U.S. nuclear forces, was asked about New START in a Congressional hearing. He testified:

I’ve stated for the record in the past, and I’ll state again, that I’m a — a big supporter [of the treaty]. … when it comes to nuclear weapons and nuclear capabilities, that bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.

In the same hearing, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that when New START was considered by the Senate:

the Joint Chiefs reviewed the components of the treaty and — and endorsed it. It is a bilateral, verifiable agreement that gives us some degree of predictability on what our potential adversaries look like.

While it seems he doesn’t listen to military leaders like these, it not clear just who President Trump does listen to. Reuters reported the president stopped his call with Putin to ask someone unknown what the treaty was before telling the Russian leader that it was a bad deal.

And it doesn’t stop there. More recently, on February 23, the president repeated his criticism of New START, this time in an interview where he declared that the treaty is “a one-sided deal like all other deals we make. It’s a one-sided deal. It gave them things that we should have never allowed. … Just another bad deal that the country made.”

New START passed a high bar for Senate ratification

Before they can become the law of the land, treaties must pass a high bar: approval by two-thirds of U.S. Senate. The threshold was set to ensure that “bad deals” don’t happen. In the case of New START, 71 senators voted in favor of the treaty, including 13 Republicans. It became the first major arms control treaty negotiated by a Democratic president and endorsed by the Senate. Perhaps this, more than any other reason, is why President Trump dislikes the treaty.

But it took compelling reasons to get those 71 Senate votes, and then just as now, military leaders gave strong support to the treaty. Perhaps most compelling, seven former heads of U.S. Strategic Command wrote a letter to the Senate endorsing the treaty. After detailing several reasons why the treaty was in U.S. national security interests, the letter concluded,

The New START Treaty will contribute to a more stable U.S.-Russian relationship. We strongly endorse its early ratification and entry into force.

While overall the U.S.-Russian relationship has deteriorated, the New START agreement has been one bedrock of constancy. That is what military leaders sought when the treaty was first negotiated, and why they still support it now. President Trump should start listening to their advice, and stop attacking New START. Instead, he should respond to Putin’s suggestion and extend the treaty by five years.

Will Congress Turn Its Back on the Safety of America’s Workers?

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Let’s say someone you care about—mother, father, wife, husband, partner, son, daughter, friend, and neighbor—works in a facility that’s had a history of serious injuries or illnesses. You know, like burns, amputations, and broken bones that happen at work. Or head, eye, or back injuries. Or problems that send workers to emergency rooms, clinics, or doctors with breathing difficulties, skin damage, or other health issues related to chemical exposures or other dangerous conditions at work. 

For over 40 years, larger employers in high-hazard industries have been required to keep accurate records of these types of serious, disabling events—and to maintain those records for five years. These records are vital to understanding the extent and nature of serious workplace injuries and illnesses in our nation’s larger workplaces—and PREVENTING THEM.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) uses these records to allocate its meager resources for inspection, enforcement, and assisting employers with compliance. Employers, unions, and workers use these records to identify dangerous conditions and take steps to fix them. The Department of Labor uses these records to publish statistics on occupational injury and illness rates, which are important data sources for researchers and professionals who study or advise on occupational safety and health.

Because these injury and illness records are so integral to safety and health at work, OSHA can cite and fine employers when they falsify, under-report, or otherwise keep inaccurate records to evade an inspection and/or avoid making the investments needed to improve workplace safety and health conditions. And there is clear evidence that stiff record keeping fines have stimulated improvements in safety programs and conditions—sometimes extending well beyond the particular workplace to an industry writ large.

In 2012, a court decision overturned four decades of precedent and made it impossible for OSHA to enforce against record keeping violations in dangerous industries if the violations are more than six months old. Essentially, this decision held employers harmless for failing to keep accurate records of serious injuries and illnesses that happened outside a six-month window—or over a period that would reveal patterns of record-keeping violations. It would also put additional onus on OSHA, with its limited budget and inspection resources, to catch poor record keeping within six months.

One of the three judges involved in the decision indicated that OSHA could cite continuing violations of its record keeping rule if it clarified the rule.  Which it did in December 2016—clarifying that an employer’s duty to record an injury or illness continues for the full five-year record-retention period. You can see more here.

This clarification was critical, as these records save lives and prevent serious and sometimes permanent disability. Hard as it is to believe, job hazards kill over 4,800 workers a year and seriously injure another 3 million—in America! These are our loved ones, our family bread winners, engines of our economy.  You know, the ones that make America great.

This Worker Protection Is on the Chopping Block—NOW

Perhaps you’ve been following how our Congress is wielding a rarely used statute to overturn recently enacted regulations that that don’t comport with their ideological and partisan preferences—even if those rules emerged after years of study, stakeholder and public input, and a rigorous rule-making process. We’ve written about how Congress is using this statute, the Congressional Review Act (CRA), here and here.

Next week, we can expect the Senate to follow the House of Representatives in using the Congressional Review Act to overturn this important worker protection. They will use familiar corporate and industry arguments.  It’s burdensome paperwork, it’s costly, it’s a job killer.

The Problem Is Killer Jobs, Not Job Killers

Actually, it’s not an overstatement to say that overturning this record keeping rule endangers workers and could itself be a killer. This week 75 civil society organizations called on the Senate to oppose any attempt to invoke the Congressional Review Act and repeal this rule (see letter here).

Protecting our nation’s workforce is not a partisan issue. And powerful regulated industries seeking to pad their bottom line should not be the predominant voice when it comes to public protections—including workplace safety. If this president and this Congress say they stand with America’s workers, then it’s time to give meaning to those words.

So please—pick up the phone and call your senators this week urging them to oppose this Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution (H.J.Res 83 – S.J. Res 27). It’s not just record keeping. It’s the safety and health of our loved ones.


Helping the FDA Define “Healthy” Food Labels

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

As a registered dietitian, my perspective on healthy foods is pretty simple: there aren’t any.

Before you write to my accrediting board, let me explain. What I mean is that the extent to which a food can promote health is largely dependent on the role it plays in a person’s total diet. Are there health benefits to be gained from eating a side of salmon with dinner? Absolutely. But if I ate nothing but sockeye for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I’d be getting only a fraction of the nutrients my body needs.

It’s a different way to talk about healthy eating, I know, and you’ll catch me departing from this dogma from time to time. But I do try to encourage people to focus on healthy diets—those containing a variety of foods (most of which are minimally processed, or would be somewhat recognizable in nature) in portions that satisfy their hunger and in forms that they enjoy.  This is part of the reason I became a public health dietitian: I think it’s important to talk about food as more than the sum of its nutrients. This pertains not only to conversations about how we consume food, but also about how we grow it, distribute it, and provide (or restrict) access to it.

Needless to say, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brought health professionals, industry representatives, agencies, and advocates together last Thursday to help define the term “healthy” for food labels, I knew we were in for a challenge. Personal philosophy aside, the regulation of foods is an extremely complex task.

A little bit of background: the FDA issued a request for comments in September 2016, following a citizen petition submitted by the makers of KIND bars calling for science-based changes to the nutrient content claim “healthy.” A focal point of the KIND petition is the inconsistency between dietary recommendations, which encourage the consumption of foods like nuts and legumes, and FDA restrictions on total fat content barring these same foods from bearing the “healthy” label. (Current nutritional science tells us that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to dietary fat.)

While high-fat, health-promoting foods like nuts, salmon, and avocados enjoyed a spotlight at the public meeting, there were no shortage of questions in the room. For example, should “healthy” items be determined by food components, nutrient levels, or both? In what amounts? Would nutrients added to fortified foods count? What about phytonutrients, like the beta-carotene found in carrots or the lycopene in tomatoes?

Although the discussion is far from over, there seems to be general consensus around several points. First and foremost, the current definition of “healthy” is based on outdated science and is due for an upgrade. Second, new criteria for use of the term “healthy” on food labels should take both foods and nutrients into account. And third, the new criteria should align as closely as possible with the messages and recommendations contained in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.

The public comment period remains open until April 26, at which point the FDA will take time to review and respond to comments before publishing a proposed rule. Two issues we’ll have our eyes on include the thresholds that the FDA might identify for allowable levels of both sodium and added sugar. (The current definition of “healthy” sets moderate limits on the former and is silent on the latter.) These nutrients are of particular interest because, while most health professionals and researchers can agree that we’re consuming too much of them, we haven’t quite reached a consensus on what the limits should look like for a given snack food or prepared dish.

For our take on what should be included in the new regulations, including food-based criteria, allowable total fat distributions, and added sugar limits, read the transcript of our oral comment below. I’ll be following up with additional information and commentary as the public comment period draws to a close – stay tuned.


UCS Comments at FDA Public Meeting on the Use of the Term “Healthy” in the Labeling of Human Food

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Good afternoon,

My name is Sarah Reinhardt. I am a registered dietitian, and am pleased to present this comment on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize the importance of choosing a variety of minimally processed, nutrient dense foods as part of a healthy eating pattern. The definition of nutrient dense foods provided by the guidelines reflects current scientific evidence on the health benefits associated with consumption of foods from key food groups, as well as the chronic disease risks associated with consumption of target nutrients. This definition provides the basis for our recommendations on the use of the term “healthy” in the labeling of human food.

UCS proposes the following modifications to the criteria required to bear the “healthy” label:

First, the term “healthy” should be characterized on the basis of foods, not just nutrients.

Health-promoting foods are those recommended by the dietary guidelines as part of a healthy diet, and include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, nuts and seeds, dairy products, and meats and poultry. Foods from one or more of the aforementioned groups should constitute a substantial proportion of a food item to meet standards for use of the term “healthy.” Some foods may be subject to exception from general “healthy” labels due to evidence of health risks associated with excess intake, including fruit juices, processed meat, and red meat.

Second, conditions related to total fat, cholesterol, added sugar, and sodium should be evaluated with respect to current scientific evidence.

Conditions on total fat content should be revised to provide exception to health-promoting foods with favorable total fat distributions of predominantly mono- and/or polyunsaturated fats. This reflects current scientific evidence on the health benefits of replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, including reduced blood levels of total cholesterol, reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and reduced risk of cardiovascular events and related deaths.

In light of advancements in the understanding of the role of dietary cholesterol in chronic disease risk, conditions related to cholesterol should be removed. This is consistent with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines and reflects current nutritional science.

It is critical that updated criteria establish limits on added sugar content. Research shows that over 70 percent of the population consumes this nutrient in excess, increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer in adults. Limits should be established to help Americans limit added sugar intake to less than ten percent of daily calorie intake, as recommended by the dietary guidelines.

Lastly, allowable sodium levels should be further reduced to help protect against chronic disease.

Americans consume approximately 3,440 mg of sodium per day, 75 percent of which comes from processed foods. Foods labeled as “healthy” should contain levels of sodium to help meet daily sodium recommendations of 2,300 mg and reduce risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

In conclusion, it is the recommendation of UCS that the conditions required for food items to bear the “healthy” label should closely align with the definition of “nutrient dense foods” provided by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Restructuring these criteria in a way that promotes healthy foods and restricts target nutrients will result in an established definition of “healthy” that provides clear and consistent messaging to consumers and follows evidence-based recommendations to reduce population risk of diet-related chronic disease. Thank you.

Photo: Marco Verch/BY-SA (Flickr)

Are Electric Buses Feasible?

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

One of the largest transit agencies says yes

King County Metro (Seattle area) recently released a report analyzing the feasibility of transitioning its 1,400 buses to zero-emission vehicles. Metro found it can achieve a 100% battery electric bus fleet as soon as 2034 with minimal increases in expenses.

This is a MAJOR announcement from the 2nd largest bus fleet on the west coast and the 9th largest in the United States. It indicates the confidence Metro’s fleet managers have to deploy zero-emission vehicles on a large scale.

Metro’s fleet today consists mostly of diesel (34%) and diesel hybrid (53%) buses. Electric trolley buses powered by overhead wires make up the rest of the fleet (12%).

Transitioning to battery electric buses will reduce Metro’s climate impacts by 80% over the next 30 years compared to its current fleet. The report concluded this level of ambition is needed to meet the county’s goals for reducing global warming emissions and improving public health.

Electric bus technology is here and ready

Metro found that the range and charging times of today’s battery electric buses can meet the needs of 70% of its routes. Anticipated advances in technology will allow the remainder of Metro’s routes to be serviced by electric buses.

Between now and 2020, Metro will incorporate 120 electric buses into its fleet, making it a national leader in zero-emission transit. Based on technology readiness, the report recommends that all new bus purchases be zero-emission thereafter.

