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This post is cross-posted from the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

There’s a great story in Bloomberg News about how the new fuel-efficient Dodge Dart is bringing 6,000 jobs to Belvidere, IL.  However, a key point missing from the story is the basic fact that the Dart returns Chrysler back to competitiveness in the all-important fuel efficient compact car segment.  Yes, it’s fuel efficiency that is driving increased demand for cars among American consumers, as recent sales figures and consumer surveys have shown. 

But first, let’s review the positive news out of Belvidere:

Chrysler, under the control of Italy’s Fiat SpA (F), has surged back to health since its 2009 bankruptcy and government bailout, and it’s bringing Belvidere along for the ride. The factory completes hiring for a third crew this month, which will bring it to 4,500 workers cranking out vehicles 120 hours a week. It employed as few as 200 people three years ago… Chrysler's investment will bring total employment by the automaker and its suppliers in the region to 6,000, according to the area's economic development group.

The surge of hiring in Belvidere is a direct result of Chrysler’s expectations of major sales growth in fuel-efficient compact cars. The Dodge Dart represents Chrysler’s opening bid to capture market share in this hotly-contested segment.  With an EPA-rated maximum of 39 miles per gallon highway (including an expected 41 MPG for the optional Aero package) the Dart ranks with the mileage leaders in the compact, or C segment.

Consumers have clearly expressed their desire for fuel efficient cars, with a recentConsumer Reports survey showing that consumers rank fuel efficiency as their #1 priority when purchasing a new vehicle.  A shift in priorities is taking place among American car buyers, and automakers are responding with ever-more fuel efficient products to meet that demand.

This new bumper crop of fuel-efficient cars and surging consumers for fuel sippers clearly demonstrates the wisdom of setting long-term fuel efficiency standards.  Model year 2012 is the first year of the new carbon pollution and fuel-efficiency standard program that was originally agreed to in 2009 and requires the average fuel efficiency to gradually increase until it hits 35.5 mpg in 2016.

These new standards are doing exactly what they are supposed to do: deliver the fuel-efficient cars that consumers clearly want. The fuel-efficiency product pipeline will continue because this August, the Obama Administration is expected to finalize the second phase of the rule that will double the fuel efficiency of today’s car to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg. 

With a heated competition among auto manufacturers to claim the “most efficient” title in the compact car segment underway, consumers and manufacturers alike benefit, and our nation can look forward to more win-win job creation stories like this one out of Belvidere.

Posted In: Auto, Natural Resources Defense Council

This blog is cross-posted from the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) Switchboard.

Henry Ford blew away the competition--and arguably changed the world--when his company developed an assembly line to build Model T cars. By making his operations more efficient, Ford and his engineers cut production time down from 12.5 hours to 1.5 hours for each car, dramatically boosting output. Efficiency brought down the price of a car so fast that within a few years, the automobile was no longer a toy for the wealthy, but within the reach of Ford's assembly line workers.

Today, cars everywhere are still built on assembly lines, and efficiency continues to be a critical strategy for manufacturers. Efficiency is also a smart strategy for our nation as a whole, helping us conserve valuable resources, reduce costs for consumers and businesses, and strengthen our economy. That's why the Department of Energy recently announced $54 million in grants for projects that enhance energy efficiency in the manufacturing sector.

Many of the energy efficiency strategies we hear about--like better light bulbs or fuel-efficient cars--target consumer products. But industrial production consumes about one-third of all the energy produced in the United States; so becoming more efficient in the way we build those products is also critical. Efficient manufacturing not only saves energy for the entire country, it reduces costs for manufacturers and makes them more competitive--helping them keep more manufacturing jobs at home.

Several of the 13 projects awarded DOE funding have applications in the vehicle industry, such as GM's new process for manufacturing car doors. Normally this is a multi-step process, involving multiple components and several machines that roll out, cut, stamp and mold carbon steel. GM has been developing a new, integrated process that uses a lightweight magnesium alloy to make doors. The streamlined process uses half the energy of the conventional method. On top of that, it makes car doors that are 60 percent lighter, helping GM's fleet meet federal fuel efficiency standards. (These fuel efficiency standards alone will help cut gas costs in half for drivers, while generating as much as $300 billion in revenue for Detroit's automakers.)

