Combined UCS Blogs

50% by 2035 National Renewable Electricity Standard Would Boost Economy and Cut Carbon Emissions

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Photo: Omari Spears/UCS

Today, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and several others introduced The Renewable Electricity Standard Act of 2019, a bill that would more than double the supply of renewable energy from 18% of US electricity generation in 2018 to at least 50% by 2035. It’s a strong proposal that builds on the recent clean energy momentum in the states and establishes a long-term national policy for renewable energy. A new UCS analysis shows that a national renewable electricity standard (RES) of 50% by 2035 would boost the economy, benefit consumers, and put the nation on a pathway to decarbonize the power sector by 2050.

A RES requires electric utilities to gradually increase the amount of renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydropower) in their power supplies over time. It uses a market-based approach that stimulates competition among multiple technologies, projects and companies to provide the greatest amount of clean power for the lowest price, and an ongoing incentive to drive down costs. Currently in place in 29 states and D.C., RESs have had a proven track record of success in deploying renewables, creating jobs, and reducing emissions for more than two decades. A national RES would ensure that the entire nation reaps the benefits from accelerating the clean energy transition.

Why a 50% national RES?

A 50% by 2035 RES is feasible and affordable and would help the US meet its climate goals. Over the past decade, the renewable energy share of US electricity sales has grown by nearly 1% per year, on average, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. A 50% RES would more than double that rate through 2035—an aggressive but achievable level consistent with the commitments adopted by leading states and recent analyses showing we can ramp-up to renewables to 80% of US electricity by 2050 and meet mid-century decarbonization goals (see UCS, IPCC, and other studies).

While traditional RES policies establish the overall renewable energy target as a fraction of total retail electricity sales in the future, this proposal takes a novel approach by specifying the amount by which every retail provider in the United States must increase their share of renewable energy each year. This focus on new renewables would help level the playing field between leading clean energy states and states that have underinvested in renewables, regardless of where they are starting from.

Since most existing renewables would not be eligible for federal renewable energy credits (RECs) under the bill, there would be an incentive to build new renewables in-state instead of simply purchasing RECs from existing projects in other states. With the costs of renewables falling dramatically over the past decade, all states now have access to low cost clean energy. The bill would also provide extra credits to install renewable energy projects in economically distressed communities experiencing high levels of pollution or transitioning away from coal.

Key Findings

To understand the impacts of the proposal, we conducted an analysis of a 50% by 2035 RES and found that the policy delivers:

  • $374 billion in cumulative new capital investments from 2020-2035
  • $34 billion (0.6%) in cumulative net savings on consumer energy bills from 2020-2035
  • 46% reduction in power sector CO2 emissions in 2035

For this analysis, we used the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model. We compared the RES policy case to a business as usual (BAU) scenario that assumed no new state or federal policies beyond those that existed at the end of May 2019.  See our slide deck and technical appendix for more details on the scenarios and assumptions.

Here are a few more details on what our analysis found:

Energy diversity

A 50% by 2035 national RES would diversify the nation’s electricity mix and reduce the risks of an overreliance on natural gas. Under a BAU scenario with continued low natural gas prices and no new policies, natural gas generation would see significant growth, increasing from 35% of the US electricity mix in 2018 to 58% by 2035 (Figure 1). Most of this new natural gas generation would replace retiring coal plants and a handful of existing nuclear reactors. This level of dependence on natural gas would pose significant risks to consumers and the US economy from potential supply shortages and price volatility.

In contrast, a 50% national RES would roughly double the share of renewables by 2035 compared to BAU, reducing natural gas generation by 38% and nearly phasing out the relatively small amount of remaining coal generation. It would also ensure that any nuclear retirements are replaced primarily with zero-carbon electricity instead of natural gas.

Figure 1. US Electricity Generation under Business as Usual and a 50% by 2035 National RES

Most of the new renewable energy development would come from wind and solar under the 50% RES. Wind capacity would more than double from around 100 gigawatts (GW) today to more than 250 GW by 2035. Solar photovoltaic capacity would increase by a factor of nearly 8 over current levels, reaching 505 GW by 2035, and 332 GW more than BAU.

To help integrate increasing levels of variable wind and solar generation, energy storage capacity would nearly triple to 64 GW by 2035, 32 GW more than BAU. In addition, US transmission capacity would increase by 4% for AC lines and 21% for DC lines, for a combined increase of 4.2 million MW-miles, compared to BAU.

Economic development

The renewable energy deployment under a 50% RES would help make the US a leader in the global clean energy race. It would build on the recent growth in renewable energy jobs in manufacturing, construction, operation, maintenance, and many other industries and would drive significant investment across the economy. A 50% RES would deliver the following economic benefits:

  • $374 billion in cumulative new capital investment from 2020-2035; $244 billion more than BAU
  • $12 billion in annual operation and maintenance payments in 2035
  • $5.6 billion in cumulative property tax payments to local governments from 2020-2035
  • $1.4 billion in cumulative wind power land lease payments to rural landowners from 2020-2035

Consumer benefits

Increasing renewable energy use can provide important benefits for consumers. The cost of wind and solar has fallen by more than 70% over the past decade, making renewable energy more affordable for consumers. By increasing competition and diversifying power supplies, renewable energy reduces the demand for fossil fuels, leading to lower and more stable natural gas prices for all consumers.

Under a 50% national RES, power sector natural gas prices are 35% lower than BAU in 2035. The significant reduction in power sector natural gas use would also result in lower costs for homes and businesses that use natural gas for heating, manufacturing, and other purposes.

By 2035, average retail electricity prices are 6.7% higher under the 50% RES compared to BAU, but only 0.2% higher than current levels (Figure 2). However, the reduction in natural gas prices more than offsets the increase in electricity prices, resulting in $34 billion (0.6%) in cumulative net savings on combined consumer natural gas and electricity bills from 2020-2035.

Figure 2. US Average Retail Electricity Prices

A typical household using 600 kWh per month would pay $18 per year in higher electricity bills in 2030, and $51 more in 2035 compared to BAU. However, for the nearly half of U.S. homes that heat with natural gas, typical annual natural gas bills would be $43 lower in 2025, and $94 lower in 2035. Lower natural gas bills for industrial and commercial consumers would also offset slightly higher electricity bills.

A smart climate solution

Increasing renewable energy use is a smart, cost-effective way to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A national RES is key strategy that would put the US on course to decarbonize the power sector and meet the Paris Climate Agreement.

Under BAU, U.S. power sector CO2 emissions flatten out and then increase after 2030 due to the increase in natural gas generation. In contrast, CO2 emissions would be 46% below BAU levels in 2035 under a 50% national RES (Figure 3). Cumulatively, the 50% RES would reduce CO2 reductions by 4.2 billion metric tons from 2020-2035. These reductions, combined with reductions in other air pollutants, would result in $140 billion in cumulative climate and public health benefits by 2035 based on the U.S. government’s 2016 estimates for the social cost of carbon.

Figure 3. US Power Sector CO2 Emissions

Udall bill offers a pathway to US leadership on clean energy

From our analysis, we can see that Senator Udall’s proposal would put the U.S. on course for decarbonizing the power sector by mid-century. Additional climate and clean energy policies will be needed to meet US climate goals. This includes policies like a carbon price or cap, stronger energy efficiency standards, increased funding for clean energy R&D and infrastructure investments, and incentives for greater electrification of transportation, buildings and industry. Considering the significant economic, consumer, and climate benefits, a strong national RES should be a top priority as Congress considers new policies to transition America to a low-carbon energy future.

Photo: Omari Spears/UCS

The Masked Syndrome: HIV, Health Disparities, and the Two-Pronged Approach

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

“I have to tell you something” he said to my father on the phone. My father could sense immediately the conversation would be pivotal. “Cancer?” my father asked, to which he quietly responded, “Much worse.” He was my mother’s uncle; he was hilarious, hardworking, and passionate. He was also a gay Armenian man, and his sexual orientation was a subject of shame, criticism, and volatility in many cultures like my own. It was 1989, and the public, including my father, knew little about human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. Within days of this phone call, my parents flew to see him. I often think about this moment and my mother’s uncle considering his diagnosis the worst news he could possibly share. I think about the shame he felt and the vulnerability he displayed in sharing his status. This moment of sheer vulnerability and honesty has been shared by over 36 million individuals and their families worldwide.

Disproportionate impacts on already vulnerable communities

Despite significant advancements in the understanding of HIV over the past thirty years, the epidemic disproportionately affects disenfranchised communities. The health disparities are striking, affecting communities of color (Black and Latinx people account for more than sixty percent of cases), sexual minorities, and the intersection of these communities (Black gay males account for about half of cases). A number of crucial risk factors have been identified, including poverty, substance use, low educational attainment, unequal access to health care, and discrimination. These disparities are present not only in the transmission of the disease, but in the diagnosis and treatment as well. Research has shown that compared to non-Hispanic whites, racial/ethnic minorities have a higher likelihood of virologic failure and resistance; being prescribed less efficacious and more toxic treatment regimens; brain and cognitive impairments; poorer quality of life; and early mortality. Additionally, racial/ethnic minorities report experiencing discriminatory health care experiences and overall distrust toward health care providers. The access to quality care in these communities is heavily impacted by a number of social, environmental, and psychological factors.

The two-pronged approach to reducing disparities

The HIV epidemic is unique in that transmission is dependent on both behavioral risk factors and the federal government’s historical role in the silencing and marginalization of minority populations. Though significant public health advancements and advocacy efforts have been made over the course of the epidemic’s history, these benefits have not necessarily been shared equally throughout the U.S. population. In order to better conceptualize and treat this syndrome, a two-pronged approach is needed to better integrate research findings with social justice efforts. First, research will continue to aid in the identification of risk factors and protective factors to prevent further damage. Second, policymakers and organizations must integrate these findings and mobilize in order to combat social injustice and properly communicate this information to all.

Advocating for compassionate, accessible and equitable care

Research has shown that discrimination is a major barrier to care and facilitates the transmission of HIV and disease progression. Currently, explicit protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity do not exist at the federal level, which can lead to significant problems in accessing health care. More than a third of LGBTQ+ people of color have been refused treatment and/or feel scared to access health care resources due to fear of discrimination. This results in low accessibility of care and subsequently worse health outcomes. Organizations such as the Prevention Access Campaign work to devise equity initiatives such as U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable), a global community of advocates and researchers working to disseminate the crucial finding that individuals on effective treatment with an undetectable level of HIV in their blood have a negligible risk of transmitting HIV sexually. This may assist in the eradication of the stigma associated with sexual disease transmission and encourages diagnosed individuals to remain adherent to treatment regimens to keep both themselves and their partners healthy. It is crucial to continue to combine research findings with advocacy work in order to bring together professionals from a number of sectors to increase communication, understanding, and prevention of further risky behavior.

HIV can be characterized as a syndrome with two faces. The face of the disease we see corresponds to the physical and cognitive burden associated with the diagnosis of a chronic disease. The second, and arguably more important part of the syndrome is a masked face tucked behind the first, corresponding to the internal turmoil, which includes enduring stigma, shame, and discrimination. Stigma is considered a major predictor of mortality within this population and serves as a barrier to accessing both HIV testing and treatment.

It was this masked face that led my mother’s uncle to respond with “much worse” and it was this face that had kept his life, sexual orientation, and diagnosis a secret from everyone he loved. Resiliency in this community is the pulsing, beating heart allowing them to overcome adversity, despite this diagnostic label. This resiliency has been tested repeatedly, yet this community has continued to laugh, sing, advocate, and share their experiences, shining bright and dispelling the grim social pressures casting a shadow on their lives. The time has come for the American people to enact change; let us collectively stand behind a relentlessly strong community who need not hide behind any mask.


Maral Aghvinian is a doctoral student at Fordham University in the Bronx, NY specializing in clinical neuropsychology. Her research interests include the intersection between neurocognitive functioning, health behaviors, cross-cultural issues, and health disparities in highly stigmatized, chronic disorders. Maral’s primary goal is to use a biopsychosociocultural framework to better understand the relationship between the role of stigma and factors that contribute to disparate health outcomes in underrepresented populations. By conducting clinically informed research, she hopes to eradicate the climate of stigma surrounding mental health, especially in marginalized groups.

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.

