Ariana Gonzalez, Energy Policy Analyst, Midwest, Chicago Office
This holiday, between mouthfuls of turkey and stuffing, don’t be surprised if you hear a Michigander give thanks to the growth of energy efficiency. Governor Rick Snyder’s final report on energy efficiency, released today, provides plenty of reasons to express appreciation. A draft report was circulated earlier this fall for comments and the release today marks the culmination of an information gathering exercise. Overall, both the draft and final reports highlight the continued success of energy efficiency and offer an encouraging picture of Michigan’s energy future.INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The report begins with a review of Michigan’s current status. It boasts that not only is Michigan presently meeting its energy efficiency targets, but in most cases is exceeding them. As the report transitions to estimating future potential, it’s clear that energy efficiency has a tried and true foundation ready to be built upon. Under the mandated utility cost test (one type of test used to ensure programs are cost-effective), the achievable potential is a 15% savings in electric sales (MWh) and a 17% reduction in electric demand (MW) by 2023. This translates into a ramp up from the current 1% savings in electric sales per year to 1.5%--not quite the 2% we’ve found to be more appropriate, but in the right direction. The best part is this can all be done with a return of more than double the dollars invested!
Some adjustments and additions arose between the draft and final report, most notably the inclusion of comments provided by NRDC. Following a summary of the energy efficiency potential study, a section recognizes that we found the potential to be understated due to limits placed on incentives offered, inadequate consideration of emerging LED technology, and the absence of combined heat and power. Additionally, they acknowledge our findings that a cost cap on energy efficiency budgets at 2% could actually end up costing customers up to $6.4 billion and would force utilities to invest in more expensive resources. For a more on the advantages of aggressive energy efficiency programs, click here.LOOKING AHEAD
Ultimately, the report shows that even with conservative assumptions and regulatory barriers, energy efficiency is a promising option in Michigan. It remains the cleanest, most cost-effective resource we have in our arsenal to combat climate change and evidence of ample potential in the future is something we can all be thankful for.
Pamela Rivera, Latino Engagement Associate / Program Assistant, Washington, D.C.
Recently, there have been a string of reports depicting Miami’s vulnerability, the New York Times and Rolling Stones have both written stories drawing attention to the city’s uncertain future. As the most climate vulnerable coastal city in the United States there is a sense of urgency to act. As someone who has many memories interconnected with this beautiful city, I got married on the beach in South Beach, I demand that our policy makers take climate change seriously. This is a looming crisis that needs daring action. Like yesterday.
Miami was built on a swamp. It is truly a testament to human ingenuity that it stands and has lasted this long. Canals were built and swamp water was drained; from this came a city that has been battling its fate ever since. The recent Rolling Stone article pointed out that 75 percent of the 5.5 million people in South Florida live along the coast. The latest research, including an assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests that sea level could rise as high as six feet by the end of the century. This would mean Collins Ave. and most of South Beach would be under water. And in a more immediate future the city has to worry about the loss of drinking water.
Attribute: Matthew Toro
Sea-level rise is the result of a warming planet. As the planet gets warmer more ice melts. Most of the rise in sea-level has occurred due to the thermal expansion of ocean water; the global average sea level has risen about nine inches. In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC reported that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
In 2007, and artist named Eve created a project called HighWaterLine in NYC, she used the Metro East Coast Assessment which repeatedly pointed out how climate change would create more frequent storms in areas ten feet above sea level. Prophetically, much of the area she demarcated in 2007 was hit in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy. This year she expanded her project and HighWaterLine came to Miami.
This project helped the local community highlight and examine how sea level rise and higher sea levels create higher storm surges, which, in turn, push water farther inland and impact their community. HighWaterLine | Miami based its 26 mile art piece on the various levels of sea level rise calculated on Climate Central.Since climate change impacts regions differently, HighWaterLine invited local communities to adapt HighWaterLine to their local regions. The overarching vision of HighWaterLine is to use art to visualize this otherwise hard to grasp climate change information.
Miami has a distinct vibrancy. It is unlike any other city in the country from its art deco hotels and restaurants to a thriving cultural diversity that leaves you feeling like you are in a different country. The HighWaterLine was a perfect fit for Miami.
Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of green house emissions and the President’s plan is on track to achieve meaningful reductions, while also placing a greater emphasis on helping our communities become more resilient.
The findings of this new report are clear: humans are causing climate change, we are already beginning to see the changes caused by climate change, the impacts are accelerating, and we can do something about if we act boldly.
Ralph Cavanagh, Energy Program Co-Director, San Francisco, CA
In the global competition for appealing clean energy solutions, a leading entry is the new West Village at the University of California at Davis (UC Davis), which today celebrated significant progress toward its goal of becoming the largest planned “zero-net energy” community in the United States.
Seven years ago, I was one of nine jurors who selected the winner in a competition to establish the nation’s first university-based center on energy efficiency (and yes, it’s hard to believe that this didn’t happen until 2006!). UC Davis finished first in a distinguished field, and it has more than justified expectations in the years since.
Among the Energy Efficiency Center’s proudest achievements is the beautifully designed space next to the main campus that bills itself as the nation’s largest planned community to reach “net zero” – annually consuming less electricity than it produces while emitting no carbon pollution.
The “West Village” is proceeding in stages and will ultimately house 3,000 students, along with 500 staff and faculty families and a cluster of retail and commercial buildings. By making those buildings far more energy efficient than even California’s rigorous standards require, the West Village architects were able to balance all their projected electricity needs with onsite solar photovoltaic (PV) power production. The UC Davis Center made a commitment to regular evaluations of the West Village’s performance, too, and the inaugural report was released today.The results
In the first year of substantial occupancy and fully powered PV systems, roughly 1,500 people in more than 500 apartments and a half-dozen mixed-use buildings came hearteningly close to “zero net-energy”: about 87% of the way, to be precise. Thanks to local experts from the Davis Energy Group, we know pretty much exactly what caused the gap, and what to do about it.
The solar power systems performed pretty much exactly as advertised, although the evaluators think we can squeeze out a few more megawatt-hours of electricity with occasional cleanings of the solar panels (to remove dust emanating from local agricultural operations). Also operating as predicted were the buildings’ cooling and heating systems, and the one- and two-bedroom apartment units taken as a group. Consumption was higher than expected in two principal categories: three- and four-bedroom units, whose occupants loaded up on plug-in electronics and showed remarkable variation in monthly electricity use; and water heat, where a high-efficiency technology relatively new to U.S. markets (heat pumps) created some siting and operational problems that contributed to higher power use.
The West Village managers are confident that they can cover the remaining distance to “zero net energy” and I agree with them. The water heating glitches are already mostly fixed. For the larger apartments, a host of strategies are being deployed to identify and motivate the largest electricity users to waste less energy, starting with the repeatedly proven social science insight that the best way to change behavior is simply to show people that their neighbors are doing better.
Regular performance reports will help with that message, as well as show the world continuing progress and any remaining barriers to reaching the community’s laudatory goals.
The next West Village performance review is due in early 2015. I look forward to sharing the results, and I’ll close with the quote that I authorized for use in the news release accompanying today’s report:
“The West Village is what a sustainable energy future looks like for California and the rest of the world. Its commitment to comprehensive evaluations like this one is an important part of the good example that the community is setting for all the rest of us.”
