UCS Blog - The Equation (text only)

Giving Thanks to Climate Researchers of the Federal Agencies

Most of my science career I worked for the Department of Energy as a climate modeler and numerical expert at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Since my retirement in 2010 I have written a text on computational climate modeling and taught graduate level engineering classes on climate science at the University of Tennessee. I had the privilege of working with many talented and dedicated scientists and hate to see their work go unappreciated because climate has become such a politicized issue. In particular, the recently released Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) Special Science report is the culmination of many years, even decades of scientific focus that the Congress and the nation should study with an open mind and use to reset the climate discussion in the United States.

In the early 1990’s I was one of the principals organizing an “Inter-agency agreement’’ between the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Our researchers were called the CHAMMPions (a long acronym worth remembering as Computer Hardware, Advanced Mathematics, Model Physics, Inter-agency Organization for Numerical Simulation). Most of us were new to climate research with my own background in applied mathematics. The congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment of 1990 had not found any U.S. based modeling groups producing a high-quality climate model. They borrowed the Canadian and Hadley Center models to complete the first US NCA in 2000. A little bit of national pride and the opportunity to one up the rest of the international community by using U.S. developed high performance computers was a timely motivation for our group. The models we developed and continued to improve through the 1990’s ad 2000’s contributed to many national and international studies, in particular the CMIP (Climate Model Inter-comparison Project) study series sponsored by the DOE. We faithfully followed through on giving policy makers better tools for making informed decisions. Focusing on the science and not the politics supported our DOE sponsors through a variety of administrations.

As a DOE funded climate researcher for 20 years, I had a privileged view of the motivations behind DOE climate research. It all started with the first Secretary of Energy, James R. Schlesinger. He read a report from the Russian scientist, Mikhail Budyko, suggesting the link between earth’s climate and CO2 levels in the atmosphere, a physical theory of climatology. Knowing that the department could not ignore this connection, he asked his department heads what they were going to do about it. This was the start of DOE’s exemplary Carbon Dioxide Effects and Assessment Program in 1977.

The model that the inter-agency agreement developed is now one of the worlds most respected models. It is open source meaning that anyone can see what is in it and even new groups are welcome to contribute new physics or chemistry or ecology to the earth system modeling effort. The Climate Science Special Report, Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I is the first to provide regionally specific results. The global temperature is not the only climate parameter that can now be discussed with confidence. For example, one of the findings pertains to extreme events from heavy rainfall to heatwaves that can impact human safety, infrastructure and agriculture.

This kind of detail would not have been possible without the new capabilities that the U.S. modeling effort provided. Indeed, the report draws from the results of many modeling groups by measuring the skill of different models compared to the observational record.

The scientists I have worked with through the years in these inter-agency projects have performed a service to the nation with their dedicated focus on staying true to the science and providing usable information for policy makers. I for one am grateful for their effort and support continuing to invest in our federal scientists to help move forward on research for solutions to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. This Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the research capabilities and resources of the National Lab system and my colleagues who always put science first.

 

Dr. John. B. Drake was a researcher and group leader at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for 30 years and lead the climate modeling efforts at ORNL from 1990 to 2010.  Since his retirement from ORNL, he has taught graduate courses on climate modeling in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Tennessee and conducted research into the impacts of climate change. 

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.

Tesla, Electric Semi-Trucks and Equity

A truck believed to be Tesla's was spotted last month.

Today is the unveiling of Tesla’s electric semi-truck. There’s been a lot of interest in this truck since it was referenced last summer in Tesla’s master plan. As sales indicate, Tesla makes sought-after electric cars and the potential for the company to replicate this success in the heavy-duty sector is an exciting prospect for clean air and climate change.

While Tesla isn’t the first company to unveil an electric big rig, its likely the first one many people have heard about. Electric truck technology – spanning delivery trucks, garbage trucks, transit buses, school buses, and semi-trucks – exists and is ready to be deployed. The more people that know about these vehicles, the better for our climate and air quality.

As the unveiling nears, excitement about Tesla’s truck has been tempered by news about the company’s labor conditions and accusations of discrimination at the company. While zero-emission trucks are critically important, so are safe and equitable workplaces. Fair work conditions go hand-in-hand with the long-term success of any business.

My hope is that Tesla becomes recognized for the quality of its workplace as much as the quality of its vehicles. I personally believe this is possible.

Job agreements, like the one made between Jobs to Move America and the electric vehicle maker BYD, are one example of how companies can do good for their employees and communities. The Greenlining Institute found that with the right job-training and hiring efforts, truck and bus electrification can be a catalyst for economic opportunity in underserved communities and help overcome racial inequities in wealth and employment.

So why are heavy-duty electric vehicles important in the first place?

Trucks and buses make up a small fraction of vehicle population, but a large fraction of vehicle emissions. In California, for example, heavy-duty vehicles, make up 7 percent of vehicles, but 33 percent of NOx emissions from all sources, 20 percent of global warming emissions from the transportation sector, and emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants, see here.

Note, heavy-duty vehicles are defined here as having gross vehicle weight ratings greater than 8,500 lbs, e.g., a small moving truck.

Electric trucks, whether manufactured by Tesla or anyone else, are essential to solving climate change and reducing air pollution. On California’s grid today, a heavy-duty electric vehicle with middle-of-the-road efficiency has 70 percent lower life cycle global warming emissions than a comparable diesel and natural gas vehicle. Electric vehicles also don’t have any tailpipe emissions of NOx, particulate matter, or other pollutants. What this means for communities, especially those near freight corridors, is lower risks from the harmful consequences of dirty air.

What about the performance of electric trucks?

We’ve already seen how Toyota’s fuel cell electric truck stacks up against a diesel truck in terms of acceleration. High torque (i.e., ability to move from a standstill) of electric motors compared to combustion engines is something all electric vehicles excel at.

Given the class leading acceleration and battery range of Tesla’s cars, we can expect similar high performance from its electric truck. Other manufacturers are operating or have unveiled battery and fuel cell semi-trucks with ranges of 100 miles (BYD, Cummins) to 200 miles (Fuso, Toyota, US Hybrid). If reports are true, Tesla’s semi-truck could travel 200 to 300 miles on a single charge.

Zero-emission trucks offered or in development from BYD, Cummins, Toyota, and Daimler (Mitsubishi Fuso).

Despite the image of long-haul, “over-the-road” trucking, 100 to 200 miles of range can meet the needs of many heavy-duty trucks with local and regional operations. A range of 300 miles would be the longest by 80 miles and put to rest any hesitations about range for many local/regional (“day cab”) applications.

In California, there are 20,000 semi-trucks serving ports in the state. So-called “drayage” trucks deliver cargo to and from ports and warehouses in the region and are excellent candidates for electric trucks with today’s range. Conversion of these trucks alone to zero-emission vehicles would have significant air quality benefits for communities near ports and warehouses.

Cross-country trucking is a bigger challenge for electric trucks, but success in local operations is the first step to proving the functionality and economics of moving freight over longer distances with zero-emission vehicles. Tom Randall at Bloomberg shows scenarios under which Tesla’s truck could make economic sense for day cab or over-the-road applications.

In all, the momentum we’re seeing across the industry for zero-emission trucks is incredibly exciting. And just as we hold manufacturers and policy makers accountable for clean air, we must do the same for good jobs.

Reddit Clockwise: BYD, Cummins, Toyota, Daimler

4 Ways to Discuss Congressional Budget Riders at the Dinner Table this Thanksgiving

Holiday gatherings with the family can be awkward, especially if you aren’t prepared for the inevitable table talk. Feeling like you don’t have enough fodder to sustain a conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table this month?

Fret not! Every year around this time, my colleagues write about the budget process as the clock ticks for Congress to pass a clean budget – that is, a budget free from “poison pill” policy provisions and seemingly innocuous regulatory process riders that would hamper agencies from utilizing the best available science in rulemaking. These anti-science riders are extraneous special interest policies tacked onto a must-pass spending bill, a sort of parasitic mutualism, if you will.

This year, I have a gift for our readers ahead of the holidays: a brief list of harmful anti-science riders that would weaken science-based safeguards, potentially putting the health and safety of families at risk, repurposed as a guide to navigating uncomfortable silence and forced interactions with your family at Thanksgiving.

1. Start with an icebreaker

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen your least favorite Uncle Stewart, or your cousin Meg has brought a new date, you might consider starting with an icebreaker to relieve tension. Try this one:  A rider to “legislate” that the burning of trees for energy is positive for climate change has been proposed. This language encourages burning trees to generate electricity and ignores scientific evidence on impacts of carbon emissions. Who needs an icebreaker if the sea ice continues melting at record levels?

2. Share a story from your past

Take a stroll down memory lane and regale your guests with tales from the days of yore. Here’s a crowd favorite: In 1996, following the release of a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found keeping guns in the home increases the risk of homicides in the home, the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied former Congressman Jay Dickey to target the CDC’s funding. Congressman Dickey introduced the provision that he would later come to regret, sneaking it into a must-pass spending bill. Now, over 20 years later, the CDC is still unable to research gun violence as a public health issue, though current events (including the recent tragedies in Las Vegas,  Sutherland, Texas, and Rancho Tehama, California) and statistics show the need is there.

3. Talk about the weather

A tried and true small-talk starter, who can resist commiserating about the sweltering heat we endured this year, even as the temperatures have finally dropped? Now is the time to casually mention the proposal that would delay implementation of science-based standards, like the EPA’s most recent update to ground-level ozone, which is solely based on public health. If this passes, companies would be allowed to pollute at levels currently deemed unsafe, which would contribute to an increase in days with unhealthy ozone levels and increase risk of respiratory illnesses – risks that are exacerbated by an increase in heat waves caused by climate change (see: icebreaker).

4. Give thanks

There are many things to be thankful for, but often the most important ones go unnoticed. This year, remember to lift your glass in thanks – to clean water. Give a toast to the Clean Water Rule, which extends protections of waters under the Clean Water Act to include the streams and wetlands that feed drinking water sources for over 117 million people nationwide. Don’t forget to mention the rider that would permit the administration to ignore scientific and public input as Scott Pruitt’s EPA attempts to withdraw the Clean Water Rule. The rule was borne out of extensive public engagement and rigorous scientific analysis that the EPA administrator has chosen to set aside.

And as your mother stands poised to carve the golden turkey, remember to give thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1973 for offering protections to the fowl’s cousin, the greater sage grouse. A rider would allow policymakers to overrule biologists and wildlife managers when it comes to protecting threatened and endangered wildlife, such as the gray wolf and the oft-fought-over sage grouse.

While this list of “poison pill” riders is by no means exhaustive, there are some great dinner-table conversation starters that are sure to keep the family engaged in a riveting discussion they’ll be talking about for years to come. The anti-science riders above have all been introduced this year and negotiations over which ones to include in a final spending deal are happening right now (and remember, none of them should be included, because we want a clean budget free from “poison pill” riders).

If you didn’t manage to invite your representatives to dinner this Thanksgiving, be sure to take the time to tell them to pass a clean budget with no anti-science “poison pill” riders this holiday.

Seven States Take Big Next Step on Climate: Here’s the What, Why, and How

On Monday, November 13,  a bi-partisan group of seven states  (NY, MD, MA, CT,  RI, DE and VT), and the District of Columbia announced that they will seek public input on how to craft a regional solution to greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, now the largest source of CO2 emissions in the region. An announcement to conduct listening sessions may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Here’s why:

First, this region has been successful at reducing emissions from the electric sector, but transportation is lagging behind, as this graph shows:

Source: Energy Information Administration Data

All of these states have committed to economy-wide goals that will be impossible to reach without ambitious policies to reduce pollution from transportation. Monday’s statement demonstrates that policy leaders understand that transportation is the next major frontier in the fight against global warming in the Northeast.

Second, a public conversation is necessary. For several years, these states have talked internally through their departments of energy, environment, and transportation, about how to cut transportation emissions. When I served as a commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, I was part of those conversations, and they have yielded a number of promising ideas.