Metro recognizes the challenges in adopting a new technology, but it isn’t backing down. It engaged with power utilities, for example, to discover it’s possible to get the amount of power a large battery electric bus fleet would require.

Metro’s human resources department is also exploring how it can have a workforce with the right skill-set to meet the needs of an all-electric bus fleet. Improving the accessibility of jobs in the electric truck and bus industry was a major recommendation of a report we wrote with The Greenlining Institute.

But won’t this break the bank???

Nope. Metro reports the purchase price of a standard 40-foot battery electric bus is cost-competitive today if not cheaper than its current diesel hybrids. Including purchase, maintenance, and operation costs, Metro estimates a 6% increase in expenses to transition their entire fleet to zero-emission vehicles, with a range of -27% to +10%.

Including the monetary benefits of improved air and quieter neighborhoods, the overall costs of a fully zero-emission fleet are reduced to just 2%. These costs are real but often ignored on balanced sheets.

You might think the costs only work out because Washington enjoys cheap electricity, but the analysis was based on an electricity price of $0.15/kWh. This is much higher than the rate Metro pays today and was chosen in anticipation of future electricity rate structures.

Benefiting those most impacted by air pollution

Metro is prioritizing the roll out of zero-emission buses in communities that bear the greatest pollution burden – low-income and communities of color. A major part of the report centered on identifying bus routes that operate in the most polluted communities.

Metro concluded that taking cars off the road through public transit shouldn’t count in meeting its climate goals. Nor should it be able to buy its way to carbon neutrality with carbon offsets. Its principles for equity and reducing local air pollution rightfully played a large role in these recommendations.

A clean fleet powered by clean energy

Not only does Metro recommend a 100% zero-emission fleet, it also recommends these buses be powered by 100% renewable energy (including hydropower). Washington’s large hydroelectric resource gives Metro a big head start on this. In 2005, Seattle City Light, which would power 75% of Metro’s all-electric fleet, became the first carbon-neutral electric utility in the country.

But Washington isn’t unique in the carbon benefits of electric buses. We found that battery electric buses on today’s grid in California have 70% lower global warming emissions than natural gas or diesel buses.

Fuel cell buses with 33% hydrogen from renewable energy (per California law, SB 1505), have 50% lower global warming emissions than natural gas and diesel buses. And across the country, the grid is getting cleaner.

More than just clean buses

Metro has a lot of other great things going on. King County was one of the few transit agencies in the United States to see an increase in ridership last year. And it plans on increasing ridership even more, requiring its fleet to increase from 1,400 to 2,000 buses by 2040. Metro is proof that expanded service and clean buses can go hand in hand.

Metro also helps get people onto buses with discounted transit rates for low-income individuals. And it gets people out of their cars and into clean, shared rides with an electric vehicle carpool program.

I went to college in the Puget Sound region and have many friends and family in the area. It is very inspiring to see a place I love be a leader on clean vehicles and clean air.

If King County Metro’s work inspires you, contact board members on your local transit agency. Let them know zero-emission buses are ready to make your community a better place to live.

P.S. If you live in Los Angeles, tell LA Metro, the largest transit agency on the west coast, to also be a leader on zero-emission buses.

Who’s Marching for Science—and Why? Here Are 15 Answers

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

UCS is partnering with both the March for Science and the Peoples Climate March.  UCS encourages scientist and nonscientists to participate in one of the 350+ local March for Science events on April 22 and then join the Peoples Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29.


The role of science in society has been debated for thousands of years.

But while science and its impacts on beliefs and our world will always be the subject of some debate, in general it has been the accepted norm that the scientists themselves should largely stay on the sidelines.

Scientists should avoid politicizing their work, leaving it to policymakers to determine how their findings are implemented . . . right?

The recent election has triggered a reevaluation of this norm.

The date is now set to March for Science on April 22, 2017 in Washington, DC and satellite locations around the world.

Almost as soon as the call went out, so did the debate within the scientific community about whether and how it should respond. Do scientists have a moral obligation to stand up for their work? Or do they compromise their objectivity by taking a formal stance that can be (fairly or unfairly) aligned with political values?

Media and well-known scientists have published their personal opinions, but I wanted to take it one step further. I wondered what leading scientists, academics and science educators think about the March for Science — so I asked them, fifteen in all.

The question was simple: are you going, should others go, and why or why not?

The responses were insightful and passionate.

My main takeaway? Failing to act is not an option.

The March for Science is a signal to citizens and politicians from coast to coast, demonstrating that we will not stand by while hundreds of years’ of scientific inquiry are brushed aside.

But the follow-up question is perhaps the most important: is marching enough?

While the March for Science is seen as an important step for science advocacy, some are rightly worried that it will be a one-day news story that quickly passes without influencing action or policy.

Read on to see how some of the brightest minds in the world of science are approaching this key inflection point.

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Dennis Bartels, science advocate and former CEO, The Exploratorium, San Francisco, Cal.

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

There is a threshold when your silence becomes deadly. I believe we’ve reached that point. We follow in a very rich tradition with far, far braver path makers who had much more to lose. It’s the least we can do, and perhaps only the beginning.

Your lives and the future of your children, and their children, and the species as a whole is in much doubt. Don’t look back and wonder and wish what you should have done back when. We’ve reached the inflection point. I truly believe that.

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George Cogan, Chairman of the Board, The Exploratorium

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I believe people trained in the methods of science are better citizens. I wish there were more than a couple of scientists in Congress. I have not typically been involved in politics, but I plan to march as a concerned citizen.

Some believe the inexorable march towards truth is best served if scientists avoid politics. I agree in general. Scientists who ‘market’ their findings are marginalized for this reason. However, when the science is settled, the stakes are high, time is short, and political action is essential to drive change, scientists have a moral responsibility to become involved in politics.

I would like to see non-scientists join scientists at this march.

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Ellie Cohen, President and CEO, Point Blue Conservation Science

Are you going to the March? Yes, locally

Should others go? Yes

I have concerns about my greenhouse gas footprint so will not go to DC, but will attend the March in San Francisco.

Science helps humanity discover and illuminate truths, upon which policy makers can act to better the lives of the people they serve.

With non-partisan messaging and trained messengers, the March is an opportunity to train and catalyze scientists to communicate with multiple audiences across the political spectrum. Since science by definition is not dogmatic or partisan, scientists should advocate for science and scientific findings, and participating in the March is one way of doing just that.

Along the lines of Rabbi Hillel’s sage words from 2,000 years ago (If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?), if scientists don’t stand up for science, who will? And what better time than now?

Note: Dr. Cohen’s views are personal and do not reflect the view of Point Blue Conservation Science.

*     *     *

Molly Demeulenaere, President and CEO, Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa, Fla.

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I am participating in this March to stand up for the scientific process and the people that dedicate their lives to learning more. I also believe that we need to encourage all people to be curious about the world around them, learn to think critically, and understand the importance of research and how it can play a role in their lives. For me, this March for Science advocates for what I believe this world needs.

Messages are stronger in numbers. Having a clear message that everyone speaks to is crucial. This March can bring people together to share knowledge and stand up for what we believe in.

*     *     *

Beka Economopoulos, Founding Director, The Natural History Museum, Brooklyn, NY

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

Scientists are heroes, they solve problems and protect the people and places we love. Medical research, climate science, and research on lead levels and water quality protect us. These are the kinds of science that are in the crosshairs. These attacks on science are attacks on our families, our communities, and our collective future.

For too long we’ve relied on facts and evidence to speak for themselves. That strategy has failed us. The March for Science is a coming-out party for a movement of scientists and supporters who are speaking out in the public sphere. It isn’t partisan, it’s patriotic.

*     *     *

Kirsten Ellenbogen, President and CEO, Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland, Ohio

Are you going to the March? Yes, satellite march

Should others go? Yes

We are more involved in our local March for Science. We’ve had difficult conversations about whether we should march together as the science center in an official capacity.

We are talking with the directors of three other informal science education organizations locally and we know this is an important moment for science, scientists, and future scientists in our community.

*     *     *

Jonathan Foley, Executive Director, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, Cal.

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

It’s time to stand up for science. If we don’t, who will?

Of course others should go. The War on Science is a war on everything we care about — our health, our safety, our economic competitiveness, and our future. It belongs to everyone.

*     *     *

Peter Gleick, Member of the US National Academy of Sciences; MacArthur Fellow; and Co-founder, President-Emeritus, and Chief Scientist of the Pacific Institute, Oakland, Cal.

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Prefer not to give advice

Scientists have always worked in the public interest, and while public communication and advocacy are difficult for some scientists, we’re faced with unprecedented threats that must be countered. One way is to exercise our First Amendment rights to protest, speak, peaceably assemble. I plan to exercise mine.

It is up to each person, individually, to decide how to address the threats to science that we face. I can only act on my own.

*     *     *

Paula Golden, President, Broadcom Foundation, Newport Beach, Cal.

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

We must resist the anti-science fake facts of the Trump regime and the right wing Republican Congress — on the streets, in the press, in the courts and at the polls. This march is a wake-up call to the nation.

Numbers count! March in DC or at a rally in your city and town. Send out the message on your Facebook, twitter and Email account.

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Kishore Hari, Director, Bay Area Science Festival, University of California, San Francisco

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I’m one of the leaders of the movement. My family is here in this country because my father was given admission to a science program. Science is much more than a pursuit of knowledge — it’s responsible for my existence.

Science’s core integrity is being questioned, its value to our local communities and economic future is being derided, and the importance for evidence and facts is being questioned. We have an opportunity to join forces with all the science advocates and enthusiasts to show that there is a large community who believe in the pursuit of truth and evidence.

The largest mobilization of these communities is a statement that we stand together in support of an institution that has brought so much prosperity to billions and is the economic engine of our future. We have never stood in solidarity with each other — this is first of many opportunities to walk hand-in-hand.

*     *     *

Dan Kahan, Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, Yale Law School

Are you going to the March? No, conflict

Should others go? Don’t want to give advice

Trump is devaluing the currency of facts in our democratic discourse.

Every profession, every citizen, should make unmistakably clear their opposition to what is happening — and their support for the dignity of one another’s calling.

I don’t know what the message of such an action would be. But I do know that exposing and opposing the insidious objectives of those who mock truth is the right thing, intrinsically, as a moral matter. While respecting others who have concluded otherwise, I am grateful to those willing to make the effort to protect these fundamental principles.

*     *     *

Daniel Kammen, Professor of Energy, University of California, Berkeley

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

Science is critical to human innovation, equity, and progress. The threat that this new administration is presenting to science is unacceptable. I currently serve as Science Envoy for the U. S. State Department.

*     *     *

Troy Livingston  Director, Science Gallery Lab Detroit

Are you going to the March? No

Should others go? No

I believe strongly in the values inspiring the march. But I also believe it will be a mostly white, mostly privileged and elitist group who will not be or appear inclusive of all people.

Unintentionally, marchers may reinforce the negative stereotype that science isn’t for everyone.

Finally, I believe that the millions of dollars marchers will spend would have had more tangible benefit advocating for science if they went into the accounts of AAAS or the Union of Concerned Scientists or similar organizations.

I’m all for political activism, but I worry, just like with the women’s march, that many people will call this march their contribution to this cause and leave it at that.

What will matter most is not what happens on the day of the march but everything all of us have done and will do every other day of the year.

*     *     *

Anthony (Bud) Rock, President and CEO, Association of Science-Technology Centers

Are you going to the March? Maybe

Should others go? Prefer not to give advice

In the national (and global) discussions of so many critical issues today, science is finding its voice. This is not simply in response to recent challenges to broadly accepted scientific research in areas such as climate change, vaccine safety, or environmental sustainability. In a much more profound way, it is all that science represents — its purpose, its process, its accomplishments, its impacts — that reaffirms the importance of decisions and actions across all segments of society that are factual and evidenced-based.

The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) joins the many organizations that call for a collective voice on science. As an association, we must, however, also respect the diversity of views within our membership as to how to be most effective in this messaging.

ASTC hopes, however, that all of our member institutions will use every available opportunity to open our doors and engage our visitors in our essential mission to inspire people of all ages about the wonders and the meaning of science in their lives.

*     *     *

Dr. Martin Storksdieck, Director and Professor, Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, Oregon State University

Are you going to the March? No, conflict

Should others go? Yes

Alan Leshner summarized it nicely at this year’s AAAS conference: You can’t not speak out for science, but you have to worry about the way it will be perceived.

The other issue: If there is a March with a broad goal to showcase the benefit and need for evidence-based decision-making, the value of basic and applied research, and such, then there better be a lot of people marching across the country.

