Union of Concerned ScientistsUnion of Concerned Scientists http://blog.ucsusa.org a blog on independent science + practical solutions Tue, 17 Jan 2017 22:21:31 +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 This is Our Moment: Time to Amplify the Energy of the Food Movement http://blog.ucsusa.org/ricardo-salvador/this-is-our-moment-time-to-amplify-the-energy-of-the-food-movement http://blog.ucsusa.org/ricardo-salvador/this-is-our-moment-time-to-amplify-the-energy-of-the-food-movement#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 22:21:31 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48095 The nomination of our nation’s new Secretary of Agriculture is imminent—likely to occur over the three days prior to Friday’s inauguration, according to Vice-President-elect Mike Pence. As my colleague Nora Gilbert and I recently wrote, we’ll soon know whether the new administration will use this key position to support the rural and farming population that was so instrumental in placing them in power.

As my colleague Karen Stillerman has meticulously documented, however, we can tell a great deal about the new administration’s intentions from Mr. Trump’s choices for other cabinet and diplomatic positions. In brief, we can expect strong support for export-oriented commodity production, rollback of environmental regulations and the undermining of workers’ rights and wages. If these expectations come true they will work directly against the interests of most farmers and rural citizens—and against key pillars of the “good food” movement, which is working for a more healthful, equitable, and sustainable food system.

Before concluding that under such a scenario—the lack of official federal support—the movement for a better food system for all will stall for at least four years, it is well to take a sober look at the current moment in good food matters.

The 2016 general election was good for the good food movement. This isn’t happy talk. While it is true that food and agriculture issues weren’t part of the official electoral discourse, there were victories for key local building blocks of a better food system. It wasn’t just that voters in four cities approved a tax on soda (joined soon thereafter by Cook County, Illinois.) An Oklahoma initiative that sought to protect animal factory farms from regulation was defeated. And four states voted to raise their minimum wage above the anemic $7.25 per hour federal standard.

These are not trivial achievements. More than 2 million low-wage workers stand to benefit from the successful poverty-fighting ballot initiatives of Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington. The Oklahoma Farm Bureau and livestock interest groups spent $1 million in their cynical effort to permanently exempt themselves from environmental responsibility in that state. The powerful American Beverage Association spent $38 million to fight the soda initiatives. These formidable forces are not shadow boxing.

Which brings us to the major reason good food advocates should be encouraged. Many things can be said about this election, but these developments make clear that a bright line has been drawn between the interests of a narrow fringe of agribusiness and the broader interests of the nation, including most its farmers. Most importantly, given the dynamics of this election—ostensibly to overturn entrenched business interests in Washington and reverse growing economic inequality—it is a contest that is too far gone for those narrow agribusiness interests to win. Even if they are ushered directly into leadership of the Department of Agriculture.

How do we know this? The only sector of the food business that is growing is good food, as processors, retailers and restaurateurs know full well because they are scrambling to keep pace with this customer-led trend. That, in turn, is but one indicator of a larger shift in the nation’s food culture.

Americans have become keenly interested in food as a way to improve health, local economies, farmer wellbeing and justice for food workers. Witness: Breakfast cereal sales have been declining for a decade. Soda sales are at a 30-year low. Red-meat consumption has plummeted for four decades. For the first time in a decade, annual obesity rates declined in four states. Local food sales grew to at least $12 billion in 2014 (from $5 billion in 2008), and some estimates indicate these could reach $20 billion by 2019. In 2013-2014, schools purchased almost $800 in local food, benefiting both regional economies and more than 23 million children in over 42,000 schools. Such innovations can only be successful with the full support of school administrators and parent associations.

Additionally, Americans are actively seeking ways to support farmers directly. Over 8,600 farmers markets are now set up regularly in the United States, and almost 1,400 farms are listed as offering direct on-farm sales. More than 700 community-supported agriculture schemes have registered with the Department of Agriculture’s directory. Crucially, citizens have understood and are supporting cross-cutting measures to link food purchasing with the wellbeing of farmers, workers, and the environment. This is what the groundbreaking Good Food Purchasing Program enables (the program has been adopted thus far in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, and is soon to come to other major American cities.) 215 food policy councils around the country pursue similar goals, as do state food charters adopted by Michigan and Minnesota.

So, when the new administration’s agricultural advisors purport to speak for “American agriculture” and say that they know better than their clients what the direction of the food system is, they are clearly out of step with both market dynamics and the nation’s food culture. The truth is that, at best, they are speaking about the interests of just 4 percent of the farming population: those who operate at a scale (annual sales of $1 million or more) that can engage with global, export-oriented agribusiness markets. These large industrial operations have little in common with the vast majority of US farms, which numbered about 2.1 million in 2012.

This should be important for the new administration, because the rural and farming population that has supported them will rightfully expect federal policies that are equitable and favor most farmers, not just a sliver of already wealthy and politically entrenched agribusiness interests.

Which brings us to the major reason for hope, and a concrete agenda for the next four years of the food movement. Clearly, the nation’s food system innovations are springing from communities and state and local governance, bottom-up, and in largely non-partisan manner. While leadership from the federal level would be welcome, the trend to redirect the food system toward good food has taken hold and is driving the commercial food sector to restructure. We can tell change is real when the largest companies in the sector are investing serious resources to transform their value chains to meet customer demand. The good food movement must continue applying its pressure and leading this fast-paced local and regional work in pursuit of the socially equalizing agenda for more healthful, sustainable, fair, affordable and humane food production.

Meanwhile, if the incoming federal administration is to make good on the expectations it has created among its supporters, it must reconcile crucial inconsistencies between its outright divisive and violent campaign rhetoric and the actual interests of its major supporters. Foremost among these are:

  • Policies that benefit most the nation’s farmers, of all scales, ethnicities and genders, by supporting fair prices and reinvestment in rural economies and infrastructure;
  • Comprehensive immigration reform, including ending wage inequality and worker safety exemptions. Otherwise, these amount to sanctioned labor exploitation, leading directly to poverty and hunger in the midst of one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Without this labor, farms will not work—and no one understands this better than the nation’s farmers;
  • Investment in research, extension and education for regenerative agricultural practices, the kind that reward farm management skills and result in higher profit margins for farmers. Public investment in this area of agricultural science is essential because the private sector is not motivated to develop knowledge that doesn’t result in products (like pesticides and synthetic fertilizers) that can be sold year on year. And studies have shown that each dollar invested in agricultural research returns $10 benefit to the economy.
  • Increasing the minimum wage to enable food workers and other marginalized members of the working class—disproportionately people of color—to afford fair prices for food and to thrive as full-fledged contributors in a healthy economy.

