Combined UCS Blogs

Science is Rising. Will You Rise With Us?

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At last year’s March for Science, many wondered what would come next. Would the march be a blip, or did it represent a new era in science activism? We find that the enthusiasm for defending the role of science in public life has only deepened. Scientists and their allies went right from the streets into their communities and legislators’ offices, planning for the long haul.

At the same time, many scientists and scientific groups want to build on the successes and learn from the mistakes of others. That’s why today, UCS is partnering with a variety of science organizations to launch Science Rising, an initiative to help others make connections and put science to work for justice and the public interest.

Scientists are self-organizing, and are doing so around science issues in areas where they have not been as vocal in the past.

Scientists in Missoula, MT met with Republican and Democratic state legislators in March to better understand how to effectively communicate with elected officials.

Over the last year, some efforts were directly supported by UCS. The Penn State Science Policy Society convened a listening session to build relationships between scientists and community leaders. In Iowa, scientists organized a major advocacy day to urge the state legislature to restore funding for a sustainable agricultural research center. At the University of Washington, graduate students developed a workshop to better understand how climate policy works in Washington state.

Many efforts were not. The Data Refuge Project, made famous for safeguarding government data, is building a storybank to document how data connects people, places, and non-human species. The city of Chicago, which hosted climate change information on its website that the EPA took down, held an event in February to discuss how the city can support expanded access to climate and environmental data on its website and support research related to environmental policy decisions.

Scientific societies and universities have jumped into the fray. From Cambridge, Ohio to Corinth, Texas, the Thriving Earth Exchange of the American Geophysical Union is helping scientists and community leaders tackle climate change and natural resource challenges. Then there’s the Concerned Scientists at Indiana, a recently-convened group independent from UCS that has held multiple events and trainings for scientists in Bloomington. 500 Women Scientists, which formed after the 2016 election, held science salons—public talks—around the world during Women’s History Month to raise funds for CienciaPR, which promotes science education and research in Puerto Rico.

Make no mistake: this is just the beginning. There’s a thirst among scientists to create the infrastructure that is necessary to share ideas, amplify efforts, and keep the momentum going. And it’s clear that scientists are ready to stimulate conversation around science policy and take actions that restore it to its rightful place in policy decisions. As we head into the midterm elections, scientists and their institutions will be increasingly active in getting congressional candidates to articulate where they stand on science issues and whether and how they plan to hold the Trump administration accountable.

But to really catalyze the energy that is out there, we have to pool resources. On the Science Rising website you can explore how to organize events in your community that help you stand up for science. How to connect with legislators and inform media coverage. How to organize events, get active on social media, connect with local community organizations. And ultimately, how to inspire others to follow your lead.

Zachary Knecht, who leads the Brandeis Science Policy Initiative, is excited about making connections through this project. “Even in our interconnected world, academic life can be very isolating,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical for those of us engaged in the science policy sphere to be able to coordinate our efforts, and Science Rising provides a centralized platform to do that.”

Find out what’s happening in your area. Check out what other scientists and groups of scientists are doing that you can emulate. Figure out how to take your own interest in activism to the next level. Other groups and individuals will share what they are doing and learning. Make your contribution at sciencerising.org.

Newsflash: Better Fuel Efficiency is Good For Jobs

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Factory worker in a car assembly line.

For all the rhetoric coming from the administration around proposed rollbacks to the EPA’s vehicle emission standards, one would think that existing standards are somehow inflicting damage on our economy.  EPA administrator Scott Pruitt even gave a shout out to the “Jobs” signs at the event where he announced the EPA will be rolling back the standards.  But he’s got it all wrong. Keeping the standards strong is the best way to help grow jobs and support our economy.  Investing in technology advancement in the auto industry and saving consumers money on fuel – both outcomes of clean car standards – help to create jobs and make our economy stronger.

“I love these signs, particularly the ones that say ‘Jobs’.” EPA Administrator Pruitt, April 3, 2018 in announcing rollbacks to federal vehicle emission standards. Analysis by Synapse Energy Economics shows that keeping emissions and efficiency standards strong will create jobs.

A new analysis by Synapse Energy Economics examined the existing state and federal clean car standards currently on the books through 2025 to estimate their impact on US jobs and the US economy.  They found clean car standards will:

  • Add more than 100,000 jobs in 2025 with that number increasing to more than 250,000 in 2035.
  • Increase US gross domestic product by more than $13 billion in 2025 and more than $16 billion in 2035.
  • Save consumers nearly $40 billion in annual fuel costs by 2025 and $90 billion by 2035

For details, visit see our fact sheet: Cleaner Cars Are Good for Jobs.

Why the good news?

So wait a minute.  Doesn’t it cost money to make cars more efficient and less polluting?  Yes.  But just like that more efficient refrigerator might cost a little extra upfront, the lower operating costs more than make up for it, leaving more money in your pocket to spend how you like.

It turns out, savings from improved fuel efficiency adds up to billions of dollars every year. To date, Americans have already saved more than $57 billion dollars at the pump since 2010 because of clean car standards. And spending those savings on things other than gasoline is a whole lot better for our economy. (This is old news – I wrote about this in 2011).

In addition, the standards drive the auto industry to innovate. That means more R&D, manufacturing and engineering, creating jobs throughout the supply chain.

What did Indiana University get wrong?

In the administration’s final determination notice to revise the standards, they cite a study by Indiana University, paid for by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which concluded that clean car standards would cause near-term job losses, but be positive in the long-run.  However, Synapse’s analysis found both short-term and long-term economic benefits.  Why the difference?

Indiana University study’s macro-economic modeling assumes all consumers use cash to purchase their vehicle—in fact, only 30 percent do so—and assumes consumers do not factor fuel economy into their vehicle purchasing decisions, even though evidence shows consumers value fuel economy as well as price when purchasing a vehicle. These erroneous assumptions led to erroneous results that just don’t hold up.

Bottom line: Federal and state clean car standards drive the deployment of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Developing and building these vehicles creates thousands of new jobs, while the money consumers save on fuel can be spent on other goods and services, boosting the economy overall.

The administration’s actions to weaken standards will hurt US jobs and the US auto industry, despite what their signs say and how much Administrator Pruitt loves them (starting at minute 2:33).

5 Things the EPA Gets Wrong as it Re-Evaluates the Fuel Efficiency Standards (and One Thing it Ignores)

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Industry Representatives and Administrator Pruitt looking quite pleased at the press conference where they rolled out their rollback of the fuel efficiency standards. Left to right - Peter Welch, NADA, Administrator Pruitt, Mitch Bainwal, Alliance, John Bozzella, Global. Screenshot from C-SPAN

On Monday April 2nd, the EPA released a “redetermination” of the incredibly popular and successful car and light truck global warming emissions standards – spoiler alert – EPA said that the standards are not appropriate and need to be weakened.  As a reminder, the Obama administration previously completed the mid-term evaluation of the standards and issued a Final Determination that the standards are appropriate out through 2025.  Within a month of taking office, Administrator Pruitt promised that he would redo the Final Determination and voilà – here it is.

