Union of Concerned ScientistsUnion of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org a blog on independent science + practical solutions Fri, 28 Apr 2017 14:37:25 +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 Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program Off to a Great Start http://blog.ucsusa.org/jeremy-martin/oregons-clean-fuels-program-off-to-a-great-start http://blog.ucsusa.org/jeremy-martin/oregons-clean-fuels-program-off-to-a-great-start#respond Fri, 28 Apr 2017 14:37:25 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50734 Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program (CFP) was initially authorized by the legislature in 2009, with subsequent legislation in 2015 allowing the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to fully implement the program in 2016.  The program’s goals are to foster the development of an in-state market for cleaner fuel by requiring that transportation fuels used in Oregon get steadily less-polluting over the next decade. The program requires average life cycle global warming emissions per unit of energy in transportation fuels to decline by 10% by 2025 compared to 2015.

Oregon’s CFP completed a very successful first year, but it remains under attack, so it’s a great time to review how the policy works, the results of its first year, and its prospects for the future.

The Clean Fuels Program creates a steadily growing market for clean fuels

Transportation is the largest source of global warming pollution in Oregon, and the overwhelming majority of transportation emissions come from petroleum-based fuels like gasoline and diesel.

Making a transition to a low carbon transportation system will take several decades, and will require a systemic transformation of transportation systems, vehicles and the fuels used to power them.  The Clean Fuels Program focuses on the fuels, ensuring that the market for clean fuels grows steadily year after year.  This assurance is critical to support investment in new fuels.

Getting clean fuels production and distribution up to commercial scale in the next decade is critical to accelerating the transition to clean transportation, and this early market signal to invest and innovate is even more powerful over the long term than the significant reduction in pollution the policy will deliver over the next few years.

The Clean Fuels Program protects clean fuels producers and all fuel consumers from volatile oil prices

Markets for transportation fuels are highly unstable, with retail gasoline prices in Oregon swinging back and forth in the last decade, from less than $2/gallon to more than $4/gallon.  The instability is a problem for drivers, but it also makes it very difficult for new cleaner fuels to get a foothold, since a clean fuel that is very attractive competing against $4/gallon gasoline may struggle at low prices.

The Clean Fuels Program assures fuel producers that the market for the clean fuels will grow steadily, protected from changes in global oil prices beyond their control, so clean fuel producers can focus on competing against other clean fuel producers.

How does the Clean Fuels Program work?

The Clean Fuel Program requires that large companies importing and distributing transportation fuel in Oregon, mostly gasoline and diesel, act to reduce the emissions from the fuels they sell by 10% per unit of energy.

Unlike Federal biofuels policy, the CFP does not set specific targets for ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, or any other alternative fuel.  Instead the CFP requires that the average carbon intensity of fuels meets a gradually declining target.  Fuels that are cleaner than the target generates credits, while more polluting fuels generate deficits.

At the end of the year, fuel providers need to settle with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), turning in enough credits to cover their deficits.  The CFP also has several flexibility mechanisms built in, including allowing credit trading between parties selling clean fuels and parties selling more polluting fuels, and allowing fuel sellers to generate extra credits early and save them for later (called banking).

What is Carbon Intensity?

The CFP regulates the “carbon intensity” of fuels, which is a measurement of global warming emissions per unit of energy in the fuel. This allows all fuels—whether gasoline, diesel, ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, or electricity—to be compared accurately.

In measuring the carbon intensity of fuels, the CFP measures each fuel’s life cycle emissions, which accounts for not only the emissions generated by a vehicle when using a given fuel, but also the emissions that come from producing and transporting the fuel. For example, about a quarter of global warming emissions associated with using gasoline come from extracting and refining the oil to make the gasoline.

Emissions associated with biofuels depend greatly on whether they are made from corn, soybean oil, used cooking oil or biomethane collected at landfills, as well as how the fuel is produced. Electric vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions, so the life cycle emissions of electricity depend primarily on how the electricity is generated (whether from fossil fuels or renewable sources such as wind and solar). See my recent report, Fueling a Clean Transportation Future, for much more information about the future of fuels, especially gasoline, ethanol, and electricity.

The Clean Fuels Program is off to a good start

2016 was the first year of the CFP, and so far, the program is off to a good start. Fuel producers have been registering, and establishing the Carbon Intensity of their fuels, and for the first three quarters, credit generation (from selling fuels cleaner than the target) significantly exceeded deficit generation.  This means that regulated parties are entering the next year with a buffer of banked credits they can use later if necessary.

In the first few quarters, most of the credits were generated from ethanol and biodiesel.  These fuels are already part of the Oregon Fuels mix, blended into gasoline and diesel to satisfy state and federal requirements, but the CFP provides an incentive for fuel blenders to use more of these cleaner fuels and to seek out the least polluting sources of these biofuels, which provide more credits per gallon.

In subsequent years, other fuels, including biomethane and electricity, will play a growing role, but the procedures to credit some of these fuels are still being finalized and it will also take time for fuel buyers to react to the market signals from the CFP.

Clean Fuels Program credit data from Oregon DEQ

Lessons learned from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard

California got started with clean fuels policy a little earlier than Oregon, with a closely related policy called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) which went into effect in 2010 and requires a 10% reduction in average carbon intensity by 2020.

Data from the first five years of the LCFS provides a hint of what Oregon can expect as the Clean Fuel Program progresses.  Like Oregon, early years relied mostly on alternative fuels that were already well established in the marketplace, ethanol and natural gas.  But the growth in alternative fuel use encouraged by the LCFS came from other fuels, especially biodiesel, renewable diesel and biomethane.

The LCFS also provided more credits for cleaner fuels, especially those made from wastes such as biodiesel and renewable diesel made from used cooking oil and animal fat, and biomethane captured at landfills.  The larger benefits of these fuels is reflected in the fact that their share of credit generation is larger than their share of alternative fuel volume.


Electricity and the Clean Fuels Program

The truly clean transportation system we need will have fewer internal combustion engines running on petroleum, and more electric vehicles running on non-polluting renewable sources of electricity.  The CFP can accelerate this transition by ensuring that the low carbon benefits of  electricity lowers the cost of operating electric vehicles.

When California’s LCFS got started in 2010 there were almost no electric vehicles, but by 2015 EVs were generating 6% of the credits.  Transit agencies running electric buses generated some of these credits, which they sold to oil companies and others who needed them to offset pollution for gasoline and diesel.

The value of these credits makes it easier for transit agencies to go electric, which also has important health benefits for communities in which these buses operate.  Households with electric cars also benefit as utilities have set up rebate programs funded by LCFS credits – PG&E is has a $500 clean fuel rebate program – which makes owning an EV even more attractive.

Managing the Clean Fuels Program

In 2017, DEQ is undertaking rulemaking  to implement a few important policy improvements. These include establishing procedures for crediting for the use of electricity as a transportation fuel, and implementing a cost containment mechanism to clarify what steps will be taken in the unlikely event of a shortage of clean fuels.  To assist them in this process, DEQ convened an advisory committee of stakeholders representing oil companies, clean fuel producers, environmental groups, the AAA, truckers, and others who are meeting seven times between November 2016 and June 2017.

