Union of Concerned ScientistsUnion of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org a blog on independent science + practical solutions Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:24:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://blog.ucsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-32x32.png Union of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org 32 32 Here’s an Energy Savings Plan: Buy When Prices Are Lower http://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/energy-savings-plan http://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/energy-savings-plan#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:55:52 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49748 Shopping for a discount makes sense, right? Let’s see what we can save if we try this with electricity.

TOU rates can promote adoption of electric vehicles and strategic electrification. credit: M. Jacobs

The typical utility company offers the same price for electricity no matter what time of day, or even what season. This would make sense if the cost to provide electricity were the same at all times, but that is not how it works. Times of higher overall demand require more equipment, and higher fuel costs.

There’s lots to like about a rate for customers that allows some savings based on the time of the day. This can help in the current debate about changes in the energy supply and what energy supplies should be added. A time-varying, or time-of-use rate (TOU for short) for consumers can improve the picture.

On top of that, a report this week by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy finds that TOU rates are a better choice than a fixed charge or a demand charge for continued engagement and support of residential energy savings efforts.

Prices and markets help decisions

Using prices to signal to the consumer and the market is a widely-recognized tool for market forces to guide investment. A utility regulator can better judge a new utility company expense, such as a proposed power plant or gas pipeline, if the costs to meet peak demand are not hidden in a single average price for energy.

When planning for new supplies, the utility companies now have more ways to communicate the costs and consumers have more ways to manage their use. The benefits of TOU rates should be measured in these decisions in terms of both the energy cost savings, and the savings for avoiding capital investment on more capacity.

Past investments help, too

TOU rates can allow energy consumption to be shifted to low-priced electricity. Credit: UCS and SEPA 51st State Initiative

The electric utility industry has made TOU rates possible through a 10-fold increase in the installations of “smart” meters in the United States. These digital meters measure electricity use at least hourly, and are expected to be serving 70 million households. Utilities have shown how these meters can help reduce the length of outages, and can be used to manage the voltage on each line so as to keep the whole system more efficient.

As so often happens with better information, evermore improvements can be found when you can get the data.

TOU rates provide prices on-peak and off-peak, which can promote savings in energy costs and capacity costs. By offering a discount on energy, innovations that use energy on a flexible schedule are more attractive. Utilities can use TOU rates to promote charging up more electric vehicles, or switching away from fossil and inefficient fuels, and making greater use of wind and solar. Knowing there are discounted prices at some times will lead to people and product manufacturers making changes in a few areas, and reaping big gains in return. (See a UCS white paper on this here.)

In fact, TOU rates aren’t just adding a cost allocated to paying capacity needs, but open the door for ideas that allow the time of energy use to be shifted. When these TOU rates are the normal practice, utility needs for new energy supplies will be lower. This makes sense for policymakers looking at rate designs, because reducing the hours of highest demand can lower everyone’s rates.

But just as important, the reduced demand for energy can be part of the integrated planning for all types of resources. Making the smart meter and the timing of energy uses part of the energy supply tool box can help solve society’s energy needs.

A technical note

Regulators considering the value of TOU rates should measure the benefit from shifting loads every day from higher-priced energy to lower-priced energy. Typical demand response practices are applied to very few hours, so there are minimal amounts of energy to be considered. TOU rates are in place on all days, and thus will lower energy consumption when electricity is produced by less-efficient generation.

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People Still Care About Science: California Commits to Using Climate Science in Water Decisions http://blog.ucsusa.org/juliet-christian-smith/people-still-care-about-science-california-commits-to-using-climate-science-in-water-decisions http://blog.ucsusa.org/juliet-christian-smith/people-still-care-about-science-california-commits-to-using-climate-science-in-water-decisions#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:07:01 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49633 People still care about science even in today’s anti-truth, post-fact political maelstrom. And it’s not just scientists (who will soon be marching in the streets). It’s also the people entrusted with ensuring basic services, like clean drinking water. People like California’s State Water Board members, who passed a resolution this month to embed climate science into all of its existing work.

California represents the cutting-edge on many environmental issues so it often comes as a surprise to people that a significant part of my job is focused on incorporating existing climate science into California’s water policy. Water management is backwards-looking in many ways, using the past to plan the future – even when we know the past will be wrong.

That’s why the adoption of a climate resolution for water management is such a big deal. This resolution is the first commitment by a water-related state agency to use climate science in all permits, plans, policies, and decisions. It doesn’t just apply at the state level but also to the 9 regional boards that make more local decisions.

Federal rollbacks can be resisted by local resolutions

In the coming days, President Trump is expected to announce plans to dismantle the nation’s climate change policy framework, which was created in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. A forthcoming draft executive order gets rid of a requirement that federal agencies take climate change into account in environmental permitting.

California Department of Water Resources employee Bryan Wonderly, left, and members of the California Conservation Corps are unloading bucket loads of road base material along the walkway on the outer edge of the Oroville Dam spillway after it failed in early 2017. Photo: California DWR

This requirement has ensured that plans and infrastructure account for climate impacts – many of which we are already experiencing from more severe flooding, to more intense and destructive wildfires, to longer droughts. Without this requirement, projects are more likely to fail in the future, wasting money and potentially threatening lives. Failures like those documented in our blog series Planning Failures: The Costly Risks of Ignoring Climate Change, including:

Science can help make better decisions. That’s why the Union of Concerned Scientists was formed: to use science to help create a healthy planet and safer world. This recent climate resolution is just one example of what can be done at the state level to counter federal rollbacks that threaten science and safety.

Photo: Zack Cunningham / California Department of Water Resources
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Monsanto’s Four Tactics for Undermining Glyphosate Science Review http://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/monsantos-four-tactics-for-undermining-glyphosate-science-review http://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/monsantos-four-tactics-for-undermining-glyphosate-science-review#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 17:58:58 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49674 Emails unsealed in a California lawsuit last week reveal that agribusiness giant Monsanto engaged in activities aimed at undermining efforts to evaluate a potential link between glyphosate—the active ingredient of the company’s popular herbicide Roundup—and cancer. The documents reveal the company’s plans to seed the scientific literature with a ghostwritten study, and its efforts to delay and prevent US government assessments of the product’s safety.