Reading the EPA’s redetermination is mind-boggling – it is basically a regurgitation of industry talking points put forward by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance) and Global Automakers (Global) in the public record.

Some comments that were in opposition to the auto industry talking points were alluded to in the document, but there is no substantive evaluation of any of them. Nothing approaching a robust technical debate of any information is presented in this report — it is simply declarative, substituting the political will of the Administrator to side with industry for the hard, ignoring the scientific rigor found in the 2017 Final Determination.

Although the redetermination is full of questionable assumptions and strange conclusions, we picked five falsehoods that are core to their reasoning and explain why they’re wrong.

Falsehood 1

What they say: Vehicle costs were underestimated in the EPA’s original record that was foundational to the first Final Determination.

Why they’re wrong: When it comes to technology costs, EPA ignores the large number of peer-reviewed publications from its own technical staff showing how manufacturers can meet the 2025 standards, even without significant penetration of plug-in electric vehicles or strong hybrids.  It takes at face value automaker claims about the level of technologies needed to achieve the standards, without actually examining the studies cited by the automakers in making those erroneous claims, studies which in fact contradict the automakers’ assertions that significant penetration of advanced technology is necessary.  It also ignores the latest evidence on the vehicle costs needed to meet the rules.

Falsehood 2

What they say: Gas prices have changed since the rule was finalized in 2012.

Why they’re wrong: Gas price projections did change between 2012 and 2018.  However, when the agency updated their analysis for the mid-term evaluation and did the Final Determination in January 2017, they took that into account.  The projected gas prices used in the previous administrations’ Proposed and Final Determinations are nearly identical to current gas price projections.  Why the current EPA decided to focus on this and say it was a reason to re-evaluate the Final Determination is beyond me.

In one place, the redetermination exclaims that “lifetime fuel savings to consumers can change by almost 200 percent per vehicles based on the assumption on gas prices according to the 2016 Proposed Determination (Table IV.12).”  This is true.  A quick look at the table (below) clearly shows that fuel savings can go from good to great depending on the gas prices expected in 2025, ranging from $1,439 to $4,209 over the lifetime of the average vehicle, which is all good news for consumers.

Falsehood 3

What they say: “Consumers’ preferences are not necessarily aligned to meet emission standards and there is uncertainty on this issue that merits further consideration.”

Why they’re wrong: They got out of their way to say that consumers don’t want fuel efficient vehicles, which is not the data we’ve seen.

They cite an automaker point that only 5% of 2017 sales of normal gasoline-powered vehicles would meet 2025 standards. I don’t know why they would expect today’s vehicles to meet standards 8 years out.  The whole point of the standards is to make sure that vehicles get more efficient over time.

Auto manufacturers redesign vehicles every five years or so – it is in these product redesigns that they make major changes in the body style, and the efficiency of the engine and other components.  In eight years, all vehicles are going through at least one redesign, which is plenty of opportunity to make vehicles more efficient so they meet the standards.

It’s worth noting that models of popular vehicles like the Ford F-150 and Toyota Camry already meet targets well into the future—there is lots of opportunity to improve the efficiency of these vehicles and ample technology to do so, as reams and reams of research ignored by the agency can attest.

In addition, the way the standards work, not every vehicle needs to be exactly in compliance every year because they are based on an average.  There are flexibilities built into the program that allow manufacturers to bank and borrow credits over time because it is understood that vehicles will be more efficient right after a redesign and may be less efficient than the standards when it’s approaching its next redesign.

They also show misleading data on the uptake of electric vehicles by consumers.  Plug-in electric vehicle sales are increasing every year and as more models are introduced in varying sizes, more consumers will be able to consider them as an option for their lifestyle. Moreover, hybrid sales also grew from 2016 to 2017; conveniently, EPA excluded 2017 because it was a chart lifted from Alliance comments rather than analyzed with any sort of independent rationale.

Lastly, multiple polls have shown that consumers value fuel economy strongly. A NRDC poll from 2016 showed that 95% of Americans agree that “Automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicle types” and 79% of Americans believe that “The U.S. government should continue to increase fuel efficiency standards and enforce them”. Consumers Union has also published multiple polls that show that nearly 9 in 10 Americans think that automakers should continue to raise vehicle fuel economy.  And a poll released by the American Lung Association last week showed that after people hear balanced arguments from each side, their support for the standards increases slightly. It’s like I’m not alone in wanting to spend less money at the gas station.

Falsehood 4

What they say:  Consumers will be priced out of the market by these standards.

Why they’re wrong: Consumers are the greatest beneficiary of these savings.  As noted above, consumers stand to save thousands of dollars in fuel costs over the lifetime of their vehicles. In fact, consumers that finance their vehicles save money as soon as they drive their new cars off the lot, as the marginal cost of the fuel saving technology on their monthly payment is far exceeded by the money they save on fuel every month.

They also say that average new car sales transaction costs have increased as a result of the standards, a point which has been debunked repeatedly.  For example, Consumers Union showed that new car prices have remained relatively flat over the past 20 years with respect to inflation, and used car prices have fallen.  Similarly, auto analysts Alan Baum and Dan Luria showed that transaction prices are on the rise as a direct result of automakers upselling luxury packages to increasingly wealthy consumers.  All of this ignores consumers who are currently saving money due to paying less at the pump, which recent research shows disproportionately benefits low-income individuals, again a study acknowledged and ignored by Administrator Pruitt.

Falsehood 5

What they say: The growing preference for larger vehicles over cars make it harder to comply with the standards.

Why they’re wrong: The popularity of SUVs and light trucks doesn’t undermine the standards—it reinforces the need to maintain their strength.  Rather than setting a single greenhouse gas emission target for the average vehicle sold by a manufacturer, which is what the original vehicle standards did in the 1970’s, the new vehicle standards consider the size and type of the vehicles sold to determine each manufacturer’s target. This ensures that all vehicles improve their efficiency, including trucks and SUVs, while giving automakers flexibility in hitting their targets, based on the vehicles they sell. This system means that no particular vehicle model needs to be “in compliance”; some vehicles can achieve greater fuel economy and others less in a given year and the manufacturer’s fleet can still be in compliance with the standards.

What’s missing from the redetermination?