I have been representing the Union of Concerned Scientists on this committee.  This process gives all parties the opportunities to share their concerns, and weigh in on proposed solutions so that DEQ can put together a well-considered set of program enhancements to take to the Environmental Quality Commission later this year.

The transportation system has many moving parts, and will require a suite of policies

Transportation is not just the largest source of Oregon’s climate emissions, it is also deeply integrated into people’s lives and commerce.

Ensuring the system serves Oregon well will require ongoing investment in roads, bridges, transit, facilities for bikes and pedestrians.  Finding sustainable, equitable means to fund these many priorities is critically important, and should not be considered as an alternative to supporting a transition to cleaner fuels.

Over time clean fuels, especially renewable electricity, will get steadily less expensive, and moving to these in-state sources of transportation fuel will protect drivers from the unpredictable price volatility of gasoline and diesel, which are influenced primarily by global oil prices over which Oregon has very little control. Getting started on this transition away from oil will have some costs, but with appropriate measures to manage these costs, this is a very smart investment in Oregon’s future.

Changing the law is not necessary or helpful at this time

Despite the ample evidence that the Clean Fuels Program is off to a great start, some critics of the policy in the Oregon legislature have been proposing legislation that would dramatically change the rules of the program, and if history is a guide, they may try to undermine the policy in negotiations over funding much needed transportation infrastructure investments.  This is not a smart way to move forward on either clean fuels or transportation funding.  Oregon needs to cut emissions, and it needs to make smart investments in physical infrastructure; bills pitting these goals against each other are short-sighted and counterproductive.

Clean Fuels Policies and Carbon Pricing work together

The Clean Fuels Program is focused on cleaning up transportation fuels, but while transportation fuels are important, other climate policies are also necessary to meet climate goals.  Putting an economy-wide price on global warming emissions, either through a cap-and-trade program or a carbon tax, helps integrate the costs of climate change into the cost of doing business.

In the transportation sector, carbon pricing helps ensure that the costs of pollution from fossil fuels—and the value of low carbon technologies—are better reflected in decisions fuel providers make about what fuels to produce, as well as the decisions consumers make about what cars to buy.  However, a carbon price alone is not enough to decarbonize our transportation system over the next few decades.

Typical carbon prices —which translate to pennies per gallon in increased fuel cost—cannot adequately motivate investments in innovative cleaner fuels. That’s why it is important to have policies in place to limit heat-trapping emissions from fuels directly. The Clean Fuels Program facilitates research, development, and deployment of transformational low-carbon technologies.  For more information, see our fact sheet on how California’s carbon pricing and LCFS complement one another.

State leadership on climate is more important than ever

States have always been important laboratories for democracy, but with the current administration in Washington D.C. actively undermining climate progress, states are an essential bulwark against backsliding.  Policies like the Clean Fuels Program ensure that the market for innovative clean fuels needed to address climate change continue to grow, even in the absence of reliable federal support.

By working together with neighboring states and provinces in the Pacific Coast Collaborative, Oregon can maintain momentum on emerging clean technologies for transportation and other climate goals.  Moreover, by investing in the future, Oregon can keep its transportation system moving forward, even if Washington D.C. is trying to slam the brakes on clean energy and go back to the fossil fuels of the last century.

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Oregon Legislature Can Boost Electric Car Sales http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/oregon-legislature-can-boost-electric-car-sales http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/oregon-legislature-can-boost-electric-car-sales#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 17:48:33 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50566 The Oregon legislature has the opportunity to boost electric vehicle sales in the state and deliver benefits to all Oregonians by passing pending legislation for electric vehicle incentives in House Bill 2704.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are a critical solution to cutting oil use, improving air quality, and reducing global warming pollution. EVs are also a better choice for many Oregon drivers, offering fuel savings and often a better driving experience compared to a gasoline car.

Driving on electricity is cheaper than driving on gasoline for most people, even with today’s lower gasoline prices. Based on Northwest gasoline prices in 2016, we found that driving the average new gasoline car (29 mpg) for a year (11,350 miles) cost $949 in Oregon. Driving that same distance on electricity cost an average of $363 in the state.*

Given the volatility of gasoline prices, using electricity as a fuel also means more stable and predictable refueling costs for the years ahead. And since Oregon lacks oil production and refining, switching away from petroleum can keep more money in the local economy.

EVs in Oregon also have environmental benefits. The average EV on Oregon’s electric power mix produces fewer global warming emissions than any gasoline-powered vehicles on the road—equivalent to a 75 mpg gasoline car, according to UCS analysis in 2015. As Oregon continues to transition to cleaner sources of electricity (thanks to last year’s coal to clean bill) the climate advantages of EVs will only increase.

Despite these advantages, EVs still face barriers to their adoption, so policies are needed to make EVs available and affordable for more average Oregonians. A consumer incentive for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, as proposed by HB 2704, will help motivate prospective car buyers to investigate electric drive options and is also an important signal from the state in support of needed technologies.

States with EV incentives lead the nation in EV sales. For example, in California, more than 90 percent of surveyed EV rebate recipients said that the state’s rebate was important to their decision to buy an EV.

Now is an important time for Oregon to make a commitment to building a mainstream market for EVs. As the Oregon Global Warming Commission report to the legislature showed, Oregon is falling behind on its commitments to cut GHG emissions in large part because of increasing transportation sector emissions.

Thanks to Oregon’s Zero Emission Vehicle program, manufacturers are required to sell EVs in Oregon.  This policy that helps ensure EVs are available should be matched with policies that help induce demand. A consumer incentive is the single biggest act Oregon can take to enable more drivers to choose an electric car, so passing HB 2704 is an important step forward for EVs in the state.

*We calculated prices using the following electricity and gasoline price data from the US Energy Information Agency: 2016 average residential electricity price $0.107/kWh, 2016 average gasoline price $2.40/gallon. Costs assume 11,350 annual miles driven, 28.6 MPG gasoline efficiency, 0.30 kWh/mile EV efficiency.

Click here to find more information on How Oregon Can Benefit From Electric Vehicles (2015).  


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Climate Adaptation, Adaptive Climate Justice, and People with Disabilities. http://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/climate-adaptation-adaptive-climate-justice-and-people-with-disabilities http://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/climate-adaptation-adaptive-climate-justice-and-people-with-disabilities#respond Thu, 27 Apr 2017 14:15:22 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50711 Climate activism tends to frame climate change as a problem to be solved by fighting against it, raising calls to reduce emissions in order to minimize or avoid the consequences of climate change (“climate mitigation”).

Cutting emissions is certainly important, as lower emissions will lead to smaller temperature increases, with less intense climate impacts along with it, compared to a high-emissions scenario. But in contrast to this rhetoric, the truth is that we cannot stop climate change outright and avoid its consequences – and even with our best efforts, the world will still be a vastly different place.

A 2016 report analyzed the climate impacts of a 1.5°C world and the impacts in a 2.0°C world, and both showed marked increases in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (including storms and heat waves), variations in crop yields, rising sea levels and expanding coral bleaching. 2.0°C was shown to be a drastically different world indeed.

Other experts are predicting us passing the global target to a much scarier future. A recent paper projects that 2.5°C may be possible with extreme measures in a realistic political climate, but even that would prove difficult.  Given this inevitability and its intensity, reducing carbon emissions is not enough – we should prepare for what’s on the way.