Renewable Energy Curtailment 101: The Problem That’s Actually Not a Problem At All

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

It’s that time of year again. The snow has all but melted and vivid memories of spring flowers begin to fade into the past. Once again, news stories start making the rounds proclaiming record amounts of renewable energy production in California. Renewable energy curtailment has also returned as a frequent early-summer news topic. But why?

It’s quite simple: in the spring and early summer, abundant sunshine, blustery winds, and rushing rivers all coalesce to produce ample amounts of renewable electricity. But all this happens at a time when mild temperatures mean that people aren’t using much electricity in the first place (You don’t usually need to crank the AC in the spring). Since the electric grid must always be balanced so that electricity generation exactly equals electricity usage, inevitably, there are times when there is more electricity available than we can possibly use. This excess electricity results in curtailment of renewables, which is a purposeful reduction in renewable electricity output below the levels that could otherwise have been produced.

So this is the time of year when we resume the annual discussion of all the curtailment records that have recently been broken and opine on the “problem” (or lack thereof) of all that wasted renewable electricity. While curtailment of renewable energy has been on the rise over the past few years in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) service territory (see graph below), renewable energy curtailment still only amounts to a couple percent of all the renewable energy generated.

But let’s take a step back and ask a more basic question: why does all this curtailment happen in the first place?

Renewable energy curtailment in the CAISO has steadily increased over the past few years as California adds more wind and solar to the grid. However, only 2% of total solar energy in the CAISO was curtailed in 2018, and the CAISO expects only 3-4% of total solar energy to be curtailed in 2019. (The vast majority of curtailed energy is from solar, not wind.)

Causes of curtailment

There are two main reasons behind renewable energy curtailment: system-wide oversupply and local transmission constraints.

  1. System-wide oversupply is what most people think of when explaining renewable curtailment. This kind of curtailment occurs when, on a large scale, there is simply not enough demand for all the renewable electricity that is available. Examples of this occur frequently in California during the spring months when renewable energy production can exceed electricity demand.
  2. Local transmission constraints are an oft forgotten reason for renewable curtailment. This kind of curtailment occurs when there is so much renewable electricity in a local area that there is insufficient transmission infrastructure to deliver that electricity to a place where it could be used. A great example of this is in Texas, where wind energy curtailment fell from 17% in 2009 to 0.5% in 2014 mostly due to construction of additional transmission lines to move that wind energy out of local pockets to places where it could be used.

The CAISO, which operates the grid in most of California, keeps track of how much curtailment happens due to these two reasons. Surprisingly, in the first five months of 2019, just over half of all curtailment occurred due to local transmission constraints. And this isn’t an anomaly – roughly three-fifths of all curtailment in 2018 was due to local transmission constraints as well.

Reducing curtailment

In the first five months of 2019, over half of renewable energy curtailment in the CAISO was due to local transmission constraints.

Curtailment at low levels is more of a fact of life than a problem. In most cases, it simply does not make economic sense to build all the infrastructure (e.g. transmission lines or energy storage) that would be required to utilize every last drop of renewable electricity. But as levels of curtailment rise, instead of viewing curtailment as a problem, all that clean energy that would otherwise be wasted actually poses an incredible opportunity.

The CAISO has put forth a list of eight solutions (shown in the figure below) that could put excess renewable electricity to good use. The Union of Concerned Scientists has supported many of these solutions. For example, our 2015 study demonstrated that curtailment can be drastically reduced if renewable resources, such as solar and wind, are operated flexibly to provide the types of grid services that are currently provided by dirty natural gas power plants.

CAISO’s Eight Solutions to curtailment.

Let’s be smart about curtailment

This brings me to my main point, so listen up: to reduce curtailment, the type of solution required depends on the type of curtailment you are trying to reduce.

While any of the CAISO’s eight solutions could help address system curtailment, it’s a whole other story when it comes to local curtailment. Let me give a few examples:

  • Storage, demand response, and electric vehicles could all help alleviate system curtailment (provided they are operated to do so), but they won’t do much to alleviate local curtailment unless those technologies are deployed in the local area where curtailment is occurring.
  • Expansion of the Western Energy Imbalance Market could help alleviate system curtailment, but it won’t help very much with local curtailment. This expansion would allow excess renewable energy to be sold throughout the western United States, but local curtailment occurs because renewable electricity is trapped in a specific location and there’s not enough transmission to deliver it elsewhere. Increasing the number of entities participating in this west-wide market would not help reduce local curtailment because that electricity would still be trapped in local areas.

What this all means is that we need to be smart about how we approach the “problem” of curtailment. Every year, California sets a new record for the amount of renewable energy that’s curtailed. But that doesn’t mean you can use up all that energy by plugging in a battery at any old place on the grid. This means that, when investing in resources such as storage, we need to be smart about where we are making those investments, because putting it in the right place could increase the amount of excess renewable energy that’s available for the storage to soak up.

A word to the wise

So, in conclusion, curtailment isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity. But for those of you who have been fantasizing about putting California’s excess renewable energy to good use by setting up a bitcoin mining operation or plugging in thousands of toasters to start an avocado toast factory, I have some bad news for you. No matter where you set up your new business, you won’t be able to take advantage of all of California’s curtailed renewable energy. However, if you put your avocado toast factory in exactly the right place, you might be able to soak up a little more renewable energy that would otherwise be curtailed.

Public Domain CAISO CAISO

With New Power Plant Rule, Trump Administration Plumbs the Depths of the Indefensible

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the final version of its “Affordable Clean Energy” (ACE) rule, a carbon emissions standard for fossil fuel-fired power plants.

And it does nothing.


It does nothing despite the agency’s legal obligation to limit carbon pollution from the power sector, the nation’s largest stationary source of global warming emissions.

It does nothing despite the fact that — even in the face of mounting coal retirements — a growing reliance on natural gas led power sector emissions to rise last year, reversing multiple previous years of decline.

It does nothing despite a rapidly growing list of states, cities, and corporations committing to ever higher levels of renewables in recognition of the climate imperative and the economic and public health opportunities from switching to clean electricity.

It just does nothing.

And it does all this because the administration wants all this: a do-nothing rule that boosts the bottom line of a select polluting few, and heaven help the rest.

Regulation In Name Only

To defend the patently indefensible, the administration stares the incontrovertible case for action straight in the face then sinks it six feet deep. The rule ignores the costs of climate inaction, dismisses the enormous potential for public health gains, and disregards the demonstrated ability of the power sector to adapt—and instead advances a nonsensical set of constraints to intentionally limit the agency’s own authority to act.

ACE, which replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, begins with a narrow conception of what’s possible, then repeatedly narrows it further still.

First, the rule only regulates coal-fired power plants, and declines to regulate other significant power sector carbon emitters like natural gas plants. Next, it evaluates just a small subset of approaches for how these sources can reduce emissions, looking only at minor efficiency improvements at the individual source, which is expected to deliver negligible improvements on the order of <1 to a few percent and could even lead to an increase in emissions from those more efficient plants now running more.

At the same time, the rule excludes other source-based options that would deliver actual meaningful change, like carbon capture and sequestration, not to mention the systems-based approach advanced in the prior Clean Power Plan. Finally, ACE creates a mile-wide loophole that would allow any given coal plant to be excused from investing in any upgrades at all.

The result is a rule that does not actually require any minimum emissions reductions and is, at very best, estimated to achieve a half percent of additional emissions reductions by 2035.

A clear case for federal action

It is easy to roll one’s eyes at this action, another in a long line of the Trump administration’s overt handouts to fossil fuel corporations borne on the backs of the public.

But don’t let apathy reign.

This is our nation’s Environmental Protection Agency, charged with a mission to protect human health and the environment, “acting on climate” in a way that prevents it from truly acting at all. The end result is an effective benching of one of our most powerful current forces for change.

Which means we have a real and true climate crisis on our hands.

Because while states, cities, and even corporations are showing up to show us how to lead, that simply will not be enough to get the nation where it needs to go. There are entrenched fossil fuel interests fighting as hard as they can to keep the status quo, and that fight will only grow harder as the conversation shifts to focus on natural gas.

Because coal? The big money’s leaving coal. But gas? That’s a whole new perilous game. And in increasing numbers of skirmishes breaking out all across the country, we have seen the fossil fuel industry start showing up in a major way, fighting to undermine progress and lock in a lasting path dependency that will only make it harder to break away from unconstrained natural gas—and all its climate-incompatible pollution—with every passing day.

And so we need the federal government, to ensure that it’s not just leaders on the path to change, but laggards, too. Because to avoid the worst of climate impacts, that’s what science, and ethics, compels us to do.

But instead of federal leadership, we get this: a carbon rule that declares the solution is to sink major money into coal, an increasingly uneconomic and health-harming vestige of a high-polluting age, while delivering nearly no emissions gains nor any forward momentum for power sector change.

In the process, the agency foments uncertainty around established science, and hypocritically calculates public health benefits to boost its case for inaction while withholding analysis that would support the case for true action.

Indeed, even in the face of Executive Order 12898, which directs agencies to understand and address disproportionate impacts on minority and low-income populations, the EPA flat-out declines, brazenly justifying its decision by explaining that it effectively has no idea how ACE will play out—“doing so would suggest greater certainty in the regional impacts of this final rule than is warranted”—and simply asserts that even though some plants are expected to increase emissions, and thus increase the health-harming pollution borne by those neighboring communities, “on balance” U.S. populations will gain. Shameless.

Plumbing the depths of the indefensible

The ACE rule looks laughably bad on its surface, but in fact, it’s so much worse.

It is the EPA, our EPA, instantiating the evisceration of science to purposefully hamstring its own ability to act on climate, now and in the future. And for what? Not the people, anyway.

The magnitude of the climate crisis has never been clearer; the urgency of the climate crisis has never felt nearer. But actual implementation of the full solution set? It has never, ever felt so far away.

The EPA will be challenged in court, and the administration will be hard-pressed to defend the indefensible. But worse yet will be the leadership squandered, the time lost, the investments wasted, the people forsaken. And again: for what? Nothing but the short-term profits of a select polluting few.

Do not let apathy reign.


ExxonMobil Execs Care More About Dodging Responsibility for Climate Damages Than Preventing More Harm

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

I had the privilege of attending the ExxonMobil annual shareholders’ meeting on May 29th in Dallas, Texas. As a scientist focused on urban ecology and biodiversity in the context of the sustainability of urban greenspaces in my home state of Texas, I attended the meeting with a question for ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods.

I wanted to know why the company was so far behind in creating a business plan that protects the Gulf Coast, and the entire planet, from the impacts of fossil fuel-driven global warming. What I heard instead was corporate double-talk: ExxonMobil simultaneously claims that it is doing plenty to curb climate change, and also that it is not the company’s responsibility to act. I disagree. Like the majority of Texans, I believe that global warming is harming my community and that fossil fuel companies are responsible for climate damages (such as the devastation wrought by increasingly destructive hurricanes).

Before the meeting even began, I was able to discuss my concerns with ExxonMobil Board member and climate scientist, Dr. Susan Avery. I was curious to speak with Dr. Avery about her personal and scientific position on climate science, and specifically on the aspect of uncertainty, since ExxonMobil’s public statements have misrepresented climate science by downplaying the connections between its global warming emissions and climate change.

Dr. Avery’s comments were representative of what I observed overall for the day regarding ExxonMobil’s official policy positions and talking points: that despite science that causally links climate impacts to emissions from major fossil fuel producers, neither ExxonMobil  nor the petroleum industry as a whole should be singled out for primary culpability as a major enabler of fossil fuel emissions over other segment of polluters.

This sentiment was again enforced in a second informal discussion among several ExxonMobil employees, Union of Concerned Scientists’ Kathy Mulvey, Edward Mason with the Church of England, and me at the pre-meeting coffee hour.

We were gathered at the ExxonMobil Environment kiosk sign discussing ExxonMobil’s role in promoting disinformation on climate science and its avoidance in adopting strategic corporate polices and goals to bring the company’s emissions in line with the global temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement.

What struck me about the replies from ExxonMobil employees was the insistence—again, in sticking to the corporate talking points— that ExxonMobil is being unfairly singled out for negligence and that we need to look beyond ExxonMobil to other polluters for both blame and solutions.

During the formal shareholder meeting, I must admit that I was very surprised when Mr. Woods pointed to me to take my question. I stated that ExxonMobil has failed to take responsibility for its contribution to climate impacts and failed to help prepare and protect Texans and our neighbors along the Gulf Coast from the impacts of its products.

