Combined UCS Blogs

Real Help for Coal Miners Requires Real Solutions

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Any day now, the president is expected to sign one or more executive orders aimed at rolling back environmental safeguards that improve our public health through protecting clean air and clean water. It will likely include the beginning of the new administration’s efforts to rescind the Clean Power Plan, the first ever limits on global warming emissions (or carbon emissions) from existing power plants. That’s in addition to signing a bill revoking the stream protection rule and an executive order reviewing the Waters of the United States rule.

Much of the rhetoric around these actions has been focused on supporting fossil fuels—and especially about bringing back lost coal jobs. But how realistic is this promise to the nation’s coal miners?

In a word, unrealistic

Simply put, it’s hard to imagine that rolling back those critical protections would do much to boost coal production, and it certainly won’t bring back lost coal mining jobs. Coal industry executives know this. The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, made exactly this point only two days after the election, backing away from years of saying that President Obama’s supposed “war on coal” was killing jobs.

A quick explanation of why folks in Coal Country are worried. Source: EIA, and Annual Coal Report 2015.

 

The truth is that the coal industry has withered away in a perfect storm in recent years. Market forces, primarily, have made natural gas and renewables generally the best option for our energy needs. The US electricity system has shifted from around 53% coal-fired (avg. 1980-2005) to 34% in 2015. This trend is largely the result of cheap and abundant natural gas (thanks to the shale gas revolution).

While coal production is expected to rise in short term, it won’t change the fundamental trend, particularly in Central Appalachia, where the highest quality and easiest-to-mine seams are mostly gone. One has to appreciate the irony that by doubling down on natural gas production (through pipeline development and relaxed environmental rules), the administration will help accelerate the demise of coal.

Sure, environmental safeguards have been one of the pressures facing the coal industry. But they haven’t been driving the fundamental shifts in our electricity system. Simply put, coal is increasingly uneconomic compared to cleaner sources of energy.

Another subtlety is the impact of the slowing Chinese economy, which has changed from 10 percent growth per year to around 7 percent last year. That shift represents a decline in industrial activity—and a commensurate decrease in demand for metallurgical (met) coal, which is used to make steel. Major US coal producers bet big on the met coal market at its peak around 2011; slumping Chinese demand erased their balance sheets in a matter of years, leading to a spate of high profile bankruptcies.

It’s also important to remember the long term trends at play. In the late 1940s and early 1950s coal mining employment in West Virginia stood at around 120,000. In 2015, the number was 15,540 (see Table 18 here). The bulk of that shift has nothing to do with environmental rules. Instead, it represents a dramatic shift toward mechanization of Appalachian mining operations (the advent of longwall mining) and a shift toward large, low-cost surface mining operations in the West.

And yet, outrageous claims continue to be made about the return of coal jobs. For example, opponents of the stream protection rule claim that repealing it has saved 77,000 coal jobs—a figure that simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true.

It’s not as if there was a “war on the horse and buggy” a hundred years ago. The truth is that something better came along—the automobile. We are in the midst of a similar transition today; the technology has advanced and the costs have fallen so much that we can now envision a future where we power a large share of our energy needs from non-polluting renewable sources like wind and solar.

Real solutions

What’s really needed now is to focus on providing support to coal communities in the midst of this ongoing transition away from coal.

Congress is considering real options to support coal miners and coal communities. One key priority is the critically-needed fix to the pension and retiree health care funds of United Mine Workers of America. Another example is the RECLAIM Act, introduced last session, which would release $1 billion of existing funds over 5 years to support the cleanup of abandoned mine lands across the country, prioritizing projects with the potential to spur local economic development. The bill garners support among a wide range of environmental groups and labor unions.

Congress and the president have an opportunity to do much more to support worker retraining and economic development in coal communities. These valuable programs are dispersed in multiple federal agencies, and we will be watching closely to see if the new budget proposed by the president will reflect the critical needs for these programs at agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration, and the Employment and Training Administration, to name only a few.

This isn’t just a US phenomenon. In early 2016, China announced plans to reduce overcapacity in the coal and steel sectors, laying off 1.3 million coal miners. Beijing planned to allocate over $15 billion over two years to support relocate affected workers.

Reality check

Look, I get it. I come from a third generation coal mining family in West Virginia. I understand that many folks back home not only make their living in the mines, but see their livelihoods as a source of great pride, as well they should. Families like mine have helped keep the lights on in this country for generations.

But it is dangerous to imply that removing science-based environmental protections will bring back jobs. It further divides us and emphasizes the false and tired narrative that we must choose between jobs and the environment.

Instead, we have to figure out how to ensure that everyone—including coal miners—can prosper in the transition to a clean energy economy.

Photo: Ryan/CC BY (Flickr)

President Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts: Hurting NOAA Hurts America

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Here’s a simple recipe for angering millions of Americans: take away something they heavily depend on. News reports this weekend indicate that the Trump administration is proposing to do just that by making deep cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) budget. Congress would be wise to get a handle on what these cuts mean and ensure they are dead on arrival.

Whether we Americans know it or not—and I’d wager that the president and some of his advisers are among those of us who don’t—we rely heavily on NOAA.

We rely on NOAA to help us maintain public safety and public health, provide weather forecasts, and enable national security. It supports shipping, commerce, farming, transportation, and a secure energy supply. We rely on it because we can only understand our world and emerging threats within it through the use of information and data.

NOAA is one of our nation’s premiere science agencies (with NASA, also under threat) and deeply interwoven into the nation’s economy. Overall, an estimated one-third of America’s GDP is affected by the services NOAA provides.

We can be forgiven for not realizing the way NOAA supports our information-driven world, but the administration should know better and should walk back these cuts.

A day without NOAA satellite data? Better stay home.

Did you check the weather report this morning before leaving the house? As my colleague reports in her recent blog on NOAA, “No matter your source of weather, all forecasts are underpinned by observations and models provided by NOAA through its National Weather Service (NWS) and National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS).”

As the agency puts it: “Weather forecasters across the country and around the world rely on data provided by the NOAA Satellite and Information Service. […] This 24/7, uninterrupted flow of essential environmental intelligence is the backbone of the National Weather Service’s sophisticated computer modeling to create forecasts and warnings for severe weather events, thereby saving lives and protecting local communities.”

Many of us don’t get out of bed in the morning without checking in with NOAA’s latest data in the form of our local weather forecasts.

Indeed, NOAA’s role in providing advance warning on storms and extreme weather and its increasingly accurate storm tracking capabilities can determine how federal and state officials muster resources in advance of landfall, how local officials and emergency managers manage evacuations and preparations, and how families and individuals respond to the threat.

It’s not an overstatement to say that without NOAA data, the data-guided, informed-up-to-the-minute lives we lead would be palpably affected. Depending on how these cuts were absorbed within NOAA’s satellite division, they could prevent accurate weather forecasting, undermine disaster management, undercut crop production, and obscure the rise of important threats, like droughts and wildfire conditions, algal blooms toxic to human health, or wave heights dangerous to shipping.

NOAA’s satellites provide military personnel with “forecasts and imagery for their aircraft, ships, ground forces and facilities worldwide.” And they are the reason that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local emergency planners can count on up-to-the-minute information on storms and other weather-related hazards, as those dangerous situations evolve.

The Washington Post reports that the administration’s Office of Management and Budget released an initial budget proposal (referred to as a “passback” document) calling for cuts to NOAA’s satellite data division, NESDIS, of $513 million, or 22 percent of its current funding. Such cuts would cripple NOAA’s ability to keep its satellites and data-gathering activities going.

It’s unclear who would benefit from such cuts—freeing up only a small sliver of the federal budget for other uses—but it’s clear who they would hurt. They would leave Americans less informed and less safe, businesses less certain, and they would throw mayors, state governors, and first responders under the bus, as their effectiveness in an emergency so often depends on NOAA’s good information.

The cuts are being pitched, according to the Post, as “tradeoffs” and as part of the administration’s efforts to “prioritize rebuilding the military” and would seek “savings and efficiencies to keep the Nation on a responsible fiscal path.”

But this is a poor trade-off, especially given NOAA’s comparatively small budget and the dependence of national security and the economy on NOAA’s services.  We can’t trade off some of the important ingredients for fiscal health, public safety, and national security and expect to somehow have them all anyway. Those aren’t trade-offs so much as diminished returns.

NOAA’s share of the federal budget: The main pie on the left is the total federal budget in fy16 (roughly $3.85 trillion). NOAA’s share, at $6.5 billion, is too small to be seen. But if we set aside Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (blue), and the military (red), and instead focus on the slice that represents everything else (green), we see that NOAA represents a tiny share of that piece, while providing outsized value. The budget for NESDIS, NOAA’s main satellite division, was $2.3 billion. (Sources: NOAA Corporate Services; Congressional Budget Office)

A future without NOAA satellite data? Let’s not.

NOAA data tell us where we’ve been and, if we use it well, where we’re going.

UCS has used its tide gauge data and sea level rise research, for example, to project tidal flooding and permanent inundation of US coastal land areas, including major military bases.

Today, NOAA’s coastal data are vital to the efforts of coastal communities to plan and prepare for coastal change, including rising seas. States like South Carolina recognize their current and future coastal risks, thanks in no small part to NOAA, and are using NOAA resources to plan and prepare for the future.

Without a clear indication of the coming threat of sea level rise, increased storm surge, and permanent inundation—an indication that depends on updated NOAA data and, often, research—coastal communities will fail to foresee and invest in the necessary measures and will find themselves stuck amidst rising waters.

Defund NOAA’s monitoring capabilities? Hobble coastal communities planning abilities? Compound emergency management challenges? No, thanks. We built those capabilities out of a clear need and, with sea level rise, leaders in red and blue states alike know that kind of need is only growing, and rapidly.

There has been much said about the Trump administration’s seeming preference for the America of the Eisenhower years. Deep cuts to NOAA, including its satellites and data gathering, would indeed be a big backward step in that direction. But the world has moved on and Americans don’t want to go back to living with poorer information and a less accurate sense of what’s coming.

We want, we need, we demand the things that good satellite data enables in our lives, and the secure future it can help us build. This country as we know it can’t be great—arguably, it can’t even keep the lights on—without it.

These very things make America great

From its earliest inception as the “Survey of the Coasts” under President Thomas Jefferson, NOAA has been responsible for gathering and distributing data of national importance. Over time, the demands we have placed on NOAA for generating and storing data have grown, as our society and economy have grown in size and complexity.

Today NOAA generates “over 20 terabytes of data daily from satellites, buoys, radars, models, and many other sources” through our NESDIS program.

Much of this data is housed in our National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), which “hosts and provides public access to one of the most significant archives for environmental data on Earth. […] we provide over 25 petabytes of comprehensive atmospheric, coastal, oceanic, and geophysical data.” And it’s not just recent data that NOAA offers: NOAA’s records “include observations dating back to the earliest days of the United States and data about environmental conditions thousands of years ago.”

A national treasure, I would argue. One valued by scientists worldwide. But also an asset vital to our economy, public health and safety, and national security—and a clear value, in light of its relatively small budget.

One of the things NOAA does with this data is prized in red and blue coastal states alike: NOAA Sea Grant projects. The cuts in the OMB document would eliminate Seagrant, a much-loved program, consistently making a difference in people’s lives. As Andy Rosenberg, director of UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy put it “eliminating Sea Grant, an enormously successful program led by 33 states to provide science to address local issues, would seriously hinder capacity in states like Alaska, Maine, South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama to understand and protect their coastal areas.” This successful program with the tiny budget is the kind of thing we celebrate and, were possible, replicate. Not eliminate.

Who thought this was a good idea? If they are attuned to their state’s coastal communities, those in Congress will not.

NOAA’s mission: To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others; and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Keep up the good work, folks! (Credit: Bobby Magill)

Let’s also remember that what greatness we have comes in no small part from the boundaries we push and the new heights we reach in science, technology, and engineering.