What they don’t say: Weakening the global warming emission standards endangers public health and welfare by contributing to global warming

Missing from the Revised Final Determination is any mention of climate change or its impacts, which endangers Americans now and into the future and is the reason that EPA sets these standards. Scientists warn that we must significantly reduce emissions of global warming pollutants to avoid the worst effects of climate change, including sea level rise, wildfires, and infectious diseases.  As it stands now, no other federal policy is delivering greater global warming emissions reductions than these vehicle standards. If the EPA completely rolls back the regulations, as some have signaled, that will mean an additional half billion tons of global warming emissions just from the vehicles sold between 2022-2025.  Doing so would make hitting our obligations under the Paris Climate Accord a virtual impossibility, significantly damaging our ability to hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

We knew that this day was coming, but the extent to which this redetermination relies solely on industry arguments and ignores the robust analytics that underlie the original Final Determination is confounding.  It makes me think about the story that came out around Administrator Pruitt’s confirmation, when we learned that he took a letter written by a Devon energy lobbyist and put it on his OK Attorney General letterhead and submitted it to the Department of Interior.

This redetermination feels like that – like he just read the Alliance and Global comments and used their quotes to rewrite the determination.  It’s a slap in the face to everyone who cares about data, analytics, scientific integrity, and our climate.  We know he’s going to propose rolling back the standards in the proposed rule that we expect to see this summer.  The question is by how much.  We will keep a close eye on this and let you know what he proposes and ask for your help in keeping the standards strong.

 

Five (More) Pruitt Scandals That You Should Know About, But Probably Don’t

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been hit with a string of brewing corruption scandals that go beyond merely ordering a soundproof “privacy booth” that cost taxpayers up to $25,000, or spending over $105,000 on first-class flights in his first year on the job.

Stories broke this week that Pruitt allegedly: (1) rented a condo linked to lobbyists who represented an oil pipeline project the EPA approved last year and who donated to Pruitt’s campaign to become Oklahoma Attorney General, (2) looked into renting a private jet that would cost U.S. taxpayers $100,000…a month, (3) gave two of his staffers raises under a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), but not to actually work on water safety, and (4) lied to Congress about his use of private email to conduct government business.

This misuse of taxpayer dollars and pay-to-play corruption is infuriating – though unsurprising given what else is going on in this Administration – and indicates the type of person we have in charge of the federal agency charged with protecting our air, water, and health.

Pruitt doesn’t give two quarks about the U.S. taxpayer. Instead, these potential ethics violations highlight Pruitt’s penchant for using the office of the EPA Administrator to further industry interests, give handouts to his inner circle, and hide the evidence all along the way.

Although these corruption allegations are making headlines today, equal or greater attention must be paid to Pruitt’s somewhat quieter crusade to rollback regulations designed to protect our health and environment. These regulatory “reforms” haven’t garnered as much press coverage as Pruitt’s lavish spending, lobbyist connections, or shady dealings, but they are based on the same type of corrupt moral code Pruitt brings to the EPA and will cost more than just taxpayer dollars.

So, here are 5 regulatory rollback efforts currently underway at EPA that will impact our health and safety, and must be making headlines too

(1) Rollback of the “Glider Truck Rule”

Glider trucks are brand new truck bodies that manufactures cram an old polluting truck engine into so that the truck looks new from the outside but has an ancient polluting relic of an engine on the inside. The particulate matter emissions from these vehicles are estimated to cause 1,600 premature deaths each year. Pruitt’s EPA reopened a loophole that was closed under the Obama Administration so that these trucks can now be made primarily by a single company that has funded bogus science and anti-EPA politicians.

(2) Delay of Chemical Safety Standards

EPA had previously designed a suite of updated rules to protect fence-line communities and first responders from chemical accidents that happen like clockwork across the country. Over 2,000 incidents were reported between 2004 and 2013, and lives were lost. Over 17,000 people were injured and 59 people were killed during this period, and over 400,000 people experienced evacuations or shelter-in place orders because of a chemical-related accident. Upon entering office, Administrator Pruitt put this rule on hold almost 2 years later than the rule was supposed to go into effect. In just the last year, 33 more accidents occurred at facilities covered by these rules, and the consequences of these accidents may have been lessened or avoided if EPA didn’t initiate this delay.

(3) Rollback of the light-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standards

The light-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standards are a joint effort by EPA and DOT to improve the average fuel efficiency of passenger vehicles. These standards have been shown to not only reduce oil use and pollution, but also create jobs, give consumers more fuel-efficient vehicles across all vehicle classes, and have been widely supported. But, the EPA now doesn’t care about any of that as they have signaled that they are going to reconsider or rollback the fuel efficiency rules covering vehicle model years through 2025. This decision overturns thousands of pages of hard evidence, good science, and sound data, and undercuts one of the most important climate policies that is still on the books.

(4) Repeal of the Clean Power Plan

Last fall, the EPA issued a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a policy designed to reduce emissions from electric power generation approximately 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. By the EPA’s own estimates, the Clean Power Plan would prevent 90,000 pediatric asthma attacks and save 4,500 lives each year. The agency is still taking comment on that proposal, which, in addition to making a mockery of the value of human health and the environment, attempts to reinterpret the Clean Air Act as well as how the power system works in order to avoid the need for meaningful regulatory action. UCS, along with 250,000 others, submitted comments to EPA in support of maintaining this policy, though EPA is forecast to rule in favor of industry, rather than individuals.

(5) Failure to require mining companies to clean up their waste

Pruitt’s EPA decided not to finalize a proposal that would have required mining companies to prove they have the financial means to clean up pollution at mining sites, despite an industry legacy of abandoned mines that have fouled waterways across the country. The estimated 500,000 abandoned mine lands in the U.S. can pollute waterways for more than 100 years and pose significant risks to surface and ground water. Pruitt claimed that safe-checking mining companies with a long history of pollution was unnecessary and enforcing a regulation that makes mining companies clean up their mess would impose an undue burden.

Guess who now has to foot these bills? The U.S. taxpayer. EPA spent $1.1 billion on mining cleanups between 2010 and 2014 and EPA’s own documents report at least 52 mines and their processing sites have had spills and pollution releases since 1980. Hard-rock mining companies would have faced a combined $7.1 billion financial obligation under the dropped rule, costing them up to $171 million annually to set aside sufficient funds to pay for future cleanups, according to an EPA analysis. These costs will likely now be borne by the taxpayer instead of the responsible parties.

 

Secretary Zinke’s Diversity Problem

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Photo: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0 (Flickr)

I was a career senior executive and climate policy advisor at the Interior Department before I was involuntarily reassigned by the Trump Administration. In my role I had been focused on leading an interagency response to the slow-moving disaster in America’s Arctic, where Alaska Natives were faced daily with the impacts of a rapidly changing climate. With the safety of Americans at risk, I was stunned that the new Trump Administration would so callously leave these people to their own devices.

I should not have been surprised.

I was only one of the 33 senior executives Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reassigned that night last June, and recently-released internal DOI documents that I requested months ago (and had to sue the agency to obtain) have shown that nearly half of the reassigned senior executives were minorities, a disproportionate number of them were women, and a full third of them were American Indian, as recently reported in Talking Points Memo.