*     *     *

Dr. Susan Weller, President, Entomological Society of America

Are you going to the March? Yes, locally

Should others go? Yes

Science is about curiosity and following where your questions lead you. From this curiosity, humans have been growing our knowledge for centuries.

For entomologists, this curiosity drives us to ask how mosquitoes spread disease and how a bee finds her way back to the nest.

I look forward to celebrating science on April 22nd here in Nebraska. Our new museum exhibit opens that day, showcasing University of Nebraska-Lincoln research on parasites. Mosquitoes that carry dengue or Zika don’t care who you are — they just make you sick. Let’s show the world that science matters in their lives and that scientists work hard to make a positive difference every day.

We’ve Said It, the Post Says It, Now SciAm Too: Take Weapons Off Alert

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

In the March 2017 issue of Scientific American, the editorial board calls for the United States to take its nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert as a way to reduce the risk of mistaken or accidental launch of nuclear weapons.

Minuteman launch officers in an underground command center (Source: US Air Force)

It joins the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, in supporting this step.

Both the United States and Russia keep about 900 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched in minutes. If satellites and radars send warning of an incoming attack, the goal is to be able to launch their missiles quickly—before the attacking warheads could land.

But the warning systems are not foolproof. The Scientific American editors point to some of the real-world cases of false warning of nuclear attack—in both the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States—that led the countries to begin launch preparations and increased the risk that nuclear weapons would be used.

This risk is exacerbated by the very short timeline for responding to such warning. Military officers would have only minutes to determine whether the warning that shows up on their computer screens is real. Defense officials would have maybe a minute to brief the president on the situation. The president would then have only minutes to decide whether to launch.

Former Secretary of Defense William Perry warned recently that land-based missiles are simply too easy to launch on bad information.

Taking missiles off hair-trigger alert and eliminating options to launch on warning would end this risk.

Cyber threats

The editors also note an additional set of concerns that calls for taking missiles off hair-trigger alert:

The need for better preventive steps has also become more acute because of sophisticated cybertechnologies that could, in theory, hack into a command-and-control system to fire a missile that is ready to launch.

This risk was highlighted in an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times by Bruce Blair, a former missile launch officer who has spent his career studying the command and control of US and Russian nuclear forces.

He points to two cases in the past two decades in which vulnerabilities to cyberattacks were discovered in US land- and sea-based missiles. And he warns of two possible sources of cyber-vulnerability that remain today. One is the possibility that someone could hack into the “tens of thousands of miles of underground cabling and the backup radio antennas used for launching Minuteman missiles.”

On the other possibility he says:

We lack adequate control over the supply chain for nuclear components—from design to manufacture to maintenance. We get much of our hardware and software off-the-shelf from commercial sources that could be infected by malware. We nevertheless routinely use them in critical networks. This loose security invites an attempt at an attack with catastrophic consequences.

A 2015 report chaired by General James Cartwright, former commander of US Strategic Command, put it this way:

In some respects the situation was better during the Cold War than it is today. Vulnerability to cyber attack, for example, is a new wild card in the deck. … This concern is reason enough to remove nuclear missiles from launch-ready alert.

It’s time to act

Even current Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee two years ago, raised the issue of getting rid of US land-based missiles in order to reduce the risk of mistaken launch, saying:

Is it time to reduce the Triad to a Diad, removing the land‐based missiles?  This would reduce the false alarm danger.

The Trump administration may not yet be ready to get rid of land-based missiles. But it could—today—take these missiles off their current hair-trigger alert status.

Taking that one step would significantly reduce the nuclear risk to the US public, and the world.

President Trump Has a Wrecking Ball (and it’s Aimed at the Climate)

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The wrecking ball that is the Trump presidency is taking aim at the foundation of our country’s response to climate change. Today, the Trump Administration is announcing a re-opening of the fuel efficiency/emissions standards for cars, which can only mean one thing—weakening or repealing them. And it is expected that he will soon issue a directive to EPA to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and may also order EPA to rescind a waiver that it granted to California to set its own vehicle standards.

If the Trump administration succeeds in rolling back all three, the effect will be to 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 we set for ourselves as part of the 2015 international Paris Agreement on Climate.

We must fight this reprehensible rollback with everything we’ve got.

Global warming pollution and fuel economy standards

In 2012, the Obama Administration issued standards to cut global warming emissions and improve fuel economy for passenger cars. These standards are expected to increase the number of miles per gallon (mpg) for passenger vehicles from about 26 mpg on average today to approximately 36 mpg by 2025. (The figures are based on “real world” driving conditions, and differ from the EPA estimate of achieving approximately 54 mpg).

The first phase of these standards are in effect now, and are working. The second phase of these standards (from 2022-2025) are projected to save consumers approximately $1,500 per car (net savings), reduce oil use by over a billion barrels, and cut carbon pollution by over 500 million metric tons.

The automobile manufacturers were key architects of these standards. But now some are trying to back out of their commitment, even though they are experiencing record sales and new technologies are coming on line that will help them meet these standards more quickly and inexpensively.

Doing the bidding of these car makers, Trump has directed EPA to “reopen” the standards that govern cars built in 2021-2025. While we can’t know for sure what the outcome of this re-opening will be, we have to prepare for the worst—that the intent is to severely weaken or even repeal the standards.

Note that this cannot be achieved with the stroke of a pen. In order for EPA to do this, it must provide notice, issue a draft regulation repealing the plan, take public comment on it, and issue a final regulation. That final regulation would likely be challenged in court, and the Trump administration will have to demonstrate that there is compelling new information that justified changing course. During the rulemaking process that will follow, we must make clear to the Trump administration that these standards are working, and that Americans want lower-polluting and more fuel efficient cars. And we must loudly register our displeasure with those automakers which received massive taxpayer assistance during the last recession, agreed to build more efficient cars in return, and are now reneging on their promise.

California waiver

When the Clean Air Act was passed in the 1970s, it gave the federal government exclusive authority to regulate tailpipe emissions from cars, but it included one exception: California retained the authority to issue its own, stricter standards, provided it received a “waiver” from the EPA. Since that time, California has received approximately 50 waivers from the EPA, which have helped the state dramatically improve air quality for its residents.

As part of the 2012 agreement on joint global warming pollution and fuel economy standards, the Obama Administration worked with California to set national standards sufficient to meet the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction needs. This avoided separate state and federal standards for reducing global warming pollution from vehicles– a goal of the auto industry.

However, California also set its own standards for deploying electric vehicles and tailpipe emission standards for gasoline and diesel to combat CA’s poor air quality – something it has done several times to protect the health of its citizens. California was granted a waiver to implement all of these standards in January 2013

Reports indicate that Trump may soon direct the EPA to rescind this waiver. The reason for this is simple: it won’t satisfy car makers to relax the EPA’s fuel economy standards while still leaving California’s standards in place.

Over the past 50 years, no EPA Administrator has ever rescinded a waiver granted to California, and there is no provision in the Clean Air Act that allows it. This radical move is not only destructive, it is hypocritical. EPA Administrator Pruitt has called himself a protector of state’s rights and pledged to give states greater latitude to address their own needs. Yet now, in one of his first moves as administrator, he is working to take away California’s right to set its own standards.

Here again, a public process is required. Rescinding this waiver directly affects not only California, but also twelve other states (NY, PA, MA, ME, NJ, CT, DE, OR, WA, VT and DC) that have adopted California’s standards (which they are allowed to do once a waiver is granted). Many of these states are counting on these standards as a means to meet climate change goals and air quality targets required by their own state laws. California and these other states can be expected to challenge the waiver rescission in court, and will have a strong argument that it is arbitrary to rescind a waiver that was granted five years ago, merely because the federal government has decided to weaken its own standards.

Clean Power Plan

In 2015, EPA issued the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants—which are among the largest sources of this heat trapping gas. The plan would cut CO2 emissions by approximately 32 percent off 2005 levels by 2030 by relying on proven and effective tools, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, switching from coal to gas, and market-based emission trading. The Clean Power Plan will ensure that all states and utilities advance together towards a cleaner energy sector. It is particularly important to have this rule in place in 2021, when tax incentives for wind and solar energy expire.

Trump’s anticipated presidential directive is likely to call on EPA to repeal this regulation. As is the case with the vehicle standards, the repeal will have to go through a formal rulemaking process. The repeal may seem like a foregone conclusion, because candidate Trump pledged to do away with the plan and Scott Pruitt, the new EPA Administrator, previously sued EPA to block it.

But participating in the public process is extremely important nonetheless. Among other things, we should demand that, if Trump abolishes the Clean Power Plan, he replace it with an alternative that achieves the same level of emission reduction. If he does not, the next step will be the courtroom. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that EPA has a mandatory duty to address carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act, so killing Obama’s plan without a viable replacement is not only irresponsible, it is illegal.

The stakes are high

Over the past eight years, the United States has become a clean energy leader. We’ve accomplished a massive expansion of wind energy in the great plains, solar in the southwest and southeast, breakthrough battery technologies making electric cars better (and soon less expensive) than their gasoline-fired counterparts, switched to LED lightbulbs, and implemented a wide array of building materials and techniques to cut energy use. With these powerful changes, our country has risen to the challenges posed by climate change while creating millions of jobs in the process.

Some of this progress will continue no matter what the Trump administration does. But Trump’s anticipated three-way rollback will slow this progress down, probably significantly.

To get a glimpse of how high the stakes are, the graph below depicts estimated energy sector CO2 emissions. We focus on the year 2030, when both the Clean Power Plan and the fuel economy standards would be in full effect.

The graph shows that repealing the Clean Power Plan and the fuel economy standards (nationwide and for California) will increase energy-related emissions in 2030 by 439 million metric tons, or approximately 9%.

Cumulative through 2030, the repeal will increase emissions by 2.5 billion metric tons. The graph also shows that without these two policies, energy related emissions will actually increase overall from current levels. Yet under the Paris Agreement that we signed in 2015, we pledged to decrease emissions on an ongoing basis, based on the overwhelming scientific consensus that we are running out of time to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. By taking off the table these emission reductions, the Trump administration makes meeting these goals much more difficult, and transfers to the next generation the burden of billions of tons of carbon-cutting from one generation to the next.

It is a travesty that the Trump administration seeks to undo the progress we’ve made, but it is not surprising. Candidate Trump called global warming a “hoax.” He picked Scott Pruitt to head EPA due to Pruitt’s legal expertise in obstructing EPA with litigation, and Mr. Pruitt has now gone on record saying that he does not believe carbon dioxide emissions are a primary cause of climate change. And he seems to think that virtually all government regulations are detrimental, blind to the positive economic and environmental changes they can achieve.

Any false hope that President Trump might moderate some of his more radical rhetoric once in office must now be laid aside. We can see the wrecking ball and the direction it is swinging. And we must stop it before it is too late.

Photo: Rhys A/CC BY (Flickr)

EPA Pulls Back Sound Policy Judgment at Behest of Auto Industry

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Today, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rescinded the determination that the EPA standards for 2022-2025 are appropriate.  This decision was made at the request of automakers seeking to supplant more than four years of robust, technical analysis with a political request from industry–a spokesperson for the administration even noted on a press call regarding the announcement that automaker complaints had been taken at face value with no additional analysis or verification, despite the tremendous body of evidence EPA has already put forth supporting the determination.  This decision could have major implications not just for our climate, but for consumers, thanks to an administration willing to bend over backwards for industry.

What does this mean?

This step backwards is the first necessary for the administration to weaken the fuel economy and global warming emissions standards set for 2022-2025 way back in 2012.  These standards were reaffirmed by the previous EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in January based on the breadth of data, which showed that manufacturers could continue to meet the standards on the books and that moving forward with the standards on the books would provide tremendous benefits to the American public.  While a stroke of a pen may be able to undo this determination, it cannot undo the significant body of evidence underpinning this well-justified determination.

It’s industry’s word versus a mountain of independent, peer-reviewed data

As I wrote in January, the determination that EPA’s 2022-2025 standards were appropriate was based upon a mountain of evidence.  The agency spent tens of millions of dollars on research and analysis, including vehicle testing and simulation that resulted in at least 20 peer-reviewed publications; studies on consumer acceptance of technology and willingness to pay for it which contradicts automaker assertions that the public doesn’t want fuel-efficient vehicles; and updated assessments of technology costs by an outside consultant that looked at how a given technology would impact the parts and engineering costs of other parts of the car, including some of the innovative technologies that weren’t originally anticipated back in 2012.

