Combined UCS Blogs

New World Heritage Sites Already Under Threat From Climate Change

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

At least four of the new World Heritage sites designated by UNESCO at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee this week are under serious threat from climate change.

In all, 21 new sites were added to the World Heritage list, and although most are not immediately vulnerable to climate change, probably all are already experiencing local climatic shifts, and most will be significantly impacted within a few decades unless action is taken soon to reduce heat-trapping emissions globally. Climate change is a fast-growing problem for World Heritage and one that the World Heritage Committee needs to take much more seriously than it currently is.

Climate is the biggest global threat to World Heritage

In 2014, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) identified climate change as the biggest potential threat to natural World Heritage sites and a study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Innsbruck in Austria found 136 of 700 cultural World Heritage sites to be at long-term risk from sea level rise. In 2016, a joint UCS, UNESCO, UNEP report concluded that “climate change is fast becoming one of the most significant risks for World Heritage worldwide”. This year, UNESCO launched two new reports highlighting the dramatic climate threat to coral reefs in World Heritage sites, and to sites in the Arctic.

The World Heritage Committee needs to address climate change

There is a dilemma here. The World Heritage Convention is a remarkable international instrument that was set up to identify and protect both natural and cultural sites of “outstanding universal value” for future generations. However, when the convention was adopted in 1972, the threat of global climate change was nowhere on political or scientific radar screens, and so the mechanisms of the treaty were geared to preventing local impacts such as water pollution, mining & quarrying, infrastructure development and land use change.

The convention hasn’t yet effectively responded to modern climate change risks. If a World Heritage site is threatened by coal mining, tourism pressure or suburbanization, it can be placed on the list of sites in danger, and then the responsibility lies with the host country to implement management actions reducing the threat. But no site has yet been placed on that list because of climate change.

Meanwhile, places at serious risk from climate change are still being added as new World Heritage sites. UCS plans to work with UNESCO’s two primary international non-profit technical advisors, IUCN and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) to address this issue at next year’s World Heritage Committee meeting.

Four newly designated World Heritage sites vulnerable

Here are the four newly designated sites already being impacted by climate change:

Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District. Photo: Adam Markham

A spectacular landscape of glaciated valleys and lakes, this region was the cradle of the English Romantic movement led by the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and home to the authors Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin. Its agro-pastoral landscape dotted with hill farms and stone walls is the result of hundreds of years of sheep farming, and the Lake District is now one of Britain’s most popular tourism destinations.

Unfortunately, the area is already experiencing warmer, wetter, winters and more intense extreme weather events. Disastrous floods in 2009 washed away old bridges and footpaths, and unprecedented drought in 2010-12 affected water supply and water quality in lakes and rivers. Conservation managers predict that species at the edge of their ranges in the Lake District, including cold-water fish such as the Arctic char, could become locally extinct, peat habitats may dry out, woodland species composition will change and invasive alien species like Japanese knotweed will proliferate in response to changing conditions.

Kujataa, Greenland (Denmark)

Ruined Norse buildings at Kujataa. Photo: UNESCO/Garðar Guðmunds-son

Kujataa in southern Greenland holds archaeological evidence of the earliest introduction of farming to the Arctic by Norse settlers from Iceland, and earlier hunter-gatherers.

Today, it’s an exceptionally well preserved cultural landscape of fields and pastures from medieval times through to the 18th Century, representing a combination of Norse and Inuit subsistence farming and sea mammal hunting. However, in common with the rest of Greenland, the area is experiencing a rapidly warming climate.

Coastal erosion exacerbated by sea level rise and more intense storms can damage historic monuments and archaeology. Elsewhere in Greenland, warming temperatures have been shown to hasten decomposition of organic material at archaeological sites, including wood, fabrics and animal skins – a growing problem throughout the Arctic. Warming at Kujataa is also expected to increase the growth of shrubby vegetation and alter agricultural cycles, potentially necessitating changes in cropping strategies by local farmers.

Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia & Russian Federation

Daurien steppe wetlands. Photo: UNESCO/O.Kirilyu

This new transboundary World Heritage site covers a huge area of undisturbed steppe, and is a globally important ecoregion. Home to nomadic Mongolian herders who have used the grasslands for over 3,000 years, the Daurian steppes are also rich in biodiversity. They are important for millions of migratory birds and home to almost all the world’s Mongolian gazelle population as well as threatened species such as the red-crowned crane and swan goose.

According to a climate impacts assessment by IUCN, the mean annual temperature of the region has already risen by 2°C and further climate change is expected to bring longer and more severe droughts, reducing grassland productivity and changing wetlands dramatically in what is already a landscape of cyclical weather extremes. Desertification and wildfires worsened by climate change are adding further environmental pressures.

‡Khomani Cultural Landscape, Republic of South Africa

‡Khomani San cultural heritage has at last been recognized. Photo: UNESCO/Francois Odendaal Productions

The ‡Khomani San (or Kalahari bushmen) are the indigenous first people of the Kalahari Desert, but they were forced from their land when the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (now part of the  Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) was created in 1931. The displacement led to dispersion of the ‡Khomani San people through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana and almost killed off many traditional cultural practices as well as ancient languages such as N|u.

After apartheid ended, the San were successful in settling a land claim and the new World Heritage site, which coincides with the boundaries of the national park, recognizes their thousands of years of traditional use of this land, their close connection to its natural systems and their right to co-manage the preserve.

Unfortunately, climate change presents a new challenge. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected accelerated warming and a drying trend for this area of southern Africa, and in recent decades conversion of grassland into savanna, with more un-vegetated soil has been reported and increased desertification is a growing threat. Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is the fastest warming park in South Africa and scientists have recorded a rise in mean maximum annual temperature there of nearly 2°C since 1960.


President Trump’s Budget Leaves Workers Behind

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Budgets reflect priorities; they also reflect values. And the Trump Administration has signaled where it stands loud and clear via its agency appointments (Scott Pruitt, need we say more?) and its FY18 budget proposals. We have already said plenty about what the proposed cuts to the EPA budget mean for public health and the environment.

A recap here, here, here, here. Many others are also ringing that alarm bell (here, here, here).

Less in the public eye is the Administration’s budget proposals for agencies that protect another critical resource—our nation’s workforce! We do have some indication of where Congress and the Administration stand on worker health and safety (here, here)—and it’s not reassuring.

Trump budget puts worker health on chopping block

Let’s cut to the chase. President Trump’s FY18 budget proposals are not good for working people; these are our loved ones, our families’ breadwinners. They are also essential contributors to powering our economy…you know, making America great.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the cuts our President has proposed for our primary worker health and safety agencies—the agencies that safeguard and protect our nation’s workforce:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). $9.5 million budget cut; staffing cuts in enforcement program; elimination of safety and health training grants for workers. OSHA was created by Congress to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.” It is our nation’s bulwark in protecting workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education and assistance to employers and workers. At current budget levels, OSHA can only inspect every workplace in the United States once every 159 years.
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). An astounding 40% budget cut. NIOSH is our nation’s primary federal agency responsible for conducting research, transferring that knowledge to employers and workers, and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury. These draconian cuts will essentially eliminate academic programs that train occupational health and safety professionals (occupational medicine physicians and nurses, industrial hygienists, workplace safety specialists) that serve both employers and workers. It will eliminate extramural research programs that conduct, translate, or evaluate research, as well as state surveillance programs for occupational lead poisoning, silicosis, and other diseases.
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). $3 million cut to the agency’s budget on top of previous $8 million cut. This will reduce the number of safety inspection in U.S. coal mines by nearly 25%. MSHA was established in 1977 to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and to promote safe and healthful workplaces for U.S. miners. (The first federal mine safety statute was passed in 1891.)
Some context

My reflections on this year’s Worker Memorial Day pretty much capture it. But here’s a quick summary:

  • In 2015, 4,836 U.S. workers died from work-related injuries, the highest number since 2008. That’s about 13 people every day! In the United States!
  • Deaths from work-related occupational disease—like silicosis, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung), occupational cancer, etc.—are not well captured in data surveillance systems. It is estimated that another 50,000-60,000 died from occupational diseases—an astounding number. And, for many, their deaths come years after suffering debilitating and painful symptoms.
  • And then there are the nonfatal injuries and illnesses. Employers reported approximately 2.9 million of them in private industry workers in 2015; another 752,600 injury and illness cases were reported among the approximately 18.4 million state and local government workers.
  • There were nine fatalities and 1,260 reportable cases of workplace injury in the US coal mining industry in 2016.
Speak out opportunity this week

The House subcommittee on Labor–HHS Appropriations has scheduled the markup on the FY 2018 Labor–HHS funding bill for Thursday, July 13, 2017. This is the bill that funds OSHA, MSHA, and NIOSH, as well as the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Now is the time to give the appropriators an earful on these proposed cuts—cuts that seriously endanger workers’ safety and health, essentially leaving them behind. Reach out to members of the House appropriation subcommittee and committee and urge them to oppose these cuts to our worker health and safety agencies. Also urge them to oppose any “poison pill riders” to block or delay the implementation of worker protection rules.

Here’s a list of members of the Labor–HHS subcommittee. Members of the full Appropriations Committee are listed here.

How the Senate Healthcare Bill Bolsters the Tanning Industry’s Misinformation Campaign

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

The American Suntanning Association (ASA) and the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) are trade organizations representing the interests of indoor tanning manufacturers, suppliers and salon owners. The product that these trade organizations sell to customers is artificial UV radiation. The ASA has called itself a “science-first organization” and spouts off so-called scientific information on their website,, designed to correct “misinformation” about the harms of indoor sun tanning.

One problem, though: the science doesn’t support their position. In May 2013, several scientific researchers wrote in JAMA Dermatology about the ASA’s biased scientific agenda and how its unscientific messages can negatively impact the public: “Clinicians should be aware of this new counter-information campaign by the [indoor tanning] industry and continue to inform their patients about the risks of [indoor tanning] and the existence of potentially misleading information from the ASA and other organizations. Scientists and clinicians have a duty to remain cognizant of such issues and to voice concerns when agenda-based research is presented in order to “defend and promote” a product with potentially devastating health consequences.”

