It’s been said before, but now it’s true: the world is changing faster today than ever. Climate change, innovations in energy, and the rapid spread of mobile technology and social media can make once-intelligent policy ideas irrelevant, or even counter-productive, virtually overnight.
In a world moving at this pace, ensuring that public policy supports the public interest requires more than a willingness to speak truth to power. It also requires alerting the public to the implications of rapid change — and looking around the corner to anticipate what’s coming next. In 2012, Frontier Group helped citizens and decision-makers react to rapidly shifting circumstances. Our work this year put us at the cutting edge of debates that will shape America’s future.
Transportation and the New Generation … Frontier Group’s report, Transportation and the New Generation, drew attention to young Americans’ startling recent shift away from driving – a change with profound implications for transportation policy. Our report came amid evidence that driving in several industrialized countries has stabilized or declined, a reversal of the long-time trend. The report drew media attention at home (in U.S. News & World Report, on National Public Radio, and in Motor Trend) and abroad (in the Financial Times and the Economist).Co-author Tony Dutzik discussed the findings with researchers and public officials at events in Washington, D.C., Texas and Paris, France.
Global Warming and Extreme Weather … Hurricane Sandy’s impact was yet another example of the destructive power of extreme weather, which is increasingly fueled by global warming. Our February report, In the Path of the Storm (co-released with Environment America Research and Policy Center) found that four out of five Americans live in counties that experienced a weather-related disaster between 2006 and 2011. This summer we released an updated version of our 2007 report, When It Rains, It Pours, that concluded that extreme downpours are now happening 30 percent more often nationwide than in 1948. … Frontier Group analysts also built the case for smart solutions to reduce global warming pollution. Our spring report, A Record of Leadership, showed that the 10 Northeastern states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and trade program are both reducing carbon pollution faster and growing their economies faster than the nation as a whole.
An Emerging Clean Energy Future … Frontier Group analysts drew attention to the rapid expansion of climate-friendly solar energy in several leading states. In Massachusetts and California, Frontier Group reports highlighted the cities and towns that are making the fastest progress in the installation of solar energy, encouraging friendly competition among municipalities. Our research also challenged other states to embrace solar energy. Solar Works for Oregon identified Oregon’s vast potential for solar energy and proposed an ambitious pathway for turning that potential into reality. … Frontier Group research highlighted the benefits of other aspects of the clean energy revolution this year. Our November report, Wind Power for a Cleaner America, documented the environmental benefits that have accrued from America’s doubling its use of wind power since the beginning of 2008, while Charging Forward spotlighted the important role electric vehicles have in helping meet our nation’s environmental and energy challenges. At the state level, we tracked the rapid progress of clean energy development in Ohio and highlighted the potential benefits of offshore wind energy in Maryland.
Government Transparency and Accountability … Technological advances create the potential for a new type of relationship between citizens and their government. For the last three years, Frontier Group’s Following the Money reports (co-authored with U.S. PIRG Education Fund) have challenged state governments to reveal more information about how they manage the public purse to citizens online. The report has shown rapid progress by states in adopting online transparency tools and is increasingly seen as the national benchmark for evaluating government spending transparency (to the point of being adopted by Massachusetts as an official performance standard for state government). … Frontier Group researchers also continued our work to ensure that government subsidies to businesses are held to the highest standards of transparency and accountability. We worked with Arizona PIRG Education Fund to produce Shining a Light on the Arizona Commerce Authority, challenging Arizona’s new quasi-public economic development agency to improve the transparency of its decision-making.
Progress on Other Fronts … Frontier Group’s fall report, The Costs of Fracking, tallied the many environmental and public health costs imposed by “fracking” for fossil fuels. A new report early in 2013 will lay out a framework for ensuring that the oil and gas industry is held accountable for those costs. … In California, we tapped a state database on hospital charges to produce Your Price May Vary, which revealed massive variations in the prices charged for common surgeries across the Golden State. The report drew attention to the challenge of containing health care costs, earning coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. … In North Carolina, Frontier Group assisted the Land for Tomorrow coalition in producing a conservation needs assessment for the state. Securing North Carolina’s Future used GIS analysis to track the decline in land preservation activity in recent years, and called for revitalizing the state’s land protection efforts.
Looking Forward to 2013 … As the nation heads (as of this writing) towards the “fiscal cliff,” Frontier Group analysts are working to document the massive amounts of tax revenue lost to offshore tax havens and propose policy responses. … Early 2013 will see the release of our first evaluation of city spending transparency websites, applying the lessons of our successful Following the Money reports to the municipal level. … Frontier Group analysts will also remain at the forefront of the exploration of Americans’ shifting travel habits as we study the impact of technology on transportation choices, look in detail at driving trends at the local level, and interpret what it all means for transportation policy.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Tony Dutzik is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. His research and ideas on climate, energy and transportation policy have helped shape public policy debates across the U.S., and have earned coverage in media outlets from the New York Times to National Public Radio. A former journalist, Tony lives and works in Boston.