On the Environment
Energy & Climate
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
By Daniel C. Esty
For two decades, the global response to climate change has centered on a top-down, national-government-led framework based on a series of emissions reduction targets and timetables. But this international treaty architecture has produced neither the action orientation nor the on-the-ground results needed to address the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Raising the trajectory of the 2015 Climate Change Agreement demands fresh thinking and an action agenda that goes beyond the efforts of the past two decades. A truly ambitious outcome needs a new bottom-up structure that emphasizes the engagement of a broader set of actors in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts —and celebrates the real progress that mayors, governors, CEOs, and other civil society leaders are already achieving in this regard.
The December “Conference of the Parties” (COP 21) can launch this “broader engagement” approach with a new policy framework that formalizes the diversity of ongoing efforts and programs that are helping to protect and restore the climate system. Such a re-engineered Climate Change Agreement architecture will require expanded legal and policy options that link and institutionalize the contributions of cities, states/provinces, civil society, companies, and other non-nation-state actors to climate change action.
Under the auspices of the Yale Climate Change Dialogue, a diverse group of thought-leaders from around the world have framed a set of options and opportunities for delivering a meaningful new Agreement in December. This “broader engagement” strategy aims to energize the global response to climate change and shift the “psychology” of the negotiations in three important ways:
First, it seeks to highlight in the Paris Agreement the successful actions and commitments of non-nation-state actors – demonstrating that success can be achieved at broad-scale and low-cost. Given the limited day-to-day role that Presidents and Prime Ministers play in shaping the carbon footprints of their societies, climate change success will require moving beyond the 20th Century focus on nation-state-driven targets and timetables to emphasize a broader base of action. The Yale Climate Change Dialogue approach would thus provide a mechanism – in any one of several forms -- to allow Mayors, Governors, corporate executives and other leaders in a position to address greenhouse gas emissions to signal their endorsement of the goals of the 2015 Agreement and to formalize their own climate change commitments.
Second, it encourages and tracks non-nation-state contributions to emissions control through innovative metrics. An “all-hands-on-deck” approach to future climate change action could establish a simple reporting structure within the 2015 Paris Agreement. Such a structure should encourage commitments from non-nation-state actors, provide an easy-to-follow set of metrics, and promote action by all who are positioned to contribute to the global response to climate change. It should provide ways to track and verify contributions over time.
Third, it promotes broader engagement in clean energy finance through strategies designed to use limited public funds to leverage private capital. The scale of traditional public financing is simply too small to achieve the ramped-up commitment to energy efficiency and renewable power that is required. The Paris Agreement thus needs to build on the funding efforts to date, such as the Green Climate Fund, and find ways to de-risk the flow of private capital into climate change investments and establish new policy tools (e.g., green banks, green bonds, etc.) that can channel increased flows of private capital to clean energy projects.
Together, these three components of the “broader engagement” strategy can invigorate the global response to climate change, support the “Agenda of Solutions” that the 2015 Paris Agreement needs to advance, and build post-Paris momentum for broad-gauge action on climate change on a range of scales.
Daniel C. Esty is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. One of the world’s leading experts on corporate environmental strategy, he helped negotiate the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change as an official with the US Environmental Protection Agency. From 2011 to early 2014, Professor Esty served as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. His recent prizewinning book, Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, argues that pollution control and natural resource management have become critical elements of marketplace success and explains how leading-edge companies have folded environmental thinking into their core business strategies.
Friday, May 29, 2015
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a law that prohibits local governments from banning hydraulic fracturing within their borders. The new law also limits the ability of local governments to regulate other aspects of fracking, such as drilling location. This new policy is not a complete surprise. In fall 2014, voters in Denton, Texas approved a city-wide ban on hydraulic fracturing. The first such ban in Texas, it caused a storm of criticism and new attention to the role of local governments in managing fracking.
While not surprising, the newly enacted state-wide ban on bans is a major departure from Texas tradition.For over a century Texas has been a strong home-rule state and through its history of oil and gas exploration and extraction, Texas has given its local jurisdictions broad authority to manage the local impacts of industries operating within their borders.
There are many factors at play in the new Texas law, questions of home rule, economic interests, energy independence, and more, but one thing is clear: When municipalities like Denton decide to ban fracking they put themselves on the radar of state legislatures that may have other ideas and, therefore, towns may ultimately undermine their own authority.
I have been collaborating with colleagues at Pace Law School’s Land Use Law Center on a project to address this very paradox. The problem is that there are uniquely local impacts from hydraulic fracturing. While the federal government and state governments effectively govern certain aspects of hydraulic fracturing, other aspects — such as road use, visual blight, strain on local government services, and preservation of recreational space — are left ungoverned without local involvement. In other words, without active local governments, there is a fracking governance gap. Local jurisdictions may decide to do nothing, they may decide to establish a robust set of measures to address fracking, or they may ban the process all together. We argue that local governments should take the middle road, developing strong regulatory and non-regulatory programs, rather than instituting full bans. Bans are unsustainable because they encourage state governments to withdraw local authority, thereby creating an even larger governance gap than originally existed. This is exactly what happened in Texas.
We will soon release a series of case studies demonstrating how local governments can effectively manage fracking (one case study comes from the city of Arlington, Texas and it will be interesting to see if the new Texas law impacts Arlington’s successful programs). We are also developing an interactive website that will allow users to explore the various impacts that local governments might address as well as examples of methods for addressing those impacts. A report will accompany the website. In the meantime, you can review our white paper here. This paper outlines the issues surrounding local fracking governance and offers a preliminary assessment of strong local measures that are both politically and legally defensible.
Friday, April 24, 2015
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Over the past year I have been working on a project to define the local impacts of hydraulic fracturing and to develop frameworks for governing these impacts at the local level. The premise of this project is simple: federal and state law do not, and are not meant to, address uniquely local impacts from the hydraulic fracturing "boom." Along with my collaborators, John Nolon and Jessica Bacher from the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School, and a brilliant team of students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Yale Law School, we have identified dozens of these local impacts, including traffic and road degradation, noise and visual blight, stress on public services, and loss of farmland or recreational space. A new study published today in Science is a reminder that some of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing scale from local to national in scope and that the criticality of local governance does not undercut the importance of cooperative governance with federal and state policymakers.
The new study from Brady Allred and co-authors is titled "Ecosystem services lost to oil and gas in North America." The researchers used satellite date to look at "net primary production" or NPP, which is the amount of carbon that plants take in during photosynthesis less the amount they lose in respiration. Understanding NPP is a step towards understanding other ecosystem functions such as food production, biodiversity, and habitat. The authors overlapped satellite data from the years 2000-2012, comparing the changes in NPP with annual density of oil and gas activity in order to estimate annual loss of NPP relative to the build out of hydraulic fracturing infrastructure. They estimate that in central North America alone, oil and gas development has reduced NPP by roughly 4.5 teragrams of carbon. For context they note that "The total amount lost in rangelands is the equivalent to five million animal unit months (AUM; the amount of forage required for one animal for one month), which is more than half the annual available grazing on public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The amount of biomass lost in croplands is the equivalent of 120.2 million bushels of wheat, ~6% of the wheat produced in 2013 within the region and 13% of wheat exported by the United States." They further report that the total land area covered by oil and gas infrastructure such as well pads, roads, and storage facilities from 2000 to 2012 is approximately 3 million hectares, "the equivalent land area of three Yellowstone National Parks".
These are obviously substantial numbers and add more rigor to the ongoing debate around "fracking." They likewise point to a “scaling gap” that exists in land governance. As the author’s correctly note, the land use aspects of oil and gas decisionmaking happen almost entirely at the local or state level. This seems natural because the loss of a few acres of farmland or fragmentation of local habitats is ostensibly a local concern. Indeed they are a local concern, but at a certain scale—perhaps the scale we now see—these particular local impacts become national impacts.
This new research, therefore, reinforces that argument that no single jurisdiction should have exclusive authority over the process of governing hydraulic fracturing operations. Politicians in some states, for example, are trying to wrest control of all fracking governance from local jurisdictions, which will undermine efforts to address uniquely local impacts. But an appropriate division of authority between state and local management does not solve the larger problem: with cumulative, continental-scale ecosystem impacts, federal leadership is essential, but there is no federal law that recognizes the complexity of ecosystems and authorizes appropriate federal oversight. It is Congress’ responsibility to remedy this, and needless to say, that is not in the cards. In order to have some hope for avoiding more significant large-scale impacts, and in the absence of federal leadership, local governments must have the authority to consider land, habitat, biodiversity, and other features that can fall through a “governance gap.”