Efficiency is a smart investment from which any business can profit. Fifteen years ago, NRDC worked with Dow Chemical to improve operations in its Midland, Michigan, facility, reducing pollution 43 percent and saving the company $5 million annually. Today, we're working with the fashion industry to improve textile manufacturing in China, helping manufacturers save fuel, water, and raw materials while reducing pollution. The Redbud Textile Company in Changshu, China, adopted just three of NRDC's recommended strategies, with a one-time cost of $72,000, and is now saving nearly $840,000 per year.

In some cases, finding efficiency might be as simple as replacing a leaky valve. But in more modern industries, a big efficiency gain might require a game-changing manufacturing leap--like an entirely new way of making car doors. We don’t know where the next innovation is going to come from, so providing incentives across a number of industries is key. The Department of Energy has just done that, selecting  projects that could have applications in the manufacturing of aircraft and vehicles, lighting and electronics, plastics and petrochemicals, iron and steel, paper and batteries, to name a few. Other projects have benefits across many industries, such as a process that uses bacteria to turn factory wastes into electricity and other useful products, which is expected to save 40 trillion BtUs of energy and offset 6 million tons of global warming pollution each year.   

Manufacturing and innovation have long been America’s strengths. Programs like these, which provide critical support for American entrepreneurs, play to our strengths and help keep American industry competitive in today’s globalized world. If we can provide the nudge that leads to the next great leap in industrial innovation, the payoff will be well worth it.

Posted In: Trade/Make it in America, Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Defense Council

If sunscreen, beach towels, and bathing suits are the only items on your beach vacation check list, you’re still missing something. A wealth of information detailed in a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Testing the Waters report is a must-read before you head to the beach this summer. 

Findings by NRDC revealed that the number of beach closings and advisory days in 2011 reached the third highest level in 22 years of tracking this data, totaling 23,481 days up which is up 3 percent from the previous year. These were all closings due to elevated bacteria levels in beachwater from human or animal waste in the water.  As gross as that sounds, arming yourself with information before you leave for the beach or get in the water is the best strategy!

Polluted beaches can cause very serious health side effects, especially in children, including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis. Apart from the harm they do to public health and the environment, they hurt the economy also costing jobs and economic growth.

Know the facts:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary sewer overflows each year.
  • The largest known source of pollution was stormwater runoff (47%, compared with 36% last year). 
  • According to a 2009 report by the National Ocean Economics Program, the nation's shoreline-adjacent counties contributed $5.7 trillion to the nation's gross domestic product and 48.6 million jobs.

Before you head to the beach this summer with your family, find out here if your beach is as safe and clean as you think it will be. After you’ve checked that off your list, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Posted In: Natural Resources Defense Council

7th place ribbonThe Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a member of the BlueGreen Alliance, last week released a scorecard ranking the use of renewable energy in the G20 countries, and it doesn’t make the United States looks good.

Looking at the percentage of energy that comes from renewable sources, America ranked in seventh place, and when looking at the amount of growth in renewable energy production since 2002, the United States ranked eleventh (although the report does credit us with a 341 percent increase).

7th and 11th place? Is that really where we America wants to rank?

Posted In: Clean Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council

This blog is cross-posted from the NRCD's Switchboard.

At a hearing today before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee leading individuals and groups came out strongly opposed to bills that would undermine the U.S. Lacey Act – a key law to help stop global deforestation by combating illegal logging.  Musicians including Dave Matthews Band, Willie Nelson, David Crosby, Bonnie Rait, Jack Johnson, Maroon 5, and Bob Weir released a statement in strong support of the Lacey Act and against efforts to undermine the law by some Members of Congress and industry.  This statement joins the strong chorus of supporters for the law, including from the forestry industry, labor unions, and environmental groups who also testified at the hearing in support of the law.