This is appalling for many reasons, and not least because Interior plays an important role as the federal trustee for American Indians and Alaska Natives, (who, incidentally, make up 10% of the Interior workforce). For this reason there are special rules that provide an Indian preference in hiring for some positions, government-to-government consultation policies that require special effort to seek out and incorporate input from Tribes and Alaska Natives, and a long list of programs and activities—including my work with the Alaska Natives facing climate impacts—dedicated to their well-being.

Secretary Zinke, notoriously ignorant of the DOI mission, was briefed on these issues. During his address to all employees on day one of his new job as Secretary he included “American Indian sovereignty” as one of his top three priorities. Several weeks later, however, he inexplicably dropped this item from his list of top priorities and from his talking points when he addressed us at Interior headquarters once more. The anti-Indian tilt in last June’s mass reassignment action was just another insult to the American Indians that work for him.

Zinke wasn’t done insulting American Indians yet, though. In December, 2017 he traveled to Utah with President Trump to tell Americans that they were going to enact the largest reduction of protected lands in American history by shrinking the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments. This announcement was a slap in the face to the leadership of the four primary tribes who had advocated for protecting Bears Ears, a sacred area with one of the highest concentrations of archeological sites in the world. Subsequent document disclosures have shown that Zinke lied when he said there was no connection between this action and the oil and gas industry’s ambitions in the region.

Zinke’s neglect of the agency’s responsibilities toward American Indians and Alaska Natives even extends to grant programs that are meant to directly serve struggling tribal communities. The Tribal Resilience Grant Program was one of the few programs intended to help tribal communities specifically address their own resilience in the face of a changing climate and other threats, and he has refused to disperse the dollars that Congress has appropriated for this program. In 2017 DOI declined to announce a request for proposals, and the dollars still languish at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It remains to be seen if Zinke will be held accountable for this illegal act—known as impoundment—and forced by Congress to disperse those dollars in 2018.

While he seems to have it out for Indians in particular, Zinke has made no effort to prioritize diversity more generally. He was recently quoted as saying “I don’t care about diversity” and a recent scan of the DOI website found that the pages on diversity training have been cut back and in some cases eliminated.

It’s no secret that the Federal Government is a perennial laggard on workplace diversity—79% of Federal senior executives are white, for example—but at the Interior Department, the numbers of employed minorities are staggeringly low. Black representation at DOI is 5.6%, the lowest of any cabinet agency. Every Administration in recent memory has made efforts, some better than others, to improve these abysmal numbers, until now. It was almost comical, in a sad way, when Zinke’s spokesperson boasted that Zinke clearly cared about diversity because he had appointed two women and an African American to senior positions. Interior has 70,000 employees.

With his statements and actions, Secretary Zinke is stoking concerns that this administration is actively rejecting minorities and discriminating against American Indians and Alaska Natives, and that the 30% of his employees who belong to a minority will be singled out. Congressional staff have even speculated about which employees Zinke was referring to when he stated that 30% of DOI’s career staff are not “loyal to the flag” and one member of Congress has suggested that Zinke seeks to create a “lily-white Department”.

Until now, the media and public discourse has focused on Zinke’s efforts to stifle science, break down the agency, and hand public lands over to his oil and gas cronies. Certainly these actions will have direct consequences for American health and safety and the protection of our natural legacy. Compounding the mission failure, however, these recent revelations about Zinke’s discriminatory actions and lack of support for diversity in the workplace will have direct and tragic consequences for how one of America’s biggest federal agencies serves its employees, American Indians, and the American people.

It’s impossible to know what Zinke’s intentions are, but it’s clear that his actions are having a deleterious effect on the agency’s diversity, morale, and effectiveness. Rather than dismissing diversity and demeaning American Indians, Secretary Zinke should step up efforts to increase diversity and show that he is proud to serve and support the people who were making America great for millennia before the white man arrived.

Crop Diversity: A Nice Thing If You Can Get It (and You Can Get It If You Try)

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Extended crop rotations, which often include small grains like oats, pictured here, can provide financial benefits to farmers while also providing broader environmental benefits, like reduced soil erosion and runoff. Nick Ohde/Practical Farmers of Iowa

Diversity is incredibly important for a productive and resilient agrifood system. Diverse cropping systems can lead to greater  productivity, profitability and environmental health. Diversity in the form of extended crop rotations can also reduce weed, insect, and disease pressure, which can help farmers cut the costs of their purchased inputs like herbicides and insecticides. Beyond these financial benefits, diversifying crop rotations also provides broader environmental benefits that can be experienced at both the field scale (e.g., reduced erosion) and landscape scale (e.g., reduced water quality impairment), as noted in the UCS report Rotating Crops, Turning Profits

Greater cropping systems diversity can also help mitigate risks associated with the impacts of global climate change, which will drive more extreme and variable weather events, not to mention sustained temperature and precipitation changes that will impact agricultural production. Sadly, much of the agricultural production in the US, particularly in the Midwest, is lacking in biological diversity (at the genetic, species, and community level).

If diversity is a key ingredient in building a more resilient agroecosystem, good for the land and often for our bottom line, why then are so few farmers, particularly in the Midwest, implementing diverse crop rotations?

Corn is king

In collaboration with colleagues at Iowa State University, I attempted to answer this question in a recent paper published with Global Environmental Change, using information from Midwest Corn Belt farmers collected via surveys and in-depth interviews to examine the facilitators and barriers of more diversified crop rotations. Overall, we found that many farmers are interested in more diverse crop rotations. However, many of them feel constrained by the current corn-corn and corn-soybean rotation that is ubiquitous across much of the Midwest—as a Wisconsin farmer said in our study, “now, you live or die by two crops.” This farmer went on to note that he did not think this adherence to such a limited crop rotation was sustainable for the long-term health of the region’s agricultural system.

Our study also found that many farmers acknowledge the benefits of diversifying their crop rotation. Some also see diverse crop rotations as a way to take advantage of climate-related changes. Unfortunately, many farmers could not figure out what crops would be financially viable in their operation given that there are few regionally competitive markets for diverse crops. We did find that greater diversity at the watershed level (measured at the HUC6 level) facilitates farmers’ use of diverse crop rotations, likely due to the presence of alternative markets (e.g., small grains or feed) and associated technological and market infrastructure. It might also be that closer proximity with other farmers who have diverse rotations provides greater support to farmers considering adopting extended rotations. Our study also found that the loss of crop/livestock integration in the region had greatly reduced the need for more diverse rotations, with many farmers noting that they used to have more diverse rotations in the past, when they managed for an integrated crop and livestock system.

Overall, our study examined how path dependence, which limits the technological and economic options that farmers have within the corn-based cropping system in the US Corn Belt, restricts farmers’ options for changing their production systems to incorporate more diverse crop rotations.