Monday, March 30, 2015
By Guest Author, Helen Li, Yale Law School '17
On February 28, 2015, students, faculty, community leaders, businesspeople, and government officials alike gathered at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies for the 5th annual New Directions in Environmental Law Conference: Harnessing Momentum.
Harnessing Momentum brought together environmental thought-leaders from across the country for a day of dialogue and a show of solidarity. Convened against the backdrop of the People’s Climate March, the U.S.-China Climate Change and Clean Energy Commitment, and the upcoming COP 21 negotiations in Paris, conference participants discussed ways to channel energy to make 21stCentury environmental solutions a reality. Panels and workshops examined innovative solutions and promises to exact real, lasting change, from local communities to national arenas to the international stage.
Mayor Toni Harp delivered the opening address, exploring how the city of New Haven has dedicated itself to a sustainable future and acknowledging the magnitude of work that still needs to be done. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D – RI) delivered the keynote address, presenting his solutions and strategies in the national government. There is still optimism. There is still hope. There is still momentum to generate policies that will propel the United States to the vanguard of environmental progress.
Panel discussions explored environmental communications—how to reach and engage new communities and how to most effectively catalyze action on environmental policy—and the U.S.-China Commitment—how to hold true to our commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Workshops covered a wide range of topics, from climate change issues in Indian Country to environmental justice in overburdened communities.
Throughout the conference, participants engaged in lively dialogue on the most important issues of the day. The event created networks of engaged citizenry and connected them to journalists, professors, organizers, and policymakers. Though New Directions in Environmental Law was only a daylong event, its impact will extend long past February 28th.
For more on the conference, please visit http://www.law.yale.edu/news/2015envirolawconference.htm.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
By Guest Author, Christopher Halfnight, F&ES '15
The shale boom has stirred deep controversy across the United States. With vast domestic deposits of natural gas and tight oil now both geologically and economically accessible, many stakeholders, from developers to landowners, are seeking to gain. But others are sounding alarms over contaminated wells, methane flares, and toxic spills. Federal and state authorities, with slow regulatory responses and minimal stake in local impacts, are often leaving local governments to navigate this controversy – and the many impacts of “fracking” – with constrained budgets and limited capacity.
With support from the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School, Yale Climate & Energy Institute, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, a research team at the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School is working to fill this governance gap through a project titled Addressing the Local Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing. The team is building a suite of tools to empower local government decision-making on a range of shale-related local governance challenges. The project’s stakeholder workshops and research to date have helped fashion the first significant resource in that toolkit: a comprehensive impacts framework cataloguing the potential local effects from shale oil and gas development. The research team developed this framework of fracking impacts to help orient communities to potential risks and benefits of shale development. The framework represents a major new resource to provide both a significant knowledge base for local government decision-making and a substantive legal foundation for regulatory and non-regulatory actions.
In the impacts framework, the research team has synthesized nearly 40 local impacts of unconventional oil and gas development across the environmental, socio-economic, and public health spectrum. The team started with a spreadsheet of municipal fracking bans generously shared by Food & Water Watch, then scoured fracking-related local government resolutions across the country to assess the issues dominating communities’ concerns. Building on this community-level survey, the team convened two stakeholder workshops and conducted significant research to identify and categorize key potential impacts. Ranging from habitat fragmentation to visual blight and rising tax revenues to increased employment, the framework addresses both positive and negative impacts communities may face throughout the fracking development lifecycle. The catalogue of impacts is inclusive but neither exhaustive nor predictive; it captures the range of challenges a community may face from a shale play depending on local context, including issues of concern to the scientific community, environmental advocates, industry, and local community members. Importantly, some of the identified impacts are quite likely to occur, while others are equally unlikely. The researchers are not making judgments about the probability or severity of these impacts. We are simply identifying issues that may arise in any given community in order to help prepare local decision-makers.
For each impact in the framework, the research team has identified potential causes and resources linked to those causes that explain, document, contextualize, or substantiate the impact. Wherever possible, the team has sought to provide links to authoritative, peer-reviewed journal articles with objective perspective on an impact and its cause. Where peer-reviewed resources were not available, the framework provides either non-peer reviewed reports and studies or news reports with useful coverage of the impact. With more than 150 resources and links that document and contextualize the potential local impacts, the framework represents a significant effort towards equipping local governments with a foundation to manage shale development.
The impacts framework makes clear that the local effects of the shale boom are many and varied. Most of the impacts the research team has noted span the entire geography of shale development – from Texas to Pennsylvania to North Dakota – though individual community experiences vary with unique environmental, economic, and other characteristics. Some potential impacts, such as groundwater pollution from stray gas or fracking chemicals, are subject to scientific study and documented in peer-reviewed literature. Other impacts, such as an increase in demand for local government services and a reduction in local government workforce retention, are not as well documented but still very real worries for local communities.
The Yale/Pace shale development impacts framework represents a substantial step in the team’s efforts to empower local government decision-making. This significant new resource will help local government leaders identify potential risks and economic benefits of fracking specific to their communities. The framework will also provide the underpinnings for local action based on local priorities, while fostering productive engagement with industry and state regulators.
A static version of this impact list is available online now. In the coming weeks and months the Yale/Pace team will work to update this list with a robust menu of regulatory and non-regulatory governance options that local authorities might consider if any of these impacts raise concerns within their jurisdiction. The team is likewise developing more narrative explanations of the cause of each impact, which will allow local governments to tie their responses more effectively to the underlying problems. Finally, the team will soon release an updated version of this impact list in a dynamic, searchable, online interface.
Building on this initial resource, the team is engaging stakeholders from government, industry, and communities across the country to identify strategic options and alternatives for local governments to address each of the many potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas development. The research team is creating a series of case studies illustrating local government capacity and identifying leading practices – from comprehensive plan amendments to road use agreements to noise restrictions – that will provide guidance to communities facing shale development. Eventually, the team hopes to bundle these resources in a comprehensive training program for municipal leaders.
Despite the recent turbulence in international oil markets, local governments across the country are struggling to keep pace with the shale boom. Some communities are enacting bans that may be preempted by state governments, while others are welcoming development with inadequate safeguards. The Yale/Pace research team is striving to find ground between the two, building tools for sound, balanced, and effective local law and policy that will empower the communities where many of the impacts of shale development are felt.
Monday, January 26, 2015
By Guest Author, Elias Kohn, F&ES '16
It is no surprise that forestry was a major topic of conversation at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that recently concluded in Lima, Peru. Deforestation and agricultural practices constitute a foundational climate and environmental problem. In the last century, human activity cleared roughly 350 million hectares (1.3 million square miles) of tropical forest and degraded an additional 500 million hectares of primary and secondary tropical forest. Agriculture and indirect impacts of land-use change contribute 52 percent of global anthropogenic methane, 84 percent of nitrous oxide and substantial CO2 emissions. Chemical applications, soil erosion, and altered nitrogen cycles compound the problems that current agricultural practices pose.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to these damaging practices. In fact, in Lima, eight South and Central American countries agreed to join the 20X20 Initiative in an effort to restore a half billion acres of forest and farmland. Rather than only mitigating the negative impacts of deforestation, 20X20 endorses agroforestry, a climate smart type of agriculture that can transition problems into positive solutions for restoration. Silvopasture, for example, a type of agroforestry, combines trees or shrubs with pastures and can increase animal productivity and forest cover without the negative impacts frequently incurred by conventional grazing.
Silvopastoral systems, such as this one (pictured) in Misiones, Argentina that combines hybrid beef cattle and loblolly pine, could be connected to additional agroforestry designs – windbreaks or riparian buffers – to create wildlife corridors on the ecosystem level. These multi-use corridors also sequester carbon, as agroforestry systems appear to surpass conventional agriculture sequestration and may even rival some natural forests. Additional benefits include manure as an organic fertilizer for yerba mate and a steady income between timber harvests.
Even with the Lima 20X20 announcement, agroforestry deserves more attention than it currently receives because it provides numerous environmental benefits while addressing socioeconomic concerns.
Consider the UN Millennium Development Goals. Agroforestry merges environmental sustainability (Goal 7) with human needs such as poverty and hunger alleviation (Goal 1). Reforestation through perennial fruit and nut bearing crops offers a safety net when conditions prevent a productive annual crop season and offer nutritional variety limited by certain monoculture cash crop production. Simultaneously, tree crops, such as cacao and tea production in Southeast Asia, are increasing incomes and economic growth for small landowners. The African Plum, along with a huge variety of additionally underutilized tree crops, offers similar income possibilities.