I illustrated the impacts I’ve seen in my own backyard: urban green spaces threatened by changes in temperature and precipitation trends, extreme weather harming plant and wildlife biodiversity, and of course the toll that climate change-charged storms like Hurricane Harvey have had — and will continue to have – on communities living along the coast.

I also stated that the company claims to support the Paris Agreement, but has not taken any serious actions toward achieving its goals. Finally, I asked why ExxonMobil still fails to lead the way globally on protecting our safety and curbing emissions.

Mr. Woods’ response was a litany of the official corporate talking points of the day. Namely, ExxonMobil believes that it can have its cake and eat it too: we can have continued reliance on fossil fuel exploration, production, and consumption while simultaneously reducing environmental impacts, “including the risks of climate change.”

However, in reality, ExxonMobil is committed to a false dual challenge and solution, one that is non-sustainable and unfortunately encourages and promotes continued reliance on fossil fuels and its heavy carbon footprint, while obstructing policies that would bring us towards renewable energy solutions. It might look good on paper, but it is business as usual.

Rick Hammer is an Associate Professor Biology at HSU and Associate Professor of Restoration Ecology at the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Mancelona Michigan. He holds a Ph.D in botany and ecology from Texas A&M University.

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.

Scientists Find Serious Flaws in Proposal to Delist Endangered Gray Wolf

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Photo: Eric Kilby/Flickr

According to a five-member peer-review panel, the administration’s proposal to delist the endangered gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is chalk full of scientific errors that misrepresent the scientific consensus regarding wolf conservation and taxonomy. One member of the panel even said that the proposed rule seems as if it were written with a predetermined conclusion to delist the endangered gray wolf, and then the administration cherry picked evidence they thought supported their conclusion. “It looks like they decided to delist and then they compiled all the evidence that they thought supported that decision. It simply doesn’t support the decision,” said Adrian Treves, an environmental studies professor at the University of Wisconsin. Indeed, the 245-page report provided to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) by the peer-review panel says that the evidence doesn’t support the administration’s conclusion to rollback protections for the gray wolf across the lower-48.

The peer-review process at FWS

Peer-review is the bedrock of publishing scientific results. Scientists write up the results of their study in a paper that is then anonymously reviewed by peers in their field. The review ensures that the questions scientists are asking are addressed by the right methods and that results are interpreted correctly. If one, it only takes one, peer reviewer finds a major fault in your study, and the editor of the journal agrees that the fault is legitimate and should be addressed, then that fault must be addressed before the results can be published. This may mean further analysis of data, conducting more experiments, or if the scientist(s) cannot address the fault then a rejection of publication of results. According to the recent peer-review of the FWS’s proposal to delist the gray wolf from the ESA, the proposal contained several scientific errors. This means that the administration may address the errors elucidated in the peer-review and produce a proposal that is in-line with the best available science or retract the proposal altogether.

Science-based agencies in our government have peer-review processes in place, and these are especially important for implementing policies that are required by law to be informed by science. The ESA is one such policy that requires decisions to list or delist a species to/from endangered status to be based solely on the best available scientific and commercial data. In 2016, the FWS revised their peer-review policy after encouragement from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Project Coyote, and a letter signed by nearly a thousand conservation biology experts across the country. The new policy entrusts the scientific evaluation of species listing and de-listing determinations to an external committee of scientists who are best suited to assess the scientific evidence and make a public recommendation to the agency, based solely on the scientific and commercial data available, as the ESA requires. The new policy also took additional steps to make the process more transparent by making the peer-review documents available to the public, as well as the conflicts of interest forms from the peer-review panel. The updated policy strengthened the process and it was a step in the right direction for science by FWS.

The Gray Wolf’s Controversial History

The gray wolf has long been a controversial species regarding its endangered status. In 2011, ESA protections were removed for wolves in the Northern Rockies by Congress – the first time ever that the legislative body delisted an endangered species. The scientific community largely agreed that this rollback of protections was not based on the best available science.

Since the gray wolf’s protections under ESA were removed in the Northern Rockies, interest groups have moved to have the wolves’ protections removed across most of the lower-48. The FWS submitted a proposal for this delisting in 2013, but an independent peer-review as well as a majority of public comments against the proposed delisting delayed the agency’s decision. The Trump administration proposed to move the delisting of the wolf across the lower-48 in March, 2019. But the scientific consensus remains the same – the gray wolf still needs protections afforded to it by the ESA.

Science Says Protect the Wolves

Treves is concerned that if protections are lifted for the gray wolf then illegal poaching will increase and this could decimate the population like has happened in the past, a concern that Treves has published on previously. Rancher and hunters continue to express concern that protections for wolves will increase their population such that the carnivore will annihilate stocks of prey (e.g., elk, sheep, cows). But there is no scientific evidence that supports killing predators makes livestock safer. In fact, in some cases it seems that killing predators may actually worsen the problem.

The peer-review is in and the experts say that the Trump administration’s proposal to delist the endangered gray wolf is not in line with the scientific evidence. This means that the administration should throw the delisting proposal in the trash because the ESA requires delisting decisions to be based solely on the best available scientific and commercial data. If they move ahead with the proposal as-is…well…seems like that would be illegal.

Photo: Eric Kilby/Flickr

Chevron Earns Shareholder Distrust on Climate Action

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Photo: Rainforest Action Network/Flickr

At the end of last month, I attended the Chevron Annual Meeting with my colleague Ortal Ullman and Stanford climate historian Dr. Ben Franta (see his blog reflecting on the experience). While this year’s meeting received significantly less attention than the ExxonMobil meeting, where attendees had to pass a 100-foot-long banner on the climate crisis, or the BP meeting, where some attendees staged a crime scene in the middle of the CEO’s opening remarks, Chevron did not escape activist pressure. And despite its efforts to keep a low profile about its meeting, Chevron faced shareholder discontent over its dedication to climate inaction. Here’s my take on the end of a proxy season in which oil and gas company decisionmakers showed why two-thirds of people in the US distrust fossil fuel companies.

Barriers to entry

Unlike some of its peers, Chevron is incredibly secretive about its annual meeting. There is no webcast, no recording, and no transcript. The meeting was held on a Wednesday morning at 8 AM, at the company’s San Ramon Campus, which is far outside the Bay Area’s mass transit system.  The logistics do not welcome outsiders or casual shareholders – we had to show our printed proxy tickets to security just to get into the parking lot.

Before we even entered the auditorium, Chevron made us run a security gauntlet and coat check our pens and notepads in an abundance of caution over recording devices (no electronics are allowed).  The company produces over three million barrels of oil equivalent per day, endangering the climate and rushing us towards a global average temperature increase well beyond 2°C, but that clear plastic pen is the real threat to be neutralized.

Shareholder proposals win support

With all the difficulties in attending, it’s no surprise that only two shareholders were on hand to present the five shareholder resolutions calling for better governance and environmental performance from the company.  As Kathy Mulvey’s blog on key takeaways from the ExxonMobil annual meeting points out, assessing support for shareholder proposals against a majority threshold is overly simplistic.  Even when a shareholder proposal receives less than 50% of the votes, it can demonstrate that a substantial portion of the shareholders are dissatisfied—and encourage the company to take action to address their concerns.  Yet Chevron seems surprisingly comfortable leaving around one-third of its shareholders unsatisfied on a variety of environmental, social, and governance issues.

This year, Chevron successfully petitioned the SEC to prevent shareholders from voting on a proposal requesting the company set greenhouse gas emissions targets. Two shareholder resolutions were withdrawn before the meeting in exchange for commitments from the company to report on plastic pollution and on lobbying activities.  However, Chevron’s commitment to disclose payments of more than $100,000 to trade associations falls far short of the emerging norm of reviewing trade and industry associations’ climate policy advocacy and acting to address misalignment with stated company positions. Shell and BHP have completed such audits, and a number of other companies in the extractive industries (including Equinor and reportedly BP) have promised to do so.

Three shareholder proposals received over 30% support this year, including:

  • A request for a report on reducing the company’s carbon footprint. This vote was a clear rejection of the company’s current climate risk report, which insists that Chevron has no responsibility to align its business model with the Paris climate agreement—which would require reducing emissions from its operations and the use of its products to net-zero by mid-century, as underscored by the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s special report.
  • A resolution to make it easier for shareholders to call special meetings was spurred by Chevron’s historic mismanagement of risk, exemplified by the ongoing legal challenges related to the pollution in Ecuador by Texaco (which Chevron acquired in 2001).
  • A request for a report on the human right to water, presented by Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, who has attended these meetings and pushed for better corporate behavior from Chevron for over a decade, also received more than 30% support.
Questions & few answers

There were also a number of questions from shareholders and their proxies.  Nearly all of these addressed either the climate or Chevron’s legal responsibilities in the Amazon.  While CEO Michael Wirth made vague statements that bypassed the more pointed questions, he did explicitly say that there was no new science, and no new evidence, that supported the climate lawsuits filed throughout the US.  We beg to differ.

Additionally, Wirth sidestepped my question about whether the company’s emissions targets – which will amount to just a .12% reduction of its total emissions over seven years, based on 2016 emissions – squared with the urgent need to reduce emissions to net-zero by mid-century to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  He also supported the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers’ conservative “model” bill factory, and declared the Chevron would not create a litmus test for trade association membership, as some of its competitors have begun to do to ensure their trade association climate lobbying doesn’t conflict with their own stated positions.

Unlike the ExxonMobil meeting I attended last year, I did not even leave with a swag bag of various petroleum products.  Instead, I left with two very crummy Chevron-emblazoned pens and a sense of growing frustration.  And a newly released survey conducted by Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications suggests that I’m not alone. The poll found that two-thirds of people across the US—and more than seven in ten Californians—distrust fossil fuel companies.

It is clear that Chevron intends to uphold the status quo when it comes to annual meetings and community engagement – keep people out and keep expectations low.  Despite scoring poorly on UCS’s 2018 Climate Accountability Scorecard, Chevron has managed to sneak under the public radar with a lower profile than its peers.  It’s up to us to shine a light on the company’s current and historic role in spreading climate disinformation and blocking climate policies.

Photo: Rainforest Action Network/Flickr

What’s the Difference Between Food Stamp Abuse and a First-Class Exposé? Race.

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Photo: Pixabay

Yesterday, at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, lawmakers engaged in a debate over something called “broad-based categorical eligibility.” Put simply, it’s a legal provision that allows low-income people who qualify for one social assistance program (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) to more easily qualify for another (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps).

But this isn’t a blog post about federal food programs. This is a blog post about racism.

At yesterday’s hearing, the story of a man named Rob Undersander stole the show. A retiree from Minnesota, Undersander and his wife lived comfortably off her social security benefits and, according to the couple, had additional savings and assets worth upwards of $1 million. In 2016, Undersander applied for SNAP benefits and was accepted. (Minnesota, like many states, uses only an income limit to determine eligibility.) Undersander and his wife received monthly benefits from 2016 into the following year.

How you decide to look at this story might depend on a lot of things: your economic status, your political leanings, your general feelings about the Midwest.

But it might also depend on how you view race, consciously or otherwise.

Undersander is white. And this is important.

It was the key factor allowing House Republicans to paint him as the hearing’s hero. Instead of an abuser of the system, Undersander was portrayed as an undercover investigator; a savvy citizen producing a powerful exposé on the loopholes in government systems; a vigilante taking the law into his own hands in the name of fiscal responsibility. Perhaps most importantly, he was granted the privilege of participating in the shaping of his own narrative—a privilege often denied to people of color, particularly when accused of any wrongdoing. A quick search for his name yields a number of news stories in which Undersander is quoted, including a video interview explaining his actions and intentions.

“He did this to call attention to the flaws in the system,” affirmed Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD). Meanwhile, Fox News called him a “food stamp program watchdog.”

It didn’t matter that no one asked him to conduct this experiment, or that he continued to receive benefits for months after he “exposed” the so-called loophole. Applying for benefits and being approved, despite his apparent wealth, would have been enough to prove a point.

If he were black, these things would have mattered.

If he were black, this story wouldn’t have been quite so useful to House Republicans.

If he were black, Rob Undersander might have looked a little too much like Linda Taylor.

No, he didn’t break any laws. But this isn’t a blog about federal food programs—just as yesterday’s hearing wasn’t about running those programs more efficiently.

