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A Huge Success in Illinois: Future Energy Jobs Bill Signed Into Law

Last week the Illinois legislature passed the Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814). This is no small feat. The bill is one of the most comprehensive state energy bills ever crafted and is the most important climate bill in Illinois history.

The Illinois General Assembly passed the bill with bipartisan support, and it was signed into law by Governor Rauner yesterday.

As I mentioned in my previous blog on the bill, the Union of Concerned Scientists is a member of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, which has been working on this energy bill for nearly two years.  We are thrilled to see this bill pass, and be signed into law.  Here’s what you need to know about the Future Energy Jobs Bill:

Clean energy successes

A Fix to the Renewable Portfolio Standard

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Community solar projects are becoming popular as a way to provide access to solar for everyone while being able to take advantage of the economies of scale for larger projects. (Source: Wikimedia)

The Future Energy Jobs Bill includes a meaningful fix to the state’s existing Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law by fixing flaws in the policy, thus ensuring stable and predictable funding for renewable development.

More than $200 million per year of the money we spend on electricity will now be spent on building new solar and wind facilities in Illinois. The bill requires a minimum of 3,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar power and 1,300 megawatts (MW) of new wind power to be built in the state by 2025.

Solar development

The bill also creates the state’s first community solar program, which allows those not able to build solar on their roof the opportunity to subscribe to a shared project in their community. The bill also creates the Illinois Solar for All program, a comprehensive low-income solar deployment and job training program that will open up access to the solar economy for millions of low-income families.

Net metering is preserved in the final bill. Net metering allows customers with solar to feed electricity they do not use back to the grid to offset the cost of their electric bills.  Net metering will continue in Illinois until deployment hits five percent of the load of the grid.  After that, rooftop solar owners will get an up-front value of solar rebate to account for their geographic, time, and performance-based values to the grid.

 Shutterstock.com/Kzenon)

Energy efficiency investments provide benefits to all ratepayers. (credit: Shutterstock.com/Kzenon)

Increased energy efficiency

The bill requires ComEd to achieve a 21.5% reduction and Ameren to achieve a 16% reduction in energy use by 2030, with a large focus on deep, long-lasting savings. The bill also requires $25 million per year to be spent on programs to help low-income homes become more efficient. Energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, create jobs, and lower electric bills for consumers.

It’s much more than a nuclear subsidy

As you can see, the bill includes a lot of great things for clean energy. A lot of the media, however, has focused on the nuclear subsidy portion of the bill. The bill creates a Zero Emission Standard (ZES) to subsidize two of Exelon’s nuclear plants (Clinton and Quad Cities) in Illinois. There is a cap on the total number of credits to provide, and a cap on the total program cost of $235 million per year.

This subsidy is based on the economic value of the avoided carbon emissions from these facilities using the federal social cost of carbon, which represents the avoided economic damages from climate change. This program will last for 10 years, and in return Exelon will keep the two plants open. The ZES ensures that any financial assistance to existing nuclear power plants will not dilute or otherwise come at the expense of the incentives for energy efficiency, grid modernization, or renewable resources.

Bad pieces blocked

The original version of the Future Energy Jobs Bill included a Fixed Resource Adequacy Plan (FRAP) that would have put the state in charge of procuring capacity in southern Illinois. The state would have to purchase power capacity downstate from power generators for four-year periods. This process would essentially prolong the life of old, uneconomic coal plants by providing hundreds of millions of dollars in market subsidies. Thankfully, this piece of the bill was taken out.

The original bill also included a change to the structure of residential electricity rates. The attempt to change the utility rate design is a trend occurring across the nation. The proposed change to the rate design would have greatly reduced the savings from investing in energy efficiency and distributed energy sources, such as rooftop solar. Thankfully, due to a lot of negative feedback on this provision from stakeholders and clean energy advocates, ComEd eliminated the demand-based rate provision.

A look ahead

By fixing Illinois’s broken renewable portfolio standard and by building on our record of success in energy efficiency, Illinois is now poised to become a leader in clean energy and to capture the jobs and investments that come with it.

This bipartisan victory for clean energy in the Midwest shines light on the theory that states can continue to lead on policies related to climate change and economic development, despite the uncertainty at the federal level.

The First Three Reasons Senators Should Oppose Scott Pruitt for EPA

President-elect Trump has promised to return the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to its original mission to deliver clean air and ‘crystal clear’ water.  The EPA was established by President Nixon in 1970 because “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food.” Those pollutants primarily come from the burning of fossil fuels in cars, trucks, and industrial sources like power plants and refineries.  We need an EPA Administrator that will take us forward, to tackle the pollution challenges of today, and not take us back by weakening existing standards.

Photos from the early 1970s showing the effects of industrial pollution in North Birmingham, AL (left) and Cleveland, OH (right).

Photos from the early 1970s showing the effects of industrial pollution in North Birmingham, AL (left) and Cleveland, OH (right).

We need an EPA Administrator who protects our environmental laws, is guided by science when crafting and implementing policy, puts public health ahead of dirty energy special interests, and has the qualifications necessary to safeguard the American public from climate change. The EPA must also continue to be a lead agency on addressing environmental justice issues, a critical concern for low income communities and communities of color that bear a disproportionate health burden of pollution from fossil fuels.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt meets none of those criteria and hails from the very industry whose pollution the EPA was created to oversee.

Numerous reasons for Senators to oppose Pruitt’s nomination will come to light over the next days and weeks.  And Senators would be wise to withhold their support until more is known. But here are three good reasons to consider:

  1. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt was no protector of public health and safety. He devoted his office to be the fossil fuel industry’s law firm.  He set up a legal defense fund that fossil fuel companies could donate to, he used the prestige and resources of his office to file multiple suits on their behalf to interfere with EPA doing its job, and even signed letters to public offices that were ghost written by them. He was their lawyer, not ours, and he cannot be trusted as the head of EPA.
  2. After a conference hosted by Pruitt’s office, the Republican AGs set a ‘strike force’ to block environmental protections. According to a Pulitzer Prize-winning expose by the New York Times, this handful of state officials worked to “detail major federal environmental action, like efforts to curb fish kills, reduce ozone pollution, slow climate change and tighten regulation of coal ash. Then they identified which attorney general’s office was best positioned to try to monitor it and, if necessary, attempt to block it.”
  1. Pruitt was one of the leading state AGs suing the EPA to block the Clean Power Plan, a policy that sets the first-ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from power plants, a major driver of climate change, and encourages the development of clean, renewable energy. Pruitt is on record disputing the agency’s core legal authority, the Clean Air Act, and should be immediately disqualified from leading an agency he has fought tirelessly against. Pruitt even advised states to refuse to comply with the rules.
  2. Pruitt’s opposition to the Clean Power Plan reflects his cozy relationship with the oil and gas industry as well as his dismissal, denial, and attempts to deceive the public around the science of climate change.  According to an op-ed written by Scott Pruitt in Tulsa World, “Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
  1. Pruitt’s close association with Howard Hamm threatens scientific integrity at the Agency. Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation. The Clean Air Act requires scientists to regularly review the nation’s standards for specific pollutants, like ozone, and the EPA is required to strengthen those standards in line with those scientists’ recommendations. It’s hard to imagine that Hamm, who was Pruitt’s campaign chair and longtime associate, won’t be whispering in Pruitt’s ear to disregard or even penalize the scientists on those panels.

The bottom line is that Mr. Pruitt is a completely inappropriate choice to head up the EPA: it’s like going into the Super Bowl and discovering that your quarterback actually plays for the opposing team. As UCS President Ken Kimmell said in a statement yesterday, “Pruitt’s statements and actions are in direct conflict with the job to which he has been nominated.”

In the days to come, UCS scientists and experts will be blogging from a variety of perspectives on why the job of the EPA Administrator matters so critically for the health and well-being of all Americans and for safeguarding  the natural ecosystems that sustain our planet.  The stakes are high for this appointment and we want to explain why we think the Senate should vote “no” on this appointment.

Please make your voice heard: tell your Senator to vote “no” on Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator. Photos by Leroy Woodson and Frank Aleksandrowicz, NARA

3 Ways Trump’s Department of Energy Appointee Can Create Jobs

More than 2.5 million Americans are now employed in clean energy or energy efficiency jobs, and the vast majority of new energy jobs being created are coming from the clean energy sector. If the new administration wants to create jobs and grow the economy, it needs to take a closer look at some of the great work the current Department of Energy (DOE) is doing in the clean energy space.

DOE programs are making a real contribution putting people to work. The next secretary of energy mustn’t ignore this, and should build on the outstanding work Secretary Moniz and his agency have done creating jobs through multi-stage research and development (R&D) programs, project financing, and workforce development.

Here are three ways the next secretary can keep the momentum going.

1. Support DOE loan programs

DOE Loan Programs have a 90% success rate, and have leveraged over $50 billion in investments in clean technologies that create jobs and grow economies.

The Advanced Technologies Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program alone has directly created 35,000 jobs across eight states. And Title XVII loan projects (innovative clean energy technologies) produce enough clean energy to power over a million homes annually. These programs are also profitable—roughly $850 million in the black as of September.

doe-lpo-pv-launchingnewmarkets

2. Invest in DOE R&D programs

The DOE SunShot Initiative is a hugely successful R&D program that has made solar much more affordable, and is 70% of the way towards achieving its goal of making solar fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by 2020.

Jobs in the solar industry are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the overall economy.

This program has contributed to a 22% increase in employment year over year for now more than 200,000 solar industry jobs. Jobs in the solar industry are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the overall economy. Given this kind of success, why not launch a SunShot-type program to help bring down the costs of energy storage?

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) makes early-stage investments in potentially transformative clean energy technologies, filling a large gap in private sector investment. Between 2009 and 2015 ARPA-E projects attracted over $850 million in private sector investment, creating new companies and new jobs, while growing new markets.

3. Build on workforce development programs

The Jobs Strategy Council is an initiative created to leverage DOE’s technical and economic expertise and resources to address workforce development needs and increase access to higher paying jobs. DOE has made the national labs more available to small businesses and entrepreneurs in order to help facilitate more commercial development of innovative clean energy technologies.

Programs like the Minorities in Energy Initiative address growing private sector employment gaps by increasing the participation of under-represented groups in energy and STEM careers. DOE has also launched the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which seeks to grow jobs by increasing US manufacturing competitiveness through analysis and modeling, stakeholder engagement, R&D, and technical assistance.

The opportunity

If the next secretary of energy is interested in bolstering the role the energy sector can play in growing our economy and creating jobs, he or she should be doubling down on R&D to innovate and grow new markets, while also improving the cost and performance of clean energy technologies.

He or she needs to increase credit support for clean energy project financing that puts steel in the ground, puts people to work, and cleanly powers American homes and businesses. And he or she needs to address shortfalls in technical education, job access, and industrial competitiveness that are deepening inequities in employment in the energy sector.

Building on the programs and initiatives mentioned above is just good common sense, no matter what the political environment. To keep the momentum going, President-elect Trump will have to pick a qualified candidate with a strong commitment to innovation, jobs, and economic development and a clear vision of how to strengthen our energy system for a solid, secure future.

Here’s to hoping the next secretary of energy is wise enough to support and build on what’s already working.

