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Scientists Stand Up Against Shoddy Science on Glider Vehicles

That shiny new truck could have a 15-year-old engine that doesn’t meet today’s standards, and you might never know…except for the plumes of pollution behind it, if it’s a glider vehicle. Photo: Jeremy Rempel. CC-BY-ND 2.0 (Flickr)The newest twists and turns in the glider vehicle saga

Glider vehicles have gone from being a niche issue to a major conversation piece both here in DC and now also in Tennessee.  The villains are still Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, Fitzgerald Glider Kits, and Congresswoman Diane Black.  The new heroes are the Tennessee Tech University (TTU) faculty and students.

First a quick recap of the issue: Glider vehicles are new truck bodies that have old, polluting engines in them.  As noted in my colleague Dave Cooke’s previous blogs, the particulate matter (PM) emissions alone from these vehicles will cause an additional 1600 premature deaths annually (assuming they make 10,000 vehicles a year). And the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are 10x that of the emissions from the Volkswagen diesel cars that were outfitted with defeat devices for every year this loophole remains open.

These dirty polluting trucks are terrible for the environment, our health (particularly the health of people who live along trucking corridors, predominantly people of color, which was acknowledged in an early draft of the proposal to roll back the rule), and for companies and dealers that sell new trucks that actually meet the current PM and NOx emissions standards.

The glider vehicle loophole was closed as part of the Heavy-Duty Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions regulations that were finalized in 2016 – Administrator Pruitt is looking to repeal the part of the rule that limits the number of glider vehicles that can be sold with pre-2010 engines.

But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt doesn’t seem to care about any of that.  There are several different layers of malfeasance happening here, many of them come directly out of my colleagues’ Disinformation Playbook.  I’ll start with the science interference.

The newest twist in this story is about the “study” that TTU performed and Fitzgerald included in their request that the agency repeal the rule that limits the production of super polluting glider vehicles.  I will admit, here at UCS, we were incredulous about the brevity of the “data” and lack of methodology included in the “study” – it’s basically a table with almost no information – it includes carbon monoxide (CO) emissions, which have been under control in transportation for some time, an acknowledgement that all trucks they tested have higher NOx emissions than allowed, and said that the PM emissions were “below the threshold detection point” (because they didn’t measure it! check out Dave’s blog on this point – it’s gold). Because we are a bunch of science nerds, we wondered who would have signed off on this testing?  What was the level of scientific rigor?  Did no one at the university notice that the study was designed, bought, and paid for by Fitzgerald?

Tennessee Tech University faculty fight back

Unknown to us, there was a giant debate happening among the faculty at Tennessee Tech University about this very “study.”  It turns out that this “study” really is just a politically-driven hack job and the faculty at Tennessee Tech University aren’t having it.

The Faculty Senate business meeting minutes are amazing and downright enjoyable to read.  They appear to have first talked about it on January 29th and the Faculty Senators just ripped into Tom Brewer (more on him later), asking all of the questions you would expect – who conducted this research? Did you actually not measure PM? Do you not realize this looks like a conflict of interest? etc.  The very next day, they approved a resolution that starts by saying that their reputation has been damaged by this “study” and demands an external investigation of the person who led it (Tom Brewer), that TTU President Oldham withdraw university support for the “study,” that all research and associations with Fitzgerald are suspended, and that there is an immediate internal investigation of the “study.”

It took until February 19th, but TTU President Oldham sent a letter to the EPA asking them to disregard the “study,” as they were going to submit it for peer-review.  A win for science!!

I promised more information about Tom Brewer, the person who apparently oversaw the “research” for the “study.”  Brewer has a BA in business administration and previously worked in product administration at GM, was the president of the Board of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association, and was brought to TTU to be “an industry liaison.”  This is the “expert” that ran the study.  Fitzgerald apparently has “no engineers experts on staff” nor any of the appropriate equipment to conduct the testing.

Corporate cronyism

There is a political story that underlies all of this – namely that Fitzgerald, the largest glider vehicle manufacturer, happens to be located in Congresswoman Diane Black’s district (she’s running for Governor of Tennessee this year, if you want to keep tabs on her).  Representative Black has long sought to ensure that these zombie trucks continue to be sold in high numbers – she has repeatedly introduced (unsuccessful) appropriations riders to stop glider vehicles from being regulated.  She is also the person that TTU sent their “study” to and it was that letter that got forwarded on and included in the Fitzgerald request to roll back any regulations for glider vehicles.

In addition, it is worth noting the timing of this whole withdrawal process.  At one point, Fitzgerald said that they would still be able to make a profit if sales volumes were capped; this stance changed shortly after Administrator Pruitt was confirmed, however.  Last year, Fitzgerald met with Administrator Pruitt in May, submitted their petition for reconsideration in July, and the notice that this was going to be revisited came out in August. In December, EPA held a hearing at which several UCS supporters testified (thank you!!) and over 26,000 UCS supporters sent comment letters to EPA requesting that this loophole stay closed – our supporters are awesome!

Fitzgerald is clearly working to exert their influence at every turn.  They are sponsoring university research that they are refusing to release details of (The Fake in the playbook).  And about at the same time, Fitzgerald gifted land to the university to build a Center for Intelligent Mobility (The Screen in the playbook).  They are clearly behind the entire repeal effort happening at the EPA and are the reason that Congresswoman Black has been championing zombie trucks for years (The Fix in the playbook).

The uproar at Tennessee Tech University, the blatant political motivations that have been in the mainstream press here, here, and here, Congressional scrutiny, and common decency aren’t likely enough to keep this loophole you could drive a truck  through closed.  I think it’s incredibly likely that Administrator Pruitt goes ahead with his proposal to allow unregulated glider vehicle sales.  It’s up to all of us to let him know that that’s not ok.  Please take this action to speak out against this and we’ll keep you updated on the next steps.

 

3 Takeaways from the Latest Solar Results

Installing solar panels in PA Photo: publicsource.org

The official industry solar results for 2017 have just been released, and as always there’s a lot to process. Here are three takeaways that jump out.

1. Annual solar installations took a hit.

The amount of solar installed during 2017 was appreciably below what 2016 racked up, say GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) in their annual report.

We were coming off an incredibly strong 2016 performance, driven in part by a key tax policy deadline, so 2017 was going to be a year for the industry to catch its breath anyway. President Trump toying with the idea of solar tariffs, though, unsettled companies and customers. And the late 2017 tax law undermined, or at least muddied, some of the federal incentives for solar.

So that part of the drop was not unexpected.

But we also saw softening in key residential markets. Massachusetts, for example, is (again) bumping up against state-mandated caps on “net-metered” solar, and having some growing pains in moving to a new approach to customer incentives. In California, GTM and SEIA said, the drop was due to “a wet winter and saturation in the state’s largest solar market”.

GTM-SEIA Solar Market Insight, 2017 Year in Review

2. But solar still soared overall.

But pull the lens back a bit, temporally, and it’s easy to see a lot to celebrate in the 2017 results:

  • With 10,618 megawatts of new solar capacity installed during the year, 2017 was second only to 2016.
  • Those 10,618 megawatts are enough to meet the electricity needs of more than 2 million typical US homes.
  • The 2017 total for new solar capacity was more than 40% above 2015’s, and more than three times what got installed just five years earlier.
  • Total installed US solar capacity, at 53,000 megawatts, is now twice what it was at the end of 2015.

The 2017 installation total for the residential sector, down 16% from 2016, still grew in 25 out of the 44 states that GTM/SEIA track, and was 80% higher than in 2014.

And the non-residential sector actually had a great year, with 28% more capacity installed during 2017 than in 2016. That category includes systems for businesses (commercial and industrial), but also community/shared solar, which accounts for 20% of that category. Community solar systems let households or businesses buy into solar by subscribing from a distance. And that’s a great thing as we continue to work to serve households that can’t do solar on the roof (renters, etc.).

SEIA

3. And… we can do better.

GTM/SEIA are projecting that 2018 installations will be right around the same level as 2017, and that then we’ll start to climb. But their projections—reasoned and well-grounded though they are—aren’t our destiny. “There is no rule that says just because there’s a projection of a flat year or doubling by 2022 that we can’t do better,” says Dan Whitten, SEIA’s vice president of communications.

So how do we bend that curve upward even more quickly?

Credit: Aeon Solar via NREL

GTM’s Austin Perea, the new report’s lead author, points to permitting as one area of real opportunity, pointing out that other countries have much more streamlined processes for residential solar. It’s been clear for years that “soft costs”, the non-hardware piece of solar systems, could be a lot lower than they are.

Stabilizing our national energy policies would help, too. Our president’s obsession with tariffs is now set to make steel and aluminum more expensive, on top of the direct solar tariffs from last month, which hits solar and other renewables, and destabilizes energy markets more broadly.

We also need to get state solar policies aligned with the opportunity that solar represents, for energy, security, and jobs. In Massachusetts, for example, we need to get rid of the caps that are standing in the way of more solar, nail down state incentives, and remove barriers to adoption of solar by a broader swath of our neighborhoods by not discouraging community solar.

And we need to continue to innovate. Lower costs and greater value via innovation will make it that much easier for companies to weather the slings and arrows of federal and state policy swings, and for would-be customers to be able to gauge the solar value proposition.

Bright future, now

However it happens, solar’s future is bright, and solar will grow. As SEIA’s Whitten says, “It’s not a question of if, but when.”

Given the role solar can play, and is playing, in moving us toward clean energy, we just need that future to be as bright as possible, and as soon as possible.

GTM-SEIA Solar Market Insight, 2017 Year in Review

 

Public Source

EPA Quietly Moves to Allow More Toxic Air Pollution that Causes Cancer

Photo: Steve Garvie

A recent move by the EPA puts communities across the country at risk. By rolling back a key policy that protects people against cancer-causing air pollutants, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is exposing us all to more toxic air.

For the past twenty years, strict controls on toxic air pollutants emitted by large industrial sources have resulted in significant societal benefits. Industrial sources such as power plants and petrochemical facilities emitting large quantities of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs for short) have been regulated by the EPA as “major sources” of these pollutants and required to apply Maximum Achievable Control Technology (or MACT), the gold standard for reducing emissions of toxics like benzene or perchloroethylene. HAPs are in a different category than greenhouse gases and other non-toxic air pollutants, as they are known to cause cancer and birth defects, as well as have detrimental environmental effects.

In 1995, HAPs were considered by EPA so detrimental to human and environmental health that once a source pollutes beyond a designated threshold, it must always apply MACT, even if at any point in time the source demonstrates it has the potential to emit below the threshold. This is what is known as the “once in, always in” (OIAI) policy. As reported by UCS before, effective implementation of MACT is projected to reduce industrial toxic pollutants by about 1.7 million tons, keeping our air free of these dangerous substances. MACT has been effective because it required major sources emitting at least 10 tons per year (tpy) of any one toxic pollutant, or 25 tpy of any combination of toxic pollutants, to forever apply the maximum achievable control technologies and processes to reduce those emissions. This would guarantee less exposure to toxic pollutants that are known to result in higher rates of cancer.

But the EPA has recently changed the rules that protect the public from major sources of toxic pollutants. Scott Pruitt’s EPA reversed the OIAI policy, allowing sources to petition the EPA to be reclassified from a federally-regulated major source to a state-regulated area source and in the process allow the source to get rid of the MACT requirement to reduce emissions.

While the rule change may appear obscure, it could have large national-scale detrimental impacts on public health.  For example, most states adopt another federal air pollution safeguard—the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), but without major source pollution protections, HAPs may not be regulated as stringently because there may be no MACT requirement. In other words, industrial facilities can avoid having to control pollution like they did as a major source. Under the new policy, Pruitt’s EPA threatens public health by regulating a petrochemical facility as it would a laundromat.

Area sources are still required to control HAP emissions but if done by means other than MACT, those reductions will not be as effective and toxic emissions could increase. Reporting and monitoring requirements are also different for area sources, which raises some questions: How would the EPA or the public know if an area source has increased HAP emissions over the major source thresholds? Thus, when, if ever, would such sources be required to go back to the major source classification?  The new policy guidance is silent on these questions, and answers are critical to continued protection of public health. Worst of all, the EPA has changed the policy without any scientific analysis–let alone public input–to assess what the impacts to public health may be.  As is typical in this administration’s EPA, no proof of their claims of better protecting public health has been offered.