Frances Beinecke, President of NRDC, New York City
A round of international talks on climate change ended with a fizzle over the weekend. The Philippines delegate Naderev Sano made an impassioned plea in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan to end “the climate madness.” And delegates from developing nations walked out over the need for more aid to cope with flooded homes, parched crops, and other damage done by global climate change. Yet despite the dramatic moments, the international talks didn’t rise to the increasing challenges of climate change.
But let’s be clear: the effort to confront climate change continues without pause. Around the world and at every level—from village cooperatives to Fortune 500 companies to national governments—people are already committing to reduce carbon pollution and expand sustainable economic growth. We still need world leaders to secure international commitments, but we aren’t waiting. Instead, we are pointing the way forward, because we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to act now.
NRDC has helped design low-carbon policies emerging from the US to India to China, and we don’t stop there. We monitor commitments made around the world to confirm they become reality. This is the kind of work we have done ever since we helped draft the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act four decades ago. We have known that while it’s important to pass a good environmental law, it’s even more important to put it into practice.
Some officials in climate circles are steeped in the culture of treaties and pledges. NRDC operates in a culture of action. Implementation is in our DNA, and we bring that focus to the climate fight.
Women installing solar panels in Mauritania. They earn income for maintaining solar-powered lighting they set up in village homes.
Yet because the scale of the crisis is so enormous, we have to ensure that local and international efforts add up to the carbon reductions we need. We have to organize climate action in a bold new architecture.
NRDC recently hosted a conference at Yale University to contribute to a 21st century architecture for global engagement that can help us achieve all levels of climate action. If we can fit all efforts into this design—from Microsoft achieving carbon neutrality to the Obama Administration cutting carbon emissions from new cars in half by 2025—then we can do a better job of supporting those efforts. We can strengthen cooperation, learn from new partners, and identify holes that need to be filled. Most important, we can measure the results and track our progress toward climate stability.
The conference was an inspiration. It was full of dedicated people making a concrete difference in the world. Jeffrey Sachs spoke about the need to put humans at the center of the climate response. Some officials are concerned that tackling climate change will distract from relieving poverty, but Sachs reminded us the two must be integrated. After all, bringing solar power to off-the-grid villages will create sustainable economic opportunities and reduce carbon pollution at the same time.
I came away from the conference far more inspired than I’ve been reading the reports from Warsaw. I heard from business executives and community leaders and scientists and government officials who are cutting carbon right now. They are showing the world what is possible. Now we need to rally behind them and demand that international leaders follow their example. Together, we can design a new blueprint for global climate action that shelters all people.
Photo credit: Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia
New USGS analysis: threats to water, wildlife, and health from oil and gas development in the Appalachian basin
Amy Mall, Senior Policy Analyst, Washington, D.C.
A new analysis from the U.S. Geological Survey discusses critical issues and evolving developments regarding water resources and oil and gas production in the Appalachian Basin. Among the USGS findings:
- Compared to conventional gas production, the scale of shale gas operations may be much larger and has the potential to create significantly greater effects on landscapes, watersheds, water supplies, and water quality.
- Effective management strategies are needed for the region’s water resources in light of the increasingly variable climate.
- The knowledge of how extraction might affect water resources has not kept pace with development. We still need a better understanding of the potential environmental effects from the hydraulic fracturing process and how to limit adverse effects and improve monitoring to insure environmental quality.
- Drilling waste can be rich in radium, a naturally occurring radioactive materials, and may emit radiation to those working near drilling equipment over time.
- When radioactive waste is disposed of in a landfill or in local soil, it can leach into the local water table, run off to the local watershed, or be taken up by plants.
- Waste sludge that results from the recycling of used fracking fluid (aka flowback) requires special handling and disposal in properly designed and regulated landfills, and can pose problems even for advanced treatment facilities due to gamma radiation emissions.
- Induced seismicity can occur when fluids are injected into oil and gas waste diposal wells.
- Drilling waste contains minerals that become more water-soluble and more mobile when exposed to air and rainwater, especially under acidid conditions. The waste can contain detectable amounts of heavy metals and other elements that can be detrimental to the environment if mobilized and concentrated. More analysis is needed to evaluate the potential environmental hazards.
- Construction of roads and wellpads may result in considerable land and wildlife disturbance within small watersheds.
The USGS analysis, based on research and science, concludes that the impacts can be considerable--and there are still many unknowns about the impacts and to what extent they can be reduced.
Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
As we enter America’s traditional, annual season of excess, my collaborator Lee Epstein reminds us why overconsumption and waste have consequences. Lee is an attorney and land use planner working for sustainability in the mid-Atlantic region.
There’s a place not too far from here – and not too far from where you are reading this right now, either – where all the stuff we don’t want ends up.
It’s the final resting place for the trash we throw out, a place where all the physical detritus associated with our living on earth eventually settles. This includes not only grungy old mattresses but minute particles of air pollution; not only millions of tons of rotten food, but the polluted water we try to shunt quickly off our farms and parking lots and streets. It includes the carbon and methane, nitrogen oxide and other compounds that pour from fossil fuel combustion, industry, farms and mining processes, and the construction waste created when we build new buildings or get rid of old ones. This place is not on a map, but it does have a name. It’s called Away. It’s huge.
We throw things away. Pollution goes away. Water flows away. And if we’re staying in one place, after this material goes away and for some very brief period of time, that one place is “clean” again – whether it’s a city street, the air we breathe, or the trash can. So how do we perform this cosmic magic trick that defies one of the laws of physics (the Law of Conservation of Matter)? Well, we all know there’s no such thing as magic, right? It’s all just sleight of hand; that’s why it’s called a “trick,” after all.
It’s actually pretty easy, like most tricks once you know them and practice a bit. We distract ourselves for a moment with, you know, life, and that’s when the stuff goes away, and we really don’t care about where as long as it’s not too close-by. So we try to bury our trash in engineered mountains after a bit of recycling of the most valuable materials, and some of it decomposes or falls apart, or just sinks farther into the ground to deteriorate ever so slowly. Or we send those noxious air pollution particles skyward to be breathed in or carried aloft until the rain brings them back down again, somewhere else. And the toxins in polluted water runoff get sluiced into nearby streams, and then rivers, and some make it to estuaries and even the ocean, sometimes nearby or sometimes far from the source – to be drunk, or washed with, or played or fished in.
So our communities are nice and fresh again. ¡Que milagro! (What a miracle!)
But isn’t Away getting kind of full? Well, honestly, it is: With the 35 billion tons per year of carbon dioxide we humans spill into the atmosphere; the 230 million tons per year of nitrogen gases; the two billion tons per year of other air pollution; the 730 million tons per year of pollution we discharge into the water (that’s more than the weight of all of Earth’s human population); the 1.3 billion tons per year of food waste; and the 1.3 billion tons per year of solid waste or trash. The problem is, Earth has been called a “spaceship” for a reason: it’s a single, rather small planet hurtling through space. And everything’s rather contained on the ground, in the water, or in the air – so really, of course, there’s no Away.