It was yet another platform created to push a partisan political agenda to dismantle social assistance programs—an agenda that failed to find success in the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill. This agenda flies in the face of science, and often reason, and at its core is defined by gross mischaracterizations by a powerful majority about poverty, prosperity, and, inextricably, race.


Hey, Oregon Senators: You Can’t Run Away from Climate Change

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

This week Oregon stands on the cusp of approving historic cap-and-invest legislation, HB 2020, that experts have said will help grow the Oregon economy. After three years of legislative consideration, numerous studies, hearings, public meetings, and debate, the Oregon House approved the legislation decisively (36-22) on June 18th, and the bill moved to the Senate Floor, where a vote was expected on June 20th.

But outnumbered bill opponents, who in the House had tried to throw up every possible procedural roadblock to forestall a vote, resorted in the Senate to a highly unusual tactic – they didn’t come to work. That’s right: Oregon’s elected Senate representatives who oppose climate action didn’t show up on the Senate Floor this morning, thus depriving the body of a quorum and making a vote procedurally impossible. There are press reports that several  have scurried out of state to make it harder to compel them to return to do their jobs.

What on Earth are these Senators thinking?

The opponents of HB 2020 believe the bill will result in economic hardship for their constituents, but the performance of existing carbon pricing programs just doesn’t support that conclusion. The bill’s opponents know that neighboring California, with a much larger and more complex economy, enacted a similar program over a decade ago and the state’s still-booming economy has grown from the 8th to the 5th largest on the planet. Canadian provinces that have put a price on carbon are also thriving.

Climate change is already costing Oregon plenty

The great irony is that while HB 2020 won’t cause economic hardship, climate change already is. Oregon is already experiencing costly impacts that are only getting worse the longer governments shirk their responsibility and don’t take action. Scientists in support of this legislation warn that Oregon oyster nurseries and fisheries are facing serious risks from ocean acidification while rural and urban communities are already portending with increasing heat, droughts, floods, and wildfires. These impacts will continue to put economies and lives at risk.

Much of the debate in the Oregon House centered on the problems of rural Oregon. But climate change is impartial and nonpartisan: every corner of the state will be impacted. In particular, rural areas will be hard hit by the vulnerability of natural systems like forests and waterways to climate impacts.

Rather than watching their representatives duck out of their responsibilities in a move of calculated political theater, rural Oregonians need actual help for farms and forests to prepare for and manage climate change. If enacted, Oregon’s climate bill would create funds to directly help these communities adapt.

Don’t run away, do what is right

Climate change is impervious to partisan politics, belief systems, rhetoric, and spin. No one can or will escape climate impacts. Foes say that Oregon’s emissions reductions will not make a difference because the state is too small, but size hasn’t prevented over a hundred countries with economies smaller than Oregon’s, including Portugal, Greece, and New Zealand, from pledging to reduce their emissions under the Paris Accord. Why did they do this? Because it’s the right thing to do for a globally shared problem.

Yet these state Senators—at best misguided, at worst abetting a fossil fuel industry hanging on to every misdirection it can muster—are fleeing their constitutionally-mandated work. They need to stop running and start looking at the facts.

Oregon has an awful lot at stake. The entire nation—and the world—is watching. This small group of state Senators who choose not to do the jobs they were elected to do are betraying Oregon’s workers, families, and children.

Energía Eólica Marina en los EE.UU.: Escala, Empleos e Innovación

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Read in English >

Cuando visité el parque eólico marino de Block Island sabía que estaba presenciando un momento histórico. Este proyecto es el primero y único en operación en los EE. UU., cuenta con 5 poderosas turbinas eólicas y una capacidad instalada de 30 megavatios (MW).

Acabo de participar en la conferencia de Energía Eólica Marina en EE.UU. 2019 y estoy absolutamente impresionada con el progreso que esta industria está teniendo.

Acá les comparto 3 datos claves de la conferencia.

1. 20.000 MW y contando

Los mandatos de energía eólica marina establecidos por los estados se han incrementado de 15.000MW a 20.000MW en los últimos 5 meses

La industria de energía eólica marina ha estado creciendo sin parar.  Stephanie McClellan, de la Iniciativa Especial de Energía Eólica Marina (SIOW, por sus siglas en ingles), compartió cuan difícil es mantenerse al día con respecto a los últimos avances: en los últimos 5 meses los mandatos de energía eólica marina establecidos por los estados se han incrementado de 15.000MW a 20.000MW. Esto podría cubrir el equivalente a la demanda de electricidad de más de 10 millones de hogares en Nueva Inglaterra.

Pronóstico de los mandatos de energía eólica marina establecidos por los estados a 2030

En comparación, Europa es el líder en energía eólica marina con una capacidad instalada de 18.000MW. Se espera que los EE.UU. bata este récord en la próxima década.

2. Una vibrante industria de empleos

Pronóstico de inversión de capital acumulado para los diferentes componentes principales de la cadena productiva de la industria de energía eólica marina

Talento local de New Bedford en la conferencia de OSW. De izquierda a derecha: Brandan Burke, Graduado de la Universidad de Hartford; John “Buddy” Andrade, Director Ejecutivo de Old Bedford Village; y Devaughn Senna, Graduado de la Universidad Bridgewater State

Un reciente análisis de SIOW, identificó que la cadena productiva de la industria de energía eólica marina en los EE.UU. representa una oportunidad de $70.000 millones de dólares. Pueden darse una idea de lo que viene en término de empleos al considerar los diferentes componentes claves que serán requeridos para la construcción y operación de los parques eólicos, incluyendo las turbinas eólicas, el cableado, las subestaciones y los cimientos.

Un sinnúmero de trabajadores serán necesarios para cubrir efectivamente los requerimientos establecidos por los diferentes estados. Y en lugares como New Bedford en Massachusetts donde será construido uno de los principales puertos  marinos eólicos, hay líderes que ya se están asegurando que el talento local haga parte de esta fuerza laboral.

Uno de estos líderes es John “Buddy” Andrade, un organizador de desarrollo comunitario. Fue energizante verlo llevar a la conferencia a 2 candidatos prometedores de New Bedford quienes se encuentran listos y dispuestos a unirse a esta vibrante industria.

3. La energía eólica marina flotante viene en camino

Las plataformas flotantes han sido consideradas una alternativa para aquellas zonas con buen recurso de viento, pero con aguas cuya profundidad es de 60 metros o superior, como las de la costa Oeste de los EE.UU. Es emocionante ver como esta tecnología avanza de discusiones teóricas a proyectos reales, como el que se encuentra en funcionamiento en Escocia y otro en construcción en ¡California!

La energía eólica marina flotante tiene el potencial de liberar 7.000 gigavatios (GW) de energía limpia a nivel global (1 gigavatio = 1.000 megavatios).  En el 2018, el total de capacidad instalada para generación de electricidad en EE.UU. fue de aproximadamente 1.200 GW.

El poder de trabajar juntos

En esta época en que la crisis climática requiere que todos estemos a bordo en la toma de acciones decisivas para contrarrestarla, me alegra ver que la industria de energía eólica está preparada para este reto.  Asegurémonos que, como una sociedad con saberes y experiencias diversas, trabajemos juntos para aprovechar al máximo y obtener los mejores resultados de esta oportunidad.

Photo: Paula Garcia Stephanie A. McClellan, Ph.D., SIOW Stephanie A. McClellan, Ph.D., SIOW Stephanie A. McClellan, Ph.D., SIOW Photo: Paula García

Offshore Wind in the US: Scale, Jobs and Innovation

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Lea en español >

When I visited Block Island’s offshore wind farm 2 years ago I knew I was seeing history in the making. This project, the first one in operation in the US, has 5 powerful wind turbines and an installed capacity of 30 megawatts (MW).

I just attended the US Offshore Wind 2019 conference and my mind is blown with the progress this industry is experiencing.

Let me share 3 exciting facts that I learned at the conference.

1. 20,000 MW, and counting

In the last 5 months, states’ requirements have grown from 15,000 MW to 20,000 MW

The offshore wind industry has been growing steadily. Stephanie McClellan, from the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind (SIOW), pointed out how hard it is to stay up-to-speed on the latest developments: in the last 5 months, states’ requirements have grown from 15,000 MW to 20,000 MW. This could cover the equivalent electricity demand of more than 10 million New England households.

Forecasts of state offshore wind power procurements through 2030

For context, Europe is a leader in offshore wind development with an installed capacity of more than 18,000 MW. The U.S. is expected to beat this record over the next decade.

2. A vibrant job industry

Cumulative capital expenditure forecast for key components of the offshore wind supply chain

Local talent from New Bedford at the OSW conference. From left to right: Brandan Burke, Graduate of the University of Hartford; John “Buddy” Andrade Executive Director at Old Bedford Village; and Devaughn Senna, Graduate of Bridgewater State University

The SIOW analysis also shows that there is a $70 billion supply chain opportunity in the US offshore wind industry. You can get a glimpse of what’s coming once you look at key components that will be required including wind turbine generators, cables, substations, foundations, and marine support.

Plenty of workers will be needed to effectively fulfill the requirements already in the pipeline. And in places like New Bedford, MA, where one of the main offshore wind ports will be developed, leaders are already making sure that local talent is part of this workforce.

John “Buddy” Andrade, a community development organizer, is one of these leaders. It was invigorating to see him bringing to the conference promising candidates from New Bedford ready and willing to join this vibrant industry.

3. Floating offshore wind is coming

Floating platforms have been considered an alternative for those areas with good wind resources but with a water depth of 60 meters or more, such as the West coast of the US It’s exciting to see this technology advance from theoretical discussions to a real pilot project being run in Scotland and another one in the making in California!

Floating offshore wind energy has the potential to unleash 7,000 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy worldwide (1 gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts). In 2018, the total capacity of US electricity generating plants was approximately 1,200 GW.

Developers are seeing important market opportunities for this technology across the globe, including the US, France, Scotland, Japan, and South Korea.

The power of working together

In a time when the climate crisis requires all hands on deck, I’m thankful to see that the offshore wind industry is up to the challenge. Let’s make sure that we, as a society with different expertise and knowledge, work together to make the most of this opportunity.

Photo: Paula Garcia Stephanie A. McClellan, Ph.D., SIOW Stephanie A. McClellan, Ph.D., SIOW Stephanie A. McClellan, Ph.D., SIOW Photo: Paula García

What to Expect from Today’s EPA Scientific Integrity Stakeholder Meeting

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Later today, a few dozen advocates will head to the Environmental Protection Agency for a stakeholder meeting on protections for scientific research at the agency in the context of its annual scientific integrity report and scientific integrity policy. The meeting is an opportunity for organizations to ask questions about the report, to give feedback to the agency, and to identify new or emerging challenges to scientific integrity at EPA. Here’s how I expect it to go down. 

Why does EPA hold this meeting?

Scientific integrity policies were developed at federal agencies and departments that do science. In general, they define the role of all staff in conducting and communicating research. The policies are inherently neutral, and designed to prevent censorship or misrepresentation of science in any direction. Anyone inside or outside the agency–from a rank-and-file scientist to a coal company to a medical association.

EPA office building with agency flagThe fact that the EPA does this meeting in the first place is notable. No other agency or department conducts such an event. And I can only imagine what it was like for EPA Scientific Integrity Officer Francesca Grifo to get approval to hold the meeting this time around. The last time I attended the meeting, the House Science Committee rustled up some serious deep state paranoia that even attracted the attention of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. It was wacky.

Invitations go out to hundreds of people and groups that have an interest in science at EPA. I expect industry groups and public interest organizations alike will be present.

What will the discussion cover?

If it’s anything like past meetings, Dr. Grifo will give a (hopefully brief) presentation about what her office has been doing to implement the policy and protect the ability of scientists to conduct research and communicate about their work. Then she will open it up to questions.

So here’s a partial list of what I’d like to know. What is being done to discourage self-censorship among scientists who intuit that agency leaders won’t like their research results? What is morale like among scientists at an agency where senior officials routinely sideline and undermine their work? How often do informal conversations about the policy with EPA staff resolve problems before they become formal misconduct allegations? Are more problems being solved informally, or addressed through formal investigations? Whatever happened to the agency’s stated desire to publish a differing opinions policy? Are there any conversations with leadership about making regular, affirmative statements about the importance of transparency at the agency and the importance of science communicating their results regardless of the political inconvenience of the outcome? Is the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy doing any work to coordinate improvements in policies and practices across agencies? Should they?