A constant throughout the swirls and eddies of American history and progress has been the persistence and dedication of citizens to lead at the grassroots level—at the frontline of school boards, city councils, county boards, state legislatures and through their entrepreneurial innovation—to develop, test and apply the better ideas that work for everyone. It remains to be seen if the new federal administration will follow through on its promises of creating new jobs and a vibrant economy for those left behind by globalization and economic elitism, for farmers, rural citizens and the working class, but if they do, they will merely be following the shifting food culture. The food movement has risen, it is made up of everyone who eats and wants a better tomorrow, it is already reshaping the food business, and it is a force that cannot be stopped—unless we become dispirited. As my colleagues Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Olivier De Schutter and I argue, a moment of truth for the food movement has arrived. We must continue working for what we want, yet amplify the momentum of the food movement by forming common cause with others who will fight for a better world for us all. What could make the nation greater than that?

Photo: Michael Fleshman/CC-BY-NC-2.0, Flickr
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#dieselgate, pt. II: Sergio’s Revenge http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/dieselgate-pt-ii-sergios-revenge http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/dieselgate-pt-ii-sergios-revenge#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 20:31:51 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48077 Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) violated the Clean Air Act with sales of Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles powered by diesel engines.  This falls on the heels of the Volkswagen (VW) diesel scandal.  The engine at question is FCA’s 3.0-liter “EcoDiesel”—which could turn out to be anything but.

What the allegations say

Since this is an ongoing investigation, there are still a number of unanswered questions.  Here is what EPA has alleged:

  • Fiat-Chrysler did not disclose to EPA that certain software affects the operation of the emissions controls devices found in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
  • The software in question shuts off operation of the emissions control device. While this is allowed in extreme cases to protect the reliability and durability of the controls, EPA found numerous operating conditions that would fall into the category of “normal operation and use” and would therefore not be an allowable exception.
  • Taken together, these have the effect of a defeat device—this means that FCA could be liable for cheating federal emissions regulations and emitting smog-forming pollution well above the legal limit.

For his part, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FCA, says that “there was zero intent on our side” to cheat on emissions regulations, calling such an idea “unadulterated hogwash” and noting that there’s “nothing in common between the VW reality and what we are describing here.”

According to the EPA, Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees powered by the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine contain software that may behave as a defeat device, releasing tons of excess smog-forming pollution that impacts public health. (Images courtesy of Motor Trend)

According to the EPA, Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees powered by the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine contain software that may behave as a defeat device, releasing tons of excess smog-forming pollution that negatively impacts public health. (Images courtesy of Motor Trend: Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500)

How does the sequel compare to the original?

FCA is correct to note that this is not quite the same thing as what VW did—in the case of VW, the software was explicitly tuned to alter operations dependent solely upon whether or not the vehicle was undergoing a test procedure.  The software at question in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee is more subtle—the emissions control devices remain fully operational during lab tests and are turned off during some typical on-road driving situations, but at question is whether or not these situations are narrow enough to fall within the exceptions allowed to protect the durability and reliability of the engine and its emissions control systems.  Because the types of situations are so broadly typical of routine driving behavior, these undisclosed shutdown modes were enough to raise a few eyebrows, particularly when considered in tandem.

How do the emissions controls work in the 2014-2016 EcoDiesel Jeep/Ram trucks?

The emissions control system in the Jeep/Ram trucks relies upon two separate systems working together to reduce formation of nitrogen oxides (NOx), one of the key ingredients in the formation of smog: exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), which recirculates exhaust gas back into the engine to reduce the formation of NOx; and selective catalytic reduction (SCR), which activates a fluid which reacts to chemically reduce NOx after its formed.

When one of those systems is turned off, the other can often compensate for a short amount of time.  For reasons related to durability of the engine and/or the controls system, there are narrow operating conditions where such shut-off is allowed.  However, such operation must be disclosed to EPA (which EPA alleges FCA did not do), and it must fall within a narrow band of operating conditions.  Key here is that there were a number of situations identified by EPA where both systems would be simultaneously either turned off or reduced in effectiveness—this means that the emissions system would be compromised, regularly emitting excess NOx emissions during normal vehicle operation and use.  Such conditions would not be generated when the vehicle was tested for emissions, which is another part of the reason this would have the effect of a “defeat device”.

In addition to the EPA allegations, a lawsuit was filed against FCA in December for the same vehicles by consumers who bought these vehicles in part because of the “Eco” and “clean diesel” marketing around them.  Accompanying that lawsuit was data from on-road emissions tests which showed average emissions of around 4-5 times the legal limit measured during real-world driving of a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, with spikes in NOx as high as 40 times the certified level.

What are the potential health and emissions impacts?

Because of the shortage of details, it is impossible to know the full impact this scandal will have on emissions and public health.  Still, there are a few reasons why the problem here is likely not as severe as the VW scandal.

The affected vehicles by this allegation have only been available since model year (MY) 2014, which means regulators can address this problem much more quickly than the VW scandal, minimizing the impact they have on the environment.  The average vehicle identified here is likely to have traveled just half the mileage of those affected in the VW scandal, on average.  Perhaps most importantly, it also appears that the levels of excess emissions generated by the vehicles in question are likely significantly less than many of those included in the VW scandal—the data provided in the lawsuit shows that excess emissions from these vehicles could be around one-third that of the VW diesel cars, at the tailpipe.  And in total, the MY2014-2016 EcoDiesel Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee amount to about one-fifth the sales of the VW diesels covered under “dieselgate”.  Taken all together, the impact from this could thus be roughly a few percent that of the Volkswagen scandal.

While that may not sound like a lot, these software cheats could have helped contribute to at least a handful of premature deaths and increased hospitalizations from air pollution-related cardiovascular distress.  Aside from the significant damage to public health and the environment, cleaning up this mess will also likely require tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in remediation—hopefully payable by FCA and not the taxpayer.

Is there any good news on the horizon?

Another scandal like this is obviously terrible for the American people, especially those near congested roadways.  It is also not great for automakers looking to more efficient diesel engines to meet vehicle efficiency regulations set out to 2025.

Like the VW problem, this scandal will not be easy to fix.  While FCA believes it can address the issue solely via software updates and has offered to do so, VW said the same thing about its 3.0L diesel engines, and we are still waiting for an approved fix for those vehicles.