As of 2016, there are nearly 2,800 major sources of toxic air pollution subject to MACT.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is conducting analysis to assess the potential emissions increase from allowing major sources to backslide into area sources. We are digging into the numbers to help communities nationwide speak up about this dangerous change in the rules. For now, one thing is certain: this move doesn’t serve EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment. In the following weeks we will report on the findings of our analysis and provide estimates of potential backslide emissions increase from a policy change that evidently benefits businesses at the expense of public health.

A Shout-Out to Government Scientists: Have You Completed the UCS Federal Scientists Survey?

“I can’t afford to make any wrong moves,” a PhD scientist and career federal worker recently confided to us, adding grimly, “they are watching us closely.” Normally cheerful and extroverted, she now often appears tired and frazzled. She is not alone—not by a long shot. As federal science and technology (S&T) budgets are being squeezed, and key programs and offices are being zeroed out altogether, federal government employees are becoming fearful of losing their jobs, which are becoming increasingly stressful.

The degree to which the White House has depended on S&T advice to form policy has varied widely from administration to administration, but not until now has a US President broadly cast aside science itself as irrelevant, even inconvenient, to public policymaking. The anti-science, pro-deregulation posture of the Trump Administration is creating an environment where federal scientists and engineers—especially those working in areas antithetical to White House ideologies—are having to endure a variety of insults to their professional integrity. Arbitrary transfers to undesired positions; overt censorship; gag orders; disappearing transparency; prohibitions on open communication with the public and the press; and politically-motivated micromanagement and hypercritical scrutiny: all of these send the clear message that the work they do as civil servants striving for the public good is no longer valued. Being a career scientist makes one persona non grata when science itself has a bad name in the White House, and science-based policymaking is being openly ignored across the entire Executive Branch.

Imagine devoting one’s career to better understanding Earth’s complex climate and weather systems, and to communicating climate change causes and risks to Congress and the public, only to be told that the use of the word ‘climate’ itself is taboo, and to reconfigure work products away from climate change, or else! The “else” could mean suffering reprisals or being canned altogether. Picture being a young, ambitious PhD scientist with a job at a research laboratory where a keen interest in understanding how climate change is affecting our bays and estuaries can be freely pursued. Then imagine accepting an invitation to present your research at a conference, only to suddenly be ordered to bow out. This actually happened last fall to three EPA research lab scientists studying the health of the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island: each was to give a talk on the deleterious effects of climate change on the Bay, and each was abruptly forced to cancel. Investigative reporting quickly revealed that John Konkus, a political appointee in EPA’s public affairs office, had placed a Friday afternoon phone call to the Narragansett EPA lab director ordering him to prohibit the three scientists from speaking at Monday’s conference.

Federal S&T workers in other areas of focus are experiencing similar instances of suppression. Much of our evidence at the moment is anecdotal. That is why the Union of Concerned Scientists is currently surveying 63,000 government scientists on the status of scientific integrity—this will help the gaps in data and information. The survey will open until March 26.

Reactions in the federal workforce have been mixed. Many are leaving their posts in droves—most often quietly, even after years of service. Others are quitting in protest and choosing a “noisy exit”—by naming names, and publicly calling out wrongdoing they’ve witnessed. EPA Region 10 veteran Michael Cox was so put off by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that he took early retirement last year from his position as climate change advisor. In a scathing departure letter, Cox let Administrator Pruitt know that EPA staff were “becoming increasingly alarmed about the direction of EPA” and cited Pruitt’s blatant denial of established climate science, his frequent demonizing of the agency, his decision to bring in political appointees hostile to the EPA, and his failure to grasp the role of EPA’s ten regional offices.

A courageous few blow the whistle: they retain legal counsel specializing in whistleblower protection, and boldly speak truth to power by criticizing actions that are unethical, immoral, or illegal. A legal complaint to the Office of Special Counsel, accompanied by a hard-hitting Washington Post op-ed by federal whistleblower Joel Clement, offers a case in point. A top climate advisor at the Department of Interior publicly alarmed at the effect of climate change on Alaskan native populations, Clement was transferred by Secretary Zinke to an office that counts oil and gas royalties.

The vast majority of federal scientists choose to remain in their current positions, out of admirable dedication and economic necessity, and become “quiet copers” who play it safe, keep a low profile, and engage in self-censorship as a survival strategy. In the current environment, where the chilling effect has reached sub-zero temperatures, blowing the whistle can feel scary and futile. The sad fact is that most employees who witness workplace wrongdoing stay silent, out of fear of reprisal, fear that speaking out will fail to solve the problem, or both.

We believe becoming fully informed of one’s legal rights to report wrongdoing can be an effective antidote against these fears and encourage all federal employees to familiarize themselves with these rights. To this end, GAP has developed a new resource, Speaking Up for Science: A Guide to Whistleblowing for Federal Employees, for federal employees reluctant to stay silent in the face of serious abuses of public trust.

Science-based policymaking is a hallmark of American tradition and a linchpin of good governance. We hope all 63,000 federal scientists who received UCS’s 2018 Federal Scientist Survey will respond by answering the questions carefully and candidly, so that we can better identify and address threats to scientific integrity.

 

Dana Gold is an attorney and currently serves as the Government Accountability Project’s (GAP) Director of Education, implementing public education initiatives and partnering with diverse stakeholders in collaborative efforts to foster awareness of the essential role whistleblowers play in promoting government and corporate accountability. In addition to her work with GAP, where she focused for many years representing dozens of whistleblowers in the nuclear weapons complex, Dana co-founded and directed the Center on Corporations, Law & Society at Seattle University School of Law, and served as a Network Fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics focusing on whistleblowing and institutional corruption.

Anne Polansky, Senior Climate Policy Analyst for GAP’s Climate Science & Policy Watch program, has over 30 years of experience in science-based public policymaking in the areas of climate change, renewable energy, and sustainability. She has held management positions with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; and the Solar Energy Industries Association; and has provided specialized consulting services for a variety of non-profit organizations. Anne holds a MS degree in environmental chemistry and engineering from Clemson University and a BS degree from Vanderbilt 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.

Two Major Climate Change Lawsuits Move Forward

Photo: North Charleston/Flickr (CC BY-SA)

A major front in the climate change debate has moved to the courtroom, as I’ve previously discussed.  Last week, plaintiffs in two separate cases won significant procedural victories—one against major fossil fuel companies, and a second against the Trump administration. Here are the latest developments and their implications.

Bay Area vs. Big Oil

In this suit, The People of the State of California v. BP et al.,  the cities of San Francisco and Oakland sued five major oil companies (BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Shell), charging that these companies created a public nuisance by extracting and selling oil, coal, and gas while misleading the public about the harms that these products cause.

The two cities filed in state court and under state law. This was an important strategic choice, as the US Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers California) had dismissed prior cases brought in federal court, holding that congress enacted the Clean Air Act to comprehensively address the emission of greenhouse gases, and that therefore there was no role for federal lawsuits of this kind.

Citing the precedent of these earlier rulings, the defendant oil companies transferred the cities’ cases to federal court, and argued that the cities’ claims were preempted by federal law. In response, the cities claimed that they had a right to file in state court and that their claims under state law were not preempted by federal law, and they asked the judge to send the cases back to state court.

A federal district court judge issued a decision that neither side argued for. The court decided in the oil companies’ favor that the case was properly in federal court, reasoning—with some logic—that global warming is an international problem, that state courts might apply inconsistent standards if allowed to adjudicate these cases, and that only the federal court could apply a uniform standard.

But, the court went on to find that the two earlier cases which had dismissed federal court suits did not apply to this case. The court found that while the Clean Air Act addresses the ­emissions from fossil fuel combustion, the San Francisco/Oakland case was not about emissions of pollutants, but rather an alleged scheme to sell a product through deception. The court reasoned—again with some logic—that the Clean Air Act offered no remedy for that conduct, and therefore did not preempt this lawsuit.

This part of the ruling was a major win for the plaintiffs, as it seems to take away the key defense of preemption that the oil companies seemed to be counting on.

On top of this, the court also ordered the parties to participate in a five-hour “climate science” tutorial for the court, to be held on March 21. The judge ordered the parties to “trace the history of scientific study of climate change, beginning with scientific inquiry into the formation and melting of the ice ages, periods of historic cooling and warming, smog, ozone, nuclear winter, volcanoes and global warming.” And further, to inform the court of “the best science now available on global warming, glacier melt, sea rise and coastal flooding.”

This is fascinating and highly unusual. As anyone who has seen a trial on television or in the movies knows, courts don’t conduct tutorials; they oversee trials, in which lawyers present the testimony of witnesses under oath and each side gets to examine and cross examine. The sheer novelty of this procedure is a good sign for the plaintiffs. Why would the judge invest time and energy to learn about climate science unless he thought the plaintiffs’ legal claims might rest on a durable foundation? Also, the fact that the court asked for a climate science timeline suggests the court is honing in on some key questions: what did the fossil fuel companies know about climate change, when did they know it, and how did their public statements square with the scientific consensus at the time?

All eyes will be on this climate science tutorial, which will presumably be open to the public. To my knowledge, this is the first time climate science will be presented to a court in this fashion, and it offers an excellent opportunity to highlight the longstanding and well-supported scientific consensus.

It is too early to confidently predict what lies ahead but, on the basis of the judge’s initial opinion, one can say this: the courtroom door is open now on these issues as it never has been before.

Kids sue to protect themselves and future generations

In this case, Juliana v. the United States, a group of kids are suing the Trump administration for failing to protect them against the harms of climate change. I wrote about the novelty of this case last fall, and its early success when a federal district court judge in Oregon ordered the case to trial, rejecting all the Trump administration’s procedural defenses.

Since that time, the Trump administration asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal to dismiss the case. This was an unusual move because, ordinarily, a party to a lawsuit cannot appeal until the trial court has issued a final judgment. In this case, however, the district court had not done so. Predictably, the court of appeals ruled that the appeal was therefore premature, and sent the case back to the district court.

(Full disclosure: UCS joined a friend of the court brief on this issue, ably authored by EarthJustice attorneys).

The case was originally set for trial in February, 2018, but the Trump administration’s appeal delayed that. Presumably, the next step will be for the court to set another trial date.

This is not good news for the Trump administration. At a minimum, a trial on this will be a public relations nightmare in which an appealing group of kids, represented by experienced attorneys, will have the opportunity to question Trump administration officials in open court. They will no doubt ask questions that the administration will find extremely difficult to answer, such as: Why has the Trump administration sought to withdraw from the Paris agreement, rolled back regulations to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and promoted subsidies for coal? Does the Trump administration not accept climate science? Does it not care about the harm of runaway climate change?

Further down the line, if the plaintiffs are successful in district court and if the court of appeals or the supreme court affirms the ruling (all very big “ifs,” of course), the Trump administration faces the prospect of being forced under court order to develop and implement a plan to address climate change.

Chickens coming home to roost

These lawsuits and the apparent judicial receptiveness to them—at least so far—are not accidental. Courts are heavily influenced by historic context, and judges are no doubt well aware of the pressing urgency of climate change and the failure of the federal government to address it. With no solution in sight, it is not surprising that courts are increasingly willing to hear cases urging a strong judicial role.

Is it ideal that courts, rather than our elected representatives, would decide these issues? Of course not. Maybe it is time for those who have opposed having our elected leaders take action on climate to consider this question–would they prefer the courts to do that job?

Energy Storage Means Energy Security—but Trump’s Budget Gives It the Axe

On Thursday, Rick Perry—the Department of Energy Secretary—is scheduled to testify on the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget request in front of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. No doubt the secretary will give a charming, yet uncomfortable defense of the budget, just like last year; lots of winking and silent pointing back to the White House, with some convenient ignorance thrown in for good measure.

As a Texan, it pains me to see my former governor, a man who ran the state pragmatically and competently for 14 years, squirm and strain to communicate why it’s good for our country to cut the national labs and reduce our commitment to federally funded scientific and technological innovation.

For the second year in a row the president’s budget guts our nation’s funding for clean energy, energy efficiency, grid modernization, and energy R&D. Alarmingly, the president’s budget calls for a 74% cut to our nation’s energy storage program in the office of electricity.

I say “alarmingly” because it’s a national security issue. This program is severely underfunded at $31 million a year. At scale, the ability to store energy for when we need it means energy security. It means no more fuel supply lines for our military. It means no more blackouts from extreme weather. And it means never having to be dependent on other countries for energy resources. It’s important.