This reminds me of a story. One of my first professional jobs was helping local governments around the country deal with solid and hazardous waste. I recall putting together a solid waste management workshop for some local officials in the desert southwest. At its conclusion, one grizzled “garbage” professional from a small town came up to me and said, “Son, we don’t really have a solid waste problem down here. We just put it all in an arroyo, and when the rains come a couple times a year, it all gets washed away. Problem solved,” he said with a click of his fingers and a wink.
Everything we do, everything we use and discard, every action we take that results in waste being generated – whether throwing away some food from our refrigerator, driving to the grocery store, building a building, manufacturing parts for an airplane, turning on an electric light, buying some new consumer electronic gadget, or even building new development where it really doesn’t belong – results in something going to that mythical place.
A recent report from the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) (Bottled Up 2000-2010) provides some depressing statistics on the current habits of the U.S.’s throw-away culture: of 243 billion beverage containers sold in the United States in 2010, 153 billion were either sent to landfills, littered or incinerated. Our national “wasting rate” is 63 percent for 2010, a 7 percent increase over 2000’s wasting rate of 59 percent, which itself increased by 20 percent over that in 1990. The trend is going in the wrong direction. Indeed, according to Susan Collins, the president of CRI (reported by Julia Pyper in an October 31 story in ClimateWire), “if the 153 billion containers wasted in 2010 had been recycled instead, it could have saved enough energy to power nearly all of the homes in Los Angeles and Chicago combined. This level of recycling could have prevented the release of 11.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road.”
Air pollution. Water pollution. Solid waste. Toxic chemicals. Energy use and climate change. We know that there is no Away. Award-winning architect/designer William McDonough, together with German chemist Michael Braungart in their groundbreaking 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, posited that ultimately, sustainability means designing and building things without any waste, which make all the energy they need or create more energy than they use, and which can, when their useful life is over, be readily deconstructed without waste and fully used again. Their principles apply to homes and office buildings, as well as to computer servers and cell phones. Such thinking, and surely such doing, is still very much a work in progress. But it must proceed.
Because Away is just another name for planet Earth. And right now, it’s the only home we’ve got.
Recent posts by Lee Epstein:
- Augusta's new master plan for revitalization looks like a winner (by Lee Epstein) (October 16, 2013)
- Whither intelligent vehicles and automated highways? (with Lee Epstein) (June 17, 2013)
- Is there a way to (downtown) San Jose? (by Lee Epstein) (May 6, 2013)
- The essential elements of green cities (by Lee Epstein) (April 3, 2013)
- Meet the nation's biggest landlord (and developer) (with Lee Epstein) (February 6, 2013)
Move your cursor over the images for credit information.
Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in other national media. For more posts, see his blog's home page. Kaid’s forthcoming book, People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, will be published in January 2014.
Ann Alexander, Senior Attorney, Chicago
The day after we sent the Department of Natural Resources a letter complaining of their ridiculously limited public hearing process for the fracking rulemaking, the Department announced three additional public hearings around the state in December. We’re pleased that they did the right thing on that score, anyway – although as we’ve explained, the whole holiday season-timed process remains full of roadblocks to public participation. Still, don’t say the Department never gave you anything for Christmas.
Members of the public can submit their comments at one of the five hearings and/or in writing. To aid with the hearings and comments, NRDC has now set up this web page with information, including a model comment letter that people can either alter or leave as is. Also, for those of you who are seriously hard core, here is an 19-page draft list of all the issues we have identified to date.
This is now the complete list of public hearings concerning the rules, available on the Department’s web site:
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
750 S. Halsted Street, Student Center East, Room 302
Chicago, IL 60607
Note: to obtain the most accurate directions online, search for 750 S. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60607. Parking is available across the street at the Halsted Street Parking Structure.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
Rend Lake College Theater
468 North Ken Gray Parkway
Ina, IL 62846
Thursday, December 5, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
Holiday Inn Effingham, Hotel Ballroom
1301 Avenue of MidAmerica
Effingham, IL 62401
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
6:30pm-8:30pm (Doors open at 5:30pm)
Decatur Civic Center, Auditorium
#1 Gary K. Anderson Plaza
Decatur, IL 62523
Thursday, December 19, 2013
6:00pm-8:00pm (Doors open at 5:00pm)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC)
Student Center, Ballroom B
1255 Lincoln Drive
Carbondale, IL 62901
The Department explains on its website that members of the public speaking at the hearings will be limited to 4 minutes each, with the order to be chosen by lottery. If there is a large turnout at the hearings, 4 minutes per commenter will put them well over their budgeted time of two hours. We can only hope that DNR will do the right thing and let everyone speak.
DNR “recommends” that people commenting at the hearing specify what specific section of the rules they are talking about. As we’ve said previously, this is a strange, unfair, and not very workable request. For a layperson, who may wish to state general views and concerns, it’s confusing and inhibiting. Even for those of us who are lawyers, our concerns with the regulations often apply to multiple sections at once, or to no particular section in the case of language that was omitted.
Be that as it may, while members of the public should ultimately make whatever comments they see fit, calling DNR’s bluff and citing section numbers will add to the pressure to consider the comments and take them seriously. For that reason, in our model comment letter, we have identified the specific subpart and section number being referenced.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember, in commenting at the hearings, is that regardless of DNR’s shenanigans, the law is still the law. The protections we fought for are in it. And DNR is bound to follow that law. Our collective job is to politely but firmly remind them of that.
Meg Waltner, Manager, Building Energy Policy, San Francisco, CA
Like the vast majority of Americans, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about electric motors in the 1 to 500 horsepower range. Astoundingly, though, these motors consume about 50 percent of all the electricity used by industry in the United States. That’s right: 50 percent. That’s why the issuance today of long-overdue proposed energy-efficiency standards for electric motors by the U.S. Department of Energy is particularly important news. What’s more, these proposed standards were set at levels supported by both motor manufacturers and efficiency advocates, including NRDC. When you have advocates and manufacturers agreeing on efficiency standards for 50 percent of the U.S.’s industrial electricity use, that’s a big deal!
Like recently proposed efficiency standards for walk-in freezers and coolers, commercial refrigeration equipment and metal halide lamps, these electric motor standards will take a big bite out of U.S. energy consumption. In fact, over 30 years, the motor standards will save about seven quads of energy— that’s roughly equivalent to 1 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity, enough electricity to power almost every home in the US for a year. The money savings aren’t chump change either; over 30 years, they’re estimated to save consumers approximately $23.3 billion total. Add to that cumulative carbon dioxide reductions of nearly 400 million metric tons—about the same as taking 82.5 million cars off the road for a year—and you’ve got a pretty impressive package. The new standards can have another important impact, too. That impact can be felt across the globe, where U.S. standards are influencing overseas manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their motors, too.
All this is great news not just for our climate and our wallets but also for U.S. industry and jobseekers. While most of us don’t really think about electric motors, every device or piece of equipment that uses electricity to make something move most likely uses a motor to do that work. Across the United States, buildings and industry employ electric motors, like the ones to which the proposed standards will apply, for everything from fans and pumps to elevators, conveyor belts and other applications. Today’s efficiency standards, once in effect, will cut costs for businesses and consumers, making industries more competitive in the global marketplace and here at home, too. Those money savings will mean more jobs for Americans as energy-savings dollars are reinvested throughout the economy.