I’d also like to hear about whether Dr. Grifo believes that these kinds of protections for scientists should be made permanent. Legislation called the Scientific Integrity Act would do just that: enshrine scientific integrity policies into law to give them more teeth and standardize them across government agencies. It shouldn’t just be a few agencies that are doing this kind of work.

What will the discussion avoid?

What will be more notable is what they won’t talk about. The policy doesn’t address so many of the ways that science has been sidelined from decision-making at EPA. It doesn’t prevent bans on some independent advisors, or prevent proposed restrictions on the use of public health research in the development of public health protections, or prevent attempts to skew cost-benefit analysis. It won’t deal with attempts by the administrator’s office to avoid input from the EPA Science Advisory Board. There likely won’t even be any discussion of whether EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler understands what a double blind study is.

You also won’t hear about investigations into specific allegations of violations of the scientific integrity policies, as I know from experience that the office won’t comment on ongoing investigations.

But I expect we will hear about some progress that is being made during an unimaginably difficult time for the EPA.

Public Domain

The House Ways and Means Committee—Will it Throw Climate Under the Bus?

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Photo: Carl Wycoff/Flickr

The climate clock is ticking, so back in January UCS flagged three ways the new Congress could make progress on reducing emissions to address climate change, even in this challenging political environment -appropriations, infrastructure, and the tax code.  Key to that progress is the new democratically-controlled House of Representatives.  It’s been 6 months, let’s see where things stand.

The Speaker got the House off on the right foot by championing Representative Castor’s Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9), which would restrict the use of funds to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and require the President to deliver a plan to congress for meeting the targets under the agreement.

House Energy and Water Appropriators did their job under the leadership of Chair Kaptur (D-OH), passing a strong bill that significantly increases funding for critical clean energy and energy efficiency programs, making both near and long-term investments in emissions reductions.  Given the Senate majority’s new-found enthusiasm for “innovation” we’re likely to get some strong clean energy investment out of congress for FY20.  But will the president sign it?

Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) -House Energy and Commerce Committee- introduced the LIFT America Act, which would leverage significant resources towards building more resilient electricity infrastructure while making meaningful reductions in carbon and air pollutant emissions.  We are optimistic that the bill will get even stronger as it moves through committee, but will it have a companion or a pathway in the Senate with “Grim Reaper” McConnell calling the shots?

Tax extenders

That leaves the tax code, our best chance to significantly reduce emissions through federal policy in this congress.  Chairman Neal (D-MA) is set to mark up his tax extenders package today, but it contains no significant tax support for clean energy technologies and no clean energy amendments are likely to be offered.  This is undoubtedly a huge missed opportunity for the climate and a clear failure of leadership.

It is particularly surprising, because Massachusetts has thrived under a clean energy economy guided by democratic and republican governors and is a national leader in energy efficiency and offshore wind, with over 110,000 jobs in clean energy, up 84% since 2010, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

What Massachusetts has done to transform its economy can be done on a national scale, with the right policies in place, and this includes strategic tax credits, such as those that have helped catalyze wind and solar technologies.  Many of those tax credits have fazed down and are expiring, threatening to undermine the clean energy momentum we are seeing across the country.  The tax extenders bill also misses the mark on supporting new, innovative clean energy technologies essential to climate progress.

Support for electric vehicles, energy storage, and off-shore wind is absent from the package; three nascent technologies trying to get a stronger foothold in a market that doesn’t value carbon-free attributes, nor penalize carbon-intensive resources.

Revising and extending the tax credit for electric vehicles is essential to reducing emissions in the transportation sector (now the biggest sector-contributor of carbon emissions).  My colleague Jonna Hamilton wrote a blog about the Driving America Forward Act, which we hoped and expected to see included in the extenders package.

Revising and extending the investment tax credit (ITC) for energy storage is essential to decarbonizing the power sector.  We can’t have a clean electricity grid without more energy storage.

Revising and extending the ITC for off-shore wind is essential to growing a new, massive source of carbon-free electricity generation, giving us more tools in our climate toolbox, and helping to make offshore wind prices more affordable for consumers, including those in Massachusetts who can be expected to purchase gigawatts of offshore wind over the next decade or two. The omission of these critical, innovative clean energy technologies in the tax extenders package is irresponsible and only puts us further behind the eight ball on avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

So far in 2019 the new House Majority has held over two dozen hearings on climate change, passed the H.R. 9 “don’t pull out of Paris” bill, passed a strong energy appropriations bill, and introduced an infrastructure bill with a meaningful focus on climate change.  These things all matter, and House Leadership deserves credit for making it happen.  But our biggest opportunity to reduce emissions is in the tax code, and there we don’t yet see the leadership on Ways and Means, and as a result we are about to miss our best opportunity to make progress on climate at the federal level.

House Ways and Means members should ensure that strong support for clean energy technologies is included in the tax extenders package.  If these policies aren’t addressed in this piece of legislation, it’s unclear when they will have an opportunity to get taken up and passed this Congress.  It’s critical that we don’t abdicate leadership on these key technologies.  We are missing our chance to lead in the transportation and clean energy technologies of the future and grow our economy.  And we are running out of time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Photo: Carl Wycoff/Flickr

He’s a Science Denier—and He Oversees the Nation’s Farm Policy

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

The pattern is clear: by consistently requesting that Congress cut budgets for science, and by decreeing that all federal executive agencies arbitrarily terminate “at least one third” of their advisory committees, the Trump administration is in an all-out war against science—against the premise that evidence and analysis should inform policy-making.

This agenda has been assiduously pursued by Mr. Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, in myriad ways: from cynically attempting to appoint a figurehead non-scientist as the Department’s Chief Scientist, to undermining the Department’s world-class Economic Research Service. A prime example of this explicitly anti-science bent is the following curious tale.

On 22 April, a team of economists from the University of Georgia (UGA) released a policy brief forecasting that the newly proposed United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement will result in loss of income and jobs among the state’s fruit and vegetable industry. Alarmed, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA) issued a press release observing: “The conclusions of this study vividly state the economic losses to Georgia’s blueberry and vegetable industries will be considerable,” and calling “on the Administration and our congressional leaders to work together to find an acceptable solution to prevent the devastation forecast in this report.” Whereupon, Sonny Perdue himself wrote in to the Macon Telegraph to say, in essence: The UGA facts are inconvenient. Here are alternative facts more to my liking.

The problem for the Secretary of Agriculture is that he is politically invested in the claim that USMCA is a vastly improved version of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, its predecessor). Among other reasons, this is because Perdue’s signature achievement on entering office was to avert President Trump’s intention to summarily scrap NAFTA. This Perdue was able to pull off by appealing to Mr. Trump’s self-image as a brilliant dealmaker, arguing that instead of scrapping NAFTA the administration should renegotiate the quarter-century agreement in order to forge a better deal for the US. That is why, two years on, after the replacement deal has been crafted and is in line for a Congressional vote—and after it has been roundly assessed as only a marginal improvement on the prior agreement—the Secretary can ill afford doubts about the “better deal” for farmers that was the whole reason for being of USMCA. So, instead of acknowledging the facts of the matter, Perdue insists that:

  1. The USMCA is a “big win” and a major improvement (“Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, USMCA improves virtually every component of NAFTA”);
  2. Nothing is wrong. Georgia farmers live in an agricultural paradise (“Our farmers, ranchers, and producers have an abundance of the highest quality products they want to sell around the globe.”)

As scientists and economists, we specialize in testing claims. Because so much is at stake for farmers in Georgia (and across the land), we have examined Secretary Perdue’s arguments and his evidence.

What’s the deal?

At issue is that imports from Mexico of a group of six fruits and vegetables that are also grown by Georgia farmers have quadrupled since 2009. If this trend continues—as all signs indicate—up to 75% of the jobs currently tied to the production of these crops will be lost because Georgia farmers won’t be able to compete with Mexican prices that can reach as little as half of U.S. prices. Georgia fruit and vegetable growers contend that a component of the Mexican advantage is season extension due to that country’s government subsidies (to expand greenhouse and hothouse capacity), and that therefore the USMCA should contain a protection clause for U.S. producers. If nothing is done, the economic damage ($895 million foregone) would be greatest for Georgia’s rural sector—in particular for three counties where the UGA economists foresee harm comparable to that of the Great Depression.

When politics cloud the view of a public servant

It would be unproductive (not to mention tedious) to dwell too much at length on Perdue’s politicized misrepresentations, because what matters most is what is to be done about the dire circumstance of a Secretary of Agriculture whose actions are clearly harming farmers. However, you really must sample a few of Perdue’s distortions to grasp the Secretary’s malfeasance.

Denying the facts

First, on the core issue, Perdue contends that Georgia farmers are competitive with Mexican farmers. He argues that this is proved by the fact that production of most of the fruits and vegetables considered by the UGA rose over the last decade (under NAFTA). This neglects that the value of Mexican imports has overwhelmed that growth, as the UGA researchers clearly document:

Source: Dorfman, J.H., J.M. Worley, S.P. Kane, 2019. “Policy Brief: The Impact of the USMCA on Georgia’s Small Fruit and Vegetable Industries”. Athens, GA: University of Georgia.


Further, Perdue conflates the issue under analysis (fruit and vegetable production—in specific fruit and vegetable growing regions of Georgia) with the overall agricultural economy of Georgia: “Georgia growers have seen vegetable sales increase by more than 23%, fruit and nut sales have gone up more than 100% and crop receipts have gone up more than 50%.” Countering the valid concerns of a segment of Georgia farmers by touting the strength of Georgia’s overall agricultural industry is deliberate lack of acknowledgment of the real threats faced by those farmers. In other words, Perdue claims that the data do not call for action. For the Secretary of Agriculture, whose Department’s vaunted Economic Research Service can rigorously slice and dice agricultural information by any category and geography for which there are data, this blurring of both the point and the evidence is tantamount to willful malpractice.

Special pleading

Then the Secretary critiques the methodology of the UGA economists. He states: “The premise for UGA’s study is USMCA will not protect Georgia farmers from cheap Mexican fruits and vegetables.” This is an accurate premise, per the non-partisan Congressional Research Service: “…the agreement does not include changes to trade remedy laws to address imports of seasonal produce as requested by Southeastern U.S. produce growers.” But Perdue goes on: “Because of that, the researchers came up with imagined scenarios.” The Secretary is referring to a standard method, scenario analysis, routinely employed when socioeconomic trends are not exactly predictable. In such instances, it is common to develop a spectrum of possible future paths. In standard practice, scenario analysts rigorously build (not “imagine”) mild, intermediate and extreme future contingencies that are within the realm of possibility. These the UGA economists specify exactingly: “Based on…Mexican acreage expansion and the observed drops in prices the past few years when Mexican imports entered the U.S. market, the three scenarios were constructed.” The resulting data are presented in toto so that readers can evaluate the range of futures reasonably possible:

Projected Annual Economic Losses Under USMCA by Georgia’s Small Fruit and Vegetable Industry Scenario Jobs Total Economic Output Baseline 11,496 $1,192.0 million Mild Damage 8,172 $852.1 million Medium Damage 5,704 $589.9 million Catastrophic Damage 2,869 $297.3 million   Losses Relative to Baseline Mild Damage 3,323 $339.9 million Medium Damage 5,791 $602.2 million Catastrophic Damage 8,627 $894.7 million

Source: Dorfman et al 2019.

Try lots of things to see what sticks

In a final flair of science denial, the Secretary exhibits a penchant for whiplashing positions, in swift succession. First Perdue would have it that the UGA findings (that USMCA will put fruit and vegetable jobs and revenue at risk), are “sensational assertions” that “are flat wrong.” But then he acknowledges the lack of protections at issue by saying: “We didn’t get all the improvements we wanted for seasonal fruits and vegetables” and “the UGA study assumed we lost ground, but the facts are it wasn’t ground we had to begin with.” So, is USMCA an improvement for Georgia fruit and vegetable farmers? Yes or no? Since the protections GFVGA wants are not in place in USMCA, will that harm farmers? Yes or no? Are there credible data about the consequences for these farmers of exposure to increased competition? Yes or no? Clearly—and sadly—you don’t look to the Secretary of Agriculture for clear answers on these direct questions. However, the Secretary does have a clear recommendation about what these farmers should do.