EPA is rightly utilizing more real-world emissions testing to complement its lab tests, and similarly subtle emissions violations by other automakers could yet be uncovered.  Given how complex and nuanced this investigation’s outcomes, it is possible there could be additional inquiries into other manufacturers—Mercedes, for example, has already been under investigation for similar software.

With the next administration getting ready to take office, it will be important that EPA continue to protect the public health and well-being of the American public by remaining vigilant against automakers, maintaining a level playing field where all are held equally accountable for their actions.

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Rick Perry and the “Texas Approach” to Renewable Energy and Infrastructure http://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/rick-perry-renewable-energy-infrasturcture http://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/rick-perry-renewable-energy-infrasturcture#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 19:41:53 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48076 Rick Perry—Trump’s pick for the Department of Energy—saw how infrastructure can impact energy development when he was governor of Texas.

Texas has a history of success producing energy. Two keys to this success have been infrastructure and markets, which served to make Texas the leading state for wind energy development.

Every energy supply needs infrastructure. Texas has always had a “pro-competition” approach to ensure adequate infrastructure so new electric energy supplies could compete in the market. The approach played out big for windpower, at the direction of the Texas legislature.  In 2005, the legislature set out a framework for “competitive renewable energy zones” designed to provide infrastructure for increased renewable energy expansion.

How does this work?

The process worked this way: First, estimates were made of energy production, costs and benefits. Then Texas required commitments of private development interest. At the time, renewable energy in Texas weighed in at 3,000 MW. (A single nuclear plant is about 1,000 MW.) Today, Texas has 18,000 MW of wind and 5,000 MW under construction. The infrastructure made all the difference.

How well does this work?

Texas has 3x more wind energy production than the next most successful state, Iowa. This is in large part thanks to transmission, which is as necessary for windfarms as a road to market is needed for any farm produce.

So, the “Texas approach” could be a great model for the United States more generally. In fact, a collaboration of utilities has described a transmission plan for the eastern United States.

And what about gas pipelines?

Gas fields don’t deliver gas to markets. Gas pipelines are needed for that, too. When the gas industry started to expand in the US with fractured shale developments, they put out a forecast of pipeline expenses that would be needed. The cost for the gas infrastructure in their plans was much more than what has been described as the transmission expansion cost needed for wind.

The numbers look like a 10-fold increase in renewable energy would require less money for transmission than the cost of pipelines for a doubling of natural gas use.

Energy development is something Texas understands. The electric companies are not required to keeping buying more windpower, but they do. The old power plants are not shielded from competition, so when the cost of electricity from wind can beat coal or natural gas, the electric companies buy what is less expensive. Now that solar panel prices have fallen so much, the grid operator in Texas is predicting that solar farms will be built much, much more quickly than new natural gas-burning power plants.

These are the lessons of Texas infrastructure during the Rick Perry years. Now, will Rick Perry bring this approach to the Department of Energy and make transmission a priority?

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No President Should Have Absolute Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons http://blog.ucsusa.org/david-wright/presidential-nuclear-authority http://blog.ucsusa.org/david-wright/presidential-nuclear-authority#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 16:42:55 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48037 After Donald Trump takes the oath of office later this week, he will be given the codes that allow him to order the launch of nuclear weapons.

At that point, Mr. Trump will inherit a deeply flawed system: one that gives sole and absolute authority to the president to launch US nuclear weapons—and that can put extreme time pressure on him to make that decision.

Minunteman III missile (Source: Dept. of Defense)

Minunteman III missile (Source: Dept. of Defense)

One of the narratives that arose during the presidential campaign was that a Trump finger on the nuclear button would increase the risk of nuclear war because he is seen as impulsive and unpredictable.

Whatever the merits of those arguments, the public seemed shocked to learn that the US president has the authority to decide—on his or her own, for whatever reason—to launch nuclear weapons, and that no one has the authority to veto that decision. There are military and political experts in advisory roles, but the final authority rests just with the president.

It’s time to change that policy. The reasons behind it are now outdated.

On at least one occasion White House officials were worried enough about the mental state of the president that they tried to insert roadblocks in the way of a potential launch decision.

That was in 1974, late in the Nixon administration. US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger grew concerned that President Nixon still had control of US nuclear weapons despite the fact that the Watergate crisis had rendered him depressed, emotionally unstable, and drinking heavily. Schlesinger instructed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to route “any emergency order coming from the president”—such as a nuclear launch order—through him first.

Why are things set up this way?

The main reason for giving the president launch authority was the concern that a decision to launch a nuclear strike might need to be made very quickly.

During the Cold War, officials feared the Soviet Union might attempt a disarming first strike against US nuclear weapons. The US response was to build warning sensors and create options to launch land-based missiles very quickly on warning of an attack—so-called “launch under attack” options—before the Soviet missiles could land and destroy US missiles in their silos.

To do this, the US put its missiles on hair-trigger alert so they could be launched within a matter of minutes if US sensors warn of an incoming Russian attack. This system gives the president only about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch these missiles. False alarms have plagued the system in the past—leading to the risk of an accidental or mistaken launch.

Because of this extreme time pressure, the system was designed so that the launch decision—arguably the biggest decision in history—is made by a single person, the president.

And this Cold War system is still with us today.

The football. (Source: Smithsonian Inst.)

The football. (Source: Smithsonian Inst.)

Everywhere President Trump goes, he will be followed by a military officer carrying a briefcase (called the “football”) containing everything he would need to order a launch within minutes, including secure communications equipment and descriptions of nuclear attack options.

Of course, the president could also order a nuclear launch even if there was no incoming attack. And no one has the authority to stop him from doing so.

Outdated and dangerous

Today, however, the military sees a surprise attack as extremely unlikely. More importantly, it has confidence in the survivability of US nuclear missiles based on submarines at sea, which carry more than half the US deployed arsenal of nuclear weapons. Since these forces are not vulnerable to a first strike, retaliation—and therefore deterrence—does not depend on launching quickly (if it ever did).

This fact allows several important changes in US policy.

First, it means the US can take its land-based missiles off hair-trigger alert and eliminate options for launching on warning of attack.

Presidents Obama and Bush both called for an end to hair-trigger alert, but didn’t change the current system. This one sensible change would significantly reduce one of biggest nuclear threats to the US public by eliminating the risk of a mistaken launch, which would almost certainly lead to a retaliatory strike. We have argued strongly that the current practice is dangerous and have repeatedly called on President Obama to remove US missiles from hair-trigger alert.