When we prepare, we need to keep everybody in mind, and especially the most vulnerable groups with the least resources and ability to adapt on their own. This is what I like to call “adaptive climate justice,” which also creates a level playing field in the face of historical inequalities and oppressions.

One of the most vulnerable populations with the fewest resources, and the most unique needs, are people with disabilities. The reasons are vast. Among other things, evacuating storms and other emergencies requires focused planning. Heatwaves especially affect people with fragile health, climate migration is phenomenally difficult for this group, and people with disabilities are often the first to be abandoned under the age-old triage mentality.

In response to all these issues, adaptation needs to include the concerns of people with disabilities and value us as individuals to protect. This adaptive climate justice must happen with full force, and start happening now.

Climate adaptation: How the science community can help (in addition to more research)

Climate change is guaranteed to progress in the years to come regardless of our level of emissions, and each degree of warming will lead to yet stronger consequences.

As storms become stronger, oceans rise, and droughts intensify, we must adapt our societies and way of life to match our new environment. This may mean improving our disaster response and reinforcing our infrastructure for stronger storms, or transforming our water management systems to better handle drought.

The International Organization on Migration notes a widely-cited estimate of 200 million “environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis,” so in some cases, we may even need to explore managed & proactive relocation – or at least developing systems that are able to handle domestic and even international migration.

Unfortunately, climate activists are already encountering barriers to change system-wide and plenty of resistance from those in power, even when it comes to switching to renewables. Pushing for these new efforts at adaptation  will be no small task and may challenge our capability for change, but it is vital to protect lives and well-being.

How can the scientific community help in these efforts? We need to be more forthright about what the science points to:  climate change is going to get worse, and we need to get ready. It ultimately does a disservice to the public to tell them that things will stay stable so long as we install solar panels and wind farms and switch to electric cars.

People are liable to be caught off-guard, while governments and other actors are less likely to prepare for the one-time events (i.e. stronger storms) and gradual transformations (i.e. sea level rise or migration) coming our way.

If we drive home the need to adapt – and use our public legitimacy to do so – then stakeholders are much more likely to get the ball rolling.

Our community must use our expertise to find the best actions to adapt to climate change.  A large amount of energy is already spent on understanding climate consequences and developing renewable technologies, yet a much smaller resource is dedicated to developing plans for adaptation. The resources devoted to both clearly need to grow to a massive extent – but it’s vital to use a larger portion of our energy to develop plans, working with stakeholders to implement them widely.

Adaptive climate justice and people with disabilities

As the climate changes, it is increasingly clear that certain populations are affected more significantly than others – and this will continue into the future. Groups most affected include women, children, people of color, people with disabilities, lower-income communities, and those in areas with especially distinct and significant climate exposure (i.e. low-lying island states or already-arid regions).

People in developing countries are also an incredibly important group on the international front, as they are often the hardest hit with very few resources to adapt (and historically put out the fewest emissions) – and it is a moral imperative to support those nations at a global scale.

Activists are already raising their voices in a call for “climate justice” that protects these populations from climate change itself. However, even this largely focuses on mitigation. “These populations are getting hit hardest by climate change,” the rhetoric goes, “so we must prevent warming to protect their well-being. Stopping global warming is a matter of climate justice.”

Mitigating climate change will certainly help these many oppressed and vulnerable groups, and is arguably the most essential first line of defense. Yet there is another piece of climate justice that we must include moving forward.

True climate justice also needs to provide the resources needed to adapt and create equity for all – and transform our systems to do the same. This adaptive climate justice must identify vulnerable groups, determine where their vulnerability lies, and ensure that the international community provides resources and other changes to tackle those needs head on. What might this mean? At the broad scale, wealthy countries can provide resources and assistance to aid developing countries, whether it is through disaster relief funding or technology for drought-resilient crops. (The State Department and USAID have participated in climate-related supports, but these are under threat to proposed budget cuts at the federal level).

Domestic justice can do the same at many levels: for example, ensuring access to air-conditioning for people in poor quality housing or those who can’t afford higher electric bills, including the needs and voices of marginalized communities in disaster readiness and response (DRR) at the federal (i.e. FEMA) and State/local levels, and even reinforcing government services for the potential turmoil of climate stress.

At the World Institute on Disability, our “New Earth Disability” project is addressing adaptive climate justice for people with disabilities (PWD). The diverse disability population includes those with physical disabilities, sensory disabilities (i.e. low vision or hearing), developmental disabilities, psychological disabilities, chronic health conditions and more. PWDs are present in every other population group at a rate of approximately 15%-meaning that our community is spread worldwide and amongst income levels, gender, race, nationality, etc.

People with disabilities are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of health factors, personal and medical needs, and already-existing marginalization. Among other things our community may be isolated during disasters and unable to maintain healthcare and personal supports, have poor health when encountering heat waves or similar effects, and experience disproportionate poverty with reduced ability to manage resource stresses or adapt overall.

Climate-related migration is an especially large issue: people with disabilities are liable to lack access to accessible transportation, become disconnected from personal support networks, lose vital government and healthcare services, or simply be turned away at borders because of their disability status. It’s our job to learn more about these many problems and tackle them head-on.

The many solutions will include resilient government and healthcare services, disability-inclusive DRR, and even managing migration through accessible transit, housing and more.

Switching to an adaptive climate justice mindset and beginning those preparations will require collaboration, focused planning, effective resources, and wide-scale public education (especially for the disability and climate change communities). As a part of the New Earth Disability initiative, we encourage other stakeholders to tackle this challenge and join us in our efforts.

Alex Ghenis is a disability and climate change activist in Berkeley, California. He is the lead project manager for the New Earth Disability project at the World Institute on Disability (WID), which addresses how people with disabilities will be affected by climate change and necessary actions to adapt, and his other work at WID addresses financial literacy and employment policies for people with disabilities. Outside of WID, Alex is a regular contributor to New Mobility magazine, an occasional actor, and a talented slam poet. You can find him on Twitter at @aghenis.

For more details and general thoughts on the connections between climate change and disability, please visit the WID webpage at www.WID.org/NED. WID welcomes opportunities for partnership, outreach, and any projects regarding research or full initiatives. If you are interested in connecting, please email Alex Ghenis at Alex@WID.org.



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Worker Memorial Day: 13 Workplace Fatalities Occur Every Day in the United States http://blog.ucsusa.org/kathleen-rest/worker-memorial-day http://blog.ucsusa.org/kathleen-rest/worker-memorial-day#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:58:05 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50712 Amidst the groundswell of information, energy, and genuine excitement around last week’s March for Science and the upcoming People’s Climate March, there’s another global and national event that should not get lost in the mix.

This one relates to workers—you know, those dedicated and hardy souls that are the backbone of what makes America great.

Workers, the engine of our economy, are also our partners, children, relatives, co-workers, friends, and neighbors. And too many of them get more than a paycheck for their efforts (recognizing that the paycheck they do get may be less than a living wage). Some of our nation’s workers die, get sick, injured, or become disabled because of workplace exposures, hazards, and conditions. And these workplace incidents are largely (very largely) preventable.