An energy recovery system. Photo: Wikimedia

Energy storage technologies were invented and developed right here in the United States, but now China is threatening to dominate the global market and our administration is proposing that we scale back our nominal federal R&D efforts on energy storage. Appropriators must reject the administration’s misguided proposal, and substantially increase federal support for energy storage research, development, and demonstration.

Why energy storage is important

Energy storage is energy security. Energy is the engine of a nation’s self-determination, and uninterrupted access to energy is fundamental to any nation’s security (and economy). The US is no different, but in this country we possess the technological ability to achieve energy independence through the way we generate, transmit, and consume energy.

How can energy storage make America more secure and prosperous?

  • Energy storage technologies help make the grid more secure, by allowing us to store and dispatch electricity more efficiently and with more control.
  • It also allows us to increase access to renewable energy resources like wind and solar in a way that also improves grid reliability.
  • It can provide energy security to critical facilities like hospitals, police departments and fire stations in the face of blackouts and extreme weather.
  • Mobile applications for energy storage in electric vehicles have the potential to change our entire transportation economy and permanently end our dependence on foreign oil.
  • The military needs it to set up command centers, bases, and other infrastructure in the middle of nowhere. They also need it to eliminate interruptions to their fuel supply and ensure mission success.
  • Energy storage can replace coal or gas plants in low income and minority communities disproportionately affected by air pollution and other public health risks.
  • It also allows rural and islanded communities to be energy independent instead of relying on diesel generators.
  • Energy storage also reduces vulnerability to cyber-attacks by allowing us to put critical systems on independent power sources.

An energy storage project. Photo: Wikimedia

Why does the federal government need to invest in energy storage RD&D?

The federal government must invest in R&D because the private sector simply isn’t doing so. Measures of US private sector energy RD&D show a significant investment gap compared to other sectors, like pharmaceuticals, information technology, and semiconductors.

Federal investments in energy storage RD&D are also lagging significantly, accounting for only 4.5% of DOE clean energy RD&D spending. Only a small percentage of ARPA-E’s budget goes to energy storage, and funding for the dedicated energy storage programs within DOE is extremely insufficient, at just over $50 million a year.

Dept. or Lab Program FY17 Enacted FY18 Request FY18 House FY18 Senate FY19 Request ARPA-E ARPA-E, Total $305 -100% -100% +8% -100% Since 2009, ARPA-E has invested ~$125 million in stationary storage projects. ANL Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) $25 -100% -100% 0% 0% OE Energy Storage Program $31 -74% 0% +20% -74% EERE The solar program recently announced an $18 million solicitation on solar and storage.

The Department of Defense (DOD), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) all have programs that include some energy storage R&D, but are funded at even lower levels.

Last fall China published a national plan on the development of the storage industry. Chinese companies already control global markets for key battery components, and China is set to be a global superpower in storage technologies in the 2020s. The country that dominates energy storage will own energy security, and I for one, am not interested in ceding that to China.

So when Secretary Perry inevitably responds to a tough budget question with some sort of charming iteration of, “I’ve been in government long enough to know that budgets are often good doorstops” (something he’s said several times at these hearings), congress should correct him by highlighting how the president’s budgets are an extension of values and priorities. And it’s clear that when it comes to energy security, the administration’s budget misses a critical opportunity with energy storage.

Food Stamps Cuts Could Hit Rural America Hardest

On the night of the 2016 presidential election, President-elect Trump walked away with 60 percent of the vote in the nation’s 2,332 rural counties.

In Owsley County, a 200-square-mile patch of eastern Kentucky, Trump’s victory was propelled by a full 80 percent of the vote—an unsurprising outcome, perhaps, for a county seated in a congressional district that has elected and re-elected Republican representative Hal Rogers by similar margins since 1980.

And it might have been equally unsurprising that, when President Trump unveiled his proposed budget for 2019, Rogers was silent on its 10-year $213 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), if not for one thing: nearly half of Owsley County households, and well over a quarter of those in Rogers’ district at large, rely on SNAP to make ends meet.

Much attention has been devoted to rural America since the presidential election. The press, the pundits, and the public have examined it from nearly every angle, deliberating the demographiceconomic, and cultural factors that may have helped the Trump campaign capitalize on the dormant discontent of a great many.

But we still don’t understand some basic facts about the people and the places that make up rural America. This is partially attributable to the destructive cultural and political narratives that tell us programs like SNAP are not a rural issue. The roots of the racist Reagan-era rhetoric on inner city “welfare queens” run deep, and despite being long debunked, one needs to look no further than President Trump’s welfare reform proposals or Speaker Paul Ryan’s comment about the tailspin of “inner-city culture” to know that its legacy lives on. This explains how someone like Hal Rogers can so casually and routinely dismiss the basic needs of such a large segment of his constituency without fear of political blowback or consequence: prevailing perceptions of who relies on America’s social safety net and why have rendered these needs largely invisible.

But the data are unambiguous: SNAP benefits people of every race, zip code, and political persuasion, all across this country. And when we ran the numbers—using publicly-available, county-level data on SNAP participation rates by household—we uncovered the startling reality that rural areas are often struggling the most.

Rural America relies on SNAP

Last year, the Food Research and Action Center highlighted a stark difference in SNAP usage by county, showing that about sixteen percent of households in small towns and rural areas are using SNAP, compared to only thirteen percent of households in urban areas. Though striking, these averages don’t fully convey the critical role that SNAP plays in many rural communities across the country. Our analysis shows that of the 50 counties with the highest household SNAP usage, all but two of them are rural. When we looked at the 150 counties with the highest household SNAP usage, we found that a full 136 are rural.

Like Owsley County, many other communities that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump—and whose representatives in Congress are keen to gut programs like SNAP—are home to a great number of families who bear a largely invisible burden of food insecurity. We have to disrupt the destructive narratives and stereotypes about who uses nutrition assistance programs. The reality is, they are here to protect all of us.

SNAP is not a wedge issue

SNAP is frequently treated as a wedge issue, but it shouldn’t be. On the contrary, it is a common thread that runs through nearly every community in this country. A strong foundation of scientific evidence shows us that SNAP is an economic engine supporting jobs and livelihoods during recession and downturn; it is a sense of safety and security during unexpected gaps in employment; it is a source of income for our farmers, food producers and retailers; it is better nourishment and health for kids, and fewer hospitalizations for adults; and it is not having to choose between putting food on the table and keeping the lights on.

To continue to perpetuate the idea that nutrition assistance is partisan, and thus subject to use as a political pawn, is not only devastating to our own families, neighbors, and food producers, but also to the notion that policymakers should be held accountable for making science-based policy decisions that are in the best interest of the public.

As the farm bill, and with it the fate of some of our most critical federal assistance programs, continues to play out over the course of the next year, we’ll continue to highlight data that sheds light on the reality of food access and SNAP use in rural America and beyond—and how elected officials can use this information to make policy decisions that protect us all. Stay tuned.

Investing in the Future Farmers and Stewards of America

Farmer Kate Edwards of Wild Woods Farm in Johnson County, IowaKate Edwards has owned and operated Wild Woods Farm in Johnson County, Iowa for seven years. Photo: USDA.

Many of you have probably heard that the average age of the American farmer has been trending up, as the number of farmers in our country has been trending down. As of the last census, US farmers averaged 58.3 years, continuing a steady creep over two decades. Six times as many farmers are over 65 as are under 35. The agricultural industry as a whole has the highest median age of all reported sectors in the US labor force. Who will be the farmers of the future?

A new farm bill offers an opportunity to recruit new farmers to this vital occupation. Since it’s in all our best interests that new farmers succeed, now is the time to address some big questions: what are the hurdles for this community, how have we been helping, and what more can be done?

The lay of the land: No one ever said that farming was easy

Given the steady stream of news about low crop prices and farm profits, it should be no surprise that farming hasn’t exactly been a magnet for jobseekers in recent years. But while the slow drain of farmers from the landscape is invisible to many of us, the shift poses a major threat to food security, to the health of the nation’s soils and the quality of its water, and to the vitality of rural communities. And, with experts expecting that 100 million acres of US farmland (an area the size of California) will change hands in the next 5 years, the declining number of folks ready to fill this generation’s shoes feels like double trouble.

Perhaps against the odds, however, there has been a recent pulse of optimistic, creative individuals apparently willing and able to protect the future of our food system. This pleasant surprise was reflected in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, and there are signs that the movement continues to grow. But the road ahead for these farmers isn’t easy, and not just because of long days and hard labor. Some of the even tougher challenges were highlighted in a recent survey from the National Young Farmers Coalition, which included several straightforward obstacles that policy could actually help address:

  • You can’t farm without land and, even with the anticipated massive land transition ahead, affordable farmland is hard to come by.
  • Tools and training are tricky to find, outdated, or hard to access, even in cases where these resources do exist.
  • Capital is hard enough to access when young farmers are trying to start from scratch, and even harder when you add in the student debt crisis.

With all of this in mind, how can we help?

What’s the baseline?  Progress and programs for beginning farmers in the 2014 farm bill

Before thinking about what more can be done, it’s important to note the investments that have been made in the past. In the 2014 farm bill, beginning farmers did receive a boost (worth $440 million, an increase of about 150% from the previous farm bill). This package of investments provided a variety of supporting, enabling programs to provide training, education, outreach, and technical assistance while also reducing barriers related to accessing land, acquiring loans, and developing a safety net (e.g., through crop insurance and disaster relief).

Overall, this progress was critical, but not sufficient.

Crafting better conditions for the next generation of farmers

Given the urgency of the situation, and with the next farm bill process well underway, it’s time to take more action.  Fortunately, several ideas for improving support for new farmers are already on the table, encapsulated in two bipartisan bills that could be folded into the 2018 farm bill  (both of which have been applauded by the National Young Farmers Coalition).

  • First, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2017 (H.R.4316, introduced by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE)), which tackles obstacles for the next generation of aspiring and retiring farmers in a variety of ways. These include continuing to improve access to land, skill-building opportunities, capital, crop insurance, and strategies to conserve natural resources and develop farm resilience for years to come. Among other things, this bill would ensure permanent support for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, expand the flagship USDA public research program to incentivize new studies on barriers and opportunities for new farmers, and increase access to key conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program.
  • Second, the Young and Beginning Farmers Act (H.R.4201, introduced by Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and Ryan Costello (R-PA)), which also works to improve conditions for new farmers focusing on land access, the need for more training and business opportunities, and barriers that keep farmers from available federal resources. For example, this bill would also ensure the future of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and address land-access issues. In addition, it would modernize programs and service platforms, and would make it possible for new farmers pre-qualify for loans, all of which could give these entrepreneurs a better shot at success.

And there’s more good news.  Because as we wait for the next farm bill, advocates for young farmers are also busy finding other ways to break barriers.  For instance, the bipartisan Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060) aims to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to include farmers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which would forgive student loans for farmers after 10 years of income-based payments.

And there’s progress at the state level, too. Young farmers in Minnesota recently celebrated a major win: a new tax credit law that will help get more farmland in their hands in years to come, and that attention from both state and national leaders. In Colorado (where the average age of farmers is 59) there was recently good news about a bill that will help farmers get started by investing in agricultural apprenticeships. And with an amazing group of new farmers in this region busy paving the way for the next generation, there’s surely more on the way (for a little dose of inspiration, treat yourself to a few minutes watching this beautiful short film based on the award-winning documentary, “How We Grow”):



Hopefully, these steps and stories are motivating leaders at all scales, and in all states, to support those who are ready to take up this challenge.  After all, the future of our food system depends on it.

Photo: USDA

This Sunshine Week, How “Draining the Swamp” and Open Government are Faring in the Trump Era

Photo: bigwavephoto/CC BY-SA 4.0 (Wikimedia)

We are more than one year into President Trump’s administration, and if you’ve been following the news, you know all too well that the whole “draining the swamp” initiative was only ever lip service at best. Despite issuing an executive order on ethics in his first week of office, President Trump has managed to appoint a slew of former lobbyists or industry staff to positions dealing directly with issues that affect their former employers’ bottom lines.