In the same statement that first claims: “USMCA benefits Georgia’s entire agricultural industry,” Perdue then hedges with the claim that “…it is not unreasonable that my fellow Georgians would switch to crops that provide higher levels of profit.” In other words, “It is not true that your livelihood will be harmed by increased competition, but if it does, then you’ll just grow something else.” This cavalier approach to farmers’ investment in their crops, the infrastructure to grow and process them, in their technical knowledge and market relationships, is not likely to endear the Secretary to the fruit and vegetable growers of his home state. Nor will the Secretary’s cherry picking of facts and arguments endear him to scientists and economists. For example, to justify his claim that farmers harmed by competition will simply move to different crops, Perdue states: “That is the beauty of our agricultural system — producers plant for the market, not the program.” The Secretary should acquaint himself with his state’s corn, peanut and cotton farmers, who literally depend on planting “for the program” (refer to requirements for “base acres” to qualify for government commodity and crop insurance support).

What Secretary Perdue’s politicized administration means for food and agriculture

To be sure, it is core to market principles that when producers everywhere specialize per their comparative advantage, buyers and sellers everywhere benefit. And that you evaluate the overall effect of economic tradeoffs at an aggregate level, such as the economy of a state or a nation. But the Secretary is not owning up to any of these things. Instead, Perdue dissembles. Pointedly, in an instance where the nation’s Secretary of Agriculture has an opportunity to acknowledge and act upon facts, and to demonstrate a consistent adherence to principles—whether prioritizing the public interest as a public servant; or as an advocate of the market economy who is committed to support entrepreneurs as they adjust to the consequences of policies and trade deals he champions—Perdue exposes himself as a politicized administrator unable to accept verifiable evidence and therefore incapable of providing sound leadership for the nation’s food and agriculture system.

And speaking of verifiable evidence, here are a couple of data points whose consequences you don’t need to be a scientist or economist to understand. Under Secretary Perdue’s watch:

  1. The farm economy has experienced the worst consistent downturn since the 1980s farm crisis, a product primarily of the uncertainty resulting from willful destruction of foreign commodity markets—compounded by climate change, a phenomenon that the Secretary denies, and whose study he characterizes as “junk science.”
  2. The Secretary is actively dismantling the Department of Agriculture’s scientific foundations, the very capacity for research and analysis that we depend upon to make the best decisions, and to best prepare for the future.

Think of scientific and economic policy analysis as the instrument panel that a responsible administrator can use to gather data about the effectiveness of programs, to monitor progress and set accurate direction, specifically, one that would be good for our nation’s farmers, ranchers and our food system. A Secretary of Agriculture who has at his disposal scientific and economic analysis capacity that is the envy of the world, but prefers to “fly blind” in favor of political expedience, is an impaired leader—and one who is actively undermining the rural and farm economy, the nation’s food supply, and the future health and wellbeing of us all.

Trump Administration Wrongfully Brands Chinese Scientists as Spies, Hindering Scientific Progress

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Photo: Another Believer/Wikimedia Commons

I once thought that international scientific collaboration – of talking to your colleagues from around the world and sharing scientific information that could lead to real breakthroughs in the field – was a topic that was so non-controversial, it was a given. It just makes sense. Getting the best minds together in a room to solve the world’s toughest problems is one of the best ways for science to progress. How could anyone disagree with this?

Apparently, the Trump administration disagrees. At least in the case of scientists who are nationally Chinese. And, in a few cases, American scientists who are ethically Chinese.

There is currently a slew of evidence suggesting that the Trump administration is disproportionately targeting Chinese students, scholars, and scientists for presumed espionage activities in a way that dangerously borders on racial profiling and harassment, which has the real possibility of stifling international progress on the world’s most pressing scientific issues.

Chinese scientists are being targeted…

I’m sure it will surprise no one when I say that President Trump has a habit of carrying out anti-immigration policies. But what has been less focused on is just how detrimental these types of actions are for scientific community. Science, by its very nature, thrives on diversity.

Bloomberg Businessweek recently featured an article suggesting that federal authorities may be developing a mindset that equates Chinese scientists with villainous actors that aim to spy on and steal proprietary information. FBI director Christopher Wray has publicly stated that China is engaging in a “whole-of-society approach” to stealing innovations from US businesses and universities, which include “graduate students and researchers… working on behalf of China,” and thereby attempting to “exploit the very open, collaborative research environment that we have in this country.”

Since December 2017, a number of actions have been carried out by the Trump administration that reinforce this message. Take the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the most distinguished and wholly scientific organizations in the federal government. The NIH has started requiring that foreign scientists bring their passports to enter any NIH building and then endure questions about their nationality. Additionally, the NIH has sent letters to dozens of major US research universities in order to obtain more information on certain faculty members with possible links to foreign governments. Science Insider learned that at some of these research institutions, every researcher flagged by the NIH was Chinese-American. Other such actions by the administration include: high-profile arrests of Chinese-American scientists falsely accused of spying; numerous Chinese social scientists having had their US visas revoked; and, a reported plan by the Trump administration to dramatically decrease the visa length of Chinese students studying in STEM fields.

Federal agencies have been making an alarming number of unnecessary arrests of people of Chinese descent. According to one study, these efforts are leading to a tripling of espionage arrests of defendants with Chinese names in recent years. And of these arrests, one of every five were wrongfully accused by authorities; this is nearly twice the percentage of non-Chinese defendants. The author of the paper warned that federal agents and prosecutors may be assuming that Chinese scientists are not here to conduct science, but to spy, “In the same way racial profiling of African Americans as criminals may create the crime of ‘driving while black,’ profiling of Asian Americans as spies … may be creating a new crime: ‘researching while Asian.’ ”

…Which is causing fear in the community

As a result, worry has started to spread through the community. For the first time in recent years, the number of Chinese students enrolling in US undergraduate programs has decreased according to the National Science Foundation, though the trend is being driven primarily by non-STEM majors. In March, several groups of Chinese and Chinese-American scientists wrote a letter that was published in the journal Science expressing concern over “the recent political rhetoric and policies that single out students and scholars of Chinese descent working in the United States as threats to U.S. national interests.” According to the letter, “confusion, fear, and frustration” are spreading among scientists of Chinese descent because of fears of “being singled out for scapegoating, stereotyping, and racial profiling.”

The letter also points out that these policies are stymieing scientific research: “Open data access and data sharing are important for accelerating research advancement and can be implemented without putting the U.S. security at risk. NIH has exposed such policies for years.” By giving in to this culture of bias, the US government is ignoring its long-standing policy on the importance of scientific collaboration. For instance, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum in 2010 stating that the agency “fully supports free scientific exchanges and dissemination of research results to the maximum extent possible.”

Scientific partnerships should not be criminalized

Scientists of Chinese descent are being put into an impossible situation. On the one hand, they have been encouraged for years by their research institutions in the United States to seek out relationships with their international scientific peers in order to work together and solve hard problems. The clearest example of this collaboration comes from cancer research. The NIH’s Cancer wing, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has stressed the importance of international collaboration in order to improve cancer outcomes in the scientific literature and in the webpage of the NCI’s Cancer Moonshot program (one of the tag lines read “Cancer knows no borders”). There is even a NCI group dedicated specifically to the purpose of international research collaborations.

On the other hand, several of the FBI actions towards Chinese or Chinese-American scientists (i.e. arrests, house visits to ask about “loyalty,” and reading private emails) have been directed at cancer researchers who were carrying out perfectly reasonable scientific partnerships with oncologists in China. And through these actions, the US government may be scaring off brilliant scientists of Chinese descent from conducting research that could help find treatments for cancer.

This is not the first time that anti-Chinese sentiment has been codified into US policy, but we must remember that these actions have a cost. And the cost of this bias could result in the erosion of a rich scientific tradition of collaboration and partnerships between scientists across the globe.

Photo: Another Believer/Wikimedia Commons

Yale Poll Finds Majority of Americans Think ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Other Fossil Fuel Companies Should Pay for Climate Change Damage

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Communities face growing costs from climate change-fueled extreme weather and rising seas, and they need to prepare for further, now unavoidable, impacts.

Who is going to pay these costs?

A striking new survey by Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications and supported by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) finds that most Americans (57 percent) think fossil fuel companies should pay for the damages caused by global warming.

These survey results come as fifteen U.S. jurisdictions—cities and counties in California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, and Washington as well as the state of Rhode Island—have filed lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, seeking compensation for climate damages.

U.S. Public Nuisance Lawsuits Against Fossil Fuel Companies

Not surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of Californians believe that fossil fuel companies should pay for climate damages. But so too do majorities in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico.

And strikingly, so do majorities in Texas and Louisiana, both dominant centers of US oil and gas extraction, processing, and refining. Texas is also home to the headquarters for ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and the US arms of BP and Royal Dutch Shell.

These results show widespread public support for the principle of “polluter pays” – that these companies should be held responsible to pay for the climate they have helped to create.

As well-documented by UCS researchers, investigative journalists and scholars, ExxonMobil and other leading fossil fuel companies have, for decades, knowingly misled the public about the climate risks of their products. Perhaps growing public awareness of fossil fuel company climate deception has contributed to the Yale survey finding that nearly 70 percent of Americans distrust fossil fuel companies.

Dig into the full survey in Yale’s interactive map,, which allows you to search results by state, county and congressional district.

Congress Is Pushing Back on the Trump Fuel Economy Rollback. Why Aren’t Auto Companies?

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

The administration considered a number of alternatives in its proposed rulemaking, though none would yield even half the benefits of the current standards. Proposals from automaker trade groups, it turns out, were not any better. Honda’s proposal represents the highwater mark for the industry, though it, too, falls well short of the current standards.

On Thursday, two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees are holding a joint hearing examining the Trump administration’s rollback of fuel efficiency and emissions standards for passenger cars and trucks. The witnesses include the regulators moving forward with this disastrous plan and at least one of the key state regulators opposing it, but one voice likely to be missing from the hearing will be the auto manufacturers themselves, who set this rollback in motion by requesting the President undo the rules in the first place.

Auto companies refuse to own their role in the rollback

The auto companies have recently tried a new tack in its media strategy to urge the public to forget its role in this mess, playing the woe-begone victim of an administration ignoring both science and the public interest in a letter to the President urging him to rethink the current proposal. And unfortunately, many in the media have adopted the frame precisely as the auto companies intended, painting a story of the letter as an indictment of the President’s policies.

Unfortunately, the media has the automakers’ letter all wrong—it shows nothing new, and certainly isn’t pushing back on the outcome. The auto companies once again asked for a bevy of carve-outs, loopholes, and weak standards. They may be trying to hide the rust under a new coat of paint, but it’s the same old jalopy they’ve been trying to sell since day one—the President is giving them exactly what they asked for, but it’s just they really wish his administration had crafted a more legally defensible escape hatch.

The telltale sign is in the automakers’ letter to California. In their letters, the auto companies whine about the lack of a 50-state standard as a result of the administration’s proposal, but if the auto companies were so concerned about the need for a 50-state standard, they’d acknowledge that we already have one on the books that’s saving consumers at the pump. Instead, they continue to beg California not to exercise its right to protect its citizens while trying to weaken those rules.

Auto companies aren’t the victims—consumers are

While one might want better from companies, it’s hard to be surprised. This is an industry with a history of fighting regulations at every turn. As Brett Smith of the Center for Automotive Research puts it, “They are looking out for their own best interest, as every company and every person does at the end of the day.”

Of course, that’s precisely why regulators must set strong standards—these corporations aren’t actually interested in the public good, and they certainly aren’t going to do it themselves. And as a result of the auto companies’ ask for weaker standards and an administration all too willing to give it to them, consumers are going to pay more for gas as we veer towards environmental catastrophe. Thanks, guys.

Updated analysis shows auto companies still asking for a rollback

As I wrote last year, the auto industry has been asking for a rollback at every turn, damn the consequences to consumers and the environment. To more accurately assess the impacts of the flexibilities requested by the auto companies and their trade groups, I’ve recently modeled how the various automaker proposals would affect future compliance strategies. For example, incentives for electric vehicles could encourage more deployment of electric vehicles, but weaker overall stringency disincentivizes all technology deployment—our modeling examines the interaction of these various requests and considers the trade-offs.

