Combined UCS Blogs

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

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

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

Americans depend on the EPA to protect our air and water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Leroy Woodson and Frank Aleksandrowicz, NARA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing the spiraling costs of disasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future of disaster preparedness depends on FEMA

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

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

Table 1:

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

Source: FEMA


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

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

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

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

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

Call to action

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

Five opportunities to stand up for science

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

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

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

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

Stand Up For Science.

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

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

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

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

Running the gauntlet of congress is hard

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

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Photo: Wikimedia

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

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

Budget 101

How does the budget process work, in theory?

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

Photo: Wikiwand

Budget 102

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia

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

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Photo: Wikimedia

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

What can ordinary citizens do?

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

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Photo: Wikihow

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

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¿Cómo puede esta marcha marcar diferencia alguna?

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

La marcha tiene los siguientes objetivos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provide for the Common Defense…of Climate Inaction

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Promote Fossil Fuel Industry Welfare

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

We finish each others sentences! @realDonaldTrump @exxonmobil

— #ExxonKnew (@Exxon_Knew) March 7, 2017

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

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

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

Secure the Blessings of Liberty…for Fossil Fuel Companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do your job

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

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

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

PS: Leave your staff alone.

We see what you’re doing

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

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

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

— CNN Today (@cnntoday) March 9, 2017

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

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

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

Friends, hold the line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this time, climate trolls.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Solar’s future is bright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Setting a new standard for investment”

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

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

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

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

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

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

An innovative approach to divestment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The politicization of science

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

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

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

Reclaiming science as a public good

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

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

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

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


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

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


Why the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act Is Bad for Science

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Congress’ perennial bill, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, has again reared its ugly head. The bill seeks to change the requirements for the EPA’s advisory committee to give industry greater influence while adding extra burdens that make it harder for the committee to meet its charge of providing science advice. It would also have the side effect of dissuading scientists from serving on this advisory committee because of future restrictions to obtaining EPA funding.

This is one of several attempts by Congress to meddle with and ultimately undermine the process of science informing policy decisions, including the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act, formerly known as the Secret Science Reform Act). What these bills have in common is the public-facing message of increased transparency and public access, while the underlying goal is actually to give industry greater influence over the scientific process and burden science agencies with excessive requirements. These measures are attacks on public health, safety and environmental safeguards, plain and simple.

The independence of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and its ability to continue its work with the caliber of experts it currently employs would be seriously jeopardized by this proposal. The SAB was established in 1978 to provide independent scientific advice to the EPA’s administrator. It currently advises the agency on complex scientific issues ranging in scope from agricultural science to chemical assessments, ecological assessments, environmental justice, drinking water, and radiation. Most recently, the EPA SAB was instrumental in ensuring that the EPA made clear and evidence-based conclusions that accurately represented its findings on the systemic impacts of fracking on drinking water resources.  This bill’s language makes it sounds like the integrity of the SAB has been compromised in some way, when really, the passage of this bill would do just that.

Here are some of the major red flags with this bill:

It discourages academic experts from SAB participation

The bill contains hurdles for academic experts to meaningfully participate in the SAB by banning experts’ participation in “advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review and evaluation of their own work.” This language presumes that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who have experience working on these issues are. The bill does appear to permit SAB experts with published, peer-reviewed research, to address those topics on which they have credentials, provided that their expertise is publicly disclosed. But the language in the bill is so vague that it raises many questions. This is likely a way to make scientific experts think twice before joining the SAB since it could lead to legal issues if some of their scientific views are not peer reviewed or published, for example. This is the opposite of how the SAB should work. Scientific advisory committees work best when their members have expertise in the area they are advising on. While this may be obvious to most people, this does not appear to be obvious to Chairman Lamar Smith and his colleagues.

Not only that, but the bill includes a provision that board members may not have current contracts with the EPA or “shall not apply for a grant or contract for 3 years following the end of that member’s service on the Board.” Such a provision is nonsensical. EPA awards grants to academic scientists to learn more about scientific topics without a policy agenda and grantees are free to conduct the science and produce results any way they want. There is no predetermined or desired outcome and is a completely separate process from EPA policy decisions. Conflating science advisory board decisions with EPA grants completely misunderstands how scientific grants work.

This is simply a way to deter academic scientists from pursuing a slot on the SAB, opening up opportunities for industry interests who would never be in need of government funding to join the Board.

It encourages more industry presence on the SAB

While industry representatives are permitted to serve on advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), they must disclose their conflict of interest. This bill emphasizes specifically that experts with financial ties to corporations affected by SAB assessments are “not excluded.” While the SAB’s ethics rules do not allow this exclusion anyway, the language implies that industry representatives who have a financial stake in some of the EPA’s policy decisions would effectively be considered in the same ranks as academic scientists who have never stood to profit from an EPA decision. This false equivalency cannot stand.

