Top Ten Accomplishments in 2016
You can also view a timeline of our accomplishments since 1984.
1. Emphasized the overwhelming support the American people continue to show for clean energy and climate action.
A particularly divisive presidential campaign obscured the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans, from across the political spectrum, support clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. A large majority of Americans (75 percent) support regulating carbon dioxide emissions, including 88 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans. EESI held a Congressional briefing and published a fact sheet to highlight these important survey results for federal policymakers. The briefing featured Professor Edward Maibach, Director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, which collaborates closely with Yale University on regular climate polling. Prof. Maibach noted that an increasing number of conservative Republicans acknowledge that climate change is occurring. EESI's fact sheet included the results of 16 national surveys and 4 international surveys, which documented public concern over climate change and public support for clean energy.
2. Marshalled domestic support for climate action by amplifying seminal global climate agreements and international cooperation.
2016 was a seminal year for international climate action, and EESI hosted several briefings and published a series of articles and press releases focusing on the major global climate agreements that were reached. Areas of focus included joint climate mitigation efforts between the United States and China, the entry into force of the Paris Climate Agreement, an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and an agreement to institute a carbon emissions cap on the international airline industry. EESI highlighted the Paris Climate Agreement, with multiple press releases and a well-attended Congressional briefing that examined the lead-up to the U.N. climate negotiation in Paris, its outcome, and next steps. Last but not least, EESI paid special attention to China, by hosting a briefing on its ongoing efforts to implement environmental reforms and combat climate change, thereby demonstrating that the climate action in the United States does not put our country at an economic disadvantage but indeed positions it for new economic partnerships and opportunities.
3. Helped launch three "on-bill financing" programs for energy efficiency upgrades to homes, and published an on-bill financing technical assistance manual for utilities.
EESI is working with utilities to help families reduce their energy usage with on-bill financing: households receive loans to pay for home energy upgrades, which are repaid through a monthly charge on their utility bill. EESI helped three communities launch on-bill financing programs in 2016: Holland, Michigan; Bloomfield, Iowa; and La Plata, Colorado. Their programs reflect many of the recommendations EESI put forward, including determining loan eligibility via good utility bill payment history instead of credit checks. Drawing from its experience, EESI released a "how-to" guide on launching an on-bill financing program. The 40-page document provides step-by-step instructions for utilities or nonprofits, and also includes a program development checklist and a directory of additional resources. EESI's on-bill financing team is helping several other municipalities set up on-bill financing programs—stay tuned for more launches!
4. Promoted a new, no-interest federal loan program for energy efficiency projects in rural areas.
In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP), which made available $52 million in zero-interest loans to rural utilities to capitalize on-bill financing programs. This was a huge win, as RESP had been one of EESI’s legislative priorities since 2010. EESI engaged with staff from the White House, USDA, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congressional offices to help push out the program and ensure it had a utility-friendly application process. EESI worked with USDA to get the word out about the program before and after its launch, and helped several utilities apply for funding through the program (including $26 million for South Carolina electric cooperatives and $2 million for Bloomfield, Iowa). EESI is now working to ensure that funding continues in the 2018 budget.
5. Called attention to the plight of coal communities, showcased ways forward in a new, sustainable and just energy transition economy, and mustered support for the RECLAIM Act.
U.S. coal usage continues to fall—mostly due to competition from shale gas—and the rise of renewables and energy efficiency are contributing to this trend as well. To help coal-dependent communities adapt, EESI has joined a coalition of environmental and social organizations with a shared focus on transitioning historically coal-centric Appalachian communities toward clean energy economies and rehabilitating the landscape after decades of large-scale mining activities. The coalition's efforts have coalesced around the passage of the RECLAIM Act, sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY). The act, which garnered 22 bipartisan co-sponsors in 2016, would redirect $1 billion in trust funds to restore land and water resources impacted by coal mining, thereby rehabilitating the environment while creating green jobs in some of the country's most economically depressed regions. As part of this overall effort, EESI co-hosted a screening of the documentary After Coal. The screening was followed by a panel discussion on revitalizing coal communities including Jason Walsh, senior policy advisor to President Obama, Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, the filmmaker, Tom Hansell, and a local activist, Stephanie Tyree. They discussed ways in which coal-dominated communities can participate in, shape, and benefit from the transition away from fossil fuels and what policymakers can do to help them.