In addition to this massive amount of work accounted for by EPA, the Department of Transportation (DOT) added its own heap of analysis, including independent assessments of the costs to achieve the standards and the ability for future combustion engine and vehicle technologies to meet the 2025 standards as well as a DOT-funded comprehensive assessment by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.  DOT’s findings were published jointly with EPA in the Draft Technical Assessment Report last summer and said quite clearly that manufacturers could meet the finalized 2025 standards through the deployment of conventional technologies and at a lower cost than originally anticipated.

A further part of the process, of course, came from publicly submitted analyses.  Groups like the International Council on Clean Transportation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and of course the Union of Concerned Scientists augmented the agencies’ research with independent analysis which generally showed that the agencies’ own estimates of technology improvements were consistently conservative.  In fact, automakers could exceed standards set out to 2025 through the deployment of improved conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.  Additional independent research showed how fuel economy standards disproportionately benefit lower income individuals, who tend to purchase cars on the secondary market and for whom fuel costs are a much larger share of income, underscoring the critical importance of these standards in protecting these families from fuel price volatility while saving them up to 2 percent of their annual income since fuel economy standards first went into effect.  Consumer groups as well have pointed to the positive impacts these standards have on all Americans, with thousands of dollars in net savings over the lifetimes of these vehicles that begin the moment the typical new car buyer drives off the lot putting much needed income back in the hands of consumers.

Industry continues to cry ‘wolf’

Standing in opposition to this large body of evidence is the voice of industry, claiming absurd assertions about jobs and cherry-picking data because even studies they paid for don’t support their ridiculous claims.  A recent automaker-funded study even noted that in spite of their own conservative assumptions, these rules are, in fact, job creators.  Of course, this industry fighting progress is nothing new—automakers have tried stunts like this previously. Automakers have claimed amongst other things that reducing tailpipe pollution under the Clean Air Act “could prevent continued production of automobiles” and “do irreparable damage to the American economy;” they have also fought safety features like seat belts and air bags for decades while waging what the Supreme Court called “the regulatory equivalent of war” claiming among other things that such features would lead to decreases in sales.

[Spoiler alert: None of that happened, and now you can breathe a lot easier and have a much safer automobile because regulators didn’t kowtow to industry demands.]

On top of this, they are also claiming that the EPA “rushed to judgment” in its determination, forgetting apparently the four-plus years of analysis and the numerous detailed, daylong technical meetings held by the EPA both with individual automakers and their trade associations, in addition to pages upon pages of industry-submitted analysis which the EPA carefully considered and to which the agency responded to before finalizing its determination.  Contrary to their claims, the automakers aren’t upset about the process—they’re upset about the outcome.  And now they’re looking to bend the ear of an Administration generally opposed to regulation to, once again, fight regulations that result in tremendous public good.

By itself this signature does little, but it portends bad intentions

Rescinding the final determination at the request of the auto industry flies in the face of good, technically sound policymaking; however, it is not in and of itself a binding change in policy.  At least for now, the 2022-2025 standards limiting global warming emissions from passenger vehicles remain on the books.  Unfortunately, this action signals a strong likelihood that this administration will not follow the evidence but will simply cave to industry demands—after all, it took less than a month for Scott Pruitt to overrule a decision built on four-plus years of data just because the auto industry asked.

Any change in these regulations will require a formal rulemaking process—and we at UCS will fight like hell to make sure any such rule continues to build upon the strong, technical foundation that led to the regulations on the books today.

How’s EPA’s Science Advice Process Doing? Celebrating Sunshine and Progress at the EPA

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Happy sunshine week! It’s a week to celebrate one of the pillars of our democracy: access to information. This year’s sunshine week seems especially important because of the current Administration’s open hostility toward the media, which has been shining a light on the federal government’s operations day in and day out and illustrating the clear conflicts of interest of the corporate cabinet.

Along with new attacks on transparency, some of the old ones are rearing their ugly heads, including the HONEST Act and the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act. These pieces of legislation are Trojan-horse transparency measures that would actually hurt the ability of agencies to protect public health by wasting agency resources and allowing industry to have more influence on agency science advice. They are attempts to fix problems that do not exist.

The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General’s new report recommends that EPA make slight tweaks to improve transparency of the agency’s interactions with its FACs, but overall, EPA’s process is efficient and attentive to information access. Source: EPA IG

This week, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) released a report looking at how the EPA engages with and manages the recommendations from its eight science and research advisory committees. What do its results tell us? The EPA is already doing a very good job at ensuring that the operations of its federal advisory committees (FACs) and the agency’s responses to science advice are transparent. There is of course always room for improvement when it comes to public access to information, but the EPA is efficiently managing and communicating its interactions with its FACs. Its updates to comply with the most recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) amendments are still pending, but that’s a sunshine issue for another day.

Science advice at the EPA is already transparent

I’m glad the IG decided to take a critical look at science advice at the EPA. Federal Advisory Committees (FACs) are used throughout government, and each one is composed of experts tasked with a charge to review the science on a particular subject or to review the work of the agency in a draft report. The committee deliberates, weighs the evidence on the topic, and then provides recommendations to the agency. The Act that regulates FACs, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, requires measures to ensure transparency and public participation in the formation and management of committees, but the degree of transparency practiced by individual committees varies from agency to agency. We included recommendations for improving transparency and public access in our recent report, Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking.

The IG’s audit strictly looked at the recommendations piece of the process. It did not look at how that advice is implemented through policy, just how the agency responded to the FAC advice. The Science Advisory Board (SAB), Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Chemical Safety Advisory Committee were among the eight bodies analyzed by the IG. The IG looked at a random sampling of 13 FAC products and only found that three had not received responses from the EPA, one because the product’s recommendations were targeted at another agency, and two others because the EPA had already developed the responses offline. The EPA’s responses to the SAB, for example, were posted online as the IG recommended.

The IG pointed out that while the agency is already doing a good job of tracking its FAC responses and posting them online, it should update its training materials to highlight the importance of making EPA’s responses available online because, “According to the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, in order to ensure transparency, the agency needs to allow the ‘free flow of scientific information.’ The Scientific Integrity Policy is the framework to ensure integrity throughout the agency, including FACs, and states that the EPA needs to promote and provide access to the public by making scientific information available online.” While the EPA already scored highly in our assessment of agency scientific integrity policies (page 8 of this report), we would surely welcome improvements to agency processes that would further promote scientific integrity principles.

Under the Obama administration, federal agencies were charged with establishing policies and practices that would foster a culture of scientific integrity within the government. The EPA has one of the strongest scores in our assessment of these policies. Source: Goldman et al. 2017

Interviewed Designated Federal Officers (DFOs), the liaisons between the agency and FACs, had some suggestions on how to improve management of the FAC process including giving the committee more context for the charge questions, more relevant background information, and clarity on how conclusions should be reached and whether consensus is necessary. One other recommendation is that DFOs should “allow FAC chairs to provide input into committee member selection to ensure necessary expertise.”  This one is slightly concerning because if, for example, the EPA SAB Reform Act is passed, a chair might seek input from more industry representatives and fewer academic scientists, which could skew an advisory committee toward a specific industry-friendly conclusion.

The EPA has agreed to implement the IG’s recommendations, and we hope that the agency and its FACs continue to uphold the agency’s own scientific integrity policy, especially as EPA’s important work has been discounted by its own head, Mr. Scott Pruitt, and other key figures in the Trump administration.

“Democracy Dies in Darkness”

We must continue to fight back against congressional attacks that would diminish the role of science in policymaking, and ensure that agencies and their federal advisory committees are able to complete their important work with the resources provided. Many agencies are already stretched thin, and with proposed budget cuts and questionable leadership it is even more important that we allow scientific agencies the discretion to review and act on science, and give the public access to that information.

To quote the Washington Post’s new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”—and, let’s face it, science doesn’t fare too well in the dark either. In the dark, White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, will better be able to accomplish his goal of “deconstructing the administrative state,” a.k.a stripping away important science-based public health, safety, and environmental safeguards for millions of Americans. So let’s keep that light bright and fight hard to prevent further attacks on scientists and the role of science in our democracy.

Trump Administration Attacks Public Health Protections with Proposed Cuts to EPA Budget

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News reports indicate that the Trump administration’s ‘skinny budget,’ to be announced tomorrow, will include draconian cuts to the EPA’s staff and budget. It’s pretty clear that despite President Trump’s claims that he will work “to promote clean air and clean water,” his administration is hostile to the very agency that helps safeguard these vital resources and protect our health.

Congress should reject outright these attempts to gut the EPA. Here’s why.

Americans depend on the EPA to protect our air and water

The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. It works closely with states, territories, and tribal authorities to advance this mission. A major share of the EPA’s budget is dedicated to state revolving funds and grants to help implement laws protecting clean air and clean water. Undermining the agency’s work and slashing its budget will hurt Americans’ health and our economy. It’s also a direct attack on resources that states rely on.

Just as a reminder of the environmental challenges our nation faced at the dawn of the EPA’s history, take a look at these stunning photos from the 1970s in the Documerica archive. I think it’s fair to say no one wants to turn back hard-won progress and go back to that.

Here are just a few of the critical functions the EPA’s staff and budget help fulfill:

  1. Cleaning up our air. A big reason why our nation’s air quality has been improving is the EPA’s ongoing work to implement the Clean Air Act and limit pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. There’s no question though that work remains to be done, including in major cities around the country (see map).
  2. Cleaning up our water. We rely on the EPA’s work to help states implement the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act and protect our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans from pollution so that the water is safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. To avoid tragedies like the Flint water crisis, more resources and better enforcement of environmental protections are required, not less.
  3. Cleaning up toxic and hazardous pollution. The EPA’s work to help identify and clean up Superfund sites and Brownfields is vital to protecting people from extremely harmful pollutants, while rehabilitating lands and revitalizing communities. The agency works with businesses, state, and local governments and local communities to implement solutions. It also collects data (such as the Toxics Release Inventory) to monitor progress and make people aware of their risks. Proposed cuts to the budget for these programs will have a real impact on people living near these contaminated sites and will also adversely affect the value of their homes.
  4. Helping address climate change. Climate change is already taking a significant toll on our health and our economy. The EPA’s actions to help cut global warming emissions from power plants, vehicles, and other industrial sources are a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate impacts. Despite the near-certainty that the Trump administration will roll back these policies, there’s no denying the reality that they are much needed, and that the EPA is legally required to limit carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.
  5. Advancing environmental justice. The EPA plays a lead role in the federal government’s efforts to advance environmental justice, including through the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, tools like EJScreen, and a small grants program for community projects. Low-income and minority communities around the country face a disproportionate health burden from pollution.
    As just one example, African-American children suffer much higher rates of asthma than white children and are more likely to be hospitalized and die from asthma. It’s just plain cruel to see the agency’s budget for environmental justice work, small as it is, being specifically targeted for cuts. News last week that Mustafa Ali, the head of the EPA’s environmental justice program, resigned underscores just how threatened this important work is under the Trump administration. In an interview, he said that his decision to resign after a quarter of a century at the agency was motivated in part by “seeing the rollback of the budget, or the elimination of budgets of certain programs that communities had been working for for years, had been supportive of because they had been working to make positive change inside of their communities.”
  6. Using and contributing to sound science to inform policymaking. The EPA’s research, data, and tools are vital to help monitor and assess the status of our nation’s air and water and help policymakers make informed decisions about how to improve their quality. The agency also regularly solicits expert opinions from independent scientists and experts, including through the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB).
  7. Boosting the economy. This one is pretty simple: we can’t have a thriving economy if Americans are suffering under the burden of costly and harmful health impacts of poor air and water. Neither can our economy thrive if the natural environment and ecosystems that underpin it are deteriorating. Clean air and clean water are fundamental to a good quality of life and a strong economy.
Reminder to Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration: You work for us, not the fossil fuel industry

The Trump administration (and especially EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt) needs to remember that it works for us, the American public. Rolling back clean air and clean water standards, spouting off thoroughly debunked climate denial talking points, decimating the EPA budget and workforce, ignoring environmental justice concerns: these are all signs of an administration that prioritizes fossil fuel industry interests ahead of our health and well-being.

For career EPA staff, this must be a tough time. Not just because some of their jobs may be on the line, but the very mission of the agency they work for is in jeopardy. That’s why today at noon the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3331—an affiliate of the AFL-CIO—is organizing a rally at the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC to protest the budget cuts and defend the EPA’s staff and the scientific integrity of their work.

People around the country are counting on the EPA to deliver the public health protections we need. Congress must stand up to the Trump administration and ensure that the EPA has the budget and staff resources it needs to do its job well.

Please write to your senator asking him or her to oppose the EPA budget cuts. And if you’re in the DC area today, please consider joining the protest rally at the EPA Headquarters.

