Union of Concerned ScientistsUnion of Concerned Scientists https://blog.ucsusa.org a blog on independent science + practical solutions Sat, 16 Dec 2017 16:51:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://blog.ucsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-32x32.png Union of Concerned Scientists https://blog.ucsusa.org 32 32 Is CDC Banning the Use of Scientific Words? It’s Time for CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald to Speak Up https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/is-cdc-banning-the-use-of-scientific-words-its-time-for-cdc-director-brenda-fitzgerald-to-speak-up https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/is-cdc-banning-the-use-of-scientific-words-its-time-for-cdc-director-brenda-fitzgerald-to-speak-up#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:45:30 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55578

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been prohibited from using certain words (including diversity, science-based, and vulnerable) in any documents related to next year’s budget, the Washington Post reported late Friday. New CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald has the opportunity to clarify that no such restrictions exist and that staff are explicitly encouraged to make science the centerpiece of the CDC’s work.

The agency’s scientific integrity policy is unambiguous about this point: As the nation’s public health agency, CDC places primary emphasis on scientific evidence for developing policies, guidelines, and recommendations. But officials suggested in a meeting that instead of putting primary emphasis on science, staff should write that “the CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

It’s quite obvious that good public health policy is not based on wishes.

It is unclear whether the directive came from Trump administration officials or from career staff self-censoring to avoid falling into political traps. Career staff at government agencies often modify language to stop their work from being politicized.

Yet there’s a fine line between necessary self-preservation and needless self-censorship. For example, CDC staff took the unusual and unfortunate step of canceling a conference on climate change and public health even before the inauguration.

I have spoken to dozens of CDC staff and grantees in recent months, and so far, much of their valuable public health research and protection work has continued unabated despite the change in administration. Actions that divert the agency from its grounding in science could compromise the progress they are making in tracking opioid overdoses, reducing teen pregnancy, protecting the elderly from the flu, and slowing HIV transmission among transgender Americans.

At its best, CDC should not be a political agency. Its scientific integrity policy affirms this:

CDC has a responsibility to conduct the best science and is committed to disseminating scientific findings and results without being influenced by policy or political issues. Although CDC may conduct research in areas relevant for making policy decisions, the goal of such research is to provide the best evidence to drive policy in the right direction. CDC is committed to ensuring that all information products authored, published, and released by CDC for public use are of the highest quality and are scientifically sound, technically accurate, and useful to the intended audience.

Yet earlier in the year, Axios reported that the CDC now requires scientists to ask for permission before providing scientific information to reporters and the public. “This correspondence includes everything from formal interview requests to the most basic of data requests,” wrote a CDC official. The constraint on employee communication is another clear violation of the agency scientific integrity policy. It’s also time for the CDC to repudiate this kind of muzzling.

CDC research and initiatives have direct impact on public health and safety for all populations—including and especially those who are most vulnerable to public health threats. Effectively tackling public health challenges means being honest and open about risks and who faces these risks. To prevent the agency from losing its legitimacy, CDC Director Fitzgerald must speak up now to reinforce the centrality of science to the agency’s work.

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Conflicts of Interest Matter—Congress Needs to Stop This https://blog.ucsusa.org/andrew-rosenberg/conflicts-of-interest-matter-congress-needs-to-stop-this https://blog.ucsusa.org/andrew-rosenberg/conflicts-of-interest-matter-congress-needs-to-stop-this#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 16:12:33 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55537

With the election of Donald Trump, our government has apparently changed the way in which financial conflicts of interest are addressed by political appointees to his administration. The President himself has, of course, been unwilling to sever ties to his businesses even as his actions in office impact their financial performance. That has raised constitutional issues for some critics and is the subject of ongoing litigation.

But for appointees to the executive branch agencies, conflicts of interest no longer seem to be a major hurdle. My colleagues and I (e.g. here, here and here) have written about this before with regard to several prominent nominees. Of course, the concern is that appointed officials in executive branch agencies will make decisions that favor their own interests now or in the near future.

There is another concern though. Suppose that a high level appointee is scrupulous about following the ethics rules and recuses themselves from any decision that might have the appearance of impacting their own interests (or those of their family and close associates). That has always been my simple understanding of the rules when I served in government or on advisory panels. And in my experience recusal works pretty well because there are always a small number of issues where it becomes necessary for any decision-maker or advisor to step away from the discussion. It happens, but is not often necessary.

I recently noted that Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—a critical public health agency—has financial interests that are not severable related to cancer detection and opioid addiction treatment. She has recused herself from decisions concerning those issues at the CDC. But cancer and opioid use are two of the major public health crises facing our nation. Now the head of the CDC must stay out of the discussion on how to deal with these huge problems? Does that mean that the CDC will take less of a role in these battles because the director can’t participate?

Now take the nomination of Barry Myers to head my former agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As the CEO of Accuweather, which is essentially his family’s company, Mr. Myers will be affected by decisions about the National Weather Service, the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, three of the line offices of NOAA. And not for just a few isolated topics, but the broad scope of work of all of these offices has the potential to impact Accuweather’s business and finances. Since it is a family business (his brother is the founder and president), divestiture is not going to remove the appearance of a conflict of interest. So, properly, he should recuse himself from decisions that have the appearance of impacting his family. Does that mean the new head of NOAA should recuse himself from, say, two-thirds of the work of the agency? I think so, but how can that possibly work? Everyone subordinate to the NOAA Administrator will know that their work may impact him personally. So even recusal seems a weak tool.

Dr. Fitzgerald may be a good public health professional. Mr. Myers may be a good businessman. But that doesn’t mean they are appropriate choices to lead federal agencies if their conflicts of interest run so deep as to be unavoidable. This shouldn’t be the new standard for government officials, because we already have ethics laws on the books. We need Congress to step up and say no to conflicted appointees and ensure that no one is above the law.

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¡La Lucha No Se Acaba!: La lucha Continúa por una Transición Justa de la Planta de Carbón de Crawford en La Villita https://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/la-lucha-no-se-acaba-la-lucha-continua-por-una-transicion-justa-de-la-planta-de-carbon-de-crawford-en-la-villita https://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/la-lucha-no-se-acaba-la-lucha-continua-por-una-transicion-justa-de-la-planta-de-carbon-de-crawford-en-la-villita#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 15:43:38 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55561

El 12 de agosto de 2017, nuestra organización, la Organización de Justicia Ambiental de La Villita (LVEJO por sus siglas en ingles, por sus siglas en inglés), celebró un encuentro en el parque La Villita en el vecindario de La Villita para celebrar el quinto aniversario del cierre de las plantas de carbón Crawford y Fisk en Chicago. Con miembros de la comunidad y líderes juveniles en asistencia, fue una oportunidad especial que tuvo LVEJO para recordar a muchos, todos los años de organización comunitaria y de formar coaliciones que tuvieron lugar, y para agradecer a viejos amigos y aliados del vecino vecindario de Pilsen quienes fueron esenciales en esta campaña. Con ritmos de cumbia comimos pastel, distribuimos literatura acerca de la Justicia Ambiental a los asistentes del parque(aprenda sobre los principios de justicia ambiental aquí), y disfrutamos viendo a nuestros niños romper una piñata y correr rápidamente por las golosinas que caían al suelo.