Many corporate actors, including the sugar industry, the oil and gas industries, and the tobacco industry, have used tactics such as denying scientific evidence, attacking individual scientists, interfering in government decision-making processes, and manufacturing counterfeit science through ghostwriting to try to convince policymakers and the public of their products’ safety in the face of independent scientific evidence to the contrary. This case underscores the urgent need for greater transparency and tighter protections to prevent these kinds of corporate disinformation tactics that could put the public at risk.

High stakes in glyphosate-cancer link

The case centers on the scientific question of whether glyphosate causes a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In the California lawsuit in which the key company documents were unsealed, plaintiffs with non-Hodgkin lymphoma claim that their disease is linked to glyphosate exposure.

The science is still unclear on this question. The EPA’s issue paper on this topic said that glyphosate is “not likely carcinogenic,” but some of its Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) members point to critical data gaps and even suggest that there is “limited but suggestive evidence of a positive association” between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemical Agency have both concluded that scientific evidence does not support classifying glyphosate as a carcinogen. Over 94 scientists from institutions across the world have called for changes to EFSA’s scientific evaluation process.

It’s complex. What is clear, however, is that independent science bodies should be conducting their assessments on glyphosate without interference from outside players with a stake in the final determination.

The stakes for public health—and for Monsanto’s bottom line—are enormous. Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. Sold by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup, it is the company’s flagship product. US farmers spray nearly 300 million pounds of it on corn, soybeans, and a variety of other crops every year to kill weeds. It is also commonly used in the United States for residential lawn care. As a result of its widespread use, traces of Roundup have been found in streams and other waterways and in our food, and farmers and farmworkers are at risk for potentially heavy exposure to the chemical. (More on the ramifications of its agricultural use and the related acceleration of herbicide-resistant weeds here.)

Setting the scene for science manipulation

In 2009, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a compulsory risk assessment of glyphosate as part of its pesticide reregistration process. The agency’s process risked the possibility that the chemical could be listed as a possible carcinogen, as the agency is required to review new evidence since its last review in the mid-1990s and determine whether it will cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health. From Monsanto’s standpoint, such a classification change posed a clear threat for its lucrative product, possibly resulting in changes to labels and public perception of the product’s safety that could tarnish the brand’s image.

Compounding the companies’ woes, in March 2015, the United Nations-sponsored International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released an assessment concluding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen after evaluating the available scientific research on glyphosate’s link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma. IARC recommended that glyphosate be classified as a 2A carcinogen, along with pesticides like DDT and malathion. IARC’s was a science-based determination, not regulatory in nature. But the IARC assessment, the pending EPA review, and a slated evaluation by yet another US agency—the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—appears to have spurred Monsanto to use at least four separate tactics to inappropriately influence public perception and the assessment process.

Tactic 1: Suppress the science

In one disturbing revelation, the emails suggest that Monsanto representatives had frequent communications with a US government official: Jess Rowland, former associate director of the Health Effects Division at the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and chair of the agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee. Internal Monsanto emails indicate that Rowland tipped the company off to the IARC assessment before its release. The emails also quote Rowland as saying he would work to quash the ATSDR study on glyphosate, reportedly telling Monsanto officials: “if I can kill this I should get a medal.” The emails suggest that Monsanto was working with staff inside a US government agency, outside of the established areas of public input to decision-making processes, in a completely inappropriate manner.

Tactic 2: Attack the messenger

Immediately following the IARC assessment, Monsanto not only disputed the findings but attacked the IARC’s credibility, trying to discredit the internationally renowned agency by claiming it had fallen prey to “agenda-driven bias.” The IARC’s working group members were shocked by Monsanto’s allegations questioning their credibility. IARC relies on data that are in the public domain and follows criteria to evaluate the relevance and independence of each study it cites. As one IARC member, epidemiologist Francesco Forastiere, explained: “…none of us had a political agenda. We simply acted as scientists, evaluating the body of evidence, according to the criteria.” Despite Monsanto’s attacks, the IARC continues to stand by the conclusions of its 2015 assessment.

Tactic 3: Manufacture counterfeit science

In perhaps the most troubling revelation, emails show that in February 2015, Monsanto discussed manufacturing counterfeit science—ghostwriting a study for the scientific literature that would downplay the human health impacts of glyphosate, and misrepresenting its independence. William Heydens, a Monsanto executive, suggested that the company could keep costs down by writing an article on the toxicity of glyphosate and having paid academics “edit & sign their names so to speak” and recommended that the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology be contacted since the company “had done such a publication in the past” at that journal.

The 2000 paper Heydens referenced, the lead author of which is a faculty member at New York Medical College (NYMC), cites Monsanto studies, thanks Monsanto for “scientific support,” but fails to disclose Monsanto funding or other direct involvement in its publication. That paper concluded that, “Roundup herbicide does not pose a health risk to humans.” After a quick investigation to assess the integrity of this study, NYMC announced that there was “no evidence” that the faculty member had broken with the school’s policy not to author ghostwritten studies.

Tactic 4: Undermine independent scientific assessment

The emails and other court documents also document the ways in which Monsanto worked to prevent EPA’s use of a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to review the agency’s issue paper on glyphosate’s cancer risk and to delay and help shape the SAP findings through suggested changes to the composition of the panel. Within the unsealed emails, Monsanto mentioned that it opposed the EPA’s plan to create a SAP to review glyphosate because “the scope is more likely than not to be more comprehensive than just IARC…SAPs add significant delay, create legal vulnerabilities and are a flawed process that is probable to result in a panel and determinations that are scientifically questionable and will only result in greater uncertainty.” This is a bogus claim. Scientific Advisory Panels, when they are fully independent, are a critical source of science advice.

