Catalyst Fall 2016

Game-Changing Victories in Three States on Clean Energy

Offshore wind

Massachusetts’ new energy plan, signed into law this summer, includes a major commitment to offshore wind power.
Photo: Creative Commons/European Wind Energy Association (Flickr)

Big clean-energy victories in three key states this summer have added up to a major boon for global climate change and are likely to transform the US energy sector.

In late August, with a major push from UCS, the California legislature ratcheted up its leadership on clean energy by requiring a reduction in global warming emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—one of the most ambitious targets adopted by any state or nation.

The Massachusetts legislature, at the very end of its legislative session in July, passed an ambitious energy bill ensuring that, by 2030, nearly 40 percent of the state’s electricity will come from renewable sources—including a major commitment to offshore wind power that will help jump-start a promising new source of clean energy. UCS played a key role by providing an economic analysis showing renewables’ benefits relative to an overreliance on natural gas in the state.

Equally noteworthy, the day after the Massachusetts bill passed, the New York Public Service Commission approved Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to obtain 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Each of these commitments to swift and dramatic increases in renewable energy is noteworthy in its own right. Taken together, however, they represent a game changer on global warming. These three states are home to some 65 million people—roughly 20 percent of the US population. And each state is an economic powerhouse: the combined gross domestic product of California, Massachusetts, and New York—roughly $4.25 trillion last year—would rank fourth among the world’s nations (just after Japan’s).

In other words, a populous and economically powerful group of US states just committed to major investments in renewable energy that will dramatically reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels within the next 14 years. To meet their ambitious goals, these states will need to take action in the energy marketplace almost immediately.

These states’ commitments guarantee a significant increase in green energy jobs, a substantial reduction in emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, and a resulting health benefit for these states’ residents. The new commitments are also likely to drive down the already competitive price of wind and solar power, save money for energy consumers, and generally boost these states’ economies. And they show that momentum is building toward a major clean energy transition—in red states and blue. Iowa, for instance, already generates approximately one-third of its energy from wind power, while Texas now has 10,000 wind turbines powering more than 4 million homes.

Much more remains to be done. But, with the latest game-changing moves in California, Massachusetts, and New York, other states would be wise to take note. Politics aside, we do seem to be approaching a tipping point where a state’s inaction on its energy future risks burdening its residents with an overreliance on dirty, unhealthful, and likely more expensive energy from fossil fuels.


Baby Food: Too Much Sugar, Not Enough Oversight

Mother reading food label

Photo: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images

The recent decision by the US Food and Drug Administration to label added sugars on all packaged foods was a huge win for public health—and for the UCS staff and activists who pushed for the rule, based on solid scientific evidence confirming the danger of consuming too much sugar. However, according to the new UCS report Hooked for Life, policies on added sugar need to go much further to protect the health of America’s most vulnerable consumers: children.

The report finds that the food we give to our babies and young children is often overloaded with added sugar. Among other problems, this threatens to set kids up for a lifetime of sugar overconsumption and its consequences, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

What’s more, nutritional guidelines and policies for children under five do not reflect all that we know about the health effects of sugar on kids; many foods marketed and intended for children feature nutrition labels geared to adult diets. With the food industry now spending $1.8 billion each year on ads directed at children that often hawk sugary snacks and drinks, more oversight is badly needed.

To find out what you can do to help support stronger, more effective policies to protect children’s health, and to read Hooked for Life.


UCS Ranked as a Top Climate Change “Think Tank”

The International Center for Climate Governance (ICCG) recently released its fourth annual Climate Think Tank Ranking—an effort to determine “the highest impact think tank working on climate change economics and policy.”

The ICCG assessed 240 non-university-affiliated organizations worldwide, measuring them on their activities, publications, and ability to disseminate information. UCS is proud to have earned a second-place ranking in this data-heavy assessment—ahead of many well-known environmental groups. The Woods Hole Research Center, based in Falmouth, Massachusetts, came in first for the third year in a row.


Big Rigs, Fewer Emissions

Big rig

Photo: IM_photo/Shutterstock

If you’ve spent any time driving on American highways, you know that the United States runs on trucks. Mail trucks, tanker trucks, 18-wheelers, delivery vans: these large vehicles make up just 7 percent of vehicles on the road, but consume 25 percent of the fuel sold in the United States—producing millions of tons of heat-trapping emissions in the process.

In a big win for the climate this summer, the Obama administration announced new fuel economy and global warming emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks—the strongest ever enacted for this class of vehicle. This is the second phase of a program that will nearly double the fuel economy of trucks from the current average of just six miles per gallon.

Knowing that essentially all materials, goods, and products spend time on trucks en route to consumers—and that transportation is the largest source of US global warming emissions—UCS has long been working on strategies to reduce carbon emissions from this sector. Building on our successful campaign to push the Obama administration to nearly double the fuel efficiency of cars and small trucks, UCS engineers and analysts turned their attention to the necessity of enacting similar standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

In a report released last year, UCS demonstrated the cost and emissions savings of applying existing technologies to today’s trucks. Experts and members made sure that decision makers saw the math and felt pressure from their constituents. This hard work paid off: the revised standards will ensure that new trucks use 37 percent less fuel than they did in 2010, reducing oil use by 2 billion barrels over the life of these vehicles.

Better fuel efficiency also translates into money saved for companies and consumers. Large vehicle operators will save an estimated $170 billion per year on fuel and help drive down the cost of shipped goods. At least as important is the reduced impact of these vehicles on global warming: the new standards will eliminate 1.1 billion tons of carbon emissions over the life of the vehicles—or, by 2040, an amount equal to the output of 45 coal-fired power plants.


UCS Headquarters Upgrades Its Rooftop Solar Array

Solar array at UCS

A worker completes installation of the new solar array atop the UCS headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Photos: © Audrey Eyring/UCS

At UCS, we like to “walk the walk” on clean energy, which is why our headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has boasted a rooftop solar array for nearly two decades. And after a major upgrade this month, our new state-of-the-art photovoltaic array will generate more than six times the electricity of its predecessor.

The new panels themselves are almost twice as efficient as the old ones, and the array—across two different sections of the small amount of roof space available—has a total capacity of 13.7 kilowatts, roughly enough to meet the needs of two typical US households. For the nerdiest among our members and supporters, the new system even includes a Web-based monitoring system allowing visitors to track the amount of energy produced, and the rooftop’s weather. Stay tuned to our blog for more information about how to access it.


Thanks to You, HEAL Has Met Its Match


This summer, UCS challenged our members to raise a million dollars to help fix our broken food system by funding the new HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Labor) Food Alliance, of which UCS is a founding member. A generous anonymous donor offered to match all donations so that HEAL could launch a cohesive movement with the political clout needed to effect lasting change.

If you were one of the more than 5,000 UCS members who accepted the challenge, thank you so much! You helped us earn the matching funds in record time, raising a total of $2 million in support of sustainable agriculture, equitable food production and distribution, and healthier food. We’re delighted that HEAL has your support as its members work to transform the way we produce and consume food in this country.

The hard work is now under way and we look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress. Stay tuned.