Catalyst Spring 2015


Powering Ahead in Minnesota

Minnesota is already a national clean energy leader, but UCS is putting its expertise into action to help the state go further. Back in 2007, UCS worked with a Democratic legislature and a Republican governor to pass a renewable energy standard requiring Minnesota’s utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Since then, the state has nearly tripled its renewable energy supply, and residents currently receive more than 15 percent of their electricity from resources such as solar and wind power.

Now, UCS is using new analysis to show Minnesota’s lawmakers the benefits of increasing their renewable energy standard from 25 percent by 2025 to 40 percent by 2030. The team met with state energy experts at the University of Minnesota in January, explaining that Minnesota could adopt the more aggressive standard at virtually no additional cost to consumers, and with clear economic benefits for communities throughout the state.

Ultimately, our analysis suggests that strengthening the state’s renewable energy standard to 40 percent would, by 2030, drive some $6.2 billion in new capital investments, yield more than $14 million in annual tax payments to local governments, and provide $9 million in annual lease payments to landowners. Furthermore, payments to operate and maintain renewable energy facilities in Minnesota would top $150 million annually by 2030. As Steve Frenkel, director of the UCS Midwest office, puts it, “It’s an idea we’re hoping that officials from both sides of the aisle will work together again to support.”

A Victory for Openness on Nuclear Power Safety

Dave Lochbaum, director of the UCS Nuclear Safety Project, was spurred into action last year when he learned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was withholding information about U.S. nuclear power plants from the public. Lochbaum not only wrote about the problem on our “All Things Nuclear” blog, but also filed Freedom of Information Act requests for all NRC documents related to fire protection and emergency planning at every operating U.S. nuclear plant over the past decade.

As a result of Lochbaum’s efforts, the NRC posted the fire-protection-related files—hundreds of them—in its ADAMS online library last October, making them publicly available. Since then, the NRC has also released a cache of emergency planning documents. Now, Lochbaum has formally asked the NRC’s inspector general to investigate the commission’s withholding of these documents, which appears to have violated several federal regulations. He has also written to the NRC chairman and commissioners to make sure the NRC will not withhold such documents in the future.

Fighting Childhood Obesity with School Lunches

Healthy school lunch

As of 2013, more U.S. children were overweight or obese than ever before—a staggering 30 percent. Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1970. UCS is fighting back with a report, Lessons from the Lunchroom: Childhood Obesity, School Lunch, and the Way to a Healthier Future, that investigates the impact free and reduced-price lunches have on children’s diets and health. Among the findings:

  • Children who struggle with obesity are 10 times more likely to be obese as adults. And the health consequences of obesity—including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers—are serious and costly.
  • Low-income and minority children are especially at risk: African-American and Hispanic children are 43 and 59 percent more likely than white children to be obese, respectively.
  • Diet plays a big role in the problem: on average, our children consume five times the amount of sugar recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and only a third of the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

Lessons from the Lunchroom found that free and reduced-price school lunches help low-income and minority children consume more healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables, which can, in turn, shape their future diet to be more healthy. And school lunches can be made healthier for all children by including more fruits and vegetables.

In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act improved nutritional standards for food served in schools, but more needs to be done to provide vulnerable children with nutritious, healthful meals. The act is up for reauthorization this year. Find out how you can urge Congress to safeguard our children’s health.

Groundbreaking Climate Goals in California

While UCS scientists and members are actively involved across the country in reducing global warming emissions and promoting the adoption of renewable energy, it is also vital to think ahead.

In California, already a national and world leader in renewable energy, UCS has been helping to shape state plans for post-2020 climate reduction strategies at a series of meetings with key legislators and Governor Jerry Brown’s senior climate and energy staff. Working in conjunction with other organizations in the state, UCS has encouraged California to set a goal of reducing emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

To move this vision into reality, California State Senator Fran Pavley, working with Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Léon, recently introduced legislation that would update the state’s AB 32 statute to require 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050. Governor Brown has also pledged that the state will ultimately generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy, and he has adopted the UCS goal of “Half the Oil” (cutting oil use in half by 2030).

 One Elite Group We’re Proud to Be In

UCS works hard to be inclusive and to reach out to diverse stakeholders on all the issues we address. But there’s one exclusive club we’re happy to be a member of: for the seventh consecutive year, Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent evaluator, has given UCS a four-star rating. That’s a distinction achieved by fewer than 2 percent of nonprofit organizations.

UCS received high marks for accountability and transparency and the fact that 85 percent of the donations we receive go directly to fund our program work. Thanks to all our members for your continued support—this recognition helps confirm that UCS is putting your donations to good use.

UCS Activists Pressure Fast Food Giants

Twitter screenshot

Over the past year, UCS has been working hard to push fast food conglomerates to commit to using only deforestation-free palm oil in their products. Palm oil is a fast food staple, but its production often destroys tropical forests, wipes out habitats for endangered species, and contributes to climate change. 

A social media campaign targeting McDonald’s on National Fast Food Day (November 16) reached nearly 5 million Twitter users, and more than 13,000 Twitter users took action: sharing the message with their followers, sending letters, and tweeting @McDonalds directly to ask the fast food giant to use deforestation-free palm oil.

As a result, McDonald’s representatives are now working with UCS on developing stronger palm oil policies. And on the day after National Fast Food Day, Yum! Brands—which operates more than 40,000 Taco Bells, KFCs, and Pizza Huts around the world—also agreed to meet with UCS to talk about sustainable, deforestation-free palm oil. If you missed out on our National Fast Food Day efforts, you can still tell the nine largest American fast food companies to commit to deforestation-free palm oil.


Alden Meyer (left), director of strategy and policy at UCS, talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (right) at the United Nations' climate change negotiating session in Geneva, Switzerland, in February 2015. Fabius will preside over the next global climate summit in Paris this December, where a new post-2020 climate agreement is expected to be adopted. Also shown is Dean Bialek, an experienced climate negotiator who serves on the Marshall Islands delegation. Photo by IISD/ENB