But policies that are truly worthy and lasting can’t be hatched in isolation from the public. Public engagement is needed to get the best ideas out on the table, test assumptions, gauge political support, and persuade the skeptical. The states’ announcement shows that the states are serious, and that they are going about this in the right way.

Third, once the states announce a goal (as they have done here), and encourage the public to provide input to it, they create the expectation that action will follow: doing nothing becomes a much harder option. Once these listening sessions begin region wide, as they already have in Massachusetts, state leaders will see that their constituents want clean, affordable transportation, and that they are prepared to invest in that. Thus, the conversation will change from “whether” to implement a regional solution to “how” to do so.

In this regard, it is intriguing that on the day of the announcement, the states also released a white paper on one particularly promising approach—a regional “cap and invest” program.    A cap and invest program would build upon this region’s success with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has helped to dramatically lower emissions from the electric sector while creating jobs and reducing consumer costs.

The program would set an overall cap on regional transportation emissions, require fuel distributors to purchase “allowances” for the right to sell polluting fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel, and re-invest the proceeds in improved mass transit, electric cars and buses, affordable housing located near transportation centers, and other proven ways to make clean transportation available to all. The white paper does an excellent job of identifying how such a scheme would work under our existing fuel distribution network. (For more information on this approach, read my op-ed and the blog by my colleague Dan Gatti.)

I encourage UCS members and the public to attend these listening sessions and publicly support a bold regional solution. And I applaud the leaders of these states for taking a critical next step. State leadership, particularly when it is bi-partisan, is the way that the United States can best stay on track to meet its climate goals and assure an anxious world that we are still in the fight, notwithstanding the Trump administration’s abdication of leadership.

Water in an Uncertain Future: Planning the New Normal

Northern California breathed a sigh of relief this weekend as rain and cooler temperatures finally arrived in force after the devastating fires in October. Now the question is, what kind of a winter will we have, and in particular, how much snow and rain will we or will we not get?

After a four-year drought from 2013 to 2016 and an unprecedented rainy winter in 2017, I’m hoping for a normal winter and not another year of water rationing, land subsidence, dead or dying forests, flooding, infrastructure failures, or transportation disruptions.

The Great Water Supply Shift

But with climate change upon us, nothing is normal anymore. (UCS has discussed the issue of the changing paradigm for water management with climate change here, here, and here.) One thing we have learned in the last few years of “new normal” conditions is that we can no longer rely on past precipitation patterns to predict reliable water supplies for our future.

One way in which California’s water management is changing is our increased reliance on groundwater, in part because groundwater has traditionally been the state’s fallback when surface water has been in short supply. But during the drought, decreased precipitation and temperatures were so extreme that several groundwater basins wells were pumped literally dry, and in some areas pumped so much water out of the ground that the land above the basins subsided (or sank) several feet, causing damage to roads, bridges, and canals on the surface.

In 2014 during the height of the drought, California lawmakers were forced to grapple with the fact that extreme drought was putting unsustainable pressures on state groundwater basins, and passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

SGMA requires active governance of groundwater basins in the state and says water managers must set “measurable objectives” in their plans to achieve “the sustainability goal for the basin.” One of the great challenges now is that water managers must create new groundwater basin plans at a time when they can no longer rely on yesterday’s climate to manage future water conditions. Instead, they must rely much more on scientific and quantitative tools, like climate models, to understand the kinds of conditions we could be facing over the next decades.

Report Shines a Light on Much-Needed Changes

Researchers and scientists at UCS and the Stanford Law and Policy Lab released a report today that says much more needs to be done to ensure adequate groundwater management, and, by extension, overall water management in an era of rapid climate change.

The report found nearly half of the 24 groundwater plans analyzed did not include the kind of quantitative analysis of climate change required by the state.

The researchers also found that state and federal water delivery projections that local agencies rely upon to make water management decisions are inconsistent and therefore confusing to use. They found that too often models were used inappropriately or with unreliable assumptions. For example, many agencies were not using a range of climate data but relying on “moderate” scenarios to plan—a bit like planning for a “moderate” earthquake rather than the maximum force that can result in damage to life and property.

The problem unstated in water circles is that many water managers are well into their careers and are unlikely to have had formal training in climate science or how climate is affecting precipitation and water supplies. Consultants who they rely on may not have training or incentives to do climate science well.

Many water managers are doing their best to cope with often imprecise state guidelines and conflicting information on climate science, especially when they may not have enough information to even know what kinds of questions they should be asking. Right now local water managers have no requirements or real regulatory guidance to understand or engage with climate science.

But that should not be an excuse to do nothing. A hallmark of our era is change that requires people to master new skills and information- for example, a car mechanic today needs to understand how to deal with complex electronics which wasn’t true in the past. Learning new information and skills should not be the barrier to good management.   The report also provides guidance for how and under what circumstances water managers should use particular climate models—a necessary and important start, but the challenge we face requires much more effort and resources to be met effectively.

Wanted: Support For Science

To ensure we have planned for the uncertainties of a changing climate, state water managers should be provided with, trained in, and encouraged to use the kinds of science and tools that will ensure a state with a world-class economy can cope with adequate water supplies under changing climate conditions. Anyone who lived through the last five years in California, when ultra-dry and ultra-wet conditions had widespread impacts on our lives, understands that living with extremes is not easy. But we have no choice. We must learn to cope more effectively with much more difficult conditions if we are to adapt successfully.

One Simple Trick to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Photo: Rennett Stowe/CC BY 2.0 (Flickr)

Want to save the planet? Are you, like me, a young professional struggling to reduce your carbon footprint? Then join me in taking the train to your next professional conference.

Take the train and reduce carbon pollution while looking at this. Photo credit: Anna Scott.

Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work, and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I’ll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks, and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn’t get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.

There’s no silver bullet to fixing climate change, but I think scientists and science enthusiasts can start with ourselves.

Every year, together with 25,000 of my closest climate and Earth science buddies, I attend the American Geophysical Union meeting. (You may have heard about it last year on NPR).

Prof. Lawrence Plug calculated that the 2003 meeting generated over 12,000 tons of CO2. Since then, the meeting has more than doubled in size, suggesting that the carbon footprint is upwards of 25,000 tons of CO2 from flights alone.

Prominent scientists like Katherine Hayhoe have suggested that we shift to teleconferencing instead. I think this is great for small meetings of folks who already know each other, or for prominent scientists like Dr. Hayhoe, who have an established publication record and name recognition.

For the little folks like myself though, meetings offer tremendous opportunities to connect with colleagues at other institutions, meet potential collaborators, and scout new job opportunities. The ‘serendipitous interaction’ that meetings allow is similar to the design principles that tech firms like Google enact when designing their public spaces. This fall alone, I’ve filled a shoebox with business cards from colleagues working on similar problems, potential collaborators working in similar fields, and, most lucratively, established scientists who have news of post-doctoral fellowships and job opportunities.

This last point may be especially critical for minority scientists, who may lack the social networks needed to get jobs.

In short, I’m not switching to virtual anytime soon, mostly because I can’t see it paying off (yet—Katherine Hayhoe et al, if you’re reading this, hire me!). But I still need to reduce my carbon footprint.

My solution? Replace one conference travel flight with a train ride. Repeat every year. Last year, I took Amtrak’s California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago back from AGU’s fall meeting and crossed the Rockies next to a geophysicist explaining plate tectonics and identifying rocks.

The year before, I returned from New Orleans and wrote my thesis proposal while rolling through bayous, swamps, and pine forests of the Southeast.

(Don’t think you have time for this? I spent the trip writing a paper, now published in PLOS-ONE. Amtrak seats all come with electrical outlets and seatback trays that function terrificly as desks.)

Is this a practical solution for everyody? Nope, and I won’t pretend that it is. Your time might be better spent with your kids, or volunteering in your community, or maybe you want to drive instead- I don’t know your life. Train infrastructure is lacking in the US, and delays are common as Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks and must give way to commercial freight. But I maintain my hope that increased demand for train travel can spur future investment, sending a market signal that young people want to travel this way.

This year, I’ll be taking the train to AGU’s fall meeting in New Orleans from Washington DC.

I estimate that I’ll be saving about one ton of CO2 equivalent (calculation included radiative forcing). If you’re headed that way, I invite you to join me, tell your friends, or even just reflect on the possibility that low carbon alternatives to flying exist. We can’t fix everything. But if we all do our little part, we can accomplish something. And something is always better than nothing.

Anna Scott is a PhD student in the Earth and Planetary Science Department at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from University of Chicago, a Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), and a Master of Arts and Sciences in Earth Science from Johns Hopkins University.  She has installed sensor networks and led field campaigns in Birmingham (Al.), Nairobi (Kenya), and Baltimore, Maryland, as part of her thesis research on quantifying urban temperature variability and heat waves. She has been known to dabble in projects on regional hydrology, the climate impacts of aerosols, and North African precipitation. She recently started Baltimore Open Air, an air quality monitoring project that has designed, built, and deployed 50 air quality monitors in the Greater Baltimore regions. Anna will be taking Amtrak’s Crescent line to the 2017 American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in December. She’ll be sharing the journey on social media using the hashtag #TrainToAGU.  

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.

 

In Australia, Too, Shareholders Demand Climate Transparency from Fossil Fuel Companies

This week, an Anglo-Australian company’s annual meeting could send a strong signal for companies’ climate risk disclosure around the world. BHP Billiton Limited, a multinational mining and petroleum conglomerate, will hold its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Melbourne, Australia. Shareholders are calling for more complete disclosure of the company’s direct and indirect lobbying spending on climate and energy—and for BHP to end its membership in industry groups whose positions are inconsistent with its own. Such disclosure would be a big deal.

We know companies often outsource their lobbying to industry groups, but often there is no transparency about which groups they support or how these funds are being spent, allowing companies to maintain a climate-friendly public image while blocking climate action behind the scenes. Although the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has not engaged directly with BHP on climate issues, we have made similar asks to other major fossil energy companies in our Climate Accountability Scorecard. Here are five things I’ll be watching as BHP meets with its shareholders this week.

1. Advances in climate attribution science

Cumulative emissions from 1854 to 2010 traced to historic fossil fuel production by the largest investor-owned and state-owned oil, gas, and coal producers, in percent of global industrial CO2 and methane emissions since 1751.

Decisions by major fossil energy companies to maintain their carbon-intensive business models despite the known harmful effects of their products have had quantifiable impacts on our climate in recent decades. As a leading producer of coal, oil, and natural gas (among other commodities), BHP could face questions from investors about advances in the field of climate attribution science.

According to research by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, BHP ranked #19 in industrial carbon pollution over the period 1854 – 2010.

A recent peer-reviewed study led by my UCS colleague Brenda Ekwurzel ranked BHP in the top 20 in terms of its contributions to the increase in global average temperature and sea level rise from 1980 to 2010—a time when fossil fuel companies were aware that their products were causing global warming.

Recent 1980–2010 emissions traced to top 20 investor-owned and majority state-owned industrial carbon producers, and their contributions to the rise in global mean surface temperature  (GMST).

BHP is among the 50 investor-owned carbon producers responsible for approximately 10% of the global average temperature increase and about 4% of sea level rise during that time period.

Today, BHP accepts climate science, stating on its website that “We accept the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of climate change science, which has found that warming of the climate is unequivocal, the human influence is clear and physical impacts are unavoidable.” The company welcomed the Paris Climate Agreement, and has conducted scenario analysis about the potential impacts on its portfolio of keeping the increase in global temperatures well below 2° Celsius.

However, like other major fossil energy companies, BHP presents a false choice between addressing climate change and advancing economic development and energy access, and assumes that no significant changes in its business strategies are needed in a carbon-constrained world.

2. Direct and indirect lobbying on climate change

Despite its stated positions on climate change, BHP maintains membership in trade associations and other industry groups that spread disinformation on climate science and/or seek to block climate action. (My colleague Genna Reed recently highlighted this industry tactic, among others, as part of The Disinformation Playbook).