Clean water, lower carbon emissions and reforestation should not require less food production, inequitable resource distribution, or staggered economic development.
Goal 3 of the UN Millennium Development Goals seeks gender equality and female empowerment. Interest in the African Plum is growing among women in Cameroon, as the need to pay school fees and buy uniforms overlap with the Plum marketing season. Women comprise sixty to eighty percent of developing world farmers and account for 75% of household food production, yet receive less than 10% of agricultural extension delivery. Long-term tree crops that coincide with growing market demand for new fruits and nuts may offer a way to shift this imbalance to a more equitable distribution.
This picture shows an agroforestry system of organic cacao, bannana, and Inga trees in Costa Rica. (Photo credit for this photo and above: F Montagnini).
Unfortunately, all of these potential benefits remain severely restrained. Agroforestry designs have proven their effectiveness, but current laws and policies obstruct greater implementation.
Of the major policy restrictions, land tenure stands out as one of the most daunting. Agroforestry is a long-term investment where property rights dictate decisions and management. Policy leaders could promote this design system that addresses environmental challenges and human needs by changing land tenure policies and allowing this practice to thrive.
Initiative 20X20 may bring attention, technical, and financial support to this issue, but will it bring the needed policy changes?
Next week, the second post in this series will address land tenure as a barrier to more widespread agroforestry practices.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
By Guest Author, Hillary Aidun, YLS '17
Last month I delivered a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown when he visited Yale Law School. Signed by twenty-two members of the Yale Environmental Law Association, the letter asks Governor Brown to place an indefinite moratorium on the use of unconventional oil extraction techniques such as fracking.
Governor Brown has made climate change a policy priority, but development of shale oil threatens to undermine his state’s progress. According to the California Air Resources Board, much of the state’s oil is more carbon intensive than the Alberta Tar Sands, one of the most climate-threatening reserves on the planet. Depending on whom you ask, we need to leave either two-thirds or 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground in order to restrict global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. We should at least stop extraction of the most climate-disrupting energy sources, such as California oil.
Climate change threatens California in a number of ways, including by exacerbating drought. But unconventional extraction also contributes to drought in the immediate term by wasting at least two million gallons of water every day. Governor Brown has vowed to place water “front and center” as his state suffers from a drought so severe that cities are restricting residents’ water usage. He could save Californians enormous amounts of water by halting fracking and similar methods. These water-intensive drilling techniques are especially harmful because they permanently remove precious water from California’s supply; the chemicals employed and produced during fracking are so toxic that wastewater cannot be reused for other purposes.
Because fracking involves carcinogenic pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde it poses enormous threats to human health and the environment through both air and water pollution. According to nationwide industry data, five percent of wells leak immediately, and more than half leak after 30 years. An investigation by the Associated Press has confirmed cases of water contamination in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas. In Los Angeles and Orange Counties, oil companies used 45 million pounds of air toxic materials for fracking and similar techniques between June 2013 and July 2014 alone. These toxins included crystalline silica, a known carcinogen, and hydrofluoric acid, which can cause severe damage to the eyes, skin and lungs. Californians have reported other health impacts in areas where fracking has been taking place for years.
Because fracking wastewater cannot be reused, operators dispose of it through underground injection. Federal seismologists have linked this practice to earthquakes. In the last five years Oklahoma has endured 2500 earthquakes, which scientistsblame on wastewater injection. More than half of California’s wastewater injection wells are within ten miles of a recently active fault line. Needless to say, California does not need to amplify its seismic risk.
Our letter—like fracking in California—focuses on oil, but it is important to note that most fracking in the United States takes place in pursuit of natural gas. Many consider natural gas a relatively harmless fossil fuel because it emits less carbon dioxide than coal when burned. But natural gas’s primary ingredient, methane, is up to 105 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Studies have found that methane leakage rates can be as high as 10% — meaning that in many cases natural gas is even worse for the climate than coal.
Pick your poison—fracking is extraordinarily dangerous for a number of reasons. That is why nearly 70% of Californians want a halt to all fracking, and communities around the state are moving forward to prohibit the practice or calling on the Governor to do the same. I hope that Governor Brown will take note of fracking’s threats, and lead the nation on this pivotal environmental and human health issue.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15
Mother Latvia stands in the center of Latvia’s capital Riga and immediately evokes the people’s struggle for freedom from Russia, and alternating German and Soviet occupations. Liberty, a woman cast in copper, lifts up three stars representing different Latvian regions and her posture, head slightly bowed and both arms raised high, conveys a sense of sacrifice that Latvians still recall from a not-so-distant past. Having gained independence in 1991, the country now pursues its own desired and expected development.
The Latvian government has committed itself to sustainable development. In the words of former Minister for Environmental Protection and Regional Development of Latvia, His Excellency Edmunds Sprudzs, Latvia is dedicated to “environmentally sound, sustainable policy and growth.” However, the definition of what “sustainability” means to the Latvian national identity, and in the face of increasing Western European influence, is up for debate.
After decades of invasion and occupation, rural landscapes are dotted by derelict farms, some of which may appear to be more wild than agricultural after decades of abandonment. The country is marked by large and eerily untouched sanctuaries of land and coastline, which, thanks to historic Soviet dictates that prohibited any access (fishing, farming etc.), now harbor multiple endangered species. As a result, ideas about wild and rural landscapes and how each evokes Latvian national heritage are sources of contention among government officials, rural communities, and international and domestic non-governmental conservation organizations. At the center of these debates is what “Latvianness” is and how landscapes might be managed in that image.
During the 1990s, for example, the fight over sustainable forestry within Latvia was largely driven by the politics of conservation and national identity, namely the tension between two opposing views, “liberal internationalism” and “agrarian nationalism.” Conservative forestry officials defended the sustainability of their forestry practices against the reformists’ arguments (including those of timber companies) that government practices were ecologically harmful and far from “sustainable.” The reform coalition argued for decreased state intervention, and endeavored to facilitate private and foreign owned commercial forestry, thereby revealing a distinct vision for Latvian development. That is, the reformists foresaw a future defined by involvement in international markets, private enterprise, and civil society. Just as the government foresters envisioned their traditional role as protectors of the forest for the Latvian people, so too did the reformists’ liberal sustainable development agenda rely on the idea of a peasant’s deep respect for nature. Both reflected a national consciousness of the Latvian people derived from a relationship with the land. In several ways, therefore, contention over national identity as embedded in the landscape shaped the debate over how to manage natural resources.
Having studied the emergence of national parks in the United States, I wonder, in creating reserves and attracting Western European tourists to experience its wild and “untouched” nature, will the ecological integrity of Latvia’s sanctuaries be jeopardized? And to what extent will Latvian culture (given the multiple definitions of what this is) be commodified by government administrators or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for international consumption?
To help guide development, NGOs often come to play key roles in coordinating community-based conservation projects. The role of the environmental NGO is complex, and one that I came to think critically on during my internship this summer at the Baltic Environmental Forum (BEF) in Hamburg Germany. The organization recently kicked off its multi-year VivaGrass project that will restore and maintain grasslands in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
The grasslands themselves are a quickly vanishing, an extremely rich ecosystem that has co-evolved with human activity along the Baltic coast over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Ancient and modern grazing and farming practices have kept shrub and tree growth in check and allowed a staggering diversity of plant and animal species to flourish. In recent decades, however, the local farming communities that once maintained these grasslands were destroyed by Soviet farm collectivization and have remained debilitated under the infusion of food and goods from Western Europe.
Since the VivaGrass project kickoff meeting in May, I came to appreciate how intertwined the environmental conservation goal of the project is with rural development and how, even though BEF’s primary issue is grasslands, it is inevitably acting within a much larger context of history, national identity, and national politics. Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian professionals within BEF, in close coordination with rural farmers and local government administrators, are the leaders of the VivaGrass project. Regardless of the heritage of BEF’s team, though, VivaGrass will deal with more than monitoring grassland health.
As BEF’s VivaGrass project begins to create socially and ecologically “sustainable” grassland management models for its Baltic project sites, it is inevitably involved in political and cultural discourses of rural landscape conservation and development. In its early stages, the project will involve rural stakeholder engagement and grassland rehabilitation (shrub and tree removal). Over time, and in coordination with farmers and municipal leaders, the project will establish long-term maintenance schemes. Such maintenance in other grassland conservation projects around Europe has typically entailed purchasing sheep or cows and a fencing or transporting system. These project often hire shepherds to tend to the animals or enlist local farmers to perform the work. Local farmers ideally would be able to sell meat or milk products for profit to local markets or tourists. In some cases, the products from the animals are coupled with the sale of other locally produced goods.
