2018 UCS Highlights
Defending Science from Attacks
UCS is fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science—up to 60 by our last count. Defending the progress we have made on so many fronts is a daunting task, but thanks to our active supporters we successfully warded off many bad outcomes over the past year.
UCS Science Network members provided the vocal backing we needed to defeat the appointment of three nominees for top agency posts who were each categorically unfit for their roles: a former talk radio host with no scientific training for chief scientist at the USDA, a chemical industry advisor for head of chemical safety at the EPA, and a climate change denier and fossil fuel advocate for head of the Council on Environmental Quality.
In January, our report documenting how the Trump administration has sidelined federal science advisory committees drew the attention of two key senators. At their request, the Government Accountability Office expanded an investigation into whether political appointees at the EPA had improperly influenced the selection of committee members.
And when the Trump administration proposed a budget that would drastically cut research at multiple federal agencies, and members of Congress added provisions that would make it harder to enforce environmental laws, UCS experts educated the press and the public about what was at stake, and our supporters applied direct pressure to their legislators. As a result, the final budget preserved funding levels and even increased them in some cases, and nearly all the “poison pill” provisions were dropped.
UCS also saved the federal electric vehicle tax credit, funding for United Nations climate research, a NASA climate monitoring system, and the scientific foundation of the Endangered Species Act from the chopping block, and helped prevent several under-the-radar but potentially disastrous pieces of anti-science legislation from coming to a vote.
Opposing Corruption and Cronyism
The Trump administration and its industry allies moved to sideline science whenever the evidence threatened to interfere with their agenda. UCS pushed back with every tactic we have honed in our nearly 50 years of experience.
Investigation and Analysis
UCS determined that an EPA plan to ease the “regulatory burden” on certain polluters threatened to increase toxic air pollution by as much as 25 percent. We exposed anti-science positions taken by the US Department of Agriculture’s new leadership, and glaring technical flaws in a report issued by the automakers’ trade association to argue for weaker fuel efficiency and emissions standards.
To assess the state of science in the federal government, UCS has been surveying agency scientists since 2005. Our 2018 survey revealed that staff cuts and censorship are affecting agencies’ ability to protect public health and the environment; many scientists also reported that agency leadership is unqualified or even hostile to the agency’s mission.
UCS brought more than 130 science advocacy organizations together to launch Science Rising, a long-term effort to elevate the importance of science in policymaking. We trained scores of scientists to organize their peers, and deployed thousands of UCS supporters ahead of the midterm elections.
By bringing scientific evidence into the courtroom, UCS is bolstering several legal challenges to reckless EPA actions. Together with allies, we persuaded a federal court that the EPA must implement an Obama administration rule to protect communities from chemical disasters; in two other cases we are suing to block the rollback of vehicle standards vital to combating climate change and to stop the elimination of independent scientists from science advisory boards in favor of industry insiders.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, UCS exposed the political motivation behind the EPA’s attempt to exclude independent health analyses from its decisionmaking. The resulting outcry forced the EPA to allow more public input into that policy. We also uncovered the Trump administration’s suppression of a government study showing that certain toxic chemicals prevalent on military bases endanger health at levels much lower than the current standard. Our work prompted the study’s release.
Alerting New Audiences to Climate Risks
To build the broad coalition of people we need to spur government action on climate change, UCS reaches out to people of all backgrounds, helping them understand that the impacts of climate change are already here, and directly affecting all of us.
While extreme weather events such as hurricanes justifiably get the headlines, UCS has spent the last two years educating coastal communities about the growing threat of tidal flooding caused by rising seas. In 2017 we showed the enormous scale of the threat: 170 communities could be chronically inundated in less than 20 years. And in 2018 we analyzed the value of the property at risk: more than 300,000 homes currently valued at $117.5 billion could be lost within the life span of a 30-year mortgage issued today.
The report Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate was cited by the media more than 1,000 times in just over two months, in national outlets (ABC, CBS, CNN, Telemundo, Univision, USA Today, and the Washington Post among others), a broad swath of local markets around the country, as well as trade publications for industries UCS had never engaged before, including building design and construction, insurance, mortgage banking, and real estate.
UCS has been working to ensure this information gets into the hands of people in the communities often hit the hardest by climate impacts—communities already overburdened by a history of neglect or discrimination. We presented the report’s findings at a conference of Hispanic and Native American journalists in Miami and at a meeting organized with allies in Houston who are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. Earlier in the year we co-sponsored a conference in Arizona devoted to climate impacts on tribal culture, and a discussion among experts in Oakland about the intersection of climate change, infrastructure, and environmental justice.
Clean Energy Can't Be Stopped
Despite the Trump administration’s efforts to prop up the country’s oldest and dirtiest power plants, the market for clean energy continues to expand. UCS helped accelerate that expansion in numerous venues during the past year.
The Golden State committed to generate all of its electricity from 100 percent carbon-free resources by 2045, and UCS and our allies made it possible. Beginning two years ago, we conducted sophisticated modeling to show that California could make the switch while also growing one of the world’s biggest economies, and our experts’ work proved critical in persuading the legislature that the state’s electricity grid could reliably run on clean energy.
UCS also helped put Michigan on the path to a modern electricity grid—our advocacy ensured the state’s utilities will follow through on recent commitments to increase their use of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and give fair and robust consideration to battery storage and carbon emissions reductions.
Fueled by a 2016 law UCS supported, Massachusetts utilities signed a contract for 800 megawatts (MW) of new offshore wind energy—enough to power almost 500,000 homes—at a price about half what was anticipated. Rhode Island announced a 400 MW offshore wind contract the same day, and Connecticut soon followed with a 200 MW deal. With other East Coast states similarly committed to largescale purchases, the stage is set for significant expansion of this largely untapped clean energy resource.