As I mentioned earlier, like many recent national efficiency standards, this one was negotiated among industry and a sizeable group of stakeholders, including NRDC and other efficiency advocates. While the proposed standard improves the efficiency of motors, the biggest savings come from significantly expanding the types of motors covered by the standards. Under the proposed standard almost all motors between 1-500 horsepower would have to meet the required efficiency levels.
The motor standard is one of several efficiency standards that has been long-delayed. DOE recently committed to meeting deadlines for these standards, and it’s great to see the agency follow through on this commitment. NRDC played a big role in getting DOE back on track, as a participant in a coalition that pushed DOE forward.
Electric motors and the energy-efficiency standards that make them better and more cost-effective are hardly top-of-mind for most of us. But by proposing new efficiency standards today, the Department of Energy put the importance of electric motors into focus, offering American industry and consumers an opportunity to cut costs, save energy and minimize pollution, too.
Elly Pepper, Legislative Advocate, Washington, DC
This month, Congress was very busy, apparently trying to get things done before the holidays, following which the budget battle will consume Hill activity for who knows how long.
In the crazy bill introduction category, Sens. Paul (R-KY), Lee (R-UT) and Heller (R-NV) and Rep. Amodei (R-NV) introduced companion bills entitled the “Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act” (H.R. 3533; S. 1731), which give complete control over endangered species management to states – regardless of whether such states actually want to do what’s best for imperiled species or are equipped to do so. Additionally, it would require the consent of governors and passage of a joint resolution by Congress to list new species, leaving protections to politics—not science. And it would delist species after five years, regardless of whether they have recovered.
(C) Fish and Wildlife Service
What’s funny is that the bill’s sponsors actually pretend it will enhance endangered species protections, with Sen. Paul stating that the “bill will better protect endangered species by allowing a more tailored response as implemented by the states." This just shows that these representatives know the public supports the ESA and are thus trying to cover up the destruction their bill would do to the Act and the critters it protects.
The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee also marked up a bunch of bills including a truly terrible grazing bill (S. 258), which, among other things, exempts “trailing” of domestic livestock from environmental review, even though this practice – which involves ranchers grazing sheep or cattle on a broad area going from one point to another as opposed to on a discrete piece of land or allotment for a fixed time – leads domestic sheep to interact with bighorn sheep and transmit diseases to these iconic species. In one incident in 2009, bighorn contact with domestic sheep in the mountains of Nevada resulted in the deaths of 88 bighorns and one mountain goat—one-third of the entire population in that particular region.
The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining also held a hearing on a slew of bills, including an anti-ESA one: S. 1479. Not only would S. 1479 wreak havoc on threatened and endangered species through a gross expansion of logging and grazing, but it also fundamentally undermines the ESA through major changes to the implementation of listing decisions, recovery plans, and critical habitat designations. For example, the bill seems to encourage listing decisions made on factors outside of the best available science and the needs of species.
Lastly, conference negotiations continued on the Farm bill and Water Resources Development Act, which I wrote about here last month. The conference committees will attempt to wrap these up when they return after Thanksgiving.
Kit Kennedy, Counsel, Air and Energy Program, New York
For more than two centuries, the iconic U.S. Military Academy at West Point has educated and trained the U.S. Army’s leaders from its fortress location in the historic Hudson River Valley. This is also the home of the modern environmental movement and an important part of NRDC’s “backyard,” with our headquarters based just an hour south in New York City. Now, not only we will we have shared geography, but also shared clean energy goals, as West Point adds to its legacy by making history on energy security and clean energy.
While the plan is still in formation, West Point is considering a range of options, such as:
- installing up to three megawatts of clean solar power on rooftops, parking areas and a landfill;
- using solar hot water collectors to provide hot water; using ground source (e.g. geothermal) heat pumps to provide heating and cooling;
- and using combined heat and power technologies to provide electricity, heating and cooling much more efficiently.
West Point is seeking public comment on the plan, which includes a discussion of its environmental impacts (which is always important), and we hope that New Yorkers will rally around to support its goals. The draft plan is subject to the availability of funding and some elements may require further environmental review.
The military -- the nation’s largest energy purchaser and a potential market driver for renewable energy -- plays a huge role in the clean energy sector. Development of clean domestic energy resources strengthens national security by increasing U.S. energy security while at the same time mitigating the threat posed by climate change. As I wrote last week, NRDC is partnering with the Department of Defense on its clean energy efforts.
Just last Friday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addressed the threat of climate change at the Halifax International Security Forum, describing DOD’s new Arctic strategy to address climate change and stressing that “[c]limate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters – all place additional burdens on economies, societies, and institutions around the world.” Secretary Hagel added that “[p]lanning for climate change and smarter energy investments not only make us a stronger military, they have many added benefits – saving us money, reducing demand, and helping protect the environment.”
The U.S. Army also understands the very real connections between our over-reliance on fossil fuel energy and the global instability that causes conflict and puts U.S. soldiers at risk in the theater of war, where soldiers in convoys bringing fuels to installations are at high risk of casualties and injury. As West Point officials write in the draft net zero energy plan, the U.S. Army has recognized that “[a]dressing energy security and sustainability is operationally necessary, financially prudent and essential to mission accomplishment.”
As a result, the Army has developed a “net zero energy” pilot program, selecting a few Army bases and installations (including West Point). The goal for these Army “net zero” facilities is to produce as much energy on site as it uses, over the course of a year. To achieve this goal, Army installations must first implement aggressive conservation and efficiency initiatives; better utilize waste energy through combined heat and power or co-generation efforts; and meet the balance of energy needs through renewable energy. In its draft plan, West Point explains that “[t]he current state of dependence on fossil fuels and vulnerable electric power and transmission grid supplies jeopardizes the security of the [West Point] Installation and its critical education, training and operational missions.”
Since joining the Army’s Net Zero pilot program, West Point has already kicked into gear by undertaking energy efficiency projects to improve the quality and efficiency of lighting in buildings. Newly built projects have improved building performance and usefulness, and reduced energy use, providing operational cost savings for years to come. A new barracks at West Point is the most efficient in the Army. A new science building, as well as the new hospital outpatient facility will be also be energy efficiency top performers.
West Point has also taken some early steps toward bringing clean energy to the West Point installation. West Point now has two small solar photovoltaic installations, totaling 100 kW, and a small (10 kW) wind turbine. It also recently announced that an expansion of the medical center building would also include rooftop solar panels. But the new draft plan released last week marks a stepping up of this effort, outlining potential plans for significant new investment in solar power, solar hot water, and ground source heat pumps, as well as combined heat and power technologies that will promote energy efficiency by producing both heat and electricity from a single energy source. West Point seeks to meet its net zero energy goals by 2020.
Of course, West Point faces some challenges in moving forward with its net zero energy plan, given the size of the West Point complex and variety of uses, the number of cadets, civilians, soldiers and faculty who live and work there. The 16,000-acre West Point installation includes the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Army Garrison, training grounds, a preparatory academy and other facilities. Over 4,000 cadets are enrolled at the Academy and there some 12,500 military and civilian personnel work there. Many of West Point’s buildings are also national historic landmarks, and any changes to them must be carefully reviewed.