EPA’s SAP meetings on glyphosate, scheduled to begin in October 2016, were postponed just a few days before they were slated to start. This occurred after intense lobbying from CropLife America, an agrichemical trade organization representing Monsanto and other pesticide makers, which questioned the motives of the SAP looking into the health impacts of glyphosate. CropLife submitted several comments to the EPA, including one that attacked the integrity of a nominated SAP scientist. The agency subsequently announced the scientist’s removal from the panel in November 2016, one month before the rescheduled meetings took place.

Simultaneously, Monsanto created its own “expert panel” in July 2015 composed of 16 individuals, some scientists and some lobbyists, only four of whom have never been employed by or consulted with Monsanto. Who needs independent assessments when you have ready, willing, and substantially funded agribusiness scientists who call themselves “independent”?

Defending the scientific process

The revelations from the unsealed Monsanto emails underscore the vital need for independent science and transparency to ensure credibility, foster public trust in our system of science-based policymaking, and prevent entities like Monsanto from undermining objective scientific assessments. Clearly, better controls and oversight are needed to safeguard the scientific process from tactics like ghostwriting, and more transparency and accountability are needed to ensure that scientific bodies are able to adequately assess the risks and benefits of any given product. Given what is now known about Monsanto’s actions, the need for independently conducted research and impartial science-based assessments about glyphosate’s safety is more important than ever.


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Why the Time is Right for Nevada to Raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard http://blog.ucsusa.org/laura-wisland/nevada-renewable-portfolio-standard http://blog.ucsusa.org/laura-wisland/nevada-renewable-portfolio-standard#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 16:56:05 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49683 It’s an exciting time for renewable energy advocates in Nevada. The state enjoys world-class renewable generation potential, and state residents are widely interested in clean energy development and jobs.

Unfortunately, the state’s clean energy progress has stalled, as the state’s main policy driver, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), greatly underestimates the amount of renewable energy potential in the state. The current standard would only require that utilities source 25% of their electricity from renewables by 2025.

Fortunately, there’s a proposed bill that could help. Assembly Bill (AB) 206 would increase Nevada’s RPS to 50% by 2030 with a pathway to 80% by 2040. Passing AB 206 would place Nevada in the camp with other clean energy leaders like Hawaii, Vermont, California, Oregon and Maine, and send a strong signal to the clean energy and clean technology industries that Nevada is open for business.

A solar PV array in Gerlach, NV. Photo: BlackRockSolar

There are several reasons why the time is right for Nevada to take the next step on clean energy:

Nevada has one of the best solar resources in the country. This Department of Energy map showcases how strong the solar resource is in Nevada. Costs of solar generation have fallen by 78% since 2009 and there is no question that Nevada can and should take full advantage of this clean energy resource.

The state is over-reliant on natural gas. In 2015, Nevada relied upon natural gas to meet almost three quarters of its electricity needs. Relying on one type of generation is never a smart idea, especially gas, whose price is notoriously volatile. The degree to which Nevada relies on natural gas exposes utilities and its customers to price spikes, and adds significantly to carbon emissions and air pollution. Bringing a diverse supply of renewable energy technologies online will help reduce reliance on costly and polluting natural gas.

Reducing natural gas generation will help Nevadans most vulnerable to pollution from fossil fuels. Most of the gas-fired power plants in Nevada are located in low-income communities whose residents are disproportionately impacted from pollution from fossil fuels. Ramping up renewables will reduce the amount of natural gas and air pollution generated in the state.

Nevadans want more clean energy. According to the 2017 State of the Rockies poll (see question 30), 80 percent of Nevadans want to encourage the use of solar energy.

The grid can handle more renewables. Opponents of clean energy like to say that wind and solar generation depend on the weather, so they will make the grid unreliable. This is not true. Grid operators are constantly managing for fluctuations in both the supply of and demand for electricity. Large quantities of renewables on the grid make balancing supply and demand more challenging, but we have the tools to do it.

Making sure renewable installations are spread out, creating financial incentives to shift electricity demand towards times of the day when renewable generation is abundant, and investing in energy storage like the batteries Tesla is building in the Gigafactory near Sparks are all examples of these tools. I’ve written a lot about grid integration solutions for the California RPS and all of the same issues apply to Nevada; folks interested in learning more should check out this blog.

It’s truly time for Nevada to turn its world-class renewable energy resources into sources of clean energy generation that will benefit its economy and environment. I’ll be watching AB 206 closely and hope that the Legislature supports this effort, which will help Nevada realize it’s potential as a clean energy leader.

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You Can Support Science and Push Back Against the Anti-Science Agenda: Here’s How http://blog.ucsusa.org/science-blogger/you-can-support-science-and-push-back-against-the-anti-science-agenda-heres-how http://blog.ucsusa.org/science-blogger/you-can-support-science-and-push-back-against-the-anti-science-agenda-heres-how#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:50:59 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49533 Dazed and confused is not a phrase typically used to describe scientists, yet many of us are feeling that way in the wake of the dramatic policy changes implemented in the first few months of the new government administration. A seemingly endless flurry of executive orders impact everything from what science is funded, what government scientists can talk about, what areas of science are considered appropriate for presentation on the official White House website, and who can work in our labs.

Yet many scientists I speak with are reluctant to participate in political activities for fear of making science too political. I argue that these new policies have intentionally made science political, and if scientists and supporters of science sit back and do nothing, we will allow the anti-science rhetoric to drown out rigorous, scientifically backed information.

You may be left asking yourself “what can I do”? Quite a lot, in fact. Below are some of the things that you can do today to get involved.