Eyes on the Solar Photovoltaic Revolution: 35 Years in a Front-Row Seat

When I got into solar energy research in 1981, I wanted to change the world. I worried to my father that I’d never see widespread use of solar energy in my lifetime. That made him worry, too—about my future job prospects. As it turned out, there were plenty of jobs and I got to play my part in the history of human technology. I was one of a dedicated legion of scientists, engineers, technicians, laboratories and companies who eventually made photovoltaic cells into a commodity product: durable panels that achieve a miraculous-seeming conversion of sunlight to electricity, without needing any moving parts.

Years of inspiration in one simple image.

Years of inspiration in one simple image.

For inspiration, an artsy poster has hung near my desk at home since my first solar R&D job. A spectacular desert arch, abstracted in blocks of tan and brown, is backlit by an enormous yellow sun; the caption claims the “Largest Solar Power System in the World” for Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. My wife, Carol, wishes I’d take that old poster down already, but I enjoy the reminder of my stint in the MIT Lincoln Lab group that had designed the Utah photovoltaic (PV) system. A third of a century after PV was invented at Bell Labs in 1954, our group was improving the electronics needed to build safe and efficient systems from PV modules.

The “world’s largest” 1980 PV system delivered about 100 kilowatts (kW) of power at high noon in the desert sun. Today, you can walk almost any block in Palo Alto, California, and see 100 kW of PV panels spread among a dozen home roofs. And if you want to see the World’s Largest Solar System in 2016, travel to Asia where you can find a couple of systems more than 800 megawatts (MW = 1000 kW) in size. There are now over 100 PV systems that are each over a thousand times bigger than that pioneering Utah system.

I’ve witnessed a technology revolution during my career in solar energy R&D as the industry has outgrown its niche remote-power market and become a $100

 NPS/Tom Gray

The 100 kW system at Natural Bridges. Photo: NPS/Tom Gray

billion per year powerhouse. In today’s dollars, the cost of modules has fallen from about $34 per watt of generating capacity in 1980 to below $0.57/W today, and the price of PV will fall sharply again next year. The world now has 277,000 MW of photovoltaic installed, generating 1.4% of our energy. Two-thirds of new U.S. energy generating capacity in 2015 was wind and solar generators, boosted by a similar revolution in wind technology.

Obviously, there’s a long way still to go, but I feel privileged to have had a front row seat for this revolution in solar energy. What lessons have I learned?

  • The “experience curve” drives the cost of modular products like PV down by nearly 20% every time the scale of the industry doubles. This leads to amazing growth when new technologies satisfy market demand.
  • Existing energy technologies are deployed on such massive scale, and with such big tax breaks that these fossil incumbents are hard to unseat. New energy technology R&D must show clear performance wins, product reliability, production yields and bankability before private investment capital flows in.
  • Successful lab-scale R&D doesn’t stand alone. R&D attracts more funding as low costs and big markets are demonstrated, and it must be informed by the problems faced during scale-up. In the case of PV, the driving force came from wafer-based crystal silicon PV and that technology is still the mainstay of the industry.
  • Let a thousand flowers bloom! Transformational technologies like silicon PV leave the wreckage of many promising technologies and companies in their wake. Most competitors to silicon PV were dead-ends, but some contributed a manufacturing technique, material or design feature used in today’s cells. These challengers also kept the pressure on crystal silicon PV to continuously reduce costs and raise efficiencies.
  • Consistent government support for deployment is critical to launch new renewable energy technologies. For PV, critical subsidies came from Japan’s “70,000 Solar Roof initiative” (1994), Germany’s “Feed-In-Tariff” (1999) and China’s aggressive loans and subsidies that enabled their PV companies to scale up PV manufacturing at astonishing rates during the last decade. These and other national subsidies led directly to reduced costs and a critical flow of private capital to the PV sector.
//energy.nv.gov/Media/Press_Releases/2014/GOE_Approves_Tax_Incentive_for_Copper_Mountain_Solar_3/

A 458 MW system at Copper Mountain, Nevada. Photo: Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy

Fortunately, we now have inexpensive solar electricity in our toolkit to combat climate change. California has mandated an electricity supply that is 50% renewables by 2030 and it looks like that milestone can be reached economically with today’s technologies. However, going the next step to reach an all-renewable future will be a technical and institutional challenge because of the natural variability of sun and wind and the diverse incentives for utilities and other players.

Happily, we are close to the tipping points in grid flexibility, storage, electric vehicles and demand-side-management technologies that will be needed to relegate fossil fuels to small markets like air travel. Government commitment to support both R&D and deployment will be essential to dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions and arrest climate change in time to avoid its worst impacts—including turning millions of Earth’s most vulnerable people into climate refugees.

That old PV poster on my wall reminds me daily of what a determined bunch of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, backed by government support and private money, can achieve. If we insist, I’m certain it won’t take 35 years to put the next critical technologies in place.

 

Bio: Dr. Howard Branz (MIT PhD, Physics) is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He had a 28 year career at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where he led both thin film and crystal silicon PV research groups. From 2012–15, Branz was a Program Director at the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA‑E). There he launched ARPA-E’s first solar energy program, to develop hybrid systems that integrate storage with high-efficiency collection of solar energy. Branz is now an independent science and technology consultant.

 

Electric Vehicles in the South: What’s on the Horizon?

posterIn coordination with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Commissioner Tim Echols of the Georgia Public Service Commission (GA PSC), UCS convened an electric vehicle (EV) conference on November 9th to the 11th at Château Élan in Braselton, GA.

The agenda was developed in close coordination with these partners and with Southern Company. Key topics included investments in public charging infrastructure, the advancing capabilities of electric buses, and the issues to be considered in workplace charging. Participants discussed innovative technological solutions, policy suggestions, and strategies for communicating with potential EV buyers.

You can view all of the presentations here; my main takeaways are below.

The benefits of electric vehicles

A major benefit of electric vehicles is their reduced contribution to global climate change compared with internal-combustion vehicles (see UCS research on this topic). Dr. Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia provided an overview of climate science.

When charged with clean power, EVs can offer even greater benefits. Jeff Pratt of Oglethorpe Power discussed efforts underway in Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) to harness clean power for EVs, such as a system with photovoltaics, stationary storage, and EV charging.

Dr. Marilyn Brown of Georgia Tech, in her keynote address, touched on the intersection of these clean technologies. The Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative noted that, at the consumer level, there is a high degree of co-adoption of electric vehicles and solar power systems.

Electric vehicles can also significantly reduce emissions of other harmful pollutants that contribute to local air pollution and health problems. Reducing these pollutants is a major driver behind the adoption of electric buses. Proterra, BYD, and New Flyer discussed the advances in their technology and some of the applications.

Electric transit buses avoid diesel emissions in densely populated areas, and achieve even better efficiency gains over their petroleum counterparts than light-duty electric vehicles do, due to the stop-and-go nature of transit routes. Jason Hanlin of the Center for Transportation and the Environment discussed “smart deployments,” illustrating the factors that should inform selection of a vehicle and charging strategy for any given route. Don Francis of the University of Georgia spoke about that school’s procurement of an electric bus fleet. From a fleet operator’s point of view, the operations and maintenance savings of an electric bus are extremely valuable, as are the fuel savings. These can provide enough savings to warrant the higher capital cost.

Economic benefits of EVs, highlighted by Commissioner Tim Echols, include the fact that expenditures on electricity largely remain local and stimulate regional economic activity, while expenditures on gasoline do not have this effect.

Finally, electric vehicles may have operational benefits for the electricity grid. By providing a flexible load, they can enable more optimal use of assets by the utility, creating a smoother load profile. Influencing charging patterns in this way will require some sort of incentive or rate design, but there are numerous examples to look to.

Regional projects and initiatives

The South is home to a number of exciting research, development, and deployment projects. One such project that drew considerable attention from participants is The Ray, an initiative aimed at improving the sustainability of the transportation system.

 Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Wireless EV charging research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In facilities along I-85, The Ray is demonstrating not only EV charging and photovoltaic power systems, but other cutting-edge technologies. These include wireless EV charging (also discussed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists) and solar road tiles powering an intelligent tire safety check system.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is exploring a number of interesting ideas, such as solar-assisted EV charging stations and an EV car-sharing program in Chattanooga. Chattanooga has had a fleet of electric shuttle buses running a downtown route since 1992.

Duke Energy, with operations in several states in the region, conducts extensive research on emerging energy topics including solar power and storage. Stationary energy storage integrated with EV chargers may be able to provide multiple value streams, including reducing the infrastructure needs for supporting high-powered chargers.

Other promising local developments included Atlanta’s many efforts, such as installation of EV chargers at the airport (accelerated by the engagement of Mayor Kasim Reed and Commissioner Echols), and Jacksonville’s recent strides into EV leadership.

These innovative projects often bring together solar, storage, and other “distributed energy resources” (DERs). General Electric provided an overview of how these technologies can work together.

Charging infrastructure

The conference featured several panels on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Experts considered questions such as the number, type, and location of public chargers, the role of utility investment, and the potential of workplace charging. John Halliwell of EPRI provided an overview of the current state of charging technology.

 Argonne National Laboratory.

This “charging pyramid” suggests relative numbers of the various types of charging stations. Source: Argonne National Laboratory.

While certain stations may be used often enough to recoup their cost from the sale of power, many others do not have such high utilization. These still serve a vital purpose by creating range confidence, assuring EV owners that they can charge at these stations if needed.

Public charging stations can also raise awareness among non-EV owners. Although an EV owner may have an app such as PlugShare showing just how widely available charging stations are, few non-EV owners are aware of this fact. The Federal Highway Administration’s new designation of “signage-ready” alternative fuel corridors promises to help alleviate this issue, broadening awareness of the existing EV charging network.

Utilities have a role to play in EV infrastructure. The specific role is a topic of considerable discussion around the country, especially in California. Independent charging providers and ratepayer advocates have concerns about utilities installing charging systems and recouping the costs through billing all customers, including those who do not own EVs. However, some locations are not currently economical for a third party to serve, such as many low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Utility investment might then serve a valid purpose.

Other solutions exist; for example, JEA has installed EV chargers with other sources of revenue (such as air quality funds), not billing its customers for these costs, and they work in cooperation with third-party charging providers. Greenlots, ChargePoint, and EVgo all talked about the opportunities they saw to work with utilities as partners. The utility’s knowledge of the distribution system is essential when siting new chargers, in order to avoid excessive costs of system upgrades. And, if there is value in providing grid services (such as demand response or frequency regulation, as several speakers discussed), these services would be sold to the utility in most of the South.

 CAISO.

The “duck curve” caused by an abundance of solar power on the grid. Source: CAISO.

Workplace charging is an excellent option that can provide many benefits. It can raise awareness of EVs, establish range confidence, and mitigate “duck curve” situations with abundant solar power on the grid. This duck curve is not yet significant in the South, but given the cost reductions in solar power it may be wise to anticipate it. KC Boyce provided statistics on workplace charging showing which types of firms were most interested in offering it.

A major issue with workplace charging is managing the vehicles in a condition of saturated charger capacity; ChargePoint noted that its workplace chargers are very busy. A positive aspect of workplace charging is that it often leads to remarkable increases in EV ownership in a fairly short period, as shown by FPL. However, this means that the number of vehicles may soon exceed the number of chargers. The chargers may remain occupied for the entire day, even though the vehicle may be charged after only an hour or two. Consequently, many workplaces have developed customs or strategies for EV owners rotating their vehicles. Another idea suggested is the multiplexed charger, a single charger with four cords that rotates the charge without requiring physical movement of the vehicles or even any unplugging. One barrier to EV owners cooperating (such as by unplugging one vehicle when it is done to plug in another) is the lack of a common “full charge” indicator among the different models.