An enabling environment for diversity

To enable greater diversity, it may be necessary to address both technology and informational barriers while also identifying incentives for more economically and environmentally resilient agricultural systems. Unfortunately, many farmers who are doing things differently from their neighbors can feel ostracized in their communities. Luckily organizations like Practical Farmers of Iowa and Women Food and Agriculture Network can provide farmers with communities of practice that enable them to experiment with new cropping systems or different production/conservation practices that might not be commonplace. Organizations such as the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, at Iowa State University, have been critically important in funding agricultural research that investigates diverse alternatives to the corn-based cropping system, such as the Prairie STRIPS project (check out efforts to re-imagine a new Leopold Center given recent funding cuts).

In our study, we suggest two primary strategies for facilitating greater cropping systems diversity in the US Corn Belt:

1) Increasing financial incentives to assist farmers with up-front costs associated with investing in new cropping systems or alternative crops, while also putting in place disincentives for monoculture production (e.g., conservation compliance); and

2) Investing in programs that will enable the development of alternative markets (e.g., perennial biofuel feedstock sources).

Diversity is a key ingredient in building a more resilient agroecosystem, yet there is much work to be done to cultivate more diverse cropping systems in the Corn Belt and other agricultural regions in the U.S. In an era of global climate change, it is more important than ever to invest in agricultural production systems that reduce vulnerability by embracing the merits of agroecological diversity.

 

Gabrielle Roesch McNally received her PhD in Sociology and Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. She worked in the US Corn Belt for over four years conducting and analyzing survey data and in-depth interviews with large-scale corn producers as part of a multi-state effort to examine climate change impacts and resilience-building strategies for corn-based cropping systems. The results reported in this blog were published in a co-authored manuscript entitled, “Barriers to implementing climate resilient agricultural strategies: The case of crop diversification in the U.S. Corn Belt” in the journal Global Environmental Change. Gabrielle is a Fellow with the USDA Northwest Climate Hubs. Follow Gabrielle on Twitter @G_Roesch or on Research Gate.

Nick Ohde /Practical Farmers of Iowa

New Report: One Year In, EPA Chemical Rule Delay Allows Chemical Disasters to Continue

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A chemical plant disaster in Michigan in 2010. Photo: Dragonflylady/CC BY 2.0 (Flickr).

While news this week suggests that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is a walking ethics disaster, he’s long been paving the way for actual disasters—chemical disasters that is. A report released today, A Disaster in the Making, by community, environmental, health, workers, and scientist groups, illuminates how Pruitt’s unnecessary delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule continues to harm Americans.

More delays, more disasters

The report was released today by Earthjustice in partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Coalition For A Safe Environment, Community In-Power & Development Association, Coming Clean, Environmental Justice & Health Alliance, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, and California Communities Against Toxics.

The key findings? One year after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s delay of the chemical disaster rule, otherwise known as the EPA Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule, several serious chemical incidents have occurred—many of which might have been prevented or mitigated by requirements in the rule. Specifically, the rule would have begun to prevent and reduce chemical disasters in communities near over 12,500 facilities nationwide if the Trump Administration had not abruptly suspended it one year ago, in March 2017.

The Arkema Crosby explosions

For example, a UCS report released last September found that the peroxide tank explosions at Arkema’s Crosby, Texas facility in the wake of Hurricane Harvey might have been prevented if such a rule had been implemented. The rule would have required better coordination between companies and emergency responders. Such coordination might have prevented the harmful exposure to chemicals endured by first responders on the scene in Crosby. The rule also requires that companies conduct analyses after accidents to determine their cause and what steps might be taken to prevent future incidents. For some facilities there are also provisions guiding companies toward use of inherently safer technologies and chemicals. For Arkema, a company with several past mishaps and accidental releases at its Crosby facility, such provisions might have made a difference post-Harvey.

The human toll

And these disasters aren’t happening in a vacuum. Families and communities are living every day with the threat of disasters and the nuisances of living next to a chemical facility. For many, this has meant tolerating health impacts like headaches, eye irritation, and worse. The report also details lived accounts by people on the frontlines of this issue. Take, for example, the account of Jesse Marquez, a resident of Wilmington, California:

“Both my office and home are located near oil refineries; I can hear the emergency alarms blaring at all hours of the day and night,” says Jesse Marquez, who lives in Wilmington, California, a part of greater Los Angeles. “This has been happening my entire life.”

Mr. Marquez traces his civic activism to push for a cleaner, safer environment to the day four decades ago when deadly explosions at the oil refinery opposite his family’s house knocked them off their feet and sent a fireball overhead. He ran outside and jumped over a fence, and then heard a woman’s voice begging him to stop.

“I turned around and there was a woman with a baby in her hand, about six or seven months old. She was burned, the baby’s blanket was burned, and the baby’s face was burned. She said, ‘Please save my baby.’ She then threw the baby over the fence like a football for me to catch.”

Or consider the experience of Hilton Kelley of Port Arthur, Texas:

“I was dealing with a couple of crises at once after Harvey,” says Hilton Kelley, who lives near a refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, a majority black and Latino community. “The restaurant me and my wife own was flooded and severely damaged, and my father-in-law’s house was also damaged and flooded. While trying to help my family and neighbors get back on their feet, we were also being subjected to toxic and hazardous substances with virtually no protection.”

Last September, shortly after the hurricane struck, fire broke out at the refinery near Kelley’s home as workers were trying to get it running again. He and other local residents were ordered to stay inside shelter, he says.

“I take my granddaughter to the park twice a week but I can’t really enjoy my time with her because I’m worried about her being harmed by toxic substances,” he says.

We need protection from chemical risks now

Jesse, Hilton, and the rest of the nation don’t need to live like this. About 177 million Americans live in the worst-case scenario zones for chemical disasters and at least one in three schoolchildren attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous facility. The Chemical Disaster Rule includes much-needed improvements to the EPA’s Clean Air Act Risk Management Program (RMP) and would prevent and reduce chemical disasters, hazardous releases and resulting chemical exposures, while strengthening emergency preparedness and coordination with local first responders. When developing the rule, the EPA determined that prior protections failed to prevent over 2,200 chemical accidents around the country during a 10-year period, including about 150 incidents per year that caused reportable harm.

UCS has joined the legal fight to challenge the Trump administration on the needless and harmful delay of the chemical disaster rule. We are being represented by Earthjustice along with the Environmental Integrity ProjectSierra ClubCoalition For A Safe Environment (Wilmington, California), Del Amo Action Committee (Torrance, California), California Communities Against Toxics, Louisiana Bucket BrigadeAir Alliance HoustonCommunity In-Power & Development Association (Port Arthur, Texas), Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy ServicesClean Air Council (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (West Virginia). The United Steelworkers Union, fenceline communities, workers, scientists and 11 states are also fighting in the courts to help ensure that future communities and workers are safe from chemical disasters. Our families deserve this.