Líder juvenil de La Villita en el 5to aniversario del cierre de la planta de carbón Crawford (Crédito de la foto: Antonio López)

La conmemoración fue un momento agradable, pero también nos recordó que cinco años después La Villita sigue enfrentándose a serios desafíos de justicia ambiental, incluyendo una batalla difícil para reconstruir la planta de carbón de Crawford. De hecho, la comunidad es cada vez más vulnerable al aumento de las emisiones de diésel y muchos están preocupados por la gentrificación y el desplazamiento. A pesar de estas amenazas, los líderes de La Villita continúan luchando por una comunidad más sana y responsabilizar a los que tienen poder para que sigan principios de reconstrucción comunitaria equitativa. Como decimos en LVEJO, ¡la lucha no se acaba!

Una Transición Justa en la Planta de Crawford

Cinco años más tarde, la planta de carbón de Crawford sigue siendo un sitio poco acogedor en La Villita. A diferencia de muchas otras comunidades dependientes del carbón, La Villita no fue devastada económicamente por el cierre de la planta de carbón y la pérdida de puestos de trabajo. De hecho, Crawford contrató a muy pocos trabajadores de La Villita. Sin embargo, sabiendo que Crawford perjudicó la salud de la comunidad durante tanto tiempo y excluyó a la fuerza de trabajo local de empleos bien pagados, LVEJO está comprometida a ver llevar a cabo una transición justa en el lugar.

Una transición justa de la vieja planta de carbón significa para nosotros que los miembros de la comunidad estén profundamente involucrados en el proceso de reconstrucción y que el sitio eventualmente se convierta en un catalizador de mejor salud, acceso a trabajo y otras actividades económicas que beneficien a los residentes de largo tiempo. Situado en 72 acres de terreno creemos que hay una oportunidad significativa para transformar el sitio en un lugar que satisfaga múltiples necesidades identificadas por la comunidad, y sea una fuente de orgullo. Hemos escuchado claramente que nuestra comunidad quiere más espacios verdes, oportunidades de capacitación laboral, agricultura urbana y pequeñas empresas que sean culturalmente relevantes como Los Mangos. Puede parecer un sueño inalcanzable – y ciertamente hay muchos obstáculos – pero con un profundo apoyo de la comunidad realmente creemos que la transición justa de Crawford es posible.

Líderes juveniles de LVEJO continúan resaltando los daños a la salud comunitaria causados por Crawford (Crédito de la foto: LVEJO)

Desafíos para el Desarrollo

Entendemos que la reconstrucción de una vieja planta de carbón toma muchos años y no es fácil. Desafortunadamente, desde el cierre de Crawford, LVEJO ha tenido conocimiento de proyectos recientemente propuestos y planes de uso de terrenos que amenazan con quebrantar los avances en la calidad del aire por los que tanto luchamos.

Como La Villita tiene una ubicación centrada en Chicago y está muy cerca de las principales arterias de transporte, planificadores urbanos han designado a La Villita como un área para nuevos centros de transporte y de logística. Sin considerar el impacto en la salud de las emisiones de diésel en la comunidad alrededor, planificadores urbanos y concejales locales están rezonificando espacios industriales, aprobando proyectos de reurbanización y llevando a cabo planes de uso de terrenos que no toman en cuenta la incorporación de la justicia ambiental. En lugar de aprovechar las fortalezas y el sólido historial de ambientalismo en la comunidad, los responsables de tomar decisiones amenazan con hacer de La Villita una zona de sacrificio una vez más. Un ejemplo importante es el Proyecto de Expansión de Unilever.

Amenazas de Diésel/Unilever

La planta cercana de Unilever ha estado en el vecindario desde 1918, un testimonio del legado industrial heredado en el vecindario. En febrero de 2015, la planta de Unilever que produce la Mayonesa Hellman’s, anunció que aumentará la producción y generará 50 empleos locales adicionales en la fábrica. Pero estos trabajos tienen un costo. Hoy en día, las leyes de zonificación actuales permiten que una fábrica industrial tan grande como Unilever se expanda justo al lado de una escuela primaria de más de 1,000 niños e innumerables familias. Todos los días más de 100 camiones de diésel fluyen dentro y fuera de esta área. Basado en el estudio de tráfico de Unilever, habrá un aumento de hasta 500 camiones diésel que estarán fluyendo dentro y fuera del vecindario diariamente. Los camiones de motores diésel producen una gran cantidad de contaminantes de partículas finas que se han relacionado con el asma, las enfermedades respiratorias, y el daño general a los tejidos pulmonares. Los humos adicionales del diésel crearán peligros para la salud, aumentarán la incidencia de asma y de enfermedades relacionadas con el aire. Los niños son especialmente vulnerables. Debido a estas preocupaciones de salud, LVEJO ha lanzado una campaña de para educar a los miembros de la comunidad sobre los riesgos que el diésel plantea y hacer responsables tanto a las empresas como a quienes toman decisiones.

La Ley de Empleos en Energía del Futuro (Future Energy Jobs Act, o FEJA por us siglas en Inglés)

El fracaso de los planificadores de la ciudad y los funcionarios locales en aprovechar el cierre de la planta de Crawford para volver a desarrollar la comunidad de acuerdo con nuestras necesidades no ha detenido nuestros esfuerzos para organizar y defender una nueva economía libre de combustibles fósiles. LVEJO sigue luchando por la democracia energética y se opone vehementemente a las falsas soluciones al cambio climático.

LVEJO fue vital para la creación de una Ley de Empleos en Energía del Futuro (FEJA, por sus siglas en inglés) en Illinois que tuvo un amplio apoyo de coaliciones y de la comunidad. Críticamente, el liderazgo de LVEJO en la FEJA priorizó oportunidades de salud y justicia económica, incluyendo acceso a capacitación laboral y trabajos en energía limpia en las comunidades de bajos ingresos – una alta prioridad para todos los líderes comunitarios. FEJA incluye $33.25 millones en gastos anuales en programas de eficiencia energética para comunidades de bajos ingresos, el triple de niveles actuales de gasto en dichos programas en el estado de Illinois.