 UPS.

Electric trucks in the UPS delivery fleet. Source: UPS.

Commercial facilities may have EV charging not just for employees, but for their fleet vehicles. Mike Britt of UPS discussed how his company is using EVs around the world. As other presenters noted, fleets appear to be well suited to providing grid services.

Southern Company was interested in the speed with which higher-powered fast charging would become the standard. With batteries of 60 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or more becoming widespread in the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3, the typical 50 kW DC fast charger would not be seen as “fast,” taking over an hour to fully charge a battery. There is discussion about 150 kW being the new standard, but EVs with smaller batteries would not be able to handle that sort of power input. It was seen as more likely that some 150 kW DC fast chargers might play a role in intercity travel (like the 120-135 kW Superchargers), but the 50 kW stations will continue to exist.

An important issue to resolve is providing “home” charging for residents of multi-unit dwellings. Where such facilities have parking lots or garages, it is much more cost-effective to lay the infrastructure for EV charging when constructing or renovating those structures, rather than trenching into concrete for the sole purpose of laying conduit.

Challenges

EV chargers are an emerging technology; work in recent years has rapidly reduced costs. Improving reliability is important; in this area, networked chargers have higher capital cost, but allow better monitoring of charger status.

Charging standards and protocols are continuing to develop, especially for “smart charging,” higher-powered DC charging, and induction (wireless) charging. This work often involves industry-wide collaboration.

Demand charges, where a facility pays part of its power bill based on its highest peak usage, are one way of designing rates to reflect the strain placed on the grid by electricity consumption. This method does raise the costs of operating high-powered DC fast chargers, so some alternatives were suggested. Building a stationary battery into the charger is a technical solution that lowers demand charges; this has been done by Tesla, Greenlots, ChargePoint, and others. Redesigning rates to account for the timing of the peak use is a regulatory approach that might also be effective.

There was considerable discussion about how consumers would prefer to charge. Is the right model that of the gas station, where an EV owner charges once a week or so for their total range?  Or is it closer to the smartphone model, where the owner (well, at least this smartphone owner) plugs it in every night and takes other opportunities to top off as available?  These two models were described as “gorging vs grazing.” Wireless charging has certain advantages but is a “grazing” solution only.

Consumer adoption

As noted by Advanced Energy, consumers view utilities as a trusted provider of information on EVs, and so that is a key role for power companies. Conversely, the utilities would also like information from EV owners. While the current chargers are not an overwhelming load on the grid, they can cause local grid impacts. Utilities would like to know when and where EV chargers are installed; there was interest in the example of the Salt River Project (in Arizona), which gave EV owners a $50 Amazon gift card for notifying the utility of this information.

A brochure from the utility might get a consumer thinking about EVs, but some other channels can help seal the deal. Workplace charging greatly increases EV adoption, not only because the prospective buyer now knows they can charge at work, but because they can discuss the technology with colleagues who already have EVs. Ride and drive events let people experience the performance and comfort for themselves. And, car-sharing programs such as in Chattanooga should increase familiarity with the vehicles even more—we look forward to seeing the effects of this program on the local EV market.

Automaker dealerships can be a source of information. Dealerships are not always knowledgeable about EVs, especially if there is only one model that does not have high volume sales; there is limited incentive for the retailer to become an expert on EVs in that case (although exceptional “EV champion” dealerships exist). Having more models of EVs tends to improve dealership familiarity and perceived legitimacy of the technology by consumers. The lower maintenance requirements of an EV do mean that a traditional service of dealerships is less valuable. Some efforts to increase EV deployment do feature incentives for dealerships, to encourage these key partners.

A major barrier to consumer adoption of EVs in Georgia was the loss of the tax credit combined with the introduction of an EV tax. Don Francis of Clean Cities Georgia showed that this tax appears to significantly exceed the foregone gas tax revenue from EVs. When discussing incentives for EVs, it is important to ensure that EV owners are not being unfairly subsidized by non-EV owners. However, the air quality benefits are real and do have economic value; this provides a foundation for utility investment in EV infrastructure (and/or EV rebates) in Kansas City, Jacksonville, and other cities.

Tesla sees EV adoption on a trajectory similar to cell phones. When Tesla started in 2004, the company made a list of barriers to EV adoption (such as range, appeal, performance, and charging infrastructure) and has worked systematically to address each barrier.

Wrap-Up

Participants shared their thoughts on the event and what they saw as the key needs going forward. One priority was finding ways to accommodate higher powered chargers without incurring exorbitant demand charges or unduly straining the grid. Integration of storage into chargers might be a good fit here, especially if the utility can operate the battery to provide other revenue streams and defer other costs.

Coordination between cities and utilities was seen as important, to reduce costs of infrastructure improvements. Funds from the Volkwagen settlement may provide an opportunity for cities and utilities to engage in long-term planning that would include EV infrastructure. The Atlanta airport installation of EV chargers grew out of collaboration between the city, the utility, and the PSC. This required the intervention of top-level policymakers to move the project forward. While it is great to have such champions, they do have constraints on their time and cannot directly shepherd every project to completion.

Other discussions featured the value of flexible loads, including not only EVs but also pool pumps, water heaters, and air conditioners. Utility representatives reiterated the importance of knowing where on the grid the EV chargers were being installed, including the specific feeder. Engagement with EV owners, as seen in the Salt River Project, could be helpful here.

Finally, there was an overall commitment to maintain the connections and the information exchange from this conference, and to continue to support EVs moving forwards. Bringing together diverse perspectives, replicating successes, dispelling myths, and highlighting innovative developments will drive change in the future.

Texas is the Best. And Worst. #1 in both Wind Energy and Carbon Pollution.

I live in West Texas, and some of the stereotypes are true. There are more SUVs and trucks here than you can shake a stick at. Oil wells are more common than trees. And if you ask people here if humans are changing the climate, most would say no.

Texas is the number one producer of carbon pollution in the United States. If Texas were its own country, it would be the seventh largest emitter in the world. That puts it ahead of Iran, South Korea, and even my native land, Canada. There’s no getting around it, Texas is a big part of the problem.

 Wikimedia

Oil extraction in a cotton field, Andrews TX. Photo: Wikimedia

Everywhere you turn, you see oil wells scattered across cotton fields. But these days, you can barely drive an hour without running into a new wind farm going up, or a convoy of trucks carrying giant turbine blades.

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to spend a day with a farmer down by Midland, Texas. I noticed that his neighbor had wind turbines all across his land, but he just had a few oil wells. So after we’d had lunch, and had figured out that he knew someone who went to my church and I knew someone who went to his, I gathered up my courage and asked: was there was a reason he didn’t have any turbines himself?

Yes,” he said, “It’s because I got on the list after my neighbor. I’ve been waiting two years for my turbines!”

“Why do you want them?” I asked.

“Those oil people are always driving on and off my land, messing up my fields,” he replied. “The turbines? They set them up, run them from Florida, and the check arrives in the mail.”

 Climate, Politics, and Religion

Katharine Hayhoe shakes a stick at SUVs as seen in Episode 3 of Global Weirding: Climate, Politics, and Religion

In 2015, ten percent of Texas’ electricity came from wind. In 2016, it’s already up to fifteen percent. And one day last December, it was so windy that turbines generated a full 40 percent of the state’s power for 17 hours.

Texas is the national leader in wind energy and, though it has yet to break into the top ten in solar, it’s on its way. West of San Antonio, laid-off oil patch workers are finding new jobs building some of the many solar farms that are already cropping up today. There’s a gigawatt of solar already under construction, and an estimate of four gigawatts by 2020.

 Katharine Hayhoe

Wind turbines powering a cotton gin in Lubbock, Texas. Photo: Katharine Hayhoe

The city of Georgetown, north of Austin, made news in March 2015 when they announced that all the power in their city would come from renewable sources. Why? It was primarily a price decision, they said.

A few months later, Facebook announced it would be powering its giant new data center in Fort Worth entirely by a new two hundred-megawatt wind farm in Clay County.

And this year, Fort Hood, the biggest military installation in the U.S., broke ground on a solar farm that, along with an off-site wind farm, will generate enough electricity to power half the base—saving taxpayers about $168 million over the lifetime of the contract.

All across Texas—from the Teslas on the streets of Austin, to Dallas LEED certifying city buildings to save money—there is a growing commitment to investing in a new clean energy economy that will lead to a more resilient society and a better future for us all.

Texas’ example reminds us that climate change isn’t just an economic challenge; it is also an economic opportunity to wean ourselves off our old, dirty ways of getting energy, and replace those with homegrown, clean renewable energy sources.

 Katharine Hayhoe

Double rainbow over Texas. Photo: Katharine Hayhoe

 

On World Soils Day, Five Fun Facts About the Underdog of Natural Resources

 USDA-NRCS

World Soils Day is a reminder of the reasons this critical resource needs protecting. Photo: USDA-NRCS

Happy World Soils Day! We seem to hear a lot about the importance of clean water and clean air, but soils less frequently get the attention they deserve. Soils not only serve as the foundation of our food system, but also provide many additional environmental benefits, from flood management to supporting biodiversity to water purification. Thanks to concerted efforts—such as the United Nations declaration of 2015 as the “International Year of Soils”, which provided a platform to raise awareness—soils are finally starting to get more time in the spotlight.

Another moment in the spotlight comes in an announcement today from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), recognizing the efforts of federal agencies, the private sector, and non-profit partners to work toward “the long-term health and sustainable use of one of America’s most important natural resources: its soil.” Their announcement includes some of the research that we are expanding here at the Union of Concerned Scientists on how diversified farming systems can improve soil resilience, conserve and improve water and energy resources, and contribute to greater farm profitability. Stay tuned for more from us on this front! In the meantime, here are a few fun facts to help you celebrate the soil.

1. Only a fraction of the earth’s surface has soil suitable for growing food

Although we may think there is a lot of soil to go around for growing food, there’s less than you might think. It is estimated that crop production globally makes up 11% of the earth’s surface, although prime farming lands are rarer. I love this animation from the American Farmland Trust, illustrating how much of the planet is actually suitable for sustainably growing food:

The bottom line is that proper soil management (through best practices such as consistently covering the soil, not disturbing it through minimal plowing, and growing diverse plants) is critical to protecting this limited resource.

 USDA-NRCS.

What you see at the soil surface is just the tip of the iceberg, as this soil profile from Texas reveals its unique geographic fingerprint. These soils can shrink and swell with moisture changes, moving up the gray clay-like material deeper in the soil profile. Photo: USDA-NRCS.

2. Soils are unique fingerprints of their locations

Have you ever wondered why soils look and feel different in different places? Sure you have! The factors that help form soil are directly tied to a location’s geography. How soil forms depends on the climate of the area (hot temperatures and high rainfall can weather soils, for example), the plants and trees that grow above it, and the underlying geology or rock material that break down over long periods of time. As a result, I like to describe soil as the living crust of the earth or the interface of biology, climate, geology and time. Look around next time you travel, or even when you step outside if you are curious about observing the rich diversity of soils for yourself.

My current and prior research explores why we should not "farm naked" - rich soil resources should be covered 365 days a year with living plants to protect from degradation.

My current and prior research explores why we should not “farm naked” – rich soil resources should be covered 365 days a year with living plants to protect from degradation.