In remaking select Baltic grasslands, VivaGrass also will be re-fashioning the rural landscape, which is both a cultural and agricultural act. Although local stakeholders may not explicitly state the narratives embedded in the landscape, “liberal internationalist” and “agrarian nationalist” stances may nevertheless shape collective impressions about what is an appropriate appearance and form of grassland rehabilitation. BEF, therefore, is poised to advance a cultural and/or political vision of rural development. Even if it does not officially endorse a particular viewpoint, BEF’s awareness of the implications of either narrative is key in anticipating outcomes of the project as it proceeds and balances local and national developmental needs and desires. Furthermore, a sensitivity to the power dynamics associated with rural development and continually assessing to what degree local populations have control over their own development is a critical question that will impact the long-term viability of VivaGrass.
While Mother Latvia has been a central symbol for the country’s embattled path to independence, the history behind her image does not offer a clear path forward now that the Latvian people have rural landscapes and wild spaces of their own. Competing ideas about national identity and responsible socio-economic development create a backdrop against which any non-profit environmental organization’s efforts are organized. The protection of grasslands within the Baltic region are a particularly poignant case in conservation simply because these ecosystems actually rely on human activity. They are, in other words, biological expressions of an ancient human-nature relationship. As such, BEF’s efforts to protect endangered grassland ecosystems is as much cultural as it is ecological. After decades of war and foreign occupation, Latvian government officials, rural community members, and farmers face the socio-biological consequences of land abandonment and farming community collapse. Non-governmental organizations like BEF may be uniquely positioned to help bring about environmentally and socially sound paths of conservation and development.
Avana Andrade is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She earned her B.A. in International Studies and Western European History at Colorado State University in 2010. Before returning to school, she worked as a public historian and backcountry ranger with the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service in both Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Her work has focused on the history of grazing and cultural resource management in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park. Work and recreation on the Colorado Plateau motivates her primary interest in grad school, environmental conflict mediation. Avana is a Colorado native and an avid backpacker and gardener.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
By Guest Author, Chris Halfnight, MEM Candidate '15
The following blog was written for the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard blog and is available here as originally posted.
A short walk from the famous Whalemen’s Chapel of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, offshore wind power is getting a major push. With construction of a new, $100-million marine commerce terminal well underway in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the city is on track to become a central hub for the emerging offshore wind industry in the United States – good news for the local economy, wind developers, and clean energy advocates alike. Recently, I had a chance to tour the site for this new marine commerce terminal and learn more about its goals and prospects. I’m grateful to Apex Companies’ Project Manager Dario Quintana for showing me around, and to Bill White and Matt Kakley at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for arranging the visit.
Called the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, the new port is the first of its kind in North America, specifically designed with the size and heavy capacity necessary to be a major staging ground for assembling and deploying large offshore wind turbines along the Atlantic coast. Developed by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center – a key force behind the state’s nation-leading support for clean energy policies – the 28-acre terminal sits just north of New Bedford harbor’s hurricane barrier. In addition to handling offshore wind, the terminal is also designed to manage other forms of bulk, container, and large specialty marine cargo.
Governor Deval Patrick broke ground on the project in the spring of 2013. On my recent visit, the future terminal was beginning to take shape: over the past year, the project team has filled and built much of the dock’s foundation and remediated contaminated soils in the harbor, which is a Superfund site. Construction is set to finish this coming December, with completion of a newly dredged, 30-foot-deep shipping lane to accommodate the large-scale vessels used in assembling and installing offshore wind turbines.
This impressive new terminal is helping revitalize New Bedford, a city with 350 years of maritime history and once the world’s preeminent whaling port. It’s also heralding the imminent rise of a new and robust American industry: offshore wind power, which theDepartment of Energy estimates could create by 2030 more than 43,000 permanent jobs, along with 1.1 million job-years in manufacturing and installation.
Indeed, the terminal is already bringing significant benefits to the local economy: about40% of the project’s 120 jobs have gone to South Coast residents, the terminal’s general contractor is New Bedford-based Cashman-Weeks NB, and construction has relied on supplies and services from at least ten local businesses – a huge boon for a city that has suffered high unemployment in recent years.
New Bedford is well positioned to help Massachusetts capture substantial first-mover benefits from the emerging offshore wind industry, including a wealth of local jobs and economic development – a head start on building a skilled workforce that may soon be in high demand along the east coast. The potential windfall for first-movers is enormous, with the federal government having already designated more than 1.5 million acres off the Atlantic coast for wind energy development – a total area that could feasibly provide over 16,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity capacity and could power more than 5 million homes. The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal is located and engineered to be able to handle the staging, assembly, and deployment for many of these potential projects. One of these developments – the nearby Cape Wind offshore wind project – has cleared all of its regulatory hurdles and is set to begin construction in the next year.
New projects in the area are also on the way: last September, Deepwater Wind secured the nation’s first competitive lease in federal waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The company plans to develop approximately 1000 megawatts of generating capacity in the site, which it estimates would power 350,000 homes and displace more than 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide annually – equivalent to removing four million cars from our roads. And, on the same day as my visit, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted a public meeting in New Bedford to advance the leasing process for another wind energy area 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Offshore wind power – with huge potential capacity, no fuel costs, and no air pollution – is set to become a central pillar in our clean energy future. Europe leads the way on offshore wind, with 73 offshore wind projects already producing carbon-free electricity. But momentum is building here in the United States, and continued policy and infrastructure investment will finally bring this enormous clean energy source online. Properly designed and well-sited offshore wind power makes good sense for local and national economies and the environment alike. Massachusetts and New Bedford are smart to invest now in the clean energy future.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
By Guest Author, Pamela Jao, MEM/MBA candidate '17 and Daphne Yin, MEM candidate' 16
By 2100 it may be impossible for humans to work outside. If the world continues on its business-as-usual growth trajectory, global temperatures could rise beyond 95 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest tolerable “wet bulb temperature” – as the new norm in many parts of the world. Particularly in urban areas, where heat island effects can add up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures would be especially unbearable.
How do we avoid such a bleak future? On June 19, Diana Ürge-Vorsatz – coordinating lead author of the buildings chapter of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change Mitigation – shared her thoughts here at Yale on the potential to counter climate change through building efficiency.
The map in the top right-hand corner shows the BAU greenhouse gas emissions scenario, also known as RCP 8.5 in the scientific community.
Passive House Standard
Ürge-Vorsatz made the case, based on emissions data, that the most cost-effective way to mitigate climate change is through building efficiency improvements, compared to emissions reductions in other sectors. In particular, she highlighted one building concept – the passive house – that not only can guide reductions in our carbon footprint but also help us “weather the weather.”
The Passive House Standard, launched in Germany, specifically targets energy efficiency (in contrast to holistic standards like LEED). Employing high-quality insulation and ventilation, passive houses require incredibly little energy for space heating and cooling. Case studies show that passive houses reduce energy consumption by much as 80 to 90 percent compared to typical buildings in central Europe. The buildings themselves can be residential or nonresidential, new or retrofits, and are relatively low-cost over their lifetime, although they do require additional upfront costs for the design and higher-quality building components. Ürge-Vorsatz’s research conservatively estimates that if all current building stock were to achieve passive-house levels of energy reduction, world energy consumption would fall by 30 percent. These energy reductions could help us avoid the 2100 BAU scenario, though they would obviously need to happen sooner than later.
While it’s been proven that passive houses require very little energy to regulate temperature, can this technology be scaled? How well do passive houses perform outside of Central Europe, their temperate birthplace, particularly in more extreme climates? The airtight insulation of passive houses apparently excels in retaining warmth in cold climates, most prominently in Iceland where rough forms of the passive house date back to the Middle Ages. However, it was argued during the talk’s Q&A that while the concept is less adept at providing cooling in hot, humid climates. If this is true, how would passive houses fare in a country like India, which suffered its worst heat wave in over 60 years this summer?
Intrigued, we researched what work has been done to pilot passive houses in hot climates. A 2013 study by the Passive House Institute says passive house design can thrive in tropical climates (Jakarta, anyone?) if adjusted to include features such as interior insulation, solar control glazing, fixed window shades, and ventilation with heat and energy recovery.