The UK-based charity InfluenceMap gives BHP a score of D-minus in terms of its direct influence on climate policy and its relationships with trade associations like the World Coal Association and the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA)—the Australian counterpart of the National Mining Association in the US. A September 2017 InfluenceMap report, “Corporate Carbon Policy Footprint,” included BHP among the 50 companies that have the most influence on climate policy globally (among the world’s 250 largest listed industrial companies)—and found BHP to be one of 35 companies actively opposing climate policy.

In 2015, BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie spoke to the US Chamber of Commerce, an umbrella business association known for taking controversial positions on climate change. Few of the US Chamber’s member companies publicly agree with its positions—which include refusing as recently as 2015 to acknowledge that global warming is human-caused. With such strong connections to industry groups that obstruct climate action, BHP is likely to have plenty to disclose in terms of its indirect lobbying, if shareholders demand it.

3. A shareholder resolution

Some of BHP’s shareholders are concerned about inconsistencies between BHP’s stated positions on climate change and those taken by trade associations of which it is a member. On behalf of 120 BHP shareholders, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility submitted a resolution calling for the company to:

  • disclose payments for direct and indirect lobbying on climate and energy policy;
  • assess whether advocacy positions taken by industry groups on specific Australian climate and energy policies are consistent with the company’s stated positions and its economic interests;
  • terminate its membership in industry bodies “where a pattern of manifest inconsistency is demonstrated” over the past five years.

Despite the recommendation of BHP’s Board that shareholders vote against the resolution, representatives of CalPERS, the Church of England, and HSBC voiced support for the resolution at BHP’s London AGM last month. The outcome of the vote won’t be known until after this week’s AGM in Melbourne.

There is precedent for the action requested by BHP shareholders. In announcing its decision to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2015, Royal Dutch Shell said that the group’s stance on climate change “is clearly inconsistent with our own.”

Alignment between company positions and those of affiliated industry groups is increasingly considered a matter of good corporate governance. UCS’s Climate Accountability Scorecard called on major fossil energy companies to use their leverage to end the spread of climate disinformation by industry groups, publicly distance themselves from groups’ positions on climate science and policy with which they disagree, and publicly sever ties with groups if unable to influence their climate-denying positions. Shareholder resolutions requesting annual reporting on direct and indirect lobbying activities by Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil won the support of around one-quarter of each company’s shareholders earlier this year. With growing support for such resolutions, I imagine BHP is getting nervous.

4. A preemptive pledge

In an effort to defuse support for the shareholder resolution, BHP has stated that by the end of the year, it will publish “a list of the material differences between the positions we hold on climate and energy policy, and the advocacy positions on climate and energy policy taken by industry associations to which BHP belongs.”

BHP also apparently played a role in forcing out the head of the MCA, signaling the company’s unhappiness with the trade association’s promotion of coal and opposition to clean energy policies.

Public acknowledgment of inconsistencies between BHP’s positions and those taken by industry groups it supports would be a step in the right direction—but it would beg the question of why the company is using shareholder money to fund groups that lobby against its own agenda.

Moreover, BHP’s current disclosures regarding trade associations should raise eyebrows (if not red flags). In its climate change questionnaire, CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) asks companies to provide details about trade associations that are likely to take positions on climate change legislation—including whether the group’s position is consistent with the company’s position, and how the company attempts to influence the group’s position. In its CDP submission, BHP inexplicably reports that each of the climate positions of each of its trade associations—including MCA, the World Coal Association, and the American Petroleum Institute—is “consistent” with its own.

In light of BHP’s CDP report, proponents of the shareholder resolution must be wondering whether BHP’s promised list of material differences will be a blank webpage.

5. Shareholder rights and social license

It is not easy for shareholders in Australian companies to put forth resolutions for consideration at AGMs. The votes of BHP shareholders on the lobbying resolution will only be valid if they first approve a resolution amending the company’s constitution to allow non-binding shareholder resolutions. BHP’s Board also opposes this resolution.

BlackRock has indicated that it favors strengthening shareholder rights in Australia—under certain conditions. The support of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is enormously significant. This past May, BlackRock, along with Vanguard and Fidelity, helped deliver a decisive 62% majority of ExxonMobil shareholders in favor of a proposal calling for the company to report annually on how it will ensure that its business remains resilient in the face of climate change policies and technological advances designed to limit global temperature increase to well below 2°C.

The ExxonMobil shareholder vote demonstrates why the owners of Australian companies should have greater say on environmental, social, and governance issues. But not surprisingly, this exercise of shareholder power has sparked a backlash. The Financial CHOICE Act aims to make it much more difficult for shareholders in US companies to file resolutions, and the US Chamber of Commerce (remember them?) has issued a dangerous set of recommendations to “reform” the shareholder proposal process.

At last month’s London AGM, BHP Chair Ken MacKenzie pointed to social license to operate as one of five focus areas for the company: “Leadership with our social license can create a strategic advantage for BHP, and by extension, value for shareholders. Public acceptance and trust are an imperative for BHP. Without it, we have nothing.”

BHP has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on climate change and earn public trust by setting a high standard of transparency and ensuring that its direct and indirect lobbying are aligned with its acceptance of climate science and its stated support for the Paris Climate Agreement goals. I will be watching to see whether the company moves in this direction at its AGM this week—and continuing to engage with major fossil energy companies over steps they should take to be more transparent and consistent in their advocacy on climate issues.

Fig. 2 from Frumhoff, Heede, Oreskes (2015) based on data from Heede (2014)

Trump Nominee Kathleen Hartnett White Ignores Climate Change In Her Own Backyard

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Trump’s pick to chair the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), testified at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday and, like many Trump nominees to date, showed herself to be an unqualified, polluter-friendly ideologue who rejects mainstream climate science.

“Your positions are so far out of the mainstream, they are not just outliers, they are outrageous,” Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey exclaimed at one point in clear exasperation. “You have a fringe voice that denies science, economics, and reality.”

What Markey failed to note, however, is that White has personally experienced climate change-related extreme weather events in her home state of Texas, and scientists say they are only going to get worse.

Unqualified from the start

White, who Trump previously considered for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, is a cattle rancher and dog breeder who chaired the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — the Lone Star State’s version of the EPA — from 2001 to 2007 and was a member of the Environmental Flows Study Commission, the Texas Water Development Board, and the Texas Wildlife Association board.

Her qualifications for those positions? None.

White earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Humanities and Religion at Stanford, attended Princeton’s comparative religion doctoral program, and completed a year of law school at Texas Tech. It’s not quite the background one would expect for someone serving on environmentally related boards, let alone running the TCEQ. But in Texas, as in Florida and Wisconsin, ideology trumps science credentials, and White holds a politically correct pro-fossil fuels viewpoint.

That bias serves her well in her current job with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a libertarian think tank funded by what Texans for Public Justice characterized as a “Who’s Who of Texas polluters, giant utilities and big insurance companies.” Among TPPF’s benefactors are Chevron, Devon Energy, and ExxonMobil; Koch Industries and its family foundations; and Luminant, the largest electric utility in Texas. White, who joined TPPF in January 2008, runs the nonprofit’s energy and environment program and co-heads its Fueling Freedom Project, whose mission is to “push back against the EPA’s onerous regulatory agenda that threatens America’s economy, prosperity, and well-being.”

Climate paranoia strikes deep

Recent media coverage of White’s nomination for the CEQ post has shined a light on her lack of scientific understanding — and her paranoia about the rationale for addressing climate change. She falsely claims that climate science is “highly uncertain,” characterizes it as the “dark side of a kind of paganism, the secular elite’s religion,” and argues that the “climate crusade,” if unchecked, would essentially destroy democracy.

That’s right. White believes the United Nations and climate scientists are bent on establishing a “one-world state ruled by planetary managers.” Further, she routinely trumpets the benefits of carbon emissions, insisting that carbon dioxide “has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that could harm human health.” Carbon is a good thing, she says, because “the increased atmospheric concentration of man-made CO2 has enhanced plant growth and thus the world’s food supply.” Never mind that farmers and ranchers in her own state have been whipsawed in recent years by devastating heat waves, drought, and floods, all linked to climate change.

At her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, White cited reducing ground-level ozone in Houston and Galveston when she chaired the TCEQ as her greatest accomplishment. But according to a recent editorial in the Dallas Morning News, she pushed for weaker ozone standards while she was at the helm of the agency.

“Her record is abominable,” the October 17 editorial stated. “White consistently sided with business interests at the expense of public health as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She lobbied for lax ozone standards and, at a time when all but the most ardent fossil fuel apologists understood that coal isn’t the nation’s future, White signed a permit for a lignite-fired power plant, ignoring evidence that emissions from the lignite plant could thwart North Texas’ efforts to meet air quality standards.”

Predictably, White also disparages renewable energy. “In spite of the billions of dollars in subsidies, retail prices for renewables are still far higher than prices for fossil fuels,” she wrote in her 2014 tractFossil Fuels: The Moral Case. “At any cost, renewable energy from wind, solar, and biomass remains diffuse, unreliable, and parasitic….”

In fact, fossil fuels have received significantly more in federal tax breaks and subsidies for a much longer time than renewables; new wind power is now cheaper than coal, nuclear, and natural gas; and the Department of Energy projects that renewable technologies available today have the potential to meet 80 percent of US electricity demand by 2050.

Ignoring the evidence

Most of Trump’s nominees for other key science-based positions — notably EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — agree with White’s twisted take on climate science and renewables. What sets her apart, besides her penchant for calling advocates for combating climate change “pagans,” “Marxists” and “communists,” is her up-close-and-personal experience with climate change-related extreme weather events.

White and her husband, Beau Brite White, live in Bastrop County, an outlying Austin bedroom community, and own a vast cattle ranch of 118,567 acres — more than 185 square miles — in Presidio County, which sits on the state’s southwest border with Mexico.

Bastrop and Presidio counties are both struggling with drought due to low precipitation and high temperatures and, like the rest of Texas, suffered from an especially extreme drought in 2011. Part of a prolonged period of drought stretching from 2010 to 2015, the one in 2011 was the hottest and driest on record, and climate change likely played a significant role. A 2012 study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that the high temperatures that contribute to droughts such the one that struck Texas in 2011 are 20 times more probable now than they were 40 to 50 years ago due to human-caused climate change.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment report, released on November 3, agreed. “The absence of moisture during the 2011 Texas/Oklahoma drought and heat wave was found to be an event whose likelihood was enhanced by the La Niña state of the ocean,” the report, authored by scientists at 13 federal agencies, concluded, “but the human interference in the climate system still doubled the chances of reaching such high temperatures [emphasis added].”

The 2011 heat wave was particularly intense in Presidio County. According to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a meteorology professor at Texas A&M University, the county “achieved the triple-triple: at least 100 days reaching at least 100 degrees.”

Bastrop County, meanwhile, has become a tinderbox. Wildfires are happening there with greater frequency and intensity for a variety of reasons, including rising temperatures and worsening drought as well as population growth and development. In 2011, the county experienced the worst wildfire in Texas history, which destroyed more than 1,600 homes and caused $325 million in damage. Two years ago, in October 2015, the Hidden Pines Fire torched 7 square miles in the county and burned down 64 buildings.

White’s neighbors know better

White may refuse to acknowledge what is happening in her own back yard, but most of her neighbors realize that human-caused climate change is indeed a problem, according to polling data released last March by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. The survey, conducted in 2016 in every county nationwide, found that a majority of residents in Bastrop and Presidio counties — 67 percent and 78 percent respectively — understand that global warming is happening, while more than half of the respondents in both counties (52 percent in Bastrop and 62 percent in Presidio) know it is mainly caused by human activity.

Majorities in both counties also want something done about it. More than 70 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant and at least 65 percent in both counties want states to require utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewables.

Given their responses, White’s neighbors in Bastrop and Presidio counties make it clear that if they were polled on whether she should become the next chair of a little-known but powerful White House office that oversees federal environmental and energy policies, a majority would likely say no — and with good reason: Unlike White, for them, seeing is believing.