Even the most beneficial positions by major automakers would represent a step backwards from the standards we have today, even if the stringency of the underlying curves were left intact. Our latest analysis (in red) continues to show that the magnitude of some of these proposals for “flexibilities” are so large that they could erode the standards as much as the flat-line alternative preferred by the Agency we have noted here as a “rollback.”

The end result is not particularly surprising—our updated analysis falls smack in the middle of our previous estimates (Figure 1), meaning that while automaker proposals may not be quite as bad as we feared, they are also not as good as we had hoped.

Automakers and administration seem to be in alignment

Earlier this year, it was reported that the administration may adjust its proposal upward up to 0.5% improvement per year (Figure 2, Alternatives 2/3), slightly better than the original proposal but just 1/10th of the nearly 5% per year required under current standards. Even doubling such a weak proposal to 1% would do little to mitigate its adverse consequences (Figure 2, Alternative 4).

The administration considered a number of alternatives in its proposed rulemaking, though none would yield even half the benefits of the current standards. Proposals from automaker trade groups, it turns out, were not any better. Honda’s proposal represents the highwater mark for the industry, though it, too, falls well short of the current standards.

The Auto Alliance’s proposal falls right in line with such an adjustment by the administration in terms of its impact on emissions and fuel use…which is to say, not much improvement. Furthermore, its comments on the proposal included telling the administration how it could bolster its flimsy legal basis for the awful regulation that, when finalized, will inevitably wind up in court.

The Global Automakers’ proposal is better, but essentially amounts to exactly the same thing as is rumored the administration is putting forth, except starting a year later in 2022 instead of 2021. One more year of strong regulation may be better than nothing, but not much better.

Will automakers push for improvements or side with the administration?

Honda’s is the only proposal which goes beyond the proposals offered by the administration. While it would represent nearly a 30 percent loss in emissions from the current standards, that’s only half as bad as its trade association’s proposal, making them one of few automakers who are on the record supporting something better than the administration has offered. During EPA’s actions under then-Administrator Scott Pruitt which started this rollback fiasco, Volkswagen supported maintaining the current standards as-is, but they’ve gone quiet since. Only Tesla has been a consistently vocal advocate among vehicle manufacturers.

Given everything at stake, it is up to these and other automakers to distance themselves from the administration’s proposal right now–and not just by asking for a different, loophole-friendly standard that harms the environment to an equal degree. For example, if a company like Ford wants to tout its environmental bona fides, it should be working with California to press forward with the strong standards working for American consumers today, not collaborating with its trade group and the administration to erode them.

The administration is getting ready to finalize a proposal that will hurt the economy, undermine national security, and increase emissions. When this regulation inevitably winds up in court, it will be incumbent upon the auto companies to side with the states opposing this destructive policy. The auto industry supported rolling back these standards—they must now fight them or forever be associated with the negative repercussions on their consumers and the environment.

5 Ways the Trump Administration Will Eviscerate Science and Undermine Climate Action in New “Affordable Clean Energy” Rule

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Official White House Photos by Joyce N. Boghosian

This week, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finalize carbon pollution standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants. Bold federal action on climate change could not come at a more urgent time. Except this rule will be bold for all the wrong reasons.

In the past two and a half years, 32 weather and climate-related disasters have totaled at least a billion dollars in damages each, together affecting at least 44 states and totaling more than $413 billion in costs. From raging wildfires to roiling floodwaters, searing temperatures to deepening droughts, the shocking impacts of climate change have lengthened in reach and strengthened in punch, ravaging communities and upending livelihoods all across the nation.

These devastating events have been made starker still with the parallel clarity that has emerged around the science of where the climate is headed and the magnitude of ambition it will take to avoid that dismal place.

It’s no surprise, then, that climate change has skyrocketed in political salience as a key voting issue and that states, cities, and corporations have begun committing to ever higher levels of renewables to clean up their power supply.

Which brings us to today, and the Trump administration’s mandated plan for limiting emissions from power plants, the country’s largest stationary source of global warming pollution. Cutting these emissions is a linchpin of our nation’s contribution to global efforts to limit the harms of climate change, here and abroad. Except from an administration that gleefully jackhammers facts on the daily and an EPA with a former coal lobbyist at the helm, we get this, the “Affordable Clean Energy” (ACE) rule, which will at very best tinker at the frayed fringe edges of the problem, minimally boosting efficiencies at coal plants while at the same time advancing a mile-wide loophole that would allow those exact same plants to be exempt.

It takes dedicated work to justify such a gallingly insipid response to incontrovertible evidence on climate, on health, on economics, and on an affirmative statutory obligation to act—but then again, this administration has had a whole lot of practice, and a whole lot of gall to boot.

Here are five attacks on science we’ll be on the lookout for as the administration attempts to subvert facts and evidence in order to eviscerate climate action and arrive at this stunning polluter reprieve.

1. Don’t acknowledge dead people

In the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) accompanying the proposed rule, the EPA demonstrated what has now become a favorite administration point of attack: rejecting the science that makes clear there is no safe level of exposure to one of the most hazardous types of pollution—fine particulate matter (PM2.5)—thereby clearing a path to ignore significant numbers of premature deaths.

The Trump administration’s response? Reject the science that shows there is no safe level of exposure to fine particulate matter, one of the most hazardous types of air pollution.

The upshot of this counter-to-scientific-evidence approach is that the EPA could now report far lower numbers of premature deaths associated with its final rollback, which in the last go-around, according to Office of Air and Radiation Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum, resulted in an “unfortunate” bit of reporting when headlines unsurprisingly led with the fact that the EPA’s proposal would result in “up to 1,400 more deaths a year.”

2. Actually, don’t acknowledge any people

When it comes to considering different regulatory scenarios and understanding the relative impact of a rule, the associated costs and benefits of regulatory action can be hugely helpful in puzzling out what the various effects may be. Except the Trump administration is now in an all-out battle to limit what counts as a “benefit,” suggesting that only a narrow subset of health and environmental benefits accruing from any given rule should ever be considered at all.

For the ACE rule, look for the Trump administration to lead with a reporting of benefits limited just to the (curtailed) calculations from reducing carbon, while comparing that to the whole of direct and indirect costs of implementation—meaning the administration will outright ignore the enormous public health benefits simultaneously arising from limiting pollution by coal-fired power plants, like fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma attacks, emergency room visits, missed work days, missed school days, and on, and on, and on. Of course, it’s not that these effects will go away; the Trump administration just wants us to no longer acknowledge that they exist. Why the Orwellian dictate? Because these effects are all to the towering benefit of the public, meaning pleading the case of a select polluting few would otherwise look a whole lot worse.

3. Assign a vanishingly small number to the value of acting on climate

Another way to mask the need for regulatory ambition is to minimize the apparent magnitude of the problem itself. In the proposed ACE rule, the Trump administration employed a deeply diminished value for the “social cost of carbon,” or SCC, which is a calculation that attempts to assign a value to the climate benefits (or avoided climate costs) per ton of carbon dioxide reduced in the atmosphere.

The administration slashed the value by first ignoring how cutting heat-trapping emissions in the US has globe-spanning benefits (and conversely, how not cutting heat-trapping emissions in the US has globe-spanning costs—the scientific reality of a global pollutant like carbon emissions), then only considering a subset of “home” by limiting domestic considerations to the lower 48—thereby excluding the far-flung states, territories, possessions, and bases reeling on the front lines of climate change—and finally by applying to whatever was left an inappropriate and indefensibly high discount rate so as to further sink the apparent value of action.

4. Implicate the fewest polluters with the lightest touch

The president campaigned on an outright repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, but once in office, his administration quickly ran up against the reality of being statutorily required to act. The resulting proposed replacement did everything it could to handcuff its own ability to regulate, including by ignoring the historic transition underway in the power sector and adopting a purposefully blinkered view of how the power sector works, which all combined to arrive at a “best system of emissions reduction” (BSER) that was so weak as to hardly register at all.

Previously, this administration failed to reckon with the massive and compelling record underpinning the Clean Power Plan; in the final rule, we’ll look to see if they do more of the same, and in the process leave themselves highly vulnerable to court challenge. We’ll further keep an eye out for whether natural gas plants remain excluded from regulation, despite their now-dominant role in the electricity generating mix and their growing contributions to power sector carbon emissions. And though we now expect changes to the New Source Review program to be advanced under separate cover, we will be looking to see if the agency maintains its significant proposed changes to the implementing regulations, which stretched out timelines and gave states effectively unlimited permission slips to decline to act, thereby greenlighting a race to the bottom and a standard that doesn’t actually require any action at all.

5. Keep attacking science from all sides

In addition to all the attacks on science, health, and the environment within the rule, the Trump administration has also steadily advanced an unrelenting barrage of attacks on science, health, and the environment from outside the rule as well. From attempting to limit the science that is allowed to inform regulations, to hamstringing the scientific advisory committees that provide expert and leading advice on complex issues, to propagating changes to how climate impacts are analyzed to minimize the case for action, to formalizing the exclusion of vast swaths of public health benefits from rulemaking—science is under attack, and the administration is demolishing the very foundations on which the EPA, with a mission to protect human health and the environment, can stand.

Subverting truth for profit, paid for by the public

Who wins when an administration actively hides evidence that the public will be harmed by the actions it proposes to take? What happens when an agency charged with protecting human health and the environment bars science and analysis revealing thousands more will die? Where will we be when facts no longer count?

For the profit margins of a select polluting few, the Trump administration is attempting to find out, subverting truth for money and public health for polluter profit gain.

Photo: The White House The New York Times

The Trump Administration’s Hostility Toward Independent Expert Advice Spirals Out of Control

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

Shealah Craighead/The White House

Since day one, the Trump Administration has been actively ignoring its own scientists, external experts, and seeking advice from the wrong people. Now, President Trump has further waged war on expert advice by ordering the federal government to rid itself of one-third of its 1,057 advisory committees, getting down to a maximum of 350 advisory committees before September 30th.

Take a minute to process that. Over the course of a little over three months, all agencies will have to arbitrarily decide to get rid of panels that have historically provided valuable advice on a range of issues, not just on scientific matters. The Trump Administration dropped this order on a Friday afternoon in a clear attempt to remain under the radar but this utterly inane policy needs to be called out for what it is: pure dreck. Here’s why:

It’s completely arbitrary

In line with many of the policy decisions that have come from this administration, this order is 100% arbitrary. It appears to be taking a hatchet to the federal advisory system not because there’s a need to cut costs but simply because it can.

Perhaps the best example of this in this order is the maximum number of committees for the government. Why one-third of advisory committees? Why this 350 number? Did President Trump pull this number out of a hat? Does he like the way the number looks or sounds? Your guess is as good as mine.

It escalates a pattern of abandoning science advice

Next, the order requires that agencies terminate committees for which the mission is complete, the work is now obsolete or replaced by another body, or in which the costs outweigh the benefits. What the order of course fails to mention is that agencies already do annual reporting and make decisions about whether a committee’s job is done. The thing is—a good portion of federal advisory committees focus on perennial issues for which there will almost always certainly be a need for expert advice, from animal health to transit safety. How exactly are agencies expected to count the largely unquantifiable benefits of these committees? This is made even more ridiculous when you consider that many advisory committees have been failing to meet and to do the work that’s included in their charters since the Trump administration began. Perhaps the administration was playing the long game, first neglecting its advisors and then moving into phase two of its master plan to use the neglect as a data point to remove the committees altogether.

It’s bad math

The numbers don’t add up. This order does not apply to committees that are authorized by statute or created by presidential order, but does apply to those that are authorized by law (but not required) or were created by agency discretion. This means that the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee are theoretically excluded. However, according to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) database, in 2018 there were almost 600 committees authorized by statute and 425 authorized by law or through agency authority.

It seems like no one devising this scheme even took a look at the data that exists on federal advisory committees because if they did, they would know that the one-third rule and getting to 350 committees that aren’t statutorily required doesn’t work with the current exclusions. Then again, this administration cares little for actual data and facts so it’s not surprising it failed to consult experts as this executive order was drafted.

It’s not equitable

This order will hit the agencies with the most advisory committees hardest because they will be faced with the burden of doing cost/benefit analyses and making impossible-to-make decisions about which committees to cut. For example, the US Department of Health and Human Services has 50 grant review panels, so those would be theoretically exempted from this order, but they also have 93 scientific panels including 27 different Boards of Scientific Counselors for a range of public health issues, from drug abuse to occupational health.