President Trump should make this happen. His recent statements show he is interested in working with Russia to reduce the nuclear threat. Putin may agree to take Russia’s missiles off alert, since he knows that weaknesses in Russia’s early warning system increase the risk of a mistaken Russian nuclear launch. But Mr. Trump should not give Mr. Putin a veto over taking this step: if Russia drags its feet, the US should not wait to act.

Second, it means that a launch decision does not have to be made within a few minutes, allowing time for more than one person to be involved in making launch decisions.

Removing this time pressure eliminates the rationale for giving the president the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. Instead, the United States can establish a process to involve others in any decision to use nuclear weapons.

Requiring a decision to be made by even a relatively small group of people—say, the president, vice-president, speaker of the House, and secretaries of State and Defense—would prevent a single person from making an irrational or impulsive decision, but would still involve a small enough group to be manageable in a crisis.

Some members of Congress and outside experts have argued over the years (and most recently) that any first-use of nuclear weapons (as distinct from the launch of a retaliatory nuclear strike) should require a declaration of war by Congress. Thus, a decision to use nuclear weapons—except in response to a nuclear attack—would require the approval of elected officials and would not be solely up to the president.

People were right to feel shocked when they learned that this potentially civilization-ending authority is in the hands of one person.

The current system must be changed—no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office.

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Can President Trump Uphold Scientific Integrity in Government Decisionmaking? New Report Tells What’s At Stake http://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/can-president-trump-uphold-scientific-integrity-in-government-decisionmaking-new-report-tells-whats-at-stake http://blog.ucsusa.org/gretchen-goldman/can-president-trump-uphold-scientific-integrity-in-government-decisionmaking-new-report-tells-whats-at-stake#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:11:08 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48039 Last week, the US Department of Energy released a revised scientific integrity policy in what was likely the last move by the Obama administration to promote scientific integrity in federal decision-making. But we cannot forget the many steps that preceded it. Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists releases a report, Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking: Lessons from the Past Two Administrations and What’s at Stake under the Trump Administration. The report characterizes the progress, missteps and unfinished business of scientific integrity under the Obama administration and considers what’s at stake under the Trump administration.

How will our new president treat government science? Will his administration follow the new scientific integrity policies now in place at federal agencies? And importantly, will the new policies and practices across the government be able to safeguard science through his presidency?

We’ve certainly seen some alarming indicators of how President Trump will respect science. In addition to spreading false information on climate science, vaccines, and wind farms (to name a few), we continue to see cabinet nominees with strong records of disparaging science or undermining science-based policies. It is hard to imagine a Trump administration where science won’t be politicized.

To be fair, as the report details, the Obama administration was not without missteps when it comes to politics overriding science (Think: ozone and emergency contraception). But it’s easy to forget where we came from.

Scientific integrity from Bush to Obama: We’ve come a long way, baby

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

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

csd-blog-si-progress-chart

This chart from “Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking” assesses the scientific integrity progress made at various federal agencies to date. (Click for full-sized version.)

When the next president came in, scientific integrity was high on the agenda. In his inaugural speech, President Obama vowed to “restore science to its rightful place” and took several steps in his first hundred days to do so. There are now scientific integrity policies at 24 federal agencies. While they vary in quality, the policies are designed to guard against the kind of abuse we saw under the Bush administration. Many federal scientists now have more rights written into their agencies’ policies—rights to share their scientific work with the media and public, rights to review documents based on their science before their public release, and rights to share their work in the scientific community. Many policies also explicitly prohibit political appointees and public affairs staff from manipulating agency science, and some agencies have instated scientific integrity officials to oversee the new policies. We have a long way to go in terms of ensuring these policies are implemented, but we are certainly in a better place than we were eight years ago.

Scientists to Trump: We are ready and watching

So how will government science fare under Trump? Scientists are not just going to wait and see. More than 5,500 scientists have now signed onto a letter asking the president-elect to uphold scientific integrity in his administration. Government scientists are more prepared to recognize losses in scientific integrity than ever before and they are now equipped with more tools for dealing with it when they occur. Scientists everywhere are archiving government data and websites, watching every move of the administration, and prepared to hold the new administration accountable when they misuse science or target scientists. We know what’s at stake. We’ve come too far with scientific integrity to see it unraveled by an anti-science president. It’s worth fighting for. And I won’t sit on the sidelines.

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The Truth About Pruitt’s EPA Lawsuits is Even Worse Than You Might Think http://blog.ucsusa.org/ken-kimmell/pruitt-epa-lawsuit http://blog.ucsusa.org/ken-kimmell/pruitt-epa-lawsuit#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 14:49:28 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=47928 One well-reported thing about Scott Pruitt, President-elect Trump’s nominee for EPA Administrator, is his penchant for filing lawsuits to block the EPA from enforcing clean air, clean water and climate regulations, rather than suing polluters in his own state of Oklahoma.

This alone ought to provide ample grounds for rejecting his nomination. But a closer look at these lawsuits and the legal arguments Pruitt has advanced (or signed onto) tells an even more disturbing story. The legal arguments are disingenuous, often unprincipled and extreme, and display an unfortunate strategy of saying just about anything to win a case.

Consider these three examples.

Pruitt takes on climate scientists: the 2010 lawsuit challenging the EPA’s “Endangerment” finding

global_surface_tempsIn 2009, the EPA made a long overdue, and wholly unremarkable finding that greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels may endanger public health and welfare. In this finding, the EPA acknowledged the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community and the multiple lines of independent evidence supporting this conclusion.

While the finding broke no new ground scientifically, it was important legally: when the EPA finds that a pollutant endangers public health or welfare, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate sources of that pollutant. In this case, that meant power plants, cars, trucks, and other sources that combust coal, oil, and natural gas.

To stop such regulation in its tracks, Scott Pruitt filed a lawsuit to overturn the endangerment finding, which he and his fellow litigants characterized as “arbitrary and capricious.” Believe it or not, Pruitt’s primary argument was that the EPA should not have relied upon the multiple reports on climate change issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)(established by the United Nations which synthesizes the work of thousands of scientists), the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) (a Bush administration body of 13 federal agencies that issued 21 reports on climate change), and the National Research Council (NRC)(the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences).

Pruitt’s legal brief never quite explains what is wrong with relying upon the world’s most prominent experts, but it claimed that the EPA in effect wrongly delegated its decisionmaking to these bodies.