Failing to abide by his own ethics order while not making financial disclosures public is effectively undermining the very system that is built to eliminate corruption in our government and protect our democracy. While industry awaits its chance to profit from regulatory rollbacks, the rest of us are missing out on unrealized health and safety benefits. Corporate capture of the government cripples its ability to carry out protective laws and puts lives at risk, especially those living in communities of color and low-income communities that are more exposed to threats.

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more egregious administration nominations and appointments—people with serious conflicts of interest that should disqualify them from service or at least change the nature of their service.

The Environmental Protection Agency

There have been a whole bunch of cringeworthy ethics violations happening at the EPA lately, including Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first-class flight penchant and the fact that John Konkus has continued to do public relations work for unnamed private clients while serving as the deputy associate administrator of the Office of Public Affairs and signing off on all grant applications and awards.

For now, let’s simply focus on the revolving door at the agency. Earlier this month, the EPA announced that a former Dow Chemical Company attorney, Peter Wright, was the nominee for administrator of the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). Not only would Wright be leading the cleanup of Dow Superfund sites, but OLEM also oversees implementation of the Risk Management Plan. Dow Chemical Company is listed as the parent company for 23 registered RMP facilities, 17 deregistered facilities, and more than 100 Superfund sites. One of the main functions of OLEM is to hold companies accountable for polluting peoples’ water, land, and air. Yet, once again the Trump administration has selected an individual who has long represented the interests of industry to lead an office tasked with protecting the public from further harm.

As we’ve already seen with former American Chemistry Council lobbyist Nancy Beck and former legal counsel of American Petroleum Institute William Wehrum, these conflicted appointees are actively working to reverse science-based policy decisions in favor of industry-approved deregulatory measures. And seeing as the EPA general counsel has not adequately prevented EPA appointees from participating in policy discussions pertaining to their previous employers’ work, it is likely that the same will be true for Wright. Peter Wright will be yet another example of the fox guarding the henhouse, meaning that the people who have been fighting for decades for information on chemical facilities in their neighborhoods or the cleanup of dioxin in a local river will not get the justice they deserve.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Kailee Tkacz, a lobbyist for the Corn Refiners Association, which represents makers of corn byproducts like corn syrup and other sweeteners, came on board to advise the agency on the Dietary Guidelines process in advance of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. She had been working at the trade association up until July 2017 and received an ethics waiver to work on the Dietary Guidelines in August 2017, meaning she has gone right into the government from the industry to work on an issue that she previously lobbied on. This is a direct and significant conflict of interest—and one that could have major impacts on health recommendations for the American diet.

Department of Interior

There’s a whole mess of oil and gas industry allegiance going on at the Department of the Interior, surely aided by the fact that David Bernhardt, Secretary Zinke’s deputy, had a long list of former clients in that sector, including Noble Energy Inc. and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Another appointee to keep an eye on is Todd Wynn, who is serving as the Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at DOI and was the former director of the Koch-funded American Legislative Council (ALEC’s) Energy Environmental and Agriculture Task Force. During his time there, the task force introduced a collection of model bills opposing EPA and DOI environmental protections like the coal ash rule, the fracking disclosure rule, and the stream protection rule. Now he can push for these same destructive policy changes from the inside.

Department of Health and Human Services

Current HHS secretary Alex Azar was a lobbyist and president of Eli Lilly up until 2017. He is now leading a government department that regulates pharmaceutical companies like his former employer. As my colleague Derrick Jackson wrote earlier this year, “There is no evidence to remotely suggest that Azar, the first pharmaceutical executive ever to head HHS…will miraculously transform from drug company CEO into the people’s champion on drug prices.”

The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Brenda Fitzgerald, resigned earlier this year because she had so many financial conflicts of interest that she was actually unable to do her job. In fact, Fitzgerald had purchased thousands of dollars worth of shares in drug companies Merck & Co. and Bayer as well as a tobacco company, Japan Tobacco, shortly after joining the CDC. According to her meeting schedule, she still participated in meetings on the opioid crisis, hurricane response efforts, cancer and obesity, stroke prevention, polio, Zika, and Ebola between August 1 and October 27 despite owning stock in companies that make HIV medications, an Ebola vaccine, and Zika research. While it is unclear if she was an active participant in those meetings or had remained silent, her mere presence at such meetings would have represented a conflict.

How is the Office of Government Ethics allowing appointees to get away with rampant conflicts of interest?

A ProPublica database of financial disclosure forms reveals that 187 political appointees are former lobbyists, many of whom are working on issues that they previously lobbied on representing industry or other organizations. This is exactly what Trump’s executive order is supposed to protect against. So what’s going on that’s allowing this to happen?

The Ethics in Government Act was passed in 1978 in response to the Watergate scandal, as part of an effort to deter conflicts of interest and increase public trust in government, and created the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). It requires that all political appointees and high-level government officials disclose their financial holdings and make them public. Confidential disclosures are also required from other federal employees and special government employees.

Trump’s executive order requiring ethics commitments by executive branch appointees actually removed some of the ethics rules put in place by President Obama. Obama’s 2009 order prevented individuals from entering the administration who were registered lobbyists in the preceding year, while Trump’s order allows lobbyists to enter the administration as long as they don’t work on an issue they lobbied on in the past two years. President Trump’s order also shortened the two-year exit ban to one year for all appointees except cabinet-level, which would effectively allow officials to lobby former agencies just one year after leaving the administration, considered a short cooling-off period. Trump’s order allows ethics waivers for certain unavoidable conflicts, but removes the requirement to disclose those waivers by publishing them in the federal register. Overall, his ethics requirements leave room for shadow lobbying, which is the ability for former appointees to take jobs with industries they were in charge of regulating and then informally lobby the administration.

It is expected that if there is an appearance of conflict of interest, an appointee would recuse themselves from all matters having to do with his or her previous employer. However, as previously noted, that has not consistently been happening at agencies. Further, according to the OGE, ethics waivers are only supposed to be used when there is no other option for the position whose resume is less conflicted. Agencies are abusing the use of these waivers. An Associated Press investigation found that the White House has granted at least 24 ethics waivers to appointees at the White House and the executive agencies.

One of those waivers was filed for Jeffrey Sands in October 2017, formerly a registered lobbyist at Syngenta and now the senior agricultural advisor at the EPA. His waiver allows him “to work personally and substantially on all agriculture issues, including those which previously lobbied.” The implications of Sands having the ear of Pruitt on discussions ranging from pesticide registrations, to worker protection standards, to conservation programs are troubling and don’t bode well for public health and safety.

The OGE is not an enforcement agency, so it does not have power to challenge or investigate ethics complaints—it helps agencies to follow the rules and vet appointees. The clear conflicts of interest of the President and his appointees, combined with the lack of transparency that has thus far been characteristic of the administration, have created large vulnerabilities for science-based policy in this administration.

Shining light on the administration’s ethical quandaries

As the administration has been trying its best to keep information from the public, there are many organizations and journalists who have been standing up for our right to know and holding the government accountable for its blunders. ProPublica released, Trump Town,  a fantastic searchable database of financial disclosure forms and ethics waivers for thousands of political appointees. Sunlight Foundation is tracking President Trump’s business and personal dealings that may represent conflicts of interest. Public Citizen has conducted research into President Trump’s conflicts as well as those of government appointees. The Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service have been tracking the nomination and appointment process across the government. And Project on Government Oversight released a report last week tracking the erosion of openness occurring under the Trump Administration. We all must work together to demand transparency and honesty from this administration and to call out violations to the straightforward rules governing government ethics. Our democracy relies on it.

If you’re in DC and want to hear more from me about the state of environmental transparency, register to attend this Sunshine Week event Tuesday, March 13 hosted by UCS, Sunlight Foundation, and the Project on Government Oversight.

 

Photo: bigwavephoto/CC BY-SA 4.0 (Wikimedia) iStock.com/DNY59 Flickr/USDA

California’s Clean Fuels Standard Poised to Get Even Better

California State CapitolPhoto: Rafał Konieczny CC-BY-SA-4.0 (Wikimedia)

Next month, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is considering amendments to extend and strengthen the state’s pioneering Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS).  The LCFS works in concert with other climate and vehicle policies to cut oil use and transportation emissions by promoting the use of cleaner transportation fuels ranging from biofuels to renewable electricity.

CARB staff’s proposal to the board would extend the policy to 2030 and double the emissions reduction target from a 10 percent reduction in average fuel carbon intensity in 2020 to a 20 percent reduction in 2030.  CARB is also increasing opportunities for renewable electricity and adopting rules to account for carbon capture and storage (CCS) used in the production of transportation fuels.

What is a Low Carbon Fuels Standard?

The LCFS was established in 2009 to provide a steadily growing market for cleaner transportation fuels. The program regulates the “carbon intensity” (i.e., the amount of global warming emissions per unit of energy output) of fuels, taking into account the emissions generated over each fuel’s life cycle, from extraction and production to delivery and use. Under the LCFS, petroleum refineries and fuel importers must gradually reduce the average carbon intensity of the fuels they sell, according to a schedule that currently requires a 10 percent reduction in 2020 relative to 2010. To comply with the law, petroleum refiners and importers can either blend low carbon fuels into the fuel they sell, buy credits generated by low-carbon fuel producers and users, or both.  In 2016, the largest sources of clean fuel credits were ethanol, renewable diesel, biodiesel, electricity, and biomethane.

What is CARB proposing to change?

In the amendments proposed by CARB staff earlier this week, the 10 percent target for 2020 is replaced by a 20 percent target for 2030.  CARB also proposes adjustments to the schedule for 2019 and 2020 so that requirements for low carbon fuels grow at a steady rate between now and 2030.  This is a change compared to earlier discussion of the LCFS extension in the scoping plan, which had not proposed any schedule changes prior to 2020 and had proposed an 18 percent target for 2030.

The new schedule strengthens the program in several ways.

  • A 20 percent target for 2030 will deliver more support for low carbon fuels over the long term than either the current 10 percent standard or the previously proposed 18 percent standard.
  • The proposed schedule grows steadily and predictably at 1.25 percent a year, while the earlier proposals had stringency that increased rapidly from 2018 to 2020, was frozen in place from 2020 to 2022, and then grew 1 percent a year thereafter.

The proposal is simpler and more predictable, and sends a clear message to the market for low carbon fuels that demand will grow steadily over the long term.  CARB’s analysis shows that the proposed standard is readily achievable, and in the coming weeks we will share some additional analysis, which suggests that even more ambitious targets are feasible.

The growing importance of electricity as a transportation fuel

It’s been clear for a while that powering cars with electricity is cleaner and cheaper than using gasoline, and our latest analyses shows this trend is accelerating.  EVs in California emit as much carbon pollution on full lifecycle basis as a gasoline car getting more than 100 miles per gallon, and save EV drivers from $571 to $1077 per year in fuel costs, depending on where they charge.

Photo: RedBoy [Matt]/Creative Commons (Flickr)

As more EVs hit the road, electricity is playing an increasingly important role in the LCFS. Our recent fact sheet, California’s Clean Fuel Standard Boosts The Electric Vehicle Market, explains the how the LCFS is making EVs more cost effective not just for private car drivers, but also for transit agencies and others.

Electricity used by cars, trucks, rail lines, and even forklifts comprised a growing share of the emissions reductions credited under the LCFS, rising from less than 1 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2016. These emissions reductions create value, about $92 million in 2016, which is helping to accelerate the transition to electric drive.  Thanks to LCFS EV credits, utilities are giving rebates or level 2 chargers to their customers that own an EV.  And LCFS credits are also helping public transit fleets go electric.  At credit values of $100 per metric ton of emissions avoided, transit agencies earn about $9,000 per year for each electric bus in their fleets.

The LCFS amendments include more flexible provisions to recognize EVs that charge up with renewable power.  Electric vehicles charged with renewable power are among the cleanest ways to get around, and its important to recognize this potential and support it within the LCFS.  In the next decade we will see EVs move into new roles, including some high mileage applications like hauling freight and providing autonomous taxi rides.  Because LCFS credit generation is directly tied to the quantity of low carbon fuel use, electric vehicles that drive the most miles and displace the most fuel generate the most credits.  The LCFS is poised to play an even more important role accelerating the electrification of the transportation system in years to come.