This sentiment that more industry representatives should be on advisory committees was perpetuated at a February 7 Lamar Smith-chaired Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing: “Making EPA Great Again.” During the hearing, several committee members accused the SAB of being an “echo chamber,” “stacked” with scientists who are supportive of the EPA’s views and could be remedied by including more members from industry for “balance.” To this asinine accusation that advisory committees should contain more “devil’s advocates,” The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt responded, “That is a science advisory board—it will not function better by having fewer scientists on it. It is supposed to look at science. But in the name of balance and diversity, there’s an effort to make it, well… less scientific.” Holt is right. Including conflicted individuals in the name of “balance” would threaten the SAB’s ability to conduct truly independent scientific reviews.

It draws out the science advice process

Public comment is already built into the federal advisory committee process under FACA. This bill would expand public access to an almost debilitating level. This would especially benefit industry, which tends to have greater resources with which to follow rulemaking, appear at public meetings, and write public comments. For example, one provision in the bill would require that, “if multiple repetitious comments are received, only one shall be published” and therefore count toward the administrative record. This hits directly at members of the public who sign their name to a form comment initiated by organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists. If the thousands of form comments submitted on a certain issue are only considered as one, the voices of all of those individuals would be effectively silenced. A move like this would further stack the deck in favor of those who have money, time, and connections to submit several unique comments to have an uneven influence on the public comment process, diminishing the voice of communities most often bearing the brunt of environmental or health impacts that the SAB is charged with analyzing.

According to the bill, for each major advisory activity, the Board must convene a public information-gathering session “to discuss the state of the science” related to that activity. Just imagine the type of loop that could be triggered as the Board examines “the state of the science” on climate change or the harmful effects of a certain toxin as it prepares to meet to address some aspect of climate health or air pollution.

In addition, both the EPA, before it asks for the Board’s advice, and the Board itself would be required to “accept, consider, and address” public comments on the agency’s questions to the Board. By addressing each and every comment it receives, the SAB would have less time to actually provide scientific advice to the EPA administrator. All SAB meetings are already open to the public and transcripts made available, in accordance with FACA. The provisions contained in this legislation open up the process more than necessary, turning each scientific evaluation into a public hearing, and adding cumbersome responsibilities to the SAB’s already full plate.

As my Center for Science and Democracy colleagues wrote in Science two years ago about a previous iteration of this bill: “these changes give political and legal operatives greater influence over the advisory board while marginalizing independent scientists, as well as greater opportunity for frivolous and resource-consuming challenges to the board’s findings.” This and other attacks on the scientific process will not just impact potential SAB members but could change the way that science informs policy at the EPA for the worse. We will be working to stop this bill in its tracks in order to preserve the integrity of science advice in government and ensure that EPA has the best information to make critical decisions that protect our health and our environment.

Join us by calling or writing your members of Congress today to tell them to oppose this harmful and unnecessary legislation.


A Dishonest Proposal: The House Science Committee Resurrects EPA Secret Science Nonsense in the HONEST Act

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This week, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Lamar Smith will officially mark up a new (but not really improved) version of his long championed but always nonsensical Secret Science Act. Now rebranded as the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act), the bill effectively prevents the EPA from using the weight of scientific evidence to protect public health and the environment.

Specifically, the HONEST Act would require that all raw data, models, code, and other materials from scientific studies be made available to the public before a federal agency could use it. The bill would have sweeping scope over EPA actions, covering “risk, exposure, or hazard assessment, criteria document, standard, limitation, regulation, regulatory impact analysis, or guidance.” The bill does have exceptions for personally identifiable information, trade secrets, or commercial or financial information, but a redacted version of these materials will still be made public to persons who sign a confidentiality agreement.

This doesn’t make sense. Here are five reasons the HONEST Act is actually a dishonest proposal:

1. It fundamentally misrepresents how science works.

You might not need a refresher on how science works, but it’s clear that the House Science Committee Chairman does. Here’s a quick run-down: In order to be published in a scientific journal, research must pass through peer-review where 2-3 experts familiar with that field will critique the scientific merits of the study. Thus, when a study has passed peer review, we know it has met a standard set by scientists in that field.  Federal agencies like the EPA then use that peer-reviewed science in order to issue science-based rules.

Nowhere in this process does the public or Congress need to see raw data that went into studies in order to trust federal agencies’ ability to assess the weight of scientific evidence on an issue. Scientists conducting the peer review don’t even typically see the raw data of studies. They do not need to. They can look at the methods, design, and results in order to assess the quality of the science. The peer review process—conducted by those with scientific expertise—provides the necessary scrutiny here; the scrutiny of Congress would insert politics into what should be a scientific discussion.