NOAA’s newly-launched GOES-16 satellite is one such height. GOES shows its worth in new storm footage (see video) that can distinguish far better between cloud layers, and between clouds that hold rain versus ice—a development that can greatly increase our storm forecasting abilities. For Northeast states like Maine, shown in this video, that are frequently hammered by Nor’easters, developments like this are important and to be celebrated, not defunded, just as we’ve arrived at this new capability.

Watch this amazing GOES-16 imagery of the winter storm in the Northeast today!! See more imagery and learn more at https://t.co/uqOfZ3hp2c pic.twitter.com/4sA0cH25I5

— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) February 13, 2017

GOES-16 also reminds us that a nation of such wealth and talent needs to be and stay at the world’s leading scientific edge. New GOES-16 images of the sun’s flares not only inform things like electric grid management, they astonish and inspire. Way to be great, NOAA.

NOAA’s newest satellite, GOES-16, launched in late 2016, is sending us valuable data about and stunning images of our sun. (Credit: NOAA)

Defending our science from an anti-science administration

This administration has a flagrantly anti-science agenda. It seems intent on undermining climate science in particular—one of the most important pursuits of our time—and dismantling the architecture that enables climate data gathering and research. Indeed, the proposed budget also deeply cuts the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, home to NOAA’s research efforts, including NOAA’s Climate Program Office. UCS says not on our watch. Congressional allies must do the same.

The Trump administration should do its homework, get a handle on the science that is currently great and essential for our nation’s security, economy, and public safety, and keep hands off those things—in this case, the satellites that our nation operates and the vital data it gathers under NOAA. And Congress should make sure those data and tools and science writ large are kept safe from misguided budget cuts.

Please call your Congressperson and tell them to oppose cuts to NOAA’s budget.

 

North Korea Launches Four Missiles “Simultaneously”

UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear (text only) -

Yesterday  North Korea launched four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.

The missiles reportedly traveled an average of 1,000 km (620 miles), and landed within 300 to 350 km (185 to 220 miles) of Japan. The four launches were said to be “simultaneous,” leading to speculation they were intended to be a barrage attack to overwhelm a missile defense system.

Fig. 1. Approximate direction of launches (Source: Google Earth)

The missiles were launched from Tongchang-ri, in northwest North Korea, where the Sohae Satellite Launch Station is located. Missiles of this range would not need the facilities at Sohae, so it’s not known if there was a particular reason they were launched from this facility.

A South Korean briefing gave the apogee of the missile as 260 km (160 miles). That implies the missiles reached essentially their maximum range (unlike some recent North Korean tests that were tested on highly lofted trajectories, so that their maximum range would be longer than the range seen in the test).

That rules out anything like an ICBM.

Scud-ERs?

North Korea has three missiles that have ranges similar to this: Extended-Range Scud (“Scud-ER”), Nodong, and Pukguksong-2. The latter, which is solid-fueled, has been flight tested only twice (once from sea and once from land), and is probably not what the North launched since it has little information about its reliability and would be unlikely to try launching four simultaneously.

Instead, this set of tests instead looks very similar to a multiple-missile test North Korea conducted last September 5. In that case it launched three missiles in rapid succession from mobile launchers sitting on a road south of Pyongyang. These missiles flew about 1,000 km and landed off the coast of Japan.

A careful analysis of those launches indicate they were Extended-Range Scud (“Scud ER”) missiles, which are modifications of short-range Scud missiles, lengthened to carry additional fuel and lightened by making the body out of aluminum rather than the usual steel. This analysis suggests the missile could carry a warhead of roughly 500 kg to 1,000 km.

A video of those launches show that the first and second launches were less than a minute apart, and the second and third launches were separated by just seconds.

This analysis notes that these modifications lead to “the maximum performance that a single Scud-B engine can achieve in a missile.” They believe this is not a new missile, but may date back to 2000 or earlier.

More information may make clear whether the test was of Scud-ERs, Nodongs, or something unexpected.

What We Need Are Farms That Support Farmers, Consumers AND the Environment

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Note: This post was co-authored with Marcia DeLonge and originally published in Ensia.

The past several years have been rough for many U.S. farmers and ranchers. Net farm incomes this year could fall to 50 percent of 2013 levels in a fourth consecutive year of income declines that is leading some producers to seek alternatives. At the same time, rural and urban Americans share growing concerns related to agriculture: worries that water pollution will be increasingly costly and harmful, that water supplies are at risk from extreme swings in rainfall, and that global warming due to fossil fuel burning threatens our food system and will necessitate changes in how we farm.

What if all of these challenges could find a common solution? It might just be that they can. In a commentary published this week in the scientific journal Elementa, we contend that agroecology offers a promising approach to solving food system problems while mitigating, water and energy concerns — and propose a way to overcome the obstacles to fully embracing it.

U.S. agriculture has trended for several decades — as a result of policy, economics and other drivers — toward systems that are more simplified over both space and time. This has had adverse consequences for food, energy and water.

Agroecology takes a different approach, applying ecological concepts to create and maintain diverse, resilient food systems. Promising research demonstrates that bringing diversity back to farms can begin to reverse the problems simplification has created. For example, scientists have found that strategically incorporating perennial plants (including food, energy or non-crop plants) into small areas of commodity crops can significantly reduce water pollution and soil loss. Studies also show that using multiple crops rather than a monoculture is associated with improvements in the amount of carbon (important to help soils hold onto more water and mitigate climate change) and nitrogen (critical for plant growth and soil function) in the soil.

If better farming systems exist, why don’t more producers use them, and why aren’t they more encouraged? Among the reasons:

  • Government policies and economics influence many producer decisions that contribute to landscape simplification. For example, biofuel incentives greatly expanded markets for ethanol, leading farmers to replace grasslands with endless acres of monoculture corn rather than leaving them native or planting more diverse crops.
  • Research has also found that the need to focus on immediate cash flow rather than long-term benefits just to stay afloat can make it difficult to adopt more resilient systems
  • Agroecology research is woefully underfunded. This means that up-to-date examples of innovative practices suited to specific regions are not sufficiently available for many farmers.
  • Change is hard and it can take support for producers to get started. It is critical to find peers and peer networks to learn from — and these are rare.
  • Benefits are narrowly defined. When farmers, policy-makers, and scientists focus primarily on simple measures of progress like crop yields, we lose track of the many other benefits of agroecology — including those related to water and energy.

In spite of these and other obstacles, innovators have begun to demonstrate that diversified land management can be good business, from a cover crop seed company in rural Nebraska, to a food hub supporting local diversified food production in western Iowa, to a consulting group helping farmers optimize land management and costs with a “precision conservation” approach. The dire need for economic opportunity in rural America was a major discussion point in the 2016 election, and these examples suggest how a more diverse and sustainable agriculture can help meet that need.

A shift in perspective that recognizes relationships among food, water, and energy systems and new metrics that value co-benefits to water and energy could go a long way toward further advancing agroecology. In fact, recently published research refutes the idea that we must solely focus on doubling crop production to meet future demand. These researchers believe the actual future yield increases needed are smaller and that we must explicitly define environmental goals to match the production demands that always seem to dominate the narrative around food.

Fortunately, we know that solutions do exist, and with agroecological approaches we can solve these multiple challenges at the same time. View Ensia homepage

President Trump’s Opening Salvos on Clean Water—and Other Public Health Safeguards

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Earlier this week, we heard two things from President Trump about clean water. In his address to the joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, he talked about protecting and ensuring clean water. That’s an important goal and one broadly shared by the American public.

But a day earlier, he signed an Executive Order (EO) to get rid of a rule that would actually help keep water clean. And two weeks before that, he signed off on a congressional action that rolled back a rule limiting the coal mining industry from dumping mining waste in streams and waterways. There’s some serious cognitive dissonance going on here.

Like clean water?

Rhetorical question. Everyone recognizes the essential role that clean water plays in protecting and promoting human health, along with the health of the ecosystems that sustain our wildlife and nourish our spirit when we swim, fish, stroll, or just plain gaze and take it all in. President Trump’s remarks before Congress and the viewing public suggest agreement—at least in principle.

Yet, days before making these remarks, he issued an Executive Order (EO) directing Scott Pruitt’s EPA to start of the process of rescinding regulation aimed at preventing water pollution in small streams, headwaters, and wetlands. In his words, “With today’s executive order, I’m directing the EPA to take action, paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

We’re not talking puddles here, though that’s a clever ruse for the regulation’s detractors. These bodies of water feed into larger ones downstream, so keeping them clean and pollution-free is just common sense. And the peer-reviewed science supports what seems intuitively obvious.

Politics trumping science and public health?

The so-called Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule was not just some new and arbitrary regulation. It was a carefully considered clarification of the types of water subject to EPA protection under the Clean Water Act, prompted by a Supreme Court decision and some very solid science. Now water under the bridge, so to speak, because the Administration seems bent on dismantling and undermining the very public health and environmental protections Congress required when it enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972.

This latest assault on science-based regulation should give us great pause. It’s another worrisome signal that politics and industry influence could trump the public interest when it comes to public health and environmental safeguards. It follows an EO at the end of January that directed federal agencies to identify for elimination two regulations for every new one they might propose.

These efforts don’t get rid of ‘unnecessary’ protections. They can actually make us less safe, less healthy, and are based on a false premise—that we must choose between our health and safety and economic growth. Not so. We can and have had growth while strengthening protections for clean water. After all, the Clean Water Act has been around since 1972 and while our economy has grown enormously, our water has gotten cleaner. Just look at Boston Harbor or the Charles River here in Cambridge, or thousands of other places around the country. The Clean Water Act says it is the goal of the US for our waters to be fishable and swimmable. Does that sound extreme? What does sound extreme is that 2 for 1 directive that agencies eliminate two for any one new regulation needed to protect our health, safety, or environment.

Stand up for science

The US public wants and relies on the safeguards and protections that our agencies—at all levels of government—provide.  And they want these protections to be informed by the best available scientific evidence. It’s no quick and easy feat to develop (and may I add rescind) a rule or regulation; it’s a painstaking process based on science and significant public input. Public health and safety should be a top priority, not politics or the pockets of the most powerful interests. Science-based policy is in the public interest, and we need everyone—scientists and non-scientists alike—to stand up for science. We  have developed a toolkit to help. Join us and others in this effort.

 

Photo: Marine Jaouen/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Flickr Graphic: EPA

President Trump’s Visit to Newport News, VA and His Speech Aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford: The Climate Connection

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Yesterday President Trump visited Newport News Shipbuilding and delivered a speech aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford underscoring that he will be strong on defense and will increase defense spending by $54 billion. While the story in the headlines center on proposed increases in defense spending, the story that you didn’t hear about yesterday is that major military assets, including in the Hampton Roads area, are at increasing risk from sea level rise due to climate change. And President Trump has thus far refused to acknowledge that threat to military readiness.

While there may be much political fodder on whether President Trump’s defense spending is too much or too little, for a sober analysis see Joe Bouchard, Retired Captain and former Commander of Naval Station Norfolk (13 News Now at minute 3.12).  However, the cost of President Trump’s promise to increase the defense budget will be on the shoulders of the nondefense federal agencies whose budgets will be cut to meet President Trump’s plan to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.  And climate change research across those agencies is likely to suffer a substantial blow in the process.

Connecting the Dots: the climate change connection

What, you may ask, is the climate change connection? Simply put, Newport News, VA is a hotspot of sea level rise and the Navy has been a leader on climate change adaptation for almost 30 years.

US Naval Station Norfolk

With the budget issues aside, the real cost to the American people, especially those in the Hampton Roads area, is this Administration’s pending attack on federal climate change action and the “sidelining or suppressing of climate science”, which as Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists stated, “is an abuse of power.”

So, the President, who called climate change a hoax, yesterday was at one of the hotspots of an accelerating pace of sea level rise due to climate change.  Newport News and its neighbors in the Hampton Roads area know first-hand that climate change is not a hoax.  In fact the citizens in the Hampton Roads area feel the impacts of flooding due to sea level rise and the impacts of storms quite frequently, and are planning for it.