3. Soils are home to many diverse creatures

Speaking of diversity, soil is known to be one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is estimated that one gram of soil is home to several thousand species of bacteria, and that a typical healthy functioning soil has hundreds of species of fungi, as well as dozens of different species of vertebrate animals, earthworms and insects. Next time you want to call soil the four-letter word dirt, remember, it is alive!

4. Soils can help mitigate and adapt to climate change

Soil is a major component of the global carbon cycle. That makes soil a tool (but not the only one we need) to mitigate rising emissions of carbon in the atmosphere. Soil carbon is also known to be a critical element that helps increase the amount of water stored in soil. So with proper management, we can increase the capacity of soil to act like a “sponge” and reduce impacts from severe weather (including both droughts and floods!).

5. The United States is lucky to have many of the most productive soils in the world 

Soils vary from location to location and, on the soil front, Americans have much to be grateful for. The U.S. has a disproportionately high amount of the most productive soils in the world: Mollisols. These are soils derived primarily under the cover of perennial grasses, whose living roots (and frequent root decay) in the soil create the food web for many diverse organisms. Mollisols make up approximately 7% of the earth’s ice free surface, and 22% of these soils globally are found in the U.S., predominantly in the Upper Midwest and Plains states. This last point is so important to me, as someone who lived in Iowa and studies Midwest agriculture. Research from Iowa found an immense human fingerprint in degrading many soils over just the last several decades.

For these reasons and many more, we and many others are working hard to understand the value and benefits of protecting this fascinating and critical living resource.

 

 

The Internet Can’t Get Over the House Science Committee’s Climate-Denying Tweet—and That’s a Good Thing

Yesterday the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology tweeted some good ole fashioned climate denial—you know, the old tired long discredited nonsensical claim that cold weather negates the global consensus of scientists that climate change is happening (It doesn’t.).  The scientific community and the news media did not let this go unnoticed and that’s a good thing for our continuing to hold decision makers accountable for respecting science under a Trump administration.

Here was the tweet:

.@BreitbartNews: Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists https://t.co/uLUPW4o93V

— Sci,Space,&Tech Cmte (@HouseScience) December 1, 2016

It was quickly followed by a multitude of responses from other decision makers, scientists, and others. Think Progress has a nice summary of responses. I especially liked this one from House Science Committee member Representative Don Beyer:

This isn't factual, it's embarrassing, and Breitbart is not a credible news source. We need to bring *science* back to the Science Committee https://t.co/oZ6GfFAlUI

— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) December 1, 2016

Another day, another Lamar Smith attack on science

I saw the House Science tweet and didn’t think much of it. Perhaps I’m cynical. Perhaps I’ve been following science in Washington DC for too long. But it didn’t seem notable to me.  This is because the House Science Committee, and particularly its Chairman Lamar Smith, now have a broad and consistent record of denying climate science, bullying scientists across disciplines, and otherwise disparaging the scientific enterprise it’s supposed to be supporting.

Not that I’m keeping a running list (I am actually), but here are some highlights:

  • The Committee attacked scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for producing policy relevant climate science, demanding to see their email communications.
  • Currently, the Committee is targeting this scientist, well, the Union of Concerned Scientists, for having spoken with state attorneys general about the role of ExxonMobil 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 found silly.
  • Chairman Smith tried to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job of science-based public health and environmental protections via the Sound Science Act
  • And he’s attacked science in other ways too. But who’s counting?! (Me.)

And yesterday’s climate-denying tweet was not even its first science-attacking tweet of the week. The day prior, the Committee’s handle had trolled Yale Climate Connections.

Another group ‘dealing’ w/ climate change in a non-scientific way, along w/ the other green groups who value politics & emotion over facts https://t.co/PF5lrWyXBu

— Sci,Space,&Tech Cmte (@HouseScience) November 30, 2016

We cannot normalize science denial

Despite this pervasive record of science-slamming, the House Science Committee was still taken to task for the recent climate-denying tweet and this is a good thing. We cannot normalize science denial. It is entirely inappropriate for members of Congress to be peddling misinformation on climate science—especially when they are in charge of the House Science Committee. The world noticed this and called them on it.

We need to do more of this. When science is denied by our decision makers, this cannot stand. We must persist in calling out such misinformation when we see it, whether it will come from the House Science Committee, the Trump administration, or other decision makers in the future. Americans deserve leaders who respect science and scientists. I promise to be a little less cynical moving forward and I hope you will too.

Breaking Up (with Stuff) is Hard to Do: Are We Biologically Predisposed to Collect Stuff?

Have you ever wondered why we enjoy stuff so much? We definitely enjoy buying it. Depending on what it is, we also enjoy talking about it. We research it, we browse for it, and we feel triumphant when we find that perfect something. But why?

Some of our joy is coming from our biological need to survive. Collecting behavior, sometimes referred to as caching, storing or hoarding depending on the species, is commonplace in normal humans as well as many other vertebrates. Of course, as with almost anything human, things can go to the extreme and become pathological. Out of control collecting can become deleterious if it has significant negative effects for the collector and their environment, both in the immediate and greater sense of the word.

But a pathological hoarder isn’t the only one with the impulse to find and collect.

Many animals store things for later—humans are no exception

In nature, we see that species such as chipmunks and woodpeckers regularly store food for later. This behavior anticipates need and allows a species to stock up during times of feast and retrieve during times of famine. But what about non-food items that are being collected and stored? Crows commonly cache shiny objects such as aluminum foil and in a classic 1972 study Hammer found that hamsters actually preferred to collect and store glass beads over food. Even though these objects have no clear benefit to the immediate physiological survival of the individual, they are still sought after and stored.

It’s easy to observe this non-pathological collecting behavior in ourselves as well. Art, electronics, books, and collectibles of all kinds cannot be explained by simple anticipated need. Even though nearly all of us have been guilty of procuring items not essential to life, not much research has been done into the why. However, answers may lie within the emotional and reward centers of the brain.

Our brains reward collecting behaviors Although there is no current universal agreement on every brain structure comprising the functional concept we call the limbic system, most will agree that at minimum it is associated with the hippocampus (which along with the fornix is shown in blue), the amygdala (shown in green), and the hypothalamus (shown in red). Creative commons license.

Although there is no current universal agreement on every brain structure comprising the functional concept we call the limbic system, most will agree that at minimum it is associated with the hippocampus (which along with the fornix is shown in blue), the amygdala (shown in green), and the hypothalamus (shown in red). Creative commons license.

The set of brain structures we collectively call the limbic system influences our emotions and motivations, while the mesolimbic pathway is all about rewards. For example, if what we have collected is met with a significant reward, let’s say social validation, along with minimal negative consequences, then the modulating system will continue to support the desire to collect those items. We feel good when we shop and we feel even better when other people admire our stuff. The more we shop, the more we want.

Culture also has a huge impact on this reward-based behavior. American culture, for example, highly values uniqueness and individuality. One way to communicate this highly coveted trait to others is through our material possessions, thus reinforcing the reward for having the newest finery.

Just recently, as I was exiting off Oakland’s 580 freeway, a radio ad came on for a local jewelry store touting the merits of their unique engagement rings. No bride wants to have the same wedding ring as thousands of other brides. Show your love and make your bride feel special with our small batch designer wedding rings. I immediately thought to myself how absurd that was. Could you tell the difference between the wedding rings of your friends, let alone strangers and acquaintances? I couldn’t.

Recognizing the environmental impacts of our need for stuff

The drive for stuff is intensely powerful because it can incorporate so many of our emotions, like pleasure, fear, happiness and sadness, as well as tapping into our most basic drives for sex, dominance, and taking care of those we love. Luckily, we as humans have the power to understand the biological basis for our desires as well as the fortitude to change when we see the damaging consequences of our actions. I would argue that nearly all of our current large scale environmental problems can be tied back to our stuff in one way or another. What if we could start impacting huge issues like waste, deforestation, and pollution by simply observing our reactions and changing our relationship with stuff?

I have recently started a practice of using a like, lust, love scale when thinking about whether or not to purchase a new item. If I’m not absolutely sure I love it, I will wait 24 hours and see if I feel the same way tomorrow. If my desire was merely a lukewarm like or searing hot lust seeped in that day’s emotions, I will not purchase it. If I find that even after 24 hours I still want, need, or love the thing and I’m confident that the initial emotional charge has worn off, only then will I go ahead and purchase. This strategy does not apply to wine and chocolate: those are always on the essential for survival list. It may seem like a tiny change, but it can have significant impact if you make it part of your shopping practices.

//www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/314702/a-bunch-of-pretty-things-i-did-not-buy-by-sarah-lazarovic/9780143124719

Artist: Sarah Lazarovic. http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/314702/a-bunch-of-pretty-things-i-did-not-buy-by-sarah-lazarovic/9780143124719

Another way of curbing the negative effects of our consuming is employing Sarah Lazarovic’s Buyerarchy of Needs. Where we only “buy new” as a last resort. Using these two easy methods could mean a huge decrease in your personal consumption of goods, resulting in cost savings and decreased fossil fuel depletion.

Wait, what? How did fossil fuels get into this conversation? Well, think about all the things we buy that are either made of plastic or at minimum are packaged in plastic. Most plastics are based on the carbon atom and utilize crude oil or natural gas as raw materials. Tack on the oil and gas used to transport your new thing from where it was produced, to the store, then to your home, and each new item has a distinct fossil fuel footprint.

This holiday season, you can make an impact

With the winter holidays upon us, it can be overwhelming to find the perfect token of appreciation for your loved ones that is memorable, environmentally friendly, and cost effective. Many times we bend under the gifting pressure and just grab the nearest decorative basket of bath products or aftershave. In recent years I have started giving experiences in lieu of physical gifts to people in my life. Experiences can be incredibly meaningful and many times super cheap. It can be simple, say for instance a handmade coupon good for a picnic in the park or something more elaborate like show tickets or a fully planned evening out. I know more than a few friends that are new parents that would kill for a gift of “one night free babysitting by me”. These gifts showcase your personality while making the receiver feel deeply special and appreciated. Which is really the entire point of gift giving, isn’t it?

 

Bio: Mary Poffenroth, a first generation college student who became a university biology lecturer in 2007, continues to broadened her reach of science engagement through creating video with TEDed, writing for Science Magazine, hosting live shows with Nerd Nite, and releasing a science communication book with Cognella Academic Publishing. In 2009 she created an environmental student volunteer program that to date has donated over 15,000 work hours to local non-profit organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information on this topic or the author, please see www.MoreHappinessLessStuff.com  or www.MaryPoffenroth.com

The Big Three Threats to Progress on Added Sugar Transparency

The FDA’s revisions to the nutrition facts label, which we celebrated in May, could now be under siege on a few different fronts.

1. Delay

First, the food industry is considering adding a rider to the continuing resolution appropriations bill that Congress is working on right now. This is not a new tactic. You might remember that back in April, lawmakers snuck a rider into the House appropriations bill that would have discouraged the FDA from including an added sugars line in an update to the Nutrition Facts Label.

Now, the food industry is proposing two different riders: one that would delay the FDA’s ability to enforce the rule for years, until final guidance on dietary fiber and added sugars is completed, and another that would tie FDA’s enforcement of the new rule to the implementation of USDA’s genetically engineered food disclosure rules, which haven’t yet been written. The Food & Beverage Issue Alliance (a group made up of the biggest food and beverage trade associations, like the American Beverage Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association) pleaded with the USDA and HHS to link the two rules to reduce the “unduly burdensome” nature of the changes in an October letter.