April 28— Workers Memorial Day. The day each year that we recognize, commemorate, and honor these workers. It is also a day to renew the fight for safe workplaces. It’s more important now than ever.

Data give us a quantitative look into these preventable events, but they don’t begin to capture the horror and loss they entail. Just imagine having to deal with the knowledge that a loved one was suffocated in a trench collapse; asphyxiated by chemical fumes; shot during a workplace robbery; seriously injured while working with a violent patient or client; killed or injured from a fall or a scaffolding collapse; or living with an amputation caused by an unguarded machine.

Or the heartache of watching a loved one who literally can’t catch a breath because of work-related respiratory disease. Or is incapacitated by a serious musculoskeletal injury. Or has contracted hepatitis B or HIV because of exposure to a blood-borne pathogen at work.

I could go on—but you get the picture.

What the latest data tell us:

Workplace injury fatalities: In 2015, 4,836 U.S. workers died from work-related injuries, the highest number since 2008.

That’s about 13 people every day! In the United States!

The number of immigrant workers killed on the job reached a nearly 10-year high, with Latino workers having an 18% higher fatality rate than the national average. Work in construction, transportation, and agriculture continues to be the most dangerous, and workplace violence remains a growing problem for workers. Older workers are also at high risk, with those 65 or older 2.5 times more likely to die on the job.

Deaths from work-related illness: Deaths from work-related occupational disease (like silicosis, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (Black Lung), occupational cancer, etc) are not well-captured in data surveillance systems. It is estimated that another 50,000-60,000 died from occupational diseases—an astounding number. And, for many, their deaths come years after suffering debilitating and painful symptoms.

Non-fatal cases: And then there are the nonfatal injuries and illnesses. Employers reported approximately 2.9 million of them in private industry workers in 2015; another 752,600 injury and illness cases were reported among the approximately 18.4 million state and local government workers (1).

In addition to the physical and emotional toll these preventable incidents take on workers and their families, they exact an enormous economic cost. The societal cost of work-related fatalities, injuries, and illnesses was estimated at $250 billion in 2007 based on medical costs and productivity losses (2). I suspect these costs are well higher today (1). They are certainly not less.

Glass half empty, half full

Despite these data, it’s important to note that workplace health and safety in the U.S. is a LOT better than it used to be, due in large measure to the struggles of labor unions and working people, along with the efforts of federal and state agencies. Workplace fatalities and injuries have declined significantly, and exposures to toxic chemicals have been reduced.

This progress is a testament to the effectiveness of health and safety regulations and science-based research.

We can thank the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for many of these protections and safeguards. We must also acknowledge and thank the persistence, energy, and efforts of the workers, unions, researchers, and advocates that have pushed these agencies along the way.

[OSHA and NIOSH were established by Congress in 1970; the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was establishes in 1977 (although the first federal mine safety stature was passed in 1891). OSHA’s statutory mandate is “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” NIOSH was established as a research agency focused on the study of worker safety and health to empower employers and workers to create safe and healthy workplaces. MSHA works to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and to promote safe and healthful workplaces for U.S. miners.]

Despite this progress, there’s much more to be done. It’s simply not acceptable that each and every day in this country, on average 13 workers die on the job as a result of workplace injuries.

It’s not acceptable that each year, many thousands more die from occupational diseases. And that millions sustain non-life threatening injuries and illnesses that impact their daily lives.

The human, social, and economic toll is simply far too high. [Remember: this is all largely preventable.]

With the current anti-regulatory fervor and anti-science fervor in our nation’s capital, the protections, safeguards, science, and research of these agencies are at great risk. We have already seen the Trump Administration and congressional actions roll back some worker protections and block or delay others. Agency budgets and programs are on the chopping block.

Now, more than ever, we must be vigilant and vocal in our support for worker health and safety safeguards and protections.

So, as we get ready to head out to work today and tomorrow , let’s pause for a minute on Worker Memorial Day to remember those workers who have lost so much because of their jobs— along with those who continue to produce the goods and services we all enjoy, depend on, and often take for granted. And let’s get ready to use our voice, votes, and collective power to demand and defend rules, standards, policies, and science-based safeguards that protect this most precious national resource—our working men and women.

UCS will keep you posted on how and when you can weigh in. Let’s do this.

  1. AFL-CIO. Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect, 2017. Available at https://aflcio.org/reports/death-job-toll-neglect-2017
  2. Leigh JP. Economic burden of occupational injury and illness in the United States. Millbank Q 2011;89:728–72.
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A Peer Review of the March For Science http://blog.ucsusa.org/science-blogger/a-peer-review-of-the-march-for-science http://blog.ucsusa.org/science-blogger/a-peer-review-of-the-march-for-science#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:54:14 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50699 This past weekend, the March For Science drew hundreds of thousands of scientists and science supporters onto the streets in 600 locations on six continents. It was, by most accounts (including those of science historians), an unprecedented event. But big-picture speaking, how did it do?

“Pluses and deltas” is a popular retrospective exercise amongst grassroots organizers, and offers a constructive way to answer this question. It asks: where did we go right (pluses), and how can we improve (deltas)? Here are my top two pluses and deltas for the March For Science.

Plus #1: The March For Science mobilized the immobilizable. As a scientist-activist who has been organizing scientist-led campaigns and rallies under hashtags like #StandWithScience for several years, I know first hand how hard it can be to get introverted, politically-ambivalent scientists worked up—let alone out of their labs and into the streets. In that sense, last Saturday was incredible. “The march represented a sort of coming-out party for many scientists flexing a fledgling political muscle,” Vox’s Brian Resnick observed. In D.C. he met Charlotte Froese Fischer, an 87-year-old atomic physicist who “until today…had never attended a political rally of any kind, let alone one for science.” At March For Science rallies at Harvard and MIT, I was delighted to see not just the usual suspects, but hundreds of mildly uncomfortable academics who had clearly never waved a sign or chanted in public before (I’ve been there). For many, this was a gateway into political engagement and activism.

Plus #2: The March For Science forced many scientists—not to mention the public, press, and politicians—to grapple with the role of science in society and the relationship between science and politics. As scientists with little or no past experience in political engagement wrestled for the first time with the fear of politicizing science, the march went from officially apolitical to political-but-non-partisan. As my advisor, Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes, points out, research indicates that this fear is just that—a fear, unsubstantiated by historical evidence and peer-reviewed experiments, which show that scientists’ credibility is robust to science-advocacy. Indeed, scientists appear to have largely brought this fear upon themselves by conflating the idea of science in the abstract (the scientific method) with the application of science in the real world. In so doing, we handed journalists an irresistible ‘controversy’ over (mostly) semantics. And yet, with time, the march’s communications improved, and on the day, its global message was unambiguous: science serves society.

The march’s successes have helped normalize science-activism, injecting momentum and political potential into this new “science voter” bloc. Capitalizing on this momentum, however, will take work. For me, the deltas of the March For Science involve better embracing the sociopolitical realities in which science operates.

Delta #1: Having fumbled with the largely mythical fear of politicizing science, scientists must now truly move on if we are to become more effective campaigners and messengers. This means not just rallying in the abstract about the importance of science (“I love science!”), but speaking out on specific issues where science is being trampled on by politicians and policymakers. Climate change epitomizes this. At its best, the March For Science offered a profound statement of our values as scientists, which is a crucial start. But a truly effective narrative for social change also requires a story of “now”: a moment of crisis that challenges those values. By not explicitly articulating President Trump’s war on science (and, accordingly, on all of us) as one of the targets of our protest, the March left room for improvement.

