States Lead the Way on Energy Efficiency as Feds Falter
By Lara Ettenson
A recent report card of state energy efficiency policies and programs shows that even in this era of partisan divide, blue and red states alike are embracing smarter energy use as a key strategy for reducing harmful pollution, saving consumers money, creating jobs and driving economic growth.
The annual ranking of states by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) highlights how many states are stepping up efficiency efforts despite the lack of federal leadership. Utilities nationwide spent more than $7 billion on energy efficiency programs in 2016, saving more than 25 thousand gigawatt-hours of electricity. How much is that? It's enough to power almost 3 million homes and avoid the equivalent amount of emissions spewed from nearly 4 million cars over one year.
This year the scorecard also looks at how well states provide access to programs for low-income customers, who spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy bills. This will raise the bar of expectations for all states to ensure these customers also share in the benefits of energy efficiency.
In the 2017 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, we see the usual suspects in the "top five" ranking (e.g., Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Vermont and Oregon). We also see great improvements in states we wouldn't necessarily expect (e.g., Idaho, Florida and Virginia).
Furthermore, in contrast to states who rolled back efficiency policies (e.g., Indiana and Minnesota), others renewed their commitment to help lay the groundwork for future savings (e.g., Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio). This just goes to show that more states are finding efficiency a critical way to cut energy waste, save customers money and reduce pollution.
However, some states are not living up to their potential or even meeting their past efforts, such as New York State. The good news? Given Gov. Cuomo's leadership and commitment to tackling climate change and scaling up clean energy, New York could regain its ranking as a national leader on energy efficiency if it takes the right steps to shore up the state's energy efficiency framework in the coming months.
The Scorecard also highlights how states—even leaders—can do more:
- Set up an energy efficiency resource standard and provide sufficient funding to implement it. Such standards, currently on the books in 26 states, require utilities to save energy through efficiency. States with an EERS have shown average energy efficiency spending and savings levels more than three times as high as those in states without an EERS, according to ACEEE.
- Promote expanded low-income efficiency programs. Low-income customers pay up to three times as much as the average household for home energy costs and can save money and improve health with energy efficiency programs. Illinois last year required Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois to invest $25 million and $8.35 million per year on programs to increase the efficiency of low-income households. Nevada earlier this year passed legislation requiring big utilities to set aside 5 percent of their budgets for programs that reduce energy costs for low-income households.
- Strengthen building codes and improve compliance. Codes help make sure that efficient choices are made from the start so new homes and buildings save customers money on energy bills and cut dangerous climate pollution.
- Adopt California tailpipe emission standards and set targets for reducing vehicle miles traveled. Improving overall transportation greenhouse gas reduction performance at the state and metro level is critical to substantially cut emissions and is an action that has gained urgency amid a threatened rollback of federal clean car and fuel economy standards.
- Treat qualifying Combined Heat and Power (CHP) efforts on par with other efficiency savings. CHP systems can help improve the efficiency of manufacturing facilities, buildings, and homes; save consumers money on their energy bills; drive business competitiveness, economic growth, and jobs; enhance grid reliability and flexibility; and help protect public health and the environment.
- Step up state-led efforts to promote energy efficiency, including investing in research and development of energy efficiency technology and 'leading by example' by reducing energy use in public buildings and fleets.
- Promote innovative financing opportunities to take advantage of private capital and lower costs of implementing efficiency.
Importance of Taking Individual Action
State efforts have gained urgency as President Trump recklessly shrugs off the dangers of climate change and moves to cut back popular—and successful—federal energy efficiency programs. What can you do? In addition to supporting those who focus their work on reducing the impact of climate change, this Thursday is the second annual Energy Efficiency Day where every one of us can take actions to make a difference.
With the Trump administration actively rolling back efforts that help Americans, it's up to states to keep the strong momentum of shifting to a clean energy economy that benefits the economy, customers' wallets, public health and the environment.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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