Thanks to you, we have held 12 Congressional briefings so far this year. For example, we teamed up with the NAACP, the National Congress of American Indians, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and others to hold a briefing on the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of color and tribal nations. Our diverse group of speakers addressed the standing-room-only crowd, discussing challenges and opportunities associated with climate change for these two groups across the country.
Speakers explained how climate change hits these communities hard, affecting both their quality and way of life. Both groups are vulnerable to air pollution; communities of color are often in crowded urban areas, while tribal nations can be exposed to air and water pollution from nearby coal plants. Those living in dense urban areas are often unable to escape the impacts of extreme weather events, which are occurring at an increased frequency. Droughts and wildfires can challenge tribal nations’ livelihoods by devastating their crops and lands and affecting their cultural traditions.
While these communities face tremendous challenges, there is also opportunity for sustainable economic development, in part because they have some of the largest solar resources. Speakers stressed the need to take advantage of these resources to spur local job creation and improve environmental quality. Wisconsin’s Forest County Potawatomi Community, a Native American tribe, did just that by installing solar panels. They are also building an anaerobic digester and biogas generation plant, which will convert biodegradable waste, such as food processing byproducts, to usable energy.
Another briefing you helped make possible centered on Americans’ perceptions of climate change. Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick discussed results from public opinion polls administered annually since 1997. Results from his surveys have been consistent, with the most recent poll showing that 78% of Americans believe that global warming is happening. Despite these opinions held by the vast majority of the country, Americans tend to think many others don’t believe that climate change is real – errantly thinking that just over half of Americans (56%) believe that our actions are affecting the global climate. Looking at the data by state, he found that even in states with the most skeptics, 65% of respondents believe that global warming is real. Dr. Krosnick noted that it is likely that legislators also similarly believe that there is a closer split between climate change believers and skeptics than really exists.
One of the impacts of global climate change is an increase in extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and droughts. All of these can cause power outages, human hardship and economic losses. With this in mind, we held a briefing discussing how energy efficient infrastructure can make the local energy supply reliable and resilient, keeping communities safe from electric and economic losses during severe weather events. Our speakers discussed three technologies (district energy, combined heat and power plants, and microgrids) that complement one another, reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and increase community resilience. For example, microgrids are small-scale versions of the centralized electricity system that can operate in conjunction with the main power grid or independently. During and after Superstorm Sandy, power generated from a combined heat and power plant operating on a microgrid stayed on in New York’s Co-op in the Bronx. Princeton University’s district energy/combined heat and power facility kept the university operating. This created a safe haven for students and the community and protected more than $200 million in research that would have been lost had the university‘s power gone out.
These Congressional briefings you helped make possible have been an effective way to advance the conversation about these important issues; the dialogue often continues long after the initial forum. Congressional offices continue to ask us to help with bills and to hold additional briefings. Our dedicated team makes an effort to meet with offices before and after the briefings as well. Many people – including speakers – make new valuable contacts as a result. This is a wonderful part of how you are helping to connect people, information, and ideas to move better policy solutions forward.
You are enabling us to showcase energy and climate issues to help our country’s policymakers make better decisions that will transition our economy to one based on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels will have a multitude of positive impacts, including slowing climate change, reducing dependence on foreign oil, creating new jobs, and improving health. Thank you for being a valuable part of these efforts-- we could not do this work without you!
You have already made a difference in helping the new Congress better understand energy and climate issues. At the start of 2013, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) worked diligently to gather contact information for 83 new representatives, 14 new senators, and their staffs. This is an incredibly large class of freshmen lawmakers who need fact-filled information and compelling stories to help make sound decisions.
EESI's staff is meeting with these new policymakers on Capitol Hill to introduce EESI as a non-partisan resource for information on energy and climate issues as they are tasked to make decisions affecting our energy and natural resources with limited federal dollars. So far this year, you have helped EESI organize two briefings on renewable energy and climate change. Of course, more briefings are in the works, thanks to you and others who make this work possible.
EESI and the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) organized a briefing with speakers from the Department of Energy, Deutsche Bank Asset Management, and the Department of State about the important and growing role of renewable energy in America. Renewable energy resources – including water, wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar – are abundant and geographically diverse across the United States. These sources are used to generate electricity, provide thermal energy, fuel industrial processes, and produce transportation fuels. Use of renewable energy has grown rapidly in recent years. The experts explained that costs have decreased substantially.
The speakers stressed to the packed room of more than 150 attendees that renewables are no longer an alternative but part of the mainstream, accounting for almost half of new electric generating capacity last year. In 2012, installation of wind generation capacity outpaced that of natural gas. In 2008, the Department of Energy set a target of reaching 20 percent of U. S. electricity generation from wind power by 2030. The speakers reported that the U.S. is on track to meet the goal.