6. Informed policymakers about the many benefits of sustainable buildings.
EESI held two Congressional briefings on the many benefits of sustainable buildings: Sustainable Affordable Housing: Saving Energy, Saving Lives on March 21, 2016, and Solar Power and Resilient Design for Schools and Shelters on March 29. The first briefing examined energy-efficient, affordable housing and how it is improving health and safety in distressed communities while providing economic and environmental benefits to states. The second briefing showcased how sustainable public buildings can provide safe havens, as well as collectively reduce emissions and clear the air, especially in disadvantaged communities where energy utilities are often sited. Featured were a retrofit project in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, an award-winning net-zero energy high school in rural Kentucky, and projects incorporating sustainability principles in Prince George's County, Maryland.
7. Drew attention to the potential of bioenergy and bio-based products in the United States, which can provide a renewable, cleaner alternative to petroleum-based products.
Oil crops, purpose-grown energy crops and algae, agricultural and forestry residues, as well as numerous other wastes can be used as fuels, chemicals and bio-products, thereby reducing U.S. dependence on petroleum, lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and creating economic opportunities and jobs in rural areas. More U.S. greenhouse gas emissions now come from oil than from coal. EESI held a briefing looking at the ability of the United States to sustainably produce 1 billion tons of renewable non-food biomass every year, which could potentially displace more than 30 percent of the country's petroleum consumption. The well-attended briefing, which was based on the findings of the Department of Energy's Billion-Ton Report, attracted attendees from 40 Congressional offices
8. Advocated for ambitious rail investments in the Northeast Corridor.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is considering different investment scenarios for the Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in the United States, which runs from Boston to Washington, D.C. The Administration's strategy will lock in investments for decades to come, making it especially important to determine the best path forward. EESI participated in a public hearing convened by the Administration (EESI's Paul Haven was quoted by the Washington Post) and submitted written comments arguing for a holistic approach that considers the entire transportation network, and rail's role in it, as underinvesting in rail will mean spending more on road and air networks, obviating any savings. EESI also called for an ambitious high-speed rail investment program, to allow passenger and freight rail to reach their full potential. Rail can be a particularly cost-effective and low-emission form of transportation. Certainly, high speed rail investments have been key to the success of our European and Asian competitors. In addition to providing feedback to the FRA, EESI held meetings about rail infrastructure with Hill staffers, Amtrak, and OnTrackNorthAmerica, and gave a presentation to the Maryland American Planning Association.
9. Set the stage for action on toxic gasoline aromatics, which have been linked to a wide range of adverse health impacts.
After an EESI briefing in 2015, Protecting Public Health Through Cleaner Fuels and Lower Emissions, EESI continued to call attention to the dangers of gasoline aromatics with its 2016 fact sheet, A Brief History of Octane in Gasoline: From Lead to Ethanol. Health studies have found that aromatics (petroleum derivatives), which are added to gasoline to increase octane levels, may contribute to negative developmental, reproductive and immunological responses, as well as adverse cardio-pulmonary effects. In addition, the incomplete combustion of aromatics releases ultra-fine particulates (UFP) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the atmosphere—both of which are carcinogenic and mutagenic (they have been linked to neurodegenerative disorders and cancers). Increased octane levels are important to gain the full energy efficiency potential of new direct-injection engines, but having a clean, renewable source of octane can improve the environmental and health picture over petroleum-derived aromatics.
10. Examined how ride-sharing can strengthen public transportation.
Working with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), EESI highlighted its partner's research findings on the interaction between ride-sharing and public transportation. Contrary to expectations, ride-sharing platforms like Lyft and Uber do not reduce public transportation ridership. Instead, they can complement each other, with ride-sharing making it easier to reach mass transit stations. Indeed, ride-sharing users are more likely to own fewer cars, use public transit more, and spend less on transportation overall. Municipalities are finding it can be cheaper and more effective to subsidize their residents' ride-sharing so they can easily access existing stations rather than setting up new bus routes.