Esto sumado a millones de dólares comprometidos a aumentos en asistencia para cuentas de energía, ahorrarán dinero a las familias que luchan por pagar estas cuentas. LVEJO participó como arquitecto principal de políticas críticas en la legislación relacionadas con el servicio a comunidades de bajos ingresos, incluyendo la nueva Illinois Solar Para Todos (Illinois Solar for All), un programa de energía solar para comunidades de bajos ingresos con metas enfocadas en acceso para comunidades de justicia ambiental financiado con más de $400 millones.

El programa está emparejado con un canal de capacitación laboral que se centrará en el reclutamiento en estas mismas comunidades, con incentivos adicionales para contratar a 2.000 personas con antecedentes penales y egresados del sistema estatal de cuidado de crianza temporal.

Con la aprobación de la Ley de Empleos en Energía del Futuro, comunidades de bajos ingresos y comunidades racializadas y/o etnias minoritarias, como La Villita, tendrán oportunidades importantes de beneficiarse de los recursos comprometidos para construir una economía de energía limpia en el estado.

Kim Wasserman de LVEJO y Jerry Lucero de PERRO celebran el 5º aniversario del cierre de las plantas Fisk y Crawford en Pilsen y La Villita. Crawford está atrás de ellos. (Crédito de la foto: Antonio López)

¡No al Carbon! ¡Queremos Justicia Ambiental!

Además de asegurar que los programas de FEJA lleguen a comunidades de línea de frente y de bajos ingresos, la transición justa de la planta de carbón de Crawford es un objetivo principal de la Organización de Justicia Ambiental de La Villita. Creemos que el redesarrollo equitativo de la planta de Crawford puede destacarse como un modelo para otras comunidades de Justicia Ambiental que trabajan en iniciativas de transición justas.

De hecho, en todo el Medio Oeste de EE.UU. las comunidades de Justicia Ambiental están liderando la lucha para cerrar plantas de carbón, incineradores y otras fábricas contaminantes. La reconstrucción comunitario de la planta de Crawford no sólo beneficiará profundamente a La Villita, sino que también será un poderoso símbolo de justicia ambiental.

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Major Job Losses in Renewable Energy if Current Tax Plan Passes https://blog.ucsusa.org/steve-clemmer/tax-bill-job-losses https://blog.ucsusa.org/steve-clemmer/tax-bill-job-losses#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 14:00:57 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55541

In March 2017, I testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on how federal tax credits for renewable energy have been a key driver for the recent growth in the US wind and solar industries, creating new jobs, income, and tax revenues for local communities.  They have also helped drive down the cost of wind and solar power by more than two-thirds since 2009, making renewable energy more affordable for consumers.

Originally enacted as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, Congress has extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC) seven times and has allowed it to expire on six occasions. This “on-again/off-again” status resulted in a boom-bust cycle of development in the wind industry. In the years following expiration, installations dropped between 76 and 93 percent, with corresponding job losses. Congress has also extended the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar several times.

Finally, after many years of this policy uncertainty, Congress passed a five-year extension and phase-down of the PTC and the ITC for wind and solar in December 2015. The legislation also removed the longstanding US oil export ban, as part of a compromise deal with the oil industry.

Unfortunately, the Senate and House tax bills would renege on this deal and change the rules midstream, resulting in major job losses across the US renewable energy industry. They would also jeopardize tens of billions in investments in renewable energy projects and manufacturing facilities in rural communities across America—many of which are in districts and states held by Republicans and that voted for President Trump.

Senate tax bill undermines renewable energy financing

The renewable energy industry initially praised an earlier version of the Senate tax bill, which honored the 2015 deal and did not make any direct changes to the PTC and ITC. However, the Senate made two last-minute changes to the bill to fill revenue gaps and build support from key Republicans that were concerned about the deficit that would have a significant impact on renewable energy projects.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): One of these last-minute changes was to restore the AMT to fill a $40 billion revenue gap. The proposal in both the Senate and House tax bills to reduce the corporate tax rate to 20 percent would likely move most US corporations from the regular corporate income tax rate to the AMT (which is also set at 20 percent on a broader tax base), according to tax experts.

However, not all tax credits count toward the AMT and depreciation must be calculated at a slower rate. While the ITC for solar projects can count toward the AMT, the PTC for wind projects (and geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and incremental hydro projects) can only count for the first 4 years out of the 10-year window that projects are eligible to receive the tax credits. Not only would this jeopardize investment in new projects, it would have a retroactive impact on existing projects placed in service after 2007 that are still receiving tax credits under the PTC.

Base-Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT): The Senate also made a last-minute change to the BEAT provision that could greatly reduce tax equity financing for renewable energy projects. BEAT would impose a tax on large corporations that make cross-border payments by requiring them to add those payments to their taxable income. This amount is then multiplied by 10 percent to determine what they owe to the government (except for banks and security dealers, which the Senate raised to 11 percent). These corporations must also calculate their regular tax liability minus any tax credits they receive, including the PTC and the ITC. If their adjusted tax liability is less than the fraction of their taxable income with the cross-border payments, the company would have to pay the difference to the IRS as a tax.

The more tax credits a company has, the more a company is likely to pay, making banks and other large tax equity investors reluctant to finance renewable energy projects. And like the AMT, the BEAT provision would not only impact financing for new projects but could have a retroactive effect on most existing projects that received tax equity financing.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) claims that the Senate bill could threaten $12 billion in annual tax equity financing in 2017, up from $7.3 billion in 2013 (see Figure). They estimate that tax equity financing accounted for 21 percent of the $58.5 billion in total US renewable energy investment in 2016.

The Senate tax bill would have a big impact on companies like JPMorgan, Bank of America, GE, US Bank, and Citigroup that led tax equity financing in 2016 for both wind and solar projects, as shown in this BNEF chart.

The BEAT provision would also hurt other energy sources that currently receive tax credits such as refined coal facilities placed in service by December 2011. The coal industry is also speaking out against the AMT, which Bob Murray claims will cost his company $50-60 million in increased taxes and eliminate 65,000 jobs.

House bill puts 60,000 wind industry jobs and $50 billion in new investment at risk

While the House bill does not include the AMT or BEAT provisions, it makes several direct changes to the PTC and ITC that would undermine investments in new wind and solar projects and have a retroactive impact on existing projects. These changes include:

  • Eliminating the inflation adjustment for the PTC, reducing its value by 38 percent from 2.4 c/kWh under current law to 1.5 c/kWh.
  • Changing the commence construction provision, dropping safe harbor provision, and requiring projects to have “continuous construction” to be eligible, which would greatly accelerate the PTC phase-down schedule. When combined with the change to the inflation adjustment, AWEA estimates these two provisions could reduce the value of the PTC by more than half.
  • Allowing the permanent 10 percent solar ITC to sunset in 2027.
  • Extending the tax credits to “orphan” technologies like geothermal, biopower, landfill gas, and incremental hydro that were largely left out of the 2015 deal to extend the tax credits for wind and solar for 5 years. This is the only positive change in the House bill.