This pushback from industry to delay the rule is yet another example of its efforts to thwart science-based rules to keep the status quo, in this case making sure that consumers are kept in the dark about added sugar content for as long as possible.

2. Roll back

Another threat to the Nutrition Facts Label revisions is the irksome Gingrich-era bill, the Congressional Review Act. The Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress to render regulations passed within 60 days of the end of the House or Senate sessions null. According to the Congressional Research Service, this could apply to regulations finalized any time after mid-May of this year. That cutoff date depends on when Congress adjourns this year.

Unfortunately, since the FDA published its nutrition facts labeling revision rule on May 27, 2016, it could be on the chopping block. Invoking the CRA brings with it the doubly awful lever of preventing agencies from issuing a “substantially similar” rule without the express authorization of Congress. This means that if this rule is reversed, the FDA would not be able to update or revise the nutrition facts label for the foreseeable future.

There is little precedent on the successful use of this Act, but the one time a CRA bill was passed by G.W. Bush’s Congress in 2001, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s workplace ergonomics standards were rolled back, and the agency has not issued a similar rule since. For context, CRA was invoked several times during the Obama administration, but these were quickly vetoed by the president.

3. Ignore

Tom Price, Trump’s pick for HHS Secretary, has benefited from Big Soda political contributions and has a history of voting against transparency and improved federal nutrition standards. (Photo: house.gov)

The final threat is that Trump’s pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is Tom Price, a physician and Georgia congressman whose voting record reveals his lack of interest in improving the quality of school meals and transparency in the food system.

While Price hasn’t been extremely vocal on food issues during his tenure in Congress, he voted against the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) in 2010, which when passed, helped to improve the nutrition of school meals across on the country, including lowering added sugar amounts. A vote against HHFKA is concerning, considering that HHS will be working with the USDA to issue the next version of the Dietary Guidelines in 2020.

Price was also a co-sponsor of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which exempted certain retailers from menu-labeling rules. And, while the top industries contributing to Price’s campaigns have been health professional organizations and the pharmaceutical industry, he has received roughly $50,000 from Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association since he took office in 2004. Based on his record and his funding sources (and those of other members of Trump’s corporate cabinet), limiting added sugar consumption will probably not be a priority of Price’s HHS.

Why we can’t let this happen

Since 2014, UCS, and our supporters and allies, fought hard to ensure that the FDA’s revisions to the Nutrition Facts Label would be evidence-based and strong enough to inform consumers and ultimately protect public health. As sugar consumption and obesity rates continue to rise, the implementation of the new label is as important as ever. Without the label changes, it will be extremely difficult for Americans to follow the recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to reduce intake of added sugar to less than 10 percent of daily calories, since there will be no way to know exactly how much added sugar is in a particular food!

In early November, I attended the annual meeting of American Public Health Association (APHA) where I presented findings from my Hooked for Life report and spoke with many public health professionals over the course of several days. There was not a single person who wasn’t supportive of improved transparency and regulations related to added sugar in food, especially children’s food. As we’ve documented in the past, public health professionals are nearly unanimous in their support for improved nutrition labeling, and the nutrition facts label has been shown to help individuals make informed decisions impacting their health at retailers.

Right now, you can ask your representatives to do two things: Pass a rider-free spending bill and vote “no” if a CRA bill is introduced that would kill the FDA’s rule revising nutrition facts labels. We must protect this hard-earned victory on a solidly science-based rule that will protect public health. And, if you haven’t already, sign this letter to HHS and USDA asking them to prioritize the impacts of added sugar on young children as they begin the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans process. house.gov

A Glimmer of Good News for the Climate: EPA Affirms Fuel Efficiency Standards

On Wednesday, the EPA proposed maintaining its global warming emissions standards for passenger vehicles out to 2025. These standards were finalized in 2012 to protect public health, reduce global warming emissions and fossil fuel use, and save consumers money at the pump. The decision is part of a robust mid-term review of the standards and affirms both that these standards are working as intended and that they can be met out to 2025.

Just for the vehicles affected by this determination (model years 2022-2025), the standards will result in reductions in oil use of 1.2 billion barrels, avoiding more than half a billion tonnes of global warming emissions. That means nearly $60 billion dollars in savings back to consumers and the avoidance of more than 300,000 tonnes of harmful smog-forming emissions over the lifetime of these vehicles.

Manufacturers could meet even stronger standards…

This proposed decision is based on years of analytic work. Since the rules were finalized in 2012, the federal agencies have continued to assess the progress of the industry through extensive stakeholder engagement, computer modeling, and vehicle testing. The fruits of this labor were compiled back in August in the Draft Technical Assessment Report, to which they received additional comments on the technical, environmental, and socioeconomic merits of their analysis from industry, NGOs, and the general public. Wednesday’s proposed determination includes responses to those comments and integrates this additional data into its technical findings in a 700-page technical support document.

Taken together, this data confirms what we’ve been saying all along: the standards are working to provide consumers more efficient vehicle choices; automakers are exceeding the standards today; and through continued innovation, automakers could actually meet even stronger standards in 2025 than are on the books today.

…But the decision provides certainty for industry investment

While EPA agreed that automakers could meet even more stringent standards, opening up a rulemaking process to do so would create uncertainty for manufacturers for years to come, uncertainty which could delay investment in the very technologies needed to meet more stringent standards. Given the large body of evidence gathered over the past four years to support continued reductions in fuel use and emissions, the agency is acting now to protect the environment and ensure future consumers the most efficient vehicle choices in 2025.

Typically, product planning in the vehicle sector starts around 5 years in advance of the introduction of a vehicle. This means that many vehicles which fall under the regulations considered under the mid-term review are already entering their planning cycles. With this decision, the EPA is looking to assure automakers and provide the certainty needed to continue to make the investments in technology that can provide consumers with more efficient vehicles in the future.

We’ve already seen a tremendous amount of investment and innovation since the rules were first finalized: moving forward with the rules as they stand helps ensure that investment continues.

So what’s next?

Over the next 30 days, we will be working to provide additional data to the EPA in support of strong standards. We will also push for the administration to finalize this decision to provide the certainty needed to protect investments in efficient technologies for consumers.

While finalizing this decision would be the last required step for the EPA, the mid-term review of the standards will continue under the next administration because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is required to undergo a de novo rulemaking process under its statutory authority. Concurrently, California is reviewing its own vehicle standards, which currently mirror the federal standards. These standards have been adopted by 13 other states in the West and Northeast and will help these regions meet their own emissions goals.

The technical support for EPA’s decision will provide a strong technical basis for NHTSA to finalize equally stringent regulations and for California to reaffirm their standards, moving the industry forward. With oil prices continuing to be a volatile issue, the certainty of these regulations will assure consumers have efficient vehicle choices in 2025 that will save them money while protecting everyone from the impacts of fossil fuel use.

Science and the Politics of Fracking—and What’s Ahead

Yesterday, (and then again this morning) Marketplace reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) downplayed scientists’ concerns about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in a draft assessment published in June 2015. According to Marketplace:

“Documents obtained by APM Reports and Marketplace show that in the six weeks before the study’s public release, officials inserted a key phrase into the executive summary that said researchers did not find evidence of “widespread systemic impacts” of fracking by the oil and gas industry on the nation’s drinking water.

Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places.

The documents also show that the news release accompanying the scientific study was changed on June 3, 2015, the day before it was made public. A draft displayed a conclusion that the EPA had identified “potential vulnerabilities” to drinking water. But the final release dated June 4, concluded: “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

How we got here A Marketplace investigation revealed that there is inadequate scientific support for the "widespread, systematic" language in EPA's fracking assessment.

A Marketplace investigation revealed that there is inadequate scientific support for the “widespread, systematic” language in EPA’s fracking assessment.

UCS has long had concerns about inconsistencies with how the EPA was describing the risks of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. The executive summary and press materials accompanying the draft report suggested that there was nothing to fear. But that contradicted the findings in the body of the nearly thousand-page assessment.

Most people, of course, don’t read the fine print. The result? Misleading headlines, misinformation, and industry spin, all declaring that hydraulic fracturing is safe, even though the draft EPA assessment did find impacts on drinking water resources as a result of hydraulic fracturing activities.

In late June and July of 2015, UCS submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to learn more about how the EPA finalized its executive summary and press release. The Marketplace story draws on some of the documents released through this public records request. Because many of the documents we obtained were heavily redacted, UCS is still trying to learn more about how the materials were developed.

Correcting the faulty language  

Since last October, the a group of independent scientists that advise the EPA has met publicly multiple times to deliberate the findings and review public comments of the assessment. In its final report to the EPA Administrator, the group concluded that the agency needed more clarity and support for major findings. In particular, they found the EPA statement that “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States” concerning.

It’s now obvious that there is inadequate scientific support for the “widespread, systemic” language. The scientists have been so clear about this that it would be really hard for EPA to keep that language in the final executive summary and assessment.

Independent information about fracking is needed The EPA needs to take a leadership role and provide communities accurate, independent, and clear information about the impacts of fracking on drinking water. (Flickr Mike)

The EPA needs to take a leadership role and provide communities accurate, independent, and clear information about the impacts of fracking on drinking water. (Flickr Mike)

We can’t have an informed discussion about how to control the risks of hydraulic fracturing if we don’t have an independent assessment of what the science says about those risks. The industry has a compelling interest in preventing the federal government from doing that assessment, and regularly exerts influence to try to stop or limit the breadth of any investigation.

This particular assessment was plagued with delays and limits to its access to information. For example, while the agency conducted this assessment, the oil and gas sector prevented the EPA from obtaining data it needed to fully determine whether hydraulic fracturing is safe for drinking water. To its credit, in the report the EPA pointed this out as a limitation of the project.

And as we highlighted in a 2013 report, the EPA faced pushback from the industry when it was in the process of conducting investigations around water quality concerns in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming, causing it to back down from a full investigation.

Further, government scientists need the authority to ensure that their employers are representing their work accurately. If scientists are not free to conduct the research and communicate the results, communities will be less prepared to accurately assess the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing and respond accordingly.

Beyond fracking: federal science moving forward

As President-elect Donald J. Trump builds his corporate cabinet, science critical to protecting public health and safety will become more vulnerable to spin and suppression than ever before. Now, it is more important than ever for federal scientists to be able to follow the evidence where it leads them and communicate their findings to the public, without political or industry interference or pressure.

The scientific community will be watching the Trump administration closely and holding it to the same high standards that we would expect from any administration when it comes to the use of independent science, integrity, and transparency in federal policymaking. To put the administration on notice that we will hold them accountable, thousands of scientists across all 50 states joined 22 Nobel Laureates in an open letter yesterday outlining the scientific community’s expectations of the incoming Trump administration and Congress.

Federal scientists are critical to the health and safety of our communities, and the science community will continue to speak up to protect their ability to do this essential work.

On Trump and Science: Preparing for the Unknown

I’m a little anxious. And I imagine you are too. Among other things, I’m worried about how President-elect Trump will treat science. We don’t know yet, for example, what he might do at science-based federal agencies. Will he cut public science funding? Will his administration interfere with science-based rulemaking? There have been some concerning developments on these fronts.