Like the tobacco industry, sugar industry, and fossil fuel industries before them, the indoor tanning industry is refusing to accept its ethical responsibility to inform customers of the harms of its products. Instead it is actively working to create uncertainty around the science and question the integrity of the governmental and scientific institutions that are acting in the public’s best interest.

The indoor tanning industry seeks to become “great again”

As President Trump took office, the ASA began the derivative slogan, “Make Indoor Tanning Great Again” in the industry’s monthly magazine, SmartTan. By “great again,” the industry means repealing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) inclusion of a 10% tax on indoor tanning services. In its advertisement, the ASA urges readers to join the movement and add to its effort of “building relationships with key policymakers and educating the federal government about our industry’s scientifically supported position.” In the June issue of SmartTan, in an article titled “Axing the Tan Tax,” the author brags that three full-time ASA lobbyists over the course of four years have convinced Congressional leadership (including current HHS chief Tom Price and Vice President Mike Pence) that the American tanning industry has been treated unfairly and that there is science supporting the benefits of non-burning UV exposure.

I’ll let The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) take this one.

The AAD recommends that individuals should obtain vitamin D from a healthy diet, not from unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation, because there is “not scientifically validated, safe threshold of UV exposure from the sun or indoor tanning devices that allows for maximal vitamin D synthesis without increasing skin cancer risk.” Anyway, even if there were benefits of UV exposure, the business model of these salons operates upon the retention of customers throughout the year, not just during the busy season. And more trips to the salon means an increased risk of burns and unsafe exposure.

The tanning tax has a twofold goal: help reduce skin cancer risk, especially in young adults, and to use funds to help pay for implementation of the Act. The science on the association between indoor tanning and increased risk of skin cancer supported the case for the inclusion of this policy measure in President Obama’s healthcare bill. A quick spotlight on that science can be summed up by the headline on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website addressing the topic: “indoor tanning is not safe.”

The Surgeon General issued a call to action to prevent skin cancer in 2014 which warned of the risks of indoor tanning. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has said this of tanning bed related exposure: “citing evidence from years of international research on the relationship between indoor tanning and skin cancer, the IARC, affiliated with the World Health Organization, placed this type of UVR in its most dangerous cancer category for humans, alongside offenders such as radon, asbestos, cigarettes, plutonium, and solar UVR.” Incidence of one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer, melanoma, has been rising over the past 30 years. And, people who started tanning before age 35 have an increased risk of developing melanoma. Because indoor tanning is popular among adolescents and it’s a risky behavior to start while young, restriction of indoor tanning would help public health outcomes.

The FDA has proposed a rule restricting indoor tanning bed use to adults over 18 and requiring users to sign a risk acknowledgement certification stating that they understand the risks of indoor tanning. Taxes are also an effective way to curb demand for a substance, the use of which has worked to decrease cigarette smoking and more recently, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. However, the tanning industry has joined the ranks of the tobacco and sugar industries to fuel a misinformation campaign designed to sow doubt about the body of science showing harm and delay or quash policies that hurt their bottom line.

Shining a light on the tanning industry’s misinformation campaign

The tanning industry has long fought any regulation or control of its messaging and has funneled money to members of Congress to help in these efforts.

Burt Bonn, immediate past president of ASA, told Smart Tan magazine in February 2017 that “[t]he science has been in our favor from the very beginning…Our opponents have relied on just a few out of hundreds of studies on the risks of UV light to make their case. Nearly all of those studies have been debunked.” He continued, “I think the science is already at a point that it ought to be embarrassing to have someone in the medical profession advise complete and total sunlight abstinence or suggest that a tanning bed operated in a professional tanning salon is a major issue.” Embarrassing? Tell that to the American Academy of Dermatologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, representing thousands of experts in their fields who have recommended that all adults reduce UV exposure, and that children under 18 eliminate UV exposure altogether.

The tanning industry has been on fire in its repeated attempts to misrepresent the science on UV exposure in multiple venues. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that the ITA made misleading representations in its advertising and marketing for indoor tanning including falsely claiming that indoor tanning poses no risk to health, including no risk of skin cancer. The 2010 administrative order from the FTC prohibits the ITA from making representations that imply that the indoor tanning does not increase the risk of skin cancer. In March of 2017, the FTC wrote to the ITA informing them that its FAQ page on its website that claimed that “indoor tanning [was]more responsible than outdoor tanning” and that “melanoma was not associated with UV exposure from tanning bed[s]” were not allowed.

Apparently, the failure to remove that language since 2010 was an oversight by the ITA, but those non-scientific bits of information had persisted on their website, and had been picked up and used on third-party websites, for years! Not only are the indoor tanning industry trade associations still distributing their own unscientific materials to convince users of their products’ safety, but they are using these same arguments to attempt to meddle with public messaging and federal policy at the CDC and FDA and in its lobbying for tanning tax relief since 2011.

According to the tanning industry’s January 2015 issue of Smart Tan, the ASA’s legal and lobbying teams succeeded in getting the CDC to remove claims of a 75% increase in melanoma risk from sunbed use from its website, and “the ASA legal team is following appropriate CDC protocol to challenge even more language that we believe is not supported by sound science.” ASA’s Burt Bonn told the industry magazine that the previous leadership of the CDC and the Surgeon General were unwilling to consider the appropriate scientific evidence regarding indoor tanning and seems hopeful that the new directors will be more “open-minded.” He continued, “The federal government is currently treating tanning like smoking, when there’s no science to support that ridiculous comparison. The consumer advocacy campaigns need to stop…The science is overwhelmingly supportive of sunlight and human health, and we currently have an administration that seems to be driven more by politics than current science. But now they are gone and change is coming.” It should not surprise us that the Administration that coined the moronic oxymoron “alternative facts” would be supportive of an industry wed to the abusive use of such things.

The ASA and ITA’s 2016 comment to the FDA opposed its proposed rule that would restrict the sale, distribution, and use of indoor tanning beds to minors on the basis that the science that the agency relied upon is outdated and doesn’t support the “onerous requirements” of the FDA’s rule.

Section 118 of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 would repeal the 10% excise tax on indoor tanning services established by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, its repeal would reduce revenues by approximately $622 over ten years and would drastically reduce funding to implement the Affordable Care Act.

There have also been several failed Congressional attempts to repeal the ACA tanning tax, lobbied for by none other than the ITA. In 2015 and 2017, Representative George Holding introduced a bill to repeal the tanning tax after receiving over $6,000 from the Indoor Tanning Association. Representative Michael Grimm had introduced a similar bill in 2011 and 2014 and received over $8,000 in 2012.  And now, the indoor tanning industry is cheering the introduction of the provision within the draft Senate healthcare bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, that would repeal the tax.

The truth about indoor tanning risks must inform federal policy

In spite of the tanning industry’s best efforts so far, the government’s messaging on the risks of indoor tanning and the policy measures instituted to reduce its use are working. CDC data from the High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System found that the number of high school students who used an indoor tanning device decreased by more than half since the ACA and the tanning tax went into effect, from 15.6% in 2009 to 7.3% in 2015. In light of the great body of scientific evidence demonstrating the risks of UV exposure, we should be doing even more to educate and protect teenagers and adults alike from the harms of UV exposure, rather than rolling back important policies aimed at accomplishing just that.

The Senate healthcare bill ignores the science on health impacts of indoor tanning and caves to the tanning industry and their misinformation campaign. It is currently opposed by nearly all scientific voices that work in healthcare. The American Academy of Dermatology opposes the repeal of the tanning tax provision, and the full bill is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the list goes on.

We have the right to make decisions based on accurate scientific information, not the information cherry-picked and screened by an industry who stands to profit from our ignorance. We should put the Indoor Tanning Association and the American Suntanning Association in the hot seat (and not the kind you find in a tanning salon) for perpetuating falsehoods about their products that could harm consumers’ health. This goes for the current draft Senate healthcare bill and any other future measures that would limit the amount of information available to consumers about the risks of indoor tanning or otherwise compromise policy solutions aimed at keeping us safe.

Photo: Marco Vertch/CC BY 2.0 (Wikimedia)

Historic Treaty Makes Nuclear Weapons Illegal

UCS Blog - All Things Nuclear (text only) -

Remember this day, July 7, 2017. Today, history was made at the United Nations and the nuclear status quo was put on notice and most of the world stood up and said simply, “Enough.”

(Source: United Nations)

Just hours ago, 122 nations and a dedicated group of global campaigners successfully adopted a legally binding international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and making it illegal “to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” Nuclear weapons now join biological and chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions that are now explicitly and completely banned under international law.

Our heartfelt gratitude to all who worked tirelessly to make this moment possible, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Reaching Critical Will, the governments of Norway, Mexico and Austria (which hosted three international conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons which inspired this effort) and so many other nations, civil society organizations, scientists, doctors & other public health professionals and global citizens/activists.

This is a powerful expression of conscience and principle on behalf of humanity from 63 percent of the 193 UN member states—one anchored in the simple truth that nuclear weapons are illegitimate instruments of security. ICAN lays out the imperative quite well:

“Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in the scale of the devastation they cause, and in their uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapons. They are a threat to human survival.”

Challenging the status quo is at the heart of most successful mass movements for social and planetary progress. Those who benefit from the status quo never give up easily. Movements to end slavery, give women the right to vote, establish marriage equality in the United States and other examples of momentous social change were first bitterly opposed and derided by opponents as naïve, wrong, out of touch, costly, unachievable, etc.

Nuclear weapons are no different. The United States, Russia and other nuclear-armed and nuclear “umbrella” states chose not to participate in these ban treaty negotiations, and dismissed it outright. Indeed, senior officials in the Obama administration spent years doing verbal gymnastics to align the rhetoric of the president who stood up in Prague pledging to work toward “the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons” with outright hostility to the ban treaty. To no one’s surprise, the Trump administration has embraced the Obama administration’s plans to perpetuate the nuclear status quo and has forfeited any role or leadership in this critical discussion.