Scientists, Please Don’t Listen to Scott Pruitt

Everything about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s directive to change the agency’s science advisory boards was damaging to the way that science informs policy at our nation’s premier public health agency. Mr. Pruitt based his action on a set of false premises. The logic of the action is fundamentally flawed and turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head. The specific appointments made are of people with deep conflicts of interest who have long espoused views concerning threats to public health divergent with the weight of scientific evidence on many issues.  In fact, in a slip of the tongue at the start of the press conference Mr Pruitt said, “We are here to change the facts [FACs]…I mean the FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act committees).” He had it right the first time.

But in some sense the most disturbing statement Mr. Pruitt made was that scientists had to make a choice—either to pursue research grants or to engage in public service by serving on an advisory committee. This is a false choice of the first order. I hope scientists everywhere categorically reject the idea of a choice between doing research and serving as advisors to public agencies. In fact, I believe that it is scientists who have been and perhaps still are active researchers—on the cutting edge of knowledge—who should be providing scientific advice to government. Obtaining a government research grant never buys one’s loyalty to any particular policy position. That may be a convenient political talking point for Mr. Pruitt and his supporters like Cong. Smith (R-TX) or Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) who joined him for the announcement of his new directive, but it is still nonsense.

I believe that serving on a government advisory committee is public service and something that every scientist who has the opportunity and inclination should seriously consider. Many universities have public service as part of their core mission right alongside teaching and research. Serving on an advisory committee is one way that broader service to the public grows out of the day to day work of science. And it is exactly because one does outstanding research that your voice is so important as an independent source of scientific information in the process of making public policy.

So please don’t choose between public service and grant-funded research. I for one hope that more scientists will try to do both. Just because Scott Pruitt is hostile to scientists in public life doesn’t mean you should stay out—beyond serving in advisory committees, here are other ways you can put science to work for people. Don’t make the false choice Scott Pruitt called for.

 

Would Chemical Safety Measures Under Dourson Protect Military Families? Probably Not.

Dr. Michael Dourson, a toxicologist with a history of providing consultation to the chemical industry, could become the head of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Dourson has consistently defended the use of several chemicals found to pose major adverse health effects, manipulating his research in favor of industry interests. This could spell trouble for public health and safety, particularly in low-income communities and communities where residents are predominately people of color—which often includes military bases.

Over this past summer, ProPublica released a series of articles on the excessive toxic pollution problems at military bases. This immediately caught my attention: I work on chemical safety issues at UCS and spent my formative years living on army bases around the country. Although I had passing knowledge of the dangerous chemical agents at storage sites on a base in Aberdeen, Maryland (including nerve and blistering agents like mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and lewisite), I never once considered the impact exposure to toxics might pose to military personnel and their families, let alone the potential for exposure from burning of munitions, toxic releases, and proximity to Superfund sites. I naively assumed we were safe from harm, and didn’t give a second thought to the acrid odors wafting in the air. Who would knowingly put the people who fight for our country at risk in their own homes?

Can we trust Dourson to keep military families safe?

Judging from his track record of downplaying the health risks posed by several EPA-regulated compounds, including 1,4-dioxane, 1-bromoproane, trichloroethylene (TCE), and chlorpyrifos (which are currently under review), I don’t believe Dourson has the best interests of military families in mind. I worry that exposure to toxics on military bases may only worsen under his industry-partial leadership. I am not alone in my sentiments: retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and current U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has been critical of Dourson, calling his work on toxic chemicals “reckless”. She is acutely aware of the contamination and associated health effects at military bases like Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where drinking water is highly contaminated by Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Interestingly, Dourson researched PFOA—a chemical linked to prostate, kidney and testicular cancer—and came to the convenient conclusion that a weaker safety standard than what EPA recommends would be just fine.

That is why this potential appointment is personal. If past administrations have done a substandard job of handling chemical concerns, putting an industry shill in charge of limiting and preventing exposure to toxic chemicals may result in even less protection for the public.

“[The sentiment is that] what we don’t know can’t hurt us. We don’t know [what is going on], we’re on a mission! But when you get out, you’re on your own. How do you know what’s going on in your system after 20 years [of service]?” – my dad, former Army drill sergeant, Airborne ranger, and Air Assault instructor on the lack of information given military personnel and families. He hates taking photos.

Conflict of interest is an understatement

It’s obvious Pruitt and his team intend to dismantle regulatory protections in favor of industry based on their actions to date, as well as the nominations and appointments of chemical industry advocates, including Dr. Nancy Beck (former representative of the American Chemistry Council) and Michael Dourson.

Dourson’s past work includes giving the green light on several chemicals that have been shown to have serious adverse health effects. He has even weighed in on TCE, a toxic chemical that is prominent on military bases, to ask to weaken the safety standards. See a list of locations where chemicals he has “blessed” have been found at alarming levels here. Of the states, towns, counties, and cities listed, I have lived in four at various stages of my life. Nearly two decades later, and I’m just now uncovering this. I’ll let that sink in.

We must defend the defenders

Veterans Day is approaching, which means food, retail, and recreation discounts for military veterans and active-duty personnel.  This is a nice (if not cursory) gesture to show our gratitude, but it’s still superficial at best considering the challenges our veterans and military families  face. Our country’s leaders profess to have the utmost respect for our military, even tearing the nation into a frenzy over a peaceful protest by claiming that kneeling for the national anthem disrespects those who have fought for our freedom. Is this the brownfield we want to die on? Our military need more than lip service and deserve better than Dourson.

Charise Johnson

While We Aren’t Paying Attention, the Trump Administration is Making Products Less Safe

Have you ever checked to see if a product has been recalled because of a safety concern? As a parent of a young child, I am deeply familiar with this task. Babies are expensive and buying used products cuts costs, but it’s crucial to check if products have been recalled because baby products can often be recalled for safety concerns. When you have a little one, you want to protect them as best you can. But now, the Trump administration is putting my family and yours at risk.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission: Keeping our families safe

To our nation’s benefit, there’s the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The little-known federal agency plays a crucial role in making sure that the products we bring into our homes and trust with our families’ lives are safe. I depend on this every day when I put my child down for a nap, put him in a car seat, or give him a toy. Because of the CPSC, I trust that the crib won’t injure him, the car seat is built properly, and that his toys don’t have parts he can choke on.

You might only hear about these kinds of recalls when they’re high-profile like those scooters that everyone got for Christmas one year that had a tendency to catch fire or the exploding Android phone debacle. But the reason you don’t hear more about these issues is because the CPSC is doing its job. Scientists at the CPSC monitor product injuries and deaths, issue recalls and work with companies to help prevent unsafe products from ever reaching the market.

Dana Baiocco: A dangerous pick for CPSC commissioner

Now, the Trump Administration is threatening the CPSC’s ability to keep us safe. President Trump’s nominee for CPSC commissioner Dana Baiocco—who will be voted out of committee tomorrow on the hill—has spent her career defending companies whose products have harmed people (Check out this reporting from Sharon Lerner at the Intercept). When people fought for justice because their loved ones had mesothelioma from asbestos exposure because of the negligent company, Baiocco was making sure widows wouldn’t get their money. When Yamaha knowingly kept on the market unsafe ATVs that caused injuries and deaths of several people, including children, Baiocco worked to make sure the families didn’t get compensation. When Volkswagen was caught cheating on their emissions testing, Baiocco was there to defend them. And when the tobacco conglomerate R.J. Reynolds needed help defending harms caused by smoking, Baiocco was there too, defending the tobacco giant from cancer victims.

Clearly, Baiocco is the wrong choice for the CPSC. Nothing about this past gives me confidence that she’ll use science to make decisions in the public interest if she is appointed a CPSC commissioner.

Would Baiocco keep us safe from harmful flame retardants?

This year the CPSC is slated to work on organohalogen flame retardants. As my colleague Genna Reed reported last month, the CPSC made the science-based decision to phase out the harmful class of flame retardants from products, despite chemical industry opposition. This was a huge victory for science and for public health. I celebrated this move. No longer would I have to spend hours reading labels, pouring over scientific studies and buying costly foreign baby products to avoid exposing my child to these unsafe flame retardants.

Now the CPSC will be implementing that rule. Baiocco’s nomination will have a huge impact on how that implementation happens. Commissioners have a lot of power when it comes to implementation, timing, and overall agency priorities. Will harmful flame retardants be phased out under a proper timeline and sufficiently eliminated from products? If Baiocco becomes commissioner, this flame-retardant rule could be delayed or weakened in its implementation, and that won’t be a victory for anyone other than the companies that produce them.

The dangers of a politicized CPSC: The case of the lead lunch boxes

We don’t have to look too far to see the devastating consequences of a CPSC where science is compromised. In 2005, under the George W. Bush administration, the agency tested children’s lunchboxes and found unsafe levels of lead. In the case of one test on a Spiderman lunchbox, the agency found 16 times the federal standard for lead. Rather than immediately announce this finding and recall a potentially unsafe product, the CPSC changed their lead testing technique and employed an averaging scheme that scientists said underestimated the level of lead in the lunch boxes. With the backing of the vinyl industry, the CPSC continued to defend this testing method while allowing the product to stay on the market, potentially exposing children to lead poisoning.

The Senate Commerce Committee should vote no on Dana Baiocco for CPSC commissioner

As a mom, I worry a lot about the safety of my son. There is nothing more important to me than making sure he can grow up in a safe environment. I know I can’t keep him safe from every danger in the world, but I can make sure he’s surrounded by safe cribs, strollers, car seats, and toys. In order to do that though, I depend on a CPSC that uses science and works in the public interest.

And so I ask the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, do you trust that Baiocco will keep your family safe? Do you have confidence that she will make sure that my child and yours are protected from unsafe baby products? If a recall would be inconvenient to a company’s bottom line, would she still prioritize public safety over corporate profits? How will Americans know if products are safe to use in our homes? This isn’t just a policy preference. This could cost American lives, and Baiocco is not on our side. As a parent and a scientist, I urge you to vote no tomorrow for the safety of all Americans.

 

The Natural Ways to (Help) Solve the Climate Problem

This week marks the beginning of the annual U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn, chaired by the nation of Fiji, and this year it’s going to be different. At most of the negotiating sessions from the early 90s up to the Paris Agreement in 2015, the emphasis was, reasonably, on reaching a broad consensus on how to prevent dangerous climate change. But Paris achieved that, and all the world’s countries, with one exception—the United States—have accepted that agreement. So now the question is, how can we make it work? A real challenge—particularly since a key delegation to the talks is now led by the climate-denialist Trump administration.

A new scientific paper, published two weeks ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Bronson Griscom and colleagues, will be extremely helpful in this task. (The multi-authored effort was led by The Nature Conservancy.) The paper’s title is “Natural climate solutions,” and it shows that changes in how we use forests, agricultural lands and wetlands can be a sizeable part of the solution. (Simplifying a bit, 37% of the solution by 2030, according to their calculations).

Among the many natural approaches that they evaluated, reforestation turns out to be one with the most potential (although also the largest uncertainty.) Here’s the key graphic summarizing the estimates:

The potential of 20 “natural climate solutions” by the year 2030, measured in PgCO2 per year. A Pg (petagram) is the same as a gigaton, i.e. a billion tons of carbon dioxide; current global greenhouse gas emissions total a bit over 50 gigatons of CO2/year. Solutions which also have benefits for the air, water, soil and biodiversity are indicated by the small colored bars just to the left of the vertical axis. Source: Figure 1 of B. Griscom et al. 2017, “Natural climate solutions”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1710465114

 

The second-largest potential lies in reducing deforestation (or as the graph calls it, “Avoided Forest Conversion”), which also has the greatest low-cost potential and the benefit of lowering emissions immediately, and the third is improving natural forest management. So in terms of climate potential, forests are fundamental. But both agriculture (e.g. biochar, trees in croplands) and wetlands (e.g. protecting high-carbon peat swamps and mangrove forests, which also are important as buffers against storms and flooding) can make appreciable contributions, too. Furthermore, most of the potential solutions offer benefits not only to the climate, but also in terms of water, air, soil and biodiversity.