Increase science communication

Photo: Will Sweatt/VASG

One of the easiest ways to get involved is to join Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media. These outlets can be a great resource for new scientific articles, information about speakers at conferences, awards that your peers are winning, and a place to share the latest scientific discoveries that you read in the journals with a bit of perspective and context provided by you. You can also share reliable information about how new government policies affect scientists and research.

For the more adventurous, you can start a blog, or help trainees start a blog, speak with journalists about your research, or write opinion articles in local papers, scientific society newsletters, or even scientific journals. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have resources on their pages on how to write effective letters to the editor and op-eds. Lastly, work with your public relations office to promote your own research findings. Be sure to tweet and post that story.

Stand up for and promote science

There are over 390 satellite marches planned for the March for Science—and growing. Learn more at marchforscience.org.

The March for Science has received a lot of publicity, and you can check if there is a satellite March happening near you. You can also speak at local schools to create energy and excitement around science and scientific discovery, and potentially inspire the next generation of scientists. You can also join an organization that is working to defend science, like UCS, or local activist organizations. The UCS Science Network has an initiative to help be a watchdog against attacks on science. You can also share your story or donate money to organizations that promote science and discovery.

Communicate your views to elected officials

American Association of Immunologists fellows, members, and staff at breakfast preparing for Capitol Hill Day. Photo: American Assn of Immunologists.

A great way to communicate how proposed or enacted policies affect scientists is to directly call or meet with legislators. Tell them your story. Several scientific societies, including the American Association of Immunologists, also offer training and “Hill days” where they schedule meetings with many different legislators to discuss policies.

Run for office

Although there are several physicians in Congress, there is a definite lack of research scientists. There is currently only one, Bill Foster (D-Illinois), but that may soon change if Michael Eisen, an evolution and computational biologist from University of California, Berkeley, is successful in his bid for the Senate in California. He is not alone. Many scientists are becoming interested in running for office and the 314 Action (first 3 digits of pi) group is helping them get there. 314 Action is raising money to support political campaigns for scientists and provide candidate training.  Admittedly, not everyone has the people skills or the inclination to run for such high-profile positions. Keep in mind that the seeds of change are planted at the local level. So even running for school boards, city councils, or other local elected positions will make a difference.

I challenge you to find one way to promote and advocate for science. You may think that you don’t have time to participate, but there is no longer an option not to. We need every single scientist to stand up and get involved. Think big, start small, commit. The very foundation of science is at stake.


Cynthia Leifer is an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University. Her research focuses on how our immune system detects and fights infection, and what goes wrong with the immune system during autoimmune disease. In addition to her research, she participates in science outreach and communication. She has written on vaccines, women in STEM, and science denial, for such outlets as CNN, Huffington Post, and Pacific Standard. @CIndyLeifer Leiferlab.com


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


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Trump’s “Skinny” Budget Would Starve Farmers of Support, Leave Kids and Seniors Hungry http://blog.ucsusa.org/karen-perry-stillerman/trumps-skinny-budget-would-starve-farmers-of-support-leave-kids-and-seniors-hungry http://blog.ucsusa.org/karen-perry-stillerman/trumps-skinny-budget-would-starve-farmers-of-support-leave-kids-and-seniors-hungry#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:27:19 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49644 I wasn’t surprised to see that the president’s “skinny” budget proposal, released last week, would gut the EPA and the State Department. Appalled? Of course. But not really surprised, as the two-month-old Trump administration had already made its antipathy toward environmental protection and international cooperation abundantly clear.

But we’ve heard ad nauseam since the election that farmers and rural voters came out in droves to elect the president, believing he understood their problems and would help solve them. Rural voters felt forgotten, and throughout the campaign, candidate Trump told them they mattered. Now, with his initial budget document, President Trump seems to be telling them something quite different.

That’s because his budget proposal calls for a 21 percent decrease in funding for the Department of Agriculture (USDA), proportionally the third largest proposed reduction of any federal agency. The USDA serves all Americans, of course, but none more than farmers and rural communities.

The USDA’s budget overall would decrease by $4.7 billion, though specifically-identified cuts add up to nowhere near that amount, suggesting that we’ll see many more significant and specific cuts when the budget request is fleshed out in May. In the meantime, what are some of the consequences?

Trump’s cuts would gut research, financial and technical assistance that helps farmers

While the budget proposal lacks detailed reductions, it outlines deep cuts to staffing for the USDA’s Service Center Agencies, a little-known collection of agencies that includes the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Established as the Soil Conservation Service during the Dust Bowl in 1935 (the name was changed in 1994), NRCS works in partnership with farmers and ranchers, local and state governments, and other federal agencies to maintain healthy and productive working landscapes. In particular, the service offers financial and technical assistance to help farmers implement voluntary conservation practices to protect and enhance soil, water, and wildlife.

Drastic reductions in the number of field staff providing direct technical assistance to farmers would hamstring their ability to implement effective conservation practices such as cover crops—which can pose a challenge to farmers trying them for the first time. The president’s proposal suggests that staffing reductions would encourage “private sector conservation planning.” What this means is anyone’s guess, but it may signal dramatic changes to federal conservation programs, including reductions in financial incentives to farmers through NRCS. As recent UCS analysis has shown, farming practices supported by these programs can deliver major payoffs to farmers and taxpayers. But they only work if there is funding and people in place to carry them out.

The president’s budget proposal contains mixed but potentially troubling hints about the USDA’s continued commitment to agricultural research to help ensure the long-term sustainability of farming. It appears to maintain funding of the department’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative—under which the USDA announced last fall it was increasing investment in agroecology—at FY16 levels, though this still falls short of what is needed. At the same time, however, last week’s budget document hints at significant restructuring of the USDA’s wide-ranging research and economics branch, which would alter the scope and priorities of federally funded agriculture research and statistics-keeping.