To provide near-term climate change mitigation and improve public health and food security, EESI and the United Nations Environment Programme organized a briefing to discuss international efforts on another key topic: to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants. While the most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, EESI's briefing helped lawmakers understand that there are other, far more potent greenhouse gases that contribute to nearly half of the global warming effect. It also showed that cutting these pollutants now – some of which last in the atmosphere for only a few weeks – can do a lot to slow the rate of climate change in the short term. Speakers included a leading climatologist from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Director of the United National Environment Programme Regional Office for North America, the Senior Environment and Energy Policy Advisor for Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), and the State Department's Deputy Director of the Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues.
The standing-room-only briefing began with an overview of the primary types of short-lived climate pollutants – black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons. Major sources of black carbon include inefficient biomass cooking stoves, diesel and twostroke engines, and openairvented coal furnaces. The largest source of methane is oil and gas production. Tropospheric ozone, the primary component of smog, is the product of the atmospheric reaction of methane and a number of other pollutants. Hydrofluorocarbons are a group of chemicals manufactured for use in refrigeration, insulation foam, and aerosols.
Speakers outlined the impacts of short-lived climate pollutants on the climate and public health. They provided an update on the progress of the international Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants as it nears its one-year anniversary and explored how the coalition represents a new frontier for international cooperation on climate action. The briefing highlighted the huge benefits of acting to reduce these pollutants; for example, the audience learned that for every dollar spent complying with the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, the United States receives $13 in health and economic gains. Methane mitigation techniques can save up to $3,500 per ton reduced. The majority of measures cost less than $250 per ton, a small price, considering the benefits.
EESI has definitely noticed an uptick in interest in climate and related topics on Capitol Hill. And, of course, President Barack Obama emphasized the need to keep the economy on the right track as it regains its strength and creates new jobs in his State of the Union speech. He also reiterated the critical need to address climate change in both his Inaugural Address as well as the State of the Union. EESI shares these goals and believes that they are inextricably linked. Avenues that show particular promise for bipartisan agreement are reducing short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon and methane, phasing out hydrofluorocarbons and making investments in energy efficiency.
EESI will be highlighting the benefits of energy efficiency in the coming weeks and months, with your continued support. These are just a few of the aspects of energy and climate policy our nation's policymakers need to take on. With your help, EESI will continue to showcase energy and climate issues for policymakers that will enable a transition to a sustainable economy and protect the health and safety for the next generation. You are helping Congress play a more effective role in the global response to climate change. You are helping us bring information on better buildings, transportation, energy technologies, and more to the Congress and the public through our briefings, email newsletters, and personal relationships with Congressional offices and key stakeholders. Thank you so much.
as it nears its one-year anniversary and explored how the coalition represents a new frontier for international cooperation on climate action. The briefing highlighted the huge benefits of acting to reduce these pollutants; for example, the audience learned that for every dollar spent complying with the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, the United States receives $13 in health and economic gains. Methane mitigation techniques can save up to $3,500 per ton reduced. The majority of measures cost less than $250 per ton, a small price, considering the benefits.
EESI has definitely noticed an uptick in interest in climate and related topics on Capitol Hill! And of course, President Barack Obama emphasized the need to keep the economy on the right track as it regains its strength and creates new jobs in his State of the Union speech. He also reiterated the critical need to address climate change. EESI shares these goals and believes that they are inextricably linked. Two of the avenues that show particular promise for bipartisan agreement are phasing out short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon and methane, and investments in energy efficiency.
With the elections behind us, the importance of educating the new Congress about key energy issues facing our nation is clearer than ever. The House will have 83 new representatives (48 Democrats, 35 Republicans) and the Senate will have 12 new faces (eight Democrats, three Republicans, and one Independent). Thanks in part to your gift for our Global Giving campaign, EESI is in the midst of planning to help the new Congress understand key energy and climate issues. Once the freshmen arrive in Washington, we'll be in touch, letting them know about EESI's resources – and our history as a non-partisan, nonprofit organization founded by a bipartisan group of members of Congress. We're planning several forums on topics important to the decisions the new Congress will need to make.
We’re organizing a Congressional staff-only briefing about a carbon tax – which is receiving attention as a possible measure to reduce carbon emissions as well as alleviate the budget deficit. We’ll provide an overview of the science behind climate change. We’ll help demystify the federal budget for renewable energy and energy efficiency. If the lame duck Congress does not pass a new farm bill (the last one expired September 30th), we will also be working to educate the Congress on the energy issues in federal farm policy. The farm bill is key for bioenergy and other renewable energy programs initiated in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills.
And those are just a few of the topics the Congress will need to understand. Thanks so much for helping to make it possible with your support to our Global Giving project to Help the New Congress Understand Energy and Climate issues. With EESI’s Four Star rating on Charity Navigator and our status as a Top Rated charity on GreatNonprofits, you can have confidence that your gift will be well spent and make a big difference! Again, our deepest thanks.
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Executive Director, EESI