In the first quarter of 2012, the U.S. has felt a bit “stuck”: the troubled economy isn’t turning around as decisively as some had hoped, and Congress is paralyzed by polarization. But the bedrock is shifting fast. Here at Frontier Group, we’re seeing change happening across a swath of issues we’re working on, with major implications for the future. This spring we’ve been working to document emerging trends and unpack their meaning to help set a course forward in a world that is going to look very different, sooner than we might think.
Rethinking America’s Transportation Policy
Frontier Group broke new ground with Transportation and the New Generation which highlighted the trend away from driving by young Americans. The report, released in a national webinar and by U.S. PIRG Education Fund affiliates in 10 states, calls for a reconsideration of the assumption that driving will continue to rapidly and steadily increase. The report received widespread coverage in outlets including the Denver Post, Baltimore Sun, Financial Times (registration required), U.S. News & World Report, NPR, ABC, and MSNBC.
- Key fact: From 2001 and 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita – a drop of 23 percent. (1)
Government Transparency and Accountability
For the third consecutive year, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Following the Money report graded states on the amount of government spending data made available to the public on the Internet. Since our first release in 2010, government agencies have worked hard to improve the grades we gave them, and this year, 47 states participated in the survey, with some agencies arguing strenuously for higher grades based on innovations they had adopted. Several of those which improved measurably celebrated in public. (Click here to see Kentucky Governor Beshear’s response to our report.)
- Key fact: Over the past two years, the number of states that give citizens online access to their state’s checkbook has increased from 32 to 46. (2)
In light of new scientific findings that link global warming to severe weather, we documented how hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, droughts and other phenomena harm people’s lives, the economy and the environment in In the Path of the Storm, a co-release with Environment America Research & Policy Center. State and federal decision makers across the country paid attention. In Illinois – where a recent flood killed seven people along the Mississippi and heavy snowfall caused over a billion dollars of damage in Chicago – Senator Dick Durbin used the report to call for programs to reduce global warming pollution.
- Key fact: Since 2006, federally declared weather-related disasters in the United States have affected counties housing 242 million people – or roughly four out of five Americans. (3)
Although climate legislation has foundered in Congress, states are seeking ways to reduce their global warming pollution. Frontier Group worked closely with Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center to write and release What Offshore Wind Means for Maryland, which showed how developing offshore wind generating capacity is one of the biggest steps Maryland can take to reduce global warming emissions.
- Key fact: A single 500-megawatt (MW) offshore wind farm in Maryland could reduce global warming pollution by more than 1 million metric tons annually, equal to the pollution emitted by 196,000 passenger vehicles each year. (4)
Thanks to our strategic partnerships with organizations working on the ground in the states, we’ve participated in a number of state debates about clean energy. In Benefits of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, released with Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center, we documented how an existing cap on global warming pollution has reduced New Jersey’s carbon footprint, lowered consumers’ electricity bills, and created jobs.
- Key fact: By 2018, New Jersey’s ongoing investment in clean energy programs through RGGI will help the state avoid 127,000 metric tons of global warming pollution annually, or as much as is produced by more than 24,300 of today’s passenger vehicles. (5)
In Ohio’s Clean Energy Report Card, Year 2, part of a series we’ve produced with Environment Ohio Research & Policy Center, we documented how Ohio’s Clean Energy Law has saved residents energy and spurred the growth of solar energy and wind farms.
- Key fact: Between January 2009 and January 2011, Ohio’s four largest utilities implemented energy efficiency programs that will save 1.6 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity annually, enough electricity to power 141,000 homes. (6)
In California Solar Cities 2012, released with Environment California Research & Policy Center, we documented the state’s thriving solar markets. The Wall Street Journal recently cited the report in a piece about the San Francisco Bay Area’s solar achievements.
- Key Fact: In the past two years, the solar industry has installed more than 5,000 kilowatts of solar panels in each of 10 different California Cities – more than doubling these cities’ capacity to generate electricity from the sun. (7)
Looking Forward . . .
In the next few months, we’ll be keeping an eye on these trends and others. We will update our 2007 report When It Rains It Pours, documenting the increase in extreme rainstorms and snowstorms in recent decades. We’ll release a study of disparities in health care costs in California, another enumerating the benefits of solar energy in Oregon, and a white paper on “best practices” to increase transparency and accountability in Arizona’s economic development agency. We’re also working on research and policy development related to healthy food, another issue area where change is happening fast.
Thanks for your interest and support.
Susan Rakov, Director
Tony Dutzik, Senior Policy Analyst
Travis Madsen, Elizabeth Ridlington, Ben Davis and Jordan Schneider, Policy Analysts
- Federal Highway Administration, National Household Travel Survey, downloaded from nhts.ornl.gov/det, 21 November 2011.
- Benjamin Davis, Frontier Group, and Phineas Baxandall and Ryan Pierannunzi, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Following the Money 2012: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 2012.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency, Disaster Declarations Summary, updated December 5, 2011. In an effort to provide a complete picture of weather-related disasters in 2011, we supplemented the dataset by consulting FEMA’s online disaster information, which can be found at www.fema.gov/news/disaster_totals_annual.fema.
- “1 million metric tons” obtained by multiplying output from a wind farm with a 40 percent capacity factor by the carbon dioxide emissions rate per MWh provided in U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, State Electricity Profiles 2009: Maryland, April 2011. “196,000 passenger vehicles” obtained from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, available at www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html, used 5 March 2012.
- Jordan Schneider, Frontier Group, and Matt Elliott, Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center, Benefits of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: How Cutting Pollution Protects New Jersey’s Environment, Builds the Economy, and Reduces Energy Costs, February 2012.
- Rob Kerth, Frontier Group, and Julian Boggs, Environment Ohio Research & Policy Center, Ohio’s Clean Energy Report Card, Year 2, March 2012.
- Benjamin Davis and Travis Madsen, Frontier Group, and Michelle Kinman, Environment California Research & Policy Center, California Solar Cities 2012: Leaders in the Race Toward a Clean Energy Future, January 2012; Bernadette Del Chiaro, Environment California Research & Policy Center, California’s Solar Cities: Leading the Way to a Clean Energy Future, Summer 2009.
- Federal Toxics Release Inventory, as downloaded from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Envirofacts database on 16 January 2012.
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.