Photos by Leroy Woodson and Frank Aleksandrowicz, NARA

How to Make Disasters More Costly and Harmful: Cut FEMA’s Budget

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Tomorrow the Trump administration is expected to release its “skinny budget,” which will lay out the president’s spending priorities for the discretionary portion of the annual federal budget for the coming fiscal year.

Early news reports and statements from the administration make clear that we’re likely to see proposals for large cuts in staff and budgets for several agencies, including NOAA, NASA, and the EPA. Defense spending is expected to grow.

One of the proposals is a potential 11 percent cut in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) budget. This would seriously undermine our nation’s ability to prepare for and recover from disasters, and put the safety of Americans at risk. What’s more, it’s a classic case of a “penny wise pound foolish” strategy that will actually end up costing taxpayers more in disaster assistance over the long haul. Congress should reject it.

Why we need FEMA (Part A): A federal lifeline when disasters strike

FEMA was created 38 years ago, and in 2003 became part of the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission statement is “to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.”

Much of FEMA’s role in coordinating federal disaster response is derived from its authority under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. When a major disaster strikes and exceeds a state’s capacity to respond alone, it can request a presidential disaster declaration. If that is granted, supplemental federal assistance is made available through FEMA for states to cope with the disaster.

In FY16 FEMA’s disaster relief funding (DRF) budget amounted to $6.7 billion.

FEMA’s Public Assistance grant program helps states and local governments recover from major disasters, including providing federal funding for “debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged publicly owned facilities.” (See Table 1 below for a ranking of states in terms of dollars of Public Assistance they have received from 1999-2015.)

Why we need FEMA (Part B): Helping communities become stronger before the next disaster

While public attention is usually focused on emergency aid in the wake of disasters, programs that help reduce risks before a disaster strikes are equally, if not more, important.

News reports indicate that the Trump administration is likely to attack the portion of FEMA’s budget used to help states prepare for disasters. If this is borne out in the budget proposal, it would show extreme short-sightedness.

FEMA administers several programs that help states, territories, and tribal governments invest in preparedness measures to reduce the risks and costs of future disasters. FEMA typically funds 75 percent of project costs and states match the remaining 25 percent. These programs include:

  • The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which helps communities implement measures to reduce long-term risks to people and property from hazards after a presidential major disaster declaration. Limited funds (up to 15 percent of total disaster grants) are available through this program after each disaster.
  • The Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program, which helps state and local governments fund projects and plans to reduce the long-term risk of flood damages for properties insured by the National Flood Insurance Program. In FY16, this program’s budget was $199 million.
  • The Pre-disaster Mitigation (PDM) Grant Program, authorized by the Stafford Act to help states, local governments and communities implement long-term measures to reduce the risks and losses from disasters. In FY16, this program’s budget was $90 million.

The flood mitigation assistance grant program and the PDM programs remain underfunded relative to the real need in communities. Research from Kousky and Shabman shows that almost 90 percent of FEMA funding on flood risk reduction comes in the aftermath of a big flood. This has some advantages because the local community has the opportunity to rebuild stronger at a time when its attention is focused on the problem. But, as the authors point out, investments in pre-disaster hazard mitigation are also important and present an opportunity to target federal aid to the highest risk areas in a cost-effective and well-thought out way.

Why we need FEMA (Part C): Helping reduce the costs of disasters by planning ahead

Studies repeatedly show that the best way of cutting the costs of disasters is to plan ahead and take steps to reduce risks. A frequently cited statistic from a 2005 National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) study: Every dollar FEMA invests in hazard mitigation saves $4 in disaster costs. This fall, NIBS is expected to release an updated version of this study to include all federal mitigation programs. Given the growing research on the costs and benefits of mitigation, the data are likely to show an even greater return on the dollar.

Working with other federal agencies, FEMA has compiled a set of tools and data that states, tribal governments and local communities can use to help plan for projected risks. FEMA’s flood hazard mapping efforts are particularly vital to help communities understand their risks and take protective measures. Yet the budget for this program is one of several that are reportedly on the chopping block.

Climate change is raising the risks of some types of disasters, including flooding worsened by sea level rise and heavy precipitation. That’s why in 2015 FEMA provided guidance requiring states to include climate change considerations in their hazard mitigation plans, which are updated every five years. This too could be reversed under the Trump administration.

Managing the spiraling costs of disasters

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), taxpayer advocates, and others have highlighted the growing costs of disasters for the federal taxpayer. Climate impacts could raise these costs and the harm to communities in the coming years, especially if we fail to plan ahead.

Instead of cutting FEMA’s budget, now is a critical time to double down on preparedness measures, especially in light of the risks that climate change is projected to bring. In a recent report, the GAO has identified a clear need for resources “to implement plans for reducing the federal fiscal exposure to disaster relief by improving resilience.”

FEMA has also recently proposed a way to bring disaster costs under control by encouraging states to invest in preparedness measures and take on a fair share of the costs of disasters. A Supplemental Advance Notice of Advance Rulemaking for the Public Assistance Deductible is available for comment until April 12, 2017. In the weeks ahead I will blog about the value of this type of concept.

Short-sighted budget cuts would be a disaster for states and communities

The Trump administration’s budget cuts are by no means a done deal. As my colleague Rob Cowin points out, in our democracy Congress has a key role to play in actually passing a budget.

Cuts to FEMA’s budget would mean that cash-strapped states and local governments would have to do their best to fill the hole, and communities nationwide will bear the brunt of the impact of diminished disaster preparedness.

That’s why Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida have already spoken out against these cuts, and likely many other Senators will join them.

The future of disaster preparedness depends on FEMA

Last month, the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications held a hearing on the future of FEMA. At the hearing, former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate spoke about the budgetary challenges already facing the agency due to the effects of the Budget Control Act, shortcomings in the formula used to calculate the DRF annual appropriation, and the political challenges of passing emergency disaster appropriations when needed.

Cutting FEMA funding will leave the agency less able to help disaster survivors in states, territories and tribal communities. Congress should reject the cuts to FEMA’s budget and maintain or increase funding for pre-disaster hazard mitigation programs to help protect Americans.

Table 1:

State Rank of Federal Assistance From 1999-2015 [FEMA Public Assistance, in 2015 dollars] No. State Total federal share obligated (1999-2015) Annual average federal share obligated 1 New York $21,671,388,334 $1,274,787,549 2 Louisiana 16,621,415,286 977,730,311 3 Florida 6,399,822,001 376,460,118 4 Mississippi 4,180,836,633 245,931,567 5 Texas 4,094,422,168 240,848,363 6 New Jersey 2,357,737,579 138,690,446 7 Iowa 1,826,578,453 107,445,791 8 California 1,437,292,282 84,546,605 9 Oklahoma 1,131,691,340 66,570,079 10 Kansas 1,080,772,444 63,574,850 11 North Carolina 953,206,418 56,070,966 12 Missouri 888,379,570 52,257,622 13 Alabama 841,956,023 49,526,825 14 Arkansas 744,651,963 43,803,057 15 North Dakota 679,833,405 39,990,200 16 Virginia 643,863,349 37,874,315 17 Kentucky 615,307,272 36,194,545 18 Tennessee 602,295,312 35,429,136 19 Pennsylvania 557,230,633 32,778,273 20 Nebraska 435,308,536 25,606,384 21 Washington 428,584,871 25,210,875 22 Minnesota 426,982,553 25,116,621 23 Massachusetts 422,663,583 24,862,564 24 Colorado 408,338,653 24,019,921 25 South Carolina 384,041,986 22,590,705 M Median 377,446,341 22,202,726 26 Ohio 370,850,697 21,814,747 27 Georgia 328,820,892 19,342,405 28 West Virginia 311,011,683 18,294,805 29 Illinois 309,990,918 18,234,760 30 Vermont 297,996,556 17,529,209 31 Connecticut 284,870,352 16,757,080 32 South Dakota 284,612,022 16,741,884 33 New Mexico 274,303,673 16,135,510 34 Maryland 265,115,281 15,595,017 35 Indiana 237,955,033 13,997,355 36 Alaska 203,258,189 11,956,364 37 Wisconsin 174,472,096 10,263,064 38 Oregon 144,641,218 8,508,307 39 New Hampshire 137,674,702 8,098,512 40 Maine 91,683,905 5,393,171 41 Hawaii 87,697,345 5,158,667 42 Montana 70,196,126 4,129,184 43 Arizona 68,642,964 4,037,821 44 Rhode Island 63,361,303 3,727,135 45 Michigan 42,583,629 2,504,919 46 Delaware 39,007,437 2,294,555 47 Utah 34,208,312 2,012,254 48 Nevada 30,275,261 1,780,898 49 Wyoming 12,973,750 763,162 50 Idaho 11,695,737 687,985

Source: FEMA


Stand Up for Science: 5 Ways Scientists Can Make Their Voices Heard

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As the Trump Administration and the new Congress have gotten down to work, there is a lot of chaos and confusion. But there are a few clear themes.

  • There is a concerted attempt to enact by executive order or statute major rollbacks of science-based rules that protect public health, safety and the environment.
  • Federal agencies such as NOAA, NASA, EPA, the Department of Energy, that have been in forefront of scientific work since their creation by Congress, are under attack in their management and proposed budget.
  • The new Administration and Congress are turning away from public policies grounded in scientific evidence and toward policies that turn over control wholesale to regulated industries.
  • The campaign rhetoric of racism, bigotry and misogyny was not just rhetoric.

I don’t think I am being overly alarmist. So what is a scientist to do? Just keep your head down and do your science, hoping this particularly troubling time in our national politics will pass? I hope not, and I am not alone.

Full house at the UCS “Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of Trump” Town Hall during the Boston AAAS meeting

Call to action

At the February meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science I moderated a town hall meeting on how to respond to this new Administration and Congress. The room was packed. So was the overflow into the hall and many others watched online. And there was a lot to talk about, from a new report on Scientific Integrity in government, discussed in a new report led by my colleague Gretchen Goldman, to science in a “post-truth world” an important new essay by panelist Jane Lubchenco. It was not just an incredible panel of thoughtful scientists, but a deeply engaged audience. And everyone spoke to the need for scientists, and supporters of science, to be active, engaged, and vocal as never before.

Five opportunities to stand up for science

There are many places, right now, for scientists to stand up and be heard. Here are a few that we, at the Union of Concerned Scientists, are working on right now. Some are as simple as a tweet. Others might take a day or two of your time. And still others are opportunities to make a difference over the next months and years to push back against those who want to shove science out of the way.

  1. As a first small step, those most under the gun are our colleagues working in federal agencies. Never before in my memory have federal scientists faced as daunting a set of challenges in doing their work for the benefit of the nation. They need our support. So why not simply tweet your thanks for the scientist, agency, or program in the federal government that you know and love?
  2. Our federal colleagues are definitely in a tough spot. But they are the ones that best know what is happening inside our government. Is science being censored? Are political appointees manipulating the results? Are scientific integrity policies being ignored? But for federal employees to speak out may be risky. Let your friends and colleagues know there are secure ways to get information out, anonymously. And there are lawyers willing to help those targeted for blowing the whistle. So too are many journalists willing to tell the story and protect their sources under the 1st Amendment.
  3. I don’t know about you, but right now I am somewhat obsessively watching the news. And the attacks on science keep coming. We can’t necessarily respond to everything, but it is important to be heard on many issues. It is not okay to replace science with “alternative facts”. It is not ok to give regulated big corporations an ever greater opportunity to manipulate the rules because they have money to spend to buy influence. We need to watchdog these actions, and you can help from where you live all across the country. What can you do? Join our watchdog teams. Use our LinkedIn and Twitter groups to keep up with news about attacks on science and ways to take action.
  4. Science and science policy is not just in Washington. We know that, but do your neighbors? Speak out in your community, your local paper, and to your elected officials. You can be a scientist, but you are still a constituent – one knowledgeable about technical issues. So use your science and your constituency. Help educate and advocate in your state and our watchdog toolkit will help you get started. Here is one attack you can write to your local paper about right now. There will be more to come, with training and teams of people all around the country working together to fight back.
  5. For many of us, we want to write and speak to raise our voices. But many also want to MARCH. Getting out in the street with big crowds of our fellow Americans is another way to stand up for science. Many scientists participated in the Women’s March in January. Others went to airports to protest the ban on immigration from majority muslim countries. And in April there are two marches directly calling for scientists. On April 22 participate in the March for Science. There will be training opportunities, such as how to connect with your legislators to defend science, before and after the march itself. And, on April 29 is the People’s Climate March. Why not get your steps in and do both? The whole week between the 22 and the 29 will be a week of action in DC with many groups from all around the country participating.

