Catalyst Winter 2019

In Big Win, States Commit to Work Together for Clean Transportation

Photo: Eleanor Fort/UCS
By 2030, a regional clean transportation system could save consumers up to $125 billion in reduced oil consumption and cut global warming emissions by nearly 40 percent below 1990 levels.

Late in 2018, leaders from nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and Washington, DC, jointly announced the launch of an ambitious bipartisan effort to create a regional “cap-and-invest” transportation policy that will place a regional cap on global warming emissions from transportation while generating funds to invest in safe, sustainable, equitable transportation for all.

Not only does transportation in the United States tend to be outdated, inefficient, and inequitable, the sector is also the largest source of global warming emissions. By taking advantage of ample opportunities for modernization and emissions reductions, these states are setting a precedent for similar initiatives across the country.

This milestone marks the culmination of years of work by Union of Concerned Scientists staff. Our engineers and analysts showed decisionmakers how their states could cut transportation emissions. Our campaign staff facilitated meetings and traveled throughout the region building support and soliciting input from the communities most affected by air pollution from cars and trucks. And as the states hammer out the details of their joint policy, UCS is staying involved, helping to keep science and equity at the center of the policy as it evolves.

In recent years, UCS has urged supporters like you to stay hopeful despite the absence of federal leadership on climate change, as we shifted our strategy to focus on regional and state progress. You trusted that we could make it happen and stayed with us—and we’re delighted to share this big win with you. Click here for more information about the initiative.

New UCS Report Spotlights Anti-Science Leadership at the Department of the Interior

Internal documents show that, at the behest of mining and drilling companies, former DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke persuaded President Trump to shrink Bears Ears National Monument, shown here, by 85 percent—the largest reduction of public land in US history.
Photo: Bob Wick/BLM

Ever since Ryan Zinke was appointed to lead the Department of the Interior in March 2017, UCS paid close attention to the many ways he led his agency away from its mission to protect public lands and waters, and toward a pattern of ignoring, sidelining, and attacking science at the expense of public health and safety.

Our report Science under Siege at the Department of the Interior (December 2018) compiles a record of the most egregious anti-science policies and practices carried out under Secretary Zinke prior to his resignation, including giveaways of public lands to his friends in the fossil fuel industry, reassignments of politically inconvenient senior staff, and his systemic failure to act on or even acknowledge climate change. This report not only created a compelling case for Zinke’s dismissal, but will be of use to UCS and our allies in the public lands community as we seek to hold a new administrator accountable and repair the damages of Zinke’s tenure.

The report has been blogged about by Scientific American, tweeted about by Leonardo DiCaprio, featured in the Los Angeles Times, and was even covered in the Missoula Current in Zinke’s home state of Montana. Read the report, which includes recommendations for policymakers and voters on how to keep the DOI accountable.

UCS Pursues Clean Energy Opportunities in Illinois

Photo: Archigeek/Creative Commons (Flickr)

UCS worked behind the scenes a few years ago to support a standard requiring Illinois’ electric utilities to obtain 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. The standard is on track to reduce carbon emissions 22 percent by 2030.

That was good progress, but according to new UCS analysis, the state could do better—a lot better. How? By ending subsidies for six unprofitable and polluting coal plants in central and southern Illinois, and creating more incentives for renewable energy development.

The UCS report found that replacing these plants with a combination of energy efficiency and solar and wind power would slash carbon emissions as much as 48 percent. It would also save ratepayers money and prevent nearly 1,000 premature deaths, 600 heart attacks, and 400 serious asthma attacks by significantly reducing soot, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions.

“If Illinois wants to be a climate leader, protect its residents’ health, and clean up its air,” says Jessica Collingsworth, report coauthor and lead UCS Midwest energy policy analyst, “it must close more coal plants and close them faster.”

Book Revisits the Founding of UCS

Muriel Cooper

This spring, MIT Press is publishing a 50th-anniversary edition of the book March 4: Scientists, Students, and Society, containing many of the speeches made by participants in the 1969 teach-in and protest that led to the founding of UCS. Fifty years later, the book offers a fascinating glimpse at a key political moment; the new edition includes a foreword by UCS cofounder Kurt Gottfried. Through March 31, UCS members can get a 30 percent discount off the print or electronic version of this book by ordering online with the promo code UCS30.

Announcing the 2018 UCS Science Defenders

UCS is proud to announce the 2018 Science Defenders—five individuals and groups who have taken a courageous stand in a hostile political climate.

Protecting the Public by Standing up for Science
Federal scientists, including AFGE Local 704:
Many government scientists are resisting Trump administration policies that could harm the public, and the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 has been particularly outspoken.

“What we ask of our members,” says President Michael Mikulka, “is to empower themselves through the union to take a stand. It takes more than one person to do the right thing.”

Engaging Scientists to Rebuild
Ciencia Puerto Rico:
After Hurricane Maria, this science education organization launched the Puerto Rico Science and Policy Action Network (PR-SPAN), made up of science and health professionals on the island and abroad who want rebuilding efforts to be based on science.

“We’re contributing to the reconstruction of the island by giving scientists a seat at the table,” says PR-SPAN cocreator Zulmarie Perez Horta.

Working to Bring Science Back into Policymaking
David Daggett
: When President Trump appointed a climate change denier to lead the EPA, Daggett was appalled—then motivated. He co-organized the Olympia, Washington, March for Science. He testified at the state capitol. He ran for the Washington House of Representatives and nearly won.

“I’d never thought about running for office,” he says. “I was an engineer. But it’s important for us to counter the bias against science.”

Standing up for Undocumented STEM Students
Evelyn Valdez-Ward
: Valdez-Ward never doubted she would attend college, until she learned a painful truth: her family was undocumented. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) had allowed Valdez-Ward to begin her academic career. When President Trump issued an executive order revoking DACA, Valdez-Ward published an op-ed in Science supporting DACA recipients.

“I chose to stand up and fight for my rights to science,” she says.

Leading Scientists to Advocate for Change
Maryam Zaringhalam
: The group 500 Women Scientists was founded to support science and scientists after President Trump’s election. Co-led by Zaringhalam, it now has about 300 chapters worldwide that hold events, work on local science policy issues, mentor young people, and more.

“What we’re advocating for is changing the idea of what a scientist looks like, and how she can use her expertise,” Zaringhalam says.

Los Angeles was one of the first California cities to commit to 100 percent electric buses in its fleet.
Photo: Zums Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

UCS scientists and analysts have produced many reports on the benefits of electrifying large vehicles such as buses, and we’ve cheered recent decisions by Los Angeles and San Francisco to electrify their transit bus fleets. Now, in an even bigger win, the entire state of California is following suit. The California Air Resources Board voted at the end of last year to require that all new transit buses produce zero heat-trapping emissions beginning in 2029. This is a victory for the climate, for communities affected by air pollution, and for the state’s job market: four of the five major US bus manufacturers are located in California.

UCS Senior Vehicles Analyst Jimmy O’Dea, who coauthored a California-specific report from 2016 that details how a switch to electric buses can create jobs and improve public health, says this switch sets an important precedent both in California and beyond. “If we can successfully electrify transit buses, there is nothing stopping us from making school buses, delivery trucks, and garbage trucks zero-emissions, too,” he says. “And hopefully, California’s transit choices can inspire other states to follow suit as well.”

New UCS Video Addresses Science and Racial Equity

At UCS, we believe science can and should be applied to reduce racial and economic inequity. As we expand our work on these issues, we often get questions from our supporters about what race has to do with science. Three UCS staff, including our president, Ken Kimmell, chose to answer these questions thoughtfully and candidly in a short video. We invite you to watch it.