Clean energy goals must also be consistent with preserving Hudson Valley ecosystems and with West Point’s unique culture. For instance, the draft plan points out that a possible roof-top solar project for West Point’s Gillis Field House must be carefully located to avoid covering the prominent slogans on the roof that read “SINK NAVY” and “BEAT AIR FORCE”! But all of these challenges also make West Point an excellent living laboratory for clean energy and provide an extraordinary opportunity to engage and inform the future leaders of the Army.
Already, the U.S. Military Academy has developed an ambitious clean energy training curriculum for its cadets, including an Energy & Environment Chain of Command, which designates cadets who serve as staff advisors to cadet commanders and a resource for their peers in each company. And the second annual Cadet Barracks Energy Efficiency Competition is underway, with the energy team tracking barracks’ usage through advanced smart meters and announcing the weekly winners.) Indeed, one of the strengths of the draft plan is the goal of “[r]educing electrical and fossil fuel consumption through institutional culture change, fostering efficient use.”
Over the past two years, NRDC has had the privilege to offer advice and assistance to West Point academic faculty and energy facility personnel on West Point's energy needs and clean energy plans. We salute West Point for taking this important step toward meeting its net zero energy goals. Thanks also go to the U.S. Army Environmental Command, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, New York State energy agencies and others who are working with West Point on its clean energy and energy security needs. NRDC’s next step will be to review and comment on the draft plan in detail so that we can offer our recommendations on how best to move forward.
Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency, San Francisco, CA
Switching to energy-saving LED lighting to brighten the holidays and America’s homes, businesses, and streets could lower U.S. electric bills by billions of dollars and avoid millions of tons of pollution annually. That would truly be a gift that keeps on giving.
Swapping out your old, inefficient bulbs for longer-lasting, highly efficient, cost-effective LED bulbs is easier than ever with the vast multitude of options available today. Adding LEDs to your holiday shopping list is guaranteed to put some “green” into the gift recipient’s pocket and help the environment, too.
When choosing lighting to decorate your home inside and out this holiday season, give yourself a gift by purchasing LED lighting that not only uses 80% less energy than the conventional incandescent version, it comes in every imaginable color and shape, can blink, and some strings even resemble melting icicles. Unlike traditional incandescent Christmas tree lights that get so hot they can burn your fingers, LEDs are cool to the touch. And the amount of electricity required to keep a single traditional 7-watt incandescent Christmas bulb burning today can power 140 LEDs – or two 24-foot strings of holiday lights – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And, says EPA, if all of the decorative light strings in America met ENERGY STAR® energy-savings requirements, we could cut our nation’s electric bill by 700 million kilowatt hours per year -- which translates to annual savings of around $90 million on our utility bills. That would buy a lot of gifts --more than 25,000 brand-new Priuses, for example.
Saving all that electricity also would avoid a significant amount of dirty power generation and the pollution that harms our air and children – so we’d be giving them a great holiday gift, too.
LED holiday lights can last up to 20,000 hours so they’ll also be twinkling for many years to come. A string of 150 small holiday lights costs about $12, or less, at the big box stores, which is a bargain considering how long they last and that they’ll pay for themselves via the energy they save. If you’re the type that enjoys creating outdoor holiday displays so stunning that cars stop to admire your decked-out lawn, you might be able to cut your holiday electric bill by an estimated $100 or more by using LED lights instead of the older incandescent versions.
Still not ready to abandon your incandescent holiday lights? You can reduce your energy bill by turning them off during the day and/or putting them on a timer to make sure they’re not burning when no one’s home or everyone is asleep at night.
Why stop with holiday lights?
Here’s an even bigger holiday gift suggestion: If we could get an energy-efficient LED light bulb into each of America’s 3 billion screw-based sockets that still contain an inefficient incandescent or halogen bulb, we could save a whopping $13 billion annually on our utility bills and 30 coal-burning power plants’ worth of electricity.
You can make a start by purchasing one of those new LED bulbs available at stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart to give as a Christmas or Hanukkah gift. They start at around $10 each, and over their 25year lifetime a LED bulb will save over $150 compared to your old 60-watt bulb that you have to replace every year. Once they’ve “seen the light” about LEDs, the lucky gift recipients will want to buy more. NRDC’s recently updated light bulb shopping guide at makes it really easy to choose the right LED bulb to replace those old, inefficient incandescents. Here’s a chart from that guide to help you.
While you’re watching out the window for Santa, take a moment to notice the streetlights shining in the darkness, which continues for about 14 hours a day in the dead of winter. There are more than 26 million inefficient lights illuminating America’s streets, parking lots, and highways. If all of them were magically switched to far more energy-efficient LED lamps – by Santa or forward-thinking municipalities that want to make a good investment to lower their power bills (and property owners’ tax bills) while helping to reduce global warming pollution – we could save about a billion dollars a year.
What’s more, if LEDs continue to become more efficient and if every fixture (including residential, outdoor, commercial and industrial) in America contained one, the Department of Energy projects we would save $30 billion annually in 2030.
Now that would be a wonderful gift to our wallets as well as the environment.
LED holiday lights courtesy of EnergyStar.gov and LED street lights by Pӧrrӧ under Creative Commons.
Rocky Kistner, Communications Associate, Washington, DC
This will be J.J. Creppel's last Thanksgiving at his home in Plaquemines Parish, a sliver of marshy land that juts out from the southeast corner of Louisiana and hugs the Mississippi River as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. But J.J. says after 60 years, he’s finally leaving the Cajun fishing community he loves so dearly. For many like him, life has changed since the BP oil disaster errupted more than three years ago. “The oil spill finished off the shrimp,” he says in a whisper.
Although domestic shrimp prices are up this year, giving a much-needed boost to fishermen down on their luck since the blowout, catches remain depressed in the areas like the Barataria Bay region, a productive fishing ground hard hit by BP oil. Lower catches combined with damages from storms and rising seas makes it harder to make a living fishing in the bayou these days. “I used to make nets for the people,” J.J. says. “But not too many people are buying nets anymore.”
Watch this video of J.J. produced by NRDC in 2010 in collaboration with StoryCorps and BridgetheGulf as part of its Stories from the Gulf project.
J. J. Creppel repairing shrimp nets. Photo: Lisa Whiteman/NRDC
While BP continues to spend millions on slick TV commercials touting the good times in the Gulf, communities in Plaquemines are still feeling the effects of the country’s worst oil spill in history. This year, cleanup crews collected more than 3 million pounds of oily material and tar balls from Louisiana coasts and marshlands, three times what it collected last year. Fishermen worry that in places like Barataria Bay, where fishing is still off limits in some areas due to oil contamination, the impacts will continue to ripple through the ecosystem. They are especially worried about future generations of shrimp, crab and oysters that could be hurt by the massive oil and chemical dispersant mix that poured into the Gulf after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded three years ago.
“We’re only three years out since the spill and everybody knows the oil is still out there,” says Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, which represents shrimpers across the state. “The issue is what’s happening in the most affected areas. If you look at a map where most of the oil went, we’re still having problems.”
Fishermen also continue to report that some shrimp have what appears to be oil contaminated cavities and tumors they link to the oil spill. Barataria Bay shrimper Randy Varney says his shrimp catch has declined 50% in some areas this year. He says he occasionally finds shrimp with tumors and a black oil-like substance that he’s never seen before the spill.