The musician statement was released by Adam Gardner the frontman of the band Guster and founder of Reverb when he testified at the hearing.  These musicians stated (see full statement below):

“Widespread illegal logging is placing at risk the wood we treasure in our musical instruments, and thus the future of music as we know it… We will not buy a new instrument without asking where the wood comes from and if it was harvested legally and sustainably…We support the Lacey Act and other laws that prohibit trade in illegally sourced wood and we oppose the efforts currently underway to weaken the Lacey Act.”  

The full list of musicians endorsing this statement are: Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews Band, David Crosby, Bonnie Rait, Maroon 5, Bob Weir, Barenaked Ladies, The Cab, Patrick Simmons (of the Doobie Brothers), Brad Corrigan (of Dispatch), Jason Mraz, Ray Benson (of Asleep At The Wheel), Of A Revolution (O.A.R), Ryan Dobrowski and Israel Nebeker (of Blind Pilot), Jack Antonoff of F.U.N., Guster, Reverb, Razia Said, Rob Larkin, Brett Dennen, and My Morning Jacket.

As Stefan Lessard, founding member and bassist for Dave Matthews Band, explained:

“Dave Matthews Band has been putting forth many efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our touring for over a decade.  There are no other products more directly connected to our music than the instruments we use to play it.  We need to keep the laws that are in place to help ensure the wood for these instruments is sourced in a legal and environmentally sound way.”

The Lacey Act is a critical tool in combating global deforestation.  The premise behind the amendment to the Lacey Act is pretty straightforward – it is illegal to import and trade in illegal timber.  Companies importing wood and wood products into the U.S. must verify that they are buying that material from legal sources.  So if a company imports wood from Brazil that wood must be cut, produced, manufactured, etc according to Brazilian law or it would be deemed illegal according to the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act doesn’t cover every law in the exporting country.  The Act’s specific language, and legal precedent (this Act has a 111 year old track record), focus on “conservation” laws.  The law is also based on the premise that importing companies need to ensure that their supply chain meets the requirements of the Act.  So if you are IKEA, Home Depot, WalMart, or a maker of musical instruments that imports wood and wood products into the U.S. you must take the necessary steps to ensure that your suppliers are complying with the law in the country where the wood is sourced.  That is just common sense as no company wants to encourage illegal activity.

Recent controversy has been used by some Members of Congress and industry to try to gut the law. The Lacey Act, last amended in 2008, is drawing fresh debate because federal agents this past summer raided Gibson Guitar Corp., factories in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee to investigate whether the firm used illegally imported wood from India, which would be a violation of the act.  Gibson also is under investigation for allegedly importing illegally logged wood from Madagascar in 2009.

The committee is hearing from the sponsors of two bills that would gut this critical law and make it much harder to address illegal logging.  The first bill – RELIEF ACT – from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) would be devastating to U.S. efforts to combat illegal logging and deforestation (see analysis of the implications of this bill).  And it would be destructive to U.S. companies and workers as the industry recently stated:

“Illegal logging and the threat it poses to U.S. jobs and forest resources throughout the world is being addressed by the Lacey Act.”

As Adam Gardner of the band Guster said:

“In effect H.R. 3210 only provides “relief” to illegal loggers while leaving musicians and other consumers of wood products with burdensome doubt about the legality and sustainability of the wood products we use.  By contrast, the Lacey Act provides comforting assurance to conscientious consumers like myself that the wood I am buying in my instruments or elsewhere is legally sound.”

The second bill from Rep. Broun (R-GA) with a similar bill in the Senate from Sen. Paul (R-KY)— the FOCUS Act —would be even more far reaching by stripping away the requirements that U.S. imports come from legal sources.  It would only make it illegal to use wood that was illegally cut within the borders of the U.S., making it completely legal to illegally log overseas.  And it would go much, much further in gutting the Lacey Act and other conservation laws.