For the Hampton Roads area, sea level rise is a “backyard issue like no other”

As the Old Dominion University states, sea level rise is a “backyard issue like no other”, making the Hampton Roads area a “proving ground for action”. In our US Military on the Frontlines of Rising Seas report we looked at the impacts of sea level rise, frequent flooding and storm surge on 18 military installations, including Naval Station Norfolk, where the USS Gerald Ford will be based, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex, all of which are located in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.

Established in 1917, Naval Station Norfolk supports a population of 6,700 people and includes 75 ships, 134 aircraft, 13 piers and 11 hangers. It lies within a region where natural subsidence, low-lying topography (less than 10 feet above sea level), and changing ocean circulation patterns contribute to above-average rates of sea level rise.

We found that at the end of this century much of the installation will be under water at high tide due to an increase of between 4.5 and nearly 7 feet of sea level rise. We found similar results for NS Norfolk’s neighbors. Under the highest climate scenario, by the end of this century roughly 60 percent of Fort Eustis and nearly 90 percent of Langley Air Force Base (AFB) will flood daily essentially becoming part of the tidal zone. At Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex, our data show that by the end of the century under the worst case scenario the installation will see 6.9 feet of sea level rise which essentially will place 75 percent of the installation underwater.

The concern is not limited to the Hampton Roads area:  DoD’s Environmental Programs conducted a more comprehensive sea level rise study that provides a database and a scenario planning tool for the 1,774 military installations worldwide to plan for a particular future timeframe (2035, 2065, and 2100).

Is Hampton Roads a Proving Ground for Action?

That is a softball question: yes, it is. Here’s what some of the military sites are doing:

  • Naval Station Norfolk is working to make their installation more resilient by raising some of it piers, restoring two of its 100-year-old piers, rebuilding one new pier, and participating in a regional Pilot Project to coordinate resilience to sea level rise led by the Old Dominion University (ODU).
  • Joint Base Langley-Eustis raised electrical transformers and HVAC units and removed mechanical rooms from basements in most of its facilities; installed integrated flood barriers at entrances to numerous flood-susceptible facilities; utilizes a powerful pump system to remove water from the installation grounds and reduce infiltration and otherdamage to facilities; and utilizes a NASA Langley Research Center flood tool to accurately predict (at individual building level) inundation based on storm surge data, in order to tailor flood prevention efforts on at-risk facilities.
  • Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex is managing its flood risks by investing in beach nourishment and maintenance of a one-mile long rock-core dune.

On a broader scale, ODU recently released their second report on the “Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise Preparedness and Resilience Intergovernmental Pilot Project”, an effort that seeks to bring a “whole of community and whole of government” approach to sea level rise resilience and preparedness planning.

Will the security and readiness issues of a changing climate hit home for President Trump?

While Trump’s fly-in visit to Newport News and the Navy and the fact that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is impacted by sea level rise ought to raise his awareness to the impacts of climate change, it’s unclear whether they will. Since the election, what we know to be true is that President Trump’s positions haven’t visibly changed.

President Trump had a chance to nominate a leader to the helm of the Navy, and as I report in my blog, he instead nominated another businessman and billionaire, Mr. Philip Bilden, who had to withdraw his name a month later due to challenges in separating his business interests.

Estimates show that the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, FL could be underwater in just 30 years. Our own data show that Miami (just 70 miles south of Palm Beach) in just 30 years’ time would face roughly 380 high-tide flood events per year, becoming a daily occurrence and affecting new low-lying locations, including many low-income communities with limited resources for preparedness measures.

This juxtaposition of rich and poor communities underscores an issue that we will be grappling with for years to come. While the very wealthy, like President Trump and his cabinet picks can pay to fortify their private homes against the impacts of climate change or take the loss of devalued real estate, the low-income communities cannot.  This socioeconomic gap will plague communities and the nation alike until the nation as a whole gets a handle on how to prepare all communities, rich and poor, for the impacts that are being felt now and will accelerate and increase with time.

It’s our national security at stake

Beyond the local level impacts, climate change also presents national security concerns and raises “unique separation of powers issues between the president and Congress with regard to how the military can respond.”  It is still unclear to what degree the Administration and Congress may or may not gridlock climate change action.

The good news is the Pentagon understands the importance of planning for a “wide spectrum of threats” including the risks and impacts that they will face under a changing climate. In fact, the military sees climate change as one of the many challenges they face and must prepare for and has a good track record over the years on linking climate impacts and security.

DoD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap provides actions and plans to increase its resilience to the impacts of climate change. DoD sharpened its efforts last year with Directive 4715.21 Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience which assigns responsibilities to each of the branches.

The big question is, will congressional attempts to defund that work continue and will President Trump defend it?

Photo: Ian Swoveland

A Dozen Doozies: Setting the Record Straight on Richard Lindzen’s Letter to President Trump

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The climate deniers are at it again. If I had to guess, I’d say they wanted the climate deniers in congress and fossil fuel funded think tanks to have a letter to wave around every time someone mentions the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is underway. And perhaps they wanted something whenever reference is made to a letter by 376 Nobel laureates and members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences asking President Trump to commit to the Paris Climate Agreement and calling it a, “…historic and vital first step towards more enlightened stewardship of Earth’s climate system.”

This latest denier effort is a letter from Richard Lindzen along with a petition signed by 300 plus people. John Abraham, a climate and energy researcher at University of St. Thomas (MN), has already reviewed the petition signers and found many to have limited to irrelevant credentials related to the causes and consequences of a disrupted climate.

But what about the letter? Here are a dozen factual clarifications to help readers better understand the assertions in the Lindzen letter included below:

  1. Who is Richard Lindzen? He is a scientist at MIT who is well outside the mainstream consensus on both climate science and tobacco’s harm to human health.
  2. Where do American’s stand on international (and national) climate action?  64% say the U.S. should “do more” or “do much more” to address climate change, only 13% say the U.S. should do less.
  3. Is the Paris Climate agreement sensible? More than 190 countries have signed onto it. That includes all major economic powers. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the Paris Agreement “is nothing less than a historic milestone for the global energy sector. It will speed up the transformation of the energy sector by accelerating investments in cleaner technologies and energy efficiency.”
  4. How important is carbon dioxide in climate change? There is a strong scientific consensus that CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human activities is the leading driver of climate change.
  5. What’s more costly, emission reductions or climate change? A study commissioned by 20 governments by more than 50 scientists, economists, and other experts found that climate change already costs the global economy more than $1.2 trillion a year from climate induced drought, heat waves, wildfires, extreme weather, and more.
  6. What is the impact of policies that clean up our emissions and promote clean energy? The clean energy economy is a job growth engine. Solar industry jobs are adding at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy. Solar employs more people—210,000 in 2016—in the US than natural gas, coal, wind, and nuclear.
  7. What are the benefits of the Clean Air Act (the mechanism used to regulate carbon pollution)? We get $30 back for every $1 spent—an astonishing return on investment. From 1990-2020, the Clean Air Act is expected to prevent more than 230,000 early deaths.
  8. Is carbon dioxide a pollutant? In 2006, a Supreme Court decision gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the US Clean Air Act, which includes provision to list pollutants that endanger public health and welfare.  Based on a preponderance of evidence, in 2009 the EPA issued the Endangerment Finding to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
  9. What does excessive carbon pollution mean for farming?  Rising temperatures from atmospheric CO2 have outstripped benefits to cause net reduction in yield with some major food crops in many parts of the world. Increasing temperatures in US growing regions would drop yields for two major food crops—at least a third under a lower emissions scenario and in the worst case 80 percent under a highest emissions scenario. Farmers face greater costs fighting pests that can thrive under warmer temperatures on their land than historically was typical. Not to mention the shifting timing and severity of weather, often providing too much water when not needed or too little water when needed most and wreaking havoc on seasonal farming activities.
  10. How will the world’s poor fare under climate change? It is true that many in developing nations need access to electricity, and the good news is clean renewable energy is now the lowest cost option for these countries. That is doubly important, as it is essential that bringing energy to the world’s poorest people be done in a way that doesn’t exacerbate climate harm. Poor people are often hurt first and worst by climate change. In fact, it is estimated that 250 million of the world’s people, mostly low-income people, will be displaced by climate change by 2050.
  11. Why is climate politicized? See 30-plus years of deception by fossil fuel companies. Thousands of scientists with expertise in climate are ready to represent the weight of the evidence presented on city, state, national, and international levels.
  12. What types of energy do Americans want? Expanded solar power (89%), expanded wind power (83%), while majorities oppose expanding oil, coal and natural gas.

 

Full letter from Richard Lindzen to President Trump, annotated by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Download a high-resolution version of this letter.

 

 

Beryllium Exposure: Trump Administration Delays Protecting Workers from a Devastating Risk

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Yesterday, President Trump’s Labor Department announced it would delay the effective date of a new standard to protect workers exposed to beryllium on the job, from March 21 to May 20. Part of the president’s regulatory freeze, the delay purports to give the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) an opportunity for further review.

A regulatory freeze in and of itself is not so unusual. Other presidents have done it. But this particular delay almost makes me cry.  

Beryllium exposure:  REALLY BAD

Beryllium is a useful and versatile metal. It’s widely used in a host of industries and products—from aerospace, defense, and telecommunications to the automotive, electronic, construction, shipyard, and medical specialty industries.

It’s also a very dangerous material; the health effects of beryllium exposure have been known since the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s a carcinogen and the cause of chronic beryllium disease—a devastating illness that quite literally saps the breath of those who suffer from it. And, unlike having medication and a rescue inhaler for asthma control, there’s no real rescue from this slow, incurable, and often fatal lung disease. OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 7,300 establishments in the United States.

Regulating workplace exposure to beryllium

The first occupational exposure limit (OEL) for beryllium was established in 1949 by the Atomic Energy Commission; it was known as the “taxicab standard” in some circles as it was ostensibly crafted by a government health official and industry medical consultant in the back of a cab. The standard was set at 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air (2 µg/m3) as an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

In 1975, based on scientific studies of beryllium’s carcinogenicity, OSHA proposed cutting the permissible exposure level in half—to 1 µg/m3.  And in 1977, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)—the nation’s workplace health and safety research agency—recommended cutting the OEL even further to 0.5 µg/m3.

But, as often happens in the regulatory process, the regulated industry objected and the inadequately protective standard stayed in place for another four decades—exposing workers for 40-plus years to beryllium levels that were clearly dangerous!

In 1999 and again in 2001, OSHA was petitioned by labor unions and others to issue a more stringent emergency temporary standard for worker exposure to beryllium, in recognition of the scientific and medical evidence of harm. With many intervening steps and processes (e.g., a formal Request for Information, a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel, risk assessments, and scientific reviews), OSHA  proposed and then promulgated a new standard of  0.2 µg/m3 in January of 2017.    

In other words, after decades of work and a thorough and painstaking process, including careful analysis of technological and economic feasibility, workers exposed to beryllium finally have the science-based protection they need. The final rule estimates an annualized benefit of approximately $487 million. The benefit to the workers whose cancer or chronic lung disease is prevented is immeasurable.

And the standard also includes critical provisions for exposure assessment, methods for controlling exposure, personal protective equipment, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and record-keeping. (You can read an influential expose of worker beryllium exposure here.) The final rule itself provides an extensive and detailed history, background, analyses, and findings underpinning the new standard.

So, what’s the worry?

Simply that this worker protection standard is already decades overdue, and any delay—even a small one—puts more workers at risk.

I worry that worker health and safety may come in second and be trumped by clamors of over-regulation and federal agencies run amok.

I worry that even the most rigorous, science-based, and drawn out process for protecting our nation’s workers will somehow be found wanting.

And I’m fearful that this delay is a bad omen—for the fate of other public health and safety protections.

