Newsroom | Catalyst Spring 2010
- Clearing the Air
- A Victory for Vehicle Fuels
- Science Influences Copenhagen Accord
- Biotech Fails to Stop Weeds
- Locals Have Say on Global Warming
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to end one of the most egregious Bush administration abuses of science: a refusal to create science-based air quality standards for ground-level ozone (the primary component of smog), which is associated with respiratory ailments and premature death. UCS and our activists have been pushing for this change since early 2008, when the EPA caved in to White House pressure by setting ozone standards that would not adequately protect public health—in the process misrepresenting recommendations from its own scientists and an independent advisory committee.
UCS testified before Congress, spoke to the press, encouraged activists to file thousands of public comments, and, in meetings during the presidential transition, asked the new administration to revisit the EPA's decision. The agency suspended the flawed standards in January of this year and proposed welcome new standards consistent with the scientific consensus, but polluting industries are already working to keep the previous rule in place. As Catalyst went to press, UCS was mobilizing scientists to speak in favor of the proposed standards at public hearings nationwide.
A new rule released by the Environmental Protection Agency in February will help ensure that biofuels such as ethanol contribute to a meaningful reduction in the environmental impact of transportation fuels. The federal renewable fuel standard (RFS) will now require fuel suppliers not only to use an increasing percentage of biofuels but also to reduce—for the first time ever—the heat-trapping emissions of biofuels. These reductions will be calculated over a fuel's entire life cycle (from the growing and harvesting of crops to their conversion into fuel) and include emissions from changes in land use as demand for fuel from agricultural crops rise.
The corn ethanol industry lobbied hard to exclude land-use emissions from the final rule, but UCS avoided that setback by bringing together more than 200 experts in support of a rule based on the best available science. Learn more about the renewable fuel standard.
In December, a team of top UCS scientists, economists, and policy analysts traveled to the United Nations' climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. We met with U.S. and foreign delegates, officials, journalists, and other attendees over the course of the two-week meeting, sharing our concerns and offering recommendations on key issues relating to the treaty negotiations.
While the summit did not result in the ambitious, binding treaty the planet needs, the Copenhagen Accord hammered out by President Obama and other world leaders does set a maximum limit for the increase in global average temperature, and calls on all countries to put forward specific emissions reduction pledges, as well as to monitor and report on their emissions. We are pleased that the Accord also highlights the need for actions to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, which are responsible for approximately 15 percent of heat-trapping emissions worldwide.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at UCS and a 20-year veteran of the negotiations, pressed negotiators from the United States and other countries on their commitments, and served as an adviser to the Danish minister of climate and energy (who served as president of the conference). UCS President Kevin Knobloch provided important scientific information to delegates, and our media staff connected our experts to the world press to provide updates and commentary. Learn more about our role in Copenhagen and watch interviews with UCS staff at the conference.
The biotechnology industry has touted the ability of genetically engineered (GE) crops to reduce pesticide use in agriculture. However, a November 2009 report funded by UCS and other groups has found the opposite to be true. Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years draws upon U.S. Department of Agriculture data to compare pesticide use between GE and non-GE crops. The report shows that, since 1996, U.S. farmers have applied 383 million more pounds of herbicides (weed killers) on GE crops than they likely would have applied on non-GE varieties of these crops. This increase in herbicide use far outweighs the decrease in insecticide use attributable to GE crops, meaning today's GE crops require more pesticides than their non-GE counterparts overall.
The report identifies the primary cause of the increase to be herbicide-resistant weeds, which have emerged as a result of increased herbicide use on widely planted GE soybean, corn, and cotton crops. As a consequence, weed control in farmers' fields is now a serious problem, particularly in the Southeast but increasingly so across the Midwest.
Last November, as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was preparing to consider a landmark climate bill, UCS brought 32 experts to Washington, DC, to discuss climate and energy issues with their senators and their staffs. The participants—including scientists, economists, business leaders, and farmers—hailed from 10 states whose senators are undecided on climate policy.
At an opening workshop for the participants, UCS staff provided an update on the status of climate science and legislation, and trained participants on conducting effective meetings with policy makers. The following day the participants and UCS staff met with people in 37 different congressional offices, relating their stories and urging their lawmakers to improve, defend, and pass a strong climate and energy bill.
UCS held a total of four such expert events last year. Participants from each event helped UCS generate media coverage in their states, and many of the respective congressional offices expressed appreciation for their constituents' well-informed comments on the scientific and economic arguments for climate action. As Catalyst went to press we were preparing to bring a new group of scientists, economists, and business leaders to the nation's capital to increase the pressure on these senators to take action on climate change.
Photos: © Thinkstock (smog); © NREL (biofuels); Leila Mean/IISD (Copenhagen)