One notable feature of the paper is that it’s conservative, in the best sense of that word. The estimates take as a basic premise that natural approaches should only be implemented with safeguards for food security, biodiversity and people’s rights and livelihoods. Thus, for example, the calculations for reforestation assume that it will done using native species and only be implemented on grazing lands that were previously forested, so that afforestation of croplands and of natural grasslands is excluded. “Solutions” whose technical feasibility or social impact are questionable—e.g. Biological Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) or no-till crop production—are also excluded. And the authors go to great lengths (literally—there are over 90 pages of Supporting Information) to make sure that they’re not double-counting any of the potentials.

The paper does omit, at least in its explicit calculations, the kinds of solutions that involve changing how human societies consume rather than how we use nature to produce. In other words, the approaches it considers are supply-side ones, not demand-side ones such as changing our diets or reducing how much food we waste.

But the authors clearly realize the importance of consumption, and indeed they point out that the reforestation of grazing lands will have important impacts on livestock products, particularly beef. These effects could be of several kinds: shifting human diets away from beef, reducing herd sizes, improving the quality of cattle pastures or the nutritional value of their feed, and others. But what they have in common is that they would tend to reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide—both considerably more powerful greenhouse gases than CO2—from beef cattle and their manure. So there’d be an additional benefit in terms of emissions reduction, in addition to large amounts of carbon that will be sequestered by the new forests.

Just as important as the paper’s demonstration that natural solutions can be an important part of solving the climate problem, is their emphasis that they can only work if accompanied by massive cuts in fossil fuel emissions. Here’s their graphic showing the scenario they envisage, which includes cutting greenhouse gases from fossil fuels by 93% by 2050:

The scenario combining a dramatic reduction in fossil fuel emissions with Natural Climate Solution (NCS) mitigation to keep global temperature increases less than 2 degrees C. above the pre-industrial level. Source: Figure 2 of B. Griscom et al. 2017, “Natural climate solutions”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1710465114

 

Combined with the natural climate solutions, this would achieve the “negative emissions” needed to keep global warming below the 2 degrees C. recognized as dangerous for the future of humanity. And it would do it without using BECCS or other approaches whose feasibility and acceptability remains to be seen.

The critical but at the same time secondary role of natural solutions is the reason I wrote “(help)” in my title, despite my dislike of the post-modern fad for excessive parenthesization. With its conservative approach, the paper by Griscom et al. demonstrates that forests, agriculture and wetlands can’t solve the climate problem alone, but are nonetheless a critical part of an approach that can solve it. Thus, it’s a key step forward in how we think about, and what we do about, the most important environmental challenge of our time.

EPA Chief Pruitt’s Recent Halloween Trick Will Scare the Health Out of You

On Halloween, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt gave Americans the equivalent of an apple filled with razor blades.

Instead of picking the best experts for his agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to protect public health, Pruitt appointed candidates who oppose the very laws the EPA is supposed to enforce.

To make matters worse, Pruitt did not renew terms for a number of respected members and even dismissed several independent scientists before their terms were up. All told, Pruitt shrunk the SAB from 47 to 42 participants and more than doubled the number of its polluter-friendly members.

Undermining the SAB’s integrity might make sense to a former Oklahoma attorney general who openly promotes the interests of the fossil fuel industry. But doing so jeopardizes the independent science the agency needs to protect American health and safety.

Pruitt’s ill-advised appointments

The Science Advisory Board was established by Congress nearly 40 years ago as an impartial reality check. As my colleague Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), recently explained, the board “doesn’t make policy recommendations or decisions. It holds no veto power. It should exist as a check on anyone with an agenda, from environmentalists to oil companies. If the science is on your side, the board validates it. If you make unsupportable claims, the board calls you out.”

The SAB’s role as “arbiter of scientific fact” has proven to be invaluable. Over the last five years, for instance, the board provided the EPA recommendations for integrating science more effectively into its decisionmaking process; advised the agency on the best model to use when evaluating the health threats posed by perchlorate, a likely carcinogen; and determined that the EPA’s preliminary finding that the hydraulic fracturing drilling process has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts” on drinking water resources was not supported by the best available science. The final version of the fracking study, released in December 2016, correctly concluded that the technique has indeed contaminated some drinking water supplies across the country.

As reconstituted by Pruitt, however, the SAB is more likely to come down in favor of industrial polluters than public health.

Take the new board chairman, Michael Honeycutt, who directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s toxicology division. Over the last decade, Honeycutt rolled back the state’s protections for 45 toxic chemicals, including arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde. He also attacked EPA rules for ground-level ozone (smog), which aggravates lung diseases, and particulate matter (PM) (soot), which has been linked to lung cancer, cardiovascular damage, reproductive problems and premature death. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence linking fine soot particles to premature death, Honeycutt testified before Congress that “some studies even suggest PM makes you live longer.”

Many of Pruitt’s other appointees to three-year terms on the SAB share a similar disregard for established science.

  • Robert Phalen, who founded an air pollution laboratory at the University of California at Irvine, maintains that children need to breathe dirty air for their bodies to learn how to ward off irritants. “Modern air,” he said during a July 2012 interview, “is a little too clean for optimum health.” His October 2004 study, “The Particulate Air Pollution Controversy,” minimized the threat posed by fine soot particles. “Although reproducible and statistically significant, the relative risks associated with modern PM are very small and confounded by many factors.”
  • Kimberly White is senior director of chemical products at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the country’s largest chemical manufacturing trade association. Representing the interests of 155 corporate members, including BP, Dow, DuPont and ExxonMobil, the ACC has delayed, weakened and blocked science-based health, environmental and workplace protections at the state, national and even international levels.
  • Samuel Cohen, a professor at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, produces industry-friendly papers and testimony for chemical companies and trade groups, including the American Chemistry Council. He has downplayed the risks of monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA) for the arsenic-based weed killer’s manufacturers and testified on behalf of Dupont during a kidney cancer trial involving perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the main ingredient in Teflon.
  • Economist John D. Graham, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for five years during the George W. Bush administration, has a long history of emphasizing industry’s costs to reduce pollution, while discounting scientific evidence of exposure risks and ignoring the benefits of a cleaner environment.
  • Anne Smith, a senior vice president at NERA Consulting, is another economist with a pronounced corporate bias. Over the past few years, NERA has written reports for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and other industry trade groups arguing that the EPA underestimates the cost of its rules, including ones designed to lower mercury emissions and reduce ground-level ozone. In February 2015, Smith testified before Congress against the Clean Power Plan to curb coal-fired power plant carbon emissions.
  • Donald Van der Vaart, former secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, was the agency’s point man against federal air quality rules, including a cap on nitrogen oxide emissions, a major component of ground-level ozone. Last November, he sent a letter to President-elect Trump denouncing “federal overreach” and asking him to all but eliminate the EPA. “By returning responsibility for implementing these laws to the states,” Van der Vaart wrote, “your administration can avoid the agenda-driven federal regulatory process that has stifled our country’s competitiveness.”

Pruitt also enlisted Richard Smith and S. Stanley Young to serve on the board. The two statisticians co-authored an August 2017 study claiming there is “little evidence” of a connection between fine particulate pollution and premature death, ignoring established scientific understanding of air pollution and health risks. Three other appointees, meanwhile, directly represent the energy industry: Merlin Lindstrom is vice president of technology at Phillips 66, Robert Merritt was a geology manager at Total, and Larry Monroe was the chief environmental officer at Southern Company.

Independent scientists shut out

Perhaps most shocking, Pruitt upended four decades of precedent by banning scientists who have received EPA grants from serving on the SAB or any other agency advisory panel. Why? In Pruitt’s estimation, they have a conflict of interest. He followed through by kicking at least a half-dozen EPA-funded scientists off the SAB before their terms were over.

Pruitt’s attack on EPA grantees particularly rankled Center for Science and Democracy Director Andrew Rosenberg, a former regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The suggestion that federal research grants would conflict with advisory board work is frankly dishonest,” Rosenberg said. “Pruitt is turning the idea of ‘conflict of interest’ on its head by claiming that federal research grants should exclude a scientist from an EPA advisory board while industry funding shouldn’t. The truth is: EPA grants don’t come with strings. They’re meant to help promote the best independent science.

“Independent science is absolutely critical to making good policies that keep our air and water clean and our communities safe,” he added. “But this administration — particularly Administrator Pruitt — seems to have taken every opportunity to cut science out. Pruitt’s Halloween announcement is a blatant effort to stack the board and put narrow industry interests ahead of public health and safety. We will pursue all legal options available to us to prevent any scientist ban from remaining in place.”

USDA Secretary Sidelines Science, Sells Out Farmers, Workers, and Eaters

Photo: US Department of Agriculture/Flickr

Lest you think the Trump administration’s headlong rush toward rejecting science in favor of industry deregulation is mostly a problem in Scott Pruitt’s EPA, recent less-reported developments at the US Department of Agriculture demonstrate otherwise. Over the past few weeks, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has taken a variety of steps to sideline science and betray farmers, food chain workers, and eaters. Let’s review…

Secretary Sonny’s approach to science and policy takes shape (and it doesn’t look good)

Don’t be fooled by his folksy moniker and down-home anecdotes. Secretary Sonny is a big agribiz guy through and through, with a long history of ethics run-ins and rewarding his friends and business associates. And though he likes to talk about science-based decision-making and serving farmers and taxpayers as customers, so far it doesn’t appear that he’s walking the walk.

Since he took up the reins at the USDA last April, we’ve seen Secretary Sonny take steps to reorganize the department in ways that don’t bode well for rural development, conservation, nutrition, and other essential programs. His steadfast support of the troubling (and now-withdrawn) nomination of non-scientist Sam Clovis should be another big red flag.

For a big-picture look at the Trump administration’s USDA, read Moneyball author Michael Lewis’s in-depth (and disturbing) new Vanity Fair article on the topic. Meanwhile, I’ll pull out three recent moves that give us a clear indication of who stands to gain (and who is likely to lose) under Secretary Perdue’s watch.

Poultry workers: Unsafe at any speed?

First, Perdue’s Food Safety and Inspection Service quietly opened a comment period on a petition from the National Chicken Council (NCC) to speed up the process of processing chickens. Plants operated by the NCC’s member companies—which include giants Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms (no relation to the Secretary)—slaughter, cut up, and debone billions of chickens every year. The industry and at least one of its allies in Congress, looking to capitalize on the Trump administration’s zeal for deregulation, are lobbying Perdue’s USDA to let them process chickens even faster than the current speed of 140 birds per minute.

Civil Eats has a devastating account of the dangerous conditions already faced by workers in those plants. And under President Obama, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined that allowing plants to operate at higher speeds could result in more injuries among workers deboning chickens. NBC News reports:

“USDA wanted to raise the maximum line speed, but OSHA was very concerned that it would result in more workers being injured,” said David Michaels, Obama’s former head of OSHA. “We had support (from White House officials) who agreed that we didn’t want thousands of workers to have their arms destroyed by having to cut up chickens at 175 birds per minute.”

USDA maintained the speed at 140. But now Secretary Sonny seems poised to reverse that decision.

Citing research on the danger to workers and consumers, our allies at the Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Council submitted a public comment urging the USDA to “follow the law and the agency’s own findings” and reject the NCC’s petition. The comment period closes December 13.

Farewell, Farmer Fair Practices

And the Secretary also had another gift for Big Meat and Poultry last month. As Politico reported, he rolled back a pair of rules known collectively as the Farmer Fair Practices Rules:

Perdue withdrew an interim final rule that would have lowered the bar for producers of poultry and other livestock to sue the meatpacking or processing companies with which they have contracts. And USDA also will take no further action on a proposed rule to shield contract growers from unfair practices.