But that’s not all that bothers him. Since he spends much of the hot summer of 2010 working on oil cleanup boats during the BP blowout, Randy says he continued to have health problems he never had experienced before, including chronic respiratory problems, rashes, dizziness, memory loss and sore eyes that plague him to this day. Randy says he was not allowed to wear a respiratory while he was handling toxic oily boom during the cleanup, and he blames the chemical cocktail of Corexit dispersant and BP crude for his ongoing health problems. “I don’t know what it is, but I never feel good, it’s like I constantly have a cold, my eyes bother me and I always have a sore throat….doctors don’t what it is but I feel like I’ve been poisoned.”
Shrimp with tumors and a black substance caught in Barataria Bay in October.
That’s an ongoing refrain of some fishermen who found themselves at ground zero of the BP disaster, health problems that were chronicled in this detailed investigation released this year by the Government Accountability Project. Most of the media has moved on and ignored the plight of the fishing community in the Gulf. But reporters like Dahr Jamail of Al Jazeera continue to track problems in the fisheries and among residents in the Gulf. Here’s what he reported last month:
"It's disturbing what we're seeing," Louisiana Oyster Task Force member Brad Robin told Al Jazeera. "We don't have any more baby crabs, which is a bad sign. We're seeing things we've never seen before." Robin, a commercial oyster fisherman who is also a member of the Louisiana Government Advisory Board, said that of the sea ground where he has harvested oysters in the past, only 30 percent of it is productive now. "We're seeing crabs with holes in their shells, other seafood deformities. The state of Louisiana oyster season opened on October 15, and we can't find any production out there yet. There is no life out there."
Oiled beaches of Grand Isle, LA, October 2013. Photo: Gulf Restoration Network.
It will be years before the massive amount of science now underway in the Gulf becomes public, but already there is evidence that the oil disaster will have a lasting impact on the ocean environment for decades to come. Many fishermen still don’t know what the future holds for their livelihoods, a threat that looms over their holiday season for the third year in a row.
But communities in the Gulf aren’t the only residents battling oil spills that have changed their communities and their lives this Thanksgiving. In Mayflower, AR, many residents have complained of health problems they link to a massive tar sands leak from a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline last March. The blowout spewed over 200,000 gallons of sticky black Canadian tar sands crude through the small town into a marsh in nearby Lake Conway, one of the prized fishing locations in the state.
After Exxon ripped up much of the vegetation in the area this summer, much of the oil still remains embedded in the marsh. Residents say every time it rains, tar sands residue washes toward the culvert that drains into the main body of Lake Conway.
Oil in cove of Lake Conway in October. Photo: Genieve Long
Genieve Long, who lives near the oil-soaked cove, has suffered repeated health problems she blames on the oil (check out this recent documentary on the Mayflower oil spill from Inside Climate News). She continues to worry about the health of her family of four kids. Exxon and state authorities insist they are not in danger while the environmental testing continues. But that is little consolation to people like the Long family, and Genieve says she's not sure where her family will celebrate their Thanksgiving meal.
"I don’t really want to invite people to my house and expose them, knowing what’s really going on here,” Genieve says. “We’re not the only family around here this spill has taken a huge toll on. It’s just heart-breaking to see…. I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams have thought this is the way things would be around the holidays.”
For those who want to help families suffering this holiday season from toxic oil spills in their backyards, join the Front Line Holiday campaign on Facebook, organized by Gulf coast community and environmental advocate Cherri Foytlin. The campaign plans to deliver gifts and assistance to needy children and families across the country where their air, water and environment has been hit hard by impacts of the fossil fuel industry and other climate-related disasters.
Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, NYC and throughout the world
Last week, on Thursday, November 21st, senior representatives from four of the most influential professional sports leagues in the United States assembled at a closed door meeting of the Congressional Bicameral Committee on Climate Change. Officials from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League, joined by a representative of the U.S. Olympic Committee, testified that worsening climate change poses risks to the future of their sport. They all described some of their league’s many environmental initiatives and, in particular, the work they do that is focused on reducing their contribution to global warming.
While November 21st is now known as an historic day in Congress because of changes made to the Senate filibuster rule, that date now also represents a watershed in our national debate about climate change: On November 21st, 2013, senior representatives from the major professional sports leagues in the United States testified before Congress for the first time about their organizations’ belief that climate change is real and, as Kathy Behrens of the NBA stated, “will only worsen if we do not address the air pollutants that are driving it.”
It is notable when senior officials from MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL, all speak before a Congressional committee about the need to address climate disruption. While climate deniers in Congress and elsewhere might think they can attack the U.S. EPA or the United Nations with impunity, surely they would think twice before trying to impugn the integrity of those who lead the professional sports industry. All of the premier U.S.-based sports organizations are among the most culturally influential and highly regarded businesses in the world, and all of them, even including NASCAR, have now stated publicly that climate disruption is real and that we must act to do something about it.
Congressional testimony about climate change by professional sports leagues is also notable because, as a rule, these leagues do not venture into controversial political issues. Instead, the leagues and teams comprising the professional sports industry tend to limit the use of their visibility to social causes on which there is consensus, such as support for the troops, standing up to fight cancer, and celebrating first responders. Now, in an affirmation that the debate about climate change has shifted dramatically, all professional sports leagues are using their visibility to encourage sports fans and their partner businesses to address the risks posed to our environment by climate disruption and other ecological threats.
While it might be expected for environmental champion and Bicameral Committee Co-Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) to opine at the hearing that climate change “threatens to make pro-sports all but impossible to play,” it is less expected to hear that position affirmed by Craig Harnett, the Senior Executive Vice President and CFO of the NHL: “Hockey’s relationship to climate is unique.” He said. “Our players learn to skate on frozen lakes. For this sport’s tradition to continue we need to address the threats of climate change.”
For its part, the NHL in 2008 launched a program focused on encouraging teams to incorporate environmental considerations into their team and venue operations, including reducing their use of fossil fuels. Two years ago the league began measuring energy use and carbon emissions at all NHL arenas and it joined the EPA’s Energy Star program. In fact, plans are under way to make the NHL the first professional sports league ever to issue an environmental sustainability report, the first time that a professional sports league will document it’s league-wide carbon footprint.
According to testimony at the hearing delivered by John McHale, Executive Vice President of Major League Baseball: “Anyone who works at Major League Baseball learns on the first day that baseball takes its social responsibility seriously…Green grass and clean air are essential to our game...[and] addressing climate change helps protect our game for the future. And doing so is [also] being responsive to our fans and our sponsors.” Indeed, back in 2006 Major League Baseball joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council to become the first professional sports league to launch a sustainability initiative, including a particular focus on reducing energy costs and its contribution to climate change. MLB also joined with NRDC to pioneer the development of an environmental data gathering system for all pro-baseball stadiums. It is worth noting that over the past six or seven years, MLB teams and venues have put in place initiatives that will collectively reduce the league’s carbon emissions by hundreds of millions of pounds.