Trump’s cuts would put water resources and rural water supplies at risk

Remember when the Trump campaign promised Americans “absolutely crystal clear and clean water”? (It’s #194 on this list of campaign promises.) Well, even before the inauguration, I noted that many of the incoming administration’s decisions didn’t bode well for clean water. And though last week’s budget proposal trumpets its “robust funding for critical drinking and wastewater infrastructure,” a look at the details doesn’t inspire a lot of optimism. As Vox’s Sarah Frostenson writes, under this budget, EPA would have no new money to fix America’s crumbling water systems, and cuts to the agency’s enforcement office would hobble its ability to punish drinking water violations.

The budget would also eliminate EPA funding for long-running regional clean water efforts, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Chesapeake Bay Program—both of which contend with significant pollution from farm runoff.

And crystal clear water for rural households? Not so fast. The budget blueprint would completely eliminate the USDA’s Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program, a rural development program that does what it says—provides funding for clean drinking water systems and improvements to sanitary sewage and solid waste disposal and storm water drainage in eligible rural areas. The budget blueprint calls it “duplicative,” almost laughably suggesting that the EPA could potentially be covering this. (One wonders how.)

Trump’s cuts could slash food programs that serve rural (as well as urban) communities

You’ve probably heard that the budget proposal eliminates federal funding for Meals on Wheels, though the White House is disputing that. The privately-run program will probably lose some funding as a result of federal budget decisions, though it’s unclear how much. But the largest federal nutrition assistance program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), is even more of a question mark. SNAP isn’t included in the skinny budget, but will likely see deep cuts in a more comprehensive budget proposal expected from the White House later this spring.

And if that happens, rural communities will be hit hard. SNAP is often regarded as a program serving urban communities, but research from the Center for Rural Affairs shows that rural areas have a larger percentage of households receiving SNAP benefits than either metropolitan or micropolitan (small city) areas. One in seven rural households—including many children and seniors—relies on this program.

When is a budget not really a budget?

President Trump’s shot across the budgetary bow suggests that his White House has little interest in investing in rural and farming communities or giving them the tools they need to thrive. You might notice a pattern here, as his budget proposal similarly thumbs its nose at coal miners, another constituency Candidate Trump courted.

Almost immediately, members of Congress (on both the left and the right) blasted the president’s budget as a betrayal of rural America, or dismissing it out of hand. The ranking member of the House agriculture committee went so far as to say that the document will be ignored, “as it should be.”

That’s a good reminder that, as in any year, the president’s budget proposal isn’t really “the budget.” As a UCS colleague pointed out, it’s Congress that actually sets the government’s spending levels and priorities. Which means this conversation is just getting started.

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When I March for Science, I’ll March for Equity, Inclusion, and Access http://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/when-i-march-for-science-ill-march-for-equity-inclusion-and-access http://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/when-i-march-for-science-ill-march-for-equity-inclusion-and-access#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:06:16 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49635 We are on the verge of something big. Scientists as a group are politically engaged like never before. They are communicating with decisionmakers, ready to march, and ready to run for office. The March for Science—an event that formed organically by a few enthusiastic people on Reddit and snowballed from there—is slated to be the largest demonstration for science that this country has ever seen. I’ve personally been blown away by the unprecedented support for scientists in the streets.

But let’s not mess this up. Some have not been pleased with how the March organizers handled diversity thus far. The March for Science organizers initially failed to include diversity within its scope and claimed that the event wasn’t “political” and that it was about the science, not scientists. Several twitter fumbles later, it is clear that the organization has been struggling with how to handle diversity and intersectionality and how to manage the differing interests of its supporters and critics. (Dr Zuleyka Zevallos does an excellent play-by-play and take here). The March for Science twitter account had an encouraging thread yesterday addressing diversity, inclusion, and harassment. Let’s keep going.

This is an important discussion. I hope the Science March organizers continue to listen and respond to constructive criticism from scientists of color, scientists with disabilities, and others who feel excluded by the movement. As participants in the march and in the broader movement for science, all of us can and must play a role in lifting these voices, standing in solidarity with our fellow scientists, and rejecting the idea that science is somehow value-free.

Science is driven by values and politics

Science isn’t partisan, but it is political and it always has been. For anyone who values science and scientific thinking, it is tempting to believe that facts will speak for themselves and that the practice and use of science will prevail above politics, discrimination, and hate. But this has never been the case.

History shows us that who has access to science, what questions are asked, and how science is used have always had political dimensions. Early scientists butted heads with the religious establishment. And who were most early scientists?  Any mainstream history book will tell you that this was mostly white men. And that’s the first problem: Because of who controls history books, the history we hear about tends to focus on white male Europeans. And just as important, access to science was largely unattainable for others, and those that did break though often didn’t get credit for their work. You may have seen the recently resurfaced story of  19th-century Irish doctor Margaret Ann Bulkley, who became James Barry, concealing her born gender for 56 years in order to practice medicine.

Moreover, we know science isn’t always used for good. And we needn’t go back to Nazi Germany to find examples of this. Forced sterilization in the eugenics movement didn’t end until the 1970s in some places. The siting of industrial facilities in African American neighborhoods without first assessing health and safety risks continues to happen, and the unsafe chemical exposure of crop workers—more than 80 percent of whom identify themselves as Hispanic—has been well documented. These things are happening today. This dark side of science means that we cannot ignore the politics of how science is used and misused.

The centrality of diversity in science

A tremendous amount of the scientific progress made in this country is made by non-Americans and non-whites. I witnessed this first hand. In graduate school, my engineering program was overwhelmingly non-white and non-American. It meant we could all perform better for it—sharing different perspectives, techniques, and ideas. Science requires creativity, collaboration, and perseverance. The whole process works better when you have a diverse group of scientists to help brainstorm, troubleshoot, and solve tough problems. Science benefits from diversity.