The rollback of these two rules administered by the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) means that contract farmers lose their newly-gained protection from exploitation by the corporate giants who control nearly every step of the meat and poultry production chain. The National Farmers Union, which represents family farmers across the country, called the move “deeply disappointing,” noting in a statement:

With this decision, USDA has given the green light to the few multinational meatpackers that dominate the market to discriminate against family farmers. As the administration has signaled its intent to side with the meat and poultry giants, NFU will pursue congressional action that addresses competition issues and protects family farmers and ranchers.

Do right and feed…well, maybe not everyone

In addition to turning his back on small farmers and underpaid food workers, Secretary Sonny also appears to be taking aim at low-income consumers. Since being confirmed as agriculture secretary in April 2017, Perdue has often repeated his “new motto” for the USDA:

I like to say that @USDA‘s new motto is “Do right and feed everyone.” Feel like today at our first #USDAFamilyDay we did just that. pic.twitter.com/CFl6X1rJck

— Sec. Sonny Perdue (@SecretarySonny) June 24, 2017

“Do right and feed everyone” is a fine motto, but now it seems the Secretary didn’t really mean everyone. He recently went on record suggesting that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would fall if individuals who are able to work are restricted from using it.

Perdue’s suggestion that the working poor should be barred from receiving nutrition benefits via SNAP is confounding. Data show that most SNAP recipients who can work do so—though usually for low or inconsistent pay that isn’t enough to feed their families. As Perdue’s home-state newspaper points out:

[I]n a state hostile to unions and with a minimum wage of only $5.15 an hour, also barring those who receive paychecks from receiving food stamps would have tremendous impact. An estimated 546,000 working Georgians live in households that receive the help, according to one study.

Even so, members of Congress have increasingly called for strengthening work requirements for SNAP participants. So, which is it—should SNAP beneficiaries work or not?

Mr. Secretary, we’re keeping our eye on you

Secretary Perdue has now been in office just over six months. Of his department’s 13 other leadership positions requiring Senate confirmation, only three are in place, and seven positions don’t even have a nominee yet. And the Secretary’s proposed departmental reorganization is still taking shape. But with early signs already troubling, we’ll be tracking further developments to paint a fuller picture of his intentions for science-based policy making for the nation’s food and farm system.

Stay tuned…

You Heard Right—The Trump Administration is Bailing Out Coal Plants

Photo: Seth Anderson/CC BY-NC-SA (Flickr)

No one likes paying more on their electric bills. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what might happen if the US Department of Energy gets its way with a recent request that bails out uneconomic coal plants. UCS opposes both this and something similar under review by the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

Who benefits? Owners

The Trump administration proposes to force the markets to provide guaranteed profits to coal-fired power plants and nuclear plants that are failing in the competitive wholesale electricity markets. Although the proposal is thin on details, it would amount to a bailout. This primarily benefits the owners of US coal mines by paying the uneconomic coal-burning power plants upwards of $5 billion per year to keep burning coal from those mines.

The power plant owners will also have larger profits in the short-run.

Power plant owners of course understand these coal plants are uneconomic—which is why they are looking for someone to pay them to keep them online. Before the Trump DOE came along, West Virginia went through this in 2013 with the Harrison power plant, which has cost consumers more than $164 million so far. Now Harrison’s owner, FirstEnergy, is attempting the same thing with its Pleasants coal plant.

Coal plants potentially benefiting from DOE proposal in green and red. Size based on Co2 emissions. Source: UCS analysis

The track record of coal mine owners in protecting the jobs and health of coal miners is abysmal; spending money to keep coal-burning plants open is not a great policy for the communities in coal country. While purporting to support coal communities, the administration simultaneously proposed to cut federal budgets that support those communities.

Who pays? Trapped consumers

Bending the markets to require profits be given to a few plant owners is an awful idea.When the Administration rejects the markets’ results to favor a few political supporters, every business owner and every consumer should consider themselves under attack. Electricity is not a luxury or an option for our society.

The government needs a very clear explanation if the captive customers paying unavoidable electric bills are suddenly required to pay billions more in costs each year.

While FERC and state regulators do have the authority to approve rule changes that increase payments to existing power plants, using good policy to reduce the cost of an expensive change would be the responsible choice. Unfortunately, the debates are tilted against consumers.

How much money?

Estimates for increased payments to generators run in a range from $2.4 billion to $10.6 billion annually for payments under the proposed rule—but that does not include the pollution impacts. UCS offered FERC an initial estimate of costs due to increased CO2 emissions by calculating the CO2 emissions from existing coal-burning generators that appear to be eligible for the payments proposed by the DOE. UCS found over 50 GW of existing coal capacity that would potentially be eligible for the proposed subsidy and included only those that were located within energy markets of PJM, MISO,NYISO, or ISO-NE, and that are known to be presently subject to market competition.

Using their 2016 CO2 emissions, the coal plants potentially eligible for payments under the DOE Proposal create annual costs of about $9 billion from emitted CO2. Impacts from other pollutants will make this higher.

What’s wrong with the DOE proposal?

The proposed rule submitted by the DOE is worse than vague about benefits to reliability or “resilience.” The DOE proposal has not defined the need for a set of services, not defined the services, and not defined the performance improvements sought or expected from generators eligible for proposed payments. The DOE has not supported its proposal with evidence, nor is it supported by the body of science-backed reports that have been published in recent months, many of which were funded and directed by the DOE. The National Academy of Sciences described how to improve in electric system resilience, and the DOE ignored that, too.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should not approve this proposed rule with this lack of evidence and detail regarding impacts on consumers and reliability.

Further, the DOE proposal fails to define resilience. This is sufficient reason for FERC to reject the proposal. Where “essential reliability services” have been defined, those capabilities can be provided by solar, wind, and storage. Demonstrations of solar generation capabilities to provide “essential reliability services” have recently been published by the California ISO, California Energy Commission, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and First Solar. Earlier documentation of wind generation capacity providing reliability and ancillary services has been made by NREL, and deployed commercially by Xcel operators in Colorado.

Is the DOE wrong in claiming reliability is being affected?

Yes. The retirement of power plants in the RTOs/ISOs has not diminished the reliability of the electric power system, and DOE has not supported its claim that retirements of uneconomic creates a reliability impact. Reliability is closely watched, with regular comprehensive reviews provided by NERC. The DOE proposal contradicts NERC and does so despite the fact that the NERC reliability assessment is cited in the DOE Staff report. NERC’s State of Reliability 2017 report states that the bulk power system is reliable today despite the recent plant retirements.

Resilience (and reliability) for the electric power system are desirable goals for the economy and the well-being of everyone—but without a definition and means to evaluate the contribution to serving such goals, a policy or expense cannot be justified. A better approach is to invest small, distributed resources for the grid, given that the vast majority of customer outages are due to disturbances on the transmission and distribution systems and not the shortage of fuel at large power plants.
UCS continues to actively engage in the FERC and regional debates over the DOE proposal. Stay tuned for updates.

Photo: Seth Anderson/CC BY-NC-SA (Flickr)

Kathleen Hartnett White Nomination Spells Trouble for the Magna Carta of Environmental Law: NEPA

NEPA is a landmark law that is crucial for identifying and considering environmental impacts on people, communities, and our shared environment. Photo: Bill Hughes, FracTracker Alliance

President Trump’s nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the nation’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) comes as no big surprise. She will be just the latest addition to a Trump team determined to slow, stem, stymie, and roll back environmental and public health protections with reckless disregard for the well-being of all Americans. 

Despite the up to $180 billion in devastation caused by a climate change fueled-hurricane in Houston, Hartnett White, the former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, does not believe that climate change is a danger to society. Ever a friend to the oil and gas industry, she sees efforts to address climate change as simply an attack on the fossil fuel industry.

I could go on (and on and on) to express my dismay and alarm about this impending appointment, and others have—see here, here, and here—but that’s not where I’m headed with this post.  Instead, I want to tell you why you should care about two acronyms most American’s have never heard of: CEQ and NEPA.

CEQ does what exactly?

The national Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is a small but important office within the Executive Office of the President. Established by a 1969 law (more on NEPA in a second), the council essentially functions as the president’s chief advisor on environmental quality within the White House.

CEQ was created to gather information on environmental quality; develop and recommend to the president national policies to foster and promote the improvement of environmental quality; set regulations that guide agency compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA; and be a source of information for the public.

In other words, CEQ is meant to play a critical role in protecting and promoting the quality of our environment, and the head of CEQ will be a primary source of advice and information for President Trump on the issue of environmental quality. 

NEPA: The Magna Carta of environmental law  

First, a bit of history. While environmental protection is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Richard Nixon, his administration ushered in some sweeping changes and had singular environmental achievements. NEPA is a case in point.

President Nixon signed the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law on January 1, 1970. This landmark law charges the federal government and its agencies with a responsibility to promote environmental protection, preservation, and restoration, and notes the responsibility each generation has to act as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.

NEPA has inspired the adoption of similar requirements in 16 US states, and over 130 nations around the world have enacted national environmental policies modeled after it. NEPA has been called the Magna Carta of Environmental Law, a reflection of just how important and valuable it is considered around the world.

NEPA is important for three main reasons

1) Identifying and considering impacts on people, communities, and our shared environment

NEPA established the requirement, with certain exemptions, that all federal agencies undertake an environmental impact statement (EIS) when they propose legislation and any other major federal action that significantly affects the quality of the human environment.

Such actions include but are not limited to specific projects (such as road construction), plans or proposals to manage and develop federal land (such as national parks), and federal permitting or funding of private sector projects (such as granting an easement for a power lines or a permit for use of a waterway).

This is critical in order to ensure that federal agencies identify and consider environmental impacts on the people, communities, places, and environmental resources (i.e., air, water, land) that will be affected by their proposed actions.

2) Explaining the environmental impacts of different alternatives 

In formulating an environmental impact statement, agencies must explain the purpose and need for action, and importantly the different reasonable alternatives for addressing the need so that decision makers are fully aware of the environmental consequences of their choices. The document must explain the environmental impacts of these alternatives, and possible measures to reduce adverse impacts.

The EIS always includes as part of its analysis a “no action” alternative, that is, what would happen if the action was not taken at all. (For more, check out the Wiki page on EIS; it’s good. For a more detailed look at NEPA, check out chapter 5 in this book.)

Per Executive Order #12898, agencies are also required to consider issues of environmental justice in the NEPA process–including environmental effects on human health, and economic and social effects, specifically within communities of color and low-income communities, which are disproportionately impacted by environmental risks and harms.

3) Allowing the public to have a say in decisions (a.k.a. democracy)

NEPA also advances two essential features of our democracy—transparency and public participation. Federal projects and actions can have profound effects on our surrounding environments and thus on our daily lives—from the air we breathe and the food and water we consume to the roads we travel and the places we love.

We, the people who may be impacted by a project for years to come, should have the right to know what the agencies are planning; what alternatives they are considering; and have an opportunity to comment, question, and suggest different alternatives. Indeed, in 2007 the CEQ itself published A Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA: Having Your Voice Heard.  (I suggest you you read it now; it could easily disappear.)

So, for example, the public—not just business interests—would get to weigh in when the federal Department of Transportation proposes to build or extend the interstate highway system that might cut through communities or nearby farmlands. Or when the US Forest Services plans logging activity on federal lands, which could potentially impact tourism and local water quality. Or when the Army Corps of Engineers develops plans for flood control or river transportation on the nation’s waterways. Or when an oil and gas company needs a permit for a new drilling operation. Or for a pipeline. NEPA provides a critical opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed actions and alternatives.

Flexibility and recourse

While the process provides opportunity for public engagement and is meant to ensure that decision-makers consider different alternatives and their environmental impacts, agencies have flexibility to make the final decision they deem most appropriate.

Specifically, agencies are not bound to select the least burdensome alternative. However, agency decisions are appealable and open to judicial review. And the EIS, along with the record of public comment, provides information that can be used to fight an agency decision in court. Without getting into the legal weeds, the courts generally tend to review decisions if 1) the proper process was followed, 2) there was appropriate public participation, and 3) the alternatives considered and decisions made were not “arbitrary and capricious.”

In other words, the agency must have a logical basis for its decisions following public input. As a standard, that’s not bad!