Here are the rather sharp words the court used when it unanimously dismissed this claim:

This argument is little more than a semantic trick. EPA simply did here what it and other decisionmakers often must do to make a science-based judgment: it sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted. It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence in large part consisted of “syntheses” of individual studies and research. Even individual studies and research papers often synthesize past work in an area and then build upon it. This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question [emphasis added][Page 27]

Take a moment to digest this: the person nominated to head the EPA sued that agency because it relied upon the work of the world’s most knowledgeable scientists when making a finding regarding the most important scientific question of our lifetime—whether humans are causing global warming.

Pruitt’s lawsuits to block mercury reductions using a rigged cost-benefit analysis

Photo: Peggy Davis/CC-BY SA (Flickr)

Photo: Peggy Davis/CC-BY SA (Flickr)

Mercury has long been known to be one of the most potent neurotoxins: ingestion of even very small amounts can have devastating effects, particularly on children. Coal and oil-fired power plants are responsible for more than 50 percent of the mercury emissions in the United States, which travel long distances and deposit in water bodies, leading to ingestion by fish and humans who consume fish. There is effective technology that many power plants use to control mercury and other toxic pollutants, but approximately forty percent of existing power plants do not use it.

In 1990 Congress amended the Clean Air Act to specifically authorize the EPA to address mercury emissions (and other air toxics), but no progress was made due to EPA delays and litigation. In 2011, the Obama Administration issued a rule to cut mercury emissions from power plants.

The rule required approximately 40 percent of existing power plants to install the same proven controls that the other 60 percent had already adopted.

The EPA estimated that it would avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.

Scott Pruitt and others launched a lawsuit to prevent the EPA from cutting mercury and toxic air pollutants from power plants. He scored an initial victory on a technicality—the EPA had failed to consider cost of regulation at the preliminary stage when it was considering whether to regulate mercury. (I call this a technicality, because the EPA did perform a formal cost benefit analysis at the later stage when it issued the regulation).

The EPA subsequently complied with the court order and used an updated analysis to support the rule. The analysis showed “monetized” benefits of between $37-90 billion versus a cost of $9 billion.

Unsatisfied, Pruitt filed a second lawsuit, this time taking aim at the cost benefit analysis. As was the case with the endangerment finding, Pruitt’s attack led with an absurd argument – this time about cost benefit analysis.

When the EPA tallied up the costs of the regulation, it included direct costs, like the cost of installing the pollution control, and indirect costs, like higher electricity prices. Similarly, when the EPA calculated the benefits of the regulation, it considered direct benefits, like improved public health from mercury reduction, but also indirect benefits, like reductions in other pollutants such as smog and sulfur dioxide because the pollution control technology used for mercury also reduces these pollutants.

Pruitt’s new lawsuit claims that the EPA cannot consider these “co-benefits.” Instead, he contended that the EPA should only be allowed to count the benefits from mercury reduction. His argument makes no sense—the whole point of cost–benefit analysis is to determine whether an overall societal benefit of a regulation exceeds its overall cost. And nothing in the Clean Air Act or in past practice requires the EPA to use blinders when judging the benefit. In fact, for years, under both political parties, the EPA has factored in “co-benefits” and federal guidance on cost-benefit analysis calls for it to be included.

The court has not yet ruled on this specious claim, but it did reject a request to put the rule on hold while it sorted the question out, suggesting the court’s early skepticism of the argument’s merit. Regardless of the ultimate ruling, the bottom line in the case is this: Pruitt indefensibly favored economic analysis of regulations that considers all of their costs, but only some of their benefits.

Pruitt’s interstate pollution lawsuits reveal further hypocrisy

Photo: OK.gov

Photo: OK.gov

It is revealing to note that, at the same time as Pruitt was suing the EPA to count all the costs (but not all the benefits) of its mercury ruling, he also argued against factoring in costs in a separate lawsuit that sought to block an EPA rule that prevents upwind states from sending their pollutants to downwind states in such quantities as to cause the downwind states to exceed heath-based pollution concentration limits.

By way of background, the EPA has tried for years to address the problem of interstate air pollution, but it is fiendishly complex. Many upwind states emit pollutants to multiple downwind states, many downwind states receive pollutants from multiple upwind states, and some states are both upwind and downwind states. Thus, it is difficult to devise a formula to fairly and effectively apportion responsibility.

In 2011, the EPA crafted a “Transport Rule” to address the problem. They conducted extensive analysis of the costs involved to determine how expensive it would be, per ton of pollutant reduction, to ensure that upwind states do not cause downwind states’ air quality to exceed federal standards. They then gave each upwind state a pollution “budget” for the state to use to reduce the pollutants that were wafting beyond their borders, based on this “cost per ton” reduction benchmark.

Scott Pruitt and others challenged this rule, arguing—believe it or not—that costs of compliance should not be the yardstick, arguing instead for an approach that would have been nearly impossible to administer. Not surprisingly, in a 6-2 vote, the Supreme Court rejected his attack.

The bottom line in this case is this: the EPA focused on a problem that states can’t solve on their own (interstate air pollution). They solved the problem using a cost-effectiveness benchmark that is fair to all states, and that conservatives profess to favor. Pruitt’s attack on this approach demonstrates an abandonment of conservative principles in the service of what appears to be his ultimate objective—stopping regulation.

Opposing science to block regulation

Pruitt’s lawsuits clearly demonstrate that he is against regulation, particularly of the oil and gas industry. That much we already knew. But when one looks at the actual cases he has filed and the legal arguments he has advanced, one sees something even more disturbing—a disrespect for science, a penchant for a rigged method of performing cost-benefit analysis, and a lack of interest in helping to police the problem of interstate air pollution—which clearly must be done at the federal level.

This all adds up to someone who uses the law to block good science. This is not acceptable, particularly for the head of the EPA. And that is why I, and twelve other former state environmental protection agency heads, have signed a letter opposing this nomination.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA (Flickr)
Photo: Peggy Davis/CC-BY SA (Flickr)
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Nine Questions for Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump’s Pick to Lead the Interior Department http://blog.ucsusa.org/adam-markham/nine-questions-for-ryan-zinke-donald-trumps-pick-to-lead-the-interior-department http://blog.ucsusa.org/adam-markham/nine-questions-for-ryan-zinke-donald-trumps-pick-to-lead-the-interior-department#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 14:43:13 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48049 Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke will begin Senate confirmation hearings today for the post of Secretary of Interior in Donald Trump’s cabinet. As Secretary, he would oversee America’s 500 million acres of public lands, including the National Park System. Zinke would also have responsibility for timber extraction, livestock grazing, coal mining and oil and gas leases on public lands and 1.7 billion acres of seabed on the outer continental shelf. He has called himself a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican” but has voted against air and water protections and voted to weaken the Endangered Species Act and the Antiquities Act. He has questioned climate science, is a vocal supporter of the coal industry and has served on the board of an oil pipeline company. We have questions for Ryan Zinke.

Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, near Whitefish, Montana where Ryan Zinke was raised. Photo: NPS

Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, near Whitefish, Montana where Ryan Zinke was raised. Photo: NPS

Do you accept that there is unequivocal scientific evidence for human caused climate change?

Congressman Zinke has said “The climate is changing, I don’t think you can deny that. But climate has always changed” continuing that “I don’t think there’s any question that man has had an influence” but that “what that influence is, exactly, is still under scrutiny.” And in October 2014, Zinke said “It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either…”. In fact, there is overwhelming scientific consensus and unequivocal evidence that the global climate is warming, and that since the 1950’s the dominant cause has been human influence. 

Will you support and effectively utilize nationally important climate science programs throughout DOI?

Increasing temperatures, coastal flooding and erosion, more extreme weather events, worsening wildfires and droughts, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost all represent massive risks for natural and cultural resources under the protection of the Department of the Interior (DOI) in the 500 million acres of public lands it manages. DOI’s strategic plan states that it “will bring the best science to bear to understand these consequences and will undertake mitigation, adaptation, and enhancements to support natural resilience…”

The department’s climate science stable is strong, with a formidable Climate Change Response Program in the National Park Service, and a network of eight regional Climate Science Centers (CSCs) managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that synthesize climate impacts data to make it usable and relevant for resource managers. DOI also runs a network of 22 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) which bring federal and state agencies together with non-governmental organizations, tribal entities, and academic institutions to manage natural and cultural landscapes across jurisdictional boundaries, with a strong emphasis on integrating climate management.

Are you committed to do everything you can to protect our national parks in the face of climate change?

Climate change is the biggest threat to our national parks. Impacts can already be seen throughout the country, from colonial Jamestown Island to Glacier National Park, just a few miles from where Congressman Zinke was raised, in Whitefish, Montana. The National Park Service is at the cutting edge of international efforts to develop climate adaptation and resilience strategies for protected areas, but it desperately needs more resources to implement effective management strategies. The NPS has a system wide Climate Change Response Strategy and is implementing an ambitious Climate Change Action Plan. Most recently, in January 2017, the NPS published a groundbreaking Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy (CRCCS) which lays out key policies needed to protect America’s heritage in a rapidly warming world, including advocating the incorporation of climate science into all planning for cultural resources management.

Will you fight for the budget and resources our national parks need?

Americans love their national parks, and in 2016 a record 325 million people visited them. The national park system is the envy of the world, but it is being starved of resources – not just for climate response, but for all aspects of its operations. The latest report from the National Park Service detailed a backlog of nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance. The parks support $30 billion in economic activity and nearly 300,000 jobs. The budget for the NPS has been cut by 12% ($364 million in the last five years) 

Climate change is driving worsening wildfires in the West. Are you committed to helping to coordinate and implement an effective federal response?

Rising temperatures have created a longer wildfire season and drier conditions that together with forest management strategies, fire suppression policies and increased development at the wildland-urban Interface are causing bigger, more damaging and costly fires. The US Forest Service and DOI are together the coordinating federal agencies for wildfire response and management. UCS has noted the urgent need to update federal wildfire policies and budgeting in line with what we know about the growing influence of climate change. Legislation has been proposed to invest in hazardous fuels management, fire-fighting technology and improved fire-mapping. However, a budget fix is also needed. In a June 2016 U.S. Senate hearing, Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, USDA, testified that: “The single most important step Congress can take to advance forest health and resilience is to enact a comprehensive fire budget solution—one that addresses both the growth of fire programs as a percent of the agency’s budget and the compounding annual problem of transferring funds from non-fire programs to cover the cost of fire suppression.”. To date, Ryan Zinke’s record shows that his preferred response to the worsening wildfire situation is merely to increase logging and timber extraction, ostensibly to reduce fire risk.

Are you committed to keeping America’s public lands public for the benefit of all Americans?

Congressman Zinke has said giving away public lands is “a non-starter … in Montana, our public lands are part of our heritage.” He even resigned as a member of the Republican Party Platform committee last year in protest at moves to make public land transfers part of the platform. But in January 2016, after being nominated for the position of Interior Sectretary, Zinke voted for a House rules package that included a measure to make transfers of public land cost-free and budget neutral, considerably easing the path for future privatization which would no longer require costs of transfers to be offset with other spending or budget cuts. Zinke says he hasn’t changed his view on public lands transfers to state, local or private hands, but can he be trusted to hold the line?

Natural gas production pad at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas. Photo: NPS

Natural gas production pad at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas. Photo: NPS

Will you fully implement the DOI policy on scientific integrity?

DOI has one of the strongest scientific integrity policies of all government departments. It safeguards against political interference in department science and grants its scientists freedom to communicate their science. The policy aims to ensure that Interior Department decision-making can rely on robust and trustworthy science of the highest quality. It encourages “an environment of rigorous and honest investigation, open discussion, and constructive peer review, free of political influence that is needed for good science to thrive.” DOI scientists and scholars are also encouraged to participate in professional societies and scientific meetings, as well as talk to the media about their work. But the policy is only as good as its implementation. It is crucial that Representative Zinke prioritize scientific integrity at his agency.

Have you changed your mind about supporting air and water safeguards on mining, oil and gas operations?

In 2015 the League of Conservation Voters scored Ryan Zinke at a miserable 3% for his environmental record. He has voted to weaken the Clean Water Rule proposed by the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers and to remove safeguards on air and water protections, including from chemicals in fracking and stream pollution from mountain-top mining.

Can we trust you to limit fossil fuel infrastructure that will negatively impact our public lands, environment and cultural resources?

A train taking Montana coal towards the West Coast. Photo: Tim Evanston/Creative Commons

A train taking Montana coal towards the West Coast. Photo: Tim Evanston/Creative Commons

 

“I always side with Montana Coal Country,” Congressman Zinke said in a campaign ad in 2016, and he has been a major champion of the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington which would be the transport hub for increased coal experts from the western states, to Pacific Rim countries. The terminal was denied a permit by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the basis that the Lummi tribe’s treat-protected fishing rights would be affected and has been opposed by communities through which coal trains would pass.