Delta #2: Scientist-activists must embrace the intersectionality of science with politics, race, class, gender, corporatism, and so on. Here, I am referring not to diversity within academia, as exceptionally important and related as it is, but to how the science movement (comprising both scientists and science lovers) sees its place in the world. Unlike the scientific method, the science movement does not—and should never—exist in a bubble. We should embrace opportunities to connect science to real-world issues, both in what we say and who we collaborate with.

In my own field of energy and climate change, for example, we should talk about how last year alone, the solar industry hired more people than the coal industry employs in its entirety. We should talk about how fossil fuel pollution and climate change disproportionately harm and kill minorities and indigenous groups. In short, we should stand in solidarity with those whom our science strives to protect. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is politically effective; by building narratives of shared values, we can broaden our coalition and win the political story wars. The movement for a just and stable low-carbon future doesn’t stop at the laboratory’s edge, but for too many scientists, it still does.

At Saturday’s march, amidst the geeky signs and nerdy chants, Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr.—a leading figure in the climate movement and a VIP guest of the March For Science—was, he reports, a victim in broad daylight of a racist assault by D.C. police officers. “The deeply disappointing truth of this Earth Day case of racial profiling,” Yearwood observes, “was that none of my fellow science marchers stopped or took issue with what was happening. They didn’t question or pause to witness in a way that one would for a member of one’s community.” Of course, the inactions of those present do not represent all marchers or scientists. But in that random sampling—at that moment on that crosswalk—solidarity was absent.

This coming Saturday, April 29, the People’s Climate March offers an immediate opportunity for scientists and science supporters alike to build on the pluses of the March For Science, and to work on our collective deltas. In DC and 250 sister marches nationwide, hundreds of thousands of us will stand up for climate, jobs, and justice. It is an important first test. Can we find the moral courage to not only celebrate values like evidence-based policy, but put them into action on real-world issues like climate change? Are we willing to step out of our comfort zones to call out the Trump administration’s anti-science pandering to fossil fuel interests? Is this a moment, or a movement?


Originally posted on the MOBProd blog at https://www.mobprod.com/blog/2017/4/25/a-peer-review-of-the-march-for-science. 

Dr. Geoffrey Supran is a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at MIT and in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. He has a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from MIT. He has co-led several campaigns to mobilize scientists to engage in climate advocacy, including the fossil fuel divestment campaign at MIT, an open letter from academics urging Donald Trump to take climate action, and the #StandUpForScience rallies in San Francisco and Boston, which were the first major scientist protests against the Trump administration. He spoke at the Harvard March For Science.

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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President Trump’s Assault on the Antiquities Act Signals Trouble for National Parks and Monuments http://blog.ucsusa.org/adam-markham/president-trumps-assault-on-the-antiquities-act-signals-trouble-for-national-parks-and-monuments http://blog.ucsusa.org/adam-markham/president-trumps-assault-on-the-antiquities-act-signals-trouble-for-national-parks-and-monuments#respond Wed, 26 Apr 2017 19:38:31 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50689 Without the Antiquities Act, now under attack by the Trump administration as part of its strategy to roll-back environmental protections and open public lands to increased exploitation for coal, oil and minerals, we might never have had the benefit of the Grand Canyon, Olympic or Acadia national parks.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president of the United States the power to designate lands and waters for permanent protection. Almost every president since Teddy Roosevelt has used the Act to place extraordinary archaeological, historic and natural sites under protection and out of reach of commercial exploitation.

Many sites originally designated as national monuments were later upgraded by Congress to become national parks, including Bryce Canyon, Saguaro and Death Valley. In many cases in the past, the Antiquities Act allowed presidents to protect vital natural and cultural resources when congressional leaders, often compromised by their ties to special interests representing coal, oil, timber and mining industries, were reluctant or unwilling to act.

A new Executive Order signed by President Trump on April 26th, 2017 puts this important regulatory tool for conservation and historic preservation at risk. The clear intention of the Executive Order is to lay the groundwork for shrinking national monuments or rescinding their designation entirely, in order to open currently protected public lands for untrammeled growth in coal, oil and minerals extraction.

A clear intention to open public lands for coal and oil exploitation

The Executive Order requires the Secretary of the Interior to review all presidential designations since 1996 of national monuments over 100,000 acres in size. However, in the short-term it appears particularly aimed at reversing designations or reducing the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, which together comprise 3.23 million acres in Utah.

An attack on the Antiquities Act is an attack on all monuments and has huge implications for future presidents’ ability to protect important sites in the future.

President Trump announces the review of national monument designations, while Secretary Zinke and the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt look on. Photo: Department of the Interior

Remarkably, in its own press statement, the Department of the Interior (the federal agency responsible for managing and protecting our public lands) tips its hand and signals that it has no intention of undertaking a fair and independent review by describing Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears as the “bookends of modern Antiquities Act overreach”.

Secretary Zinke himself was quoted ridiculing “people in D.C. who have never been to an area, never grazed the land, fished the river, driven the trails, or looked locals in the eye, who are making the decisions and they have zero accountability to the impacted communities.”

But, in fact, national monument designations almost always derive from a local grassroots demand for greater protections, and usually only come after lengthy periods of community engagement and consultations.

A vital conservation tool in a changing environment

The Antiquities Act itself grew from years of pressure from archaeologists and those who were concerned about looting and damage to Ancestral Pueblo and other tribal sites in the Southwest. Over the years, its use has expanded to include natural sites on land and large marine ecosystems.

Presidents G. W. Bush and Barack Obama, for example, both designated important ocean areas as national monuments to safeguard marine productivity, fish spawning areas and fragile ecology. When President Obama announced the designation of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, he drew particular attention to the threat posed to this almost pristine area by climate change.

Conditions have changed since 1906. US population has more than tripled since then, urban and suburban growth has increased markedly and many of the archaeological and cultural sites that were once under threat mainly from looting and natural resource exploitation are now also vulnerable to climate change. UCS documented the climate threat in its 2014 report Landmarks at Risk and its 2016 report on climate threats to World Heritage sites, published with UNESCO and UNEP.

In his speech designating Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, President Obama cited the threat of climate change. Photo: James Watt/DOI/SeaPics

Tribal cultural resources under attack again

Ironically the attacks on tribal heritage that were behind the signing of the Antiquities Act in 1906 have come full circle with this new assault by the Trump administration more than a century later.

Five sovereign Tribes, all with ancestral ties to Bears Ears, including the Hopi and the Navajo Nation have formed the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to protect the monument. Bears Ears contains thousands of sacred and culturally important sites and many Native Americans continue to perform ceremonies and gather medicinal plants there. Bears Ears also contains thousands of archaeological sites, including, for example, the Lime Ridge Clovis site, providing evidence of occupation going back 11,000-13,000 years or longer.

Tourists who visit Bears Ears and other national park units in the Southwest, including World Heritage sites such as Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, are drawn not just to the incredible landscapes, but also to the extraordinary cliff houses, pit houses, pictographs and other Ancestral Pueblo remains.