Hartnett White: Here’s the rub

The White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) oversees the implementation of NEPA. It issues and interprets NEPA rules and regulations and reviews and approves NEPA procedures in agencies. So it matters who is running the show. Is it someone who will put public health and environmental protection first, or someone who will sideline science in favor of industry? Is it someone who truly believes in the public process and the opportunity for different perspectives and interests to be at the table, or only the most deep-pocketed players?  Is it someone who will staff the office with people who understand and support the statutory missions of the agencies or people from regulated industries who have been vocal critics of NEPA, regulatory protections, and the agencies they will oversee?

Do we want the chief environmental quality advisor in the White House to be someone who views carbon dioxide as a harmless and beneficial gas rather than a proven climate pollutant? Who sees “global warming” as a “kind of paganism” for “secular elites.”  Who has tight and profitable connections with the fossil fuel industry? If yes, then Kathleen Hartnett White is the person for the job.  President Trump certainly thinks so.

With federal promises to address our aging infrastructure in the offing, you may find yourself with a newfound interest in this somewhat arcane, often lengthy, and sometimes contentious process. As well as exceedingly grateful for a functioning NEPA and a CEQ that puts public interest first.

My worry is that powerful private interests will persuade their friends in the administration to “streamline” (read: WEAKEN) NEPA protections and processes. And a willing CEQ with Hartnett White at the helm will be instrumental in the process.

If you’re worried too, call on your senator (you can reach him or her via the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121) to oppose the confirmation of Kathleen Hartnett White!

¿Qué es la energía eólica marina? Una visita a la primera granja de los EE.UU.

Viajar a Block Island para ver de cerca la primera granja eólica marina de los Estados Unidos me hizo recordar lo mucho que disfrutaba las salidas de campo organizadas por el colegio y luego la universidad. Desde las visitas de primaria a granjas con conejos, vacas y caballos, a las salidas mientras estudiaba ingeniería a procesos de automatización e industrias de ensamblaje de productos, siempre me fascinó presenciar en vivo lo que aprendía en las aulas de clase. Ahora que me especializo en temas de energía limpia, la visita a esta granja eólica marina no fue la excepción.

 ¿En qué consiste la energía eólica marina?

La energía eólica consiste en la generación de energía por medio del uso de turbinas que aprovechan la velocidad del viento. En el caso de la energía eólica marina, las turbinas de viento están ubicadas en plataformas instaladas en el mar.

Medidas de las turbinas eólicas marinas de Block Island. Crédito: Deepwater Wind, LLC

La granja eólica marina de Block Island cuenta con 5 turbinas de proporciones impresionantes. Las torres miden 360 pies (110m), equivalente a la altura de 20 jirafas ubicadas una sobre la otra. Cada aspa mide 240 pies (73m), casi igual al ancho de un avión Airbus A380 de un extremo a otro de sus alas.

En cuanto a las plataformas, para este proyecto se usaron jackets  los cuales están situados entre 75 y 90 pies (23 a 27m) bajo el nivel del mar; en el buceo recreativo la profundidad máxima autorizada oscila entre 20 y 40m. Las plataformas están aseguradas a su vez con pilotes que penetran 200 pies (60m) el fondo del mar.

La energía generada por esta granja eólica marina de 30 megavatios (MW) es suficiente para cubrir las necesidades de 17.000 hogares. Esta energía es transmitida a través de un cable submarino que conecta la granja con Block Island, y la isla a su vez se conecta con la red eléctrica continental del estado de Rhode Island a través de un segundo cable submarino.

¿Cuáles son los beneficios de esta tecnología?

Granja eólica marina de Block Island: energía limpia hecha realidad. Foto: P. García.

Son múltiples los beneficios del uso de la energía eólica marina.

Ambientales. Debido a su naturaleza, no produce emisiones contaminantes al utilizar el viento y no plantas diésel u otros combustibles fósiles para generar energía. En el caso de la granja eólica marina de Block Island, anualmente evitará la emisión de 40.000 toneladas de dióxido de carbono, equivalente a sacar de circulación 7.500 carros. Esta transición a energías renovables es de singular importancia para contrarrestar los peores efectos del cambio climático.

Económicos. El diseño, implementación y mantenimiento de proyectos eólicos marinos requiere de mano de obra, lo que se traduce en empleos, desarrollo industrial y por ende económico. Tan solo en Block Island para un proyecto de 30MW se han creado más de 300 empleos. Esto es un claro abrebocas de lo que viene para la región si tenemos presente las metas de desarrollo de energía eólica marina establecidas por estados como Massachusetts (1.600MW) y Nueva York (2.400MW).

Tecnológicos: La costa este de los Estados Unidos presenta un especial potencial para la eólica marina debido a la velocidad del viento y la poca profundidad del mar. Sumado a esto, la energía eólica marina provee un mayor rendimiento y eficacia en comparación con la eólica terrestre debido al tamaño de las turbinas, y a que hay menos obstáculos para el viento al no haber construcciones o alteraciones geográficas. Adicionalmente, la energía eólica marina es usualmente ubicada cerca a los lugares donde la energía es consumida, evitando así el uso de extensos sistemas de transmisión para poder transportar la energía a su destino final.

Sociales y ecológicos. La debida planeación, integración de la comunidad científica y consulta previa con comunidades y pescadores de la zona, garantizan la sana coexistencia de proyectos tecnológicos como la granja eólica marina de Block Island y el desarrollo de actividades productivas, la continuidad de la vida diaria de las comunidades y la conservación de especies marinas y de aves de la zona.

Presenciando como se construye el futuro. Foto: P. García.

Mi deseo para la energía eólica marina: ¡Buen viento y buena mar!

Sin duda, la energía es esencial para nuestra vida diaria. Visitar esta granja eólica marina ha sido una valiosa oportunidad para dimensionar las proporciones de esta tecnología, comprobar su increíble desempeño, y reafirmar que proyectos sostenibles como este son no solo viables, sino esenciales para nuestro desarrollo económico, social y ambiental. Dadas las innumerables oportunidades para su implementación en la costa este de los Estados Unidos y muchísimos más lugares del mundo, espero que la energía eólica marina tenga cada vez más: ¡Buen viento y buena mar!

Paula García Deepwater Wind, LLC Paula Garcia P. Garcia

Fast and Getting Faster: The Verdict on Sea Level Rise from the Latest National Climate Assessment

Sea level rose more rapidly during the 20th century than during any of the previous 27 centuries, and humans bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for that rise. That’s just one of the sobering takeaways from the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), released today, but leaked to the New York Times in August. Billed as Volume 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA), the CSSR captures the state of sea level rise science and its implications for the coasts of our country.

Here are six noteworthy findings from the sea level rise section of the CSSR:

1. People are responsible for 80% of the sea level rise since 1970

The first key finding in the CSSR’s sea level rise chapter contains a bold statement that is backed up in the chapter’s main text: “Human-caused climate change has made a substantial contribution to [global mean sea level rise] since 1900…contributing to a rate of rise that is greater than during any preceding century in at least 2,800 years…”

This finding is based on eight independent studies published in the last three years that aim to quantify the human contribution to sea level rise since 1900. All of them conclude that the human contribution is “substantial,” and at least two find that, in the absence of human activity, sea level rise over the course of the 20th century would have been about 50 to 60% of what has actually been observed.

The human contribution to sea level rise is even more striking if we look at just the last 50 years: People are responsible for about 80% of the global mean sea level rise since 1970.

These findings broadly reflect the rapid evolution of attribution science–or assessing whether–or what proportion of–observed climate and weather events can be attributed to human activity. A recent study published by Brenda Ekwurzel and others takes this sea level rise attribution one step further by showing that about 30% of global sea level rise since the Industrial Revolution was caused by the burning of products from 90 major fossil fuel companies.

Given the tendency of climate-confused politicians such as Scott Pruitt to say things like “Science tells us that the climate is changing and human activity in some manner impacts that change…the human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be,” this high-confidence finding would ideally help to lift some of their “confusion.”

2. Sea level rise is accelerating, and a growing proportion of that rise is due to loss of ice on land

Estimates of how much sea level rose over the course of the 20th century have been changing, which has implications for our understanding of how the pace of sea level rise has been changing. The average rate that has long been quoted for the 20th century, from a 2011 study by Church and White, is 0.06 inches/year. But a few more recent studies, including one by Hay et al. cited in the CSSR, have found that rate to be slightly lower–0.05 inches per year. That amounts to 4-5 inches of sea level rise in the 89 years between 1901 and 1990.

Since 1990, less than 30 years ago, global sea level has risen by about 3 inches. The rate of sea level rise is now 0.13 inches per year–more than double the 20th century average–with both tide gauges and satellite data confirming the changing pace.Over the course of the 20th century, the pace of sea level rise varied. This recent acceleration is different for at least a few reasons. First, it’s coming on the heels of a century of already above-average sea level rise that we know is attributable to human activity. Second, projections show that this acceleration has only just begun. And third, loss of land-based ice is contributing more to sea level rise than it did during the 20th century.

The six scenarios used by the CSSR to project future sea level rise show that the rapid pace of sea level rise we are experiencing today could pale in comparison to what lies ahead. With an intermediate scenario, the pace of sea level rise would increase to 0.2 inches per year in 2020 and to 0.6 inches per year in 2090. With a high sea level rise scenario, those rates increase to 0.4 inches per year in 2020 and 1.7 inches per year in 2090.

The six sea level rise scenarios developed by NOAA as input to the Climate Science Special Report for the National Climate Assessment.

Changes in sea level arise largely from two sources: loss of land-based ice and warming of the ocean, which causes seawater to expand and take up more space. Over the course of the 20th century, warming oceans contributed the bulk of the sea level rise signal. But since 2005, about two-thirds of observed sea level rise has come from loss of ice. When we look into the future, there is still a considerable degree of uncertainty about how much ice loss will contribute to sea level rise.

3. Antarctic ice loss is still a wildcard, but its game-changing potential contribution is becoming clearer

Quantifying the response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to future warming has been a consistently large source of uncertainty in global sea level rise projections for over 15 years (here’s the third IPCC report from 2001, for example). In the past couple of years, however, major developments in the ability to model the response of the Antarctic ice sheets to warming have begun to hone our understanding of Antarctica’s potential contribution to sea level rise this century.

And it’s scary.

The CSSR is unequivocal that Antarctica (and Greenland) are losing ice, and there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the pace of that loss is accelerating. The rate of ice loss is about 100 gigatons per year–an amount that this Washington Post article can help us to wrap our heads around.

The Thwaites Glacier, part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, appears to be in “an irreversible state of decline,” according to a 2014 study by Eric Rignot and others.

Models suggest that ice loss from Antarctica could contribute more than three feet to global sea level rise this century on top of rise from other sources. This growing body of knowledge is reflected in what the CSSR calls an “extreme” scenario in which sea level rises by an average of 8.5 feet by 2100. The previous NCA report’s highest sea level rise scenario projected about 6.6 ft by 2100.

There’s a concerted effort in the CSSR to incorporate the latest science about Antarctic ice loss into sea level rise projections. But there’s still enough uncertainty that Antarctica’s potential contribution couldn’t be fully accounted for when assigning probabilities to potential sea level rise futures.

4. Sea level rise scenarios tied to emissions scenarios and assigned likelihoods

NOAA has developed a new set of sea level rise projections that are designed for this round of the National Climate Assessment. New SLR scenarios designed for understanding risk given a range of different carbon emissions scenarios. Each sea level rise projection is assigned a probability based on emissions pathways, as in “with a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5), the ‘very likely range’ of SLR is about 1.7-4.3 ft by 2100”.

Here’s where the big Antarctic wildcard plays in, though: The probabilities do not factor in the possibility of major ice loss from Antarctica.

5. Communities will be affected by more frequent, more severe flooding before they are permanently underwater

Since 2014, there’s been an increased focus on what happens between now and the point at which coastal regions are permanently underwater due to sea level rise. This in-between time will be characterized by an increase in the number and extent of high tide flooding events, and a number of studies in the past three years have painted a picture of what that looks like quantitatively and qualitatively.

