Catalyst Summer 2014


Big Rigs, Big Oil Savings

On February 18, UCS staff spent the morning surrounded by trucks. But they weren't cruising down the highway on their way to work; they were at a grocery distribution center in Maryland, where President Obama announced the kickoff of a new round of fuel efficiency and global warming emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles. The fuel-thirsty delivery vans, garbage trucks, school buses, and 18-wheelers that drive our economy comprise only 7 percent of the vehicles on U.S. highways, but consume 25 percent of the fuel used on those roads.

UCS worked hard to secure the first-ever heavy-duty vehicle efficiency standards in 2011. The standards cover trucks manufactured in model years 2014 through 2018 and are projected to save 390,000 barrels of oil per day by 2030. Our research shows that the next round of standards, combined with the current standards, could cut fuel consumption of new trucks 40 percent by 2025, compared with 2010 trucks. We will soon call on supporters like you to weigh in with key decision makers to ensure the standards help trucks go as far on a gallon of fuel as possible. To keep apprised of, and get involved in, our efforts to cut U.S. oil consumption in half within 20 years, see our Half the Oil campaign.

Aerodynamic improvements to truck trailers such as "boat tails" and side skirts (top) and undertray fairings (bottom, in blue) significantly redude fuel consumption by smoothing air flow around the vehicle.

Can Our Power Grid Handle Global Warming?

Our nation’s aging electricity system is vulnerable to extreme weather, as demonstrated by Hurricane Sandy, which caused power outages in 21 states resulting in losses of $27 billion to $52 billion. This spring, UCS examined how climate change—which is already increasing the frequency and severity of coastal flooding, wildfires, drought, and heat waves—puts our electricity at risk.

As described in our new report Power Failure, power plants and other infrastructure along the coast are vulnerable to storm surge and flooding from sea level rise. Transmission lines deliver less electricity during heat waves, or can be damaged by wildfires, and many power plants that depend on water for cooling have to shut down or dial back their operations when water is scarce or temperatures are too high. Diversifying the electricity mix today with renewable energy and energy efficiency can make the industry more resilient to climate change while lowering global warming pollution over the long term. And there are many technologies that can make the grid more flexible and reduce both fuel supply risks and water demands. Learn more.

Risky Nuclear Initiative Postponed

In a major positive step that UCS has long worked for, the Department of Energy recently proposed putting a nuclear fuel production plant, under construction in South Carolina, on hold. The plant would have used a costly process to convert plutonium into a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in commercial nuclear reactors—a strategy that carries significant security risks. UCS analysis shows that the MOX approach would make it easier for terrorists to steal plutonium during processing, transport, or storage at reactors.

The United States and Russia have each pledged to dispose of 34 tons of excess plutonium, mostly from their dismantled nuclear weapons. Instead of turning this plutonium into reactor fuel, it should be mixed with inert material for long-term disposal. UCS is pressing Congress to officially terminate the ill-advised MOX program and invest in safer, less expensive alternatives. Learn more.

Climate Science Gets Short Shrift on Prime Time

You might not turn to cable news for the latest on climate science, but 2 million Americans watch CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC every day, and their news coverage has a major influence on public understanding of global warming. A new UCS report, Science or Spin, examined the accuracy of their coverage and found that 8 percent of MSNBC’s climate science–related segments contained misleading information (in each case, it overstated climate risks). Thirty percent of CNN’s segments were inaccurate, usually due to misleading debates about whether or not climate change is human-induced. Fox News Channel—America’s most-watched cable news network—misrepresented the science 72 percent of the time, and was also the network most likely to attack scientists’ credibility.

UCS members are calling on the networks to do a better job differentiating between political opinions and scientific facts. You can send an email to them, and read the full results of our analysis.

UCS Western States Manager Adrienne Alvord (far left) and Director of Science and Policy Peter Frumhoff (second from left) discussed recent scientific findings about global warming with California Governor Jerry Brown (center), who used the informationain a speech covered by the New York Times. Joining them were climate scientists Dan Nepstad (second from right) and Michael Mastandrea (far right), contributors to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.


The People's Choice

Thank you to everyone who voted for UCS in CREDO Mobile’s annual donation campaign!

CREDO Mobile, a telecommunications and credit card company, donates 1 percent of its customers’ monthly charges to the nonprofits of their choice each year. From hundreds of possibilities, CREDO customers nominated UCS to be one of 40 groups eligible to receive this funding in 2013. Their votes for UCS throughout the year resulted in a gift of more than $97,000 to support our full range of research, policy, and advocacy work.

UCS has been nominated by CREDO several times in the past, and the funds generated by this program help us continue our essential work of confronting the problems our country and the world face. We are extremely grateful to CREDO and its customers for this show of support. To learn more about this program, visit

Photo: Courtesty of AT-Dynamics (top); Courtesty of SmartTruck Systems (middle); © Louise Bedsworth (bottom)