At the Bicameral Committee hearing the NBA’s Executive Vice President, Ms. Kathy Behrens, was unequivocal about her league’s commitment to address the risks of climate change: “The NBA believes that we must work together to avoid the potentially catastrophic risks posed by climate change…Climate change matters greatly to the NBA and WNBA.” Indeed it does: the NBA is the only professional sports league in the world that dedicates an entire week (each April) to educating all its fans and partners about its commitment to environmental stewardship. The initiative is called Green Week, and it is focused on educating NBA fans and NBA business partners about what they each can do to reduce their impacts. Moreover, the NBA is also working with all of its teams to collect data about energy use and carbon emissions.
The support for policies to address climate change by representatives from the NFL and the USOC made the day’s testimony by all panelists about the need to act on climate change unanimous. According to the Adolpho A. Birch III of the NFL: “Sensible environmental policies are not only good for the environment but are good for our business.” He went on to describe some of the work the NFL does at each Super Bowl, and at league headquarters, to reduce its carbon emissions through ecologically intelligent business practices. And Desiree Filippone of the USOC was emphatic about her organization’s concern about global warming, stating that “We believe very strongly in the need to address this issue.”
While not present, Major League Soccer, NASCAR and the U.S. Tennis Association all also have environmental programs in place that focus on addressing climate change, and educating their fans about the need to act. Clearly, addressing climate change and other environmental issues, and publicly discussing this important work, is now an item on the social responsibility agenda of all professional sports organizations.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senate Co-Chair of the Bicameral Committee, recounted his personal experience “growing up playing hockey on frozen ponds in Rhode Island” and he explained his reasons for inviting professional sports leagues to testify on this issue: “Your leagues are great cultural institutions that embody the American spirit…You are exhibiting clear public leadership by your statements and activities…I believe that sports can help us break through the barrage of special interests fighting action on climate change.”
The single most important thing we can do to address the urgent ecological challenges we face is change cultural expectations and attitudes about how we relate to the planet. The motivation for sports to engage in greening is simple. The games we love today were born outdoors, and without clean air to breathe, clean water and a healthy climate, sports would be impossible. Sports, is a powerful social unifier, and it can play an extraordinarily useful role in bringing businesses and people together to address climate change as well as other ecological problems. And it is.
The willingness of professional sports leagues to testify about climate change before a Congressional committee reflects an evolving cultural shift in behalf of ecological stewardship, driven in part by the venue greening happening throughout all professional sports leagues (and at many colleges too). The good news is that most greening initiatives at sports venues realize cost savings, and that is especially true for energy efficiency, water conservation and waste reduction initiatives. This is good: reducing operating costs helps embed environmental benefits into future operations.
North America’s professional leagues, teams and venues have collectively saved millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations. At the same time, the sports greening movement has brought important environmental messages to millions of fans worldwide. As recognized by the Bicameral Committee on Climate Change, sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence, both cultural and economic, that provides much-needed non-political leadership in support of environmental protection. Current and future generations depend on these efforts, and on the prospect that others the world over—especially members of Congress--will notice and emulate the sports industry’s inspiring commitment to our environmental cause.
Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
The latest national community preference survey, conducted periodically by the National Association of Realtors, was released earlier this month. The results are all over the place. Looking for evidence to support reported trends toward smart growth living in walkable, mixed use neighborhoods? You’ll find it in the poll. But, if you’re a smart growth skeptic who believes Americans still prefer conventional suburban development with large lots, you’ll find plenty of evidence for that, too.
Results favoring smart growth
The good news for smart growth advocates is that, while jobs, education, crime and health care dominate the issues of top concern for Americans, clear majorities believe that certain elements of the smart growth and sustainability agenda should be “extremely high” or “high” priorities for their state governments. These include improving the availability of affordable housing (59 percent either “extremely high” or “high” priority), protecting the environment (57 percent), and preserving farms and open spaces from development (54 percent). The portion of respondents concerned about affordable housing was up eight percent from the results of a similar poll two years ago.
Nearly half of those surveyed place a high or extremely high priority also on revitalizing cities (47 percent), reducing traffic congestion (47 percent), and providing convenient alternatives to driving (46 percent). Significantly, revitalizing cities is a significantly higher priority than creating new development outside of cities (37 percent). Supporting alternatives to driving drew clear majorities of certain demographic groups, including non-whites, urban residents, and those under age 50.
Walkable, mixed-use communities fared particularly well in the survey. Asked to choose among six community types to describe where “would you most like to live,” a majority of respondents indicated a preference for living in suburbs or rural areas (combined 57 percent). But, among those preferring suburban living, nearly three times as many prefer a neighborhood “with a mix of houses, shops and businesses” as prefer a residential-only neighborhood (30 percent versus 11 percent).
Americans are mostly satisfied with where they currently live, but nearly half believe their communities have too little affordable housing, lack public transportation within an easy walk, and lack safe routes for riding bikes to work and shopping. A majority of older Americans (but a lower portion of all Americans) believe their communities do not have enough shops or restaurants within an easy walk of their homes. Twenty-eight percent believe their communities have “too much” high-income housing.
Strong majorities of Americans would prefer a neighborhood with shops and businesses that are easy to walk to (60 percent), even if it means having small yards (55 percent). Respondents also would prefer neighborhoods with small yards if it meant a shorter commute to work (57 percent). Given a description of a walkable, mixed-use community and a conventional suburban community, respondents’ preferences were split fairly evenly, a slim majority preferring the walkable, mixed-use community (50 percent to 45 percent).
Even those who prefer a conventional suburban community would like to see “places such as shopping, restaurants, a library, and a school within a few blocks” (54 percent of those favoring suburban living). Among all respondents, over two-thirds rated “being within an easy walk of other places and things” as very or somewhat important (69 percent). The portion rating walkability as “very” important has increased since the 2011 survey, as has being in a mixed-age community.
Among transportation issues, the portion of Americans who believe that maintaining local streets and roads is extremely or very important is far greater than that giving high ratings to expanding highways (84 percent versus 52 percent). Asked to choose among three options as “the best long term solution to reducing traffic and improving transportation,” only 20 percent favored building new roads, as opposed to 41 percent favoring improved public transportation and 29 percent preferring to develop communities “where people do not have to drive long distances to work or shop.”
Forty percent of infrequent public transit users would take transit more often if service were more frequent and faster.
Results favoring conventional suburban development
While Americans increasingly favor communities with walkable convenience to shops and amenities, we remain a nation that prefers suburban living and its attributes. Even 42 percent of city dwellers say they would prefer to live in a suburb or rural area, while very few suburbanites would prefer to live in a city (12 percent). A full 52 percent of Americans prefer to live in a single-family, detached home with a large yard, as opposed to 24 percent who prefer the same type of home with a small yard. Only 14 percent prefer an apartment or condominium.
Large yards are especially important to “moms” and women under 50. Even among all respondents who prefer city living, over twice as many prefer a large yard to a small one (48 percent to 22 percent).
The preference for detached, single-family homes is so strong that 57 percent of Americans prefer them to apartments or townhouses even if they would “have to drive to shops and restaurants and have a longer commute to work.” (The portion of those listing a short commute as “very” important actually declined by eight percentage points from 2011 to 2013.) Among those who prefer conventional suburban living, nearly half chose “there are only single family houses” as the single most important characteristic (48 percent). (These findings seem to directly conflict with other findings in the survey, when questions were asked in a slightly different way.)