Zinke also served on the board of an oil pipeline technology company from 2012 to 2015 and has been an outspoken supporter of the Keystone pipeline since being elected to Congress. Zinke is likely to be at the center of any renewed fight to on routing the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). In December 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to grant an easement for DAPLK to pass through land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and vital for cultural important water resources. The Corps will now prepare an Environmental Impacts Statement for alternative routes, and Zinke as Interior Secretary will likely play a central role in the future of the pipeline.

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Even Without an Agriculture Secretary, Trump’s Cabinet Says Plenty about Food and Water Plans http://blog.ucsusa.org/karen-perry-stillerman/even-without-an-agriculture-secretary-trumps-cabinet-says-plenty-about-food-and-water-plans http://blog.ucsusa.org/karen-perry-stillerman/even-without-an-agriculture-secretary-trumps-cabinet-says-plenty-about-food-and-water-plans#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:24:42 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48004 It’s official. This week’s Veterans Affairs nomination leaves the Trump administration’s Secretary of Agriculture position as the last cabinet slot to be filled. With his inauguration just 7 days away, the president-elect still hasn’t announced his pick for this vital position that touches every American’s life at least three times a day.

But while we wait (and wait, and wait) to see who will run the department that shapes our nation’s food and farm system, it may be instructive to take a look at what some of his other personnel choices say about his intentions in this realm. And particularly, what the Trump team could mean for two of our most basic human needs—food and water.

First, food. On the whole, today’s US agriculture system is skewed to production of commodity crops—chiefly corn and soybeans—the bulk of which become biofuel components, livestock feed, and processed food ingredients. That said, over the last 8 years we’ve seen increased emphasis, from the White House and the USDA, on healthy eating, local food systems, and the like.

But things seem about to change, and how. The president-elect himself reportedly lives on fast food and well-done steaks. And even without an agriculture secretary nomination, Trump’s other appointees to date seem to indicate that unhealthy food and industrial farming are back in force.

Corn is king and beef is back in Trump’s America

It’s hard to believe at a time when US corn production is at an all-time high, but with Trump’s team we might actually get more of this commodity we already have too much of.

The Iowa Corn Growers Association hailed Governor Terry Branstad’s selection last month as ambassador to China, a hire seen as a boon to that state’s corn-heavy farm sector. What does diplomacy in the Far East have to do with corn farmers in Iowa, you ask? China is already a major buyer of US farm commodities such as Iowa corn and pork, and Branstad is expected to press his “old friend” President Xi to ensure that continues. (Not to be left out, the American Soybean Association sounded happy about the Branstad pick as well.)

The ambassador-in-waiting is already plugging corn domestically, telling Iowa Public Radio and the state’s corn farmers that Trump’s chosen EPA head will support the ethanol industry they feed. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, you may have heard, is Trump’s highly controversial pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency (see why this is laughably unacceptable here, here, and here). Pruitt is an oil guy, and on Oklahoma’s behalf he has fought the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard, which boosts the ethanol industry by mandating a level of blending with gasoline. But Branstad and both of Iowa’s Senators say King Corn needn’t worry.

Meanwhile, Pruitt has endeared himself to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the chief lobby group for Big Ag, with his rabidly anti-regulatory stance. The Farm Bureau cheered Pruitt’s appointment, describing it as “welcome news to America’s farmers and ranchers – in fact, to all who are threatened by EPA’s regulatory overreach.”

Read: agribusiness won’t have to deal with pesky environmental regulations under Pruitt.

Branstad’s and Pruitt’s nominations are also gifts to the meat industry, given their allegiances to the Iowa pork industry and Oklahoma beef industry respectively, as Tom Philpott over at Mother Jones explained last month.

Throw in hamburger exec Andrew Puzder as Labor Secretary and the interests of industrialized meat and its fast-food purveyors will be well represented in cabinet meetings. (See more reasons to be worried about Puzder here and here.)

A promise of “crystal clear water”

With the food landscape being reshaped more to Trump’s liking, let’s look briefly at water. During the campaign, candidate Trump said that as president he would ensure the country has “absolutely crystal clear and clean water.” (It’s campaign promise #194 on this list.)

I’m glad he recognizes that clean water is a critical resource and something Americans want. But will we get it?

Probably not if it’s up to Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has sued the EPA over a slew of clean air efforts, including its climate, mercury, haze, and ozone rules, but he has also been vehement in his opposition to the agency’s efforts to protect the nation’s waters from pollution. In particular, he wants to kill the Obama EPA’s Clean Water Rule (also known as the “Waters of the US,” or WOTUS, regulation), which expanded the definition of waterways the federal government has the authority to protect under the Clean Water Act. The manufacturing and fossil fuel industries are major backers of the effort to kill the WOTUS rule, and Big Ag (in the form of the Farm Bureau) has joined them.

Is Trump’s USDA pick our last best hope for healthy food and clean water?

This brings us back to the long-delayed USDA nomination. Since the election, we’ve seen a parade of agriculture secretary hopefuls march in and out of Trump Tower. The process has frustrated farmers and confounded other observers (including the current USDA chief). It’s clear that the new USDA head, whoever he or she turns out to be, won’t be confirmed by the Senate until after the inauguration.

Until the president-elect makes an official announcement, it’s impossible to know where he’s going with this important position. And it is important. The US Department of Agriculture is a sprawling bureaucracy made up of 29 agencies and offices, nearly 100,000 employees, and a budget of $155 billion in FY17. Its vision statement:

[T]o provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation’s natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.

The emphasis is mine, to highlight that the department is supposed to be looking out for the economic well-being of farmers and their communities, the health and nutrition of all Americans, and the critical natural resources—including water—that we all depend upon.

Let’s hope that whoever takes the helm at the USDA intends to do just that—even if Trump’s other cabinet picks have given us little reason for optimism.

Now, back to waiting…

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Governor Kasich Restores Clean Energy Standards in Ohio http://blog.ucsusa.org/jessica-collingsworth/governor-kasich-restores-clean-energy-standards-in-ohio http://blog.ucsusa.org/jessica-collingsworth/governor-kasich-restores-clean-energy-standards-in-ohio#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:19:43 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48001 During the final hours of 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich vetoed Substitute House Bill 554, legislation that would have made Ohio’s clean energy standards voluntary, effectively extending the two year freeze. By vetoing the bill, Kasich restored Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, which have been frozen since 2014.