Carbon capture and storage creates big opportunities to clean up many fuels

CARB is also proposing a new protocol to account for Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) within the LCFS.  CCS is often discussed in the context of reducing emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants, but transportation fuel producers have some unique opportunities to capture and sequester carbon as well.  One of the most advanced CCS facilities in America is actually operating at a corn ethanol plant in Illinois.  Ethanol production is a natural candidate for carbon capture because the fermentation process used to convert corn to ethanol releases nearly pure carbon dioxide, which can be captured without the complex and energy intensive process required to separate a dilute stream of carbon dioxide from other exhaust gasses at power plants.  Also, many ethanol plants are located near geological formations well suited to sequestering carbon. But ethanol producers are not the only fuel producers who could sequester carbon.  Oil refiners or companies that extract oil also have opportunities to integrate CCS into their operations.

Photo: Archer Daniels Midland

Accounting for the carbon benefits of CCS is complex.  CARB’s rules will clarify what must be done to ensure the permanence of the storage, and to account for energy and emissions associated with the CCS process.  Getting this right is complicated and important.  As if often the case, CARB’s work will advance the state of practice for regulators around the world.  This is even more important now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hamstrung by its administrator.

The CCS provisions in the LCFS are a concrete means of holding fuel producers accountable for the emissions from their supply chains, and they also make the LCFS more flexible.  If an oil refinery implements CCS, it can reduce the emissions associated with its fuel production within its own facility, helping meet its own obligations under the LCFS instead of relying solely on other parties to produce cleaner fuel.  When a corn ethanol facility implements CCS, it can produce more climate benefit from the same fuel it produces today.  This gives the cleanest ethanol producers a chance to generate more credits and make more money without expanding the amount of corn used to make ethanol, thus avoiding increases in emissions associated with farming or land use.

CARB’s CCS protocol and rules create a powerful incentive for biofuel producers, oil refineries, and other fuel producers to capture and sequester carbon dioxide that is currently released into the atmosphere. A recent change in federal tax policy makes CCS projects even more attractive, offering a tax credit of $50 per ton of carbon dioxide sequestered.  Together, these policies may jump start commercial deployment of CCS.

A flexible policy that gets better over time

The flexibility of the LCFS is one of its key strengths.  As I described in my recent report, Fueling a Clean Transportation Future, all of our transportation fuels can get cleaner if fuel producers are held accountable to reduce their emissions.  Looking into the future, it’s impossible to know what mix of low carbon biofuels, vehicle electrification, CCS or other strategies to cut emissions from fuel production will progress most rapidly.  But by setting steadily growing long term goals, the LCFS supports innovation and progress across the transportation fuel sector.  By adopting these amendments, extending the LCFS to 2030 and doubling the emissions reduction targets, the California Air Resources Board will be speeding California on its way to a clean transportation future.

New Data Show Electric Vehicles Continue to Get Cleaner

New data from the US EPA on power plant greenhouse gas emissions are in, and electric vehicles (EV) in the US are even cleaner than they were before. The climate change emissions created by driving on electricity depend on where you live, but on average, an EV driving on electricity in the U.S. today is equivalent to a conventional gasoline car that gets 80 MPG, up from 73 MPG in our 2017 update.

Cleaner electricity means cleaner EVs

Based on data on power plant emissions released in February 2018, driving on electricity is cleaner than gasoline for most drivers in the US. Seventy-five percent of people now live in places where driving on electricity is cleaner than a 50 MPG gasoline car. And based on where people have already bought EVs, electric vehicles now have greenhouse gas emissions equal to an 80 MPG car, much lower than any gasoline-only car available.

Map of EV emissions in the US

To compare the climate-changing emissions from electric vehicles to gasoline-powered cars, we analyzed all of the emissions from fueling and driving both types of vehicles. For a gasoline car, that means looking at emissions from extracting crude oil from the ground, getting the oil to a refinery and making gasoline, and transporting gasoline to filling stations, in addition to combustion emissions from the tailpipe.

For electric vehicles, the calculation includes both power plant emissions and emissions from the production of coal, natural gas and other fuels power plants use. Our analysis relies on emissions estimates for gasoline and fuels production from Argonne National Laboratory and power plants emissions data recently released by the US EPA.

EVs getting cleaner over time

An important difference between EVs and conventional cars is that existing EVs can get cleaner—and, over time, they are getting cleaner. It’s difficult to make burning gasoline cleaner, and electricity is trending cleaner over time as we shift away from coal and add more renewables. This means that EVs that were sold years ago can run much cleaner than when they were purchased. Our initial analysis of EV emissions used data from 2009, while this update incorporates 2016 data. By switching between these two maps, you can see the improvement made in many regions of the US.

20092016

 

More efficient EVs now available too

The maps shown above are based the efficiency of the average EV. However, there are now options on the market that are even more efficient. Using one of these more efficient EVs (Hyundai Ioniq BEV, Prius Prime, and Tesla Model 3) means lower emissions. With these cleaner EVs, 99 percent of the country is in a region where electricity emissions would be lower than a 50 MPG gasoline vehicle.

How do other EVs compare? Use our EV emissions tool to estimate the emissions from a specific EV in your area.

The most efficient EVs are much cleaner than even the best gasoline cars in many regions of the US. Currently the most efficient EVs are the Hyundai Ioniq BEV, Tesla Model 3, and the Toyota Prius Prime (while operating on electricity).

A trend that’s likely to continue

Electric vehicles produce less emissions now because the electric grid is getting cleaner. Over the last ten years, the fraction of power from coal has fallen from nearly 50 percent to 30 percent. Over the same time, utility-scale renewable power like solar and wind power have grown to make up 10 percent of electricity generation.

This analysis relies on data from power plants for 2016, the most current data that includes details on the geographic location of emissions. However, based on the overall data on from 2017, it looks like emissions will continue to fall, with both coal and natural gas declining while renewable power continues to increase.

The falling emissions from electric power over the last decade also highlights the need to work to clean up electricity generation and transportation now. While we are moving in the right direction with renewable power and growing numbers of EV models, it takes time to replace existing power plants and gasoline cars. It’s vital that we accelerate the adoption of EVs, even if all power is not yet from renewable or low-carbon sources.

Utility-scale electric power generation. Power from coal has dropped over the last decade and clean renewable power has increased. Data Source: US Department of Energy, Energy Information Agency.

Las mujeres fortalecen las industrias de energía renovable

En la ciudad de Panamá se está realizando RECAM 2018, una conferencia sobre energía limpia en Centroamérica y el Caribe. En esta conferencia más de 350 líderes regionales e internacionales se encuentran reunidos intercambiando experiencias y conocimiento para construir un futuro energético sostenible para la región.

Reconociendo la importancia del rol de la mujer en la industria de energía limpia y en conmemoración del Día Internacional de la Mujer, la agenda incluye un panel sobre “energía renovable y equidad de género” en el cual participaré.

Pero ¿por qué es importante tener una industria renovable diversa? y, ¿cómo podemos colaborar para que la participación de la mujer en esta industria sea exitosa?

Una fuerza de trabajo diversa se traduce en mejores resultados

Los sectores de la energía, la ingeniería y el área financiera, históricamente, han tenido una muy baja representación de mujeres. Sin embargo, la energía renovable es una industria nueva que brinda múltiples oportunidades para implementar prácticas que conduzcan a un sector sólido e incluyente. Por ejemplo:

  • Hay una fuerte relación entre desempeño financiero y fuerzas de trabajo diversas. Múltiples estudios como el Estudio de Diversidad en la Industria Solar y el reporte Gerencia Financiera muestran que las compañías con mayor diversidad en su fuerza de trabajo tienden a ser más innovadoras, exitosas y resilientes.
  • Es importante que la industria refleje la población a la que sirve. Por ejemplo, a pesar de que más del 50% de la población de EE.UU. son mujeres, tan sólo el 27% de la industria solar de este país está representada por mujeres. Dada esta situación y datos similares en otras variables que miden diversidad en las empresas, muchas están trabajando en estrategias, políticas o programas para fomentar la diversidad en sus lugares de trabajo.
  • Incluir perspectivas diferentes hace que los proyectos sean más sólidos. No sólo los proyectos suelen ser mejor diseñados al incluir una variedad de perspectivas, sino que la satisfacción de los empleados aumenta en las empresas que cuentan con mayor diversidad en su fuerza de trabajo.
El empoderamiento de la mujer es una tarea de todos

Hace poco escuché a alguien resaltando que ‘no se trata de darle voz a las mujeres, porque en efecto ya tenemos una; por el contrario, se trata de poder usar esa voz, y que sea escuchada’. Una compañera resume esto último en una frase: el reto es asegurarnos que nuestros oídos estén dispuestos a escuchar voces e ideas diversas.

En compañía de mis colegas Julie McNamara, John Rogers y Sandra Sattler, acá les compartimos algunos tips para que la voz de las mujeres llegue a la industria de energía renovable, sea escuchada, y logre elevarse y amplificarse para fortalecer la transición a un futuro energético sostenible:

  • Recopilar datos demográficos sobre la fuerza de trabajo. Es difícil evaluar lo que no se ha medido. Las empresas deben captar los datos de su fuerza de trabajo en términos de género, roles y salarios, entre otros, para poder medir su desempeño y evolución en temas de diversidad.
  • Diseñar programas, estrategias o políticas para promover la diversidad en las empresas. Por ejemplo, se pueden establecer estrategias para aumentar la representación de mujeres, crear compromisos o metas de diversidad, así como evaluar el avance logrado en el tiempo para la consecución de estas metas.

    Presenciando como se construye el futuro

  • Diseñar programas con mentores. Estos programas son de trascendencial importancia para lograr desarrollar competencias profesionales, así como fortalecer la confianza de las mujeres que se unen a la industria de energía limpia.
  • Promover programas de educación en energías renovables desde temprana edad. Muchas personas no tienen conocimiento del funcionamiento y potencial técnico, económico y social de la energía renovable. Es importante que las niñas puedan acceder a esta información y que tengan oportunidades educativas que las capacite para poder ingresar a la industria solar cuando así lo deseen.
  • Apoyar el liderazgo de mujeres y su participación en juntas directivas y posiciones ejecutivas. Es crucial reflejar la participación de las mujeres en todos los niveles de una organización, especialmente en posiciones de toma de decisiones. Para lograr esto, es fundamental promover la creación de espacios de participación para el crecimiento profesional.

En el panel que se está presentando hoy aquí en Panamá, compartiré estas ideas con los líderes participantes, tanto hombres como mujeres, para aportar al empoderamiento de la mujer en la industria de energías renovables.

Entre tanto, ¡festejemos a las mujeres que están haciendo que esta industria sea resiliente, incluyente y próspera!

 

P. Garcia

Collaboration Between Ranchers and Scientists Leads to Rangeland Management Opportunities

Andrea Johnson, part of the research field crew, monitors water quality in a rangeland stream. Photo: Kris Hulvey

When I arrived in Utah four years ago to start my new research position, government agencies and ranchers were having a standoff about grazing rights and the use of public lands. Cattle grazing is common on many public lands, which also serve as key habitat for species of ecological and political interest like Greater Sage-Grouse. Increasingly, people also want western rangelands to supply a suite of other goods and services including clean water, fish habitat, and carbon sequestration.

My plan was to develop a research program focused on balancing some of these seemingly conflicting uses of Western landscapes. I was worried that the political climate would make any form of collaboration among ranchers, government managers, and scientists difficult. I was wrong.

How should we manage rangeland?

Flags set near a rangeland stream for assessment of stubble height and bare ground – two indicators of grazing use.

The U.S. has a history of managing the environment through a combination of top-down regulation (for example, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act), mixed more recently with creative programs that provide incentives to private citizens for management and conservation actions on their properties. Here in Utah, over the past decade, a constellation of factors aligned, leading to a unique opportunity for landscape management.

A key element was the possibility of the greater sage grouse being added to the list of US Endangered Species. This motivated local people—including ranchers, public lands managers, and scientists — to combine forces to prevent further sage-grouse population declines. They formed local working groups where they shared information, concerns, and got to know each other. This groundwork of relationship-building opened the door to solve other management conflicts on rangelands, including those I address in my work.

My research focuses on how grazing near rangeland streams affects water quality. Because violations of clean water regulations in rangeland streams can lead to demands for cattle to be removed from public lands, I collaborate closely with public lands managers, including those working in federal and state agencies. We have found that in our local rangelands, rotating cattle across the landscape so that they do not graze in the same spot for an entire season can lead to water quality that meets state standards. This research impacts ranchers, because in some cases improving water quality will mean changing current grazing practices.