 

King tide flooding in Charleston, SC, on October 7, 2017. The local National Weather Service office has issued 38 Coastal Flood Advisories for the region already this year.

The CSSR puts this issue of tidal flooding up front in key message #4: “As sea levels have risen, the number of tidal floods each year that cause minor impacts…have increased 5- to 10-fold since the 1960s…Tidal flooding will continue increasing in depth, frequency, and extent this century.”

While the tidal flooding findings described here won’t be news to regular readers of this blog or to residents of flood-prone places like Charleston and Annapolis, their elevation to key finding status will hopefully highlight the insidious threat of frequent flooding that hundreds of communities in the U.S. could face in the coming decades.

6. Buckle up for centuries of sea level rise

When we look at projections for how much sea level will rise through the end of this century, it’s tempting to assume that 2100 is so far off that of course we will have cracked the climate change nut by then and be back to a climate that feels right. A climate in which people will know what a month of below average temperatures feels like. A climate in which coastal towns see a couple of high tide floods per year instead of dozens.

But sea level takes time to respond to the emissions we are pumping into the atmosphere, and even if temperatures stabilize, sea level is projected to continue rising for centuries if not millennia. Emissions through 2100 could lock us into a sea level rise of 12 feet by 2200 and up to 33 ft in the next 2,000 years.

Again, major ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet is the big wildcard because once that ice is lost, it cannot easily be regained. The CSSR states: “Once changes are realized, they will be effectively irreversible for many millennia, even if humans artificially accelerate the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere (DeConto and Pollard 2016).”

This new report shows us that we are on the comfortable end of the steep sea level rise curve. As this report gains attention in the coming days there will be those who will wave their hands and insist “nothing to see here.” Clearly, there is far more to see here than we want. Thank you to the dozens of authors and researchers who are enabling us to see it coming.

 

Sweet et al. 2017 NASA Simran Paintlia for mycoast.org

On Climate Change, a Major Public Health Conference Stands in Stark Contrast to the Trump Administration

Our nation’s oldest, largest, and most highly respected public health organization—The American Public Health Association—begins its 2017 conference on November 4. Photo: Courtesy of APHA

The Trump administration may be hell-bent on sidelining any effort to address global climate change—or even have an intelligent conversation about it—but the public health community is having none of it. 

Public health experts know full well that climate change is an existential threat to people’s health, safety, and security. So much so that our nation’s oldest, largest, and most highly respected public health organization—The American Public Health Association—declared 2017 as the Year of Climate Change and Health.

“We’re committed to making sure the nation knows about the effects of climate change on health. If anyone doesn’t think this is a severe problem, they are fooling themselves.”  APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, in The Washington Post

The organization is also ready to host its annual meeting. Attended by thousands of public health professionals from around the country, the theme of this year’s meeting is Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health.

I’m struck by the enormous disconnect between what is happening in our nation’s capital and what’s happening in the community of public health experts. There is quite a gulf on so many issues—from gun violence, reproductive health, exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals, and worker safety to minimum wage and health disparities.

But let’s cut to the chase and talk about climate change.

Sidelining climate change: A round-up of recent Trump administration actions

We all know where President Trump stands on climate change; we knew it well before he took office. His suggestion that global warming was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese is maybe his most memorable tweet on the issue, but he’s followed up this nonsense with real action—perhaps best personified in the successful nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. And then fulfilling his promise to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Followed by fossil-friendly Pruitt announcing his intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

And they are just getting started, using every tool in the toolbox.

Here is a quick round-up of the administration’s efforts to seriously sideline climate change – just over the past couple of weeks.

Keeping climate change front and center: A look at the APHA public health conference

Public health scientists and practitioners have been raising the alarm about climate change and its impacts on human health for years (see for example, here, here, here, here, and here). And just this week, the Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, released a report on climate change and health, noting that its  impacts are “far worse than previously understood.”

This year’s APHA annual meeting stands in stark contrast to the control, alt, delete strategy we see coming out of Washington. I’ve done a quick scan of the upcoming APHA program and its keynote addresses, panel presentations, scientific sessions, posters, group gatherings, and continuing education offerings that are in store for the thousands of public health professionals and advocates who will be attending next week’s meeting.

Here’s just a snapshot of the breadth and depth of the discussions that will be happening.

  • Opening Plenary Session: Climate Changes Health
  • President’s Session: Climate Change and Health: The 21st Century Challenge
  • Global Faith and Health Perspectives on Climate Change: An Interfaith Celebration
  • Climate Change and its Impact on African Americans (Poster)
  • Climate Change and Vulnerable Populations
  • Nature and Human Health: Vectors and Climate Change
  • Climate Change and the Medical Care System
  • Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness
  • Climate Change Denial: Who Will Suffer Most and First?
  • Climate Change and the Possible Effects on Arbovirus Transmission in the Americas
  • Reproductive Health and Carbon Footprints
  • Climate Change and Health in Epidemiological Research
  • Climate Change, Energy, and Heat: Implications for Human Health
  • Climate-friendly Farming: A Public Health Imperative
  • Climate Change and Children’s Health
  • Ethics, Environmental Justice, and Climate Change
  • Climate and Geospatial Determinants of Health
  • Best Practices of Policy Initiatives at the Local and Community Level to Address Climate Change

On Sunday, I’m heading to Atlanta to attend the annual meeting. It’s something I look forward to every year. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from across the country; hear about new findings, issues, and initiatives from public health researchers and practitioners; share and test ideas; peruse new books, products, and educational resources in the popular exhibit hall (while picking up a couple of free tchotchkies and an occasional apple or piece of candy); and then come home with renewed energy and new friends.

APHA is a vibrant, active, and diverse community and, for me, the meeting helps recharge my battery. It’s like an annual booster shot. And this year’s booster is all about climate change.

Trust and listen to the public health community, not the Trump administration

There is real leadership here—and it’s not coming out of Washington.

The public health community, with far less capacity and significantly fewer resources than our federal government, is WAAAY ahead when it comes to understanding, exploring, planning, managing, advising, educating, and otherwise addressing climate change.

We can count on this community (my community) to put public health, public safeguards, and public protections first—including those focused on climate change. These experts come from every state in the nation and can bring voices and expertise to bear at every level of government.

We will come out of Atlanta next week more prepared and committed than ever to speak up, speak out, and hold our leaders accountable for failing to address this existential threat.

APHA members and public health supporters participate in the March for Science on April 22. Photo: David Fouse/APHA

Pruitt Seeks to Reopen Truck Pollution Loophole per Cronies’ Request

That shiny new truck could have a 15-year-old engine that doesn’t meet today’s standards, and you may 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)

In a particularly scary development, the EPA just proposed to repeal part of the recent regulations on heavy-duty vehicles. The proposal would affect “glider vehicles” and would reopen a loophole so big you could, well, drive a truck through it…leaving a ridiculously large cloud of pollution in its wake.

What the heck is a glider?

Glider vehicles are trucks that are built from a refurbished engine and a brand-new chassis (called a “glider kit”).  They have been around for a long time and can serve a useful purpose—heavy-duty diesel engines are built to last hundreds of thousands of miles and are a significant part of the upfront cost of a vehicle, so if you crash your truck in the first couple years, it would be worth it to make sure you got the full lifetime use out of that powertrain.

The thing is, no one’s going joyriding in a semi—truck drivers are doing it for a living and generally try to take immaculate care of their vehicle, so one wouldn’t think these types of accidents are very frequent.  In fact, up until recently, only a few hundred such gliders were sold in a given year.

Glider sales on the rise…

That all changed in the past couple years, when members of the glider cottage industry decided to exploit a loophole.  In 2007 and 2010, EPA put into effect new pollution controls for heavy-duty vehicles which cut soot and smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 90 percent.  However, because there is a menagerie of truck types and uses, those regulations are based on emissions tests of the engine, not the vehicle.

Fitzgerald, the leading assembler of glider vehicles, decided to make a few bucks by building a brand around assembling new glider vehicles with old, polluting engines that predate the EPA’s regulations and then selling the trucks as new vehicles.  They and other glider assemblers even put out ads trying to increase the availability of these more polluting engines!

Glider vehicle assemblers typically offer the trucks at a significant discount compared to other new vehicles—it’s amazing at how much cheaper you can make a truck when you don’t care about how much pollution it’s spewing (about 25 percent cheaper, in fact).  This is one of the major complaints from the rest of the industry—it isn’t a level playing field.  In fact, most of the industry is opposed to glider vehicles.

…leads to a LOT of excess pollution

Of course, the public shouldn’t be too crazy about these trucks, either.  Thanks to that “pollution discount” for not meeting modern emissions standards, glider vehicle sales have gone through the roof—just a few hundred glider vehicles were sold a decade ago, but industry sales are now up to about 10,000 vehicles…and perhaps still on the rise.

So just how bad is it?  Virtually all of Fitzgerald’s vehicles are sold with a pre-2004 diesel engine.  Those engines emit upwards of 10 to 20 times the amount of soot and smog forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) of a brand-new engine.  By 2025, EPA’s own analysis shows that these gliders would be emitting about 300,000 tons of NOx and 8,000 tons of soot each year!

Putting that into perspective:

  • That amount of NOx is about 10 times that of the VW Dieselgate scandal (to date)…all in a single year!
  • These levels of NOx emissions would effectively cancel out the reductions in NOx made in passing EPA’s Tier 3 Emissions and Fuel Standards.
  • Small in numbers but not impact—despite representing just 5 percent of the long-haul trucks on the road, by 2025 these glider vehicles would emit about 1/3 of all soot and NOx pollution from long-haul trucks.
  • These excess emissions would have serious health impacts—if this loophole isn’t closed by 2025, these glider vehicles would result in up to 12,800 deaths that could have been prevented, not to mention countless additional emergency room visits and other health issues.

It’s also worth noting that the engines being put into these new trucks are engines that EPA had already previously found in non-compliance with the Clean Air Act because of the use of defeat devices.  That’s right–not only do these engines not meet today’s emissions standards, but they didn’t even meet the emissions standards in place when they were originally manufactured!

In the most recent heavy-duty vehicle standards, the EPA wisely closed this loophole by requiring all new vehicles, including gliders, to have an engine that meets the same model-year standard as the vehicle itself.  Recognizing the previous legitimate use of gliders, they even allowed a small-volume exemption for up to 300 vehicles, curbing the rampant exploitation of the loophole while still maintaining a volume that could keep companies like Fitzgerald in business.

Pruitt’s cronyism threatens public health

The EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is threatening to throw that all away by repealing the sections of the rule that closed the glider loophole.  And he is doing so at the behest of Fitzgerald and Representative Diane Black (R-TN), who’s currently a candidate for the governor of Tennessee.

Rep. Black has tried unsuccessfully to restrict EPA from regulating glider kits via legislative action, willing to sacrifice public health because a few hundred jobs at Fitzgerald are in her district.

Fitzgerald’s owners met directly with Scott Pruitt in May.  They also worked with Rep. Black and a couple smaller glider assembler to submit a petition with some seriously shoddy “evidence” collected by a third party, Tennessee Tech University.  The thing is, TTU’s facilities are…in the Fitzgerald Industrial Park, paid for by Fitzgerald.  Coincidentally I’m sure, these tests were taken and signed off by the head of the center paid for in part by Fitzgerald even before the public-private partnership between TTU and Fitzgerald was announced.

Lo and behold, after receiving the petition from Fitzgerald, Scott Pruitt announced that he would be re-examining the glider provisions of the heavy-duty regulations.

It isn’t clear who exactly benefits from all this backroom dealing (besides the small number of glider assemblers like Fitzgerald)—but it certainly isn’t the American public.

Pending internal review by the executive branch, this proposed repeal should be made available for public comment, so stay tuned as we continue to push back on Scott Pruitt’s ridiculous dismantling of public health protections—I’m sure UCS will be calling on you for your support.

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