Of course, it would help to know how much warm-climate adjustments would cost – particularly in developing countries where upfront costs may already be higher due to the relatively limited number of manufacturers that are versed in passive building components. To the extent that the passive house concept is flexible, countries can adapt it using their own design techniques.
Another area for exploration concerns air quality. Although passive houses should have good air quality by design and be made of non-toxic materials, any cutting of corners (e.g., substituting cheap toxic materials) could prove troublesome given the extreme insulation.
A global map of where passive houses are currently located is available here.
Living Building Challenge
Another green building concept, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) was presented on last week by the Connecticut Collaborative. LBC is the most stringent and holistic of green building certifications, surpassing both LEED and Passive House Standard in their approaches to efficiency.
The Living Building Challenge (LBC) incorporates criteria that are non-traditional metrics of green buildings, including considerations of equity, human health and happiness, and beauty. While LEED-certified buildings can still have negative environmental impacts, living buildings must provide real environmental benefits. For example, they must be net energy and water positive, and cannot use combustion-based energy sources.
While the LBC philosophy and movement are inspirational, it is hard not to recognize the uphill battle living buildings face in achieving commercial adoption. Currently, there are only five certified living buildings in the whole world. Building them can be cost-prohibitive, especially when current financial models for buildings don’t account for healthcare cost reductions, and increased productivity.
Getting retro right
Independently, the Passive House Standard and Living Building Challenge present two promising solutions to avoid the “lock-in” scenario Ürge-Vorsatz described. She stressed that shallow retrofits – anything resulting in less than 80 percent in energy reduction – are harmful, as they risk locking buildings into a path-dependent scenario of sub-optimal performance. Since both standards have stringent energy reduction requirements, they represent potential standards that could be scaled up and prevent the future nightmare BAU scenario of 2100.
If you want to get more involved with the Living Building Challenge, like “Living Building Challenge Connecticut Collaborative” on Facebook and check out the International Living Future Institute website where you can sign up to be an ambassador.
Austrian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Timothy/Austrian Embassy Jakarta.
Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, New York. Credit: Farsid Assassi/BNIM Architects.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
By Guest Author, Sara Kuebbing, Gaylord Donnelley Environmental Postdoctoral Associate, Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies
In a quest to reduce dependence on foreign oil, the United States government is increasing its mandatory minimum levels of renewable biofuel production each year. Because the US’s first large-scale foray into biofuels—corn for ethanol—was heavily criticized, many non-food plant species are now under consideration for biofuel production. However, this search for non-food biofuels has another, currently underappreciated, impact: The introduction and spread of invasive plant species across the US.
The problem with using nonnative plants for biofuel is that successful biofuel crop traits —short generation time, pest resistance, high growth rates, high water-use efficiency—are the same traits of many invasive plants.
Nonnative plants are those humans introduce into an area from far-off geographic regions. If these plants spread far beyond the place where they were originally planted, they are considered invasive. Not all nonnative plants turn invasive, but recent research indicates that the species the US government is considering for biofuels are three times more likely to be invasive than a random sampling of nonnative species. For more on the plants currently under consideration, see the sidebar Potential Invasives Awiting Approval below.
To address this, the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species brought invasive plant experts from around the nation to the Washington, DC last week to meet with members of Congress, congressional staff, and federal agencies The goal of the meetings was to dissuade policymakers from providing federal support for the use of nonnative, invasive plants as biofuel feedstock.
The Environmental Protection Agency gave the green-light nearly a year ago to businesses wishing to grow two well-known invasive grasses: giant reed (Arundo donax) and napiergrass (Pennisetum purpureum). Ironically, the EPA is not the only governmental agency thinking about these species. Giant reed, an aptly named grass that can easily grow stalks over 30 feet in height, is growing unabated along the US-Mexico border. This weed presents such a problem for border patrol agents with the Department of Homeland Security that DHS has commissioned the US Department of Agriculture’s help in coming up with a method to reduce the giant reed populations in Texas.
So why would the EPA approve the wide-spread planting of invasive species? It comes down to strict and literal adherence to laws passed by Congress a few years back. Currently, the EPA reviews potential biofuel feedstocks as part of the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) Program, created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and revised in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. These laws, in short, demand that the transportation fuel must be a blend of traditional carbon-intensive oil as well as renewable fuels with lower carbon emissions.
EPA conducts a greenhouse gas (GHG) lifecycle analysis on potential biofuel feedstocks to determine if they have lower carbon emissions than traditional fuels. Biofuel producers and purchasers can (and must) petition the EPA to consider their specific biofuel “pathway” to see if it is eligible for renewable fuel standard credits. Because the only explicit requirement in the Energy Independence and Security Act is for EPA to perform GHG analysis, the EPA is sticking to this bare minimum in its environmental review, and has chosen to ignore other existing mandates, such as a presidential Executive Order requiring federal agencies to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.
Although EPA doesn’t explicitly consider the potential invasiveness of a plant species under the RFS program, the agency did respond to the unanimous outcry from scientists in 2012 when it first approved giant reed and napiergrass as RFS compliant. However, EPA’s concession did not signal a commitment to consider the ecological impacts of potential feedstocks. Instead, EPA determined that if these invasive plants spread beyond the original planting, necessary control and management efforts would increase their “carbon-costs.” In other words, EPA determined that in some cases, invasion may have climate implications.
EPA ended up withdrawing the original 2012 ruling, and replacing it in 2013 with a supplemental ruling that required producers to submit a “Risk Mitigation Plan” that lays out a plan for keeping these species from spreading beyond the biofuel plantations. So far, no company has submitted a plan. And the scientific community is skeptical about the effectiveness of any self-enforced plan.
For those of us who think using invasive plants for biofuels is a bad idea, the ultimate frustration is that many other plants could make excellent feedstock. There does not have to be a “business vs. environment” trade-off when choosing renewable biofuel plants. Although the traits of biofuels and invasive plants strongly overlap, scientists have a resoundingly solid track record of predicting what species are at “high risk” of becoming invasive, and they’ve developed many practical and useful Weed Risk Assessment tools that allow users to evaluate the potential invasiveness of a species. These tools are so accurate that some governments, including Australia and New Zealand, require that all plant species pass an assessment before introduction into the country.
The scientific recommendation is that Weed Risk Assessments are made a fundamental component of any federal decision on biofuel production. Plants that are considered “low-risk” should be prioritized and incentivized over those that are “high-risk” for invasive potential. Last week, there was some indication that this could be a possibility. Scientists with the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species had positive reception from some agency staff, namely the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office that provided R&D funding for many potential biofuel feedstocks. These staffers were already aware of the invasive potential of some biofuel feedstocks, and seemed receptive to using more formalized assessment tools in their own internal decisions on what species should receive federal funding.
However, it appears that under the current status quo, ecological invasions are likely to increase. The passing of the Energy Independence and Security Act increased EPA’s workload without increasing staffing to complete the task. This has, in part, probably led to EPA’s decision to stick with only the limited consideration of lifecycle GHG emission. And, in another round of agency irony, the Department of Agriculture is touting the transformation of field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense) from “nuisance weed to biofuel” as if the new use will change its ecological properties or limit its invasion.
USDA has a long history of importing invasive plants into the United States. Through the Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation program, many nonnative species were promoted for preventing soil erosion and improving wildlife habitat. The most infamous of these species is kudzu (Pueria lobelata) “the vine that ate the south,” but also includes the highly invasive bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) and Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia).
Would it really be too much to ask for our federal agencies to learn from their past mistakes and avoid promoting kudzu’s successor?
Want to know more about invasive species and US biofuel policies? Check out these good reads:
Lewis KC and RD Porter (2014.) Global approaches to addressing biofuel-related invasive species risks and incorporation into U.S. laws and policies. Ecological Monographs 171. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-1625.1
Quinn LD, Gordon D, Glaser A, Lieurance D, and SL Flory. (accepted, in press) Bioenergy feedstocks at low risk for invasion in the US: A white-list approach. Bioenergy Research.
Potential Invasives Awiting Approval
While it seems highly unlikely that the EPA will revise its final ruling on giant reed and napiergrass, more potential invasive plants are sitting in the EPA’s docket. Most of these petition listings are so vague that it is impossible to evaluate the invasiveness potential without further clarification of the exact species under consideration. Currently, the EPA has four different petitions for “grain sorghum,” one for “biomass sorghum,” one for “jatropha,” and one for “pennycresss.” Although scientists and taxonomists purposely use a consistent and widespread convention for naming plants and animals so that they can avoid confusion between different languages or even different regional slang, these petitions are most likely intentionally vague to protect proprietary information about the exact variety of the plant under consideration.
