EESI Washington

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with EESI, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute in Washington. Would like to thank Amaury Laporte for the important suggestions and information. ProMosaik is convinced that environment and human rights are closely connected one with another. In particular, when Amaury says: „Our greatest challenge is inertia and active lobbying by the fossil fuel energy industry to maintain the status quo.“
How was EESI founded and in what context?
EESI was founded in 1984 by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress: after the oil crises of the late seventies, the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they identified a need for policymakers to have more access to fact-based information on energy and environmental issues, and created EESI to fill it. This gives us a privileged position as a trusted source of credible, non-partisan information about energy and the environment for our elected officials. One of our founders, former Representative Dick Ottinger, is still very active on our board and serves as Chair Emeritus. Though we were founded by Members of Congress, we were set up as an independent nonprofit and do not receive any Congressional funding.
What are, according to your findings, the main causes of climate change and what strategies do you use to cope with them?
EESI isn’t a research organization per se, rather we help distill scientific information to make it more accessible to busy policymakers. We do much of our work in the communication of science and the applied research and analysis of the economic impacts of energy and environmental issues.
In the scientific community, there is a widespread consensus that climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions released by human activities—particularly the burning of fossil fuels. Several studies have found that more than 95 percent of climate scientists agree on this point.
Several gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, exist naturally in the atmosphere and contribute to the warming of the Earth’s surface by trapping heat from the sun, in what is known as the greenhouse effect. When the proportion of such greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is stable, the effect is beneficial, making surface temperatures warmer and alleviating temperature swings. However, human activity is increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which is already causing average temperatures to rise and, therefore, creating much more volatility in the climate cycle and a much higher number of damaging extreme weather events. Burning fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants emits potent greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, among others. In addition, clearing forested land through burning or logging trees also releases CO2 into the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are: the electricity sector (30%), transportation (26%), industry (21%), commercial and residential buildings (12%), and agriculture (9%) [source].
EESI showcases sustainable solutions in all of these sectors. We emphasize the economic and social benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency: they create millions of jobs that can’t be outsourced overseas (jobs such as solar panel installers or energy efficiency contractors). We also underline the security benefits of being able to produce most of our energy domestically, through renewable resources.
Climate change is already having an impact on the United States: coastal areas are experiencing more flooding, and all areas are experiencing more extreme weather (from hurricanes on the East Coast to droughts on the West Coast). As part of our work, we also showcase how communities are taking action to make themselves more resilient in response to these climate shifts.
Do you carry on any awareness raising initiative? If yes, how civil society has been responsive so far?
Our main focus is on informing federal policymakers, particularly Congressional staffers. Many other nonprofits do civil society outreach.
According to many different polls, a majority of Americans accept that climate change is happening, and that it is human-caused [see our fact sheet]. Conservatives tend to be more skeptical, but there are indications that the tide is turning: the share of conservative Republicans who say global warming is happening has risen from 28 to 47 percent between April 2014 and March 2016 [source].
There is also very strong support historically for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies in both parties:
–         84 percent of registered voters support more funding for renewable energy research (91 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans) [source].
–         81 percent support tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (91 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans) [source].
What are the resistances that you face?
Our greatest challenge is inertia and active lobbying by the fossil fuel energy industry to maintain the status quo. Our country has so much invested in the current, unsustainable way of producing energy that it’s hard for some policymakers to envision something different, even if it’s clearly better. There are very powerful interests that have a lot at stake in preserving the status quo. But technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and innovation can lead the way!
Another big challenge is misinformation. Companies that benefit from the status quo have managed to throw doubt on climate change science, even though there is no longer any scientific disagreement on the causes and reality of climate change. Unfortunately, fact-based arguments are not always effective, as climate change seems to have become a very partisan—almost tribal—issue. EESI deeply regrets this development, and hopes that both parties will once again reach a consensus on the need for action and the multiple positive benefits it brings to our communities and our economy. In the meantime, we have found that it is more effective to focus on clean energy, energy efficiency, energy independence, and resilience—all of which enjoy widespread bipartisanship support and are forms of climate action.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? (apart from the Congress) If yes, how?
While our main focus is on the national policymaking community, we cooperate with a wide range of organizations and institutions across sectors and at all levels (local, state, federal). We believe that it is critical to work together, and to bring multiple voices to the table. We work with companies, trade associations, media outlets, cities, embassies, international organizations, universities, national laboratories, federal agencies…
We also run a program, our On-Bill Financing Project, in which we work very closely with rural electric cooperatives and public power utilities throughout the United States. We help them set up programs that make it much easier for their members/customers to pay for residential energy efficiency retrofits. They don’t need to pay any money upfront, and reimburse their loans through their monthly electricity bills. When it works as intended, their monthly energy savings more than cover the loan repayment, leading to lower electricity bills overall.
EESI is a strong proponent of such win-win solutions. On-bill financing is good for households (they have more comfortable homes and save money), good for utilities (they don’t need to invest in expensive new power plants and they increase customer satisfaction), and good for the environment (less energy usage means fewer emissions)!