Monuments provide local economic benefits

Tourism is an important economic driver around national parks and monuments. The National Park Service generated $34.9 billion in 2016 and supported 318,000 jobs. Bears Ears alone attracts more than 900,000 visitors annually, providing a very significant boost to the local communities.

A 2014 study of 17 national monuments by Headwaters Economics found that the local economies all expanded following the monument designation. Secretary Zinke seems to think that local communities are unhappy with national monuments, but a 2016 Colorado College poll showed that fully 80% of westerners oppose removing existing monument designations.

No president has ever tried to revoke a predecessor’s monument designation before, and if that is the direction this Administration is going in, we owe it to future generations to fight this action. The national monuments and parks of the United States tell the story of who we are and where we came from. They represent the diverse stories of Americans and help define us as a nation. An attack on national monuments is an attack on us all, and the histories we share.


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The Regulatory Accountability Act Subverts Science and Must Be Stopped http://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/the-regulatory-accountability-act-subverts-science-and-must-be-stopped http://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/the-regulatory-accountability-act-subverts-science-and-must-be-stopped#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 15:04:54 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50663 Today, just four days after hundreds of thousands of people marched for science, the Senate introduced a bill that would substitute politics for scientific judgment in every decision the government makes about public health and the environment. If enacted, the legislation would cripple the government’s ability to effectively carry out laws that protect us, putting everyone at more risk, especially communities of color and low-income communities that are more exposed to threats.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would prevent scientists at EPA, OSHA, and many other agencies from protecting public health and the environment. It must be stopped.

The ill-named Regulatory Accountability Act (House version here with coverage) does nothing more than stack the deck in favor of private companies at the public’s expense. It would paralyze agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, drowning them in red tape and compromising their public service missions. It is way more dangerous than other legislation that grabs headlines (such as the bill to eliminate the EPA) because, in this political environment, it actually has a chance.

Senators who support this legislation will be turning their backs on the role of science in making all kinds of decisions. Safety standards for the food we eat. Rules that protect construction workers on job sites. Limits on work hours of pilots and air traffic controllers. Protections for children from toys laden with harmful chemicals.

“This bill is a weapon aimed right at public health and safety protections,” said UCS’s Andrew Rosenberg in a statement. “This bill doesn’t support accountability—it removes accountability from the industries subject to regulation.”

The Regulatory Accountability Act is a bad idea. It is also not a new idea. The legislation was introduced in the last Congress, and the Congress before that. In 2015, my former colleague Celia Wexler called the Regulatory Accountability Act a “zombie bill,” legislation that has failed repeatedly in the past but keeps getting resurrected. She continued:

This bill is deliberately complicated. You have to be a regulatory lawyer to perceive all the traps, and even then you might miss some. Essentially what the RAA would do is hamstring federal agencies with additional procedural burdens when they try to carry out their mandates using the best available science.

The latest iteration of this legislation is no different. But now, it is more likely to pass and be signed into law by an administration that is committed to the “deconstruction of the administrative state” and the rolling back of public health, consumer, and environmental protections.

The Regulatory Accountability Act eviscerates the role of science in policymaking. Science, not politics, should guide decisions about public health and the environment.

We do not live in a world where you can give people forty acres of farmland, wish them luck, and send them on their way. Our world is incredibly and increasingly complex. We must rely on experts to set standards that give us equal ability to pursue our dreams.

Freedom includes protection from products and environmental contaminants that can cause us harm. Freedom includes requiring companies to pay for the pollution they create without passing the burden on to the taxpayer. We empower federal agencies to make decisions based on independent analysis and not political dealmaking precisely because it gives us these freedoms.

The Regulatory Accountability Act was rushed through the House of Representatives before the dozens of newly-elected representatives had hired staff to even read it. The Senate version offers little improvement. The current political reality requires us to fight like hell to defeat legislation that would normally be laughed out of Congress.

But fight like hell we must. A committee hearing is expected soon. So today, and every day, call both of your senators and tell them that the Regulatory Accountability Act is bad for all of us.

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Arbor Day and Agroforestry: Green Infrastructure for Agriculture http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrea-basche/arbor-day-and-agroforestry-green-infrastructure-for-agriculture http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrea-basche/arbor-day-and-agroforestry-green-infrastructure-for-agriculture#respond Wed, 26 Apr 2017 13:52:36 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50594 Growing up I remember looking forward to Arbor Day as a time when we celebrated planting trees in school, a tradition I came to enjoy in April. As an adult—and as an agricultural scientist interested in how we diversify farms—Arbor Day is an opportune reminder of the benefits that trees and crops have when used together (much more than turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, which was the major selling point I learned as a kid). This has an official name: agroforestry. In the spirit of Arbor Day, I want to celebrate the diverse benefits of agroforestry, and share more about how we might increase trees in agricultural settings.

An illustration of the multiple benefits offered by diverse agroforestry systems. Source: USDA National Agroforestry Center. Illustrator: Gary Bentrup/CC-BY-2.0.

Green infrastructure for agriculture

Green infrastructure is something that we often hear about in the urban context as a way to reduce stormwater and increase green spaces through things like increased permeable surfaces and plant vegetation. Outside of the urban environment, agricultural regions can similarly benefit from using trees as green infrastructure, or more green living cover on farms. Agroforestry itself is not a monolith, but rather the term encompasses a diverse set of crop and tree arrangements offering many environmental benefits, including:

Ginseng grows in the understory of trees, an example of forest farming. Source: USDA National Agroforestry Center

  • Windbreaks are rows of trees used primarily to reduce winds and in turn protect people, plants and animals. Windbreaks can increase crop yields, control erosion, lessen snowdrift, shelter pollinators or reduce odors.
  • Forest farming is the practice of growing specialty crops under a forest canopy (ginseng and ramps are examples). This requires managing forests to assure that the right amount of shade is provided for understory crops to thrive.
  • Riparian forest buffers are intentionally designed regions with trees, shrubs, and/or other perennial plants near rivers, often for water quality and quantity management.
  • Alley cropping is mixing crops with trees that can be harvested (nuts, fruits, timber, etc.).
  • Silvopasture is the combination of trees and grazing lands. Trees in this setting can provide shelter for livestock, and when properly managed, can benefit the plants growing underneath (they might even be used for additional income, depending on the varieties selected).

Experts suggest that maximizing the benefit of agroforestry is really a matter of finding the right tree for the right purpose, and there are lots of things that trees can help achieve. Agroforestry is known to promote aspects of climate mitigation, through additional carbon stored in trees and soil. It can also promote climate adaptation, including reducing the impacts of heavy rainfall events (by decreasing stormwater runoff through increasing water infiltration and intercepting peak flows). Other benefits of agroforestry include creating corridors for wildlife as well as educational environments to reconnect communities with agricultural production.

Another aspect of agroforestry infrastructure that’s green: dollars! There are many diversified business prospects afforded by agroforestry. In the case of shiitake mushroom cultivation, orchards for beginner farmers, or Native tribes reconnecting indigenous knowledge of diverse agriculture to support local food production, agroforestry can offer opportunities for beginning or underserved farmers to break into agriculture.