For example—and using the proper conventional nomenclature—the plant genera Sorghum contains a few highly invasive plants species: Sorghum bicolor (which has a slew of common names including shattergrass, Sudangrass, and, sometimes, grain sorghum) is listed as a noxious weed in six states, and its close relative Sorghum halepense (Johnsongrass) is listed in a 19 states. Likewise, the genera Jatropha contains two members of the IUCN’s infamous “100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.” Some proactive researchers have already red-flagged these species because of Weed Risk Assessment results: Jatropha curcas was resoundingly rejected by three different assessments, Sorghum halepense and Thlaspi arvense (field pennycress) by one, and Sorghum bicolor was recommended for further evaluation three times.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15
On April 23, during National Park week and just after Earth Day, Tom Kizzia, author of the acclaimed Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, concluded the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy’s 2014 Climate and Energy Bookshelf series sponsored by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute. Kizzia’s lecture, delivered to a crowd of more than 80 people, was titled “Frontier Gothic: Transcendentalists, Puritans, and Pilgrims in Alaska” and explored, in part, the implications of the biggest conservation act in world history.
In 1980, the U.S. Congress passed the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, creating over 100 million acres of national parks, preserves, forests and wildlife refuges within the state, transferring ownership of about 60 percent of all lands in the state to the federal government, and setting up a fierce debate between state residents and federal bureaucrats on land ownership and authority. One of the protected areas established was the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, an area about as large as Switzerland with one glacier alone the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
The only town in the park is the village of McCarthy, a former mining settlement that had seen a boom and then bust copper operation in the 1930s. In early 2002, Robert Hale, who called himself Papa Pilgrim, purchased hundreds of acres near an old mine site outside of McCarthy and moved his wife and 15 children there to be away from what he considered a corrupted civilization. In the wilderness he was able to raise his children in his own, unique, religious faith and without the influences of the outside world.
To build up his property, Hale expanded and improved an old mining road. The environmentally destructive improvement lead to conflict with the National Park Service (NPS) – with its mission to preserve the park from development – and highlighted the tensions between private landholders within the park and the NPS
Enter Tom Kizzia, a respected Alaska journalist. Kizzia and his wife owned a cabin near McCarthy. Kizzia asked Hale if he could interview the “Pilgrim” family about the conflict and, in a rare move, Papa Pilgrim agreed after learning that Kizzia was a neighbor. Soon “Neighbor Tom” spent long periods with the family, something he described as living in another world. Without revealing too much of how the story ends, eventually the sordid details of Papa Pilgrim’s ideal biblical living were exposed.
The story of the Pilgrims, who fought federal officials in order to build access to their property in the park, is one of many intriguing land conflicts within the United States, and especially in my home state of Alaska. I am from the Bristol Bay region, an area with two large national parks, a national wildlife refuge and the nation’s largest state park, and I know firsthand how questions of ownership and authority over lands in Alaska are still hotly contested, decades after ANILCA set off a firestorm between local Alaskans and decisionmakers in Washington, D.C.
One example is the proposed Pebble Mine, a copper and gold mine on state land located in an area between two national parks, Lake Clark and Katmai. The state of Alaska and the mining company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, contends that the Pebble deposit is in an area open for mineral exploration and development. They argue it would be worth $300-$500 billion given today’s mineral prices, provide thousands of jobs, and much revenue to the state. The federal government claims that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the final authority on whether the mining activities can go forward. The EPA argues that because the mine will affect waters of the United States, the EPA has final authority through the 1972 Clean Water Act. The Act allows the EPA to veto or restrict development activities that can impact drinking water, recreational, fishery or wildlife areas. Through a final EPA study released earlier this year, EPA found the Bristol Bay region produces nearly half of the world’s wild sockeye salmon—salmon on which my family depends for our livelihood. EPA subsequently started a process to veto the development of the Pebble Mine. Religious leaders have also come out against the proposed mine because they fear it will pollute God’s creation in the region.
The use of religion for preservation is an interesting argument in both the cases of the proposed Pebble Mine and the Pilgrim family. Yale Divinity School’s 2009 conference discussed this very issue. It brings us back to the lessons learned from Tom Kizzia’s book and lecture at Yale, that religion can be used in cases of both development and preservation. Through the intriguing story of the Pilgrims, undeveloped wilderness was the reason that they purchased the land and subsequently why they fired off a thunderstorm of land conflicts when they tried to develop part of it.
Verner Wilson, III, is a rising second-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is originally from Bristol Bay, Alaska, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2008 from Brown University. He previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a coalition of Alaska Native tribes, on issues related to sustainable wild salmon fisheries, environmental justice, mining, oil and gas, and climate change.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
By Guest Author, Christopher Halfnight, Yale F&ES '15
Unconventional oil and gas development is fundamentally changing the U.S. energy landscape, bringing both new challenges and new opportunities. Federal and state laws regulate some aspects of the shale oil and gas development life-cycle, but the pace and scale of shale plays in states from Pennsylvania to Texas to North Dakota risks a host of potential impacts at the local level – impacts that may fall through a governance gap without effective exercise of municipal land use and zoning authority.
Researchers at the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School, with support from the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, are leading an outreach, analysis, and guidance effort to help address this potential shale gas governance gap at the local level. As outlined in the team’s White Paper, outright bans on fracking risk state preemption, while uncontrolled drilling risks negative community and environmental impacts. The project team aims to support municipal leaders in developing sound, balanced, and effective local regulatory, non-regulatory, and planning practices to address the impacts of shale oil and gas development. With the proper tools, local authorities can effectively govern many aspects of fracking by better interfacing with state regulators and industry, or exercising local powers to mitigate land use impacts and environmental damage, while ensuring safeguards for net economic, social, and community benefits.
As part of this ongoing effort, the Yale and Pace team recently convened a facilitated discussion at Yale Law School with diverse stakeholders from industry, advocacy, government, and academia. Titled “Closing the Shale Gas Governance Gap,” the session in late March focused on local strategies and best practices for governing unconventional oil and gas development. The team’s research is turning up novel and notable examples of local regulation of fracking – overlay zones, parcel size restrictions, insurance requirements, and noise limits, to name just a few. We sought to enhance and expand our efforts through collaborative discussion with a group of experts from the field.
Professor Hannah Wiseman from Florida State University College of Law opened the discussion with an overview of current federal and state regulatory efforts, highlighting potential impacts and governance gaps at the local level. Participants then heard from three distinguished speakers with firsthand knowledge of local government attempts to address the impacts of fracking.
John Smith, Solicitor for Cecil Township in Pennsylvania and attorney for the municipalities in the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, spoke of a wide range of local challenges in the communities he represents, from water use to road traffic, and silica dust to seismic testing. Attorney Smith also discussed unique strategies in Cecil Township, including local ordinances requiring sound walls around drill sites and advance notice of drilling.
Similarly, Terrence Welch, Partner at Brown & Hofmeister LLP, in Richardson, Texas, offered valuable perspective on crafting the Dallas local ordinance governing oil and gas development in an urban and suburban setting in the Barnett Shale region of north Texas. Public attention in the nearby suburb of Flower Mound focused heavily on the issue of setbacks, and local government experience there highlighted the importance of property value studies to justify those setbacks, as well as the need to anticipate variance claims, the threat of takings lawsuits, and issues unique to parkland.
Lastly, Stephen Ross, formerly the County Attorney for Santa Fe County, New Mexico, discussed Santa Fe’s recent gas development ordinance, providing unique insight into the county’s efforts to facilitate public participation, initiate a temporary moratorium, draft general plan amendments, and build a collaborative interaction with state government.
Through these presentations and the discussion that followed – moderated by Professor John Nolon from Pace Law School – two clear lessons emerged: local governments have the legal capacity to address many impacts of hydraulic fracturing and they exhibit a wide variety of approaches and strategies. The team is using these lessons to bolster and guide future efforts. With the right tools, local governments can play a large role in filling the shale governance gap; leading practices and robust training will help prepare municipal leaders as they grapple with the challenges and opportunities of a shale oil and gas play.
The March workshop represented a key step forward in the project team’s ongoing efforts to help local governments address the impacts of hydraulic fracturing. The discussion built on our December 2013 expert panel and workshop at Pace Land Use Law Center’s Annual Conference which aimed to test the governance-gap hypothesis: that federal and state regulatory schemes are failing to address a range of local impacts from hydraulic fracturing.