There is strong opposition to bills that seek to gut this critical law, including from:environmental and conservation organizations (e.g., NRDC, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, Rainforest Action Network, The Nature Conservancy, and Environmental Investigation Agency), timber industry (e.g., American Forest and Paper Association, Hardwood Federation, and National Wood Flooring Association), labor unions (e.g., United Steelworkers which represents the pulp and paper labor union and the Blue Green Alliance), and wood product users (e.g., United States Green Building Council and Sound & Fair).  [See environmental and labor letter’s in opposition to the RELIEF Act and forestry industry’s letter of opposition.]

It is time to stand up against illegal logging and for American business, musicians that want instruments that are untainted, American workers, and communities around the world devastated by deforestation.  These bills would severely undermine this critical law at a time when important progress is being made on addressing deforestation.

So Members of Congress, companies, and musicians: it is time to take a stand.  Are you for illegal logging or want to stand up against its destruction? 


Full musician statement:

“Widespread illegal logging is placing at risk the wood we treasure in our musical instruments, and thus the future of music as we know it. As musicians dedicated to our art and to protecting the earth’s natural resources, we call on everyone involved in the sourcing, crafting and production of musical instruments to join us in our commitment to eliminate all trade in illegally logged timber and forest products. We will not buy a new instrument without asking where the wood comes from and if it was harvested legally and sustainably.

We support the Lacey Act and other laws that prohibit trade in illegally sourced wood and we oppose the efforts currently underway to weaken the Lacey Act.  We urge lawmakers, suppliers and craftsmen to ensure that our art has a positive impact on the environment rather than contributing to forest destruction. We call on our fellow musicians to do the same.

Please lend your voice to help protect rainforests from illegal logging”


* Updated with link to the musician statement on the Reverb site.

** Updated 5/9/12 with quotes from Stefan Lessard from Dave Matthews Band and Adam Gardner frontman of Guster.

Posted In: Trade/Make it in America, Natural Resources Defense Council

This blog is cross-posted from the NRDC's Switchboard Blog.

New York City has demonstrated its continued leadership on sustainability and addressing climate change with the adoption of “Zone Green”, an amendment to New York City's zoning resolution that will make it easier to build new green buildings, as well as retrofit older buildings to be green.  The City Planning Commission unanimously approved the Zone Green text amendment on March 23rd, followed by the New York City Council’s unanimous approval of the proposed amendment yesterday.   We commend the Department of City Planning for putting forward this proposal, which not only represents an important step forward in achieving the City’s greenhouse gas reduction and energy goals, but will also result in lower energy costs for consumers, the creation of much-needed jobs, fewer emissions of harmful pollutants, and increased reliability of our electric grid.

Buildings represent an important and necessary opportunity for reducing the city’s carbon footprint, as nearly 80% of the City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings.  It is also critical that we address existing buildings, as 85% of the buildings that will exist in 2030 are currently standing.  Zone Green follows the groundbreaking efforts the City has already been taking in this area, including its Greener, Greater Buildings plan, as well as its initiatives to address barriers to greater efficiency, including its work to promote energy-aligned leases and to facilitate financing of energy efficiency retrofits through the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation.  Energy efficiency is an important resource and is the cheapest, easiest and fastest way to meet New York City’s energy needs while reducing harmful pollution and saving money. 

The Zone Green amendments build upon a number of the recommendations of the City’s Green Codes Task Force, an effort led by Urban Green Council at the request of Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Quinn to comprehensively review New York City codes for impediments to and opportunities for encouraging sustainability in buildings.  Zone Green will remove zoning barriers to making New York City buildings greener, providing building owners with greater flexibility to implement sensible measures that save energy and money, such as insulating building walls for increased efficiency.  In fact, the City estimates the potential for up to $800 million per year in energy savings through this proposal, which is quite significant.  The proposal will also make it easier for people to install clean, renewable energy technologies, such as solar and rooftop wind, so we’re not only empowered to use less energy, but also to generate what we do use in the cleanest way possible.  It will provide numerous other benefits, as well, including helping to encourage local food production and facilitate rooftop stormwater retention.  As with the City’s other efforts to promote green buildings, this proposal will not only help New Yorkers save money, but it will also help to create jobs – jobs that cannot be outsourced elsewhere. 