Betrayal at the USDA

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Photo: Preston Keres/USDA

Unqualified government employees. Elected officials using their positions for personal gain. Policymakers favoring industry and disregarding science. Such betrayals of the public trust have become commonplace in the Trump administration. And while there’s been plenty of press coverage of HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s lavish dining set, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s shady condo deal, and President Trump choosing the White House physician to lead the VA, the same pattern is apparent in corners of the administration that have received less scrutiny.

Over the past year, I’ve tracked the actions of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and his USDA. In a new UCS report released today, I document the many ways Secretary Perdue has, in his first full year on the job, betrayed farmers and the public he is sworn to serve. And I highlight ways we can push back (as some farmers are already doing—see below).

Welcome to the Department of Agribusiness

When Perdue took the helm at the USDA on April 25, 2017, he spoke of rolling up his sleeves and vowed to “work tirelessly to solve the issues facing our farm families.” Using his down-home Twitter handle @SecretarySonny, he regularly issues folksy tweets championing hardworking farmers. This week, he’s trundling through three states in an RV, making a show of getting out of Washington and talking to people in the heartland.

But over the past year, Perdue’s actual record of policy decisions has favored ideology over expertise and the interests of the Big Ag lobby over that of the majority of America’s 2 million farmers—and of all of us who eat.

A few examples:

  • There was the time last year when Perdue reversed newly-minted USDA rules meant to protect small farmers who raise poultry and livestock for big meat companies (think Tyson Farms and Smithfield Foods). As their name suggests, the Farmer Fair Practices Rules would have evened the playing field for those farmers, giving them more leverage in contracts with these corporate giants and making it easier for farmers to sue for abuses. (Lobbyists for the meat industry hailed Perdue’s action and suggested celebrating “with a top-quality steak.
  • Then there’s a pair of decidedly unscientific decisions related to nutrition, an important USDA responsibility that affects the health and well-being of our country. First, Perdue disregarded the best nutrition science in rolling back standards for school meals served to 45 million children every day. Under Perdue’s new rules, schools can serve “flavored” (read: sugar-sweetened) milk again and get a pass on implementing progressive sodium targets until at least 2020. In announcing the decision last May, Perdue assured reporters, “This is not reducing the nutritional standards whatsoever,” adding, “I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without flavored milk.” (The International Dairy Foods Association cheered.)
Farmers fight back

Secretary Perdue’s betrayal of farmers, in particular, may soon catch up with him. Already, his apparent failure to avert a Trumpian trade war that will hurt farm exports is causing anxiety and anger in farm country.

And now, a group of farmers is fighting his decision on the Farmer Fair Practice Rules in court.

In December, a handful of farmers and the watchdog Organization for Competitive Markets sued Perdue and the USDA, alleging that his decision to end the Farmer Fair Practices Rules unlawfully harms farmers. Just last week, the plaintiffs filed a new brief in the case, detailing the ways large agricultural companies have retaliated against them for standing up for their rights and how the now-rescinded rules would have helped them seek legal redress. The plaintiffs’ stories include companies lowballing them on price, retaliating against them when they complained, and even driving some out of business—practices they say the USDA’s own analysis shows are rampant in the livestock and poultry industries.

And OCM argues that Secretary Perdue and his USDA have failed to explain why rules that would prevent such actions are suddenly not needed.

Will sunshine be Sonny’s downfall?

Of course Perdue is siding with the agribusiness industry over the little guy. It’s who he has always been, going back to his days as Georgia governor. Back then, he made ethics pledges and promptly accepted gifts from lobbyists. He was fined by the state ethics board for campaign finance violations. And he went easy on big food companies in the state, which led to a pair of food safety crises—in the form of tainted peanut butter—that killed nine people and sickened more than 1,300. For all this, Perdue was named one of country’s the worst governors in 2010.

Anyone who studied Perdue’s record could have predicted how his tenure at the USDA would play out (and actually, some of us did). Still, over the past year, he has kept a relatively low profile as a member of the Trump cabinet “under the radar club,” avoiding serious scrutiny from the press while hewing closely to the boss’s deregulatory agenda.

As he hits the road this week, I’d like to see him field tough questions about why he is taking actions that hurt—rather than help—farmers and everyday people across this country.

 

Photo: Preston Keres/USDA

Burying Their Heads in the Sand: 11 Times the Trump Administration Quashed Scientific Studies and Data

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Man on beach with head in the sand. Photo: Peter/CC BY-SA 2.0 (Flickr)

One of the tactics that the Trump administration uses to get science out of the way of their policymaking decisions is to bury it and pretend like it never existed. This is quite problematic because science-based decisionmaking is ineffective when it doesn’t use…well, science. By trashing the most up-to-date studies and data that could help inform our governments’ science-based decisions, this administration is literally putting people’s lives on the line.

This is why it is so important to stay abreast of what is going on, so we can use our collective power to advocate for our leaders, whose salaries we pay, to do what is right—let science guide the decisionmaking process. We avoided any further cuts to scientific studies and data collection in the latest version of the budget, but we continue to watch where such programs may be cut through the appropriations process via the powers of this administration and Congress.

Here are 11 times the Trump administration has killed, ignored, or suppressed a scientific study or data collection, in no particular order (if you know of others, let me know in the comments).

  1. Environmental Analysis of Mining Operations Near Minnesota Wilderness Halted

The federal government was preparing an environmental impact statement to determine if mining operations to be located on land managed by the US Forest Service nearby Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness would have harmful effects. The Department of Interior (DOI) determined that a less stringent review was required only after a month that the agency decided to renew expired mining leases nearby the wilderness area. The wilderness is home to hundreds of migratory birds and is used for recreational purposes. There are not only concerns that nearby mining operations will harm Boundary Water’s environment, but that such harm would also hurt the region’s economy by driving away those that come to enjoy the wilderness area.

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Coal Mining Study Halted

On August 18, 2017, DOI halted a study under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Division of Earth and Life Studies, entitled, “Potential Human Health Effects of Surface Coal Mining Operations in Central Appalachia.” The study was originally requested by states in Appalachia concerned about the health of their citizens. DOI’s reasoning for halting the study was suspicious. The agency said that it was reviewing all grants and contracts costing more than $50,000, but this study was the only one that was halted at the time the decision was made.

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Oil and Gas Development Inspection Study Halted

 Another study aimed at investigating how the DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement could improve its inspections of offshore oil and gas development was halted by the agency. This study was requested by a number of experts and DOI itself in response to the catastrophic April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials from NASEM said that they weren’t given a reason why the study was halted. In its statement on the stop-order of this study, NASEM expressed “disappointment” that this “important study has been stopped.”