At that workshop, a diverse group of stakeholders collaborated to identify and discuss potential impactsand concerns at the local level, ranging from the positive effects of increased economic activity, to risks of water contamination, air pollution, and pressure on local roads and services. The impacts of unconventional oil and gas development vary according to local factors. But the group at the December session emerged with a strong a consensus that federal and state regulatory measures are often inadequately addressing those impacts – a consensus that helped transition the project toward identifying local strategies and best practices.
The Yale and Pace team is excited to continue building on our collaboration with expert participants from these two workshops. As we refine our research on leading practices for local governments, the project team is shifting toward fashioning a comprehensive suite of tools and a robust training program to equip local leaders with the knowledge and capacity to deal confidently with hydraulic fracturing. With multiple-stakeholder input, we aim to empower local communities to chart an informed and responsible path through the potential benefits and risks of fracking.
We expect to develop a variety of tools and programs in the coming months. Expanding on our research and outreach to date, the team is creating a thorough guide to potential impacts and issues that local governments may face and may wish to address – including rising local government revenues from sources such as sales taxes, property taxes, or state-collected severance taxes, booming real estate markets, new bunk-housing, well fires, pipeline breakage, seismic testing, and flaring noise. This substantive framework and checklist will help orient communities to the various benefits and risks of fracking, including potential environmental, health, and socio-economic impacts that municipal leaders will need to evaluate. Grounded in research and case studies such as those discussed in the March workshop, this issues framework will also provide a substantive foundation municipalities can use to justify potential regulatory and non-regulatory actions. With a solid knowledge base tailored to local conditions, municipal leaders will be better positioned to effectively manage gas development and to engage industry and state regulators in productive dialogue.
We also intend to continue building on the March workshop to complement the issues framework with detailed strategic options and alternatives for local governments tailored to each of the potential impacts. We anticipate including leading practices for both regulatory and non-regulatory strategies, drawing from our previous facilitated discussions and further research and collaboration. The procedural options framework may include model planning and zoning documents, such as comprehensive development plan amendments to address unconventional oil and gas development, special use permits, and draft ordinances focusing on setbacks, use restrictions, overlay strategies, insurance requirements, noise limits, and other aspects within the purview of local government. As a counterpart to regulatory options, the framework will also include non-regulatory strategies and templates, such as policy statements, funding strategies, model road use agreements, community benefit agreements, processes for seeking better support from state regulators, and other means of securing local advantages from shale gas development while safeguarding against potential negative effects. These non-regulatory strategies can help communities work collaboratively with industry to ensure baseline testing, high performance standards, post-development bonding, and other local needs.
Ultimately, the team intends to communicate the entire package as part of a robust training program for municipal leaders – first as a pilot project and eventually at large. We also expect to develop new mechanisms – potentially online – to distribute project materials and to facilitate communication between municipalities, particularly in regional frameworks to address cumulative impacts of gas development. In so doing, we hope to promote dialogue between communities and industry, and between municipal and state authorities.
Our work to date – and the generous support of experts and sponsors – has positioned the Yale and Pace team to move forward with the next phase of addressing the local impacts of hydraulic fracturing, and is already receiving positive media attention. For better or worse, the shale boom continues. Unconventional oil and gas development brings the prospect of significant economic gain for often-frail local economies, and the specter of long-lasting environmental harm and community detriment. With the proper tools and knowledge base, municipal leaders will be better equipped to navigate an effective path between those two poles, mitigating potential negative impacts, while securing net economic and social community benefits.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15
John Wesley Powell’s 1878 Report on the Lands of the Arid Region set out his master plan for water management, land tenure, and settlement across the western United States. Even from his mid-nineteenth-century perspective, Powell could see the water wars coming. In his plan, Powell recommended that settlements and agriculture be organized around the natural flow of water over the landscape, according to a region’s given watershed. He envisioned water managed not through large diversions, transfers, or dams but through small dams and canals, with the water never leaving its watershed.
In this model, Powell foresaw farmers and communities with more power over their region’s water management. His vision, as utopian as it may strike us now, never came to pass, but his foresight still holds relevance today. The idea of organizing resource management according to natural features of the landscape is reflected in the growing national interest to orient food production and consumption to local or regional capacities. As more local and regional food systems emerge nationwide, they may not be aligning themselves with watersheds as Powell hoped, but they are responses to particular local needs and regional trends, and place more control over food production in the communities’ hands. With the help of the federal government, these networks may be creating something more akin to “foodsheds” instead.
In her April 16th presentation, “2014 Farm Bill: What’s in in for Sustainable Food Systems?” Ariane Lotti gave listeners a brief overview of the congressional lead-up to the current bill and provided a more detailed look into the nuts and bolts of the farm bill programs and subsidies. The portion of the bill that addresses sustainable agriculture is one small segment of the entire bill, but it focuses attention on local and regional food systems, the next generation of farmers and ranchers, research and extension, and farm subsidy reform. In looking closer at this one facet of this bill, and local and regional systems of agriculture, it quickly becomes clear that various realms of the farm bill overlap significantly, and likely by design. The purposes of micro-loan or crop-insurance programs, for example, bolster the up-and-coming farmers who no longer see their predecessors’ large corn or soybean fields as economically or environmentally viable.
Take, for instance, John D. Jackson’s family farm in southern Illinois, in the heart of the Corn Belt, which has grown corn for ethanol and cattle feed for decades. Recently, however, Mr. Jackson has begun to convert a portion of the farm into fruits and vegetables. He is among a growing number of Midwestern farmers responding to the economic advantage in diversifying the family farm. Apparently, the financial gain from a transition, even a partial one, can be significant. According to a February, 2014 New York Times article, “The Seeds of a New Generation,” (which cites Iowa State University crop analysts), a farmer can expect on average $284 from an acre of corn, while a one-acre apple orchard could bring in $2,000 or more. This shift in economics is due, in large part, to strengthened regional food systems. The story of one farmer’s son returning to the family corn operation and bringing with him apple trees, blackberry bushes, and rows of vegetables is striking because the more common picture is of the corn farmer’s children running far and wide, never to return. Accordingly, this blog is devoted to highlighting a few towns and regions where a more localized and diverse approach to agriculture has already caught its trade winds or where recent federal funding has pushed another proverbial ship to sea.
What is “local food?” What is “regional food?” Is there a difference between the two? What do we mean when we say “food system” anyway? While the terms may seem self-evident to some, it is worth pointing out where the terms overlap and diverge. A food system refers to the multitude of processes through which food is grown, distributed and consumed. Put simply, a food system is “a process that includes the production of agricultural goods, purchasing and processing of those goods, distribution and marketing of value added products, end-user preparation and consumption, and waste disposal.” Local and regional food systems both encompass farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA), food hubs, roadside stands, and u-pick operations. These elements refer to the type of market structures available to farmers in a certain locale; however, there is no universal definition for either “local” or “regional.” A “local food system” generally refers to the processes of growing and selling the food close to the consumer. A close proximity could mean within state lines or, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, within a 100-mile radius of a given location. While economists might define local and regional food systems according to marketing methods (i.e. direct-to-consumer markets), the general public often brings a more nuanced definition. Consumers may emphasize “small-scale (and attractive) farms, locally value-added products, and the choice of non-commodity foods,” as key traits of a local and regional food system.
A “regional food system” may be a term used to reference the importance of local agriculture to “scale up to be sustainable or self-reliant.” Regional boundaries tend to be larger but are never set, remaining flexible according to social and economic demands. However a regional food system can be useful in articulating not just a particular agricultural network, but the social, geographic, economic, and climatic traits of a certain area. Advocates of regional food systems approach see local farms as one part of a more comprehensive, if spatially bounded, and self-reliant agricultural system. This view of a multi-faceted and dynamic regional food network envisions a “nested” food system that could infuse a fragile mono-crop economy with resiliency. For a much fuller discussion of how local and regional food systems are defined and who defines them check out the USDA report, “Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues” (May 2010).