On January 30, 2017—with barely two weeks in office—President Trump issued an executive order  that federal agencies must identify for elimination two regulations for every new one they might propose.  That’s a pretty sobering and worrisome directive.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope this two-month delay is simply the by-product of what happens when a new president and administration take over. And I hope the Trump administration’s OSHA recognizes both the need and the completed process—and ensures that the new standard truly goes into effect on May 20.

The Consequences of Connecticut’s Tesla Ban

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At Tesla’s facility in Greenwich, Connecticut, you can take a look at Tesla cars. You can talk to representatives about electric vehicle technology, and learn how to install charging equipment. You can buy swag featuring the Tesla logo.

But you cannot buy a car. You cannot test drive a car. You cannot talk to a Tesla representative about pricing or financing. You cannot have your car serviced.

This is not a Tesla store.

Tesla’s Greenwich facility, you see, is an “educational gallery,” and not a store. It has to be an educational gallery, because Tesla is legally prohibited from operating a Tesla store in Connecticut. This is due to Connecticut’s dealer franchise laws that require all cars to be sold by independently licensed dealers rather than manufacturers.

If you are a Connecticut resident and you want to buy a Tesla, the first step is to go online. Through Tesla’s web site you can order a car and put down a deposit. The car is then delivered to the nearest store; for most Connecticut consumers, that means a store in White Plains or Westchester County, New York. Customers must then travel to New York where a sales representative can complete the sale.

As this is officially a New York transaction, sales of Teslas to Connecticut residents thus create New York jobs, require payment of New York sales tax, and contribute to the New York economy.

Connecticut’s dealer franchise laws are a major impediment, not only to Tesla, but to other companies that are looking to sell electric vehicles independent of the traditional dealership model, including Elio and BYD. In this post, I want to look at the arguments raised for and against these dealer franchise laws. In particular:

  • What is the justification for laws banning Tesla stores?
  • Do dealer franchise laws benefit consumers?

Spoiler alert: the arguments raised in support of banning direct manufacturer sales are poor.

What is the justification for laws banning Tesla stores?

As I discussed in my last blog post, the ban on Tesla sales is an unintended consequence of laws originally designed to protect auto dealers from unfair competition with automobile manufacturers.

Perhaps recognizing that the protection of car dealerships is not the strongest foundation to build broad public support for your policy, in recent years auto dealers have reinterpreted dealer franchise laws—laws that were explicitly passed to protect dealers—as intended to protect consumers.

The National Automobile Dealers Association for example, defends dealer franchise laws by citing a long list of ways in which consumers benefit from the dealer franchise system. Independent auto dealers create more cutthroat price competition than you’d have in a system dominated by manufacturers. Independent auto dealers are more likely to stick around and be able to service vehicle models even if the manufacturer closes down.

This reading of the law makes little sense.

By its very nature, the prohibition on direct manufacturer sales is a restriction on consumer choice—dealer franchise laws take away the option of a consumer purchasing directly from a manufacturer. If consumers prefer to buy cars from independent dealers, then there is no need for a law to force consumers to do so. The question is whether consumers should be allowed to do anything else. Indeed, all around the world independent dealerships continue to thrive in jurisdictions without laws banning direct sales by manufacturers.

Another problem with NADA’s argument: most independent economists believe that dealer franchise laws impose costs on consumers to the benefit of dealers.

Do dealer franchise laws benefit consumers?

Dealer franchise laws belong to a category of occupational licensing regulations that have been the subject of withering criticism over the past few decades by social scientists, including economists and public choice theorists, such as the recently departed Kenneth Arrow. At their best, occupational licenses act as a way of ensuring that businesses meet reasonable quality and safety standards. At their worst, occupational licensing can by captured by special interest groups and turned into an artificial barrier to entry for new businesses, stifling innovation and rewarding entrenched interests.

A recent open letter from 70 major economists to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on this issue stated the mainstream economic position bluntly:

There is no justification on any rational economic or public policy grounds for such a restraint of commerce. Rather, the upshot of the regulation is to reduce competition in New Jersey’s automobile market for the benefit of auto dealers and to the detriment of its consumers. It is protectionism for auto dealers, pure and simple. . . . In sum, we have not heard a single argument for a direct distribution ban that makes any sense. To the contrary, these arguments simply bolster our belief that the regulations in question are motivated by economic protectionism that favors dealers at the expense of consumers and innovative technologies.

Independent studies that have looked at the economic impacts of dealer franchise laws generally show that by restricting new distribution methods, these laws impose costs on consumers; one study shows that they increase average vehicle costs by 8.6 percent, or $2,225 per vehicle. For all these reasons, the Federal Trade Commission, along with most independent consumer organizations, including Consumer Federation of America and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety support allowing direct sales from manufacturers.

Connecticut should lift the ban on direct manufacturer sales for EVs

Unless you are an independent auto dealer yourself, there is simply no good reason for Connecticut to continue to prohibit Tesla from operating in the state.

The dealer franchise laws that ban direct manufacturer sales are antiquated laws designed to deal with economic circumstances that are not relevant to Tesla. The primary economic impact of these laws is to enrich dealers at the expense of consumers. The Tesla ban acts as an unnecessary impediment to achieving the state’s goals for vehicle electrification and pollution. And the most immediate practical impact of dealer franchise laws is to frustrate and irritate Connecticut residents, while depriving the state of economic activity and tax revenue.

This law should be changed.

China’s Changing Foreign Policy

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The global security community is worried about President Trump. The report of the 54th annual Munich Security Conference suggests his election may lead to a “post truth post west, post order” world. Vice President Pence and other US government representatives failed to convince the conference otherwise.

That same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping, commenting on the meeting in Munich, confirmed his controversial defense of globalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos was not just an opportune swipe at the nationalist atavism of the new US administration.

It may mark the beginning of a new era in Chinese foreign policy.

Deng-Era Approach to Chinese Foreign Policy Outdated

Chinese Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping speaks about the “third world” in his address to the United Nations in 1974.

During a February 17 meeting of China’s National Security Committee,  Xi, paraphrasing the Confucian classics, said, “The sage remains modest about his or her abilities, but exercises them when the time comes.” (君子藏器于身,待时而动) “At this moment,” Xi argued, China must “move past the policy of ‘keeping a low profile and nurturing ourselves’ (韬光养晦) to become more involved in international affairs, not only as a participant and contributor, but also as a benefactor and leader of the international system.”

Deng Xiaoping, who initiated and led the economic reforms that jumpstarted China’s economy in the 1980s, used the term “keeping a low profile and nurturing ourselves” to describe his approach to Chinese foreign policy. Although some US observers came to see the policy as coy, or sinister, many Chinese understood Deng’s description as a shift away from the anti-capitalist revolutionary activism of Mao Zedong toward a temporary accommodation with international capitalism in the interest of domestic economic development. President Jiang Zemin (1989-2002) and President Hu Jintao (2002-2012) conducted Chinese foreign affairs in the same general spirit with the same basic objective. International capital and technical expertise poured into China and its GDP grew from US$ 178 billion in 1979 to US$ 11 trillion in 2015.

Xi prefaced his argument for changing China’s approach to the world by noting, “After 38 years of rapid development, our country is now first in the world in manufacturing, first in trade, the second largest economy, and third in the use of foreign capital and in foreign investment. Our overall national capability has increased considerably. What was said about it in the past can no longer be said in the present day.”

The World is Changing

Deng worried how China might behave at this moment. He expressed concern that once China modernized it might forget about socialism and its allegiance to the “third world”, which, to him, was the large bloc of developing nations not aligned with either the Soviet Union or the United States. The pioneer of China’s opening to international trade loathed the idea that economic development might transform China into another major power that exploited and oppressed smaller and weaker nations. If it did, according to Deng, China would no longer be socialist.

Xi seems determined not only to preserve China’s socialist ideals but to put them into practice internationally. The world may be changing, as the Munich report suggests, but Xi is optimistic that a new and better international order is on the horizon.

“Today’s world is a changing world. It is a world of endless new opportunities and challenges, a world where the international system and international order are undergoing deep revision, and where comparative international strengths are undergoing profound change. Moreover, it is a world advancing towards change that is beneficial to peace and development.”

The Soviet Union has already collapsed. Now the second pole of the old Cold War order is wobbling. The authors of the Munich report fear US abdication of its role as “a provider of public goods and international security” impends a descent into nationalism, chaos and war. Xi, on the other hand, seems to be imagining that the time may have come for the leaders of the developing nations to reshape the international order.

A Global Anti-corruption Campaign?

Curiously, Xi reached back to a 2014 speech on Chinese domestic legal reform for a phrase to describe the principles that should guide the emerging new international system. Xi said, “The keys to governing a country are fairness and integrity.” (理国要道,在于公平正直). In 2014 Xi used this semi-classical Chinese idiom to explain his anti-corruption drive, which aimed to save Chinese socialism from the negative influences of opening China’s economy to international capitalism.  Xi used the exact same phrase in his February speech to China’s National Security Council. His speech echoes the critique of the global economy Xi articulated in his address to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Fairness and justice are the objectives of global governance, as well as the common pursuit of all humanity. As humanity becomes more developed and the world becomes more civilized, the expectations of the people for fairness and justice become higher.”

The US economic crisis of 2008 was a turning point for China: a moment when its leaders realized they could no longer depend on the United States for responsible global economic governance. Xi appears to have concluded that the corruption plaguing China could not be remedied with reforms that imitate or adapt the practices of the United States. As the Chinese leader approaches his second five-year term in office, he also seems to have concluded that the flaws in US-led global economic system—what critics in the US disparagingly refer to as “neoliberalism“—are inherent in the way the United States has shaped the international order.

In this sense Xi may be embracing the populism, and anti-corporatism, of both the left and the right in the United States and in Europe. But instead of seeking a retreat to pre-globalization era nationalism, Xi embraces the essence of globalization: the practical reality that the individual national fates of the various peoples of the world are inherently interconnected. As Xi told China’s National Security Council,

Each nation coexists in the same world, humanity lives in the same village Earth, the same space and time where history and reality flow together, a community where you are part of my fate and I am part of yours. This is the inevitable trend of global development and an inexorable law of human development. The world needs a new order where cooperation leads to collective success and shared development; the construction of a community where humanity’s fate is shared.” 

The Road Ahead

Xi, unlike President Trump, does not want to tear apart or abandon the international institutions that already exist. In his words, “Reforming and perfecting the exiting international system does not require tearing up the kitchen and making a fresh start.” The nature of the reforms China may suggest is still unclear. Xi points to China’s own initiatives to finance and build basic infrastructure throughout Asia as an example. China’s continued support for the Paris Agreement on climate change is another important indicator.

If Xi is attempting to initiate a new era in Chinese foreign policy, the concepts in his speech in Davos and his speech to China’s National Security Council on the occasion of the Munich Security Conference should be codified in the final report of the Chinese Community Party Congress later this year. Depending on the outcome of what is anticipated to be a contentious fight over China’s political future, Xi may emerge as a significant force for change not only at home but internationally as well.

The Social Cost of Carbon Underscores an Obvious Fact: Climate Change is Costly

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This morning the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is holding a hearing on the social cost of carbon (SCC). Past experience indicates that the majority members on this committee are not big fans of science or facts. Hopefully, some of the witnesses at the hearing will get some real economic facts on the table. The most important one: climate change is costly and our policies need to reflect that reality.

What is the social cost of carbon?

The social cost of carbon is metric that helps quantify the costs of climate change related to our carbon emissions, in terms of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted. It can also be used to quantify the benefits of reducing carbon emissions. The current value of the social cost of carbon is roughly $36/ton of CO2.

Our global warming emissions are already contributing to climate impacts such as flooding from sea level rise and increased heavy precipitation; longer, more intense wildfire seasons; heat waves; and droughts. The risks of these types of impacts will grow as emissions rise.

In 2016 alone there were 15 extreme weather and climate-related disasters that cost more than a billion dollars apiece (see map). Climate change is contributing to worsening risks of many of these types of events. If you go to this EPA site, you can click on the map to see the impacts of climate change where you live in the nation. (Assuming that webpage is allowed to stay on line of course…)

In previous blogposts I’ve explained why the social cost of carbon is so important and how we have arrived at the current US government value for the social cost of carbon through an extensive and ongoing interagency process including a public comment period. (Note that the SCC information also used to be available on the Obama administration Office of Management and Budget website).