And don’t even get me started about all of the Washington insiders who believe nuclear deterrence will never fail and we can rely on the sound judgement of a small number of people (most of them men) to prevent global nuclear catastrophe.

The ban treaty effort is meant to provide renewed energy and momentum to the moribund global nuclear disarmament process. It is intended to be a prod to the nuclear-armed signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which have largely ignored their obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament. It will help revive the NPT and the UN’s Conference on Disarmament, not replace them.

Indeed, most of the world has run out of patience and today they spoke loudly. The treaty will be open for signature in September and one can only hope that this is a true turning point in our effort to save humanity from these most horrible of all weapons.

Tesla Model 3 vs. Chevy Bolt? What You Need to Know Before Buying an Electric Car

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It’s 90 degrees here in our nation’s capital but it might feel like the winter holiday season to those who reserved a Tesla Model 3. Expected to have a 215-mile range and sticker price of $35,000 (or $27,500 after the federal tax credit), the Model 3 will compete with the similar spec’d Chevy Bolt for the prize of cornering the early majority of electric vehicle owners.

No other automaker has a relatively affordable, 200 mile-plus range electric vehicle on the market, yet (the nextgen Nissan Leaf will compete too), and one or both of these vehicles may be a pivotal point in the modern shift to electrics.Assuming you’re already sold on the benefits of driving on electricity, here are a couple tips for you to consider if you’re prepping for an electric vehicle.

#1 Prepare your home charging

There are two main options for charging an electric vehicle at home: (1) 120V charging from an ordinary home outlet and (2) 240V charging from either an upgraded home circuit or existing circuit for a heavy electric appliance like a drying machine.

There is also DC fast charging, but that is only applicable to charging on-the-go and described in more detail below. Before deciding on how to charge, talk with a couple licensed electricians to better understand your home’s electrical capacity. Mr. Electric appears to win the Google SEO for “electrician for electric vehicle,” so maybe head there for a start.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 1 (120 volts) – about 4-6 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Uses an ordinary wall outlet just like a toaster.
  • Typically won’t require modifications to electric panels or home wiring.
  • Confirm that your home’s electrical circuits are at least 15 or 20-amp, single pole by consulting with a licensed electrician.
  • Slow, but can get the job done if you don’t drive that much on a daily basis. If you only need 20 miles of range, for example, only getting 20 miles of charge each night is not a problem. For road trips, most EVs are equipped to handle the faster charging options that can make charging pit stops on road trips pretty quick.

Electric Vehicle ChargingLevel 2 (240 volts) – about 10-25 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Installation costs vary, but here’s a 30-amp charger from Amazon that is highly rated and costs around $900, including installation, and here’s one that includes an algorithm to minimize charging emissions and costs.
  • Will likely require a new dedicated circuit from the electric panel to a wall location near the EV parking spot.
  • Consult with a licensed electrician to verify that your home has a two-pole 30 to 50-amp electrical circuit breaker panel.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 3 (aka DC fast charging) (400 volts) – Not for home use, but can charge battery up to 80 percent in about 30 minutes

  • The fastest charging method available, but prohibitively expensive for home use.
  • Some vehicles can get an 80 percent full charge in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the electric vehicle type.
#2 File your tax credit(s)

Purchasing an electric vehicle should qualify you for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Here is all the information and form to fill out when you file taxes. You better file quick because the federal tax credit is capped at 200,000 credits per manufacturer. Some manufacturers, including Nissan and Chevrolet, are forecast to hit the 200,000 cap as early as 2018. If Tesla delivers on its 400,000 Model 3 pre-orders, not every Model 3 owner will be able to take advantage of the full $7,500 savings, so act fast!

Also check this map to see what additional state incentives you may qualify for.

#3 Locate public charging stations

Tesla has a network of fast charging stations exclusively for Tesla owners, but there are thousands of public charging stations that any electric vehicle driver can use on the go too. You may be surprised to find chargers near your workplace, school, or other frequent destination. Check out this Department of Energy station locator, or this map from PlugShare. The Department of Transportation has also designated several charging corridors that should be getting even more EV chargers.

#4 Contact your utility

Give your utility a heads up that you are getting an electric vehicle, and inquire about any promotional plans for vehicle charging. Some utilities have flexible “time-of-use” rates, meaning that they will charge you less when you plug a vehicle in during off-peak times (typically overnight). Your utility might also have its own electric vehicle incentives, like a rebate on installation or charger costs, or even a pilot project on smart charging where you can get paid to plug in your vehicle.

#5 Say goodbye to internal combustion engines, forever!

Driving on electricity is not only cheaper and cleaner than driving on gasoline, it’s also a total blast. Prepare to never want to go back to gasoline-powered vehicles as you cruise on the smooth, silent power of electricity.

How Trump’s Trade Talks (and Tweets) Got Sickeningly Sweet

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There are things that raise eyebrows in the public health community.

One of those things is when the sugar industry is happy.

While they’ve had a lot to smile about lately—including the delay of an FDA rule requiring added sugar to be listed on packaged food nutrition labels—most recently, it’s President Trump’s trade talks with Mexico.

The preliminary agreement struck between the US and Mexico last month, seen as a prelude to NAFTA renegotiations, effectively reduces the amount of refined sugar Mexico can export to the United States, allowing US refineries to remain competitive. In return, Mexico has the option to supply any excess demand for refined sugar in US markets. (Refined sugar is the white, granulated stuff most of us know as sugar; it’s made from raw sugar harvested from sugarcane or beets.)

The US has long had import quotas and other mechanisms securing price guarantees for refined sugar, but producers argued that these were undermined when Mexico was allowed unrestricted access to the American market in 2008 through what was called a loophole in NAFTA—leading to the dumping of subsidized refined sugar into the US market. Following claims of unfair trading practices filed by American producers in 2014, Mexico agreed to limit the price and volume of its sugar exports, but US sugar producers still felt trade laws had been violated. Had the US and Mexico not reached an accord last month, Mexican companies may have been subject to financial penalty as a result.

I’m not here to comb through the finer points of these negotiations, because I’m not qualified to do so. Nor will I propose that we ban sugar and hope the industry folds, because I plan on having ice cream this weekend. As long as Americans produce, process, and consume sugar, we will need to negotiate trade in sugar.

That said, I’m concerned by this banner emblazoned this week on the home page of the American Sugar Alliance, which represents sugar producers and refiners.


Let’s talk about money and corporate influence.

Of course, it’s misleading to suggest there was no sugar deal for many years. As Daniel Pearson, chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission under former president George W. Bush, noted, “Prior to 2008 and after 2014, it was a very tightly controlled market.

But that aside, I’d like to focus on the power and political influence of the sugar industry. The mission of the American Sugar Alliance, per their website, is to “ensure that sugar farmers and workers in the US sugar industry survive in a world of heavily subsidized sugar.” To aid in their quest for survival, they’ve managed to pull enough quarters out of the couch to spend no less than $2.17 million annually on lobbying between 2013 and 2016. These expenditures are second only to those of American Crystal Sugar, whose total spending topped $3.24 million in 2016. These two groups claim the number one and two spots for highest lobbying expenditures in the category of “crop production and basic processing,” which includes sugar, fruit, vegetables, cotton, grains, soybean, honey, rice, and peanuts.

In the case of this particular deal, a spotlight also shines on the cozy relationship between billionaire Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, and Jose Fanjul, longtime Republican donor and part owner of a sugar and real estate conglomerate that includes the Domino Sugar and Florida Crystals brands. Though the two have never conducted official business together, they’ve run in the same social circles for years and have frequently been guests in each other’s homes. (Hilary Geary Ross describes their “gloriously perfect” vacation in the Dominican Republic here.) At a July fundraiser for then-candidate Trump in Mr. Ross’s Long Island home, Mr. Fanjul took a seat on the exclusive “host committee.” It was later reported that he made donations to the Republican party and the Trump campaign in amounts of $94,600 and $5,400, respectively.

To be clear: I’m not claiming that the sugar industry and its kingpins are the only ones with deep pockets, that they are solely responsible for the outcomes of the trade deal between US and Mexico, or even that this is an inherently disastrous agreement. Nor do I believe that our government agencies are solely a vehicle for the interests of big business; on the contrary, I’m inclined to believe that most federal employees and political appointees lead and serve with integrity.

But we now have a president who has demonstrated an unyielding interest in dismantling and renegotiating fundamental food and agriculture policy—trade and otherwise—with enormous financial implications for some of the biggest and most powerful players in our food system, and we need to pay attention. We’re talking about an industry that has manipulated and influenced nutrition research for over fifty years to shift the onus of disease from sugar to fat. Not to mention agribusiness, which boasts lobbying expenditures on par with defense—totaling over $2 trillion over the last 20 years. These industries are deeply invested in making sure these policies work in their favor, and where there’s a will, a whole lot of capital, and a few friends in high places, it isn’t far-fetched to imagine that there is a way.

Undue industry influence on President Trump’s policy agenda will almost certainly allow the corporate consolidation of our food system to continue to snowball, and in doing so, will move us further than ever from achieving an equitable, sustainable, and health-promoting food system. History has provided us with too many examples of the self-interest of sugar, Big Ag and the food industry to believe otherwise.

We all lose when industry drives policy.

It’s simple.

Industry influence and industry money will benefit industry.

It will not improve the health or wellbeing of our children.

It will not contribute to our communities, our farms, or our local economy.

And it can go unchecked without the awareness and intentional engagement of those of us who stand to lose the most. This sugar deal is done, but there are other battles to fight. At UCS, we’ll continue in our efforts to stand up for science and the public good, from defending climate science and clean air protections at the EPA to fighting the nomination of a USDA Chief Scientist with no scientific background. Because if corporate interests and anti-science ideology drive public policies, we all lose.