How exactly should HHS prioritize some issues that are deserving of independent science advice and others that are not? This is a choice they shouldn’t have to make.

It has a carve-out for private industry

The other exemption in the order is for committees “whose primary purpose is to provide scientific expertise to support agencies making decisions related to the safety or efficacy of products to be marketed to American consumers.” In other words, committees that determine drug or other product safety and are essential in getting products to market in a timely fashion, are considered beneficial enough to keep around but committees that serve other functions could face the chopping block. The administration is choosing to protect committees that help expedite profits of private industry and dole out research money, but spares the committees that provide advice on other government decisions.

If not thousands of experts, then who?

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this proposal is that the result of shedding thousands of independent experts on 700 advisory committees will be that the Administration will seek advice from individuals that have no business consulting the government (case in point: Myron Ebell) or no one at all to help policymakers make decisions on complex issues.

This is not just an affront to science, because these advisory committees advise on more than just science issues. This is an attack on the way that facts and verified information feed into our government. Its very premise threatens our democracy. We will fight it tooth and nail.

Shealah Craighead/The White House

Hurricane Florence Lessons Underscore Need for the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019

UCS Blog - The Equation (text only) -

High waters surround homes and businesses in the small town of Bucksport, S.C. as rivers continue to rise and flooded areas expand as a result of Hurricane Florence, Sept. 24, 2018. Photo: US Army National Guard/Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago

The 2019 hurricane season is now upon us, nine months after Hurricane Florence caused devastating flooding in the Carolinas. And this comes at a time when the Midwest and Southeast are reeling from heavy rains and flooding. Yesterday the House Financial Services Committee unanimously passed a bill to reform and reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. Here’s why those reforms are critical, informed by lessons from Hurricane Florence.

In some places, the historic rainfall accompanying that storm was more than double the rainfall from Hurricane Matthew, which hit North Carolina two years prior. The highest rainfall from Florence was recorded in Elizabethtown, NC, at 35.9 inches. The endless rain-filled days caused catastrophic, long-lived flooding far inland and widespread damages.  53 people lost their lives and there were $24.2 billion dollars in damages.

While the forecasts were remarkably accurate, the sobering reality was that many people were still unaware of the risk or did not have the resources to evacuate.

Congress has a critical opportunity now to reform the National Flood Insurance Program

While there are many solutions needed at the local, state, and federal levels, Congress has the opportunity to take lessons learned from Hurricane Florence (and other disasters) to reform critical pieces of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Established 50 years ago, NFIP was designed to provide flood insurance to properties at risk of significant flooding and to reduce overall flood risk primarily through a community’s adoption of floodplain management standards as well as mapping flood risk.

After 12 short-term NFIP reauthorizations, it was welcome news when this week the Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), introduced H.R. 3167, the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019. We applaud Chairwoman Waters and the Committee for their bipartisan efforts to reauthorize the program for five years and make critically important improvements in many areas (see this link for a section by section summary). The bill was passed unanimously out of the committee 59-0.

What are some of the lessons we can learn from recent hurricanes and other flood events that underscore the need for the reforms proposed in the House bill?

Lesson #1:  Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must adequately map and communicate flood risk

My colleague Juan Declet-Barreto estimated how much flooding from Hurricane Florence occurred outside of FEMA’s designated Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) and the moderate flood area (the 1-percent or 1/100 annual chance and the 0.2-percent or 1/500 annual chance flood).

In three out of the 10 counties in South Carolina (30 percent), more than 50 percent of the flooding occurred outside FEMA flood zones. In 28 out of the 49 North Carolina counties that were flooded (57 percent), more than half of the flooding was outside the FEMA flood zones.

We found that overall, more than half of the flooding from Hurricane Florence in North Carolina and South Carolina occurred outside of FEMA’s designated 1-percent and 0.2-percent flood zones. Clearly, FEMA’s 1-percent and 0.2-percent flood zones are not adequately communicating flood risks. A national study found similar results: the US population is exposed to serious flooding 2.6 to 3.1 times more than previous estimates and that both population and GDP growth will increase exposure in the future and that this change will be exacerbated by climate change. This means that a large percentage of people were likely unaware of their flood risk and therefore did not buy flood insurance, or were not required to buy flood insurance.

When it comes to recovery, this amounts to a “double whammy”—both not knowing one’s own flood risk and not having the insurance to recover from property loss.

That is not a surprise when we consider that many of FEMA’s flood maps are outdated. In the Carolinas, for example, in many flood-prone areas, FEMA’s flood maps have not been updated in 20 to 40 years. In addition, FEMA maps are not taking into account future changes in conditions such as tidal flooding due to sea level rise and increases in extreme precipitation events, as well as growing development in floodplains and demographic shifts.

Last year, Carolyn Kousky with the Wharton Risk Center at University of Pennsylvania laid out five reasons why the nation fails to communicate flood risk. It comes down to the fact that we’re not indicating the true flood risk to homeowners and renters in ways that people can easily access it, understand the risk, and act on reducing their risk.

How does the House bill help to improve flood risk mapping and communication?
  • Funding. Sec. 201 of the House bill (H.R. 3167) would authorize $500 million per year over five years to expand flood mapping coverage and update flood mapping such that it incorporated future flood risk. The funding and incorporation of future flood risk are critically important provisions to improve the accuracy and communication of flood risk nationwide.
  • Urban flood Study. Sec. 203, the “Flood Mapping Modernization and Homeowner Empowerment Pilot Program,” would create a pilot program to improve mapping and assessment of urban flood risk.
  • Transparent risk disclosure and communication. Chairwoman Waters’ manager’s amendment includes “Sharing Access of and to Information,” which ensures that private insurance companies must share their policy claims and damages to FEMA so that FEMA and US taxpayers can have a full picture of flood insurance coverage, damage assessments, and claims. It also includes a provision that allows homeowners access to NFIP and private flood insurance policy claim information so that any homeowner can know the true flood risk of the property and any flood insurance claims made on the property. We know that across the nation, the disclosure laws vary state by state. The first step to becoming better prepared for the next flood is for a property owner to understand his or her risk. That’s why we enthusiastically support this section of the manager’s amendment.
Lesson #2:  Congress and FEMA must increase the coverage of flood insurance across the nation

A recent study estimated the percent of people who did not have flood insurance during five recent disaster events and found that between 60 and 99 percent did not have flood insurance. Additional Hurricane Florence analysis estimates that fewer that 10 percent of households affected by Florence in North and South Carolina were likely to have had federal flood insurance. Without that insurance, flood victims will receive less funding for repairs and the assistance will come more slowly.

There are many reasons why so few people buy flood insurance, including:

  • Many homeowners mistakenly believe their homeowners insurance or renter insurance covers damages due to flooding.
  • As our analysis and other analysis indicates, the current FEMA designated flood zones on the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) provide a false sense of security for those people who are outside of the designated 1-percent and 0.2 percent flood zones.
  • People with low to moderate incomes living in the nation’s floodplains are less likely to be able to afford flood insurance.
  • Some insurance policies don’t reflect actual flood risk because rates are kept artificially low for many reasons, including grandfathered provisions.

Unfortunately, those without flood insurance will have less resources to recover after a disaster like Hurricane Florence. According to FEMA’s Deputy Administrator Peter Gaynor, the average payout after Hurricane Harvey for emergency disaster assistance was approximately $3,000, while the average payout for flood insurance holders was more than $117,000 (for a list of average claims from 1980 to 2017, follow this link).

Given the widespread and devastating impacts from Hurricane Florence, many counties in both states were eligible for federal disaster assistance. To date, North Carolina has received $1.3 billion in federal disaster assistance while South Carolina received $73.8 million in federal assistance. We know that every dollar helps but recall that only roughly 10 percent of the people in the Carolinas had flood insurance, and that flood insurance payout provides a larger pot of funds for an individual to recover compared to those who solely rely on disaster assistance.

How does the House bill make positive strides to increase flood insurance coverage?
  • Community-Based Insurance Pilot program. Sec. 305 establishes a Voluntary Community-Based Flood Insurance Pilot Program which is a notion that has gained attention over the years and would be one single policy that a local government would purchase that covers a designated group of properties. This is one way to enhance widespread insurance coverage and increase community resilience while also potentially offering lower insurance premium rates.
  • Studies.
    • Sec. 404 requires FEMA to study flood insurance participation rates so that we can know how well the different provisions are helping to increase coverage.
    • While Sec. 405 requires a study on how to increase flood insurance participation. The amended version expands this to provide an even more robust study.
Lesson #3:  Congress must act to provide affordable insurance for the most vulnerable

Most of the counties flooded by Florence in North Carolina, as well as the 10 counties flooded in South Carolina, rank high in measures of “social vulnerability” as assessed by socioeconomic and demographic factors. Congress must ensure an affordability provision is included in the NFIP reauthorization to increase access to insurance in vulnerable communities—arguably the hardest hit by events like Florence.

How does the House bill help to ensure flood insurance is affordable? The House bill would establish the following:
  • An affordability pilot program. Sec. 102 of the House bill establishes a Demonstration Program for Policy Affordability. Much work (FEMA, Government Accountability Office, and the National Academy of Sciences Report 1 and Report 2) has been done to understand how Congress could establish an affordability program within NFIP. This is a first step to provide a means-tested approach that would decouple the subsidy from the property and instead attach it to the policyholder base on the financial need. This pilot program will help provide access to affordable flood insurance while also communicating the actual flood risk to property owners. The pilot program also requires a report back to Congress so FEMA, Congress, and the public can learn what worked and what can be improved upon.
  • Monthly premium payments. Sec. 104 would establish Monthly Installment Payment of Premiums to allow policy holders to pay monthly payments instead of one lump sum.
  • Inclusion of replacement cost. The House manager’s amendment includes an important provision that would help to ensure affordable insurance rates by allowing FEMA to take into account the replacement cost of a property when determining premium rates.
  • Resources for flood risk reduction measures. A number of sections of the bill would help property owners and communities reduce their flood risk, which could help to reduce a property owner’s flood insurance premium:
    • Sec. 105 would establish a State Revolving Loan Funds for Flood Mitigation, which will provide states with funding for flood risk reduction measures including elevation or relocation. This will also help low to moderate income property owners to become more resilient and could help to reduce their flood insurance rate.
    • Sec. 301 would establish an increase in the Increased Cost of Compliance program from $30,000 to $60,000 which will help a property owner, particularly a low- to moderate-income owner, cover the cost of mitigating a substantially damaged building.
    • Sec. 306 provides $200 million each year for five years for the pre-disaster hazard mitigation program, which will help reduce flood risk through different mitigation measures such as elevating a home above the base flood or buying out a property that is repeatedly flooded to keep that in permanent open space.
Next steps toward long-term, holistic NFIP reauthorization

We applaud Chairwoman Waters and the House Financial Services Committee for offering a bill that brings bipartisan efforts on critically important changes to NFIP. While the House bill provides numerous and badly needed improvements, a few outstanding issues include:

  • A provision that ensures the private insurance sector helps to sustain the multiple functions of the NFIP flood risk management functions by including a fee to help support mapping and mitigation measures specifically (learn more on why this is important).
  • A forgiveness of FEMA’s debt to the US Treasury in order to limit FEMA’s costly interest payments. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report from 2017 underscores why forgiving the debt makes sense and recommends options such as setting a certain threshold above which any additional claims would be paid from the general fund. However, debt forgiveness must only happen in concert with critical program reforms that ensure a more sound financial footing, as the House bill proposes.
  • While the House bill makes many strides in supporting studies, mapping, and mitigation measures that will be needed in a changing climate, over the longer term, it is important for the program to more clearly reflect the growing flood risks from climate change and other factors.

The amended National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019 will move the nation towards better flood risk management, disclosure, mapping, insurance rating, affordability, and coverage as well as consumer protection. We applaud the leadership of the House Financial Services Committee for unanimously passing the bill out of committee.

We urge the full House and the Senate to be steadfast in enacting legislation that moves these critical reforms forward while reauthorizing the NFIP for five years. It’s time to learn from the lessons from the past. The House bill makes sure that when it come to the devastating impacts from flood events, as a nation, we’ll be better informed and ready for the next flood event. And that’s something to celebrate.

Photo: US Army National Guard/Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago


Subscribe to Union of Concerned Scientists aggregator - Combined UCS Blogs