But the scientists also benefit. On one occasion, I lamented to a classmate (who was in the US on a Fulbright Scholarship), that I hadn’t traveled. (My brother has mental disabilities that made traveling difficult for my family.) At the time, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t traveled the world, experiencing other cultures. “You don’t need to,” he said. “Look around. You are experiencing diverse cultures right here.” He was right. To say that the science produced in this country includes diversity is an understatement. I got a scientific education and also a social and cultural one. And I’ve since visited my former classmates in their homes in Jordan, Turkey, and Colombia.

My Georgia Tech research group at the 4th Colombian Congress and International Conference on Air Quality and Public Health in Bogota, Colombia.

But it wasn’t at all a perfect melting pot. We were all given the same assignments, but my classmates of color, transgender classmates, and classmates with disabilities often carried a bigger load. I watched my friends and classmates face many barriers I didn’t have to—outright discrimination, language barriers, immigration and visa challenges, and police profiling, to name a few. Their success and progress in graduate school was more challenging because of these factors. Yet most persevered, and I owe my own success to the help and friendship of these classmates.

In fact, the success of my whole department depended on the success of its diverse student body. In this space it was clear to me just how central diversity is for science. We all have a role in helping others succeed in science. We must support our fellow scientists and work incessantly to eliminate the institutional barriers that have long restricted access to science to a privileged few.

Threats to marginalized groups are threats to science and scientists

Within the scientific community, much attention has focused on the looming threats of massive budget cuts to public science funding and science-based federal agencies. But many intersectional threats also loom large, and they have everything to do with the future of science and scientists.

Cuts to healthcare, public educational programs, Pell grants, and so much more will disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. As Union of Concerned Scientists president Ken Kimmell recently said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, these threats will do more to adversely affect potential future scientists than anything else.

Threats have consequences

The racist, misogynistic, able-ist and xenophobic actions of our new presidential administration have made many feel unsafe. The scientific community has felt this too. And unfortunately, a fear of violence isn’t unfounded.

On February 22, two Indian men, engineers at Garmin, were attacked in a Kansas restaurant by a white man yelling “Get out of my country.” One of the men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, died from his injuries. This and other similar events compounded the feelings of many non-white Americans of not being welcome or safe in their own country.

Importantly, these threats are now happening on top of everything else that many scientists in marginalized groups are already facing. The scientific community has continued to struggle with addressing institutional racism, sexism, ableism, and religious discrimination. The recent escalation in violence against people of color by police has had a profound impact on the nation and the ability of scientists of color to do their work. By the way, the number of people killed by police has continued at 2016’s alarming rates in the past two months, despite fewer headlines.

The movement for science must be unapologetically inclusive

Many are new to conversations on equity and inclusion in science, this is evolving understanding. The March for Science and the broader movement for science are huge opportunities to introduce people to the significance and centrality of these issues to the present and future of the scientific enterprise they care so much about. Some of us have the luxury of not being confronted with these issues daily, but that’s why we mustn’t be complicit. We can’t sit on the sidelines.

If you are new to this conversation, there are many places to get you started. You might be interested in UCS’ recent webinar on Integrating Social Justice in Science with Yvette Arellano, research fellow at Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS); Navina Khanna, director, HEAL Food Alliance; and Michele Roberts, co-director, Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. Showing Up for Racial Justice has several resources available for getting started as well.  And follow the conversation at #marginsci to learn about the concerns that many scientists have around the March for Science.

We need to do better. Dialogue is important. Calling out missteps when we see them is crucial. As scientists and organizers, we must remember to listen, respond in earnest, and elevate messages of those marginalized or excluded. This is what makes a good ally. Indeed, this is what makes a good scientist.

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The Safety of Coal Miners—and Every Worker in America—Is at Risk http://blog.ucsusa.org/kathleen-rest/coal-miner-worker-safety http://blog.ucsusa.org/kathleen-rest/coal-miner-worker-safety#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:03:56 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49666 Three and counting.  That’s how many coal miners have been killed on this job so far in the first two and a half months of this year. Two in West Virginia and one in Kentucky. You don’t know them, but you can be sure that their families and friends are grieving and heartbroken. They were expecting them to come home after their shifts.

Their deaths are just the most visible of the tragedies that befall our nation’s coal miners every year. In 2016, there were nine fatalities and 1,260 reportable cases of workplace injury in the US coal mining industry. We’re not talking scratches here, but serious injuries that require medical treatment, including injuries that result in loss of consciousness, lost time, temporary job reassignment, or wholesale transfer to another job.

And then there are work-related illnesses, which can be notoriously harder to track as many take years to develop. For coal miners, these include coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (Black Lung)—a devastating, irreversible, and often deadly lung disease—as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like bronchitis and emphysema.

An investigative report by National Public Radio recently revealed a major resurgence of black lung in Appalachia. This includes a cluster of 60 cases at a single eastern Kentucky radiology practice from January 2015–August 2016!

Sad and angry

These incidents sadden me greatly. As a former Acting Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and a former Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), I know that these and other workplace fatalities, injuries, and disease shouldn’t happen; they are largely preventable.

But I’m more than sad. I’m dumbfounded and angry. Last week, the Republican-controlled Kentucky legislature approved a measure that sets coal mine safety back decades, cutting back annual inspections from four to as few as one. And West Virginia is gearing up to seriously weaken mine safety standards and inspections in their state. You can read about it here, here, here, and here.

Meanwhile coal country legislators are trumpeting federal worker protections for coal miners—a supreme irony given that our president is proposing to cut the very federal department (Labor) that is responsible for federal inspection of our mines.

Coal mining is still a highly dangerous occupation. Lost in the debate over the use of coal and our needed transition to a renewable energy future is the continuing toll that coal mining takes on the workers that mine it. These workers are already facing the industry’s precarious economic future—and thus the welfare of their own families and communities. They shouldn’t have to fight for their own safety. Do we really think its’s right – and even smart – to bolster company profits at the expense of worker safety?

Coal mines today. Maybe your workplace tomorrow.