Timing, Pollinators, and the Impact of Climate Change

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Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus). These flowers have a scent similar to overripe rotting fruit, and are visited by sap beetles

Periodically in the spring, I have the pleasure of teaching Plant Taxonomy to students at a small college in Asheville, North Carolina. Among other things, I love the way that teaching this class forces me to pay close attention to what is coming out of the ground, leafing out, or flowering at any particular point of the season in the Blue Ridge Mountains where our campus is nestled. Each week, I fill the classroom with clippings from plants for my students to examine, up close and personal, as they learn to recognize different families of plants and how they compare with one another: how trilliums differ from jack-in-the-pulpits, or spring beauty differ from rue anemone.

But a couple weeks into the semester this spring, it became abundantly clear that I was going to need to scrap my syllabus and completely rearrange my labs. A very warm and short winter followed by an early spring meant that many of the plants I depend on appeared to be blooming weeks earlier than usual. While I initially doubted my intuition, based solely on passing observations, I then pulled out my collection notes for lab on March 6 and found it was dated April 6, 2013. My intuition was right on target. The flowering period was three to four weeks earlier than when I last taught the class, just four years ago.

In my research, too, the early spring was evident and influential. I study pollination and floral biology in sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus, which has wine-red-colored flowers with the scent of overripe, rotting fruit that attracts their pollinators, little sap beetles that crawl into the flowers and feed there. I’ve been following the timing of flowering and fruiting in this plant since 2007, and the data so far show that in years with an early, warm spring, the plant flowers earlier…and the beetles are nowhere to be found. The flowers are there in their glory, flooding the area with their intoxicating sweet aroma, but they are holding a party with no guests—and this does not bode well for their future. The plants depend on the beetles for pollination and subsequent seed production, and in years when the beetles don’t visit, their reproductive success drops to almost nothing.

Author (Amy Boyd) teaching pollination biology to students in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Phenology and climate change

Timing of biological events—such as flowering and leaf-out in plants or egg-laying in insects—is called phenology, and increasing attention has been given to the study of phenology as we face a changing climate. Many organisms depend on climatic signals such as temperature as cues for their timing during the season, and so as the planet warms, their response to these cues will cause them to leaf out, bloom, mate or lay eggs earlier.

But here’s the rub: many organisms, like the sweetshrub, depend on relationships with other species…and not all species use the same cues. One may use mean daily temperature as its phenological cue while another uses day length. If two species that depend on their interaction with one another use different cues in a changing environment, or respond differently to similar cues, they may end up missing each other entirely—what is likely happening with the beetles and the sweetshrub.

Plant-pollinator mismatch

Scientists keeping watch over phenology are accumulating more and more evidence that our changing climate is affecting many diverse species and potentially disrupting the interactions among them. For example, a study of bumblebees and the plants they visit in the Rocky Mountains has found that the timing of both has shifted earlier, but not by the same amount. The shift in flowering has been greater than the shift in bumblebee timing, resulting in decreased synchrony—and both plants and pollinators may suffer as a result. In Japan, biologists have followed a spring wildflower (Corydalis ambigua) and its bumblebee pollinators and similarly found that the plants were more sensitive than the bumblebees to early onset of spring. Reduced synchrony of bees and flowers resulted in lower availability of pollinators for the plants, and potentially also lower availability of food for the pollinators.

As the planet warms, plants and pollinators alike may adjust to the changes in different ways, leading to mismatches between these symbiotic partners. This impact of climate change on phenology compounds all the other challenges facing pollinators today, like the loss and fragmentation of habitat, disease, pesticide use, and the spread of invasive species.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) flower being visited by carpenter bee pollinator (Xylocopa virginica)

Consequences for agriculture

So why should we care about such disruptions in phenology? Being forced to scrap my syllabus is a very minor consequence compared to the potential impacts on agricultural production. By some estimates, 35% of all crop species worldwide depend on or benefit from pollination by animals (including bees and other insects). Some 16% of all vertebrate pollinator species (such as hummingbirds and bats) are threatened with extinction, while at least 9% of all insect pollinators are threatened as well. Pollinators are essential partners with farmers who grow fruit, vegetables and nuts; without them, our own species faces loss of an important component of its food source. Similar mismatches may also change and disrupt relationships between crop plants and pest species, creating new challenges to agriculture or enhancing existing threats.

Farmers see the changes in phenology in their own fields, and they are already concerned about the future of agriculture in a changing climate. But we all need to be aware of the impact of climate change on the web of interactions that make up the world around us, so that we can support lawmakers and others who are ready to stop the human activities impacting our planet’s climate. Many biologists are out there watching, accumulating evidence with the systematic eye of science.  We must support their efforts—and listen to their messages about our impacts on the planet and our future.


Amy E. Boyd is Professor of Biology and Chair of the Division of Natural Sciences at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. She is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist whose research currently focuses on plant-pollinator interactions and phenological patterns.

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

100% Clean Energy? In California, SB 100 May Make it Possible

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For many, summertime means getting to wear shorts, eating more ice cream than usual, and if you’re lucky, sleeping in. But for me, summertime means putting on a suit and heading to Sacramento to talk about energy policy. While the Trump Administration tries unsucessfully to convince the country that coal is the answer, the California Legislature is moving ever forward to advance a cleaner and healthier energy future

Right now, much attention is focused on the California Clean Energy Act of 2017 (“SB 100” for short). SB 100 would accelerate the state’s primary renewable energy program—the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS)—which was created to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and improve air quality. The RPS currently requires every utility in the state to source 50% of its electricity sales from renewables by 2030.

The program has been a major driver of renewable energy development since its inception in 2002, and has helped us significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and criteria air pollution associated with electricity generation. In 2016, California was generating 27% of its electricity from RPS-eligible renewables like solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy, and small hydropower.

California renewable energy mix in 2016. Source: California Energy Commission

SB 100 would accelerate the 50% RPS requirement to 2025 and establish a new target of 60% by 2030. Getting to 60% renewables by 2030 is certainly achievable. Many of the major electricity providers in the state are already on track to meet or exceed the 50% RPS; raising it to 60% by 2030 will help take advantage of the renewable energy federal tax credits that are set to expire by the end of 2019.

SB 100 would also establish a path to decarbonize the remaining electricity used in California (aka the 40% not subject to the RPS).  It does this by directing the state’s energy agencies to study and plan for a electricity grid that utilizes 100% “zero-carbon” resources by 2045.

In other words, 60% of California’s electricity would be generated by RPS-eligible renewables while the remaining 40% would be generated by additional renewables or other types of electricity generation that don’t qualify under the RPS, but also don’t require the combustion of fossil fuels. For example, California’s existing fleet of large hydropower facilities is not RPS-eligible, but would count as “zero carbon.”

Powering the most populous and prosperous state in the country on 100% carbon-free electricity is bold and aspirational, but also achievable. Technology is already available to help the grid to run on very large quantities of renewables, and the cost of investments needed to make this happen are coming down.

One of the biggest challenges we must overcome to reach a zero-carbon electricity future is eliminating our dependence on natural gas to provide energy and grid reliability services. Natural gas-fired generation still makes up 36 percent of California’s electricity mix and emits greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

To jump-start the research effort to securely ease us off fossil fuels, our electricity providers and energy regulatory agencies need a signal from the legislature that Californians demand a carbon-free future.

We have a lot at stake. As climate change intensifies, peoples’ health and economic stability are being threatened by extreme heat, water shortages, forest fires, and sea level rise. Showing the world how to run a grid on 100% carbon-free generation  would provide a blueprint for significant cuts in global warming emissions. In addition, California continues to have the worst air quality of any state in the country; by electrifying the transportation sector with carbon-free electricity, we can cut the largest source of toxic air pollution in the state—cars and trucks.

California has firmly established itself as a clean energy leader by reaching for goals that at first seemed unattainable. At first glance, a 100% carbon-free electricity goal may seem like a moonshot. But I say let’s do it.  We won’t know how close the stars actually are unless we reach for them.

Reentry Heating from North Korea’s July 4 Missile Test

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In a previous post, I estimated what North Korea could have learned from its May 14 Hwasong-12 missile test that is relevant to developing a reentry vehicle (RV) for a longer range missile.

I’ve updated the numbers in that post for the July 4 missile test (Table 1). In particular, I compare several measures of the heating experienced by the RV on the July 4 test to what would be experienced by the same RV on a 10,000 km-range missile on a standard trajectory (MET).

Table 1. A comparison of RV heating on the July 4 test and on a 10,000 km-range trajectory, assuming both missiles have the same RV and payload. A discussion of these quantities can be found in the earlier post.

The numbers in Table 1 are very nearly the same as those for the May 14 test, which means this test would give only a marginal amount of new information.

The maximum heating rate (q) would be essentially the same for the two trajectories. However, the total heat absorbed (Q) by the 10,000 km missile would be 60% larger and the duration of heating (τ) would be more than two and a half times as long.

In its statement after the July 4 test, North Korea said:

the inner temperature of the warhead tip was maintained at 25 to 45 degrees centigrade despite the harsh atmospheric reentry conditions of having to face the heat reaching thousands of degrees centigrade

While this may be true, the additional heat that would be absorbed on a 10,000 km trajectory and the longer time available for that heat to conduct to the interior of the RV means that this test did not replicate the heating environment a 10,000 km-range missile would have to withstand. The heat shield may in fact be sufficient to protect the warhead, but this test does not conclusively demonstrate that.

Congress Is Trying to Give the Trump Administration a Short Cut to Ignore Public Input and Science: It Shouldn’t

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There is no question that elections matter. We follow the process and accept the results even if that results in many, many battles over the direction of the country. The election of Donald Trump and the 115th Congress seems to be a watershed moment for the country in many ways, but that doesn’t mean the rule of law or the fundamental principles of our democracy have gone away. Or have they?

I am not referring to the big controversies we see every night on the news about foreign interference in the election, or questions of conflicts of interest surrounding the President and many of his appointed officials. Those public debates are important and often seem to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

I am talking about more obscure actions buried away in the federal appropriations process that would literally set aside the ability of the public to be involved in making a key public policy decision and set aside the need to justify that decision based on good science. Sound scary? Damn right.