In Governor Kasich’s veto statement he noted that HB 554 risked undermining the state’s job progress by taking away some of the energy generation options, and would deal a setback to efforts that are succeeding in helping businesses and homeowners reduce their energy costs through energy efficiency.

The Governor was applauded for vetoing the bill by a wide array of corporations and advocacy organizations. UCS also released a statement thanking Governor Kasich.

So what happened? Here’s the backstory.

History of the freeze

The clean energy standards in Ohio were created by a Republican-led General Assembly and signed by Governor Strickland in 2008, requiring Ohio utilities to procure energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Ohio legislature then enacted a 2-year freeze of the clean energy standards in 2014 despite them having a proven track-record of creating economic and environmental benefits for consumers.

In December 2016, the Ohio legislature passed HB 554 which would have delayed any enforcement of increased energy efficiency and renewable energy until 2019, therefore making the standards into voluntary goals for that period. This would have extended the clean energy standard freeze for two more years.

Because the Governor vetoed HB 554, the energy efficiency and renewable energy standards will be reinstated. The current clean energy standards (now restored) require utilities to secure 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources, and achieve a 22 percent cumulative reduction in electricity use through energy efficiency.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has been working in coordination with local experts and activists to lift the clean energy standard freeze to create a win-win situation for the state’s economy and the environment.

Benefits of the clean energy standards in Ohio

The clean energy standards have brought countless benefits to Ohio. The standards are what are driving a robust clean energy sector in Ohio, with more than 100,000 clean energy jobs in the state. These jobs include workers in renewable energy generation, clean transmission, energy efficiency, clean fuels, and advanced transportation.

Analysis conducted by Cadmus and the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance concluded that 2014 energy efficiency investments in Ohio have yielded, and will continue to generate, net benefits for the Ohio state economy. In 2014 alone, these benefits included thousands of new jobs, and more than $175 million in increased statewide income. And over the entire 25 year study period, the 2014 energy efficiency programs are estimated to increase net statewide income by more than $1.2 billion, and add almost $1.9 billion of total value to the state’s economy.

More opportunities for Ohio

It’s important for Ohio to take advantage of the 5 year extension of the federal production and investment tax credits (PTC and ITC) for wind and solar energy resources.  This provides a golden opportunity for Ohio to accelerate renewable energy and deployment even further. States and utilities must act quickly to take advantage of the credits, which begin to decline in value in 2017 (for wind) and 2020 (for solar), before phasing out by 2022.

There is a lot of wind potential in the state. According to the Wind Energy Foundation, Ohio has the opportunity to further lower electricity bills, create additional jobs, increase community investment, and reduce pollution by expanding the use of wind. Wind energy could provide 6.4% of Ohio’s electricity by 2020 and increase to 15.5% by 2030, and create cumulative electricity bill savings of $5.35 billion through 2050.

Our work is far from done  

We applaud Governor Kasich for his veto of House Bill 554. Because of his leadership, Ohio’s clean energy standards are now restored.  Governor Kasich has demonstrated that he has a vision for Ohio’s clean energy future. These clean energy standards are working to create jobs, grow the economy, and reduce harmful emissions.

But our work is not done. It’s predicted that energy will be on the Ohio General Assembly’s agenda again this session. Senate President Larry Obhof has stated that Ohio needs a long term energy plan. So we will celebrate the win, but we are prepared to continue defending clean energy in 2017!

Photo: Howard Johnson/CC BY (Flickr)
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Renewable Energy for Companies: Which States Make It Easiest (or Hardest)? http://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/renewable-energy-for-companies http://blog.ucsusa.org/john-rogers/renewable-energy-for-companies#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 15:16:38 +0000 http://blog.ucsusa.org/?p=48017 If you’re a company looking to get your hands on some renewable energy, to power your operations with sources like wind and solar, turns out some states make that a lot easier than others. Here’s what a new study says about different options for businesses interested in going clean, energy-wise.

The new study, Corporate clean energy procurement index: State leadership and rankings, offers an array of useful perspectives. It comes from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), and Clean Edge, the research and advisory firm behind various useful rankings of clean energy progress.

The analysis is aimed at assessing states “based upon the ease with which companies can procure [renewable energy] for their operations located within each state.” The index has 15 metrics in three categories: purchasing from utilities, purchasing from third parties (someone other than your electric utility), and using “Onsite/Direct Deployment Options”—putting solar or wind right on your stores, factories, and warehouses.

And here’s what they found:

The top states are all over the map, literally—from #1 Iowa and #2 Illinois in the middle of the country, to New Jersey, California, and Texas.

As the top performers show, no one region has a lock on making corporate renewables purchases easy. But the authors note that some regions do better:

The Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic regions are generally the most favorable regions in the U.S. for corporate customers seeking to power their operations with renewable energy…

Let businesses capture the economic development benefits of renewables… or not

The analysis assesses how much choice and competition for renewable energy purchases exist by state. One indicator of that is whether companies are allowed to enter into PPAs (power purchase agreements) with third parties, which let companies take advantage of the stable prices renewables are uniquely qualified to offer, to lock in electricity rates over the long term.

The answer is yes, no, or maybe:

As a taste of some of the corporate procurements, the report includes examples of large-scale purchases by some pretty big names:

Broadening the pie

The authors don’t stop at assessing where we are, but suggest opportunities for a cleaner future. In particular, to help businesses trying to get access to renewable energy, they say, here are a few ideas for what states can do:

  1. “Remove barriers to corporate deployment” of renewables, both onsite and elsewhere
  2. “Support the development of next-generation options” for helping corporate buyers use renewables to save money or hedge against swings in electricity costs
  3. “Expand energy choice options” for commercial and industrial customers in markets that haven’t “restructured”, ones in which electric utilities still own power plants, not just the electric distribution systems
  4. “Ensure that an adequate market exists for renewable purchasing” through utilities or others
  5. Ensure that, in any type of market, renewables “can scale up rapidly”

And, as the report says, while it’s focused on helping the businesses that are members of RILA and ITI in cleaning up their own acts, its findings are also “broadly applicable to many stakeholders, including other business sectors, the military, higher education, and state and local government.”

Businesses seeing the power and value of renewable energy have been important drivers for our transition to energy choices that cut air and water pollution, improve public health, strengthen energy security, and drive economic development.

States can make it easier for leading businesses to play that important role, or not. Clearly many states see the value in making it as easy as possible to get businesses of all stripes and sizes to help us move to clean energy. This new report gives us a chance to see which states those are, and to celebrate them.

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