We are long past the point where scientists can sit back and watch the pitch go by.

In the wise words of my friend Jane Lubchenco, “It is no longer sufficient for scientists in academia, government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or industry to conduct business as usual. Today’s challenges demand an all-hands-on-deck approach wherein scientists serve society in a fashion that responds to societal needs and is embedded in everyday lives. Humility, transparency, and respect must characterize our interactions.”

Stand Up For Science.

What’s the Skinny on President Trump’s Skinny Budget? All Bark, No Bite

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It’s alarming to read headlines like: “EPA budget may be cut by 25% under Trump;” “DOE targeted for massive cuts in Trump draft budget;” “White House proposes steep cut to leading climate science agency;”and  “Trump wants 37% cut to State, USAID.” But if you find yourself getting swept up in the hysteria, just remember that the president doesn’t rule by fiat; he’s president, not emperor.

There is certainly reason for concern about the vulnerability of specific federal programs and line items to spending cuts. People who care about science and research, public health, innovation and clean energy, international diplomacy, extreme weather and climate change need to be vigilant in articulating the importance of these priorities to their congressional delegations.

But the reality is that our system of checks and balances, as well as good ole’ fashioned local politics, will make enacting the president’s budget nearly impossible.

Running the gauntlet of congress is hard

The president only controls one of the three co-equal branches of government. He doesn’t make law and he doesn’t hold the purse strings; that’s congress. And congress can’t pass a spending bill to fund the government without bipartisan support; 60 votes are needed and that means the Republicans need at least 8 votes from the other side of the aisle.

Image result for budget wiki

Photo: Wikimedia

Reaching agreement on federal spending has always been challenging and congress is more divided now than ever. That’s why federal legislators have relied more and more in recent years on “continuing resolutions,” which keep the government going at the previous year’s spending levels.

More to the point, the kind of budget cuts the administration is proposing have the potential of uniting Democrats and Republicans in opposition, since they negatively impact both red and blue states indiscriminately. Fiscal conservatism, like talk, is cheap when it’s your own constituents threatened by proposed budget cuts.

Budget 101

How does the budget process work, in theory?

  • The president releases his annual budget request, which typically happens in early February, kicking off the budget process. Current budget law says that it should be submitted between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February, although it’s not uncommon for this process to be delayed when a president is serving in his first year.
  • Congress then holds hearings on the budget, and the house and senate budget committees report out their own “non-binding” budget resolutions, which set the overall spending caps for the spending bills.
  • Congress passes the budget resolution, usually in April, and that kicks off the appropriations process.
  • The 12 Appropriations Subcommittees develop 12 separate annual bills that fund the government. Consideration of these bills begin in May and they are usually voted out of committee before the August recess.
  • Congress then has until September 30th (the end of the fiscal year) to pass the 12 appropriations bills. Differences between the senate and house bills must either be reconciled in conference, or one of those bills must pass both chambers, prior to reaching the president’s desk and being signed into law, or the government effectively shuts down.
Image result for congress wiki

Photo: Wikiwand

Budget 102

This is 2017, though, and things are more likely to work like this:

Breaking from the tradition of a comprehensive budget request, President Trump is taking a piece-meal approach to the budget this year, the first piece of which is expected this week, focuses on defense and “discretionary spending.” We are likely to see a request for big increases in defense spending, paid for with steep cuts to other agency spending, like what we’ve been reading in the headlines. Additional pieces of his budget focused on “mandatory spending,” including big programs like Medicare and Social Security, are expected in April.

Congress doesn’t always pass a budget resolution, especially when one chamber is controlled by Republicans and the other is controlled by Democrats. But even with their own party currently in control of both the house and senate, the administration may have a hard time garnering the support of some Republican budget committee members, who have already publicly expressed opposition to draconian spending cuts at some agencies. If congress does pass a budget, it will likely contain very different spending levels from the president’s budget.

All indications are that the budget committees will move forward without the president, their only guidance being the fiscal year 2018 (fy18) sequestration caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which they will probably try to get rid of so they can increase military spending.

Appropriators in both chambers have indicated a desire to pass a spending package that avoids a government shutdown before April 28th, when the continuing resolution passed last year for fy17 expires.  But big differences between the house and senate make it just as likely that congress has to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government operating at level spending for the rest of fy17.

Appropriators will develop their fy18 bills and move them out of committee (in most cases along party lines), but controversial amendments, known as “riders,” and the 60 vote filibuster, all but assure that many of those 12 funding bills won’t pass the senate. Even in the Republican-controlled house where only a simple majority is needed to pass legislation, the “Freedom Caucus,” consisting of conservative Republican members who advocate for smaller government, has sometimes made it hard for Republican spending bills to move forward without receiving Democratic support.

Congress hasn’t made the September 30th deadline in over 20 years, so they’ll probably need to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government operating when the regular appropriations process again falls short.

And at some point, this will likely come down to a showdown where Republicans can’t pass a bill that is acceptable to both their right-wing base in the house and senate Democrats, who will hold tight in opposition to a budget that doesn’t reflect their interests.  Reaching agreement is going to be extremely difficult, and I can already see the blame game over the government shutdown. Will the country blame the Democrats or the Republicans? Personally I think they’re likely to blame the party in control.

Cutting federal spending impacts red states Image result for wiki gulf coast damage

Photo: Wikimedia

If the president wants to gut National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite programs, he’s going to have to convince Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee of jurisdiction, that his constituents in Mobile and along their coast won’t be harmed by reduced capacity to forecast hurricanes and plan for extreme weather that floods communities, destroys homes and ruins livelihoods.  He’s also going to have to convince subcommittee members and coastal senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) of the same thing.  These senators are also likely to have concerns over impacts these cuts would have on fishing commerce, which is a big industry in all of these states.

Image result for wiki DOE national labs

Photo: Wikimedia

If the president wants to gut Department of Energy (DOE) programs, he’s going to have to convince Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chair of the Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee, that his constituents at Oak Ridge National Laboratory won’t be impacted; which will be a tough argument to make, since a diverse and large amount of DOE’s work is carried out at the national laboratories. The Chair of the House Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee, Mike Simpson (R-ID), will also be looking out for his constituents at Idaho National Laboratory. Less funding means less work, which means fewer jobs, which means unhappy constituents in those states. Not to mention, both Chairmen, and many others, have articulated a vision of the absolute necessity of the science and energy innovation work spearheaded by DOE.

What can ordinary citizens do?

The president can’t get 60 votes for anywhere near the kind of budget cuts he’s proposing. But if the American people aren’t speaking up loudly in opposition and raising concerns with their members of congress, the likelihood of cuts to essential areas of science, research, innovation, and programs that protect public health and the environment increases significantly. What can ordinary citizens do?

Image result for write your congressman wiki

Photo: Wikihow

Call, write and meet with your members of congress and/or their staff, and tell them that:

These are the things congress needs to hear, and they need to hear them from constituents, to be empowered to stand firm in opposition to the Trump administration’s budget proposal. As long as the public stays engaged, the president is going to find out very quickly that if you don’t have a plan to work with congress—including Democrats—you’re not going to be able to advance your domestic agenda.

So what’s the administration’s plan?  That remains to be seen.

Photo: Wikimedia

Marchemos en defensa de nuestro clima, nuestro ambiente y nuestra salud

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Ante los embates en contra de las protecciones a la salud, educación, empleo, derechos constitucionales y ambiente, la población de EEUU ha respondido con un reclamo multitudinario y amplio en claro rechazo a las posturas anti-científicas y de odio del Presidente Trump y su gabinete. Apenas un día después de tomar Donald Trump las riendas del gobierno estadounidense, millones de personas, en su mayoría mujeres, abarrotaron las calles de muchas ciudades, y nada más en Washington DC marcharon casi medio millón a la Casa Blanca para repudiar el dañino programa de gobierno del Presidente Trump.

La necesidad de reducir de manera inmediata y con herramientas científicas los causantes del cambio climático es uno de los reclamos que más resuenan entre amplios sectores de la población. El cambio climático afecta los empleos, la salud humana, el bolsillo y el bienestar de generaciones presentes y futuras en nuestro planeta.

Los inmigrantes conocemos de antemano los estragos causados por la disrupción climática porque hemos vivido fuertes huracanes, inundaciones, sequías y otros eventos empeorados por el cambio climático en nuestros países de origen, y son nuestras comunidades en los EEUU las que enfrentan muchas de las más dañinas consecuencias del cambio climático. De hecho, en un informe reciente documenté, junto a mis colegas, los peligros económicos y a la salud que supone el cambio climático para los Latinos en los EEUU. Por eso y más en 2014 marcharon cientos de miles en la ciudad de Nueva York para exigir a nuestros líderes acción climática.

Pero como el reclamo ha caído en los oídos sordos de muchos de nuestros líderes, el 29 de abril de 2017 marcharemos todos juntos otra vez en Washington DC para recordarle al Presidente Trump y al congreso su obligación de tomar medidas decisivas no sólo para reducir la contaminación de carbono que calienta el planeta, sino también para exigir que se respeten los estatutos legales que protegen nuestra salud, ambiente, educación, empleo y demás.

Esta marcha es una movilización de diversos sectores sociales tales como las y los científicos, trabajadoras y trabajadores de la salud, miembros de gremios laborales, organizaciones ambientalistas, científicas, de base y justicia ambiental, por demás.

Marchemos, ya que la integridad de la ciencia federal que nos protege está en juego

Uno de los temas esenciales de la marcha es la defensa a la integridad de la ciencia que produce el gobierno federal, cuyos resultados forman el criterio esencial para la toma de decisiones en materia de políticas públicas que nos protegen.

Por ejemplo, como dice mi colega la Dra. Gretchen Goldman, si  usted hoy pudo respirar aire limpio es porque existen regulaciones como la Ley de Aire Limpio (Clean Air Act) que limita la cantidad de contaminantes atmosféricos que se pueden emitir al aire. Y si usted comió algo y no se envenenó, es muy probablemente porque un científico de la Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos (Food and Drug Administration, FDA por sus siglas en inglés) labora en un programa de inspección sanitaria de alimentos como pollo, ganado, y huevos.  Si no tuvo percances hoy al respirar, comer o tomar agua, agradézcaselo a un científico del gobierno federal que labora día tras día para proteger nuestros medios de sustento.

Desafortunadamente, las industrias contaminantes tienen un fuerte aliado en el Presidente Trump, y los directores de agencias federales que nombró—enemigos de la salud pública y el ambiente—se disponen a desmantelar el sistema de protecciones públicas que se basan en el conocimiento científico.

Por esto es importante marchar y demostrar que no estamos dispuestos a permitir que jueguen con nuestro bienestar.

¿Cómo puede esta marcha marcar diferencia alguna?

Marchar en solidaridad con todos los que nos vemos afectados de una manera u otra es parte de una movilización multitudinaria que incluye acciones legales, directas, en medios sociales, etc. Sin duda, el demostrar nuestra fortaleza colectiva envía señales claras a nuestros líderes: los 400,000 que marchamos en Nueva York en 2014 lo hicimos en anticipación del Acuerdo de París, donde todas las naciones soberanas del mundo pactaron reducir sus emisiones para reducir el cambio climático.

La marcha tiene los siguientes objetivos:

  • Exigir que se combata el cambio climático a través de la reducción de la contaminación de carbono
  • Desarrollar la transición hacia fuentes energéticas sostenibles, de forma equitativa y que limiten el incremento global de temperaturas a 1.5 grados centígrados
  • Promover una transición energética equitativa tanto para comunidades como para trabajadores
  • Exigir un salario mínimo de por lo menos 15 dólares por hora
  • Exigir inversiones que generen empleos para comunidades de bajo ingreso y/o minoritarias
  • La implementación de mecanismos basados tanto en mercados como en políticas que protejan los derechos humanos tanto como los ecosistemas con miras a la reducción de las fuentes de contaminantes

En lo particular, Union of Concerned Scientists exige que la investigación científica sobre el cambio climático forme parte del presupuesto federal del año fiscal 2018, que se dediquen recursos al desarrollo de fuentes de energía renovable y que la ciencia que llevan a cabo las agencias federales esté libre de influencias políticas.

Todas y todos, sin importar las diferencias en nuestro lugar de origen, idioma, raza, color, orientación de género y demás, tenemos la obligación de exigirle a nuestros líderes que no olviden sus obligaciones en defensa de nuestro bienestar colectivo.  Únase a nosotros el 29 de abril de 2017 en la capital federal, Washington, DC, para enviar un mensaje claro y contundente al nuevo presidente. Nuestro clima, nuestro ambiente y nuestra salud dependen de ello.