A dangerous appropriations bill “rider”

Just before the 4th of July recess, the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development included a provision to their spending bill to allow the Administration to withdraw the Obama-era Clean Water rule “without regard to any provision of statute or regulation that establishes a requirement for such withdrawal.” If that provision becomes law, it would allow Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers to ignore legal requirements that the public be informed about and have an opportunity to comment on changes to a regulation. It means the Administration would be authorized to set aside scientific analysis that was developed as the basis for the current Clean Water rule without specifically addressing any of the scientific evidence. Pretty scary for six lines unrelated to government spending tucked into a complicated spending bill.

Why would anyone want to do this? Is the Clean Water rule so very different from all other public policies that we should waive the law including the Administrative Procedures Act which has applied to all sorts of public policy for more than 60 years, as well as the requirement to base rules, whether they be implementing or changing regulations, on good science? Actually, no it isn’t. But the Clean Water rule has become a cause célèbre for many conservative politicians, a poster child for so-called “government overreach” or “bureaucratic excess.” Unfortunately, as is all too common, much of the overheated opposition to the rule is based on a false narrative.

The Clean Water Rule

The Clean Water Rule defines the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by clarifying which bodies of water are considered in implementing the Act, through which Congress mandated the nation’s efforts to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” In 2006, the Supreme Court weighed in with a split decision that also instructed the EPA to clarify the scope of their CWA efforts. So the Obama Administration did just that—after years of additional analysis, proposals, and hundreds of thousands of public comments. The resulting rule expands the footprint of CWA actions by about 3 percent. In other words, it requires federal agencies and state and tribal partners to consider pollution impacts on waters and wetlands connected to larger “navigable” water bodies in some additional circumstances.

So who is so opposed? Developers, because it means they may need to be more careful in ensuring their activities don’t pollute the lakes and rivers we rely upon for our drinking water supply or for recreational activities like fishing and swimming. Mr. Trump issued an Executive Order to withdraw the rule. The Pruitt EPA has proposed going back to the pre-2006 definition, which they believe is clearer, despite the Supreme Court saying it was that very approach that was causing confusion. Clearly this is a complicated and controversial public policy decision.

Now, the Appropriations Subcommittee language says, let’s cut the public out of the process and make it easier for Pruitt to listen to his friends from industry. Let’s forget about the science. Let’s ignore anyone whose opinion we don’t like or whose evidence doesn’t support our views.

No short cuts

Outraged? You bet I am! I hope you are too. I believe this administration should have to follow the law just as previous administrations have done. Want to change the rules? Fine, propose an alternative, present your factual analysis, accept public input and explain your decision. And be subject to judicial review. No short cuts. Do your job. I think this Administration needs to hear that message loud and clear at every opportunity. And this Congress should not be adding harmful poison pill riders into must-pass spending bills.

Minnesota’s Solar Boom and… Bob Dylan?

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Those of us that track such things remember a time not long ago when the idea of a solar energy boom in Minnesota might have gotten you a funny look. But in a nod to Bob Dylan and his home state of Minnesota, I can only say: the times they are a-changin.

When Enel Green Power announced on June 27th that it had officially brought online a 150-megawatt (MW) solar project in Minnesota, it marked another big step forward in the state’s growth as a Midwest leader in the clean energy transition. The project is expected to generate enough electricity to power more than 17,000 homes and avoid more than 150,000 tons of carbon emissions annually. Minnesota has embraced solar’s potential, as both a driver of economic growth and a key part of the state’s strategy for addressing climate change.

But it also seemed to me a symbol of the relentless march of progress even as the Trump administration and fossil fuel special interests cling to the status quo and ignore the reality of climate change. And I couldn’t help contemplating Dylan’s ode to a changing world and warning to those that stand in the way:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.


Dylan’s song spoke for those fighting for equality in the 1960s, but maintains its relevance today as we continue to push forward for equal rights under the law and a just transition to a cleaner, safer, and more equitable energy future.

Solar PV is helping with this transition. In Minnesota, the rise of community solar is providing access to clean energy for low-income communities. And the increasing affordability of solar in the US and abroad means our transition away from fossil fuels can benefit everyone. “Solar for all” isn’t a catchphrase: it’s a future that we can create one step at a time in collaboration with our partners, and despite the naysayers that cling to the status quo.

And that list of naysayers continues to shrink. More than 30 studies have concluded that solar provides economic value to all consumers by improving reliability and reducing costs for ratepayers. Businesses are committing to solar as part of their efforts to stabilize and reduce energy costs while meeting sustainability goals. And utilities are increasingly recognizing the business case for investing in solar as an affordable and low risk option for meeting future electricity needs.

So yes, it’s clear to me that the times they are a-changin’ in ways that will benefits all of us. It’s clear in Bob Dylan’s home state of Minnesota and across the US.


Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Contradictory Decisions Undermine Nuclear Safety

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As described in a recent All Things Nuclear commentary, one of the two emergency diesel generators (EDGs) for the Unit 3 reactor at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station in Arizona was severely damaged during a test run on December 15, 2016. The operating license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) allowed the reactor to continue running for up to 10 days with one EDG out of service. Because the extensive damage required far longer than the 10 days provided in the operating license to repair, the owner asked the NRC for permission to continue operating Unit 3 for up to 62 days with only one EDG available. The NRC approved that request on January 4, 2017.

The NRC’s approval contradicted four other agency decisions on virtually the same issue.

Two of the four decisions also involved the Palo Verde reactors, so it’s not a case of the underlying requirements varying. And one of the four decisions was made afterwards, so it’s not a case of the underlying requirements changing over time. UCS requested that Hubert Bell, the NRC’s Inspector General, have his office investigate these five NRC decisions to determine whether they are consistent with regulations, policies, and practices and, if not, identify gaps that the NRC staff needs to close in order to make better decisions more often in the future.

Emergency Diesel Generator Safety Role

NRC’s safety regulations, specifically General Design Criteria 34 and 35 in Appendix A to 10 CFR Part 50, require that nuclear power reactors be designed to protect the public from postulated accidents such as the rupture of the largest diameter pipe connected to the reactor vessel that causes cooling water to rapidly drain away and impedes the flow of makeup cooling water. For reliability, an array of redundant emergency pumps—most powered by electricity but a few steam-driven—are installed. Reliability also requires redundant sources of electricity for these emergency pumps. At least two transmission lines must connect the reactor to its offsite electrical power grid and at least two onsite source of backup electrical power must be provided.  Emergency diesel generators are the onsite backup power sources at every U.S. nuclear power plant except one (Oconee in South Carolina which relies on backup power from generators at a nearby hydroelectric dam).

Because, as the March 2011 earthquake in Japan demonstrated at Fukushima, all of the multiple connections to the offsite power grid could be disabled for the same reason, the NRC’s safety regulations require that postulated accidents be mitigated relying solely on emergency equipment powered from the onsite backup power sources. If electricity from the offsite power grid is available, workers are encouraged to use it. But the reactor must be designed to cope with accidents assuming that offsite power is not available.

The NRC’s safety regulations further require that reactors cope with postulated accidents assuming offsite power is not available and that one additional safety system malfunction or single operator mistake impairs the response. This single failure provision is the reason that Palo Verde and other U.S. nuclear power reactors have two or more EDGs per reactor.

Should a pipe connected to the reactor vessel break when offsite power is unavailable and a single failure disables one EDG, the remaining EDG(s) are designed to automatically startup and connect to in-plant electrical circuit within seconds. The array of motor-driven emergency pumps are then designed to automatically start and begin supplying makeup cooling water to the reactor vessel within a few more seconds. Computer studies are run to confirm that sufficient makeup flow is provided in time to prevent the reactor core from getting overheated and damaged.

Palo Verde: 62-Day EDG Outage Time Basis

In the safety evaluation issued with the January 4, 2017, amendment, the NRC staff wrote “Offsite power sources, and one train of onsite power source would continue to be available for the scenario of a loss-of-coolant-accident.” That statement contradicted NRC’s statements previously made about Palo Verde and DC Cook and subsequently made about the regulations themselves. Futhermore, this statement pretended that the regulations in General Design Criteria 34 and 35 simply do not exist.

Palo Verde: 2006 Precedent

On December 5, 2006, the NRC issued an amendment to the operating licenses for Palo Verde Units 1, 2, and 3 extending the EDG allowed outage time to 10 days from its original 72 hour limit. In the safety evaluation issued for this 2006 amendment, the NRC staff explicitly linked the reactor’s response to a loss of coolant accident with concurrent loss of offsite power:

During plant operation with both EDGs operable, if a LOOP [loss of offsite power] occurs, the ESF [engineered safeguards or emergency system] electrical loads are automatically and sequentially loaded to the EDGs in sufficient time to provide for safe reactor shutdown or to mitigate the consequences of a design-basis accident (DBA) such as a loss-of-coolant accident (LOCA).

Palo Verde: 2007 Precedent

On February 21, 2007, the NRC issued a White inspection finding for one of the EDGs on Palo Verde Unit 3 being non-functional for 18 days while the reactor operated (exceeding the 10 day allowed outage time provided by the December 2006 amendment.) The NRC determined the EDG impairment actually existed for a total of 58 days. The affected EDG was successfully tested 40 days into that period. Workers discovered a faulty part in the EDG 18 days later. The NRC assumed the EDG was non-functional between its last successful test run and replacement of the faulty part. Originally, the NRC staff estimated that the affected EDG has a 75 percent chance of successfully starting during the initial 40 days and a 0 percent chance of successfully starting during the final 18 days. Based on those assumptions, the NRC determined the risk to approach the White/Yellow inspection finding threshold. The owner contested the NRC’s preliminary assessment. The NRC’s final assessment and associated White inspection finding only considered the EDG’s unavailability during the final 18 days.

Fig. 1 (Source: NRC)

Somehow, the same NRC that estimated a risk rising to the White level for an EDG being unavailable for 18 days and a risk rising to the White/Yellow level for an additional 40 days of the EDG being impaired by 25 percent concluded that an EDG being unavailable for 62 days now had risk of Green or less. The inconsistency makes no sense. And it makes little safety.