Building relationships with stakeholders

This next part of my story is where I get really excited about the collaborative relationships between ranchers, managers at government agencies, and scientists in Utah. My agency partners invited me to share my findings with the ranchers affected by the results. Because some of these results highlighted current conflicts between grazing and water quality, I expected a stony reception.

Instead, the ranchers informed me of key details of their operations that could have led to my results. They peppered me with questions about my measurement techniques and about how the year’s wet conditions could have influenced my results. They proposed ideas of how to improve stream and water conditions in future years—including those that would require more time and effort on their part—and asked me if I would come collect data again so that we would know if the proposed solutions worked.

What had just happened? This exchange of ideas and community knowledge—from me to the ranchers and the ranchers to me—was vital. It allowed me to fully understand the results of my research, and for the ranchers and agency scientists to find solutions that would balance grazing use with clean water production in the area. I chalk this experience up to the trust that my agency partners and these ranchers had built after years of working together.

Hope for the future of natural resource management

So, how do we move forward, balancing natural resources in a political environment that can be confrontational? I draw some inspiration from my students. One of the classes I teach is a project-based capstone class for range majors. Our first assignment is to diagram on the white board what ‘range management’ is. Students grab dry erase markers and jot down all of the words they associate with their future profession. Terms like ‘livestock management,’ ‘water distribution,’ and ‘soil conservation’ are there. But so are ‘stakeholders,’ ‘communication,’ and ‘collaboration.’ The students then spend the bulk of the semester putting all of these ideas into practice. Ranchers and other professionals from the diversity of organizations managing rangeland come speak with my students about collaboration. A main message is always that differences will exist, but that if we focus on what we agree upon, we can move forward. I’m on board.

 

Kristin Hulvey is an Assistant Professor of Wildland Resources at Utah State University. She is focused on improving working lands management by collaborating with stakeholders and conducting research that leads to management solutions that work for nature and people. Her work broadly focuses on rangeland management, ecosystem restoration, and the links between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and human well-being.   

 

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.

Kris Hulvey

Five Things We’ve Learned from Surveys of Government Scientists

Photo: Dex Image/Corbis

This month the Union of Concerned Scientists is surveying government scientists—about 63,000 of them from 16 federal agencies, to be exact. Since these scientists get emails from me requesting their time and perspectives, I want to discuss the value of the scientific integrity surveys we’ve been conducting here for many years. Since 2005, thousands of scientists have responded to UCS surveys and that information has led to concrete changes at federal agencies. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve gained from surveying government scientists.

1. Scaling the problem

Under the George W. Bush Administration reports began to surface that science was being sidelined at government agencies. Some in the scientific community were concerned but it wasn’t clear how extensive the problem was. Were these isolated cases or something more?  Starting in 2005, UCS began surveying federal scientists to gauge the scale of the problem. Over the next few years, we learned that indeed the problems weren’t isolated: Scientists across agencies and across issue areas reported scientific integrity issues. For example, 1,028 scientists (60% of respondents) from a survey of climate researchers at seven agencies and a separate survey of EPA researchers reported that they had personally experienced at least one incident of political interference in their work over the previous five years. The findings were able to show the world that there were scientific integrity issues across the government, not just on a few hot-button issues.

We are once again in a time when reports of scientific integrity problems are trickling out of federal agencies. How widespread are such issues? The current survey will shed some light.

This month, government scientists from 16 agencies are asked to fill out a scientific integrity survey that will provide vital information about how science and scientists are faring in our government today. Photo: US FWS

2. Scientist notice problems long before the public does.

Government scientists are our ears to the ground when it comes to how evidence-based decision making is working at agencies—or not. They are the people working in the trenches every day. They see how their science is used, misused, or ignored by others in the agency. As a result, they identify problems within agencies long before they are on the public’s radar.

In recent weeks, news has blown up around the fact that the CDC is essentially banned from researching gun violence. This is something CDC scientists have been telling us for years. As my colleague Charise Johnson recently noted, in a 2015 UCS survey of CDC scientists, several respondents noted the restrictions put on their research that limited their ability to ask questions and get policy-relevant answers on gun violence. And we are now all facing the consequences.

This kind of information is vital for us all to have. The sooner we know where problems and vulnerabilities are around scientific integrity at agencies, the sooner we can work to address them.

3. New and improved scientific Integrity policies

Not only do scientists identify problems early, they also have solutions! The many surveys UCS conducted under the Bush and Obama administrations provided critical input into recommendations for how scientific integrity could be improved at federal agencies. Many of those recommendations, carried forward by UCS to agency decisionmakers, were put directly into agency policies.

Now, some 28 federal agencies have scientific integrity policies in place and many have stronger media and social media policies. These policies benefited greatly from the input of federal scientists on survey responses. Many told us about the kinds of guidance, leadership, and policies needed to ensure that scientific integrity could be preserved in their agencies. And the government scientific enterprise is now better for it.

4. Leadership at agencies is crucial.

Beyond policies, we’ve also learned from federal scientists that strong agency leadership is crucial. Specifically, agency heads that value scientific integrity and “walk the walk” when it comes to supporting science at their agency, will fare better. Agencies where scientists don’t see their leaders making scientific integrity a priority are likely to have more challenges when it comes to ensuring science is effectively used in in decision making. As one CDC scientist poignantly noted in 2015, scientific integrity “starts with leadership and filters down through the ranks. The less concerned the CDC director is, the less concerned other[s] are.”

5. Culture change takes time

Another truth scientists have taught us in survey responses is the challenge of culture change.  It can take more than policies to change long-term or deeply vested conditions at agencies that inhibit scientific integrity. For example, in 2015 a Fish and Wildlife Service scientist told us, “We are aware of and trained in whistle blowing and such, but few would actually feel confident in coming forward on an issue.”

This is why it is so important that we listen to and understand the challenges that agencies face if we want to improve their ability to fulfill their science-based missions.

#ThankAGovScientist, their words are valuable

We know all of this and we are able to work on improving policies and practices at agencies because of countless scientists who have selflessly spent their time and energy to thoughtfully fill out a survey. Thank you, federal scientists, for the great work that you do every day for the people of this country and the world.

If you received the survey in your inbox, please consider filling it out! If you have questions, feel free to comment below or in the contact information provided in the email. A 2018 government scientists survey FAQ document is here: www.ucsusa.org/2018survey.

Proposed Budget Cuts to NASA’s Earth Science Division Are Damaging for All of Us

Photo: NASA

I think it is safe to say that no other part of our government inspires as much excitement among the American public as NASA does. Kids across the country dress up as NASA astronauts each Halloween and families plan vacations to visit NASA space flight centers. We all look in awe at the images NASA satellites generate of our own home, Planet Earth.

That said, most of us don’t get quite as excited by NASA’s budget. I’m going to dedicate the next few moments to exploring why NASA’s budget is super cool and super important. In particular, I’m going to focus on the important work that NASA is doing to make our life here on Earth safer and more prosperous, and review what the Trump administration has in store for NASA’s Earth Science work.

The bottom line is, despite the fact that Congress recently passed a bill to increase NASA’s spending levels, NASA’s Earth Science Division is still facing cuts.

NASA’s not just for rocket scientists

NASA’s Earth Science Division provides decision makers, our armed forces, the private sector, and citizens with critical information on how our Earth works and the state of our planet—information that can be used to assess risks, protect American lives and infrastructure, and identify opportunities for our nation. For example:

  • According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, over the last decade extreme weather events and wildfires cost the federal government more than $350 billion. More importantly, these kinds of events have led to enormous losses of life across the country. In an effort to help the nation avoid the losses and costs associated with these kinds of events, scientists in NASA’s Earth Science Division are currently working to improve wildfire forecasts as well as our understanding of how hurricanes form.
  • NASA Earth scientists also produce weekly indicators of groundwater and soil moisture drought that are fed into the National Drought Monitor. These scientists produce the drought indicators using a combination of land-based water storage data collected by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, other observations, and computer models.
  • Landsat—a joint program between NASA’s Earth Science Division and USGS—provides the longest-running record of Earth’s land from space to date. The sensor provides information that is used by a wide variety of sectors—from forest management to public health to water resource management. 
NASA’s 2019 Earth Science portfolio by the numbers

Hopefully by now it is clear that NASA’s Earth Science work is really important for Americans. Unfortunately, for the 2019 fiscal year (FY19), the president has proposed cutting NASA’s Earth Science Division budget by 6.5% relative to 2017 enacted levels (Table 3). The proposal seeks to reduce funds available for Earth science research, missions, and technology.

Stepping back for a moment, the administration has actually proposed increasing NASA’s overall budget in FY19. In light of the above-mentioned bill that increases NASA’s spending cap, the administration added $300 million to their initial proposal of $19.9 billion for NASA’s FY19 budget. This is an increase from FY17’s operational budget of $19.7 billion. The administration proposed that these additional funds be largely directed to the their space Exploration campaign, as well as to NASA facilities and aeronautics basic research.

None of the additional funds would be used to restore NASA’s Earth Science budget to at least its current level in the president’s proposal.

Table 1. NASA’s Earth Science Division budget figures (in millions of US Dollars) for Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17), the President’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19), and the percent change (%).

What would get cut?

Following the President’s FY18 budget, the administration has again proposed terminating four Earth Science missions: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity (CLARREO) Pathfinder mission. (For more information on these missions, please visit my colleague Brenda Ekwurzel’s excellent review.)

The president has also proposed terminating the Carbon Monitoring System, the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), and the following measures:

  • The proposal recommends a reduction to NASA’s Earth Science Technology program. This program develops and funds a wide range of new technologies that push the envelope in terms of how we can observe and measure our Earth. For example, the Earth Science Technology Office is using cube satellites as a lower cost/lower risk way to test technologies in space that can then be scaled up.
  • NASA’s Earth Science Research program is advancing our understanding of how the Earth works—from improving predictions of extreme events to furthering understanding of how our home planet responds to human and natural changes. The program also analyzes data collected by NASA’s satellites and other airborne missions. For example, NASA’s Earth Science Research program is working to develop new methods to diagnose severe storms in real time using the Lightning Mapper Sensor.

Given the increased risks we are facing here on Earth as a result of human-caused changes in our planet, and the opportunities available to our public and private sector from Earth monitoring data, this is not the moment to reduce spending levels in NASA’s Earth Science Division.

The Earth observations and innovations that come out of NASA’s Earth Science Division lead to better forecasts and predictions of extreme weather, information on land use that is vital for resource managers and public health officials, and more. These new technologies and insights are then operationalized at NOAA, which makes this information matter for people’s daily lives (NOAA’s own budget is facing dramatic reductions).

Instead, NASA’s Earth Science Division should be equipped with the funds it needs to carry out this critical work so that our nation can remain at the cutting edge and thrive.

Building Relationships to Promote Science-Based Decision Making

In an era when “fake news” has become a common phrase, it is more important than ever to make sure our policymakers are making decisions based on the best available information.

As graduate students associated with the Program on Climate Change at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, we knew that there was a role for us to play. We all study issues related to climate change, but with no experience interacting with the policy side how could we connect our research with decision-makers? That’s where the Union of Concerned Scientists came in.

Training participants role-play meeting with their state legislators to discuss climate policy.

As graduate students, we study specific projects within narrow bands of climate science, but the general knowledge of climate that we have gained throughout the pursuit of our degrees puts us in a unique position. In the eyes of policymakers, we can serve as important resources.

With this perspective on our status as graduate students, we felt inspired and compelled to improve our understanding of the climate policy framework as well as to promote connections between graduate students and policymakers. We reached out to Emily Heffling, UCS western states campaign coordinator, to partner with us to create a UW workshop focused on training graduate students and postdocs studying climate in building these important relationships with the policy world. With resources from UCS, we facilitated an event that brought in multiple speakers to address these questions of how climate policy works in Washington State and how we as students can plug into this system.

Following the training, we arranged meetings with our local legislators: one State Senator and four members of the Washington House of Representatives, including the Speaker. It turns out it can be a little nerve-wracking to meet in person with a legislator! As part of the training, participants got to practice face-to-face interactions with policymakers through role-play scenarios. This training experience was easily translated into the actual meetings, helping students to feel more at ease. Students had clear expectations for the meeting and knew how to structure the encounter to use the legislators’ precious time most productively.