2. It pretends to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Let’s be clear. The decision-making process at the EPA is already exhaustingly transparent. There are thousands of pages of documents and hours of phone calls and meetings of scientific experts discussing technical details of those documents—and the public has full access to these discussions! I know. I’ve listened to hours and hours of meetings and read hundreds of pages of documents. I would never say that a problem at the EPA is a lack of access to the details of agency decision making.

Further, it is important to note that the EPA already painstakingly collects scientific data and other details from the studies that it relies on to make policy decisions. I know because they asked me for it. The EPA’s 2015 decision on a revised ambient ozone standard relied on many studies of ozone pollution and its relationship with health outcomes, including work that I did as a doctoral student at Georgia Tech looking at exposure measurement in ambient air pollutants. Even though I had conducted the study several years earlier as a graduate student, EPA scientists tracked me down and got me to dig through my files and find the original data that supported the figures and conclusions of my study so I could share it with the agency. If that isn’t dedication to scientific integrity in science-based policy, I don’t know what is.

3. It wastes taxpayer dollars and agency resources.

Ironically, the bill is directly at odds with President Trump’s stated desire to create a more efficient government. It adds unnecessary and burdensome redundancy to the process of promoting clean air and clean water. Chairman Smith is adding red tape to the federal government, not reducing it.

The bill allows “any personally identifiable information, trade secrets, or commercial or financial information” to be kept nonpublic. Yet, the bill also allows a person who signs a confidentiality agreement—“subject to guidance to be developed by the Administrator”—to access the data if the protected information is redacted.

Do you know how much time and energy redacting government documents takes? There are entire offices in federal agencies devoted to this singular task. Federal agencies rely on a tremendous volume of data that would fall into these categories. Requiring agencies to redact specific details on large datasets would require EPA to have a much larger budget and staff. They could spend thousands of hours redacting documents for one requester. And of course, this bill is being introduced after a leaked version of President Trump’s proposed EPA budget indicated the agency could receive deep cuts.

4. It stifles innovation, which Chairman Smith claims to support

The chairman purports to care about innovation in the private sector. But interestingly, his bill doesn’t include protections for intellectual property, and it makes industry trade secrets available upon request to anyone who signs an agreement. You know who probably won’t like that? Anyone in the private sector.

Such a provision could discourage the private sector and academic researchers alike from providing scientific information to the EPA. Scientists rely on innovation and the originality of their ideas and methods in order to publish original research, secure grants, and keep pushing the edge of scientific knowledge. We need such science to inform federal policy decisions. But if researchers knew that sharing their science with the EPA meant that their intellectual property would be exposed to the world, they might opt out. If the EPA can’t use the best available science because companies and academics won’t provide it, the agency can’t make science-based decisions and it can’t follow its mission to protect public health and the environment.

5. It is a thinly veiled attack on science that Chairman Smith doesn’t like

This bill is just another tactic that Chairman Smith has dreamed up to attack science he doesn’t like and undermine efforts to hold others accountable for misrepresenting science. Add it to my ongoing laundry list:

  • The Science Committee attacked scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for producing policy-relevant climate science, demanding to see their email communications.
  • The Committee targeted the Union of Concerned Scientists for having spoken with state attorneys general about the role of ExxonMobil in selling a product they knew to be harmful due to the risks of climate change.
  • Chairman Smith previously attempted to interfere in the National Science Foundation’s grant process, ridiculing scientists’ work that he thought sounded silly (without, of course, speaking with the researchers themselves).
  • Chairman Smith went after the National Climate Assessment at one point, claiming it “include[d] unscientific characterizations.”
  • The House Science Committee’s social media routinely spreads misinformation on climate science.

In conclusion, this is anything but an honest act by Chairman Smith. It would compromise the ability of EPA to protect our air and water. Please encourage your members of Congress to oppose this dangerous bill.

Real Help for Coal Miners Requires Real Solutions

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

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

In a word, unrealistic

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real solutions

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

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

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

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

Reality check

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

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

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

Photo: Ryan/CC BY (Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day without NOAA satellite data? Better stay home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These very things make America great

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this amazing GOES-16 imagery of the winter storm in the Northeast today!! See more imagery and learn more at

— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) February 13, 2017

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

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

Defending our science from an anti-science administration

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

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

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


North Korea Launches Four Missiles “Simultaneously”

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

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

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

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

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

That rules out anything like an ICBM.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like clean water?

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

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

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

Politics trumping science and public health?

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

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

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

Stand up for science

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


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

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

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

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

Connecting the Dots: the climate change connection

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

US Naval Station Norfolk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Hampton Roads a Proving Ground for Action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s our national security at stake

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

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

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

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

Photo: Ian Swoveland

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

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

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

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

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


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




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