DC Cook: 2015 Precedent

One of the two EDGs for the Unit 1 reactor at the DC Cook nuclear plant in Michigan was severely damaged during a test run on May 21, 2015. The owner applied to the NRC for a one-time amendment to the operating license to allow the reactor to continue running for up to 65 days while the EDG was repaired and restored to service.

The NRC asked the owner how the reactor would respond to a loss of coolant accident with a concurrent loss of offsite power and the single failure of the remaining EDG. In other words, the NRC asked how the reactor would comply with federal safety regulations.

The owner shut down the Unit 1 reactor and restarted it on July 29, 2015, after repairing its broken EDG.

Rulemaking: 2017 Subsequent

On January 26, 2017, the NRC staff asked their Chairman and Commissioners for permission to terminate a rulemaking effort initiated in 2008 seeking to revise federal regulations to decouple LOOP from LOCA. The NRC staff explained that their work to date had identified numerous safety issues about decoupling LOOP from LOCA. Rather than put words in the NRC’s mouth, I’ll quote from the NRC staff’s paper: “The NRC staff determined that these issues would need to be adequately addressed in order to complete a regulatory basis that could support a proposed LOOP/LOCA rulemaking. To complete a fully developed regulatory basis for the LOOP/LOCA rulemaking, the NRC staff would need to ensure that these areas of uncertainty are adequately addressed as part of the rulemaking activity.”

It’s baffling how the numerous issues that had to be resolved before the NRC staff could complete a regulatory basis for the LOOP/LOCA rulemaking would not also have to resolved before the NRC would approve running a reactor for months assuming that a LOOP/LOCA could not occur.

4 out of 5 Ain’t Safe Enough

In deciding whether a loss of offsite power event could be unlinked from a postulated loss of coolant accident, the NRC answered “no” four out of five times.

Fig. 2 (Source: UCS)

Four out of five may be enough when it comes to dentists who recommend sugarless gum, but it’s not nearly save enough when the lives of millions of Americans are at stake.

We are hopeful that the Inspector General will help the NRC do better in the future.

North Korea Appears to Launch Missile with 6,700 km Range

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Current reports of North Korea’s July 4 missile test say the missile had a range of “more that 930 km” (580 miles), and flew for 37 minutes (according to US Pacific Command).

A missile of that range would need to fly on a very highly lofted trajectory to have such a long flight time.

Assuming a range of 950 km, then a flight time of 37 minutes would require it to reach a maximum altitude of more than 2,800 km (1700 miles).

So if the reports are correct, that same missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700 km (4,160 miles) on a standard trajectory.

That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.

There is not enough information yet to determine whether this launch could be done with a modified version of the Hwasong-12 missile that was launched on May 14.

Missing from the President’s Iowa Speech: Praise for Wind Energy

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President Trump came to Cedar Rapids, Iowa last week for a rally and talked about putting solar panels on his border wall (even though there are 68.4 million better places for solar). Perhaps even more outrageous was how he bashed the wind industry that has invested nearly $14 billion in the state, and that employees thousands of workers in the operations, maintenance, construction, and manufacturing sectors. In 2016 alone, the industry supported over 8,000 direct and indirect jobs  in Iowa.

He also stated “we’re going to be strong for the future”. Well, Mr. President, we, and Iowans in particular, are going to be strong because of the growth of wind energy, not despite of it. Let’s look at all the ways Trump’s comments on wind are misinformed.

Wind is king in Iowa

According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Iowa is ranked second only to Texas for installed wind capacity in the United States. Wind makes up more than 36 percent of Iowa’s in-state energy production, with over 6,900 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle in Iowa are supportive of wind energy. Wind is a reliable energy source, and it helps build a more reliable and balanced electricity portfolio. The electric industry knows this, as evidenced by MidAmerican Energy’s decision to invest $3.6 billion in developing wind energy, with the goal of eventually producing 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

The utility’s adoption of wind has helped make its rates among the lowest in the country. Because of low rates and clean energy sources, Iowa has also become an attractive state for tech companies such as Google and Microsoft. Businesses are committed to powering their companies with renewable energy, and working to greatly increase the demand for it.

The rise of wind

The truth is wind energy is on the rise, not just in Iowa but throughout the country, including heavy investment in the Midwest. Wind capacity has more than doubled in the United States since 2010, accounting for nearly one-third of all new generating capacity installed since 2007. And wind power now makes up 5.5 percent of the nation’s total electricity generation.

The rise of wind is also bringing economic development in areas that need it, with seventy percent of US turbines located in low-income rural areas.

Rural communities benefit

Wind projects provide extra income for farmers and ranchers in rural communities and have proven to be a boon to local school districts. Wind projects significantly increase local tax bases and may even increase property value.

Wind projects also produce lease payments, with an estimated $245 million a year in lease payments going to rural landowners a year. The steady income that comes with lease payments helps landowners and farmers when bad weather strikes or commodity prices fluctuate. Wind energy is the new cash crop in rural America.

Can’t stop won’t stop

Renewable energy prices are falling; investing in renewable energy just makes sense. And in the United States, wind industry jobs are on the rise, up 28 percent from 2015, with the industry producing approximately 102,500 jobs in 2016.

At the end of the day, despite all the negative attacks and rhetoric on clean energy in the recent months at the federal level, clean energy momentum is happening, especially in the Midwest—and it’s not going to stop.

Offshore Oil vs. Offshore Wind: Guess Where the Action Really Is

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There’s plenty of energy off our coasts. Too bad the Trump Administration is looking the wrong way.

Yesterday was a momentous one for offshore energy, but maybe not in the way that some folks think. Sure, the administration opened up for public comment its plan to offer new offshore oil/gas leases (even if industry might say, “Meh”). But much more important for our future economy—and our planet—was what happened to move US offshore wind forward, the latest in a line of notable recent happenings at home and abroad.

Credit: phault

Massachusetts offshore wind happenings

Massachusetts took an important step forward in having the state’s utilities ask wind developers to bid to supply some 400 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, enough to power almost 200,000 Bay State homes. The move, required under the state’s 2016 energy diversity law, is aimed at bringing in the first tranche of what will eventually be at least 1600 megawatts of offshore wind for those utilities’ customers.

It’s easy to be excited about another step toward adding such a powerful technology to our nation’s clean energy toolbox. For Massachusetts, getting the state out there looking for solid offshore wind projects and prices in a competitive way is a vital next step.

Economic development means grabbing hold of good, new areas for business and jobs. We’re already seeing US industry step up to the plate—including by readying the type of specialized ships that we’ll need to get those wind turbines where they need to be.

Tackling climate change and protecting our environment means investing in expanding low-carbon energy options in responsible ways. It’s telling that yesterday’s move has garnered very positive reactions from environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation (who also produced this great infographic laying out the strong case for offshore wind in New England).

Leadership means not waiting for others to go first.

Yesterday’s step keeps Massachusetts firmly in contention when it comes to building a new industry on our shores, making a new carbon-free electricity source a reality, and leading on US offshore wind.

Offshore wind around the US, and globally

The Massachusetts move is just the latest in all kinds of noteworthy steps for this exciting technology. Here’s a sampling:

  • Maryland approves support for two projects: Last month two offshore wind projects earned approval from Maryland’s regulators. The projects total 368 megawatts, which’ll generate enough electricity for well over 100,000 homes. It could start to come online around 2020.
  • The first US offshore wind farm is making it real for our country: When the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island went online late last year, it made history as the first offshore wind farm anywhere in the Americas. It also proved that seeing is believing, as boat tours take people to see the turbines up close and personal. Those include the important tradespeople who we’re going to need to make the next offshore wind farms happen—steelworkers, pipefitters, electricians, and more—and the politicians who are helping to create a welcoming environment.
  • Two big projects go online off Germany: Just this week, DONG Energy—the largest owner of offshore wind in the world, and one of the companies vying to supply Massachusetts—brought two more projects online 30 miles off Germany’s shores. The two projects’ 97 turbines add 582 megawatts to the global total of more than 15,000. And they help add to the excitement fueled by recent record-low prices for future European offshore wind projects.
  • Bigger turbines are under development: While land-based wind turbines are typically 2-3 megawatts each, open water off our shores provides opportunities for using bigger, more powerful turbines to bring the costs down. Recent offshore projects, including Block Island and the new German projects, use turbines of around 6 megawatts. But the latest turbine, unveiled earlier this month, is more than 50% more powerful. Still larger ones are on the way.
Investing in the future, not the past

So, where’s our offshore energy scene headed? There’s a good bet that offshore wind is going to grow to be an important piece of our energy mix. Even the Trump Administration seems to recognize the importance of this powerful new (new to the US) technology.

If we’re smart, we’ll make sure that happens, and quickly. Our country’s energy future does include offshore. But it’s wind, not oil.

Pride Month Offers Lessons of Inclusion—Science Should Listen

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This year’s pride month is coming to an end, and with it I take many valuable lessons learned. In many ways, pride 2017 was historic. In Washington, DC, protests erupted along the route of the pride parade by the group No Justice, No Pride to advocate for inclusivity of marginalized groups at pride activities. Along these same lines, Philadelphia kicked off their pride month by unveiling a rainbow flag with two new colors added, black and brown, to represent LGBQT individuals of color. Our community somberly remembered the 1-year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history when 49 people, mostly LGBQT Latinx identified individuals, lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We also were reminded that even as we trudge along behind the heels of a presidential administration that is hostile to the LGBQT community, our brothers and sisters around the world are risking their lives to even celebrate pride month.

These issues of inclusion have made me wonder, what is representation like of LGBQT individuals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields?

Data on LGBQT individuals in STEM fields is lacking

At the 2012 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America poster session, I began to notice the increased presence of researchers investigating the representation of women and minorities in biological sciences. They had lots of data showing women and people of color are underrepresented not only in biology but STEM overall, even data showing which science-based fields these minorities were most underrepresented in, and they were beginning to ask the question of “why are these groups underrepresented in STEM fields?” While we must do more work to answer this question and address these disparities, I found myself standing among these many posters thinking, “where are the data on LGBQT individuals in STEM fields?” “Am I, as a gay man, underrepresented in STEM?” I would find that the data didn’t exist.