One regional food system that has received attention in recent years is in the Hadwick region of Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom.” The area has been a leader in establishing its food system through the Northeast Kingdom Food Systems Strategic Plan (NEKFSP). The regional planning commission initiated the plan in 2010 to engage in a more thorough analysis of the region’s food systems and economic development. The planning commission selected the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) to draft a plan that would create a “conceptual working model to assess and plan for the regional food system.” This planning process involved a broad-based assessment of the stakeholders and potential participants in the food system through a committee composed of community members from every aspect of the production, distribution, marketing and consumption facets of the food system. CAE also conducted interviews throughout the region with farmers, value-added producers, seed company owners, and retail distributors (to name a few) and, after public review sessions, CAE issued its plan, the NEKFSP, along with a set of goals, targets, and measures as the plan was implemented. The goals address a wide range of agricultural, social, economic, and educational realms of development in the Hadwick region and are each paired with recommendations. A few of these goals and select recommendations are listed below. Not only does the plan align with Vermont’s Farm to Plate plan, which is a state-wide effort to boost Vermont’s farming and food sector, but the NEKFSP establishes “a set of food systems performance measures and a plan for how to track them over time.” Another strength of the plan is a governance network map of primary actors in the food system and their roles and responsibilities in the plan’s implementation, a feature that helps administrators manage wide-ranging action items. For more information about this approach and the plan itself, consult the June 2011 “Full Report” by the Center for an Agricultural Economy and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association.
Select goals and recommendations for the Northeast Kingdom Food Systems Strategic Plan:
Goal 1: The Northeast Kingdom will have increasingly localized, affordable, and sustainable farming and production inputs including energy, fertilizer, seeds, forage, and feed.
Recommendation 1.1: Invest in renewable energy for food production and energy efficiency programs, and increase the amount of on-farm power generation.
Goal 2: More food will be produced in the Northeast Kingdom for local and regional markets; production will continue to diversify, and farmers and food producers will be able to be profitable
Recommendation 2.1: Study the challenges, activities, and profitability of diversified farms and assist farms transitioning to diversified farming
Recommendation 2.2: Promote the production of niche markets (e.g. aquaculture, dairy, beef, hogs, etc) if there is evidence of demand.
Goal 8: Agricultural land will remain open and available to future generations of farmers and the food system will have increasingly positive impacts on environmental quality.
Recommendation 8.1: Develop new and support existing programs to increase access to farm land
Recommendation 8.2: Encourage sustainable production and waste management methods that reduce negative environmental impact.
In southeastern Ohio, another regional food system is gaining momentum, largely because of recent farm bill funding. On March 20, 2014, the USDA announced its grant to support the Ohio food hub. The nearly $200,000 grant will assist the Rural Action and the Southeast Ohio Food Hub Network in broadening the local food network by providing “business support, technical assistance and shared infrastructure support for the region’s local agricultural economy.” The grant, in particular, aims to increase rural Ohio community access to economic and job opportunities generated by local agriculture, which, in turn, may serve to make nutritious foods more available. Rural Action, a nonprofit organization that assists the new food hubs claims that the grant could help the organization maintain 275 existing food-sector jobs, and create another 65.
Ohio’s regional food systems are increasingly centered on the concept of a “food hub.” Food hubs, according to the USDA, are “businesses or organizations that connect producers with buyers by offering a suite of production, distribution, and marketing services.” In other words, these are simply marketing venues for farmers looking to reach local consumers. Ohio food hubs include the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, Local Matters, and the West Side Market.”
In yet another context, the San Mateo Food System Alliance (SMFSA) is one example of a regional food system but in a more urban setting. Upon its 2006 establishment SMFSA was the first Food System Alliance in California. The group works to bring this California county’s food system into a unified and robust food economy and grew out of a realization that San Mateo County’s own residents did not have access to the region’s own rich agricultural bounty. In response to this disjuncture, SMFSA creates garden recognition programs, supports public schools, hospitals and government buildings in serving county-sourced food, and helps incoming farmers find land. Among its 2011 projects, SMFSA continues to identify mechanisms to distribute the counties produce in its local institutions, to support school garden programs, and assist urban youth education projects.
Regional and local food systems may not abide by the defined boundaries of their watersheds but they can enhance the ability of farmers and community members to use resources more efficiently, while improving their food stability and economic opportunities. Powell would likely heartily endorse these attributes of these emerging food systems, even if they are enabled by a water system propped up by behemoth water works that we can’t easily change the course of now. In her April 16th presentation, Ariane Lotti pointed out the ways in which the 2014 Farm Bill is reaching out to new farmers and, in some ways, endeavoring to encourage and support more environmentally responsible farming practices. These efforts are seen by many individuals as among the first of many in a long and labored journey toward a sustainable American food system. As the cases in Vermont, Ohio, and California indicate, local farming systems are one component in bringing this transformation about.
For a recording of Lotti’s talk please see this link: https://vimeo.com/92902443.
Avana Andrade is a first year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She earned her B.A. in International Studies and Western European History at Colorado State University in 2010. Before returning to school, she worked as a public historian and backcountry ranger with the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service in both Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Her work has focused on the history of grazing and cultural resource management in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park. Work and recreation on the Colorado Plateau motivates her primary interest in grad school, environmental conflict mediation. Avana is a Colorado native and an avid backpacker and gardener.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Guest Author, Joanna Dafoe, Yale F&ES '14
Aviation and maritime transportation make up an important part of the transportation sector—so, too, are the emissions associated from their fuel use. This article reflects on the progress made to address greenhouse gas emissions within the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization, and presents a blueprint of activity within the coming year.
Member States to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) make decisions related to aviation emissions under the Organization’s sovereign body, the ICAO Assembly. ICAO’s 38th Assembly met on 13 October 2013, and its outgoing resolution on climate change summarizes the Organization’s progress and challenges addressing emissions.
Under ICAO Assembly Resolution A38-18, Member States agreed on, among other things, three elements related to greenhouse gas emissions. First, Member States repeated their resolve to work toward a global annual average fuel efficiency improvement of 2 percent until 2020 (with a long-run aspirational efficiency improvement rate of 2 percent per year from 2021 to 2050). Second, Member States requested the ICAO Council to develop a global CO2 certification Standard for aircraft (with a view to adoption by Council in 2016)—the purpose of which is to reduce aircraft CO2 emissions through fuel-efficient technologies in aircraft design. Third, the Assembly agreed to further its support for Member States’ action plans to reduce aviation emissions through capacity building and assistance. For an example of this capacity-building work, see our IISD calendar entry on ICAO States’ Action Plan Seminar for the South American Region and North American, Central American and Caribbean Region.
The second big topic of work within ICAO is related to market-based measures. During the 38th Assembly, this issue was the source of difficult and protracted debate between Member States. Paragraph 19(d) within Resolution A38-18 suggests a general roadmap of work before the 39th Assembly in 2016. Member States requested the Council to identify problems with, and corresponding recommendations for, market-based measures. Member States also requested the Council to identify the “mechanisms for the implementation of the scheme from 2020 as part of a basket of measures.” Thus, technical work remains for the coming year. This includes work on environmental and economic impacts and possible options for a market-based measure scheme. Finally, in the Annex of Resolution A38-18, Member States agreed on guiding principles for the design and implementation of market-based measures.
Just as ICAO had a busy year of work on climate issues, so too has the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Member States within IMO have been working to address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, which is estimated to make up approximately 2.7 percent of global emissions. IMO Member states address issues related to greenhouse gas emissions under the Martine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).
This past year the Committee focused on technical and operational measures relating to energy efficiency for ships. In particular, the Committee focused on developing technical and operational energy efficiency regulations under the new chapter 4 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI, which went into effect on 1 January 2013. This chapter includes requirements for new ships under the Energy Efficiency Design Index and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan.
In addition to regulation, IMO has also been working on energy efficiency developments through research and capacity building. The 65th session of the Committee adopted resolution MEPC.229(65) on promoting technical cooperation and transfer of technology relating to energy efficiency of ships. The MEPC also approved the terms of reference to initiate a study to update emissions estimates for international shipping. Despite these areas of progress, the MEPC was unable to agree on a discussion for market-based measures and related issues. Member States thus decided to suspend this issue to future sessions. The 66th Session of the MEPC met from 31 March to 4 April. Among other items, the 66th Session considered technical and operational measures for enhancing energy efficiency of international shipping and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships.
Looking back on the past year, IMO and ICAO have both taken up important issues related to greenhouse gas emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport. Future meetings will largely focus on technical and operational issues related to emissions, but there is also room for important policy developments in the background. We will have to wait until future meetings to know what exactly is on deck—or, perhaps also, on the runway—for the rest of 2014.
A version of this blog entry initially appeared on the International Institute for Sustainable Development Reporting Services Climate Change Policy and Practice site.