Youth vs. a Government of, by, and for the Fossil Fuel Industry

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Last week, the Trump administration sought to short-circuit a lawsuit filed by young people seeking to hold the U.S. to account on climate change. Late on Friday night, the fossil fuel industry threw its support behind the government’s effort to block the case.

If you are having trouble distinguishing the Trump administration from major fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron, you are not alone. Here are a few recent examples of the convergence between fossil fuel interests and the Trump administration.

The soundtrack of my childhood includes the “Schoolhouse Rock” version of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution—if you know the tune, feel free to hum along as you read.

Provide for the Common Defense…of Climate Inaction

In Juliana vs. United States, filed in 2015, 21 young people supported by Our Children’s Trust are seeking science-based action by the U.S. government to stabilize the climate system. In January 2016, trade associations representing the fossil fuel industry intervened on behalf of their members in support of the government’s effort to get the case dismissed. The American Petroleum Institute (API), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) thus became named defendants in the case.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken denied motions by the U.S. government and the fossil fuel industry to dismiss the case, recognizing that the youth have standing and allowing the case to proceed to trial.

In February, youth plaintiffs in the case released a copy of their request for documents sent to API. Among other information, the request seeks documents related to API’s communications with the Global Climate Coalition, whose members included API, NAM, and major fossil fuel companies Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell.

The UCS report The Climate Accountability Scorecard sums up how these trade associations and industry groups spread disinformation about climate science and/or seek to block climate action:

  • API is the largest oil trade association in the United States and has a long history of communicating climate science disinformation, as exemplified by the notorious internal strategy memo written by an API task force in 1998—a roadmap of the fossil fuel industry’s plan to deliberately cast doubt on the public’s understanding of climate science. The API’s online briefing on climate and energy emphasizes uncertainties in climate science.
  • NAM is the largest manufacturing trade association in the United States. It has questioned the validity of climate science and the burning of fossil fuels as the primary source of heat-trapping emissions.



The request by the youth plaintiffs is designed to establish a factual record of the role that the oil and gas industry played in government decisions over the past 50 years that led to climate change, through discovery of documents showing what API knew about a) climate change b) its likely impacts, and c) government policies that consistently failed to deal with it.

Trial is expected to take place in fall 2017, but the Trump administration has a different idea. In a motion filed last week, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys asked Judge Aiken to let a federal appeals court review her decision, and to halt the case pending the outcome of that appeal. The petition argues that preservation of documents related to climate change, energy policy, and greenhouse gas emissions is a burden on the government, which could be “irreparably harmed” by the anticipated scope of discovery in the lawsuit.

On Friday, the defendant-intervenors API, NAM, and AFPM filed a memo in support of the government’s motion to appeal.

Allowing the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry to prevent the preservation and release of documents related to climate change and climate policies would be dangerous and wrong. As litigation against the tobacco industry demonstrated years ago, such evidence is necessary for our justice system to determine whether any misconduct occurred, and for the public to hold our government and corporations accountable for their actions.

The Department of Justice has requested a ruling on its motion by Tuesday, March 14.

Promote Fossil Fuel Industry Welfare

Last week, former ExxonMobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had lunch with President Trump. A few hours later, the White House issued a press release that echoed, almost word-for-word, an ExxonMobil press release quoting new CEO Darren Woods that touted the company’s investments in new refining and chemical manufacturing projects on the Gulf Coast.

We finish each others sentences! @realDonaldTrump @exxonmobil

— #ExxonKnew (@Exxon_Knew) March 7, 2017

President Trump’s admiration for ExxonMobil is apparent, and it is mutual. Woods praised President Trump’s commitment to a “stable regulatory environment,” while the President applauded ExxonMobil for supporting his “Buy American and hire American” agenda.

And the coziness doesn’t stop with ExxonMobil. Chevron CEO John Watson said last week that he’s met with White House staff multiple times since Tillerson became Secretary of State. Watson expressed optimism about the “more pro-business environment” of the Trump administration.

In the context of this administration, “pro-business” means “pro-fossil fuels,” and “stable regulatory environment” means “regulatory rollbacks.”

Secure the Blessings of Liberty…for Fossil Fuel Companies

Former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, who has long and deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, has taken the reins at the Environmental Protection Agency. Last week, Administrator Pruitt provoked a spontaneous outburst of angry phone calls with his outrageous and untrue claim that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause global warming.

In June 2016, Pruitt joined a dozen other Republican attorneys general in signing an open letter that urged their Democratic counterparts in 20 states not to investigate whether ExxonMobil misled the public and investors about climate change. The letter cited “substantial First Amendment concerns” among other issues.

More than 7,500 pages of newly published emails show that as attorney general, Pruitt forged an alliance with oil, gas and utility companies to bolster their legal challenges against Obama-era regulations that they said amounted to a “war on carbon.” In light of this evidence, it’s hard not to be cynical about Pruitt’s effort to cloak himself in the mantle of the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith has renewed his attacks on the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts, issuing new subpoenas for documents related to their investigations of ExxonMobil. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman wrote to Chairperson Smith explaining why he won’t comply with a subpoena he describes as “unprecedented and unlawful,” and Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey has also objected to the subpoena and requested that it be withdrawn.

Here’s hoping that a public spotlight on this key decision in the Juliana case will make the federal appeals court hesitate to short-circuit the legal process at the behest of the Trump administration and the oil industry. Now more than ever, we need our justice system to safeguard our children’s future over the profits of ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Dear Scott Pruitt: Stop Lying. We See What You Are Doing.

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

I heard EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt say that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause global warming yesterday. I watched him lie in ways that only serve the fossil fuel industry. I saw him wager away our children’s future for a few more years of fossil fuel profits. And as we dangle here at the end of the climate rope, I know the fury this has lit amongst many of us.

Let’s put a finer point on what’s happening here.

Let’s also look toward ways we can fight back.

To Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration: Stop lying to the American people

Scott Pruitt is not a climate skeptic. He’s not a climate denier. He’s not unclear on the science, or if he is it’s out of willful ignorance. We could politely call him out on “disinformation,” but  it seems especially important in these times to call a lie a lie, and a liar a liar.

Put this in the “I can’t believe I still have to do this” bucket, but here it is:

But not if we allow ourselves to be gaslighted by the Trump administration’s cynical, self-serving, willfully ignorant, future negating, grandkids-gonna-hate-em industry shills.

There is no science debate here. That’s a hand-wavy, obfuscating technique that stooges of the fossil fuel industry (and this administration is teeming with them, including Scott Pruitt) trot out from time to time. These folks are not skeptics or deniers, they are not people taking a philosophical position or working out a rational conclusion. These people understand the science well enough; they are simply taking contrary positions for perverse, self-serving interests. In the world of social media, they would be known as trolls. And to the climate movement, that’s what they are: powerful and dangerous climate trolls.

To Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration: Stop lying to the American people.

Do your job

Scott Pruitt has a very important new job. As EPA administrator, he is upholder-in-chief of the EPA’s mission: to protect human health and the environment. There are science-based laws in place to ensure those protections, and Administrator Pruitt has one chief responsibility: implement and enforce those. When he takes to talk shows to undermine science–including science on which those health- and environment-protecting laws are based–he is not doing his job. He’s undermining the entire mission of the agency and the health and safety of all Americans he was hired to protect.

On climate science specifically, the EPA’s Endangerment finding has already established that global warming emissions pose harm to human health and welfare. And its ‘Cause or Contribute’ finding equally clearly establishes the role of emissions from power plants, vehicles, and other major sources in contributing to rising carbon emissions. And these emissions are worsening wildfires, heat waves, air pollution, and rising seas that threaten our coastal communities. The EPA is legally required to act on limiting carbon emissions, based on the Mass v EPA Supreme Court ruling and these findings, and Scott Pruitt should do his job.

To Administrator Pruitt and his entourage at EPA: this agency is not a joke. It’s not a political chess piece. Americans demanded it decades ago, benefited from it, and we depend on it today. Do your job. Or step aside for someone who will.

PS: Leave your staff alone.

We see what you’re doing

Those of us who follow climate change know that the time we have to act and avoid drastic climate change is heart-skippingly narrow. We have a small foothold toward progress under the EPA in the form of the Clean Power Plan and the fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, and in our commitment to the global Paris Climate Agreement.

This administration is intent on rolling these back in service of their fossil fuel interests. As Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, put it in an interview “It’s a game. An incredibly cruel game. They are taking the future of your children away for another few years of oil and gas profits.” Watch the full, powerful interview to be reminded how to speak out.

@JeffDSachs of @CSD_Columbia, @UNSDSN on @EPA chief @ScottPruittOK denial #CO2 causes #climatechange

— CNN Today (@cnntoday) March 9, 2017

It is very clear what this administration is doing when we look at the way the Trump transition team was stocked with climate trolls, the way his appointees dodged and obfuscated in confirmation hearings in response to climate questions, and the way expected executive orders and budget priorities target climate change science and policy (and budgets)—the administration is dialing back progress on climate solutions and fostering a fossil fuel industry resurgence. Which helps the fossil fuel industry and screws the rest of the entire world, now and indefinitely.

What we saw this week from Pruitt was an opening foray in what is likely to be a long, sustained assault. We should expect it to get worse before it gets better.

To the administration: We see what you’re doing. It’s shameless. And yes, we know you’re just warming up and we already find your moral bankruptcy exhausting. But one thing to remember about us: we fight hard and we never give up. We can’t.

Friends, hold the line

We have fought so hard and come so far. We’ve seen this rodeo before; we’ve dealt with this kind of campaign in the past and defeated it. Now the rodeo is back, with more bull.  And we have to hold the line.

Today is definitely different. And despite feeling powerless, there are countless reasons why we are stronger today. The outlook for a clean energy future, for example, is incredibly positive. (Do yourself a favor and read my friend’s blog on the solar outlook and feel the sunshine…) The markets show new signs of anticipating a carbon constrained future. And today, the climate action stream is merging with the social justice stream, with labor, human rights, and others to potentially form the most powerful movement this country has seen in many, many years.

To win in this moment we need to keep the faith, find strength in numbers, and fight like hell.

On the climate front, UCS is working to defend science broadly and climate science in particular, and that’s going to be the long game. But in the days ahead, we can all:

  • Call or write your senator and ask him/her to release a statement that repudiates Mr. Pruitt’s blatantly fase claims.
  • Visit your representatives’ offices in your district and let them know you expect them to oppose any effort to weaken the public health and environmental safeguards that EPA provides.
  • Keep an eye out for rallies at EPA headquarters and offices and attend if you can. I hear the AFL-CIO is planning one for Wednesday, March 15.
  • Organize a demonstration outside your regional EPA office. Ideas for signs with a science bent are here. Or just copy phrases from the EPA’s climate web pages
  • Call your regional EPA office (numbers online here) and headquarters to express your support for EPA’s climate science work.
  • Look for articles about Administrator Pruitt’s egregious position and respond immediately with a letter to the editor. We have tips to increase the likelihood of your letter being published.
  • Call your local radio or television station and demand that their news departments cover this story responsibly.
  • Are you a parent on social media? Post a picture of your kids on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook showing exactly whose future Administrator Pruitt is willing to sacrifice.
  • Find someone who questions climate science and talk to them. Here are some suggestions to guide your conversation.
  • Register for a local Scientists March on April 22.
  • And last but definitely not least, register and plan to attend the People’s Climate March in DC on April 29. UCS will be there in force.

The progress we’ve made on climate action is still modest, but so hard fought and so very precious. We know we don’t have time for this. We know what backsliding means for our future. We each have an inner Gandalf facing down the Balrog of Moria and bellowing “You Shall Not Pass!” (Or maybe that’s just me.) Let’s make sure administrator Pruitt and the rest of these trolls hear it.

Take care of yourselves in this frustrating time and thank you for holding the line as best you can.

Not this time, climate trolls.


The Latest on Solar’s Sweet Success, in 4 Great Graphs

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Winter is a great time for solar—solar data, that is. Even if the panels themselves are covered in snow (which mine haven’t been, given our spring-like winter), this is the time of year when the industry’s progress over the previous year becomes clear. The annual stats for 2016 have just been released, and they offer still more proof that clean energy momentum is quite a thing to behold. Here are four graphs of solar progress to celebrate.