Trees might not solve all problems (in fact, trees can be invasive and lead to more problems) so it is important to think first about landowner goals, and then select the most appropriate orientation and species to help achieve them.

How we can help make agroforestry grow

The million-dollar question with environmentally friendly agriculture is why don’t we see more of it? With agroforestry, it’s not just as simple as planting a tree.

Livestock graze on a silvopasture field in Florida. Photo source: USDA National Agroforestry Center, Jim Robinson USDA-NRCS.

Trees require a longer time frame for landowners to plan around compared to crops. So, it’s more complicated than buying seed for one season and harvesting it several months later. A survey of landowners and agricultural professionals in the Southeast found that competing demands (such as for time or finances) with other aspects of crop and livestock operations was a major obstacle to agroforestry. Another hurdle identified was a lack of familiarity with the practice as well as limited demonstration fields. More research could help overcome these obstacles.

At the Union of Concerned Scientists we’re working to increase the public research dollars that go to practices such as agroforestry. For example, our recent analysis found that the overall portion of USDA competitive grant dollars going to projects that including any element of agroecology was less than 15%, with only a tiny fraction of this (less than 1%) going to projects that investigated agroforestry. Small investments in research can support those hoping to generate economic opportunities through practices such as agroforestry, and we will continue to work for a greater portion of the pie for this type of research.

We can call the idea of agroforestry as green infrastructure lots of things: productive conservation, ecobelts or even ecological buffers. Regardless, there’s no getting around the benefits of trees and crops combined. Trees don’t have to be just for ornamentation. They can work for us for in many ways, especially with agriculture.

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What Will It Take for Automakers to Meet California’s EV Requirements? Not as Much as You Might Think. http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/what-will-it-take-for-automakers-to-meet-californias-ev-requirements-not-as-much-as-you-might-think http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/what-will-it-take-for-automakers-to-meet-californias-ev-requirements-not-as-much-as-you-might-think#respond Wed, 26 Apr 2017 13:28:25 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50607 California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) regulation has been instrumental in catalyzing the EV market, and has also long been a source of complaint for automakers.

When the ZEV rule covering the 2018 through 2025 time period was initially adopted in 2012, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) estimated it would require over 15 percent of new cars in 2025 to be electric drive vehicles – a figure still cited in media stories about the rules. However, that number is no longer accurate.

The ZEV program will require less than 8 percent EV sales by 2025 and recent sales figures show that several automakers are already well on their way to meeting this target in California.

Last month, the ZEV regulation, along with the rest of California’s Advanced Clean Cars program was reevaluated to check whether this standard was still achievable through 2025. As part of the Advanced Clean Cars review, the CARB updated its estimate of the ZEV sales required to meet the regulation. The state now estimates that the ZEV standards would require new EV sales in 2025 to be less than 8 percent, roughly half of the previous estimate of 15 percent.

The reduction in the estimated effect of the standard is primarily due to two factors: the range of EVs has increased far faster than anticipated (increasing the ZEV credits earned per vehicle), and the current stockpile of ZEV credits from early compliance with the regulation which can be used in place of future ZEV sales.

The unanimous decision of the board was to continue the current regulations through 2025, due to the progress that automakers have already made in selling EVs and also the dramatic improvements in EV technologies that have occurred over the last five years. For example, General Motors last year’s EV sales in California reached 7 percent, well in excess of the current ZEV rules requirements and has increased the range of its battery electric car from 82 miles to well over 200 miles.

The updated estimates of the ZEV regulation’s requirements in California are much lower than initially thought. Several automakers are selling significantly more EVs in California than the rule requires. Note: not all BMW EV models are certified as ZEV-compliant vehicles.

EV leaders hit new highs in 2016

EV sales in California increased 18 percent from 2015 and 3.5 percent of all new cars in the state were plug-in electric, up from 3.1 percent last year.

But the story is more impressive when you consider several major automakers were absent from the market in 2016.  If we exclude the 2 major automakers without a plug-in EV in 2016 (Honda and Toyota), EV sales would have exceeded 5 percent of new car sales in California.


Several automakers were well above 5% EV sales in California in 2016. Tesla not shown, as 100% of its sales are electric. Data source: California New Car Dealers Association, IHS Markit

BMW remained the leader in California (excluding Tesla), nearing 9 percent of all cars having the ability to be plugged in. General Motors (GM) was clearly ahead out of the Big Three domestic automakers at 7 percent EV sales. However, that includes brands such as GMC, Buick, and Cadillac that have no EV models available (excluding the discontinued Cadillac ELR).

If you look only at GM’s main Chevrolet brand, almost 1 in 10 new Chevys sold in California were EVs. With the addition of the long-range Bolt EV for 2017 as well as a new Cadillac plug-in hybrid, GM is poised to continue to be an EV leader in California.


Leading EV brands in California. Data source: California New Car Dealers Association, IHS Markit

Some of the laggards starting to turn around (though not all)

Some of the companies that we identified as laggards in our last evaluation of the EV market are starting to show signs of making more effort in the building and selling EVs.

Hyundai/Kia moved to over 1 percent EV sales in 2016 and is adding new plug-in models to its line up in 2017. Toyota sold low volumes of the Mirai fuel cell electric in 2016 in part due to delays in hydrogen refueling station deployment. However, Toyota now has one of the top selling plug-in hybrids with the Prius Prime.

Fiat Chrysler has long been a critic of electric vehicles, but soon will sell the first plug-in minivan, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.  Honda remains in last place, selling 6 fuel cell electrics in 2016 while delivering 287,526 gasoline cars in the state. They are planning on bringing battery electric and plug-in hybrid versions of their Clarity sedan to market in 2017, though Honda’s new battery electric is expected to have only 80-mile range, which could limit its competitiveness given the number of similar vehicles with higher range already on the market.


These major automakers sold over 850,000 cars in California last year, but just over 3,000 ZEVs. Data source: California New Car Dealers Association, IHS Markit

Automakers are demonstrating they can meet 2025 ZEV targets

The California Air Resources Board affirmed its ZEV regulations, citing ample evidence that automakers can achieve the 2025 target. The data supports that decision, as automakers that have developed and marketed EVs in California are already selling these cars in volumes in excess of the ZEV current requirements and are well poised to get to 8 percent sales by 2025.  These same automakers have paved the way for their industry counterparts who have been slower to step up their efforts.

In the other states that have the ZEV program, fewer vehicle models have been available to consumers and automaker efforts have lagged, but there is ample time (8 years) to bring more effort to these states. Additionally, they are not starting from scratch.  More than 25 ZEV models are being produced by automakers today, and that number is expected to reach 70 in the next 5 years.  These vehicles need to be brought to states outside of California and marketed to consumers. In addition, incentive programs in East Coast states have been expanding, like the recently announced program in New York state.

If major automakers don’t step-up in the ZEV market, they may end up paying Tesla (or other EV manufacturers) to do it for them.  Tesla isn’t subject to the ZEV program requirements because the rules only apply to large automakers who sell conventionally-powered vehicles. But Tesla can generate credits and sell those to other manufacturers who choose not to sell ZEVs. Tesla’s success puts more ZEV credits on the market – making the 8 sales percent target even easier to meet.