  1. Federal Program to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is Abruptly Canceled

The Trump administration cut nearly $214 million in funding for a federal program aimed to prevent teen pregnancy in the US. The five-year grants were ended halfway through their funding cycle across 80 institutions—a decision that is highly unusual. While the decision makes it more difficult for teenagers to access contraceptives, it also prevents researchers who were part of the program from analyzing the data they were collecting. According to notes and emails internal to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the decision to end these grants was directed by political appointees of the Trump administration.

  1. The Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment (NGEE) Tropics Project is Cut

NGEE-Tropics was a ten-year project that aimed to study how climate change would affect the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. The Department of Energy (DOE) project would close down nearly seven years before its expected termination date. The project had proved successful to date, resulting in at least sixty peer-reviewed publications and a greater understanding of how these ecosystems function under a changing climate.

  1. Treasury Economists Barred from Producing Study on Tax Reform’s Economic Impact

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said that over 100 people were “working around the clock on running scenarios for us” to produce an analysis that would provide evidence that Congress’s proposed $1.5 million tax reform would pay for itself through great economic growth. Treasury economists stated that they were being barred from conducting comprehensive analyses, and that the analyses Secretary Mnuchin described did not exist. The Senate passed this sweeping tax reform on December 19, 2017 without considering any comprehensive analyses of the plan by the Treasury Department’s economists, and in lieu of the consensus of expert economists outside the government that the plan would not pay for itself through economic growth.

  1. Administrator Pruitt Ignores Analysis of HONEST Act Costs

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff-level analysis found that complying with Congress’s proposed “HONEST Act” would cost the agency more than $250 million per year. EPA career staff argued that the HONEST act would incur additional costs and time to implement, would limit research that gets conducted, and would deter industry and academics from working with the agency. The analysis that was sent to Administrator Pruitt’s office from experts at the EPA was to be sent on to the Congressional Budget Office as part of the agency’s analysis of the bill’s expected costs, but the study was never sent.

  1. Data Collection on Workplace Related Injuries No Longer Required

For over 40 years, larger employers in high-hazard industries have been required to keep accurate records of these types of serious, disabling events—and to maintain those records for five years. These records are vital to understanding the extent and nature of serious workplace injuries and illnesses in our nation’s larger workplaces—and preventing them. On a straight party line vote, the Senate repealed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) rule clarifying an employer’s obligation to maintain accurate records of serious injuries.

  1. Report on Costs of New Rule Affecting Service Employees’ Tip Wages Buried

In proposing a new rule that would allow employers to control service employees’ tip income, the Trump administration buried a study from economic experts at the Department of Labor (DOL) that estimated service employees will lose approximately $5.8 billion in income if the rule is implemented. The analysis was produced by economic experts at DOL, so the Trump administration sidelined their own employees.

  1. Study Showing Refugees Bring in Tens of Billions of Dollars in Revenue Trashed

The Trump administration wanted to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. The problem: HHS had produced a study that showed refugees actually brought in tens of billions of dollars more in government revenue than they cost. This evidence ran counter to the Trump administration’s rhetoric that refugees and immigrants are an economic burden. The administration’s solution: reject the draft study and produce a three-page final report, which has yet to be released publicly, that discusses only the costs of refugees and none of the benefits.

  1. Collection of Data on Methane Emissions Stopped

On March 1, 2017, nine attorneys general from states with strong oil and gas industry interests and the governors of Texas and Montana asked EPA Administrator Pruitt to suspend an information request to gas and oil operations about their methane emissions and technologies used to reduce them. Just one day later, the EPA withdrew the request so that Pruitt could “assess the need for the information that the agency was collecting.”

Photo: Peter/CC BY-SA 2.0 (Flickr)

Tell Secretary Alex Azar: We Need to Demand Equitable Gun Violence Research and Reform

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Damien Jones, the equity and justice outreach specialist for the Climate and Energy Program at the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC.

It has been only six weeks since last I wrote about gun violence in America, following the Parkland shooting that took seventeen lives and impacted a nation. In that time there have been 22 more mass shootings, at least 10 of them at schools. The number of deaths by guns in 2018 is at 3,423, and we’re only 89 days into the year—that’s about 38 human lives lost per day. In that time, hundreds of thousands of people have voiced their outrage and concerns over our country’s inaction around gun violence, as we witnessed at last weekend’s March for Our Lives.

March for Our Lives, Washington, DC, March 24, 2018.

We even saw a small victory for federal research into gun violence, as Congress clarified the legislative language that effectively prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from pursuing such research. Now we need the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to carry this forward and direct his department’s scientists to get to work.

But, as we pause to celebrate the national attention that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students have garnered, we must recognize the racial disparities that exist both in gun violence related deaths and in the momentum to seek solutions. The truth remains that the fight has only just begun.

Solutions for gun reform must be inclusive

I’d like to take a moment to recognize all the people who have been advocating for gun reform for years. Namely, I’d like to acknowledge the black youth who have been at the forefront of this fight, with little to no recognition for being the heroes they are.

“Every day shootings are everyday problems,” said Trevon Bosley, whose older brother, Terrell, was fatally shot in Chicago over a decade ago. “It’s time for the nation to realize that gun violence is more than a Chicago problem or a Parkland problem but it’s an American problem. It’s time to care about all communities equally.”

“I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper,” said 11-year old Naomi Wadler.

“We are survivors not only of gun violence, but of silence. We are survivors of the erratic productions of poverty. But not only that. We are the survivors of unjust policies and practices upheld by our Senate,” said D’Angelo McDade, a high school senior from Chicago.

The youth who spoke at the March for Our Lives rally reiterated an important message to the audience: our solutions for gun reform need to be inclusive.

“We have to use our white privilege now to make sure that all of the people that have died as a result of [gun violence] and haven’t been covered the same can now be heard,” said David Hogg, student and survivor of the Parkland school shooting.

It was not lost on them that young black activists, including those belonging to the Black Lives Matter movement, who have long been organizing and mobilizing their communities to take action against gun violence, have been widely portrayed as domestic terrorists, black identity extremists (yes, really). While the (mostly white) students leading the #NeverAgain movement are heralded and named heroes, black youth are criminalized and seen as divisive, especially for pointing out existing inequities.

Social justice activists gather for a photo at the March for Our Lives with UCS Environmental Justice Advocate for the Climate and Energy program, Damien Jones. Two of the young men are graduates of Florida A&M University, a historically black university, and two are high school students from Jacksonville, Florida.

Science as a tool for justice (and public health)

Where does the scientific community fit into all this? I’m glad you asked. Women, low-income communities, people of color are all disproportionately affected by gun violence, and by proxy, they are impacted by the dearth of research around these issues—research that could lead to life-saving, science-based solutions. Let the words of the youth serve as a reminder for our federal scientists that, when they begin forming their research questions, they must be deliberate not only in including underrepresented groups, but by recognizing societal (and personal) biases against these communities when designing their research. The methods by which scientists collect, measure, and analyze data must be rooted in equity.