Representative Nicole Macri (left) meets with graduate students (left to right) Michael Diamond (Atmospheric Sciences), Megan Duffy (Oceanography), and Kaylie McTiernan (Mechanical Engineering and Marine and Environmental Affairs) and postdoctoral research associate Johanna Goldman.

Across the five meetings that came out of this event, we pushed past our comfort zones and connected with the people who are in positions to make impactful changes. We learned about the work our elected officials are already doing to pursue climate policy. We described how our climate research and affiliated resources are available to better inform their decisions. One graduate student, Kaylie McTiernan, who attended a meeting with Representative Nicole Macri (43rd Legislative District) reflected on her meeting saying, “the graduate student science advocacy training prepared us to meet with Representative Macri. We are grateful for her time and for learning about the newly formed Climate Caucus of the WA State Democrats, the work towards creating a carbon tax, and some of the most pressing current issues.” In another meeting, Senator Jamie Pedersen (43rd Legislative District) was curious to learn about how policy changes on the state level impact the global issue of climate change. We connected him to the resources at UW that specialize in such questions.

Students also brought up issues that were not on legislators’ radars, such as how global warming will change the timing and quantity of water availability as snow-dominated areas in the Cascades become rain-dominated. Water resources have been on the Washington State political agenda because of a court ruling affecting current water permitting practices, but the longer-term implications of climate change had been largely absent from the discussion.

Overall, the experience of working with UCS to facilitate this workshop, connect graduate students to the policy landscape, and build relationships with local legislators was incredibly rewarding. We learned a lot about how state climate policy is developed and implemented and gained a better understanding of how graduate students can leverage our unique position and resources to advocate for a more climate-progressive state shaped by well-informed policymakers.

 

Taryn Black is a PhD student in Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on documenting changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet and determining the processes driving these changes.

Michael Diamond is a PhD student in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington. He studies how smoke particles from agricultural fires in southern Africa influence cloud properties over the southeast Atlantic Ocean to better understand the interactions between clouds and pollution, which is one of the largest sources of scientific uncertainty in how much human activities are altering Earth’s climate.

Emma Kahle is a PhD student in Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. She studies ice core records from Antarctica to learn about past temperature changes and to better understand interactions between different climate processes.

 

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.

NOAA’s Life-Saving Research is on the Chopping Block in FY19 Federal Budget

NOAA Ocean Explorer: NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer: INDEX 2012 ÒGul

First the good news: Through recent continuing appropriations (Public Law No. 115-124 on 2/9/2018), the federal government funding has been sustained near FY17 enacted levels in FY18. The kickoff for the FY19 budget began when the President’s proposed budget was released two weeks ago.

Now the concerning news: Deep cuts to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research capabilities loom in the FY19 proposed budget (Figure 1). Including complete elimination of federal funding for the following in the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) and the National Ocean Service (NOS):

  • NOS: Coastal Science Competitive Research

    Figure 1. Proposed NOAA FY19 budget cuts to the office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS), National Ocean Service (NOS), and National Weather Service (NWS). Data Source: NOAA blue book 2019.

  • NOS: Coastal Management Grants
  • NOS: National Estuarine Research Reserve System
  • OAR: Climate Competitive Research
  • OAR: Joint Technology Transfer Initiative
  • OAR: National Sea Grant College Program
  • OAR: Research Transition Acceleration Program

Research forms the foundation for advances in NOAA core missions, including weather predictions that ensure public safety, protect economic assets and activities, and support for navigation by military, commercial and private vessels.

NOAA budget in context

Research and development (R&D) underpins NOAA’s core missions and their importance to people living in the U.S. and beyond. It may come as a surprise to many who inspect this illuminating AAAS graph  that the NOAA R&D budget is tiny (~0.01% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1976, declining to <0.01% of 2016 GDP) compared to most other agencies with R&D programs (e.g. NIH, DOD, DOE, NASA). We really get a lot of bang for our buck at NOAA – an economic analysis revealed that NOAA products and services affect more than a third of U.S. GDP. It is therefore striking to see large cuts proposed for FY19 (Figure 1).

NOAA-funded flood research in Houston in advance of Hurricane Harvey: Were lives saved? Before and After Hurricane Harvey Houston

Figure 2. Before and After Hurricane Harvey pictures of Houston Texas. Image source: NOAA

Oklahoma and Texas have experienced devastating floods recently. My colleague Nick Mailloux found an OAR research grant initially funded in 2011 that allowed researchers at the University of Oklahoma to develop computer visualization techniques that helps local planners and decision makers understand the ramifications of current and potential future flood hazards in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The research team’s 2015 report included a project summary that features an image of a flooded Memorial Drive in Houston from May 26, 2015. The researchers credit collaborators in each city for the success of the project.

Did involving local planners and other key stakeholders in this research increase preparedness for the next flood? We may never know if being involved in this study changed how any of the stakeholders made decisions or shared information during the Hurricane Harvey disaster response. It’s hard to judge the societal benefits of just one research grant, but when we consider the number of competitive grants NOAA provides, the benefits can be significant.

We see this by expanding on our Houston example.  The Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP), within NOAA’s Climate and Societal Interactions (CSI) program, funds similar studies on issues of extreme event preparedness, planning, and adaptation in the water sector and the drought sector.

CSI is one of the major areas of focus for competitive research grants from the OAR Climate Program Office (CPO). Others include ocean observing and monitoring and earth system modeling. For example, the CPO 2018 call for research proposals includes grants that would advance NOAA’s sub-seasonal to seasonal predictions of weather patterns. Cities planning to buy large stores of salt and sand for snow, businesses planning for shipments during times of flooding, and farmers deciding which type of crop seed to buy all benefit from such research informing operational advances in the National Weather Service’s (NWS) seasonal weather predictions.

Here is the kicker.  The President’s FY19 budget proposal cuts more than a third (37%) from the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) program including a request to completely eliminate competitive research grants in NOAA’s Climate Program Office.

NOAA’s Climate Program Office also funds many laboratories and cooperative institutes and regional climate data and information services, which the President’s budget requests a 22% increase and 32% decrease, respectively, with respect to the FY17 spend budget level.  Other budget changes include this jaw dropping request:

 “…terminate Arctic research focused on improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions that support fishermen, commercial shippers, cruise ships, and local communities. NOAA will also terminate modeling of ecosystem and fisheries vulnerabilities.”

NOAA vessel in AK

Figure 3. John N. Cobb in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Photo source: NOAA

Given the trend toward increasing variability of weather disruptions in the region – the Arctic is warming at more than twice the global rate and sea ice volume and extent are in decline – now is not the time to back away from Arctic research. If anything, we should be funding more Arctic research. The National Academies of Sciences’ Arctic Matters Report notes that Arctic and subarctic waters supply around ten percent of the fish catch worldwide and that half of U.S. fish catch comes from subarctic waters.

Some good news (and some concerning news) for satellites in FY19

NOAA has top tier expertise and capacity incorporating satellite information to support services across the government such as weather forecasts and safe navigation for military, commercial and private vessels. Yet the FY19 budget requests cutting a quarter of the FY17 spend levels for the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) (Figure 1).

This sizable cut includes over $230 million from the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), NOAA’s polar weather satellites program. According to NOAA:

 “The primary purpose of the JPSS series is to provide global meteorological observations to enable short-term (0-3 days), and mid-range (3-7 days) warnings of severe weather events critical for emergency managers and communities to make timely decisions to protect life and property”

At the AAAS 2018 annual meeting, I heard U.S. Navy Commander Lane, who is the director of the U.S. National Ice Center, say that sub-seasonal and seasonal forecasts improve voyage planning for naval operations in regions with ice hazards for navigation. Close coordination between NOAA, Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and their Canadian counterparts keeps U.S. sailors safe and helps advance plans for commercial shipping on the Great Lakes and other ice-strewn waters near U.S. ports. It would be prudent to take a closer look at this budget cut to ensure that what remains is sufficient for follow-on satellites and research in support of early and accurate warnings of ice-laden waters, which are increasingly variable in when and where they occur.

GOES West and GOES East

Figure 4: GOES-East and GOES-West satellite coverage of the western hemisphere. Image source: NOAA

The good news is continuity for the GOES-R satellite program through 2036. These satellites provide greatly enhanced information for weather forecasts that directly affect public safety. Yesterday (March 1) the GOES-S satellite successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Florida. Once operational, it will be known as GOES West, and will complement GOES East satellite, which launched last year. According to many presentations I saw at the American Meteorological Society’s 2018 annual meeting, the GOES East satellite (also called GOES-16) provided greater lead times and more accurate information for planners during the devastating 2017 hurricane season. There is a planned decrease of nearly $335 million for the GOES-R program, but that’s expected after new satellites are launched. Still, it is prudent to make sure operational costs are sufficient and include research that tests and validates sensors on the new operational satellites.

National Ocean Service FY19 budget cuts research supporting coastal communities

The budget request for the National Ocean Service (NOS) is down 20% from FY17 spend levels (Figure 1), more evidence that federal research programs are in the cross-hairs of this administration. The budget proposes to terminate the Coastal Zone Management Grants Program and the Regional Coastal Resilience Grants Program. This is shocking when we consider that rising seas are already presenting hard choices for hundreds of U.S. coastal communities.

Terminating research that aids in local decision making also likely means worsening inequities between coastal communities with varying resources for surviving and thriving in the face of rising seas. Among the many options for coastal resilience is ensuring that natural defenses like estuarine wetlands remain in place or are intentionally expanded. Yet the FY19 budget proposes to ‘terminate Federal funding support to states for the management of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.’

Let me know if there are consequences in your region from any of these proposed FY19 budget cuts. Even better, tell your members of Congress as they examine the FY19 request.

NOAA NOAA NOAA NOAA

Scott Pruitt, Superfund, and Communities: A Burning Desire to Remediate the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site

Photo: wohnal/CC BY 2.0 (Flickr)

There is a smoldering fire raging below the surface of the West Lake landfill, located in the St. Louis, Missouri suburb community of Bridgeton, where tons of radioactive material remain. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund program web page describes how “In 1973, around 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate from the Manhattan Project, a World War II nuclear bomb development program, was mixed with approximately 38,000 tons of soil and used to cover trash being dumped during daily operations.” The site was listed as part of EPA’s National Priorities List in 1990.

The EPA ordered a cleanup of the site on February 1 with a release of the agency’s proposed plan for remedial activities. The partial remediation proposed would remove 67% of radioactive materials at a maximum depth of 16 feet. EPA will then install what they call a low permeability engineered cover that the agency says will “limit radon releases, protect groundwater, and be effective for at least 200 to 1,000 years.”

Nearby communities weigh in on remediation plan

There also is a fire raging in the hearts of the communities that live near this Superfund site who say they want it cleaned up now. Some residents are happy to simply have a cleanup plan proposed since the site was listed 27 years ago. Others are saying that the proposed plan isn’t good enough and should aim to remove as much radiation as possible. Some nearby residents have filed lawsuits with attempts for class action status seeking compensation for various damages they say negligent cleanup of West Lake has caused.

Local non-profit organizations, Just Moms STL and Missouri Coalition for the Environment, have expressed concerns about EPA’s proposed remediation plan. Both organizations support remedial alternative 7 in EPA’s proposed plan and reinforce requests for: 1) a voluntary relocation plan for residents living nearby, 2) off-site storage for excavated at an out-of-state licensed nuclear facility, and 3) the percentage of wastes removed to the “highest possible amount.” Dawn Chapman, a founder of Just Moms STL, said that the organization will “…stay here and watch and see it through,” referring to the ensuing years the cleanup will take. Additionally, a documentary, Atomic Homefront, recently aired on HBO chronicling the communities’ fight for a clean and safe environment (available free until March 18).

Pruitt’s priorities

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has claimed that cleaning up superfund sites is a priority for him. If Administrator Pruitt is serious about prioritizing Superfund clean-ups, then it is interesting that he hired Albert Kelly, a former banker who has been banned from the industry and has had no environmental policy experience, to lead those efforts. And while Administrator Pruitt commissioned a task force to address superfund clean-ups, he claimed that no records of deliberation among the task force existed bringing up issues of program transparency. Administrator Pruitt also has claimed to want to go “back to basics” of air and water pollution mitigation, but his actions have yet to follow. The EPA has been losing significant portions of its workforce, enforcement of air and water quality laws is down from previous administrations, and Administrator Pruitt has taken steps to undermine science-based air and water quality standards, like dismantling and dismissing EPA’s science advisory committees. West Lake is a prime example of the kind of site that should be prioritized for a clean-up, so let’s hope Administrator Pruitt keeps to his word.