The House bill would cut new wind development by more than half by 2020, according to both Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs. AWEA estimates that the House bill would put 30,000 MW of new wind projects that are under development in the US worth $50 billion of new private investment at risk, along with 60,000 jobs, as shown in this map.

Source: AWEA, Protecting American wind workers during tax reform.

Making renewable energy a priority in conference committee

The provisions in the House bill that renege on Congress’ 2015 compromise deal with the oil industry and drastically cut the value of the PTC are completely unacceptable and should be dropped. The AMT and BEAT provisions in the Senate bill should either be dropped (they are not included in the House bill) or renewable energy tax credits should be excluded—similar to how R&D tax credits are currently excluded from the BEAT provision.

House and Senate conferees were named last week. They will meet over the next two weeks to resolve key differences, with the goal of delivering a final bill to President Trump by the end of the year.

It is an ominous sign that Senator Grassley (R-IA), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, was left off the conference committee. As the father of the PTC, who represents a state that ranks second in installed wind capacity, he has been outspoken about honoring the 2015 deal and working to fix the problems in the Senate and House tax bills. “The wind energy production tax credit is already being phased out under a compromise brokered in 2015. It shouldn’t be re-opened,” Grassley said.

Pro-renewables Senators like Grassley and Susan Collins (R-ME) will have a tough vote to make on the Senate floor if these damaging provisions are not addressed in conference. Maine, for example, has over 900 MW of existing wind capacity and nearly 300 MW of new solar and wind under development that is potentially at risk.

But there are conferees who represent states with large renewable energy industries, and they are in unique position to make the changes necessary to keep that clean energy momentum going.

  • Conferees like Senator Thune and Representative Noem from South Dakota, where a wind turbine blade manufacturer from Aberdeen just announced they will be closing and laying off over 400 people, citing the federal tax bills as one of reasons for this decision. “It’s apparent that the new tax bill will cause some economic disruption and this is one of them,” according to Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen. “It’s what happens when government policies turn against industries. It discourages investment.” South Dakota also has 960 MW of wind projects currently under development, representing $1.6 billion in new investment, that is at risk.
  • Senator Murkowski (R-AK) has also said that fixing the BEAT and AMT provisions in the Senate bill will be “clear priorities” for lawmakers in conference
  • Senator Portman (R-OH) is from a state with a strong renewable energy supply chain, including 5,831 solar jobs at 189 companies and more than 2,000 jobs and 61 manufacturing facilities in the wind industry. Ohio also has 560 MW of new wind projects under development and $900 million in new investment that is at risk.
  • Other conferees from leading renewable energy states such as Texas, California, Illinois, Washington and Oregon would also experience significant job losses.

The US renewable energy industry has a proven track record of creating new jobs and making new investments in states and rural areas across America. Federal tax reform should encourage rather than discourage US investment in this rapidly growing global industry.

Make sure your members of congress know clean energy is important to you. Tell them to fix the AMT and BEAT provisions, and to leave the renewable energy tax credits alone.

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A Billion Dollar Policy for Electric Vehicles that you Probably Haven’t Heard Of https://blog.ucsusa.org/jimmy-odea/a-billion-dollar-policy-for-electric-vehicles-that-you-probably-havent-heard-of https://blog.ucsusa.org/jimmy-odea/a-billion-dollar-policy-for-electric-vehicles-that-you-probably-havent-heard-of#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:08:11 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55525

Combined, Pacific Gas and Electric (16 million people), Southern California Edison (15 million people), and San Diego Gas and Electric (3.6 million people) provide electricity to nearly 90 percent of California’s 39 million people.

Two years ago, California passed Senate Bill 350, requiring 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030. This was big news. Hawaii had just passed a similar bill requiring 40 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. There was a lot of well-deserved excitement around these renewable portfolio standards.

One section of the California bill that didn’t get a lot of attention outside of policy circles, however, requires electric utilities in the state to come up with plans to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification.” The bill recognized the critical role electric cars, trucks, and buses must play to meet air quality, climate, and public health goals.

Fast forward two years and we’re in the middle of what could be the largest single investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the United States to date. Over $1 billion of investments have been proposed over a five-year period by the three large, investor-owned utilities in California: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).* For comparison, the Volkswagen “dieselgate” settlement will result in $800 million of charging infrastructure in California over ten years.

The so-called “SB 350 transportation electrification” plans are currently being reviewed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and I’ve been representing UCS in this public process. Here’s a snapshot of the process, which has already spanned several months and several thousand pages of documents.

What’s going on?

In January, PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E submitted plans for advancing transportation electrification in their service territories. The plans mostly focus on providing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. SCE and SDG&E also proposed new charging rates for electric vehicles to address “demand charges,” which increase bills for large draws of electricity at once, but depending on how they are structured, may discourage the use of electric vehicles.

The utilities submitted projects for “priority review” and “standard review.” Priority review projects were designed to speed up decisions on smaller, “non-controversial” projects. These projects were limited to one year in duration, costs of less than $4 million per project, and no more than $20 million in priority review projects per utility. The idea is that lessons learned from these short-term projects can guide future investments. Standard review projects are larger in scope and subject to the full evidentiary hearings typically associated with proceedings at public utility commissions.

Proposals from PG&E and SCE focus mostly on charging infrastructure for trucks, buses, and heavy-duty equipment, while SDG&E’s proposal focuses mostly on residential charging infrastructure. The CPUC made it clear from the onset that utilities’ proposals should not merely be an expansion of existing pilot projects, which focus on light-duty vehicles.

Senate Bill 350 also provided guidance that utilities’ proposals should benefit communities most impacted by air pollution. This also explains the focus on heavy-duty vehicles in proposals from PG&E and SCE. Heavy-duty vehicles disproportionately contribute to air pollution, making up just 7 percent of vehicles in California but 33 percent of NOx emissions (harmful alone but is also a precursor to smog) and emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants combined.

What’s next?

The CPUC recently released a proposed decision on the priority review projects; a final decision is expected as early as the second week of January. The proposed decision would approve 15 of the 17 priority review projects totaling nearly $43 million. Projects proposed for approval include infrastructure for electric school buses, delivery trucks, airport ground equipment, transit buses, truck stops, and park-and-ride parking lots.