And while conducting research around gun violence is crucial, it is important to remember that science is only a means, not an end. CDC scientists are not to be put on pedestals as the saviors, nor should they be expected to hold the answers of the universe. But they have a role in this fight, just as the hundreds of thousands of marching activists do, just as our elected officials do. We can create effective policy solutions for this public health crisis. Let’s hold Secretary Azar to his word that the CDC will take on gun violence research immediately. We cannot afford further inaction.

Ted Eytan Damien Jones

EPA Rolls Back Fuel Efficiency Standards at the Request of Automakers

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Vehicle pollution is a major issue for human health and the environment.

In what comes as a surprise to absolutely no one following the current administration, today EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a redetermination of the appropriateness of the EPA’s vehicle regulations through 2025 and found that they should be made less stringent.  In doing so, he is overturning thousands of pages of hard evidence, and the consequences will be limiting consumer choice, increasing emissions, and undercutting the economy.

This decision is not based on evidence

Last year, I pointed out the strong body of evidence supporting the previous administration’s determination that the standards are appropriate.  The justification for today’s action is considerably slimmer.  Rather than pointing to the fact that these standards are cost-effective for consumers, that we have the technology to meet and exceed these standards by 2025, and that these standards have tremendous positive impacts on the economy, the ideologues currently at the EPA have decided to ignore this evidence and misconstrue how the standards work.

The administrator doesn’t seem to understand that lower gas prices actually underscore the importance of having strong efficiency standards, increasing sales of SUVs don’t affect the ability of manufacturers to meet the standards, and these standards are job creators, which means putting them on hold is going to COST jobs, not protect them.  Sadly, the flimsy document put forth by Administrator Pruitt is just another example of how little this administration cares about facts.

This decision is bad news for the environment

Unfortunately, here’s a fact that is unavoidable: transportation is the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.  With more vehicles traveling further each day, it’s critical to ensure that those vehicles are using less fuel.  If the EPA completely rolls back the regulations, as some have signaled, that will mean an additional half billion tons of global warming emissions just from the vehicles sold between 2022-2025.  Doing so would make achieving hitting our obligations under the Paris Climate Accord a virtual impossibility, significantly damaging our ability to hold global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Of course, burning more oil isn’t just bad for the environment—it’s bad for national security and terrible for the nation’s pocketbook.

This decision is not good for consumers

These standards have been increasing the availability of more fuel-efficient vehicles in every single class of vehicle—that’s how they were designed.  That means that whether a consumer is looking to buy a small car or a giant pick-up, they are going to save money the moment they drive off the lot thanks to fuel savings that more than compensate for any costs associated with fuel-saving technologies.  This decision will now limit those savings and put manufacturers back in the driver’s seat, effectively determining what consumers are allowed to buy.

Unfortunately, the only way that we have gotten more efficient vehicles on the market for consumers is with strong efficiency standards.  The last time we saw a market shift towards SUVs and pick-ups, it happened under flattened vehicle efficiency standards—the result was that new vehicles averaged worse fuel economy and produced more emissions.  And that increased fuel use hit American consumers especially hard once gas prices started to rise again.

This decision is bad for business

At the turn of the millennium, manufacturers were selling gas guzzlers at a tremendous clip—but in doing so, they entirely neglected investment in their car fleet.  As soon as gas prices began to rise again, sales of these largest vehicles fell, as Americans clamored for more efficient options.  And when it came to the Detroit Three, those efficient choices simply weren’t there, sales plummeted, and taxpayers had to bail out the industry.  The actions the industry has taken to push the administration to weaken these rules is setting us up for a repeat of history.

Moreover, by putting more of consumers’ hard-earned dollars into the tank to pay for gas instead of being able to reinject that into the economy, this action will cost jobs.  An independent analysis released this week shows that the economy is slated to grow by more than $16 billion, creating 265,000 jobs by 2035, if the standards are held today, a large chunk of which are explicitly created in automotive manufacturing and its supply chain.  Suppliers themselves are well aware of the benefits these rules have provided and the negative consequences of a rollback—unlike automakers, they have also been willing to step out and support strong standards.

This decision relinquishes leadership on climate back to the states

Under the Clean Air Act, California has the authority to set more stringent vehicle emissions standards, and states have the right to adopt these standards.  Prior to the federal EPA standards, California and 13 other states adopted strong emissions standards for passenger vehicles through 2025 and hold a waiver from the EPA to maintain those standards.  However, because those rules are so similar to the ones currently on the books, they had been willing to accept as compliance with those rules compliance with the federal program.

Today’s action by Administrator Pruitt completely undermines the promise of a single national program by weakening the federal program.   The states understand the technical and economic evidence that shows manufacturers can achieve strong standards in 2025—and they face the consequences of global warming if they do not.  They have therefore signaled that they will no longer follow the federal program.  These states make up more than 1/3 of the new vehicle market, ensuring that folks in California and New York are going to have more efficient vehicle choices than those back in Detroit or Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma.

This decision is a disaster of the automakers’ making

We’ve seen lip service given by automakers about not wanting a rollback of the standards, but this is nothing but puffery as they try to distance themselves from an unpopular administration that has given them exactly what they asked for.  Too-late claims about needing to act on climate change ring hollow given the industry’s continued efforts to undermine the nation’s strongest climate policy at every turn—if automakers truly wanted to act on climate, they would support the rules as they stand, not beg the administration to change them.

Inevitably, what this means is that the Administration is angling for a court battle over its technically unjustifiable standards, creating uncertainty in the process.  Of course, this is nothing new—the Pruitt administration has found itself at the center of a number of lawsuits for failing to adequately uphold the mission of the agency to protect public health and the environment.

This decision is not the end of the line

The industry is now facing complete uncertainty—exactly the situation that the previous administration sought to avoid by finalizing the rules in 2017.  But by pushing for a new rule as they have, the auto industry can only blame itself for this chaos.  And unfortunately, it would be the rest of us that will have to bear the cost, not only by paying more at the pump but by dealing with the ensuing impacts on the climate from veering away from the sustainable pathway we need to be on in 2025 and beyond.

The one sliver of hope is that this action is just the first step in the process, which means there is still time to right this wrong.  The administration’s next step will be to propose what it would set as a replacement for the cost-effective standards now on the books—giving an opportunity for stakeholders and the public writ large to weigh in.

In responding to that proposal, the industry needs to stand up for the science and protect the environment, or they’ll remain guilty of using an ideological administration to ignore the facts, costing the public deeply.  And you can bet the public will be watching—and hopefully giving the agency and the industry a piece of its mind.

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