UCS secured a 46 percent increase in federal funding for energy storage programs by convening a meeting of recognized experts in the field, combined with engagement by UCS Science Network members.
Holding Fossil Fuel Producers Accountable
Some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers have been misleading the public for decades about their role in climate change, and UCS is steadily ratcheting up the pressure on these companies for their deceptive practices.
In September 2017, UCS climate scientists broke new ground by co-authoring a peer-reviewed paper that determined each fossil fuel company’s contribution to increases in temperature and sea levels around the world. This analysis and others provide the scientific underpinning for a growing number of lawsuits that seek restitution for climate damages; several are under appeal but others brought by Rhode Island and municipalities in California, Colorado, Maryland, and Washington State continue to move forward.
Several actions taken by fossil fuel companies during the past year show our work is having an effect:
- ExxonMobil followed the examples of BP, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell in quitting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobbying group UCS has exposed for regularly misrepresenting climate science.
- ConocoPhillips improved transparency around its lobbying activities in response to engagement by UCS and shareholders who were informed by our 2016 Climate Accountability Scorecard.
- BP corrected misleading statements about climate science on its website after UCS and our allies pressured the company’s leaders.
- The fossil fuel industry’s trade association launched the ironically named Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) with the sole goal of discrediting lawsuits brought against its members. MAP has publicly criticized UCS for the leading role we’ve played in using science to achieve justice—a clear sign our campaign is making the industry nervous.
A Voice of Sanity on US Security Policy
As the leaders of the United States and North Korea threatened each other with escalation and retaliation, journalists turned to UCS for a realistic assessment of the crisis. Our experts are recognized as the go-to source for accurate information about North Korea’s missile program, as attested to by the fact that a single UCS blog post about a November 2017 test launch was cited in more than 1,500 articles—on the same day—by such high-profile outlets as the Associated Press, CBS, CNN, Fox News, the New York Times, Reuters, the Washington Post, and USA Today. We used the media spotlight to make the case that diplomacy has worked with North Korea in the past and could again, and our reasoning prevailed for the time being.
Meanwhile, UCS pushed back against the Trump administration’s dangerous nuclear weapons policy, which includes deployment of a new lower-yield warhead that could be used on the battlefield. UCS analysis shows there is no rationale for this warhead given the many lower-yield warheads the United States already fields. This plan moves US policy in exactly the wrong direction, by provoking other nations to build up their arsenals and increasing the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used. Another dangerous (and long-standing) policy UCS is working to change is the president having sole authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons.
Our cultivation of new allies who can increase the pressure for change is bearing fruit: the US Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted a resolution—using language UCS helped draft—calling for the United States to take five key steps that would reduce the risk of nuclear war.
Fighting to Keep Vehicles Clean
The federal fuel efficiency and emissions standards UCS worked hard to secure in 2012 were on track to save drivers an average of $6,000 at the pump and keep 500 million tons of global warming pollution out of the atmosphere by 2030. Automakers have been doing well too, breaking sales records in 2015 and 2016. Yet the Trump administration has set out to undo the standards, so UCS is devoting every possible resource to preserving them while simultaneously pushing for progress in other areas.
One giant step backward we managed to prevent in 2018 was the Trump administration’s attempt to stop enforcing a ban on so-called “glider” trucks: new big rig bodies concealing old, dirty engines. These vehicles emit many times more toxic air pollution than trucks with new engines, so UCS experts and our partners testified on the need for the ban and persuaded the EPA’s science advisory board to review the decision. After more than 26,000 supporters weighed in via social media, and another 14,000 via email, the EPA announced it would continue to enforce the ban.
UCS also won a series of forward-looking victories in California. In May, spurred by a letter from UCS and our partners as well as comments from our experts at public meetings, the city of San Francisco committed to shifting its entire bus fleet to zero-emissions vehicles by 2035. This followed our 2017 success in persuading Los Angeles to do the same.
The state also approved more than $750 million in new infrastructure capable of supporting at least 60,000 electric cars and 15,000 electric trucks; UCS had testified repeatedly for more than a year about the benefits that could accrue to the state. Finally, we helped California legislators shape and pass a first-of-its-kind bill that establishes climate emissions targets for ride-sharing companies
Demanding a Farm Bill That Works for Everyone
US farm policy currently encourages the production of unhealthy processed foods and promotes industrial farming systems that harm our water and soil. In 2018, UCS rallied opposition to a farm bill proposal in the House of Representatives that would have worsened these problems, and built support for sciencebased solutions among farmers and other people who are often ignored in policy discussions dominated by agribusiness lobbyists.
Ahead of farm bill debates, we organized a meeting of the Good Food For All (GFFA) collaborative—representing groups including Farmworker Justice, the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, and the Native Farm Bill Coalition—to learn from each other and strategize. Participants called for a more racially equitable bill in more than 35 meetings on Capitol Hill, and in a letter to Congress that UCS helped draft.
Meanwhile, UCS surveyed more than 2,800 farmers about the federal policies they want to see. Nearly three-quarters said they would support a farm bill that prioritizes sustainable agriculture, and more than 70 percent said they would be more likely to back political candidates who share those priorities.
UCS also made the case for strengthening—rather than slashing—farm bill programs that have reduced hunger and increased access to nutritious foods. For example, we developed a series of infographicsdebunking myths about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called “food stamps”) and sent legislators a letter signed by 200 public health professionals testifying to its merits.
Faced with opposition to the House version of the farm bill, Congress let the existing law expire without passing a replacement. It was unclear at the time of this writing whether any replacement would pass in 2018, but UCS is keeping up the pressure for a strong bill that ensures farmers can succeed while protecting the environment, and all people can put healthy, affordable food on the table.
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