A decision on the standard review projects is expected in May 2018. SDG&E’s proposal would support 90,000 residential electric vehicle chargers. Proposals from SCE and PG&E would support charging infrastructure for up to 15,000 and 5,000 electric trucks and buses, respectively. Approval of these projects would be significant, but compared to the 25 million automobiles and 1.5 million trucks and buses operating in California, it would be just one step towards reducing global warming emissions and air pollution to safe amounts.

A major investment in electric vehicle infrastructure couldn’t come at a better time. Sales of passenger electric vehicles are growing. Manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles are offering a wide array of electric vehicles, and fleets such as transit agencies and delivery companies are increasingly adopting electric buses and trucks. In all, availability of charging infrastructure and fair electricity rates is critical to the continued uptake of these clean vehicles.

*Note, publicly-owned utilities are not under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and thus were not required to submit plans, nor were Community Choice Aggregators (e.g., Marin Clean Energy) who don’t own infrastructure related to electricity generation or distribution. Small, electrical corporations were required to submit plans, which are being considered separately from those of the three large, investor-owned utilities.

Image: California Energy Commission
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Arctic Report Card 2017: Ice Cover Is Shrinking Faster Compared With Prior 1500 Years https://blog.ucsusa.org/brenda-ekwurzel/arctic-report-card-2017-ice-cover-is-shrinking-faster-compared-with-prior-1500-years https://blog.ucsusa.org/brenda-ekwurzel/arctic-report-card-2017-ice-cover-is-shrinking-faster-compared-with-prior-1500-years#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 20:16:05 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55515
Osborne, Cronin, and Farmer, 2017, Arctic Report Card (NOAA)

Sea ice extent, temperature anomaly, CO2 concentrations. Temperature anomalies show the fluctuations in temperature around a long-term mean; positive anomalies indicate warmer than average temperatures within a time series. The vertical dashed black line marks the start of the Industrial Revolution and global impacts of anthropogenic carbon emissions.

The 2017 Arctic Report Card reflects contributions from 85 scientists representing 12 countries. The pace of Arctic sea ice area (hereafter extent) decrease is unprecedented over the past 1,500 years, according to Emily Osborne’s et al. 2017 contribution to the Arctic Report Card released today.

Osborne and team carefully relied upon 45 different archives with a variety of yearly records (i.e. ice cores, tree rings, and sediment cores) that provide information on air temperature, sea surface temperature, and Arctic sea ice extent.  Note that record ends at around 2,000.

To see the latest story with sea ice extent observations, Don Perovich et al. 2017 contribution to the Arctic Report Card demonstrate it is not rebounding or recovering.

It is critical to track such unprecedented pace of change.

Navy Rear Admiral (Ret.) Timothy Gallaudet, Acting NOAA Administrator, highlighted the national security and economic reasons for closely tracking changes in the Arctic.

Perovich et al., 2017, Arctic Report Card (NOAA)

Time series of ice extent anomalies in March (maximum ice extent) and September (minimum ice extent). The anomaly value for each year is the difference (in %) in ice extent relative to the mean values for the period 1981-2010. The black and red dashed lines are least squares linear regression lines. The slopes of these lines indicate ice losses of -2.7% and -13.2% per decade in March and September, respectively.

Gallaudet mentioned that NOAA is already taking action in terms of advancing our Earth system prediction and capability.  Various departments depend on this information including   Departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Defense.

The longer-term perspective sure gives the impression of precipitous decline in Arctic Sea ice extent. Accordingly, there are many consequences associated with such a rapid pace of change.

Jeremy Mathis, Director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program noted that ‘the Arctic is among the most under observed places on the planet. The imperative is clear whether we are dealing with open ocean navigation, refugees, or native hunters.’

Spanning a dozen years, NOAA, has consistently delivered a robust assessment of the Arctic. As we know, the world depends on this information because what happens in the Arctic influences coastlines around the world, extreme weather events in the Northern Hemisphere and more.

Osborne, Cronin, and Farmer, 2017, Arctic Report Card (NOAA)
Perovich et al., 2017, Arctic Report Card (NOAA)
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Dialogue About Risks of Environmental Exposure Begins with Taking Environmental Justice Concerns Seriously https://blog.ucsusa.org/juan-declet-barreto/dialogue-about-risks-of-environmental-exposure-begins-with-taking-environmental-justice-concerns-seriously https://blog.ucsusa.org/juan-declet-barreto/dialogue-about-risks-of-environmental-exposure-begins-with-taking-environmental-justice-concerns-seriously#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 20:02:24 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55496

“We must listen more to the people we serve, have uncomfortable conversations, and increase our push for social justice.” Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association

Public health officials are tasked with one of the most critical jobs in our modern risk society: to research, understand, educate, and help prevent the multiple and complex ways in which people are exposed to and suffer from disease. But when public health officials deflect attention away from significant sources of toxic pollutants that put people at risk (and instead blame the overexposed population’s race, lifestyle, or genetics), they do a disservice to the people they are supposed to protect.

Such tactics are expected from industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute, who recently engaged in a classic “diversion” disinformation play to baselessly argue there’s no link between elevated risk of cancer from air toxics and oil and natural gas industry emissions among African American populations, as a new NAACP, Clean Air Task Force, and National Medical Association report finds (see my colleague Charise Johnson’s blog takedown of API’s feeble attempt at refuting the report’s scientific claims). But to see the same sort of diversionary tactic in a worrisome op-ed by Dr. Karyl Rattay—director of the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH)—raises the question of whose interests the DPH is looking after.

The target of Dr. Rattay’s column was a report recently released by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in which, together with our environmental justice (EJ) partners in Delaware, we reported on air toxics and associated cancer risks in selected EJ communities in the state. We utilized the EPA’s latest (2011) National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), an “ongoing comprehensive evaluation of air toxics in the United States”. These data represent the state-of-the-science in air quality modeling of air toxics. In our report, contra what Dr. Rattay argues, we have been careful not to overrepresent what the pollutant concentrations mean and have been consistent with EPA’s own statements about appropriate use of the data[1]:

  • We identify pollutants of greatest concern
  • We provide improved understanding of health risks posed by air toxics
  • Additionally, in our recommendations we are contributing to helping set priorities for the collection of additional information, improving emissions inventories, and informing community and local air toxics program in the context of both acute exposures that can be reduced through the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule, and chronic exposures that can be addressed through local toxics reductions programs.