While the National Science Foundation (NSF) compiles detailed statistics about women, underrepresented minorities, and the prevalence of various disabilities among US researchers and STEM students, it does not ask about LGBQT identification. Nor are there large-scale systematic independent studies that address the representation of LGBQT individuals in the STEM workforce, or question what the social environment is like in STEM places of work for these individuals.

Yet, in the STEM workforce, we know that many LGBQT scientists still fear coming out to their colleagues. This is likely because publishing, receiving tenure, and getting grant funding all heavily depend on the judgment of colleagues, who might be influenced by their own explicit or implicit biases. We know that studies conducted over the past few years suggest such biases play a role in women and people of color receiving STEM awards and grants—there is no reason to think that our community would be exempt from these same biases.

The American Physics Society also produced a 2016 report showing that 1 in 3 LGBQT physicists considered leaving their department or workplace in the last year, which correlated strongly with both personally experiencing harassment or witnessing it. And it’s possible that such issues, in addition to dealing with the hardships of identifying as LGBQT, keep LGBQT students from entering the STEM workforce, but we don’t have the data to know this. Without these data, we don’t know if LGBQT students are not entering STEM fields or being retained in them, if enough support and counseling for LGBQT scientists is being offered, or even if LGBQT individuals are equally represented in the STEM fields as compared to the overall workforce.

Yes, it gets better, but we still have work to do

The first of its kind, a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Homosexuality suggests that LGBQT scientists feel more accepted in their fields as compared to their peers in other professions. That is great news since we know that when individuals are allowed to express their identities openly they are happier, healthier, and more productive workers, and can serve as role models to the next generation of young scientists. Still, over 40% of those LGBQT STEM workers surveyed were not out to all of their colleagues.

In the US, it is still perfectly legal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation in 31 states. While universities generally have policies in place that include protections for sexual orientation, there have been claims from individuals that their academic tenure was denied because of their LGBQT identity, especially in states lacking non-discrimination laws (see here, here, and here). We’ve still got protections to fight for—the fight didn’t stop at marriage equality, and it especially doesn’t stop under the current administration.

Let’s continue to remember LGBQT scientists

Our community has been represented well by amazing LGBQT scientists in STEM historically. James B. Pollack was an American astrophysicist and senior space research analyst at the NASA Ames Research Center whose work led to many advances in our understanding of the solar system. Lynn Conway, a transgendered woman, was renowned for her pioneering work in microelectronic chip design. And Alan Turing, the British mathematician known as the father of modern computer science, not only made computers possible for us, but also deciphered secret German military code, contributing enormously to the Allied victory in World War II. We shouldn’t just celebrate these amazing LGBQT scientists in June, we should pride ourselves on the significant contributions our community has made to science all year long!

There could be an LGBQT individual right now who could solve the issue of antibiotic resistance or discover the secrets of dark matter. This is why it’s important to create a STEM workforce where LGBQT scientists thrive.

Where solidarity used to be defined by what LGBQT members are not (straight), pride 2017 reminded us that definition has to broaden out. We should remember well such lessons of inclusion in the STEM community.

Perry and Pruitt’s Denial of Science Threatens our Future

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Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt recently stated that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not exert a controlling influence on climate. As a scientist who is working to help prepare the San Francisco Bay Area for the impacts of climate change, and who has given over 70 public presentations about climate science in the last 10 years, statements like these make my blood boil.  This assertion ignores almost two hundred years of scientific evidence demonstrating that our future, and especially that of our children, is in great peril unless we transition away from fossil fuels.

Yes, nearly 200 years of research

Carbon dioxide’s influence on earth’s temperature (the “Theory of Global Warming”) was proposed in 1896 based upon physical principles demonstrated in the laboratory earlier in the 19th Century. Since then scientists have studied and tested this concept, a process driven by logic and skepticism (remember the motto of the oldest scientific society in the world, the Royal Society of London [founded in 1662]; “don’t take anybody’s word for it”).

This practice of skeptical examination continues to produce evidence documenting the threat of reliance of fossil fuels. Not only do average annual temperatures continue to climb, but the pattern and scale of the changes we observe can only be explained by the influence of rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In fact, many of the physical and chemical patterns we observe today were predicted in previous decades using the theory of global warming.

Why do misleading statements from leaders matter?

Predictions for coming decades demonstrate ever more dangerous and costly impacts if we continue to rely on fossil fuels. A rise in global average temperature by a few degrees will change the distribution of water, the frequency and scale of forest fires and extremes of precipitation, the distribution of pests and diseases, the height of the oceans, and make it more difficult to grow the food required to feed the world.

These changes will threaten civilization due to economic losses, political instability, human migration, and conflict. This is why our intelligence and defense agencies are so concerned about climate change, and why young people (and their parents) should be outraged by the inaction of their political leaders.

Our release of greenhouse gases has already raised the average temperature of the ocean by a little over half a degree Fahrenheit, which sounds small, but actually represents what is arguably the greatest physical alteration of the planet by humans. This temperature rise represents an amount of energy (1023 joules) that is 10 billion times the amount of energy (1013 joules) released by the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Skeptics or simply ideologues?

Perry and Pruitt call themselves “skeptics,” but they’re not. True skeptics would propose an alternative explanation for how all of this energy has accumulated if carbon dioxide is not responsible. While one might suggest changes in the sun, it is well established that the sun’s energy output has actually been declining over the last few decades. True skeptics would also propose an explanation for why greenhouse gases are not causing the earth to heat up.

Pruitt and Perry cannot offer such explanations because they do not exist. This is a key reason the US Supreme Court held that carbon emissions could be regulated under the Clean Air Act as a threat to public health and safety. It is also why scientists have been warning every President since Lyndon Johnson of the danger of climate change caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

The future is our choice

Because we have ignored the science for so long, some suffering is now unavoidable. But how much greater this will be in the future is up to us. The quality of our lives and those of our children depends upon accepting the physical reality of our impact on the atmosphere and taking action to reduce the emissions of heat-trapping gases through greater investments in clean energy.

Far from hurting our economy, these investments are already providing jobs, developing new domestic industries, and improving public health. Texas got almost 23% of its power from wind in the first quarter of 2017, and Iowa is now getting over 37% of its electricity from wind. Both states enjoy cleaner air as a result.

The willingness of Perry and Pruitt to ignore scientific evidence poses a significant danger to public health and safety and national security. Climate change caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases may be unprecedented

Andrew Gunther is executive director of the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration, and a board member at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He has published research in the field of ecotoxicology and has extensive experience in applying science to the development of air, water, and endangered species policy. Dr. Gunther served as the assistant chief scientist for the Exxon ValdezOil Spill Restoration Program from 1991 to 2002, and is currently the executive coordinator of the Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium.

Investors Want Transparency. ExxonMobil Offers Smoke and Mirrors

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Yesterday, an industry-led task force issued final recommendations on how companies across all sectors should report on climate-related financial risks. ExxonMobil, which faced a shareholder rebellion on this issue at its annual meeting last month, could have seized the opportunity to welcome the recommendations and commit to improving its own reporting. Instead, the company released its 2016 Corporate Citizenship Report, revealing that ExxonMobil continues to funnel more than $1.5 million to groups that have spread disinformation on climate science and/or seek to block action on climate change.

Final recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures

Disclosure of climate-related risks has become an expectation of mainstream investors, as demonstrated by last month’s unprecedented shareholder votes calling on ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum to report annually on how they will ensure that their businesses remain resilient in the face of climate change policies and technological advances designed to limit global temperature increase to well below 2° Celsius.

The Financial Stability Board (FSB) is an international body that monitors and makes recommendations about the global financial system. Recognizing the potential systemic risks posed by climate change to the global economy and economic system, the FSB set up a Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) chaired by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Yesterday, the TCFD issued its final report, laying out four widely adoptable recommendations on climate-related financial disclosures that are applicable to organizations across sectors and jurisdictions. The TCFD’s recommendations are a major milestone toward clear, comparable, and consistent reporting of climate-related risks. A key recommended disclosure is what a 2°C or lower scenario would mean for companies’ businesses, strategies, and financial planning.

The recommendations emerging from this industry-led process have limitations—including that the disclosures are voluntary. G20 leaders should enthusiastically adopt the TCFD recommendations in July, and then G20 and other governments should look to translate the TCFD’s recommendations into national laws and regulations.

Fossil fuel company support—and opposition

Through an extensive public consultation process in which the Union of Concerned Scientists and other stakeholders participated, a broad range of respondents were generally supportive of the TCFD’s draft recommendations.

Yesterday, more than 100 firms expressed support for the TCFD’s final recommendations. Royal Dutch Shell deserves credit for being among those supporters. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said:

“I agree that companies should be clear about how they plan to be resilient in the face of climate change and energy transition. I believe it is right that it should be transparent which companies are truly on firm foundations over the long-term. I not only applaud the Task Force for its work to achieve this aim but I have signed a letter confirming Shell’s support for the initiative. The details matter and I look forward to Shell working with the Task Force on those details. Specifically, how we present forward-looking information in an uncertain world, the disclosure of commercially sensitive data and the feasibility of providing the suggested detail to the standard required of financial filings. Ultimately, however, both Shell and the Task Force want this plan to be fit for purpose.”

I’m eager to see how Shell’s public commitment to better disclosure of climate-related risks and opportunities translates into action: in UCS’s 2016 Climate Accountability Scorecard, the company scored “Poor” in the area of fully disclosing climate risks.

Meanwhile, Shell’s support for the TCFD sharply distinguishes the company from fossil fuel industry peers BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Total SA, which funded a report attacking the TCFD’s draft recommendations.

Launched with an event at the US Chamber of Commerce, the report claimed that adoption of the TCFD recommendations could obscure material information, create a false sense of certainty about the financial implications of climate-related risks, and distort markets.

ExxonMobil’s selective “citizenship”

While ExxonMobil has so far been silent on the TCFD’s final recommendations, yesterday the company launched its 2016 Corporate Citizenship Report.