But we shouldn’t feel afraid of this uncertainty. If Trump does choose to misuse science, this time the scientific community is ready.

Respect for science?

Like you, I’ve been watching the headlines with anticipation and concern. We’ve already seen some moves from the president-elect that raised eyebrows for those of us who care about science and how it’s used in government decision-making.

  • Last week, a senior advisor for the incoming administration indicated that it would scrap NASA’s climate-related work, despite such work being written into the very first line of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 that created NASA, and despite the vital role it plays today in scientific advancement, our national security, and the American economy.
  • Some of the people whose names have been floated for high-level positions in the administration have a history of misusing science, spreading misinformation, and harassing scientists. Noted climate denier Myron Ebell—who played a direct role in manipulating a government climate science report under the George W. Bush administration—has been tapped to lead the EPA. David Schnare, an EPA transition team member, has made a career of taking money from the coal industry to harass climate scientists by drowning them in open records requests. On the shortlist for energy secretary is oil magnate Harold Hamm, who pressured the University of Oklahoma to fire researchers who suggested a link between fracking and earthquakes, and then sued someone over a Facebook post that criticized his actions. Former US Senator Tom Coburn is rumored to be a candidate for head of the White House Office of Management and Budget–a powerful position for someone who repeatedly targeted and ridiculed individual scientists who received grants from the National Science Foundation that the Senator thought were “wasteful”.
  • President-elect Trump has said for every new regulation he’d remove two—as if regulations aren’t safeguards issued specifically to protect public health and safety. Agencies use science and other evidence to determine when new safeguards are needed. As Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell has said, Trump’s proposal “shows a lack of understanding of how regulations are issued.”

These moves certainly raise questions about how the next president will treat science when he is in power. But I want to pause for a second to remind my fellow scientists of where we are and who we are.

Embracing uncertainty

In the scientific community we’re used to uncertainty. In fact, it’s one of our favorite things to discuss. Areas of uncertainty are where the interesting scientific problems are and where we spend most of our time. It makes us feel stupid, but we like that. We like that feeling of there being unknowns just waiting to be discovered through our work.

In the political space, uncertainty feels different. It feels outside of our control. And it certainly doesn’t always rely on facts. But it is nothing we can’t handle. We may feel powerless but I also feel ready. Let me explain.

A history of science abuse, and a history of fighting back

In the early 2000s, reports started trickling out revealing that the George W Bush Administration was misusing science. We heard from government scientists across federal agencies that their work was being suppressed, manipulated, or misused by political forces. And this was happening across federal agencies and across issue areas—from FDA drug approvals to education to endangered species to climate change. The scientific community was caught off guard. Never before had political interference in science been so pervasive and so widespread across the government.

But the scientific community fought back. The Union of Concerned Scientists organized 15,000 scientists to tell the administration that this disrespect of science would not stand. We surveyed thousands of federal scientists to quantify and document the state of science in federal decision-making. We developed detailed policy recommendations–many of which were ultimately enacted by the next administration. We got strong media coverage, pushed other prominent scientific voices to speak out on this issue, and raised the political price of misusing science for political purposes. The administration ultimately walked back on several political moves where science had been undermined.

When the next president came in, scientific integrity was high on the agenda.  In his inaugural speech, President Obama vowed to “restore science to its rightful place” and took several steps in his first hundred days to do so. There are now scientific integrity policies at more than 23 federal agencies. While they vary in quality, the policies are designed to guard against the kind of abuse we saw under the Bush administration. Many federal scientists now have more rights written into their agencies’ policies—rights to share their scientific work with the media and public, rights to review documents based on their science before their public release, and rights to share their work in the scientific community. Many policies also explicitly prohibit political appointees and public affairs staff from manipulating agency science, and some agencies have instated scientific integrity officials to oversee the new policies.

We have a long way to go in terms of ensuring these policies are implemented, but we are certainly in a better place than we were eight years ago. President Obama laid the groundwork for ensuring greater scientific integrity across the government.

We can—and will—do better this time

Under the Bush administration, the scientific community was too silent for too long, while political interference in science continued. Only when it was clear how pervasive and damaging the abuses were did many in the scientific community speak out. Eventually, the scientific community mobilized–but only after a lot of damage had been done. Misinformation had propagated from government sources, taxpayer-funded scientific work had been suppressed, and federal scientists were collectively demoralized. The actions of the administration had taken its toll, with countless adverse impacts on the health and safety of Americans. When we can’t use science to make policy decisions, we all lose.

This time is different because we know what’s at stake. We know the threat to our health and safety of Americans and to the US scientific enterprise.

We still don’t know how president-elect Trump will treat science and whether it will be similar to what we saw in the Bush era. But I’m certain that this time we’re in a better position to respond. The scientific community will be watching. We’re emboldened to continue our important scientific work and we know how to spot interference if it happens. We know how to organize. We are keenly aware of the proper role of science in our world and how to make sure it is protected. We can make peace with chaos and stand ready to defend science. Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty right now–but I’ve never been more prepared. Photo: The White House

How the Trump Administration and Congress Should Use Science to Govern

The election of Donald Trump raises many questions about the future role of science and evidence in policy making. Many of us are deeply troubled that some transition team members, senior administration officials and people nominated to head up federal agencies have a history of attacking scientists and misrepresenting science.

We’re concerned as well that an emboldened Congress may attempt to pass legislation that cuts science out of existing public health and environmental laws, and cut funding for research critical to understand our changing planet – putting at risk the health and well-being of Americans and people around the world.

Across the major issues that confront us—from disease outbreaks to climate change to food safety to cybersecurity—people benefit when our nation’s policies are informed by scientific knowledge unfettered by inappropriate political or corporate interference.

That is why, in this moment, it is essential for scientists across our nation and across disciplines and institutions to lay out our community’s expectations for how President-elect Trump and Congress should use science to govern.

And that is why I am proud to join with more than 2300 other scientists across all fifty states in signing onto an open letter to President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress, urging them to set a high and sturdy bar for integrity, transparency and independence in using science to inform our nation’s policies.

Among our signers are 22 Nobel Laureates as well as leading scientists who have provided high quality, independent scientific counsel to both Republican and Democratic Presidents for decades. We are scientists in government agencies, universities, private industry and non-governmental organizations. We are physicists, social scientists, chemists, earth scientists, biologists, health scientists and more.

Together, we are calling on the incoming Administration and Congress to:

  • Appoint officials to lead federal agencies who have a unvarnished track record of respecting science as a key input into policy-making;
  • Ensure that federal agencies encourage and welcome scientists regardless of religious background, race, gender or sexual orientation.
  • Ensure that federal scientists are able to conduct their work without political or private-sector interference, freely communicate their findings to Congress, the public and scientific colleagues and be able to disclose any censorship of or other abuses of science without fear of retaliation; and
  • Provide resources sufficient for scientists to conduct policy-relevant research in the public interest

We make clear what is at stake. Without investments in science in the public interest and policies that draw upon scientific evidence, the letter states, “children will be more vulnerable to lead poisoning, more people will be exposed to unsafe drugs and medical devices, and we will be less prepared to limit the impacts of increasing extreme weather and rising seas.”

We intend this statement to give members of the incoming administration and Congress a clear understanding of the standards we will hold them to; to give journalists and citizens across the nation our take on what to look out for; and build upon and extend related calls for the Trump administration to name a nationally respected science advisor.

If you are a scientist and share our views, please join us. You can add your name to the statement here.

The 21st Century Cures Bill: Transparency Win Isn’t Enough

In the midst of one of the most abnormal presidential transitions in history, Congress is spending its last few weeks of session to wrap up pending business. One of the final remaining priorities for House and Senate leaders is the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act). Among other things, the bill would significantly change the approval process for drugs and medical devices.

After some closed-door negotiations, text of the latest version of this sweeping bill was released over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The U.S. House of Representatives will rush to a quick vote on this bill as early as Wednesday, with limited public debate and discussion. The Senate will vote on the bill shortly thereafter.

(Almost) Less transparency for patients  Senator Grassley was critical (again) in helping remove a loophole that would have meant less transparency for patients and consumers and less accountability for doctors, drug companies, and medical device manufacturers. (Flickr chuckgrassley)

Senator Grassley was critical (again) in helping remove a loophole that would have meant less transparency for patients and consumers and less accountability for doctors, drug companies, and medical device manufacturers. (Flickr chuckgrassley)

During the negotiations, health care industry lobbyists attempted to water down a transparency law that lets consumers know who is paying their doctors. These disclosure requirements, included in the 2010 healthcare overhaul, have long been advocated for by UCS.

Championed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and then-Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), the idea was for drug companies to disclose various forms of gifts and payments to physicians and publicly release that information. Consequently, patients today can make more informed medical decisions and understand potential conflicts of interest their doctors might have by accessing an online database that includes all this information.

The version of the 21st Century Cures Act released over the weekend created an enormous loophole by exempting certain types of gifts, including speaker fees at “educational events” as well as payments associated with “medical education.” This broad exemption, which was also pushed by the same lobbyists in 2010 but ultimately not included then either, would have greatly increased the drug and medical device industry’s influence on medicine and medical education.

Thankfully, Senator Grassley stepped in to prevent this critical law from being watered down, objecting to the inclusion of this loophole in any final bill. In a statement released on Monday, he said:

“The Sunshine Act brings transparency to a big part of the health care system for public benefit. Transparency brings accountability wherever it’s applied….We shouldn’t create a loophole that would let drug and medical device companies mask their payments to doctors under a payment category that’s too broad and could gut the spirit and the letter of the Sunshine Act.”

This afternoon, we learned that the provision will not be included in the final bill. Senator Grassley deserves a lot of credit for getting it removed.

Other concerns with the Cures Act

No doubt there are some good things included in the 996-page bill, like funding for the National Institutes of Health (though not mandatory), money for Alzheimer’s research, and helping finance Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer “moonshot.”

However, the Cures Act includes a number of provisions that threaten public health, mostly by drastically lowering safety and approval standards for drugs and medical devices at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

For example, under this bill, drug companies would no longer have to provide all of their data to the FDA when they want to bring new treatments to the market, limiting the amount of information agency scientists would review before giving their approval. This could put patients and consumers across the country at risk.

And we’ve seen what can happen when drugs and medical devices are approved without full consideration of the science or with undue interference from industry. In a 2012 report, we described how Merck devised a strategy to exaggerate the positive effects of Vioxx, while in reality, the drug led to thousands of deaths. This isn’t just a one-off. As my colleague has written in the past, the human cost of many FDA decisions can have deadly impacts.

Other members of Congress have also voiced concerns. In an impassioned speech Monday night, Senator Elizabeth Warren announced her opposition to this version of the Cures Act, specifically pointing to the transparency loophole, as well as laying out a number of other concerns.

If Congress is going to pass legislation that decreases transparency and benefits the drug and medical device industry without helping patients and consumers, that’s probably not the type of legislation that should be rushed out the door with little notice to the broader public. For the 21st Century Cures Act, the more you hear about it, the less there is to like about it.

The Future Energy Jobs Bill: Promise, Pitfalls, and Opportunities for Clean Energy in Illinois

On November 16, the Illinois House Energy Committee held a six-and-a-half hour committee hearing on the recently released Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814).

This bill builds on the Next Generation Energy Plan (NGEP) that was introduced in May 2016, and includes key components from the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. The Union of Concerned Scientists is a member of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, which has been in conversations with Exelon and ComEd for months. We are cautiously optimistic that detrimental provisions to the bill will be removed this week and, if they are, UCS will recommend that lawmakers cast a yes vote.