Dr. Rattay claims that “the way [UCS] interpreted the data, and the conclusions they have drawn, artificially inflated a person’s risk of cancer from environmental air pollution”. In fact, we did not inflate (artificially or otherwise) a person’s risk of cancer from environmental air toxics pollution. On page 11 of the report, we carefully adhered to the EPA’s NATA disclaimers by noting that “the health estimates represent average risks and hazards affecting a community rather than exact risks or hazards for a particular person”. Furthermore, the DPH director’s claim that many of the health outcomes we report on can be explained by “lifestyle” choices individuals make is very perplexing. At best, Dr. Rattay is engaging in the ecological fallacy of extrapolating the putative unhealthy lifestyle choices of a few individuals (e.g., smoking) to a population that is demonstrably exposed to undue burdens of air toxics. At worst, Dr. Rattay is echoing the very offensive and debunked claims that low-income people of color make bad lifestyle choices like smoking and barbequing that account for higher cancer rates, and simultaneously downplay the role of the acute and chronic toxic exposures that we have documented.

The Delaware Department of Public Health does not think petrochemical facilities like the Delaware City Refinery are a big deal in terms of air toxics exposure and health risks, and instead thinks environmental justice communities in Delaware just need to quit smoking.

Public health professionals wield a comprehensive and holistic science-based understanding of the complex ways in which disease affects human health. As health, environmental justice, and scientific advocates, we could and should have an open dialogue to better understand the causality chain of various factors that influence cancer and other diseases, which should include individual or collective lifestyle practices, as well as indoor and outdoor environmental exposures to pollutants. But to that, we must include understanding of the structural socio-economic conditions that restrict the range of healthy lifestyle choices that individuals can make. Two examples spring to mind: we know that low-income populations’ access to healthy foods is a growing challenge in Delaware, and that tobacco companies aggressively market to low-income populations.

To be sure, establishing the epidemiological causality between specific health outcomes and pollutants is a difficult task and there’s often not much data to do this reliably and systematically. As a matter of scientific data and methods reliability and accuracy—and by their own admission—there is room for improvement in the EPA’s NATA dataset. But the DPH director chooses to “shoot the messenger” (UCS) instead of making the right call on the limitations of the data, which would be to urge the EPA to improve and increase air toxics data collection, air quality modeling, as well as fine-scale assessments of what these imply for cancer risks related to air toxics exposure.

But to entirely discredit the role of outdoor air toxics obscures the science-based knowledge that low-income communities of color are more exposed to these toxics and are thus at higher risks. This anti-scientific posture does not advance the dialogue that Dr. Rattay says should take place. As I have argued before, deflection away from social and scientific reality contributes to the “legacy of distrust” between low-income populations of color snd our scientific and health institutions, who have not always acted in the best interest of populations at the intersection of unfair environmental hazards burdens and political and socio-economic marginalization. The dialogue begins with taking their concerns seriously—not dismissing them outright.

[1] National Air Toxics Assessment: NATA Frequent Questions. Q3: How can NATA information be used?

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Oil and Gaslighting: The American Petroleum Institute Misses the Mark on Environmental Justice https://blog.ucsusa.org/charise-johnson/oil-and-gaslighting-the-american-petroleum-institute-misses-the-mark-on-environmental-justice https://blog.ucsusa.org/charise-johnson/oil-and-gaslighting-the-american-petroleum-institute-misses-the-mark-on-environmental-justice#comments Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:47:04 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55457

Last month, the American Petroleum Institute (API) made a feeble attempt at refuting the findings of the latest report from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Clean Air Task Force, “Fumes Across the Fence-Line: The Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Oil & Gas Facilities on African American Communities.” The report highlights the disproportionate risk of health problems facing Black communities in proximity to oil and gas facilities.

Specifically, the study found that more than one million Black people live within half a mile of natural gas facilities and in counties where the cancer risks from natural gas facilities emissions are higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s level of concern. The analysis considers risks associated with oil and gas facilities, while recognizing the various other sources of pollution with which Black communities are burdened. In a post on the API site, Uni Blake, a toxicologist by training and current scientific adviser to API, attempted to discredit the work of environmental justice groups and to diminish the environmental health issues facing communities of color.

Objectivity, that old chestnut

Ms. Blake used the age-old qualifier of “I am an objective scientist” to denigrate the very real problems facing Black communities. She claims that “…the paper fails to demonstrate a causal relationship between natural gas activity and the health disparities, reported or predicted [my emphasis], within the African American community.” In other words, objectivity for API means refusing to acknowledge the importance of traditional knowledge from local communities in developing research questions. “Objectivity” to API means instilling doubt about links between pollution from industry operations and negative health impacts. This is not new for API, which has for decades been in the business of spreading disinformation on science, but it is still appalling.

Racism in environmental health and scientific methodology

Racism in scientific research has always been an issue. Prejudices abound in research questions and methodology, and even the way results are interpreted. As the NAACP astutely captured in their report, “The nature of the vulnerability of African American and other person of color fence-line communities is intersectional—subject to connected systems of discrimination based on social categorizations such as race, gender, class, etc.”

Ms. Blake is clearly not coming from a place of understanding of the historical and current inequities placed on Black Americans, which is inexcusable since environmental injustices have long been documented. An extensive and expanding body of scientific evidence finds that people of color and those living in poverty are located more often in communities—termed environmental justice communities or overburdened communities—that are exposed to disproportionately higher levels of environmental pollution than Whites or people not living in poverty (See here, here, here, here, *pauses to take a breath* here, here, here, here, here, and even here).

Ms. Blake’s piece lacks actual evidence to back her claims.  Here are a couple of Ms. Blake’s arguments, followed by my comments:

  • “…attacking our industry is the wrong approach and detracts from the real work that should be done to reduce disparately high rates of disease among African Americans.”

Leslie Fleischman, a Clean Air Task Force analyst and study co-author, clarified the goal of the report: “The data in our report looks at the cancer risk and health impacts of ozone smog among the population and so, if that population is more vulnerable because of these factors, then it is even more important to address aggravating factors that are easily avoidable like controlling unnecessary leaks from oil and gas infrastructure.” It would seem that API is detracting from the purpose of the study, mischaracterizing what was demonstrated by the NAACP study.

  • “Rather, scholarly research attributes those health disparities to other factors that have nothing to do with natural gas and oil operations—such as genetics, indoor allergens and unequal access to preventative care.”

All I hear is: “Well, if you changed your lifestyle, had more money, and didn’t have such weak genes, you wouldn’t have health problems! Our operation has nothing to do with your inability to handle the hazardous air pollutants.”  The report she linked to maintains that “Asthma has a strong genetic component, although for this to be manifest interaction with environmental factors [emphasis mine] must occur.” Somehow, she interpreted this to mean “your house is too dusty and you have mold, these health problems are your fault alone,” thereby ignoring the contributions of oil and gas industry on health impacts to the substandard environment people are then forced to endure, as well as putting the onus on the very communities she recognizes as having “socio-economic factors that contribute to the disparities” (e.g. lower income, less access to health care).