This report includes a statement from ExxonMobil’s External Citizenship Advisory Panel. As it did last year, the panel encouraged the company to elaborate on its business plans for the low-carbon transition, by “more explicitly describ[ing] how it is aligning its long-term corporate strategy and research priorities with climate change risks and opportunities.”

The external advisors also suggested that ExxonMobil take “additional measures to promote public policies that reduce climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as taking a leadership role to bring about a revenue-neutral carbon tax.” (The company got positive PR last week for supporting a carbon tax proposal put forth by the Climate Leadership Council, but questions remain about what ExxonMobil and other supporters will do to advance the proposal and how much traction it will get).

This year, the hand-picked panel also noted that “the company is engaged in a legal and public dispute with visible social actors centering on what the company knew about the implications of climate change, and when and what it decided to do about it. Although the company has every right to defend itself in the litigation, these criticisms highlight the need for more proactive and constructive dialogue with critics.”

Earlier this year, former advisor Sarah Labowitz resigned from the panel in protest over the company’s attacks on civil society organizations, including UCS.

Still funding disinformation and deception

The Corporate Citizenship Report includes ExxonMobil’s 2016 Worldwide Giving Report, in which the company reported donating $1,650,000 to groups that have spread climate disinformation, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Manhattan Institute, the Mercatus Center, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, the Washington Legal Foundation and the aforementioned US Chamber of Commerce. This total is slightly less than in 2015’s donations to the same groups, which came to nearly $2 million (read the details in my colleague Gretchen Goldman’s blog).

ExxonMobil’s affiliations with ALEC and the US Chamber helped to earn the company a score of “egregious” in the area of Renouncing disinformation on climate science and policy in UCS’s 2016 scorecard.

Last month, while ExxonMobil was publicly expressing support for the U.S. staying in the Paris Climate Agreement, ALEC labeled the agreement a “bad deal,” claiming that leaving it in place “would be an outrage” and that it “undermines American democracy.”

At last month’s annual shareholders’ meeting, I was planning to ask CEO Darren Woods a question about ExxonMobil’s continuing support for groups like ALEC and the US Chamber, particularly in light of his blog saying that “it’s going to take all of us—business, governments, and consumers—to make meaningful progress” on climate change.

But Mr. Woods cut the Q&A period at the annual meeting short, so I’ll pose my question here: When is your company going to stop supporting trade associations and industry groups that incorrectly emphasize scientific uncertainty around climate change and oppose climate action that you and your company are on the record as supporting?

Growing numbers of people around the world await a response.

It’s the Fourth of July! What Could be More Patriotic Than Serving on a Science Advisory Board?

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Earlier this month, I wrote about my experience serving on various federal science advisory boards and committees. In that post, I encouraged my fellow scientists to consider taking on this challenging but rewarding task. A lot has happened over the last two weeks that makes this even more important.

Just this week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its call for nominations for the EPA Science Advisory Board, the Clean Air Science Advisory Council, and several subcommittees. At the same time, as my colleague Genna Reed has written, there has been an ongoing, intense controversy about the Trump Administration’s handling of these important groups, which provide independent science advice to the EPA and other agencies. In essence, the agency is seeking to change the membership of the boards and even, perhaps, to make them less independent from regulated industry. That would be a real mistake.

What can scientists do?

The EPA Administrator does have the authority to appoint scientists to the advisory boards, as do other heads of agencies such as the Department of Interior, NOAA, and the FDA. But it would be a shame if they could use the excuse that they didn’t have that many applicants outside a narrow community of scientists.

Are you a scientist with expertise in the fields described in the call for nominations? The notice for just the Science Advisory Board states,

The SAB Staff Office is seeking nominations of experts to serve on the chartered SAB in the following disciplines as they relate to human health and the environment: analytical chemistry; benefit-cost analysis; causal inference; complex systems; ecological sciences and ecological assessment; economics; engineering; geochemistry; health sciences; hydrology; hydrogeology; medicine; microbiology; modeling; pediatrics; public health; risk assessment; social, behavioral and decision sciences; statistics; toxicology, and uncertainty analysis.

The SAB Staff Office is especially interested in scientists in the disciplines described above who have knowledge and experience in air quality; agricultural sciences; atmospheric sciences; benefit-cost analysis; complex systems; drinking water; energy and the environment; epidemiological risk analyses; water quality; water quantity and reuse; ecosystem services; community environmental health; sustainability; chemical safety; green chemistry; homeland security; uncertainty analysis; and waste management.

That’s a lot of disciplinary expertise needed. And even more fields are requested for the other boards, including:

So why not put your name forward? I am sure many outstanding scientists are willing and able to contribute. If you are an expert who has currently or recently served with SAB or CASAC, the nomination/self-nomination form is here. If you haven’t served before, you can nominate/self-nominate here. The deadline for submissions is July 27.

So sit out in the summer sun, watch the fireworks, feel patriotic, and put your name forward to serve as a science advisor. It is a patriotic thing to do, and we will all thank you. Happy Independence (for Science too) Day.

The President’s ‘Energy Week’ is an Ode to Fossil Fuel Addiction

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Tomorrow, as part of the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘Energy Week’ events, President Trump is scheduled to give a speech at the Department of Energy trumpeting US ‘energy dominance’ via the export of coal, oil, and natural gas around the world. It’s clear that Mr. Trump has little regard for the health impacts of our fossil fuel addiction or the growing costs of climate change. What’s more, he fails to grasp the incredible business opportunities in clean energy leadership.

Projections of increased LNG exports

A major focus of President Trump’s speech is likely to be liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. According to the EIA, the US is set to become a net exporter of natural gas by 2018, having been a net importer as recently as 2016. This trend is projected to be driven primarily by growing LNG exports, rather than pipeline exports. (Note that these projections were released on January 5, 2017, before the Trump administration took office—just in case the President chooses to indulge in a bit of revisionist history and take credit for this).

For a number of years now, prompted by low shale gas prices in the US, there has been talk US exports of LNG taking off. A number of LNG export terminals have been proposed or built, as well as some LNG import terminals repurposed.

EIA, based on data from FERC as of March 2016

(As an aside: To take advantage of the proximity to existing oil and gas operations and pipelines, many of these terminals are located in the Gulf Coast of the US. The irony here is profound—these same low-lying areas are hot spots of sea level rise, vulnerable to flooding and worsening storm surge.)

The first US exports of LNG began last year from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana. US LNG has started arriving in the Netherlands, Poland, and other European destinations. A contract has just been signed for exports to Korea. President Trump is also looking to expand exports to China, India, Japan and other parts of Asia.

Consequences of increasing US LNG exports

In a world hungry for energy, exporting LNG seems like an attractive proposition for US companies. It may not be a great deal for US consumers though. The growth of the export market could lead to rising domestic prices for natural gas, which could hurt the pocketbooks of those who depend on natural gas for electricity and heating. Price spikes during cold winter months could be particularly problematic.

A 2012 study from the EIA bears out these consumer price impacts, which will be greater the more quickly exports ramp up. Similarly a recent DOE study also found that “greater LNG exports raise domestic prices and lower prices internationally.”

EIA scenarios for LNG exports: Natural gas wellhead price difference from AEO2011 Reference case with different additional export levels and speed of expansion.

Rising natural gas prices in the US could raise the specter of reversing some of the ongoing market-driven shift away from coal to natural gas, which could cause carbon emissions to rise. On the plus side, it could also make lower carbon resources like nuclear power and renewable energy more competitive in some places. In countries that are ramping up natural gas imports, competition from cheap natural gas could harm the growth of renewable energy.

The US is growing increasingly over reliant on natural gas as it transitions away from coal-fired power. Exporting that overreliance to other countries would be a real problem from a climate perspective. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, albeit cleaner burning than coal. Leakage of methane (a potent heat-trapping gas) associated with the production, storage, and transport of natural gas also contributes to global warming.

(The “all of the above” energy strategy pursued by the Obama administration was also problematic on this count.)

A switch from coal to gas could bring significant near-term public health benefits, especially in China and India which are plagued by terrible air pollution challenges. A combination of natural gas and renewable energy could help drive out coal more quickly, but doing so in a way that limits the risks of overreliance on natural gas will be critical to long-term climate goals.

With low-cost renewable energy surging in those countries, a much more attractive option from an economic, health and climate perspective would be to skip the over-dependence on natural gas imports and focus primarily on ramping up renewable energy and other low-carbon energy options.

A fossil fuel industry strategy

Rolling back critical environmental and health safeguards—such as the Clean Power Plan and standards to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations—in order to promote fossil fuel extraction, as the Trump administration aims to do, is a bad deal for the American public. Lest there be any doubt, the Trump administration’s ‘Energy Week’ rhetoric is all about advancing fossil fuel interests.

On the international front, with coal on the decline in the US (primarily because of pressure from low natural gas prices), coal companies are looking to exports as a way to stave off bankruptcy. This is similar to a strategy employed by the US tobacco industry, which sought to expand to international markets when they saw the writing on the wall in the US (much to the detriment of public health in those countries).

If major fossil fuel companies are serious about committing to the Paris Agreement as a few have claimed (see here, here and here), then they should stop trying to undermine its goals by using their political influence to expand fossil fuel extraction and exports.

Missing the opportunity for clean energy dominance

Mr. Trump’s recent offhand remarks disparaging wind power in Iowa betray his lack of understanding of the economic opportunities clean energy can bring. (His comments were also singularly tone-deaf in a state that gets about 37 percent its power from wind, and generates significant numbers of jobs and economic benefits in the process.)

Instead of trying to export an addiction to fossil fuels, the Trump administration should look for ways to advance exports of US renewable energy technology, one of the fastest growing industries in the world today. In fact, when it comes to the US power sector, wind and solar power are bigger job creators than coal today—including in rural areas that supported his presidential bid.

Rather than the decidedly backward-looking rhetoric focused on the expansion of fossil fuel extraction, what we need is visionary leadership to take us into a clean, low-carbon, energy future, brimming with economic opportunities and consumer benefits.

Photo: Think Defence


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