The Future Energy Jobs Bill contains provisions to fix the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in Illinois, and to increase the energy efficiency standards in the state, which are both components the Clean Jobs Coalition has been working to pass since February 2015. With only three days left of veto session, we are encouraged to hear that negotiations are continuing, and we expect some key revisions to the Bill, including the removal of the coal subsidy and rate design change. What remains is a long, complicated bill that will, on balance, serve Illinois well, expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

Here’s what you need to know:

Restarting renewable energy development in Illinois

The Future Energy Jobs Bill includes a meaningful fix to the state’s existing Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law by ensuring stable and predictable funding for renewable development.

The RPS has been one of the primary drivers of wind and solar development in Illinois, until recently. Established in 2007, the RPS requires investor-owned utilities to supply 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2025. But progress toward meeting the RPS has been hampered by flaws in the policy.

The proposed fix to the RPS will finally restart renewable energy development in Illinois.

The fix would provide $180 million per year, growing to $220 million per year in funding to install new renewable energy projects in Illinois. The bill requires a minimum of 3,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar power and 1,300 MW of new wind power to be built in the state by 2025.

The bill also includes provisions to create the state’s first community solar program, which allows members of a community the opportunity to share the benefits of solar power even if they can’t install solar on their own roof. And the bill creates the Illinois Solar for All Program to support solar development in low-income communities and related job training.

For energy efficiency, the bill would nearly double ComEd’s energy efficiency programs. This is a very strong and laudable commitment because energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, create jobs, and reduce energy costs for consumers.

Anti-consumer/pro-coal provisions

Similarly to the NGEP, the Future Energy Jobs Bill as originally written included a change to the structure of residential electricity rates. Customers would no longer be charged based on the amount of electricity they use in a month, but they would be charged based on their peak usage during a billing cycle. Consumer advocates argue that demand charges are complicated and hard to understand, which would make it difficult for consumers to manage their bills. And as a result, their electricity bills may vary wildly from month to month.

The proposed demand charges would also greatly reduce the savings from investing in energy efficiency and distributed energy sources, particularly rooftop solar. One of the primary drivers of the recent boom in residential solar has been the prospect that a homeowner can lower their electricity bill by reducing electricity purchased from their utility. Demand charges could evade that mechanism.

Additionally, proposed energy efficiency targets for Ameren Illinois, the state’s second largest investor-owned utility, do not match ComEd’s targets. Ameren previously proposed a target of 12% cumulative annual energy efficiency savings by 2025, and just 15% cumulative annual savings by 2030. Meanwhile, ComEd proposed increasing their energy efficiency target to 18.5% cumulative annual savings by 2025, and 23% cumulative annual savings by 2030.

As it was originally written, the bill created a Fixed Resource Adequacy Plan (FRAP) that would put the state in charge of procuring capacity in Southern Illinois, which is part of the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO). The state would have to purchase power capacity downstate from power generators over four-year periods. Dynegy, the energy company pushing the FRAP, would prolong the life of old, uneconomic coal plants that are a large source of carbon emissions and other harmful pollutants in Illinois.

The future of Illinois nuclear plants

The bill also creates a Zero Emission Standard (ZES) to subsidize two of Exelon’s nuclear power plants (Clinton and Quad Cities) in Illinois that are at risk of closing early. This proposal is very similar to what was proposed in the Next Generation Energy Plan from May 2016, but has a different way of calculating subsidies.

The subsidy in the current bill is based on the economic value of the avoided carbon emissions from these facilities using the federal social cost of carbon, which represents the avoided economic damages from climate change. To protect ratepayers and prevent Exelon from making windfall profits, the bill would reduce the level of subsidies over time if wholesale electricity prices increase, prevent consumer electricity rates from increasing by more than 2 percent in any year, and limit the duration of the subsidies.

UCS is quite aware that owners of economically vulnerable nuclear plants in some states are seeking financial assistance from policymakers. Until carbon pricing is in place or natural gas prices rise significantly, this trend will likely continue and we believe should be handled on a case by case basis. UCS has worked to make sure that Illinois policymakers consider the cost and feasibility of a range of options, from providing financial support for power plants with strong safety records, to replacing their capacity with renewables, to implementing policies that lower and reconfigure customer demand for electricity.

We have also recommended to Illinois policymakers that if they agree to provide financial support, they should at the same time fix the state’s RPS as well as increase the state’s energy efficiency programs and policies. The ZES ensures that any financial assistance to existing nuclear power plants will not dilute or otherwise come at the expense of incentives for energy efficiency, grid modernization, or renewable resources such as wind and solar.

Negotiations continue

Governor Rauner recently weighed in on the large, 446-page energy bill and signaled support for a slimmed-down version. The governor’s office was critical of the proposed change to the rate design, and the potential increase in electricity costs for Illinois residents and businesses. They also wanted a stronger commitment from Exelon to keep the two at-risk nuclear plants open for a longer time frame (at least 10 years).

Recent articles indicate that changes to the legislation are being made to reflect the feedback from a broad cross section of stakeholders, including testimony given at the recent House Energy Committee Hearing. These changes potentially include the elimination of the demand based rates and the FRAP, and other substantive changes.

Next steps

The second half of veto session begins Tuesday, November 29. and ends on Thursday, December 1, leaving just three days for a bill to move in Illinois.

Ultimately, we need comprehensive energy legislation that will serve as a powerful driver for expanding clean energy investments, curb carbon emissions, and keep electricity bills affordable for consumers. And it looks like we are on the path to achieving that.

While the bill is not perfect, on balance UCS could support the bill if the clean energy provisions are maintained, the FRAP and rate design changes are removed, and Ameren’s energy efficiency targets are increased.

 

How Important is NASA Research? The World Depends on It—And So Do You

Word has it that the NASA Earth Science program is on the chopping block. Bad decision!

The NASA Earth Science program provides information about the Earth that plays a vital role in our scientific advancement, our national security, and the American economy. In addition to a robust science program, NASA Earth Science supports fundamental services that underpin economic activities of farmers, the construction sector, and small businesses. Most people know NASA for its moon shots and participation in the International Space Station; many don’t realize that NASA also supports its space mission through its Earth Science program. In order to develop instruments of sufficient “maturity” (reliability in performance and quality of measurements), these instruments need to be tested in airborne measurement campaigns. NASA cleverly combines instrument development with science advancement.

NASA is uniquely positioned to combine lower Earth orbit measurements (like aircraft) and upper earth measurements (like satellites) to advance our understanding of the Earth processes. NASA operates its own aircraft and can provide the cost-savings leverages available to a large program. In addition, NASA is a major funder of Earth Science through its ROSES program, where university researchers are funded to contribute to earth sciences.

There are so many examples from NASA Earth Science worthy of note.  Here is an example of a NASA mission that, if it were ended, would be like a falling domino that topples the rest.

The first domino: GRACE GRACE Satellite Image by Artist at NASA

Image and caption source: NASA/JPL: “Artist’s concept of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE): GRACE, twin satellites launched in March 2002, are making detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field which will lead to discoveries about gravity and Earth’s natural systems. These discoveries could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world’s population.”

One of the most beneficial satellite programs that NASA has is the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite. The GRACE mission is a joint partnership between NASA, the Deutsches Zentrum für Luftund Raumfahrt (the German space agency DLR), and other partners. The GRACE mission measures how the Earth’s gravity changes over time. Gravity changes point out areas where mass is changing.

Second Domino: American Infrastructure Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge under construction

Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge under construction

An important use of GRACE gravity data is in support of the National Spatial Reference system (NSRS). This is critical for rebuilding or investing in 21st century American infrastructure.  The NSRS is a consistent coordinate system that defines latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity, and orientation throughout the United States, underpinning all civil positioning and navigation activities in the US.

Surveyors, mapping professionals and others use the NSRS to ensure their positional coordinates are compatible and accurate in the creation of maps and charts; marking property boundaries; and planning, designing, and building roads, bridges, and other structures. All of us who live, work or recreate in any building with indoor plumbing depend on accurate spatial reference systems. GRACE gravity data support the development and evolution of the National Spatial Reference System.

Third domino: Communities confronting sea level rise

GRACE is able to monitor the large ice sheets of the planet and help measure mass loss as these large sheets melt. The shrinking ice sheets provide one of the largest contributions to sea level rise. NASA scientists conducting surveys with airplanes outfitted with geophysical instruments are studying possible surprises from Antarctica with consequences for near-term and long-term sea level rise. Similar studies are occurring over the Greenland Ice sheet. The large ice sheets are the great unknowns regarding sea level rise and must be better understood to manage our rapidly growing coastal risks.

NASA survey Greenland

NASA mission to use airplane surveys with instruments to observe changes on Greenland Ice Sheet.

Communities working with architects are already investing in 21st century design to protect coastal communities. Core infrastructure like GRACE or the ice sheet surveys by NASA Earth Science are key information for any community that is less than 6 feet below sea level.

If the world did not fully implement the Paris Climate Agreement then coastal communities would need to know—as far in advance as possible—when would global sea level rise 3 feet, 4 feet, 6 feet? The interactive map by Ben Strauss for West Palm Beach shows 2 feet and 3 feet, sea level rise would inundate areas of the Mar-a-Lago estate of President-elect Trump in West Palm Beach Florida.

Forth domino – Agriculture

The GRACE mission can help assess where major groundwater aquifers are being depleted or recharged over a season. Such knowledge can support agricultural decisions such as in the central valley of California. Food produced from this region finds its way to most American homes. Increasing drought in the nation’s fruit and vegetable basket make this information all the more vital.

Fifth domino – Stop!

Okay, okay. I will stop. The list goes on and on. Even though dominos falling can be a beautiful sight, let’s not let this happen to the core science infrastructure that underpins 21st century activities and our daily lives.

Pie and Praise: Why I’m Especially Thankful for California’s Leadership on Climate This Thanksgiving

Following our annual pre-Thanksgiving tradition, my husband and I gathered with friends around a long wooden table on Sunday night to eat homemade pies and share what we’re thankful for this year. Some said family, others their health or jobs.

While I shared those sentiments, my thoughts quickly turned to gratitude for California’s leadership in addressing climate change. The strong voices and actions of our policymakers are a welcome contrast to the uncertainty surrounding climate action under a Trump administration.california-us-flags

Standing Up for Climate Action

Perhaps now more than ever, California’s ability to demonstrate that a low carbon and climate resilient economy is achievable, and that it can spur economic growth and benefit everyone, is critical. That’s why I’m thankful that the state’s leadership has voiced its continued commitment to this vision in recent weeks.

  • Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown issued a statement with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark that reaffirmed their resolve to stand with the international community and take “bold action to achieve the targets set in the Paris agreement.”
  • In a joint statement the day after the election, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon reassured Californians that “California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.”
Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I’m even more thankful that earlier this year, California made history by adopting the most ambitious heat-trapping emissions targets in North America. This provides much needed certainty for the state’s climate program.

In a feat that seemed nearly impossible until it was accomplished, SB 32 (Pavley) and a companion bill, AB 197 (E. Garcia), became law. Together, they establish an ambitious emissions reduction goal for 2030 of 40 percent below 1990 levels, and increase legislative oversight for the state’s climate programs while underscoring that the policies must help the communities most affected by climate change and air pollution.