As for preventative care, here’s a thought—oil and gas facilities need to quit finding loopholes and touting their successes meeting the bare minimum standards (not to mention constantly pushing for less stringent rules or delaying them). From that same study, “Exposure to airborne allergens and other irritants [emphasis mine] both triggers asthma attacks and is associated with the development of chronic asthma in infants.” Why not investigate some of those other irritants, API?

Same old stuff, different day

This tactic of diverting attention from the real issue is not new to environmental justice researchers and advocates. We’ve even seen it recently with pushback from the Delaware Department of Health on our recent collaborative report. In October the Union of Concerned Scientists—working closely with the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice, Community Housing and Empowerment Connections Inc., and Coming Clean—released a report that demonstrated the potential link between environmental pollution and health impacts in Delaware’s industrial corridor. We analyzed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data for risk of cancer and respiratory illnesses stemming from toxic outdoor air pollution, as well as proximity of communities to industrial facilities that pose a high risk of a major chemical release or catastrophic incident.

In November, Karyl Rattay from the Delaware Division of Public Health wrote an op-ed personally attacking UCS and the report findings. She said, “The most common risk factors for cancers are related to lifestyle behaviors (e.g. tobacco use) and genetics.” So, lifestyle choices carry more weight than environmental factors when determining cancer risks? Not only is this argument a baseless racist victim-blaming line, but it shows that Dr. Rattay failed to even understand our study.  The study, like the NAACP study, focused solely on environmental risks to communities. Of course, we all know that our health is determined by a wide range of factors. That’s why it is so important to study the contribution of environmental exposures. Otherwise, such risks are often (and have historically been) overlooked.

I urge Ms. Blake and API to stop blaming the communities living in the danger zone. It’s time for the oil and gas industry to take accountability for their polluting ways and honor their commitment to protect the health and safety of the communities where they operate.

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A Toxic Nomination Hangs in the Balance: Who Will Stand Up to Finally Topple Michael Dourson? https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/a-toxic-nomination-hangs-in-the-balance-who-will-stand-up-to-finally-topple-michael-dourson https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/a-toxic-nomination-hangs-in-the-balance-who-will-stand-up-to-finally-topple-michael-dourson#comments Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:56:15 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55469
Photo: www.epw.senate.gov

Update (December 14, 2017): Michael Dourson has withdrawn his nomination to head the EPA’s division of chemical safety. Read the statement from UCS President Ken Kimmell, Dourson’s Withdrawal a Victory for Science, Health.

Three weeks ago, North Carolina’s Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, announced their opposition to the nomination of Michael Dourson to run the office of chemical safety in the Environmental Protection Agency. Only one more vote is needed to doom his nomination, assuming unified opposition from all 48 Democrats and Independents.

The question is, who will have the courage to step forward next?

It should take no courage at all, if science and public health matter. Dourson is already in the EPA, serving as an adviser to Administrator Scott Pruitt. But, given Dourson’s outrageous record of working to undermine science-based standards for toxic chemicals on behalf of the chemical industry, he is clearly unfit to lead the office overseeing chemical safety at the federal level.

Belittling the health effects of dangerous chemicals

Dourson’s private research firm has represented companies such as Dow, Monsanto, and PPG Industries, and has had some research funded by Koch Industries.

Michael Dourson helped set a state safety standard for the chemical PFOA 2,000 times less strict than the level deemed safe by the EPA. Photo: pfoaprojectny

He and his firm have routinely judged chemicals to be safe at levels hundreds of times greater than the current standards issued by the EPA. Among those chemicals whose health effects he has tried to belittle is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used in the manufacture of nonstick cookware such as Teflon and stain-resistant household products such as carpets. Dourson helped the state of West Virginia set a safety standard for the chemical 2,000 times less strict than the level deemed safe by the EPA.

That decision alone threatens the health of many Americans. In 2012, research by scientists at Emory University found workers at a West Virginia DuPont PFOA plant were at roughly three times the risk of dying from mesothelioma or chronic kidney disease as other DuPont workers, and faced similarly elevated risks for kidney cancer and other non-cancer kidney diseases. A more recent study, published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health linked reductions in exposure to PFOA across the country to a sharp decline in pregnancy-related problems including low-birth-weight babies.

In North Carolina, an as-yet-unregulated chemical meant to replace PFOA as a non-sticking agent, Gen X, has already been found at significant levels in the Cape Fear River. And the state is still reeling from nearly 1 million people being exposed to drinking water at Camp Lejeune that was contaminated with chemicals such as benzene, vinyl chloride, and trichloroethylene (TCE) from the 1950s through the 1980s. The Obama administration established a $2.2 billion disability compensation program for Camp Lejeune veterans suffering from cancer.

Serious concerns from North Carolina

Expecially troubling, if confirmed, Dourson would be responsible for oversight of the 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act. In its final months, the Obama administration selected the first 10 chemicals to be reviewed under the new act for their “potential for high hazard.” Of the 10, Dourson has claimed in research that several were safe at levels far exceeding the science-based standards currently established by the EPA. They include solvents linked to cancer such as 1,4 dioxane, 1-Bromopropane, and TCE, the latter of which has been found in the water contamination at Camp Lejeune.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced Dourson’s nomination to the full Senate in late October on a party-line 11-10 vote. But the candidate’s past was too biased for Burr and Tillis, despite the fact that both voted to confirm EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Burr said of Dourson in a statement, “With his record and our state’s history of contamination at Camp Lejeune as well as the current Gen X water issues in Wilmington, I am not confident he is the best choice for our country.”

Tillis’s office seconded that with a statement saying, “Senator Tillis still has serious concerns about his record and cannot support his nomination.”

Issues of great importance in Maine

In the immediate aftermath of Burr’s and Tillis’s rejection of Dourson, it seemed that Maine Senator Susan Collins might quickly follow suit. She said, “I certainly share the concerns that have been raised by Senator Burr and Senator Tillis. I think it’s safe to say that I am leaning against him.”

Collins has said nothing since then. Her office did not respond to repeated requests this week from the Union of Concerned Scientists on her latest position. And Dourson’s nomination stands in limbo, presumably as the Republican leadership worries that they may not have the votes in the full Senate to confirm him. In theory, Collins’ concerns should mirror those of Burr and Tillis because Maine has dealt with its share of water and soil pollution at military bases such as the former Brunswick Naval Station and Loring Air Force Base, both Superfund sites. She has also been active in bipartisan efforts to deal with cross-state air pollution.

Collins was the only Republican to vote against Pruitt’s nomination to run the EPA. Pruitt, who repeatedly sued the EPA on behalf of industry as attorney general of Oklahoma, is aggressively attempting to relax chemical regulations and reverse Obama-era rules such as the Clean Power Plan. The EPA has moved to remove products containing PFOA from being studied for lasting impact in the environment and refused to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, linked to damaging the developing brains of fetuses and young children.