How is the social cost of carbon used by the federal government?

The social cost of carbon is used in cost-benefit analyses that agencies routinely undertake as part of the regulation-setting process. Cost-benefit analyses, which have been a feature of rulemakings since the Reagan era, are meant to quantify the impacts of a regulation. For regulations that help cut carbon emissions, the benefits of carbon reductions are quantified by applying the dollar per ton estimate of climate damages avoided based on the SCC.

Michael Greenstone, formerly at the Council of Economic Advisors and one of the witnesses at today’s hearing, co-authored a recent op-ed in the New York Times together with Cass Sunstein (former Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator at OMB), explaining why the SCC is a necessary and legal component of federal cost-benefit analyses.

As they point out, attempts to do away with the SCC would “defy law, science and economics.”

Why does the SCC include global damages?

One red herring that may come up in today’s hearing is the claim that the SCC should not include global damages from our carbon emissions. This type of reasoning fundamentally misstates the challenge of climate change, which is a result of global carbon emissions. No single nation can solve this problem alone. And no nation is immune to the effects of our collective emissions.

Just one manifestation of this is the growing challenge of climate refugees, people around the world displaced by climate factors such as drought and sea level rise.

Solving climate change will require us working together in cooperation with all the nations of the world. Each nation must recognize that their emissions have impacts on everyone and make choices that further our collective good. If, instead, we all retreat to our own corners and act solely out of narrow self-interest, we will fail together to constrain emissions to the levels necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. (This type of problem has been called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons.’)

The US also benefits from global reductions in carbon emissions. News that China’s emissions may have stabilized or fallen for the fourth year in a row is good news for us all. (Even as we know that more action to cut emissions is required by all major emitters). In other words, solving climate change is like the ultimate team sport. With very high stakes if we fail to win.

Improving the social cost of carbon

There’s no doubt that the social cost of carbon must be updated on a regular basis to take account of the latest science and economics. Just as an example, we are seeing unprecedented changes in the Arctic and the Antarctic that could portend significant impacts on weather patterns and sea level rise. A recent article also pointed out the need for better climate and economic modeling to include a wider range of social and economic impacts.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently undertook a project to assess approaches to update the social cost of carbon and released two reports with recommendations. Some of these recommendations were already being implemented by the Obama administration, although more work remains. The methodology has also been extended to methane and nitrous oxide emissions, two other potent global warming gases.

What we should not and cannot afford to do is refuse to accept the facts: climate change is real and it is already having serious and costly effects on people. Therefore our policy choices must appropriately reflect the benefits of cutting global warming emissions.

NOAA

The NRC and Nuclear Safety Culture: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

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Many times over the past 20 years the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has intervened when evidence strongly suggested a nuclear power plant had nuclear safety culture problems. The evidence used by the NRC to trigger its interventions was readily available to the plant owners, but the owners had downplayed or rationalized away the evidence until the NRC forced them to face reality.

The evidence used by the NRC to detect these nuclear safety culture problems included work force surveys indicating a sizeable portion of workers reluctant to raise safety concerns and allegations received by NRC from workers about reprisals and harassment they experienced after raising safety concerns.

Ample evidence strongly suggests that the NRC itself has nuclear safety culture problems. The NRC’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has surveyed the safety culture and climate within the NRC every three years for the past two decades. The latest survey was conducted during 2015 and released in March 2016. Figure 1 from the OIG’s 2015 survey along with data from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys and other sources show safety culture problems as bad as—it not considerably worse—than the worst safety culture problems identified at Millstone, Davis-Besse, and yes, even the TVA reactors.

FIg. 1 (Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of the Inspector General)

After the OIG’s 2009 survey of the NRC’s safety culture and climate, UCS submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all records related to the actions taken by the agency in response to the survey. We obtained many records which described very few actions. And regardless of the number of actions, the OIG’s 2015 survey showed that the NRC’s safety culture was worse than in 2009 (see the last column on the right in Figure 1).

Why would the NRC take steps to remedy safety culture problems at nuclear plants yet have taken no steps to remedy its own safety culture problems? The answer is the same as to the question of why the plant owners failed to take steps to correct safety culture problems before the NRC intervened—they did not perceive the problems to exist. Likewise, Figure 2 shows that the NRC’s senior management does not perceive safety culture within the agency to need remediation.

Fig. 2 (Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of the Inspector General)

The OIG employs a consultant to conduct the triennial safety culture surveys. I attended a briefing several years ago by the consultant on the survey results. The consultant reported surveying many other federal agencies and large private corporations. The consultant pointed out that the gap between results by senior management and by the overall workforce was wider at NRC than at any other federal or private entity it had surveyed.

Just as plant owners failed to correct the problem they could not see, NRC senior management cannot fix the agency’s “invisible” safety culture problems. The NRC intervened to enable owners to see, and then fix, their safety culture problems. Someone needs to intervene to help NRC senior management see the agency’s safety culture problems so they can take the corrective measures they have often compelled plant owners to take.

UCS recently issued a report on the NRC’s safety culture problems and its history of inducing safety culture fixes at nuclear plants. And The Bulletin posted my commentary about the NRC safety culture report.

If I found a lamp washed up on a beach and rubbed it to release a genie who granted me three wishes, my first wish would be for irradiated fuel to be transferred from dangerous, overcrowded spent fuel pools into more safe and secure dry storage as soon as practical. But my second wish would be for the NRC to undertake the reforms needed to achieve and sustain a positive nuclear safety culture at the agency. My third wish would be for a thousand additional wishes, so don’t worry that I squandered my first two.

Will the US Choose to Be on the Right Side of History and Welcome Climate Refugees?

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How the US and the world respond to the growing global refugee crisis will be a defining moral issue for this generation. And understanding how climate change will impact the future flow of refugees and displaced persons is one of the most important challenges we face today.

Refugees are fleeing conflict and violence in war-torn countries—including Syria, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo—but climate-related events are also causing a rising number of displacements worldwide. In some parts of the world, extreme weather events such as drought are increasing the risk of conflicts and worsening conditions for refugees and displaced people.

One person every second is displaced by climate

According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) one person every second is being displaced by climate factors, with an average of more than 26 million people displaced by climate and weather-related events annually since 2008. More than 65 million people worldwide are currently displaced and 21 million of them are classified as refugees. Developing countries host the vast majority of refugees, and the number who are permanently resettled in the developed world is only about 100,000 annually, or less than 1 percent.

More than 20 million Bangladeshis may be displaced by climate impacts by 2050. Photo: Connor Ashley/Asia Foundation

The US has been the international leader for refugee resettlement for at least the last 40 years. Since 1975, the US has admitted more than 3 million refugees for resettlement, including 85,000 in 2016. But is that about to change? In his campaign for the presidency, Donald J. Trump threatened to send Syrian refugees back to a war zone where more than 11 million people have been driven from their homes since 2011. Within a few days of becoming president, Trump tried to ban all Syrian refugees, along with those from six other predominantly Muslim countries.

Outdated legal definitions don’t take climate change into account

The number of people displaced by sea level rise, coastal inundation, drought, and other extreme weather events is projected to rise sharply in the next few decades. And yet people who are forced to leave their homes because of climate-related impacts cannot currently be legally classified as refugees.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, only those who have had to flee their country because of conflict or persecution qualify as refugees. According to international law, people fleeing famine, drought, or natural disasters do not qualify as refugees, even if they are forced to cross international borders. However, in the light of worsening climate impacts, some climate mobility advocates are testing the traditional definition of refugees, and recent court cases have been brought in New Zealand and Australia by and on behalf of Pacific islanders who are being forced to abandon their homes and communities as a result of rising seas.

Climate change will vastly swell numbers of displaced persons

At the recent Global Security Conference in Munich, Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, the UN’s top climate official said, “Climate change is a threat multiplier that leads to social upheaval and possibly even armed conflict.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of an increase in climate migrants and refugees driven by extreme event, and concluded that “Populations that lack the resources for planned migration experience higher exposure to extreme weather events, particularly in developing countries with low income. Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

The Government of Bangladesh has estimated that more than 20 million Bangladeshis may be displaced by mid-century. The 22 Pacific Island nations estimate that 1.7 million of their 9.2 million inhabitants (nearly 20 percent of the total population) will face displacement by 2050. The International Organization on Migration (IOM) has estimated that by 2050 the number of people displaced by climate change could be as high as 250 million worldwide.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change fell short on practical measures to respond to climate displacement and made no recommendation about changing the international definition of refugees to include climate refugees. The agreement merely notes the importance of respecting the rights of migrants, and setting up a “Climate Displacement Task Force” to propose measures “to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse effects of climate change.”

Climate change makes the droughts that help drive famine and conflict more likely

Globally, climate change is driving more intense storms and floods, coastal inundation and erosion, and worsening wildfires and droughts.

The impacts of extreme weather events on people can be dramatic. In 2015, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) for example, 3 million people in Myanmar and the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were displaced by flooding. And Cyclone Pam caused 55 and 25 per cent respectively of the populations of Vanuatu and Tuvalu to seek safety away from their homes.

Last November, ActionAid published a report on the drought effects of the 2015-16 El Niño during which approximately 30 percent of the world’s landmass was affected by drought and more than 400 million people were negatively affected. This extraordinarily severe and complex drought has caused countless people to be displaced globally, including more than 200,000 in Ethiopia alone. The drought has forced people in Djibouti, Somalia, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, the Philippines, India, and many other countries to move away from their homes and communities, or to seek help across the borders of other countries.

Natural El Niño cycles have always caused weather disruptions, but there is a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that El Niños are likely to be intensified by climate change. The 2015-16 El Niño was stronger than the prior record-breaking El Niño of 1997-98, which, in its turn, was worse than previously recorded El Niños. New science is helping to show the extent to which individual events are becoming more intense or more likely. Other studies predict that mega-droughts are likely to become more frequent in some regions of the world.

Whilst the causes of the current conflict in Syria are complex and multi-faceted, there is some science indicating that it may have at least some of its roots in climate change. The severe drought in northeast Syria from 2007 to 2010 was the worst in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failures and mass migration from rural to urban areas, factors which contributed to the economic disruptions and social unrest that were factors in the 2011 outbreak of civil war which has caused at least 11 million Syrians to flee their homes, with nearly 5 million those becoming refugees. One study estimated that that a regional drought of this magnitude was made two to three times more likely to occur by human-induced climate change.

Climate impacts are driving people from their homes in the US as in Pacific nations

The droughts that drive people from their homes develop over a period of months, years, or even decades and are called “slow onset events” by the humanitarian aid community (in contrast to floods and storms which are “rapid onset events” and cause immediate displacement). Sea level rise and coastal inundation are the slow onset events most associated with climate change in the public mind, and many communities across the globe are already moving, or preparing to move.

Approximately 1700 Carteret islanders from Papua New Guinea will have to be relocated to the mainland. Most of their food gardens have already been damaged by rising sea levels. Photo: Friends of the Earth

Many villages impacted by sea level rise have already had to relocate or plan relocations in the Pacific nations of Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa. In the US, the residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, mostly members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, are being forced from their land by sea level rise, and the Quinault Indian Nation village of Taholah on Washington’s coast is planning to relocate as is the Alaskan Native village of Kivalina on the Chukchi Sea. Thirty more native Alaskan villages have been identified as in imminent danger from climate impacts.

The US should be a leader on climate displacement and mobility

With internal climate displacement already manifest inside the US, and the seeds of a climate refugee crisis growing in vulnerable countries worldwide, now is the time for the US to reaffirm, not retreat from its commitment to refugees, and to provide international policy leadership on climate displacement.

An immigrant nation, the US has long been a beacon for the rest of the world, welcoming millions seeking a better, safer life. More than a million Irish immigrants sought to escape from famine between 1845 and 1855, refugees and political exiles fled to America after the European political upheavals of 1848 and the Mexican and Russian Revolutions of 1910 and 1917.