These rollbacks of public and worker protections should surprise no one—the states are clearly emboldened by the anti-regulatory, industry-first furor coming from the White House and Congress. They are also harbingers of how these sorts of actions could affect your workplace as well.

See for example, the President’s ill-conceived two-for-one Executive Order that planted this anti-regulatory flag as an almost first order of business. Or the imminent congressional effort to roll back the ability of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to cite employers for record keeping failures. (Record keeping may sound less consequential; it’s anything but.)

And be wary, very wary, of congressional attempts to undermine the role that science plays in policy making and public protections. Bills like the HONEST Act (Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act), the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny), and the Regulatory Accountability Act may have high-sounding names, but they are designed to seriously erode the regulatory and science advisory processes that give us the safeguards we all count on. And when you hear about regulatory rollbacks or reforms, wonky as they may sound—take a moment to think about what would be lost. For coal miners, that may be their lives or limbs.

We have a voice. Let’s use it.

Let’s keep this top of mind: Our elected officials work for us—we the people. We need to let them know what we think and what we expect of them in terms of protecting and promoting our interests—not treating us as secondary to the interests of corporate and business leaders who generally have more resources and access to the halls of power.  And then we need to hold our elected officials accountable for what they do and what they don’t do.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is there to help keep you informed about attacks on science, engaged, and to provide tools and resources to help maximize your effectiveness. We’re all in this together.  Your voice matters.

Photo: Mgtmail/CC BY (Flickr)
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Fact-checking the Trump Administration’s Claims about EPA’s Vehicle Standards http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/fact-checking-the-trump-administrations-claims-about-epas-vehicle-standards http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/fact-checking-the-trump-administrations-claims-about-epas-vehicle-standards#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:33:52 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49650 It’s been one week since the administration caved to auto industry lobbyists and reopened the mid-term review of the EPA’s successful vehicle efficiency standards.  In that time, there’s been a lot of hot air around what this means for the industry, so I thought I’d look into the factual basis for some of the more common assertions made around the announcement.

Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the EPA, called this action “good news for consumers”

FALSE.  To date, the vehicle efficiency standards have saved Americans more than $37 billion at the gas pump.  If the administration follows through with rolling back the standards under the mid-term review, the average new car buyer stands to lose about $1600.  Limiting consumer choice to less efficient vehicles is never good news, not for consumers or the country as a whole.

Donald Trump, President of the United States, vowed to “eliminate the industry-killing regulations”

FALSE.  There’s nothing “industry-killing” about these standards.  The auto industry has had back-to-back record-setting sales years, while at the same time exceeding the level of improvement required under EPA’s standards.  More than 300,000 automotive manufacturing jobs have been created since 2009, jobs like those General Motors highlighted last Wednesday building their new 10-speed transmission, a technology developed to meet the very same standards the administration is working now to undo.  Perhaps the President listened a bit too long to the erroneous jobs claims pitched by Mark Fields (Ford), but even a conservative analysis paid for by the auto industry shows that these regulations are good for jobs, netting about 300,000 new jobs for the economy if we move forward with the regulations as-is.

Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the EPA claimed that “CAFE standards should not be costly for automakers or American people.”

TRUE.  And they aren’t, as a rather lengthy and rigorous review already determined.  These standards are poised to save consumers money, increase jobs, and reduce oil usage without posing undue burden on industry.  Automakers may be trying to supplant facts with politics, but it is the American people who stand to lose the most with last week’s action.

Donald Trump, President of the United States, said he didn’t want “an extra thimbleful of fuel” to stop manufacturers making great cars.

Maybe this is the thimble President Trump was talking about? Of course, you could still fill at least a dozen of these with the fuel savings for even just one vehicle thanks to these regulations.  “Uniform Measure/Stack”(1997) by Stephen Cruise, in Toronto’s garment district Photo: Michael Dolan/CC BY 2.0

TWO REALLY BIG THUMBS DOWN.  Firstly, the regulations the administration is threatening to rollback are set to increase the fuel economy of new vehicles from an average of about 25 miles per gallon today to about 36 or 37 miles per gallon—that means well over 2000 fewer gallons of gas over a typical vehicle lifetime, hardly a thimbleful.  Secondly, these rules have been pushing manufacturers to innovate, leading to a greater use of lightweight materials like aluminum, transmissions with a greater spread in gear ratios, smaller turbocharged engines, stop-start systems, and many other fuel-saving technologies which can be found throughout Motor Trend’s various Car/Truck/SUV-of-the-Year winners and other such “great” vehicles.  [Also great but being driven by state policy goals—electric vehicles, which have captured three of the last seven Car-of-the-Year titles.]

Rebecca Lindland, analyst from Kelley Blue Book:  “Consumers want the most fuel efficient version of a vehicle they already want to buy.”

TRUE.  Thankfully, that’s exactly what these rules are designed to protect, that consumers can have more efficient vehicle choices in all types of vehicles year over year.

Philly Murtha, J.D. Power:  “With current lower gasoline prices and increased consumer demand for SUVs and pickup trucks, automakers are in a difficult position.”

FALSE.  Selling more SUVs and trucks actually LOWERS the fuel economy target a manufacturer needs to hit—if anything, that means selling more trucks and SUVs makes it easier for a manufacturer to meet these rules.  Ford’s most efficient F-150, which represents about 1 in 5 sold, well exceeds today’s standards—in fact, it could meet standards out to 2021-2024, depending on the specific configuration.  That means that Ford could sell nothing but that F-150 and still meet the standards for the next 5 years with no additional improvements.

Brent Snavely (Detroit Free Press) and Chris Woodyard (USA Today):  “If the review eventually results in the standards being lowered, automakers potentially wouldn’t have to make as many cars with advanced carbon emission-cutting technology like hybrids, electrics and hydrogen fuel cells in order to hit the minimums.”