Community input is needed

The Superfund program is guided by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). According to EPA’s website on CERCLA, the law does three things: 1) establishes prohibitions and requirements concerning closed and abandoned hazardous waste sites; 2) provides for liability of persons responsible for releases of hazardous waste at these sites; and 3) establishes a trust fund to provide for cleanup when no responsible party could be identified.

Also codified and emphasized in CERCLA is that EPA, which oversees the Superfund program, takes into consideration community input on proposed remediation activities to clean up hazardous sites. In fact, there is a whole section of CERCLA that describes the importance of public participation. The law reads:

Before adoption of any plan for remedial action to be undertaken by the President, by a State, or by any other person, under section 9604, 9606, 9620, or 9622 of this title, the President or State, as appropriate, shall take both of the following actions: 1) Publish a notice and brief analysis of the proposed plan and make such plan available to the public; 2) Provide a reasonable opportunity for submission of written and oral comments and an opportunity for a public meeting at or near the facility at issue regarding the proposed plan and regarding any proposed findings under section 9621(d)(4) of this title (relating to cleanup standards).

The EPA is currently taking comments on the proposed remediation plan for West Lake that will stay open until March 22, 2018. The EPA also is holding a public meeting to discuss the proposed remediation plan on March 6, 2018, 6-9pm CST at the District 9 Machinists Hall in Bridgeton, Missouri. Those living in communities near West Lake will have the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns about EPA’s proposed remediation plan (if you want to give testimony, contact Ben Washburn, community involvement coordinator, at 913-551-7364 or washburn.ben@epa.gov). These voices will be quintessential for determining how EPA will move forward in remediating the site. The agency should listen to these citizens who have endured 27 years living near some of the most hazardous chemicals known to mankind.

Scott Pruitt Ensnares the Clean Power Plan in More Red Tape

Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons (Flickr)

For a man who swears to be laser-focused on ridding the world of regulatory red tape, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sure has a funny way of showing it.

Indeed, Mr. Pruitt appears to be something of a red tape-generating savant.

On Monday, our organization responded to a request for information from the EPA about regulating carbon emissions from power plants. Which might sound familiar, because we’ve already done that. In fact, we and several million others have already done that multiple times over. What’s more, the agency itself has already gone down this road, from thinking about it, to issuing and responding to comments about it, to—you guessed it—even publishing a rule on this very topic just a few years ago.

Yet here we are again, answering questions the agency already knows the answer to, responding to challenges the agency has already resolved.

Surely there are better uses of taxpayer dollars and government time.

Surely, that is, except according to Scott Pruitt. That’s because although the EPA is statutorily required to act on climate, the man who made a career out of serving as an eager and willing mouthpiece for oil and gas corporations would really rather not. So what’s he do instead? Wield the rulemaking process as a red tape machine, churning out bright red bows for the fossil fuel industry while tangling up the legs of forward progress for all the rest.

No, no, you’re right—we’ve definitely done this before

Here’s the thing: the scientific and legal backing for the EPA’s regulation of carbon emissions from power plants is remarkably robust, and the record to support it lengthy:

  • In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2009, the EPA completed its Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings, which confirmed the agency’s obligation to act on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
  • In 2015, the EPA issued a final version of those required standards in the form of the Clean Power Plan, the product of a robust and years long rulemaking process.

But then came 2017, and Scott Pruitt appointed as EPA administrator. Though the facts haven’t changed, forward progress has been spinning its wheels ever since.

Unreasonably narrow, inappropriately weak

The Trump Administration cast a long shadow over the Clean Power Plan with its Executive Order on Energy Independence in March 2017, but the rule’s proposed repeal wasn’t actually issued until last October. 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.

At the same time, because the agency is statutorily required to act, the EPA followed up with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in December 2017 to simply consider how it might go about regulating greenhouse gas emissions in line with this new interpretation. The result was a remarkably transparent attempt to waste time, ignore facts, and abdicate the agency’s foremost responsibility of protecting human health and the environment.

  • The ANPR gets off to a rocky start by prejudging the outcome of the ongoing—and ostensibly unbiased and objective—proposed repeal’s rulemaking process, limiting the agency’s interest in information to only that which conforms with an incredibly narrow interpretation of compliance.
  • The ANPR repeatedly solicits comment suggesting an overarching motivation that is not rooted in limiting power sector carbon emissions, but rather in finding ways to limit the agency’s own role and responsibilities on this front—up to and including whether the EPA should set limits at all.
  • The ANPR actively ignores the existence of our ever-improving understanding of the costs of climate impacts, as well as the ever-improving fundamentals of clean energy resources. Instead of looking for ways to weaken the Clean Power Plan, the EPA should—must—be doing everything it can to strengthen it, in turn delivering significant near and long-term health benefits to communities around the country while at the same time contributing to global efforts to limit climate change.

Ultimately, the ANPR does little more than crystallize just how much Scott Pruitt does not care about his charge as EPA Administrator, instead advancing cynical charades at the expense of the health and well-being of Americans, now and in the future.

Why we still fight

And yet, we still submitted comments on Monday.

Alongside 250,000 others.

We did this despite knowing that the EPA issued its request for comment with the sole purpose of delaying a statutory requirement to act. We did this despite recognizing that the EPA has shown no signs that it will truly consider our response.

We did this by the hundreds of thousands because respect for our institutions demands nothing less.

Scott Pruitt has made abundantly clear he holds no respect for the mission of the agency he has been appointed to direct, but the thing is, the rest of us still do. So when the agency asks us to write, we write. And when the time comes that the courts rule on the agency’s need to act, all of our many words will be there, waiting and ready to fight the good fight.

The Disturbing Facts of Gun Violence Research in the US

Photo: St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office/Wikimedia

Students in Florida and across the nation have had enough—enough carnage, enough tragedy, enough thoughts and prayers, and enough empty promises from adults who are supposed to protect them. They are taking on the issue of gun violence and demanding change.

These young people are a rising power. They are mobilizing, they are leading, and they are confronting lawmakers who for too long have lacked the courage to take meaningful action to stem the scourge of gun-related violence in our county. And science, data, and evidence are on their side.

Gun violence: data and research tell the story

Gun violence is more than a law enforcement problem. It is a major and well-recognized public health problem that threatens the health, safety, security, and welfare of our nation’s residents.  Mass shootings at schools, in workplaces, and in other public venues are the most visible and shocking manifestations of this problem; they understandably garner high levels of public outrage and attention when they occur. Yet the majority of gun-related deaths, injuries, and disabilities are lost in the mix. The daily toll that homicides, suicides, assaults, and unintentional shootings exact on people, families, and communities is too often hidden from view.

Morbidity and mortality data on gun-related violence in our country speak for themselves (good summary here). Data from five years of CDC statistics estimate that 96 Americans die every day from gun violence, with over 33,000 deaths per year. Nearly 79,000 other people are injured annually by guns. And guns account for more than two-thirds of US homicides.

Research studies (see here, here and, here) have found that:

  • Gun ownership increases the risk of completed suicides compared to all other means of suicide combined, i.e., by pills, cutting, jumping, even hanging.
  • Domestic violence increases in severity and deadliness when guns are present in the home.
  • Women are 16 times more likely to be killed by guns in the US than in any other developed nation.
  • Black people are more likely to be killed by guns than those who are white.
  • Gun violence is a leading cause of injury and death for our nation’s children and youth. The Gun Violence Archive, a clearinghouse of gun violence statistics, reports that in 2016 alone, 446 children (aged 0–12) and 2,072 teenagers were injured or killed in gun violence incidents.
A crisis of gun violence

Like other health disparities in the US, gun violence is not distributed evenly across our population. A recent analysis by The Guardian found that in 2015, half of America’s gun homicides were clustered in just 127 cities and towns, and within them, the highest numbers of gun homicides were further concentrated in certain neighborhood areas—areas marked by intense poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation.

And lest we think that gun violence is primarily a problem of homicides in certain pockets of our cities, mass shootings—like the school shootings in Parkland, Florida and Sandy Hook, Connecticut—remind us that gun violence can strike anywhere and in any place.

Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America—an average of about one a week. The Parkland shooting marked the 18th school shooting in 2018 alone! From just January 1 to February 18, 2018, there were 30 mass shootings in the US. (The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as a single incident in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are “shot and/or killed” at “the same general time and location.”)

And then there’s the crisis of domestic violence–which does not discriminate by geography (rural, suburban, or urban), by race, or by socioeconomic status. By gender of victim is a whole other matter.

A 2016 analysis by the Associated Press of national and state law enforcement data and reported in The Guardian found that an average of at least 760 Americans are shot to death by current or former partners each year. Nearly 75 percent of the victims in these fatal domestic violence shootings are the current wives or girlfriends of the men who killed them.

EveryTown for Gun Safety, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence in America, reports in an average month, 50 American women are shot to death by intimate partners and many more are injured.

Other analyses have found a disturbing thread between domestic and family violence and mass shootings.

The US is number one – not in a good way

The United States has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership among high-income nations. It also has the highest rate of gun-related deaths among these countries. A recent study examined violent death rates for 2010 in 27 high-income countries that reported mortality data to the World Health Organization. The results, reported in the American Journal of Medicine, are startling.

Homicide rates in the US were seven times higher than in other high-income countries, driven by a gun homicide rate that was 25.2 times higher; a firearm suicide rate 8 times higher; and an unintentional firearm death rate that was 6.2 times higher. The overall firearm death rate in the United States from all causes was 10 times higher than in the other countries. Even more shocking: among all the countries, 90% of women, 91% of children aged 0 to 14 years, 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms were from the United States. (Read that again!)

Gun control research banned at the CDC

Gun violence is a significant and complex problem that demands multi-faceted solutions. There is a growing literature on gun violence. Some research contributes to the contentious debates about gun control—see, for example, this excellent multi-level and cross-sectional analysis of gun control versus gun violence as an artifact of US gun culture. Other research studies have examined the relationship of gun ownership/availability and homicides and suicides (see for example here and here). Some studies examine the effectiveness of community-based interventions.

But public health and medical professionals have bemoaned the dearth of critical research on firearm violence relative to the scope of the problem. Many point to the Dickey Amendment, an unrelated ideological provision added to a must-pass spending bill (also known as a “poison pill rider”), which stipulated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

This effectively banned gun control research done or funded by our nation’s public health agency, casting a pall over gun control research and limiting the engagement of a generation of public health researchers on an issue of major public health significance. Indeed, recent studies have documented the decline in both funding and publication of research related to gun violence (see here and here).

Academic researchers, public health and medical professionals, and gun violence prevention advocacy organizations have called for action, highlighting the need for research and scholarship to inform and guide evidence-based policies and interventions. The National Academy of Science/Institute of Medicine has identified priorities for research to reduce the threat of gun violence. Medical organizations and publication have called for a restoration of CDC funding (here, here).

It is peak nonsense to effectively cut our nation’s disease control and prevention agency’s ability to engage in research related to this major cause of morbidity and mortality in this country.

Here’s what you can do 

Clearly, there are significant gaps in research on gun violence. But make no mistake, the need for more research is no excuse for failing to act to curb gun violence in the United States.

As outlined above, the data tell us we have not done nearly enough to reduce the crisis of gun injury and death in this country, and there are common sense actions that could be taken today if elected leaders had the political will. But if we are to continue to address this public health scourge, Congress must remove the poison pill anti-science rider that prevents gun violence research at the CDC as they negotiate a final spending package to fund the federal government for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year.

Recently, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said that conducting gun violence research is a priority for his agency. This would a good first step. Now is our time to call our elected officials and encourage them to remove this rider from the appropriations bills and allow scientist and public health experts at the CDC and other agencies to do their job.

As our nation continues to debate solutions to this public health crisis, this is one small step that seems like a no-brainer common-sense solution.

Call your members of Congress

Join me and call 1-866-580-8532 today. Ask your members of members to remove this rider and end the ban on gun violence research at the CDC.

When you call, you will hear a message from UCS with short talking points and then be directly connected to your senator’s office.

You can also learn more about this urgent issue on our website.

 

 

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