We commend the City for continuing to be a leader on the issue of green buildings, and applaud the City Planning Commission and City Council for adopting the Zone Green text amendment to remove the zoning barriers that currently exist.  Doing so will not only help us move towards a more sustainable city, but it will also help New Yorkers save money and enjoy a healthier environment.

Posted In: New York, Clean Energy, Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Defense Council

The following post was originally published on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

Here’s the thing – New England is pretty much the best place on Earth. Oh sure, there are more beautiful places and there are places with less aggressive drivers and less fun-to-imitate accents, but to me New England is home (even though I haven’t actually lived there for almost two decades), and I love to talk about the region and brag about it when good things happen there. Like the 2004 Red Sox. So, please indulge a Massachusetts boy’s parochialism.

Today, our friends at Save the Sound, a part of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, are releasing a report they commissioned to evaluate the feasibility of addressing a critical water pollution source by implementing green — design strategies that mimic natural hydrology and capture rain where it falls. 

Thumbnail image for CSO -- Newtown Creek Brooklyn from Riverkeeper.jpgIn Connecticut, several cities have “combined” sewer systems, meaning that sewage flushed from homes and businesses is carried by the same pipes that receive runoff when it rains. These systems — of which there are over 700 nationwide — were originally constructed many decades ago, and are designed to allow the mix of raw sewage and runoff to overflow into our rivers when we have a significant enough rainfall. 

The report discusses how green infrastructure techniques can prevent stormwater from reaching the combined sewer system and reduce pollution from overflows in Bridgeport and New Haven. NRDC served as a consultant and steering committee member, and a reviewer of the report. It’s a serious effort, so kudos to the folks at Save the Sound and the various people they worked with, from non-profit groups, to state agencies, municipalities, and city water pollution control authorities. I particularly like how the analysis pencils out specific green infrastructure installations, to give readers a sense of how the techniques can be weaved into the urban and suburban landscape, and how they will function. Pictured here is an example from the report of how a New Haven school parking lot could be sustainably re-engineered to keep runoff from loading into the combined sewer.

Parking lot bioretention from CT report.bmp

The other reason this analysis deserves to be highlighted is that it shows how green infrastructure solutions are gaining mainstream momentum. The folks in Connecticut are taking steps to join a nationwide movement towards the use of green infrastructure to address sewer overflows and other stormwater-related pollution problems. This movement is spotlighted by “Rooftops to Rivers II,” NRDC's recent report, which provides detailed case studies analyzing how 14 cities of varying size and geography are using these methods, and which highlights how using green infrastructure often saves money compared to traditional “gray” approaches and how the green approaches deliver significant community benefits. 

The pilot program envisioned by the report could be the next critical step toward driving New Haven and Bridgeport to incorporate green infrastructure into their long term combined sewer overflow control plans required under the Clean Water Act. They’ll join the likes of green infrastracture champions such as New York and Philadelphia, as well as smaller cities like Cleveland and Kansas City. And that effort could provide the roadmap for making Connecticut a leader in New England on green infrastructure solutions. 

Likewise, the report recognizes that a critical component of the green infrastructure movement is understanding how stormwater fees and related programs can incentivize private parties to implement and invest in green infrastructure. NRDC recently addressed this issue in a groundbreaking analysis of innovative financing approaches for green infrastructure retrofits. The report uses Philadelphia as a test case to explore ways in which innovative financing mechanisms, currently being used for energy efficiency retrofits, can be adapted for stormwater management.