A whopping 86 percent of Americans list “privacy from neighbors” as very or somewhat important in deciding where to live. A majority list “living in a place that’s away from it all” as very or somewhat important (55 percent). A majority also values “being able to buy as large a house as you can” (51 percent). Unsurprisingly, high-quality public schools also are considered very or somewhat important by a large majority of Americans (74 percent).
I suppose it also is not surprising that high-quality public schools is of higher importance to younger Americans (18-40) than to older ones (over 50), though the size of the margin (51 to 36 percent) surprised me. And I was quite surprised that younger Americans strongly outpolled older ones in the importance of “being able to buy a house as large as you can” (26 to 11 percent) and “having a large house (26 to 9 percent).
The poll confirms that Americans still love their cars. A strong majority agrees with the statement, “For me, car is king. Nothing will replace my car as my main mode of transportation” (57 percent). Less than a quarter (22 percent) disagree with the statement. Among those who prefer conventional suburbs, over a third list limited parking as the least appealing characteristic of more walkable communities (36 percent). Indeed, parking is most often listed even by those who prefer walkable communities as the most appealing characteristic of conventional suburban communities (selected by 33 percent).
What to make of all this
It’s not easy to take a single consistent set of messages from this survey. The evidence appears clear that Americans value convenience and walkability, but also large yards, privacy from neighbors, and travel by car. Is it possible to have all that in the same community? To me, the poll suggests that figuring out how close we can get to supplying a diversity of housing and lifestyle choices in the same community may be key to the success of a sustainability agenda. Privacy from neighbors, in particular, seems so important to Americans that those of us who favor walkable neighborhoods should devote additional resources to designing solutions that supply it in less sprawling forms than we have now.
I was also struck by the relative importance of land use issues in the survey. People consider jobs, health, and crime most important but, among land use issues, those that most resonated with the poll respondents were affordable housing, environmental protection, and preserving farmland and open space. The current smart growth agenda as actually practiced, particularly on the national level, is in my opinion a bit out of step with these concerns. We focus primarily on promoting high-density development and transportation, which address these higher-polling issues indirectly, but we don’t address them much directly.
Lee Epstein and I have written about this before. I don’t know that there should be a major change in the agenda, but the poll suggests that we might be well served by shifting more resources into such goals as affordability and equity; explicit environmental issues such as water quality; and land conservation.
The high polling for driving and parking in the poll further suggests that at least those portions of the smart growth movement who prefer a non-adversary approach to advocacy should be very careful about anti-car, anti-parking rhetoric. It is hard to argue against the proposition that we have built our cities and suburbs far too much around cars for several decades and that it is time to shift back to people and more transportation choices. But, to earn the support of public opinion, this set of issues must be approached very carefully in most American communities. (See my post from last week on “driving-optional neighborhoods.”)
Finally, the poll seems to confirm that (apart from the preference for larger houses) the trend among younger Americans is toward a set of values highly compatible with the smart growth agenda. Much more than over-50 respondents, younger Americans 18-40 prefer being within a short commute to work; a community with people at all stages of life; a community with a mix of people from various ethnic and racial backgrounds; and living in a place that’s “at the center of it all.” As a cautionary note, however, 51 percent of younger Americans still agree with the statement that “nothing will replace my car as my main mode of transportation.” Only 26 percent disagree with the statement.
The national internet survey was conducted in September by the polling firm American Strategies and reached 1,500 adults, 18 years or older.
- Poll shows that Americans like planning, after all. But the details are messy. (June 18, 2012)
- Industry study: Americans want smart growth (April 7, 2011)
- Industry survey confirms developers shifting to smart growth (October 6, 2010)
- Poll finds overwhelming US support for improved public transportation – slideshow summary (April 7, 2010)
Move your cursor over the images for credit information.
Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in other national media. For more posts, see his blog's home page. Kaid’s forthcoming book, People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, will be published in January 2014.
Cyclone Helen in South Asia Rings the Alarm Bell Again: World Leaders Must Act on Climate Change Quickly
Anjali Jaiswal, Senior Attorney, San Francisco
With thousands of families evacuating their homes after the second cyclone to strike India’s east coast in six weeks, the latest international climate talks concluded with little progress in Warsaw. The serial extreme whether events—from Cyclone Helen this week in the Bay of Bengal to last month’s Cyclone Phailin and the deadly flooding in Uttarakhand earlier this summer, as well as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines – are sending a clear message to global leaders that they must act quickly to fight climate change.
(Devastation after Cyclone Phailin in the Bay of Bengal India. Photo credit: EU/ECHO amuel Marie-Fanon under Creative Commons licensing.)
As my colleague Jake Schmidt summarized at the close of the meetings in Warsaw, the world’s policy-makers need to focus their efforts on a strong international agreement. If they show up empty-handed at the next set of climate talks in Paris 2015, they’ll be known as the generation that failed against climate change. When world leaders convene next year, they need to further commit to reducing emissions in their own nations, as well as to financially supporting climate progress in developing countries. We urge governments and industry will agree to new actions at the September Summit hosted by Ban Ki-Moon.
India, domestically, is taking action to protect its communities, to build a clean economy that moves away from fossil fuels, and to fight climate change, as highlighted in our updated fact sheet, India: Addressing Climate Change and Moving Toward a Low-Carbon Future. For example, India has installed over 2 gigawatts of solar power since 2011 and has a robust wind energy market. Several Indian states are moving ahead with energy efficiency building codes and standards are being set for energy-guzzling appliances, like air-conditioners and lighting. Reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Bank continue to emphasize the fact that India is severely vulnerable to climate change at the peril of both human health and the developing economy. Indian leaders understand that accelerating clean energy is in the interest of creating jobs, saving energy and money, and reducing pollution.
Yet, more needs to be achieved on the domestic front within Indian states and at the national level. As an emerging global leader, India can pivot from its domestic actions to help create an international climate agreement. Leaders from all nations must move away from divisive tactics of inaction and toward pragmatic, incremental and immediate strategies to combat climate change.
The phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) is a key low-hanging fruit in that battle. Questions on these climate-damaging gases came up this week during the climate discussions in Warsaw and were also raised at the Montreal Protocol talks last month in Bangkok. HFCs are the fastest-growing share of greenhouse gas pollutants in the world, often used as refrigerants in room and automobile air conditioners. More than 116 million air conditioning units are forecasted to be in service in India by 2030—more than 20 times the current number—so addressing HFCs presents an immediate business and climate opportunity. There is a strong business case for India and other countries to make a global transition away from HFCs, as discussed in Frequently Asked Questions: Cooling India with Less Warming, developed by NRDC and our partners.
India, as a growing economy, has the opportunity to lead internationally in fighting climate change, while building a clean economy domestically. The trail of destruction from this year’s storms and flooding makes it clear now more than ever before that we must move immediately to protect our communities, economies and the planet from climate change’s devastating effects.
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Hexavalent Chromium
- Methylene chloride (dichloromethane)
- Perchloroethylene (Tetrachloroethylene, PERC, PCE)
- Propoxur (Flea and Tick Pesticide)
- Sulfur Dioxide
- TDCP/TCEP (Chlorinated Flame Retardants)
- Tetrachlorvinphos (Flea and Tick Pesticide)
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- Triclosan and Triclocarban (Antibacterials)