When she announced her opposition to Pruitt, Collins said, “I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.”

If Collins truly maintains those concerns, she surely would not want to augment the problems of Pruitt’s already disgraceful tenure by supporting Dourson. But even if she for some reason shies away from a no vote, there are many other Republican senators whose states also have military installations with rampant pollution affecting adjacent communities.

Many more Republican senators should be unnerved

With Camp Lejeune as a haunting example of military pollution of its own soldiers and adjacent communities, the US armed forces are in the midst of investigating potential water contamination at nearly 400 such active and shuttered sites. That fact should unnerve many more Republicans, even those who generally support Pruitt’s actions. According to a Politico report three weeks ago, Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Bob Corker of Tennessee were noncommittal about supporting Dourson’s nomination.

Toomey’s office released a statement also reported by the Bucks County Courier Times saying he “remains concerned about the PFOA issue” in towns next to closed military bases in the Philadelphia area, where compounds from firefighting foams may have leached into drinking water sources. Elevated levels of pancreatic cancer have been found in the area.

With so much concern about elevated levels of cancer around the nation linked to water pollution, this is not the time to put someone in charge who made a career out of downplaying the risks of chemicals. It is bad enough that Dourson is already at EPA, advising Pruitt. But that remains a long way from actually having his hand on the pen that can help sign away people’s safety.

He should never hold that pen.


Call your senator today and ask him or her to oppose the confirmation of Michael Dourson!

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The Future of Solar is in the President’s Hands. It *Should* Be an Easy Call https://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/the-future-of-solar-is-in-the-presidents-hands-it-should-be-an-easy-call https://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/the-future-of-solar-is-in-the-presidents-hands-it-should-be-an-easy-call#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:49:33 +0000 https://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=55459
Photo: used with permission from publicsource.org

The saga of the would-be solar tariffs that just about nobody wants is continuing, and I can’t help but be struck by the disconnect between some of the possible outcomes and the administration’s purported interest in rational energy development for America. If President Trump believes what he says, deciding not to impose major tariffs shouldn’t be a tough decision.

Here’s the thing: in March 2017, the president issued an executive order about “undue burdens on energy development,” which said (emphasis added) that it was:

Solar’s future: Progress or pain? It’s his call.

…in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.

Encumbering, constraining, preventing. Remember those verbs as we go through some of the key facts of this case.

The players

The trade case, brought by two US solar panel manufacturers that are on the rocks, or whose foreign parents are, involves a little-used (and failure-prone) provision in the US tax code. And it has met with almost universal rejection, from a whole host of industry, political, security, and conservative and really conservative voices (Sean Hannity, anyone?).

Even the US International Trade Commission (USITC) tasked with making recommendations in response to the petition couldn’t agree, with the four commissioners coming up with three different proposals.

As we said at the time, on the one hand it was good that the USITC recommendations weren’t as drastic as what the petitioners had asked for. On the other hand, anything that slows down our solar progress is bad news for America.

The (pre-Trump) progress

Solar has been on an incredible trajectory for years now, producing energy, cutting pollution, increasing energy security, and helping homes and businesses. The first nine months of 2017, for example, saw solar producing 47% more electricity than in the same period of 2016, with the biggest gains among the top 10 states for solar generation being in Georgia, Texas, and Utah.

Solar has also been an incredible job-creating machine. Some 260,000 people worked in the solar industry by the end of 2016, almost 2.5 times 2011’s solar job count. One in every 50 new American jobs last year was created by the solar industry. And those have been in different pieces of the industry—R&D, manufacturing, sales, project development, finance, installation—and all across the country.

The problem and presaging

Credit: J. Rogers

Some of those gains have taken place during the Trump presidency, and maybe he can rationalize taking credit for them by pointing out the fact that he at least didn’t stop those good things from happening.

That benign neglect may be about to change, though, and we’re already seeing the effects of the uncertainty that the president’s rhetoric around issues of solar and trade has created.

The trade case has continued. While not part of the specified process for this type of proceeding, the White House invited the public to submit comments to the US trade representative, and recently held a public hearing.

The next deadline is January 26, the end of the period for President Trump to make up his mind about the USITC recommendations—accepting one of the sets of proposals, doing something else, or rejecting the idea of tariffs and quotas.

In the meantime, the effects are already hitting: Utility-scale solar costs had dropped below $1 per watt for the first time in history earlier this year. Now those costs have climbed back above that mark as developers have scrambled to get their hands on modules ahead of whatever’s coming.

Large-scale solar projects are faltering (as in Texas) because of the inability of developers and customers to absorb the risk of substantially higher solar costs. That’s investment in projects on American soil, on hold.

But those setbacks could be just a taste of what’s to come.

The point: Encumbering, constraining, preventing

That brings us back to the March executive order, which boldly professed an intention to do away with burdens holding back US industry, and was decided anti-interventionist (in the regulatory sense).

And yet here we are, a few short months later, talking about doing that exact thing—messing with the market, and going against our national interests. Encumbering energy production by driving up the costs of the cells and modules that have powered so much growth. Constraining economic growth by making it harder for American homes and businesses and utilities to say yes to solar. Preventing job creation—even causing job losses—by shrinking the market for what our nation’s vibrant solar industry has been offering so successfully.

Credit: J. Rogers

The pain

While provisions in the tax bill being worked out in congress would do no good for renewables, the president’s actions could have much more direct impacts on American pricing and competitiveness. A lot of smart people are pointing out that any bump-up in US solar module manufacturing jobs will be way more than offset by job losses elsewhere in the industry, including elsewhere in solar manufacturing.

If the president chooses to ignore the many voices clamoring for rational policy on this, if he chooses—and remember he alone can fix this—to impose major tariffs or quotas, he’s going to own their impacts.

Every net American job lost because of higher module prices will have his name on it.

Every US solar panel manufacturer that doesn’t magically take off behind his wall of protectionism will be evidence of the misguideness of his approach.

Every small or large US solar project cancelled—jobs, investments, and all—because of the speedbumps, roadblocks, and hairpin turns on his energy vision-to-nowhere will be a Trump-branded monument to his lack of foresight and unwillingness to accept the changing realities of energy, innovation, and ingenuity.

The path

The solar industry, though, has offered President Trump a way out. They’ve proposed an import licensing fee approach that would support expanded US manufacturing while letting solar continue to soar (all else being equal).

That’s fortunate for the president, and for just about all of the rest of us. Because if he’s truly about unencumbering energy production, about removing constraints to economic growth, and stopping the prevention of job creation, killing American solar jobs would be a funny way to show it.

Public Source
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