PARTIALLY TRUE.  On the one hand, lower targets will certainly mean less deployment of all fuel-efficiency technologies, so that is accurate and terrible news for all. On the other hand, as we’ve noted repeatedly, these standards do not require the deployment of electric vehicles or much in the way of hybridization, so that non sequitur is a completely incorrect mischaracterization of the standards.  For example, automakers’ own data shows that they can meet the standards with improvements to conventional vehicles.

Donald Trump, President of the United States:  “I brought American auto companies to the White House.  Mary Barra is here.  Mark Fields is here.  Sergio is here, and others.  And none of them ever got to see the Oval Office before, because nobody took them into the Oval Office—our Presidents.”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  While it may be technically correct that neither Mary Barra nor Mark Fields have, in their short tenures as CEO, met with a sitting president at the White House, auto companies have not had any difficulty getting an audience with the past few presidents.  In fact, Sergio Marchionne probably knows this best of all, having been in extensive meetings with the Obama White House ever since his tenure as CEO began, first with the Chrysler-Fiat merger and bailout and then pursuant to the fuel economy standards to which he signed on.  Also:

(L) President Bush meets with CEOs of the Detroit Three.(R) President Obama meets with 10 automaker CEOs supportive of the fuel economy and global warming emissions standards for passenger vehicles (including Sergio Marchionne, just to his right). Photos: White House Archives/ CC BY 3.0

Bette Grande, Research Fellow at the Heartland Institute:  “The review and subsequent pullback from EPA’s CAFE standards…is a win for oil producers and mineral owners, because when consumers are free to choose the vehicles of their choice, domestic oil demand will increase.”

TRUE.  Bette is right—oil demand will increase, increasing emissions, decreasing national security, and raising prices for everyone.  Yay?

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Counting the Attacks on Science by the Trump Administration and Congress http://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/counting-the-attacks-on-science-by-the-trump-administration-and-congress http://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/counting-the-attacks-on-science-by-the-trump-administration-and-congress#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:10:51 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=49505
Today the Union of Concerned Scientists launches a webpage to track attacks on science by the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress. The page will be consistently updated, and we’re planning to add a filter option to view the attacks by issue, agency, and type of attack (e.g. censorship, political interference, conflicts of interest, etc.).

We aim to document the impact of political interference in science on public health and safety, and to enable others to see patterns in Trump administration and congressional behavior. We’ve already seen quite a few attempts by the administration and Congress to dismantle the processes by which we use science to inform policy decisions. Only in recent years have we seen an uptick in the number of anti-science bills in Congress and many of them now have a significant chance of passing. This new political context is why UCS is devoting more resources to tracking and publicizing these wide-ranging and sometimes unpredictable attacks.

All the presidents’ missteps

Presidential administrations have politicized science for decades. During the George W. Bush administration, in response to a significant increase in attacks on science, UCS began keeping track of abuses and compiled them here. The list of attacks, coupled with surveys of thousands of federal scientists, demonstrated the breadth of the assault on science by the Bush administration. It was happening across issue areas and across federal agencies. It wasn’t just political meddling in a few controversial areas. Rather, it spanned reproductive health to endangered species to climate change to consumer product safety. It included political appointees rewriting and censoring scientific reports, muzzling of government scientists, and people being chosen for science advisory committees based on their political affiliations. At times, the White House interfered directly in what should have been science-based decision-making. All told, the attacks on science dented the public trust in government science and had adverse consequences for the American people.

When the Obama administration came in, UCS continued to document attacks on science, and pushed the administration hard to develop systemic protections for science and scientists. Vowing to “restore science to its rightful place,” the Obama administration took several steps to safeguard science from the kinds of attacks we saw under the Bush administration, including developing scientific integrity policies, creating scientific integrity officials, and implementing various transparency initiatives (Happy Sunshine Week, btw!).

A new website will track attacks on science by the Trump administration and Congress. All modern presidents have politicized science. In 2014, the Obama administration interfered with the FDA’s science on risks from cigar smoke. Photo: Brian Birke/Flickr.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration was not without issues when it came to science-based decisionmaking.  The administration chose politics over science when it overrode FDA Administrator Margaret Hamburg’s science-backed decision to approve Plan B emergency contraceptive as over-the-counter for all ages; never before had the White House overruled a drug approval decision. Bending to industry pressure, the administration initially failed to set  a ground-level ambient ozone standard that aligned with scientific advice despite pledging to do so. The White House weakened the scientific language on the health risks from cigar smoke in a draft FDA rule. Journalists repeatedly reported significant problems accessing government experts, and surveys of federal scientists suggest problems persist across agencies.

In many ways, the science-related missteps of past presidents give us clues as to the kinds of attacks on science we might expect from the Trump administration. We know the playbook, but with President Trump, this could be a different sport. We’ve already seen the president take several unprecedented steps beyond the type of politicization of science we’ve seen before. Just one example is the president’s illegal and illogical two-for-one executive order that if fully implemented would prevent federal agencies from carrying out their science-based missions.

Assessing the overall environment for science under President Trump

The webpage of attacks on science won’t be exhaustive, but instead will provide a representative sample of threats to the federal scientific enterprise. Likewise, the list won’t include many moves by the president and Congress that have implications for federal science and scientists. For example, the President’s Muslim ban hurts science and scientists, including those working for the federal government. And the President’s rescinding transgender protections is damaging to the inclusivity of the scientific community. Across the board budget cuts, as opposed to politically targeted ones, can still demoralize the federal workforce. These actions undoubtedly contribute to an adverse working environment for federal scientists trying to do their jobs. To measure cumulative impact, UCS will repeat surveys of government scientists once the Trump administration is fully up and running.

We don’t know where the next attack will come from. But now more than ever, it is crucial for us to document, understand and share. I’ll be busy for the time being.

Know of an attack on science that you don’t see on our page?  Let me know! You can contact me here, on Twitter at @GretchenTG, or via encrypted messaging services.

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