 Assembly member (Asm) Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, Senator Fran Pavley, Governor Brown (seated), Senator Ricardo Lara, ASM Jimmy Gomez, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Governor Brown, signing SB 32 and AB 197, a UCS-backed climate change law—one of the most ambitious in the world. From the left: Assembly member (Asm) Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, Senator Fran Pavley, Governor Brown (seated), Senator Ricardo Lara, Asm Jimmy Gomez, Asm Eduardo Garcia, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Of course, setting the targets is only the first step. We have a lot of work to do to achieve the state’s 2030 target and 2050 target of 80 percent below 1990 levels, and to do it in a way that can benefit all Californians.

My UCS colleagues and I are closely following development of the state’s roadmap to 2030, the Scoping Plan 2030 Update, to ensure it represents the most robust set of policies possible. The California Air Resources Board will release a discussion draft of the plan later this month, so stay tuned for more details.

 California Department of Water Resources

Folsom Lake – an important reservoir and source of hydropower for California – at extremely low water levels in 2014 due to drought. Photo: California Department of Water Resources

At the same time, we also need to be thinking about how climate change will affect the infrastructure investments we make to meet the state’s targets, like updating our energy grid, and other key infrastructure investments (roads, bridges, water systems, etc.) that provide important public services and safety. The billions of dollars we spend each year on infrastructure should ensure that it’s built to last in the facing of a changing climate.

I’m thankful that California reasserted its continued leadership on this issue this year:

  • Governor Brown signed a UCS-sponsored bill into law, AB 2800 (Quirk), to help engineer our infrastructure – particularly bridges, roads, water systems, and buildings – to better withstand the impacts of climate change.
  • The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is developing guidance for state agencies to incorporate climate impacts into planning and investment decisions, with a special focus on infrastructure and protecting the state’s most vulnerable populations. I represent UCS on the Technical Advisory Group for this effort. The guidance document should be released next month.

As with the targets, there is a lot more work still to be done. Yet these and other related efforts here in California can provide valuable insights for any major infrastructure investments by the Trump administration.

Looking To Next Thanksgiving

I count myself among the many people concerned with the health of the planet that are troubled by President-elect Trump’s statements on climate change. But I have hope that, as a businessman, he will look at California as a model for how global warming pollution can be reduced and climate resilience increased while growing a vibrant economy.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but for today, I will choose gratitude. And then I’ll roll up my sleeves and get back to work alongside the millions of people advancing solutions to climate change worldwide, so that next year at this time, I’ll have even more reasons to be thankful. California Department of Water Resources

Encouraging Signs for Electric Vehicles at the LA Auto Show

I visited the LA Auto Show last week and was very impressed with the progress on electric vehicles (EVs) from just a year ago. Though there’s uncertainty where electric vehicle policy may head at the federal level, if we look just at progress in clean vehicles, especially those with electric drive, the trend is incredibly positive. Based on what I saw this week electric vehicles are poised to make a leap into the mainstream soon.

The Chevy Bolt is a long-range EV with a surprising amount of interior space.

The Chevy Bolt is a long-range EV with a surprising amount of interior space.

Signposts on the path to electrification

We know where we need to go with personal transportation: to reduce climate-changing emissions and petroleum use, we will need to electrify most personal vehicles in the coming decades. Mass-market EVs began to be available in late 2010, and now six years later, we have two important signposts that show we are on the path moving away from oil to electricity.

First off is the one of the stars of the auto show, the Chevy Bolt EV. The new battery electric car won not only ‘Green Car of the Year’ honors at the show, but also just received Motor Trend magazine’s overall ‘Car of the Year’ award. Why all of the buzz and accolades? One reason is that the car boasts 200+ miles of electric range, which was previously only available in the EVs from Tesla, combined with a sticker price just under $30,000 (after federal incentive). This combination of range and affordable price should open up all-electric driving to a much wider audience. Most drivers will be able use the Bolt for everyday driving with absolutely no concerns about running out of charge. Additionally, while cold weather reduces range, the Bolt should have plenty of range for drivers even in areas with harsh winters. However, given the reviews to-date, there are other reasons the car is generating praise: it’s a surprisingly roomy car with good performance and a quiet ride. The range is the topline feature that will get the most attention, but this car should also be noted for being simply a better car because it’s electric.

The Pacific is being advertised only as a 'hybrid', despite the fact it's actually a plug-in too.

The Pacific is being advertised only as a ‘hybrid’, despite the fact it’s actually a plug-in too.

The Chrysler Pacifica is the US's first plug-in electric minivan.

The Chrysler Pacifica is the US’s first plug-in electric minivan.

The second milestone EV I saw at the show wasn’t a car. It’s the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan. This minivan was being marketed as ‘only’ a hybrid at the show, but it’s actually a plug-in hybrid with about 30 miles of electric range (and >500 miles combined gasoline and electric range). The battery in the Pacifica is small enough to be fully charged overnight using a standard 110V outlet, but is big enough to make a significant dent in gasoline usage. However, the ‘biggest’ feature is its size and cargo space. The plug-in hybrid version has the same capacity as the standard gasoline version of the minivan. So families can now pick a much cleaner option for school carpools and soccer games, without giving up any of the utility of a conventional minivan.

Laggards catching up?

Another theme I saw at the LA Auto Show this year was some of the companies that have been laggards in the EV space starting to catch up. Earlier this year, UCS identified a number of automakers that were behind on EVs, including Fiat Chrysler America, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai/Kia. All of these, with the exception of Honda, had significant emphasis on electric drive at the show.

  • Fiat Chrysler had the aforementioned plug-in Pacifica placed prominently on display, as well as advertised heavily throughout the entrance to the showroom.
  • Hyundai also displayed their newest EV, the Ioniq, at the show which will come in both plug-in and fully-electric versions next year. The Korean automaker also devoted their entire press conference to electric cars, including the debut of a new all-inclusive leasing plan that promises to simplify EV ownership. Starting in California, the Ionic Unlimited plan will also customers to lease an electric car for a fixed monthly price that includes all maintenance and charging costs.
  • Toyota also was showing multiple electric drive cars for the first time in several years. The hydrogen fuel cell Mirai was joined by the Prius Prime, a plug in version of the redesigned Prius. The Prius Prime has much more battery range and electric drive capability than the last generation Plug-in Prius and could help get Toyota out of the EV ‘laggard’ category.
The new Hyundai Ioniq will be available in standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric versions. Will this push Hyundai out of EV laggard status?

The new Hyundai Ioniq will be available in standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric versions. Will this push Hyundai out of EV laggard status?

Altogether, the 2016 LA Auto Show was very promising for the future of EVs in the US. Compared to last year, I saw much more interest in EVs from automakers and also more examples of EVs that were ready to go on sale (as opposed to concept cars and prototypes). Many companies, even ones that previously had lagged behind, are coming out with good cars that also happen to be EVs. These EVs can meet people’s transportation needs, while also overcoming some of the biggest obstacles to EVs, range and affordability. We are farther down the road towards creating a robust EV market, which will bring us closer to cutting oil use, cleaning our air, improving our health, and curbing global warming.

Battling Climate Change With Each Bite: 4 Things To Do If You’re Going Bananas About the Story Behind Your Food

I have a challenge for you. Take a moment, and consider what you ate for breakfast. As routine as it may have felt, dig beneath the surface and I’ll bet you’ll find a story that’s anything but mundane. It might even be magical.

  • Eat a banana? There’s a decent chance it was born and raised in Ecuador, a clone of the banana you ate yesterday and the one on your officemate’s desk, and a survivor of a lurking devastating fungus that threatens bananas everywhere.
  • Sip some coffee? The beans in your brew could have traveled from anywhere from Brazil to Vietnam, where they were plucked off a plant (in the shade or sun, near a beach or mountain), roasted and ground (somewhere), only to arrive at your mug. Have a blend? Now we’re talking.
  • Crack any eggs? Finally, something from a little closer to home, possibly from an Iowan hen (there are 50,782,000). Or, given the growing popularity, perhaps they even came from your own backyard.
  • Bite into a granola bar? From almond orchards to honey combs to cocoa plants to coconut palms, we don’t have enough space to discuss the countless possible stories stirred into your favorite bar, but I hope I got you thinking.
What does my breakfast (or lunch or dinner) have to do with climate change? Ask science.

Well, the numbers are in, and — for better and worse — the food system that we select meals from each day has a big role in climate change. While each choice might feel inconsequential, the forkfuls add up:

  • Overall, the food system contributes up to 30% of all global warming emissions. This includes 11% from agriculture, consequences of the climate-unfriendly shifts from forests and grasslands to croplands, and more.
  • Diets make a difference. For example, research has found that the average American man consumes about twice as much protein as he needs, and often from sources that had heavy climate impacts. The result is unnecessary consequences for climate, water resources, and health.
  • Food insecurity already devastates nearly 800 million people, and climate change is likely to stress both crop yields and nutrition, putting millions of meals on the line even despite global efforts to reduce poverty and hunger.
So what can I do?

While many of the food system challenges we face can seem overwhelming, there are a few simple ways each of us can begin to shift the paradigm:

  1. Ask where your food comes from: The foods that we eat and the companies we support can be linked to egregious climate actions, which are all too often out of sight and out of mind. Fortunately, efforts like Years of Living Dangerously are working hard to spread the word about these issues, and help viewers figure out how to make a difference. The most recent episode tackled the devastating rates of tropical deforestation which, as my colleagues have shown, have a significant climate impact and are connected to several major food products, including beef. In the case of beef, since most of what is consumed in the US is from cattle raised in North America, it’s important to recognize that the most effective approach to protecting tropical forests is to directly pressure large multinational companies with a presence in the tropics to demand “deforestation-free” beef throughout their global operations.
  2. When something smells like trouble, investigate your options: With any food product, there are always many stories to choose from. And while we’re talking about beef, it’s important to recognize that well-managed and appropriately located grazing lands can actually offer a lot of benefits for the environment and biodiversity. So, if you choose to eat beef, it’s possible to lend your support the ranchers who are actually working hard to protect valuable grasslands. For example, places like White Oak Pasture have actually been the driver behind an uplifted community and a boost in biodiversity. These systems can only be expanded so much, but they do exist. Also, while finding the best sources for beef and other food products can take a lot of detective work, thankfully there is a lot of effort going into making these details easier to find, and digest.
  3. Save money while halting preposterous cycles of waste: Regardless of what you eat each day, one way to reduce the impacts of your food choices is quite simply to waste less food. It should go without saying, but wasting food costs you money and wastes just about everything, including all the labor, water, chemicals and fuel used to grow, ship, and prepare every bite that made it to your fridge or table (only to land in the landfill).
  4. Last but not least, support the farmers and ranchers that protect your favorite food, and soil: Believe it or not, some of your favorite foods might be at risk due to climate change. But by supporting producers who are farming wisely and cultivating resilience you can help give these coveted crops a chance in a warmer world. Farmers can also protect the soil — a secret ingredient in the climate change food fight.
A conundrum and an opportunity

In today’s world of phenomenal convenience, many of us have the good fortune not to have to think too much about how we get our next meal. On the flip side, it’s also a deep privilege to live in a data-rich and well-connected world that offers so much knowledge and potential choice. So, what to do?

That’s up to you, but remember this: with every bite, you have a chance to vote for the world you want to live in. Use it wisely.

This post was originally published on the Years of Living Dangerously blog.

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