America’s values are embodied by the Statue of Liberty, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for being “a masterpiece of the human spirit” and “a highly potent symbol—inspiring contemplation, debate, and protest—of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy, and opportunity.” At the statue’s centennial celebration in 1986, President Reagan said “Miss Liberty is still giving life to the dream of a new world where old antagonisms could be cast aside and people of every nation could live together as one.

Despite the US priding itself on being an immigrant nation, refugee policies have often been controversial here, and undercurrents of racism, bigotry, and xenophobia have frequently surfaced. President Harry Truman fought hard to get Congress to pass the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, and when he did finally get the bill to sign, he was incensed at its limitations, particularly what he saw as discrimination against Jewish and Catholic refugees in the Allied occupation zone of Germany. He said “The bad points of the bill are numerous. Together they form a pattern of discrimination and intolerance wholly inconsistent with the American sense of justice.” Nevertheless, more than 650,000 displaced Europeans were allowed to enter the US between the end of the Second World War and the early 1950s.

Ronald Reagan welcomed more refugees to the United States than any other president since Harry Truman. “It’s good to know that Miss Liberty is still giving life to the dream of a new world” Reagan said in 1986.

Is President Trump abandoning US moral leadership on refugees?

Every president since Truman has supported programs to bring refugees to the United States. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said of the Refugee Relief Act of 1952, “In enacting this legislation, we are giving a new chance in life to 214,000 fellow humans. This action demonstrates again America’s traditional concern for the homeless, the persecuted and the less fortunate of other lands.”

More refugees were resettled under President Reagan than under any other president, especially from Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Iran, and he reiterated traditional American values. In 1985 in an address to the UN, Reagan reaffirmed “America is committed to the world, because so much of the world is inside America. After all, only a few miles from this very room is our Statue of Liberty, past which life began anew for millions… The blood of each nation courses through the American vein.”

President Trump’s vision couldn’t be further from the post-war presidential tradition of acceptance of refugees as a moral duty or the acknowledgement that immigrants provide the lifeblood of America’s strength, vibrancy and diversity. The Trump administration is divisively stoking fears of foreigners, increasing deportations, clamping down on refugees, deliberately scaring undocumented immigrants ,and seeking ways to discourage legal immigration, especially from majority Muslim countries.

Meanwhile, the international refugee crisis is worsening. There have never been more people displaced by conflict, political violence, and natural disasters than there are today. Climate change is already exacerbating the problem and will become a direct driver of unprecedented forced mobility in the next few decades.

When climate displacement reaches a critical point, which side of history will America come down on? Will it be the closed borders of President Trump’s America First isolationism, or will we respond in the manner of President Truman to “human suffering that the people of the United States cannot and will not ignore”?

History will judge us on how we respond to the coming climate displacements, just as it will judge us if we fail to do all we can to support today’s refugees from conflict in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and so many other places.

A Tribute to Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel Prize Winner and a Giant Among Economic Thinkers

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Earlier this week, Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel prize-winning economist passed away at the age of 95. Dr. Arrow was a prolific thinker, truly a giant among economists. His research spanned areas as diverse as welfare theory, innovation, labor market networks, public health, and risk. Many extensive obituaries to Dr. Arrow have been written in major newspapers. He was also a great champion of ideas and values we hold dear at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Credit: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

The incredible breadth of Ken Arrow’s work

As students of economics will attest, it is difficult to find a field of economics that hasn’t been influenced in some way by Dr. Arrow’s thinking. As a graduate student, I recall being introduced to ‘Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem’ and discussing its real-world implications for voting and social choice. That’s also when I first read about his work on learning curves and its bearing on technological progress. In a seminal paper, titled The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing, he wrote that:

“Learning is the product of experience.” And “The role of experience in increasing productivity has not gone unobserved, though the relation has yet to be absorbed into the main corpus of economic theory.”

Today these insights can help explain some of the extraordinary decline we’ve seen in the costs of renewable energy.

Right until the end, he was engaged in cutting-edge work, including coauthored research on the risks of climate change, the social cost of carbon, appropriate discount rates for decisions with long time horizons, and public health.

In a recent paper on the social cost of carbon, he and his coauthors argued that, “Costs of carbon emissions are being underestimated, but current estimates are still valuable for setting mitigation policy.” (An insight which is highly relevant for an upcoming hearing on the social cost of carbon in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology!)

To get a fuller sense of the amazing breadth of Ken Arrow’s work, take a look at these resources:

Engagement with the Union of Concerned Scientists

Dr. Arrow shared common interests with UCS, especially in recognizing the threat of climate change and the need for swift, cost-effective solutions. He also had a lifelong commitment to issues related to peace and security.

As far back as 1997, he was a signatory to the World Scientists’ Call for Action at the Kyoto Climate Summit, a statement initiated by UCS. The statement included this exhortation to world leaders, one that resonates poignantly even today:

We, the signers of this declaration, urge all government leaders to demonstrate a new commitment to protecting the global environment for future generations. The important first step is to join in completing a strong and meaningful Climate Treaty at Kyoto. We encourage scientists and citizens around the world to hold their leaders accountable for addressing the global warming threat. Leaders must take this first step to protect future generations from dire prospects that would result from failure to meet our responsibilities toward them.

Closer to home, he signed on to a 2015 UCS-sponsored letter to California legislators urging the adoption of strong climate and clean energy policies to help ensure a reduction in the state’s global warming emissions of 80 percent below 1990 levels.

In December 2016, Dr. Arrow was one of over 5,500 scientists who signed An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump and the 115th Congress, calling on them to ensure that science continues to play a strong role in protecting public health and well-being.

I had the honor of meeting him briefly when he attended a UCS reception at the American Economic Association meetings in January 2009. He was gracious and encouraging of our work to engage more economists in designing and advocating for solutions to climate change.

A social scientist of the highest order

Dr. Arrow took the charge of a social scientist with great seriousness. He received the highest honors in the economics profession, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science, and was a widely published academic researcher. But he was no ivory tower academic.

Ken Arrow engaged widely and deeply with the real and urgent problems of the day. What’s also striking is the strong global perspective he brought to his work. He was a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Second Assessment Report in 1995. He was also a founding trustee of Economists for Peace and Security, an organization of economists, other social scientists, and citizens concerned about issues of peace, conflict, war, and the world economy.

In an email tribute, Geoffrey Heal, UCS Board member and the Donald C. Waite Professor of Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School wrote this:

Ken Arrow dominated the social sciences for half a century, just as in their eras Newton and Einstein dominated the physical sciences. In addition to being the giant on whose shoulders we all stand, Ken was a charming, modest, friendly and unassuming person. I knew him for over half a century, and will miss his friendship, his encouragement to think differently and his unparalleled intellectual insights.

Congress Does Industry’s Bidding by Cutting Public Safeguards

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The past month has not been kind to environmental and public health protections. A bevy of science-based rules are now on the chopping block thanks to the congressional sleight-of-hand called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows a simple majority in Congress to undo provisions issued within the final six months of the previous administration.

Right now, industries clearly feel empowered to try to roll back public safeguards in the name of profits. But the American public will pay a steep price from the erosion of these protections and science is being sidelined in the process.

Promoting water pollution

For a case in point, look no further than the recent overturning of the Stream Protection Rule issued by the Department of Interior’s Office of Stream Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). This science-based rule was designed to protect streams in the United States, including headwater streams, from the often devastating impacts of pollution with mining waste and debris.

All told, this rule would have improved the quality of some 263 miles of streams downstream of mines each year, the benefits of which would have been felt by nearby communities. But a CRA measure to overturn it recently passed in both the House and Senate and was signed on February 16 by President Trump.

The Stream Protection Rule was a commonsense safeguard based upon clear evidence that, once a waterway’s flow has been disturbed, it is very difficult to restore it to its original condition. This is bad news for all of the native plant and animal species in the ecosystem and for communities and farmers downstream who will reap fewer of the natural benefits that riparian buffers provide, like reduced flooding, filtration, and increased groundwater recharge.

Additionally, one of the mining techniques—known as long wall mining—extracts coal underground, which often causes sinkholes that can damage structures aboveground. This activity has led to all sorts of calamities including a cracked dam, homes and businesses with damaged foundations, structural problems with the sources of groundwater property owners rely upon, and even the disappearance of an entire lake once used for boating and fishing in a Pennsylvania state park.

Representatives Bill Johnson of Ohio and Evan Jenkins and David McKinley of West Virginia were among the sponsors of the legislation to revoke the Stream Protection Rule. Between them, they have taken more than $1 million in political contributions from the mining industry, which will no doubt benefit mightily from the removal of this commonsense check on their operations. The talking points of the National Mining Association and America’s largest mining company, Murray Energy Company, are also echoed in the representatives’ misinformed statements about the rule.

By overturning this protection, the bill’s sponsors are ensuring that residents across America will continue to see their water sources, their homes, and their environment degraded. And the message that their elected officials are sending is loud and clear: profits over people.

Sadly, several other efforts to rescind commonsense protections are also now underway. Here are some we’re watching closely:

Communities like Galena Park in east Houston need stronger health and environmental policies to protect residents from toxic air pollution and potential chemical release from nearby chemical facilities. Instead, Oklahama Rep. Markwayne Mullin is using the CRA to weaken those protections for the benefit of industry.

Undermining chemical safety

Oklahoma Representative Markwayne Mullin, who has received more than $410,000 from the oil and gas industry during just two terms in office, has introduced legislation to remove a rule issued by the EPA last year designed to improve safety at facilities that use or store large amounts of dangerous chemicals and to further protect first responders and fenceline communities. Major industrial facilities, including oil and gas companies, have been vocal in their opposition to this rule, and Mullin has become the elected mouthpiece of those entities.

The updated EPA Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule is a commonsense, science-based provision designed to regulate industrial facilities all across America that release toxic chemicals. On average in recent years, approximately 150 catastrophic accidents have occurred annually at these facilities, posing often-grave risks to the workers and to the neighboring communities.

There are a significantly greater percentage of African Americans, Latinos, and people in poverty living near these facilities at higher risk for exposure to chemical releases. As noted in the 2016 report written by UCS and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s), Double Jeopardy in Houston: Acute and Chronic Chemical Exposures Pose Disproportionate Risks for Marginalized Communities, residents in Houston communities with RMP facilities have a higher risk of developing or worsening lung diseases such as asthma and chronic bronchitis due to exposure of high toxic concentrations of air pollutants including harmful chromium compounds.

Improvements to the RMP rule would have helped to make facilities safer for surrounding communities, reduced the number of catastrophes, and ensure that first responders were fully informed and protected. While the original rule will remain in place even if the amendments are rolled back using the CRA, the status quo has not been enough to fully protect Americans from toxic chemical exposures, and people of color and in poverty will continue to bear the brunt of health impacts from future accidents and spills at these facilities.

The CRA bill that would nullify the EPA’s rule is still pending a vote in the House, and industry representatives are lobbying hard for its passage.

Fostering air pollution and hastening climate change

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Methane and Waste Prevention Rule was issued to update the Carter administration regulation that governs how oil and gas is extracted on federal land. The update would have reduced some of the most dangerous impacts of fracking for natural gas extraction, including leaks, venting, and flaring, which was especially timely given that reductions in methane pollution are needed to get us on track to meet emissions standards.

Two of the sponsors of the legislation that would eliminate this rule are Utah’s Rob Bishop and Wyoming’s John Barrasso, who have received over $1 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry over the course of their political careers. This effort is only the newest in a succession of attacks on this rule since it was first proposed. Recently released emails from the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General (yes, that of our newly confirmed EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt) reveal 2013 correspondence with a fracking company, Devon Energy Corporation, discussing how they both planned to meet with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to convince them to “completely do away with the present thrust” of the BLM’s methane waste rule.