As New Haven and Bridgeport step forward, we have some ideas for them. For the “Rooftops to Rivers” report, NRDC created the “Emerald City Scale,” a guideline for assessing communities’ commitment to green infrastructure. The six-point scale identifies core criteria every city can undertake to maximize their green infrastructure investment, including: a long term green infrastructure plan for the city, a requirement to retain a defined amount of runoff from development projects, a requirement to reduce existing impervious surfaces using green infrastructure, incentives for private-party installation of green infrastructure, guidance or other assistance in deploying green infrastructure, and a dedicated funding source to help ensure that green infrastructure projects keep going. We’ve also created a function on our website that allows municipalities to submit information about local green initiatives. We hope that, following the direction that Save the Sound and other Connecticut leaders have provided, Bridgeport and New Haven will soon add their names to the growing list of cities aggressively and widely adopting green infrastructure.

So, here’s to my New England friends – thanks for protecting the wahtah with green infrahstructah.

Photo: Combined sewer overflow, Newtown Creek, Brooklyn. Courtesy of Riverkeeper

Posted In: Infrastructure, Natural Resources Defense Council

The proposed 54.5 mpg light- and medium-duty vehicle fuel efficiency standard is critical to reducing pollution, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and to creating good jobs in the auto industry.

The BlueGreen Alliance Auto Task Force members — the United Auto Workers, Sierra Club, United Steelworkers, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, and IUE-CWA —  and our partners recently hosted a call with White House Council on Environmental Quality Deputy Director Gary Guzy to discuss the importance of the standard. David Foster, Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance moderated the call.

BGA call with White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Posted In: Auto, United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, Communications Workers of America

Rob McCulloch, the BlueGreen Alliance Senior Policy and Legislative Advocate, recently published a post on the National Journal Transportation Experts blog, saying the House proposal has  "many miles to go" before it becomes a good bill to fix America's transportation and transit infrastructure and create good jobs. From his piece:

One of its biggest detractions is that it de-links transit funding from the Highway Trust Fund. Having transit investment compete with other discretionary priorities in the federal General Fund threatens its long-term viability, and may jeopardize the credit rating of many struggling transit agencies. Furthermore, it fails to allow flexibility to transit systems to use federal funds to maintain service and jobs during economic crisis.

The major argument for moving transit away from the Highway Trust Fund - a standard that has been in place since the Reagan administration - is that transit doesn’t ‘pay into the system.’ But there’s a strong argument that suggests savings from reduced traffic congestion, fuel use and pollution more than offset the dividend from the trust fund, and benefit the U.S. economy as a whole.

It’s not just transit that would suffer under the House approach. It cuts highway spending, slashes passenger rail (Amtrak) funding and continues loopholes that would send more transportation jobs and outsource more materials overseas.

Another response from Deron Lovaas, Federal Transportation Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — a BlueGreen Alliance partner — agrees that the House bill is problematic. From his commentary:

This is no way to legislate. The bill has many provisions that would harm public health and the environment. It would harm cities and suburbs by kicking public transportation to the curb. It undermines the user-pays principle with its new, controversial revenue sources. It slashes funding that benefits those of us who walk or bike.

Make sure you take the time to read these thought-provoking responses and click the agree button!

Posted In: Transportation, Natural Resources Defense Council

Bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, is a chemical used in everyday objects such as food, drink and infant formula can linings, reusable water bottles, and thermal paper receipts. BPA mimics the hormone estrogen and many scientific studies have linked the chemical to cancer, brain damage, and reproductive harm.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been fighting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for three years to ban BPA as a food additive. NRDC initially filed a petition in October 2008. After receiving no response, NRDC filed a lawsuit against the FDA in June 2010 to ask the court to set a date by which the agency must make a decision about BPA’s use.

Finally, the FDA committed yesterday, as part of a settlement with NRDC, to decide by March 31, 2012 whether or not to ban BPA from food packaging. Kudos to NRDC for getting the FDA to do their job: reviewing the science and deciding if BPA is safe as a food can lining additive. For the BlueGreen Alliance union members who make lined cans and others who fill those cans with food, the question of BPA safety is especially important,

Posted In: Work, Environment and Public Health, Natural Resources Defense Council
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