The U.S. Solar Market Insight, 2016 Year in Review, the product of a regular collaboration between GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, is rich with insights:

1. Solar went in faster than ever before—by a huge margin.

Source: GTM-SEIA Solar Market Insight, 2016 Year in Review

The graph above shows how solar’s annual installations have been climbing, year after year. The industry installed almost 15,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) last year.

Here are a few ways to think about that data point:

  • That’s a 97 percent increase over what went in during 2015, more than got installed in 2015 and 2014 combined, and 17 times what got installed during 2010.
  • While that number is made up of residential, commercial, and large-scale systems, if you were to think of it in terms of rooftop PV systems, at 5 kilowatts each, that would be 3 million homes’ worth.
  • And in terms of the electricity, that’s enough solar energy to fully power 2 million American homes.
2. Solar is a bigger piece of the picture than ever.

Source: GTM-SEIA Solar Market Insight, 2016 Year in Review

Solar not only grew with respect to its past performance, it also dominated the electric sector as a whole, in terms of new “power plant” additions. The graph above shows how that portion has been steadily increasing. In 2016, for the first time ever, solar was the number one resource for new capacity, at 39%—30% more than natural gas.

  • The 2016 installations brought the U.S. solar total, counting both solar PV and concentrating solar power (CSP), to more than 42,000 megawatts—20 times what we had in 2010.
  • According to GTM-SEIA, a new solar project went in every 84 seconds, adding up to another megawatt of solar every 36 minutes.
  • 22 states added at least 100 megawatts of solar in 2016, and California added more than 5,000 megawatts, including 1,000 megawatts of large-scale solar alone in each of the last two quarters of the year.
3. Solar costs just keep getting lower.

Source: GTM-SEIA Solar Market Insight, 2016 Year in Review

The pairs of columns in the graph above—residential vs. residential, non-residential (commercial) vs. non-residential, and utility vs. utility—show serious cost reductions in every sector compared to just one year earlier. And those drops in costs come from pretty much every piece of the equation, from PV modules (solar panels) and inverters to the balance of systems (BOS) and the labor costs.

Overall, solar costs fell almost 20% from the end of 2015 to the end of 2016.

4. Solar’s future is bright.

Source: GTM-SEIA Solar Market Insight, 2016 Year in Review

A deadline for an important federal tax credit to expire meant a lot of solar squeezed into 2016, even after the tax credit got extended. That, GTM and SEIA predict, will lead to a temporary drop in new utility-scale installations for a bit.

But residential and commercial systems will continue to grow. And utility-scale solar will be back on the rise within a couple of years.

All in all, another great year for solar. And the solar data at this time of the year always offer another reason to love winter, with the promise of more sunshine.

EPA Head Pruitt on Climate Change: Dead Wrong. Three Fundamental Scientific Facts He Needs to Know.

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This morning EPA administrator Scott Pruitt got the facts dead wrong on climate change. Here are his remarks and a quick recap of three fundamental facts that scientists at NASA, NOAA, NSF, EPA, and beyond have established over decades.

During an interview on CNBC, Pruitt’s answer to the question “Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?” was:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet, we need to continue the debate we need to continue the review and analysis.”

Fact #1: Rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the primary contributor to global warming

This fact is not new. Scientists have investigated both natural and human contributions and have concluded that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary cause of global warming. The “apples to apples” comparison below uses the unit of radiative forcing (the effect caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere)—positive numbers indicate a contribution to warming and negative numbers a contribution to cooling. Carbon dioxide is the largest contributor to warming since both 1750 (see IPCC figure 8-15) and 1980 (see IPCC figure 8-20 below).

This figure compares the various factors that influence climate, both anthropogenic (human-driven) and natural. It shows “radiative forcing” (in watts per square meter). The higher a positive radiative forcing of a particular agent, the greater its role in global warming. (Source: IPCC fifth assessment report working group 1 figure 8-20.)

Fact #2: We have enough precision to measure human activity on carbon dioxide overload in the atmosphere

We can measure it! The scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have plotted the measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide through 800,000 years of Earth’s history.

The earlier measurements are from ancient air locked in bubbles from ice cores, which come from research supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other national and international sources. The modern measurements were begun by Charles David Keeling and continued by scientists at NOAA and others around the world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide measurement precision is accurate enough to know that today’s levels are not natural (see figure below).

Data source: EPA compilation of 10 underlying datasets. See for specific information. “Natural cycles” and “Precision is good enough…” labels added by B. Ekwurzel

We also have the ‘smoking gun’ evidence that this overload of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is primarily from burning fossil fuels (see image below). Check out chapter 6 of the IPCC fifth assessment report for all the juicy details from the scientific community.

Carbon detectives: Not only can scientists measure the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, they can also detect the difference sources of the carbon atoms involved. Compared to other carbon sources, carbon from fossil fuels has a distinctly different “signature” (technically a measurement of carbon (i.e. δ13C pronounced “delta 13-C”) . The more negative the δ13C, the higher the proportion of carbon from fossil fuels. See IPCC fifth assessment report WG1 Chapter 6 for more details.

Fact #3: We have enough precision to measure the degree of impact from human activity

Consult the latest climate assessments or peer-reviewed papers on human fingerprints on climate change impacts for more information—there is plenty of it and we will delve further into it in future blog posts.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that administrator Pruitt’s blatant denial of well-established scientific facts is more than just egregious. It is also at odds with his testimony in his confirmation hearing and in no way changes his legal obligation to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

Barnard College to Divest from Fossil Fuel Companies that Deny Climate Science

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This past Saturday, the Barnard College Board of Trustees voted to divest from all fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change. The decision was based on the recommendation of a Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment, which cited our report The Climate Accountability Scorecard: Ranking Major Fossil Fuel Companies on Climate Deception, Disclosure, and Action as a potential resource for differentiating among companies. As other investors follow in Barnard’s footsteps, it will create incentives for and put pressure on companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell to improve their climate-related positions and actions.

“Setting a new standard for investment”

In her final message to students, outgoing Barnard College President Deborah Spar wrote:

“At today’s Board meeting, the trustees unanimously approved a path-breaking recommendation from our Task Force to Examine Divestment that will put Barnard at the very forefront of organizations striving to have an impact on climate change and fossil fuel use. Thanks in large part to student activists from Divest Barnard, and backed by crucial insights from faculty members and trustees, the Task Force proposed — and the Board accepted — a decision to divest Barnard’s endowment from those companies that deny climate change.

“Working with outside experts such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, the College will now be able to use its endowment funds both symbolically and responsibly, setting a new standard for investment that seeks to balance the fiduciary need to manage our resources with the moral responsibility to harness science for sustainability.”

Last December’s report of the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment includes a discussion of possible criteria that draws heavily on The Climate Accountability Scorecard:

“The Task Force decided to use the UCS criteria as a starting point. These criteria include the extent to which a company (1) renounces disinformation on climate science and policy, (2) plans for a world free from carbon pollution, (3) supports fair and effective climate policies, and (4) fully discloses climate risks…

“The issue of how to define companies that deny climate science is a central one. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently developed extensive criteria that institutions can use to screen fossil fuel companies for behavior that is antithetical to efforts to mitigate climate change. The UCS criteria… should be considered by the Committee on Investments in discussions with the working group and with Barnard’s OCIO [Outsourced Chief Investment Office].”

An innovative approach to divestment

As of December 2016, fossil fuel divestment affected $5 trillion in assets, after more than doubling in just over a year. According to a report by Arabella Advisors, 688 institutions and nearly 60,000 individuals in 76 countries have committed to some form of divestment from oil, gas and coal companies. UCS and the Unitarian Universalist Association (on whose Socially Responsible Investing Committee I serve) are among those institutions.

Divestment or screening of portfolios is one strategy that can be informed by the UCS scorecard, which differentiates among fossil fuel companies on the basis of their climate-related communications, positions, and actions. This analysis can also support those seeking to invest in clean energy solutions or exercise an active ownership role in the companies they hold. For an investor like Barnard, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the California Public Employees Retirement System, or the Church Commissioners for England, active ownership can include:

  • Voting proxies in accordance with environmental, social, and governance principles and commitments;
  • Engaging with corporate management on sustainability or human rights issues;
  • Filing shareholder proposals on matters such as company strategies to align their business models with a carbon-constrained world or ensure that their climate-related lobbying is consistent with their stated positions and goals.

UCS applauds Barnard for taking this innovative approach to aligning the college’s investments with its values. Our climate accountability campaign team is eager to provide research, analysis, and other types of support to Barnard College, additional educational institutions, and other asset owners and asset managers seeking to use their leverage as investors to accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy.

Putting Science Into Practice: Why We Need to Play Our Part

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I cross the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois almost daily. During the winter months, I’m thankful when the stoplight across the bridge turns yellow, then changes to red, giving me time to count the many eagles nesting and fishing along the slough by the lock and dam.

Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. Photo: USDA.

That any of these eagles are here today is testament to the research of Rachel Carson, an ecologist whose public science shaped the course of policy and inspired the birth of the environmental movement in the United States.

As scientists, we are well trained in the process of conducting scientific research, but most of us have fewer teachers when it comes to engaging in the process of applying that research to public action or policy. Carson’s work continues to teach us how science can be a transformative tool; one that can change our course from extinction, pollution, and harm to one of regeneration.

Recent debate over whether scientists should engage in political action stems from a debate that Carson knew a lot about: science as a public good.

To march or not to march: what is the question?

A March for Science is planned on April 22—Earth Day—in Washington DC and (to date) in 323 communities across the globe. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Robert Young sparked a lot of debate on scientific listservs and in academic hallways across the country about the role of scientists in the public realm.

From this debate emerges the expected chorus of those worried about losing their status asking “Is this the right time? Is this our role?”

AAAS Stand Up for Science Rally, 2/19/17. © Audrey Eyring/UCS

These questions are usually followed by the strange claim that our actions, inspired by scientific questions to which we’ve devoted our lives to studying—climate change, environmental racism, public health, and on—may (insert theme from Jaws here)….POLITICIZE SCIENCE!

Private and partisan interests have already politicized science. Our concern today should instead be how we reclaim science as public good. That is a political concern, but need not be a partisan one.

The politicization of science

In his op-ed, Young claimed that Al Gore is responsible for “politicizing” the science of climate change in the United States through his production of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. However,  sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap document that the politicization of climate change in the U.S. happened much earlier than 2006 and that it was not because of well-intentioned documentaries; rather, it was due to the strategic work of the George W. Bush administration on behalf of private interests.

This is not a new story. Silent Spring was published 55 years ago, yet the agricultural industry continues to try to tarnish Rachel Carson’s reputation. More recently, we see this continued bullying and silencing of scientists in Syngenta’s attempted defamation of Tyrone Hayes, the North Carolina Pork Council’s threats toward the late Steve Wing, or Rush Limbaugh and the religious right’s personal attacks on Kari Norgaard for her research studying climate change denial.

Our country has a long history of industry and special interest groups, and their political advocates, attacking scientists for “doing science” when it doesn’t support their profit making. It is important to differentiate though that these examples are not the fault of scientists “politicizing” science, but of industry and politicians politicizing and manipulating science. It is on us to take it back.

Reclaiming science as a public good

The eagles nesting along the Mississippi River are here because a scientist took a risk and engaged with the public.

I agree with Young when he argues that this engagement begins at the local levels. This engagement with the public—and political—realm can be frightening and comes with consequences, as confronting privilege often does, but we must do this hard work if we want a future for our disciplines, our loved ones, and our planet. We already have some of the tools we need: we are trained to manage and account for the uncertainty that comes with engaging the unknown. We now need to begin to employ the critical and creative parts of the scientific process as we experiment with new venues, new messaging, and varied approaches to sharing and advocating for science that is much needed by the public.

Sandra Steingraber often uses the metaphor of the symphony to describe the situation we now find ourselves in: we are each musicians being called to play our instruments as best we can in order to save the world. The imperative for those of us housed in institutions of higher education to play our part is especially important, as Bard College president Leon Botstein recently wrote, not only for science, but for democracy itself. We are citizens, too, and now, more than ever, scientists are needed to play our part.

March for public science. Advocate for more funding and institutional support for public science. Engage in public science partnerships with community groups and policy makers. If you’re so inspired, please run for office. Remain transparent because we do not have anything to hide. It is okay and good to love the work we do, and to share that we do it because we love our families, our homes, and our planet. We won’t all be successful, but we’ve been trained for that, too: revise, resubmit, revise again. Here’s to seeing you in the streets, at the city council meeting; to reading your letters to the editor; to hearing your voices at the legislative forums and at the rallies. Science is a public good—let’s put it into practice.


Angie Carter is an environmental sociologist and teaching fellow at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL.

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.



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