Pulling the methane rule will result in the continued release of methane pollution, which perhaps not surprisingly occurs at the highest levels on tribal lands in Rob Bishop’s state of Utah—and John Barrasso’s state of Wyoming has one of the highest methane emission levels on federal lands, according to this 2015 report. Remember when a 2,500 mi2 cloud of methane floated over the borders of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona in 2014? We can expect more of that phenomenon to occur without these rules. ‘

And what does that mean for the livelihoods of Wyoming and Utah residents and all Americans? Well, increases in methane pollution can lead to increased ground-level ozone levels as well as other hazardous air pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide, which can trigger asthma and even cancer. Not only will air quality continue to get worse in areas of highest methane emissions, but we will all experience the impacts associated with a changing climate thanks to excessive and irresponsible release of the most potent greenhouse gas.

This CRA bill still requires passage in the Senate to move onto the President’s desk.

Vitally needed: checks and balances

Along with rollbacks to regulations allowing polluters to freely pollute, industry is referencing another page from its playbook to chip away at transparency measures designed to keep companies accountable for their business dealings. The President signed a CRA resolution last week to roll back a Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring that oil and gas companies disclose payments to foreign governments. Ohio representative Sherrod Brown remarked, “This kind of transparency is essential to combating waste, fraud, corruption and mismanagement.” Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, was a vocal critic of this rule before his confirmation and can check that off of his to-do list now that he’s a cabinet member.

The first few weeks of Trump’s presidency have affirmed that money talks, and that power can be bought and used to further maximize profits. We have seen a corporate takeover of our government, as several individuals with strong industry ties were nominated and confirmed for key agency leadership positions; the President has issued legally questionable executive orders, one of which requires that agencies repeal two regulations for every one that it issues (with the intent of freezing regulation and allowing industry to get away with business as usual); and Congress is hastily working to nullify a slew of Obama-era regulations that would prevent industry misconduct, using the Congressional Review Act in an unprecedented fashion.

While industry is ready to profit from CRA rollbacks both here and abroad, a regulatory freeze, and industry-friendly cabinet appointments, everyday Americans will be missing out on unrealized health and safety benefits. And members of Congress who are using techniques like the CRA to undermine public health and safety are making a grave mistake that will surely catch up with them as Americans come to see the effects of these misguided rollbacks.

Our democracy is built on a foundation of checks and balances. Among these are the need for governmental protections to place a vital check on industry in order to keep our water, food, and environment healthy and our workplaces and our children safe. Unfortunately, in the current political environment, industry is influencing decision makers with political contributions, and effectively making many members of Congress beholden to them. The result: elected officials spouting off specious industry talking points and designing policies that leave industry excesses unchecked. When industry interference prevents government from making decisions based on science, it undermines our democracy and the public suffers.

We will continue to work to ensure that agencies have the freedom to fulfill their critical missions, and we will be ready to hold industry accountable for noncompliance or misdeeds.

 

Photo: Jack Pearce/CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr Photo: Yvette Arellano/TEJAS Photo: Tim Evanson/CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr

Overpopulation, and a Movie that Definitely Won’t Get the Oscar

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As Oscar Night approaches, I’ve gotten to thinking about the movies I saw last year—not just the good ones, but a bad one too. It’s Inferno, which seemed to have everything going for it, but has sunk into cinematic oblivion with scarcely a trace. Why?

Before I saw it last fall, I thought it had all the elements that would make lots of Americans like it—including me. It stars Tom Hanks, the actor who would definitely be America’s Sweetheart if he weren’t so old and so male. It’s directed by Ron Howard, one of Hollywood’s most respected directors. Its title and underlying theme come from Dante’s description of Hell—seven centuries old but still unsurpassed.

Dante—a portrait by Andrea del Castagno, in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Source: Web_Gallery_of_Art, Wikimedia.org

And it’s based on the best-selling novel by best-selling author Dan Brown of DaVinci Code fame. Put those four together, and how could we fail to like it? For that matter, how could I fail to like it? (OK, I’m not a Dan Brown fan, but Hanks, Howard and Dante are all favorites of mine, so three out of four…)

Well, even with all that going for it, there’s no way it’ll be mentioned Sunday night. In fact I suspect that Tom Hanks and Ron Howard would just as soon we forget they ever were associated with it. (Not sure about how Dan Brown or Dante are feeling). The critics’ consensus, as summarized by the Rotten Tomatoes web site, is “Senselessly frantic and altogether shallow, Inferno sends the Robert Langdon trilogy spiraling to a convoluted new low.” Ouch! And even more painful, Hollywood-wise, it made only $34 million at the box office. I.e., a total flop.

How could it fail so badly? I thought briefly that it might have to do with the plot and the villain. (Spoiler ahead, although frankly it’s so far past its sell-by date that this can’t make it worse.) Inferno’s evil genius turns out to be a millionaire who thinks the world’s fundamental problem is … overpopulation. Through TED-like talks he builds up a cult of Malthusian followers who conspire with him to kill off half the world’s people for the sake of preserving nature.

So, was that the problem? Was seeing a twisted kind of environmentalist as the epitome of Evil just too much for American audiences to take? Is our fear of population growth so strong that we refuse to accept any negative portrayal of that fear? Just too much cognitive dissonance?

Nahhh…..I don’t think so. It’s easy for us intellectuals to overthink pop culture, and in this case I think there’s a simpler explanation. It’s just a bad movie. And as Dante’s contemporary William of Ockham taught us, there’s no need to come up with a complicated explanation when a simple one will do just fine.

So, on Sunday night I won’t be regretting the fact that Inferno’s not in the running for Best Picture. Personally I’m rooting for Hidden Figures. It had me right from the opening scene in which a young African-American girl is walking down a lane counting “….eight, nine, ten, prime, twelve, prime, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, prime…”

Just the nerd version of sentimentality? Sure, I admit it. But it’s also a great movie. And nowadays science can use all the help it can get from pop culture, so I’m really hoping it wins.

Marginalizing Transgender Students Weakens Science and Diminishes America

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Yesterday, the Trump administration turned back the clock on civil rights by giving schools more rights to discriminate against and bully transgender kids, some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The New York Times reports that the withdrawal of protections for transgender students comes at the behest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the objections of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

A student celebrates after the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Photo: Michael Halpern

The move comes amid recent research demonstrating that suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth decreased in the wake of state court decisions that formalized marriage rights for all Americans. It makes intuitive sense: actions that give an individual the opportunity to live a full life make it more likely that the individual will stay invested in that life. Legitimacy matters.

Science, like any creative endeavor, works best when people of different backgrounds are at the table. But LGBT people still face significant barriers to participation in the scientific enterprise. A recent American Physical Society report found that thirty percent of transgender scientists “characterized the overall climate of their department or division as ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘very uncomfortable.'”

The action hurts and marginalizes transgender kids. It also undermines the promise of our public education system, which should welcome, not exclude, and give everyone an opportunity to learn and thrive. We all suffer when kids are prevented from reaching their full potential because they feel unsafe.

The most memorable part of the attorney general’s confirmation process involved the silencing of Elizabeth Warren, who was attempting to read a letter Coretta Scott King wrote in 1984 when Sessions was up for a federal judgeship. “It is only when the poor and disadvantaged are empowered that they are able to participate actively in solutions to their own problems,” King wrote, in reference to her concerns about Sessions’ willingness to defend the voting rights of black Americans.

I fear that this action is the first of many at the Department of Justice with the potential to weaken science and diminish America. The guidance makes some of the most bullied kids in America less safe.

The United States does not have a good history of leaving the protection of civil rights to the states. But for now, it is up to state and local governments and school boards to guarantee the ability of all students to pursue an education so that our country can continue to benefit from the contributions of all. Please take a moment today to weigh in with your local education officials and let them know that you want them to secure basic protections for all students so that every kid has the chance to thrive.

Governor Dayton Must Step Up to Protect Energy Consumers

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Two bills are making their way through the Minnesota legislature that would hack away at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC) authority to protect consumers. Given the unnerving level of bipartisan support these bills are receiving in the legislature, it’s time for Governor Dayton to step up and protect consumers, as well as Minnesota’s long legacy of clean energy achievements.

Setting a dangerous precedent in Minnesota’s oversight of utility monopolies

Perhaps the most dangerous bill in the bunch (HF113/SF85) would legislatively approve Xcel’s proposed natural gas plant to replace two retiring units at the Sherco coal-fired power plant in Becker, Minnesota. The bill would strip the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC) traditional role of reviewing plans to ensure investments are in the best interest of consumers.

While Xcel included the proposed natural gas plant in its latest integrated resource plan, the MPUC declined to approve it, expressing concern that other alternatives might be more beneficial to ratepayers over the long term. Significant doubt remains whether the investment makes sense, but that debate will be silenced if this bill becomes law. The House voted to pass the bill on February 9, and last week the Senate voted to pass a similar bill as well.

The House will now take up the bill to reach a compromise. Governor Dayton has signaled his support for the bill despite the risks to ratepayers, but he should reconsider.

Despite the Governor’s good intentions to help protect the local Becker economy,  this bill sets a dangerous precedent for future utility investment decisions. What happens next time the MPUC declines to approve a proposed billion dollar (or more) investment by Xcel? Do they come back to the legislature for another blank check? Protecting ratepayers from paying for bad investments is a core function of the MPUC. If this bill becomes law, Minnesota ratepayers face an uncertain and potentially costly energy future.

Closing the door on rural ratepayers

Another legislative proposal, HF234/SF141, would remove the MPUC’s authority to resolve disputes between Minnesota’s rural electricity cooperative utilities and their members. The weak rationale for this proposal suggests that somehow cooperative members don’t need this dispute resolution venue because they have local control over their utilities.

In reality, disputes do occur between electric cooperatives and their members, and without an objective arbitrator to resolve them, the co-op holds all the cards. This bill is particularly directed at disputes that have arisen over the exorbitant fees that cooperatives are charging members to connect solar PV systems to the grid.

These fees are an attempt by cooperative managers to maintain the status quo and only serve to slow Minnesota’s transition to cleaner, lower-risk energy sources. Maintaining the MPUC’s role as arbitrator of these disputes provides protections for cooperative ratepayers as well as Minnesota as a whole.

Commission’s role

The MPUC’s role is to protect and promote the public’s best interest in safe, adequate, and reliable utility service at fair and reasonable rates. This is done by providing much needed independent and comprehensive oversight and regulation of utilities. Unfortunately, these bills seek to erode the MPUC’s mission, and authority.

Governor Dayton can’t have it both ways. He must stand by his word not to accept any bill that limits or weakens the Commission’s authority to protect the interests of Minnesota’s energy consumers.

Creative Commons/Mulad (Flickr)

Why You Can’t Buy a Tesla in Connecticut (and 5 Other States)

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The state of Connecticut is a progressive state, with a strong track record of support for laws and policies that will reduce global warming emissions and a goal of putting over 150,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025.

Given the policy commitments of the state of Connecticut, one might assume that Connecticut would be a place that would welcome an innovative, important business like Tesla, the largest manufacturer of electric vehicles in the United States. And given the significant fiscal challenges that Connecticut faces, one might think that Connecticut would be excited to see Tesla operate new stores within the state, bringing jobs and tax revenue.

But in fact, Tesla is legally prohibited from operating its Tesla stores in Connecticut.

Under Connecticut’s dealer franchise law, and under the law of many states throughout the country, automobiles may only be purchased through independent car dealerships. Tesla’s cars are sold directly from the manufacturer, which mean that Tesla stores are not welcome in Connecticut.

The problems that Tesla has faced with automotive dealers and state dealer franchise laws represent a combination of unintended consequences, special interest influence, and the challenges of developing new technologies in marketplaces dominated by entrenched interests and outdated laws. The Tesla wars are also a part of a broader story of how changes in technology are impacting laws and regulations governing transportation in the United States.

In this blog post, I want to explore some of the key questions raised by the battle over Tesla. In particular:

  • Why do we have dealer franchise laws?
  • Why doesn’t Tesla sell their cars through franchised dealers?
  • Why do some states allow Tesla stores and others do not? (Hint: it depends on the meaning of ‘its’).