So let’s be clear. There is no 15 percent sales requirement for EVs in California or any other state.  California’s recently reaffirmed Zero Emission Vehicle will require less than 8 percent new EV sales by 2025 – a target that automakers are already demonstrating is within striking distance.


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White House Attacks on ARPA-E Endanger US Energy Innovation http://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/attacks-on-arpa-e http://blog.ucsusa.org/guest-commentary/attacks-on-arpa-e#respond Tue, 25 Apr 2017 19:12:19 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=50651 The America First Budget Blueprint released by the White House last month proposes to eliminate the Advanced Research Project Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) of the US Department of Energy. The only reason given is that “the private sector is better positioned to advance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”

My reaction:  They’re kidding, right?

No, this is a serious threat. According to recent news stories and my own reliable sources, the White House is now preventing ARPA-E from spending money that Congress appropriated to ARPA-E in earlier federal budgets.

These moves could quickly kill ARPA-E, an energy innovation agency that is effectively applying methods developed by DARPA (the Defense Department’s ARPA) over its 50 years of success in disruptive technology research and development.

The White House rationale for cutting ARPA-E is simply wrong. I was a Program Director (PD) at the Agency for three years. I know firsthand that the technologies we funded would not have had a prayer of attracting private sector funding at the early stage we supported them.

This blog explains a bit about ARPA-E. In the indented passages I describe a few of my own experiences fostering energy innovation during my term at ARPA-E.

Every ARPA-E project builds on an innovative idea that has the potential, if successful, to transform the way energy is generated, transformed, stored, used or transported. Huge markets await.

So why wouldn’t the private sector foot the bill for the research, as the White House suggests?

The reason is that every market sector starts with many competitive ideas, but only a few will deliver in the end. ARPA-E funds teams to make first prototype of disruptive commercial products. These first few years of directed work help winnow the field to those ideas that have a chance of market success.

ARPA-E is similar to DARPA in its willingness to fund high risk projects with huge potential rewards: DARPA has certainly funded a lot of risky projects that did not go big. But DARPA also launched the Internet, GPS, stealth technology and drones, to name a few of their biggest successes. We will not know for a few more years which ARPA‑E project will make such big impacts.

However, even a successful ARPA-E project may take 5 to 15 years to reach profitability. Venture capitalists and corporate vice-presidents represent impatient capital and will only invest if they have high confidence that there is a big pot of gold at the end of such a long rainbow.

In short, when ARPA-E invests, the projects are too risky for the private sector to fund. For a team with an early-stage idea, reaching technical and market success is like doing a complicated jigsaw blindfolded while riding a horse. The team must fit many puzzle pieces together, though the shape and number of all those pieces is not even known.

ARPA-E funds a portfolio of project teams so that each can attack the most scientifically risky pieces of their own puzzle, while defining and sorting as many other pieces as possible. At that point, the private sector might consider investing.

Having reluctantly left behind my life in Colorado, I arrived at ARPA-E in 2012 with a sense of urgency.  My three-year term in DC meant I had to move quickly to help launch a few great energy technologies.

By my third day at the Agency, over 4000 short Concept Papers arrived in response to the 2012 OPEN solicitation, with about half on deadline day. Teams from academia, industry and national labs proposed to transform every corner of the energy landscape, from transportation fuels to industrial efficiency, and from carbon capture to fusion reactors. 

I was one of four lead Program Directors, with about two months to choose which submissions should be encouraged to submit a full proposal. The numbers and breadth were terrifying. Some concepts were obviously crazy, but most needed serious consideration.

Assisted by an eager technical staff and a fleet of reviewers from the scientific community, we battled a decided lack of sleep to sort, study, devise algorithms to get at reviewers’ wisdom, debate and finally decide. We searched for very original concepts that didn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics or known facts, favored ideas that had not been heavily investigated by the scientific community, and sought advances with potential to make huge impact if successful. We winnowed the piles to those proposals that had at least one extremely enthusiastic reader.

Finally, each PD made the hard decisions in their own assigned area. This was not a committee consensus exercise although we were empowered to teach, debate and challenge each other. Many cups of coffee later, we defended our selections to ARPA-E’s leadership and invited full proposals from the survivors. 

Program Directors are accomplished scientists and engineers who usually have both academic and industry experience. Based on the DARPA model, ARPA-E PDs have considerable independence and autonomy, tempered by a healthy culture of challenge and review based on technical arguments. Three-to-four year term limits mean PDs have no time for building empires.

I joined an ARPA-E staff that is technically superb and committed to getting big things done. I was amazed at how well ARPA-E culture promoted innovation, risk-taking and big-picture thinking about the energy future. PD autonomy avoids compromise to the least risky option and lets wild and transformative, but plausible, ideas get funding.

Aside from the OPEN solicitations, PDs are empowered to imagine the future and create focused Programs (with a capital “P”) that fund 10 to 20 teams to address a specific energy technology need with transformative new concepts. Proposing teams must meet challenging metrics; rigorous technoeconomic analysis at ARPA-E suggests that these metrics would open up new energy-related markets and create new industries. Good Programs often require interdisciplinary collaboration to attack an applied problem. This breaks down the artificial separations among scientific disciplines and often creates new scientific subfields.

About six months after I got to ARPA-E we completed all our expert review panels and selected our OPEN 2012 awardees. The 66 winning teams received an average of about $2 million to pursue their dreams.

All the funded teams seemed enthusiastic and capable. Some of the winners had identified how the newest technical advances could revive a long-abandoned approach to a key energy problem. Others had a lab result that suggested a completely new technological opportunity. Most winners were selected despite bad marks from at least one reviewer who was quite certain the novel approach would never work.

Some OPEN 2012 projects would be cut in their first year for lack of performance. Others would go on to start new funded companies, revolutionize fields and launch new industries.  I spent the next two years traveling the country to manage and support the teams I had selected. I became their head cheerleader and harshest critic.  I had to decide whether or not they had reached their array of technical and technology-to-market milestones—and whether the project should continue to receive our funding.

The most successful one-fifth of ARPA-E’s projects have already attracted private sector funds after reaching their first technical triumphs. Together, these 74 projects have raised $1.8 billion in private funding and launched at least 56 new advanced technology startup companies. That first $1.8 billion is more than the total funding ARPA-E has given away in its seven years of existence.

These startups are already selling new products, creating jobs and ensuring U.S. technical dominance in the world’s energy marketplace. These successes are what the National Academy of Sciences hoped for when it recommended formation of ARPA-E and why President George W. Bush authorized the agency in 2007 with robust bipartisan support in Congress.

I wouldn’t trade my years at ARPA-E for anything. I had the privilege of studying both details and the big picture. I learned from some of the smartest minds in U.S. energy innovation. I saw technologies that make me confident in our ability to face the challenge of providing the energy people need without raising global temperatures or destabilizing the climate system. 

The Paris Climate Agreement shows that the world is acting on the established climate science by deploying new energy technologies. The pressure for an improved global energy system based upon low-carbon technologies will not abate and energy will continue to be one of the world’s biggest industries. To succeed, we must deploy the low carbon technologies we already have and invest in transformative technologies that will minimize the cost of remaking our energy system.

Our country faces a critical choice: Defy the White House and fund U.S. ingenuity through ARPA-E or let our global leadership in advanced energy technology slip away.

Photo: Energy.gov
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