As America and the world enter the 2020s, our collective problems – from global warming to plastic pollution to political polarization to the persistence of an economic system that consumes our natural inheritance – have never seemed larger. And yet, 2019 brought with it energy and hope to carry into the new decade. Climate strikes, bold new policy ideas, the dramatic growth of clean technologies like renewable energy, and millions of citizens around the globe working quietly in their communities to build a better world – all of these are reasons for faith in a more perfect future.
Frontier Group’s mission is to help citizens and decision-makers build a better world through the power of information and ideas. Here is a brief recap of what we did in 2019:
Exposing Problems, Catalyzing Action
Americans often experience environmental threats and consumer scams as problems affecting us as individuals. Exposing the extent of problems is the first step to building the societal will to address them. … In February, our report Driving into Debt highlighted the dramatic rise in auto debt – up 75 percent since 2009 – and its implications for consumers and our transportation system … Debit Cards on Campus exposed the high fees charged to students with some college-branded debit card accounts, leading Wells Fargo to immediately slash some fees for students. … Ready to Charge documented an emerging problem facing consumers driving electric vehicles: the lack of readily available, easy-to-use public charging facilities, even in America’s leading EV state, California … Safe for Swimming? found that more than half of all beach sites tested in 29 U.S. states and Puerto Rico had high enough levels of bacteria to be unsafe for swimming on at least one day in 2018, and called for stronger clean water laws to protect our health … Following the Money 2019, our tenth annual evaluation of state government fiscal transparency, gave a third of the states an “F” for failing to meet even the most basic standards of spending transparency when it comes to economic development subsidies given to corporations like Amazon. These reports were covered by media outlets including the Washington Post, CBS News and Vox.
Documenting Progress, Building Hope
Focusing only on problems can cause us to miss out on the places where collective action is already making the world a better place. There is no better example than in the rapid progress of clean energy. … Renewables on the Rise found that America produces almost five times as much energy from the sun and the wind as we did just a decade ago … Our fifth edition of Shining Cities highlighted America’s top solar cities, finding that nearly 80 percent of cities surveyed doubled their solar capacity in just the last five years … Among the foremost adopters of renewable energy have been college campuses. America’s Top Colleges for Renewable Energy highlighted the leaders of that movement. … Electric Buses in America reviewed the experiences of six early adopters of electric buses, finding that cleaner public transportation is ready to roll, especially if governments and transit providers take smart steps to maximize the benefits … Highway Boondoggles 5 – the latest in our annual series on wasteful, environmentally damaging highway projects – celebrated the cancellation of several projects named in previous reports (with one project named in this year’s report, the California High Desert Corridor freeway, already having been canceled since its release). These reports received coverage from media outlets including Reuters, the Denver Post, and the Houston Chronicle.
New Frontiers in Public Policy
Bold ideas and fresh perspectives are needed if America is to address our biggest problems. … Climate Solutions from Day One offered a ready-made roadmap for effective action on climate change to the nation’s newly elected governors, helping to inspire bold climate action by leaders like Maine Gov. Janet Mills … Blueprint for Tomorrow challenged the nation’s leaders to refocus the infrastructure debate away from the question of how much to spend and toward a deep inquiry about the kind of infrastructure the nation will need for the 21st century … The True Value of Solar took a critical look at how utilities account for solar resources and argued that the full societal and grid benefits should be included when conducting “value-of-solar” studies … Composting in America reviewed the early experience with municipal composting programs and provided a blueprint for getting effective programs off the ground … Electric Buildings looked at the next frontier in addressing climate change – ending the direct burning of fossil fuels in our buildings – highlighting the opportunities and challenges in building electrification.
In Other News
Policy Analyst R.J. Cross testified in front of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee and met with members of the Federal Trade Commission to discuss the findings of our Driving into Debt report and recommend better protections for consumers … Managing Director Susan Rakov spoke about the promise of 100 percent clean energy at the Netroots Nation conference in Philadelphia and led a workshop for clean energy leaders from 30 states at UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation … Associate Director Tony Dutzik was quoted in a New York Times story on cutting carbon pollution from transportation. … On the Frontier Group blog, we explored the ecological limits to economic growth, the “Amazon effect” on recycling, the vast amount of time Americans waste dealing with the healthcare system, and walking in Los Angeles, among other topics. … Frontier Group analysts played an important role working with our partner groups in The Public Interest Network, developing and leading a series of day-long trainings on key issues, advising on public policy, and helping to ensure the quality of our network’s research product.
In 2020, look for a new report on how to reduce carbon pollution from transportation, an update to our online map of threats to water quality in the Delaware River Basin, our annual report on dirty air in America’s cities, and new resources to deal with the threat of plastic pollution, among other timely research and writing.
Wishing you a wonderful, meaningful and happy new year.
Susan Rakov, Director
Tony Dutzik and Elizabeth Ridlington, Associate Directors and Senior Policy Analysts
Gideon Weissman, RJ Cross, Abi Bradford and James Horrox, Policy Analysts
Linus Lu, Policy Associate
Managing Director, Frontier Group; Senior Vice President, The Public Interest Network
Susan directs Frontier Group, the research and policy development center for The Public Interest Network. Frontier Group’s work informs the public discussion about degradations to the environment and public health, threats to consumer rights and democracy, and the available routes to a better future. Susan lives in Santa Barbara, California; she has two children, a husband, and a dog, and is an amateur singer/songwriter.