In part 2 of this post, I will look at some of the policy arguments that have been made by auto dealers, by Tesla and by economists on dealer franchise laws.

  • What is the justification for laws banning Tesla stores?
  • What does the evidence suggest about dealer franchise laws?
  • What are the consequences of Connecticut’s ban on Tesla stores?
Why do we have dealer franchise laws?

The car dealership model as we know it today arose in the 1920s and 1930s, as first General Motors, and then eventually all of the “Big Three” American automakers chose to license the rights to sell their cars to independent dealers, rather than selling the cars directly to consumers.

The independent dealership model worked because it allowed both parties to focus on core competencies: the manufacturers could focus on making the best cars possible, while independent dealers made the inroads into local communities that allowed them to most efficiently sell the cars directly to consumers.

From the beginning, one challenge in the independent dealership model is the obvious power imbalance between the “Big Three” automakers who dominated automobile manufacturing, and the thousands of independent dealerships that were licensed to sell their vehicles. Stories abounded of auto manufacturers exploiting their superior market position to gain unfair advantages on independent dealers. For example, manufacturers could force independent dealers to purchase cars that they didn’t want as a condition of maintaining their relationship, or terminate the franchise relationship at will without cause, or coerce profitable dealerships into selling their business at below-market rates.

Beginning in the 1930s and accelerating greatly in the 1950s, legislatures in all 50 states passed a series of laws, known collectively as dealer franchise laws, which were intended to protect independent dealers from abusive practices at the hands of vehicle manufacturers. Among other things, these laws prohibited the Big Three from owning licensed dealerships themselves, or selling cars directly to consumers.

The prohibition on direct manufacturer sales was intended to protect independent auto dealers from unfair competition from their own manufacturers. The classic concern addressed by the ban on direct sales from manufacturers is the independent car dealer who spends money, time and effort building a market for, say, Ford vehicles in a certain town, only to have Ford Motor company jump in and open up a rival direct from manufacturer store that undercuts the independent dealer on price and takes his market share.

By the 1950s when most of these laws were passed, the independent dealer model was so entrenched in the American car market that it was simply presumed that all auto manufacturers would have independent dealerships selling their cars, and that any direct manufacturer sales would necessarily be in competition with an independent dealership. Dealer franchise laws therefore did not contemplate the challenge posed by a company like Tesla, a company that refuses to sell its cars to independent dealerships at all and instead insists that all sales must be direct from the manufacturer itself.

Why doesn’t Tesla distribute through franchised dealers?

Tesla has adopted this policy because they believe that the traditional independent dealership model does not work for electric vehicles. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk:

Existing franchise dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between selling gasoline cars, which constitute the vast majority of their business, and selling the new technology of electric cars. It is impossible for them to explain the advantages of going electric without simultaneously undermining their traditional business. This would leave the electric car without a fair opportunity to make its case to an unfamiliar public.

Tesla points to the failure of Fisker and Coda as examples of electric vehicle start-up companies that failed because of their reliance on independent dealerships to sell a new technology. In addition, Tesla argues that because electric vehicles have lower maintenance costs than traditional cars, independent dealerships that make money off of service will always have an incentive to steer consumers away from electric vehicles. Tesla offers service for all of their vehicles for free.

Recent studies confirm that, with a few exceptions, most auto dealers in the Northeast are not making enough of an effort to sell electric vehicles. Between January and June of 2016, dealers in the Bridgeport to New York City metro area had 90 percent fewer EVs listed for sale than Oakland, when adjusted for relative car ownership. A recent report by the Sierra Club found that Tesla stores provide EV customers with far superior service, as Tesla was more likely to have EVs available to test drive, more likely to be knowledgeable about state and local incentives, and more likely to be able to correctly answer technical questions about charging EVs, than traditional car dealerships.

A Tesla store looks and feels more like an Apple store than a car dealership. They are placed in high volume, high traffic areas such as shopping malls. They have almost no inventory, as Tesla cars must be ordered individually from the manufacturer rather than sold on site. There is no haggling over price. And Tesla stores sell only Tesla products, including cars and batteries; with the recent merger with SolarCity, Tesla stores will soon sell solar panels as well.

Why do some states allow Tesla stores and others do not?

Over the past few years, courts and legislatures across the country have struggled with the question of whether and how to apply dealer franchise laws to Tesla stores. Some state courts, including Massachusetts and New York, have found that dealer franchise laws are only intended to apply to manufacturers that have licensed independent dealers, and do not provide a cause of action against Tesla stores. Other states, including New Hampshire and Maryland, have recently changed its law to permit Tesla stores through legislation.

States that currently ban Tesla stores include Texas, West Virginia, Utah and Arizona, in addition to Connecticut. Some states, including Virginia and Indiana, allow a limited number of Tesla stores. New Jersey proposed a regulation that would have banned Tesla stores in 2015, but then relented last year, amending the regulation to allow 4 stores in New Jersey.

Often the difference between a jurisdiction that permits Tesla stores and a jurisdiction that bans Tesla stores comes down to minute differences in statutory language. For example, until 2014 Michigan’s dealer franchise law prohibited auto manufacturers from “[selling] any new motor vehicle directly to a retail customer other than through its franchised dealer.”

The word “its” in the statute arguably suggests that the law only applies to manufacturers that have franchised dealers, and thus does not prohibit Tesla stores. But then a legislator allied to the auto industry slipped a provision into an unrelated piece of legislation removing the word “its” from the statute, and just like that, Tesla stores were banned in Michigan.

Beyond narrow questions of statutory interpretation, judges and legislators wrestling with these questions need to consider the purpose of dealer franchise laws. Are these laws meant to regulate a relationship that arose within the context of the independent dealer system? Or are these laws intended to mandate that the independent dealer system must be the only way automobiles are sold in the United States forever? If it is the latter, then the dealer franchise laws represent not only a ban on Tesla, but a ban on all innovation in distribution methods.

Can such a ban be justified? In part 2 of this post, I’ll explore some of the policy consequences of dealer franchise laws and the Tesla ban, for consumers, and for Connecticut.

Will New Mexico Join the Next Generation of Clean Energy Leaders?

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

More and more states across the country are redefining what it means to be a clean energy leader by doubling down on their commitments to deploy solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. Now the New Mexico legislature wants to add their state to the growing list. Recently introduced legislation would increase New Mexico’s successful renewable electricity standard (RES) from its current level of 20 percent by 2020 to 80 percent by 2040. Adopting the measure would capitalize on the state’s tremendous renewable energy resources and deliver substantial economic, health, and environmental benefits to all New Mexicans.

A renewable energy economy is achievable and affordable for New Mexico

The New Mexico Wind Energy Center, located in the southeast part of the state, generates clean, renewable power for energy consumers. Photo Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Introduced as SB312, the legislation builds on New Mexico’s current RES (also referred to as a renewables portfolio standard or RPS) and would require investor-owned utilities like PNM, Southwestern Public Service, and El Paso Electric to increase their supply of electricity from renewable energy sources to 80 percent by 2040.

Rural co-ops would have to achieve a slightly lower target (70 percent renewables by 2040).

While this newly proposed commitment is substantial, transitioning New Mexico’s economy to one powered primarily by renewable energy is certainly achievable. That’s because New Mexico is home to some of the best and most diverse renewable energy potential in the country, including vast untapped wind, solar, and geothermal resources.

A 2016 National Renewable Energy Laboratory analysis found that New Mexico’s economic renewable energy resource potential, which accounts for the renewables’ cost as compared with the typical regional cost of electricity, is more than 2.6 times total state electricity sales in 2015 (see figure). That means there is more than enough cost-competitive renewable energy resources available today to comply with the proposed targets that utilities have more than two decades to achieve.

Of course, New Mexico’s technical renewable energy resource potential far exceeds these economic potential estimates. As technology costs continue to decline, more and more of the untapped technical resource potential will also become cost-effective over time.

New Mexico’s Renewable Energy Economic Potential vs. Electricity Sales.
New Mexico has more than enough cost-effective renewable energy potential to achieve an 80 percent RES. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates the state’s economic potential at more than 260 percent of total electricity sales in 2015.
Sources: Economic Potential from Primary Case 3a in NREL’s Estimating Renewable Energy Economic Potential in the United StatesElectricity Sales from U.S. Energy Information Administration’s New Mexico State Electricity Profile 2015.

 

Wind and solar costs, in particular, are falling rapidly. The most recent comparison of costs by the energy consulting firm, Lazard, shows new wind and solar to be cheaper than new fossil fuel generation, even without subsidies.

This trend is reflected in recent power purchase contracts for wind and solar projects in the region. For example, Southwestern Public Service signed a contract for a 140 megawatt (MW) solar project near Roswell for about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour (c/kWh). Similarly, reported costs for recent wind projects in the Southwest have been as low as 2.3 to 3.8 c/kWh.

For context, Lazard estimates the cost of power from a typical new natural gas combined cycle plant ranges from 4.8 to 7.8 c/kWh.

The proposed 80 percent by 2040 RES expansion ramps up gradually over time, with interim targets for public utilities of 35 percent in 2025, 50 percent in 2030, and 65 percent in 2035. That level of increasing targets affords utilities plenty of time to plan for new renewable energy development as older fossil fuel generators retire. What’s more, the legislation builds in consumer protections should compliance costs prove to be higher than anticipated.

New Mexico’s renewable energy transition is already delivering benefits

New Mexico’s current RES is already successfully driving new renewable energy deployment and delivering economic and environmental benefits throughout the state. Today, more than 1,500 MW of wind and solar power capacity is cranking out clean power for New Mexico’s energy consumers. The wind power development alone represent more than $1.8 billion in investments and provide up to $5 million annually in land lease payments for local residents.

Another 1,500 MW of wind and nearly 1,400 MW of solar are either under construction or in various stages of development in the state. When completed, these projects combined with those already operational will exceed the state’s current renewable energy targets. Further diversifying New Mexico’s power supply with additional renewable energy can provide much needed investment and tax dollars to local economies and the state government’s struggling budget coffers.

Combined, the wind and solar industries are supporting 4,000 to 5,000 good paying jobs in the state, and that number continues to grow. Earlier this month, Albuquerque-based solar manufacturer SolAero Technologies announced plans for a $10 million expansion that will add more than 100 jobs. New Mexico’s excellent and affordable solar energy resource is also an important reason that Facebook decided to build a new data center in the state. An investment of $45 million will fund three new solar facilities that will fully power the new facility and create hundreds of new jobs.

Photo Source: U.S. Department of Interior

In addition to jobs and local economic benefits, New Mexico’s existing renewable energy development is helping to curb power sector carbon emissions—the principal contributor to global warming— and other air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and particulates that harm state residents. These toxic pollutants are responsible for numerous health problems including aggravated asthma attacks, breathing problems, heart attacks, and premature deaths, especially in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities closest to the sources.

In strong contrast to fossil fuel generation, wind and solar power generation also use virtually no water, an incredibly valuable benefit in a water-constrained state like New Mexico. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that in 2015, the state’s wind projects avoided the consumption of 264 million gallons of water.

All of these economic and environmental benefits are poised to grow substantially if SB 312 is adopted and New Mexico accelerates its shift away from a heavy dependence on coal for power generation.

Joining the 50 percent (plus) club

New Mexico is not alone in its pursuit of a cleaner, safer, and more affordable energy system. Several states—including California, Oregon, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Hawaii—have already expanded their RES targets to at least 50 percent (100 percent, in Hawaii’s case), and are implementing effective solutions to reliably integrate significant amounts of renewable energy on their power systems. Nevada is considering similar RES expansion legislation this year as well.

With a new federal administration seemingly determined to stay stuck in the fossil fuel age, this kind of state leadership is needed now more than ever. New Mexico should adopt SB 312 and set a course to fully embrace its renewable energy future. Doing so will deliver significant rewards for the state’s residents and set an example for other states to follow.

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