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Energy & Climate

Wednesday, July 02, 2014
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Passive houses and living buildings provide fresh direction in mitigating climate change

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?

Austrian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo credit: Timothy/Austrian Embassy JakartaIntrigued, 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

Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, New York. Photo credit: Farsid Assassi/BNIM ArchitectsIndependently, 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.

 

 


Photo Credits:

Austrian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Timothy/Austrian Embassy Jakarta.

Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, New York. Credit: Farsid Assassi/BNIM Architects.


Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Thursday, June 19, 2014
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Homegrown Energy and Homeland Security

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.

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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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Thursday, May 29, 2014
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Acclaimed Author Tom Kizzia Closes YCELP Series with Papa Pilgrim and the Divine Land Battles

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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
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Update: The Yale-Pace Local Governance of Shale Oil and Gas Development Project

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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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The ‘Foodshed’ and the Common Interest: Powell’s Vision Revisited

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.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Going the Distance: An Update on Efforts to Address Emissions in the Aviation and Maritime Sector

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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, April 14, 2014
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How the Public Trust Doctrine Can Save Us from the Perils of Climate Change

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

University of Oregon environmental and natural resources law Professor Mary Christina Wood tries to minimize her personal travel to reduce her carbon footprint.   But as a professor, she believes that it is extremely important to constantly engage with future leaders who will have to deal with the growing impacts of climate change.  That is why she traveled across the nation to offer her expertise at the Yale Law School on April 3rd

Her message to the future leaders at Yale offered a glimmer of hope and a new way of thinking about how environmental law can help battle the perils of climate change and other environmental issues.  The paradigm shift that she urges the environmental community to undertake in order to help solve the climate and environmental challenges of our time is also eloquently stated in her new book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age.While reading her book, listening to her lecture, and having conversations with her throughout her visit at Yale, I was intrigued with this new way of thinking.

It’s no secret that the many current environmental statutes and the strategies that the environmental movement has used to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have failed in many ways.  It was all too evident this past week in Berlin, Germany, where the world’s governments along with its most expert and credible scientists met to finalize an updated scientific report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The report, released on Sunday April 13, is to be used for discussion at the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Paris where expectations are high for a strong international greenhouse gas reducing treaty.

In putting together the IPCC document, scientists agreed that humans are fuelingthe extreme storms and weather to which many parts of the world have fallen victim in the past decade.  They also agreed that there needs to be a global shift on how we get our energy, and that moving to renewable energy sources will be critical.  Yet many of the world’s political leaders used the IPCC process in Germany to try to hack away the strong language that scientists agreed on.  For example, Saudi Arabia’s officials did not want the report to contain scientific findings that declare that emissions need to go down 40 to 70 percent by 2050 for the world to stay below a warming of two degrees Celsius.  Saudi Arabia would stand to lose a lot if countries ultimately acted upon that language, since its economy relies heavily on the oil industry.  While the language remained in the scientific document, it is unlikely to be ratified at the UNFCCC because the process requires unanimous consent.

Here in the United States, a recent Supreme Court ruling also paved the way for wealthy special intereststo influence the political process even more, which will likely have a lasting impact on climate-related law and policy.  In the case McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that there can be no limits on how many candidates for federal office a single private donors can give to.  Under the previous rules, a donor could only give a maximum of $123,200 in federal races and parties in each two-year election cycle.  Now an individual donor can give up to $3.6 million in federal U.S. Senate and House races. Thisallows rich political donors connected to the fossil fuel industry, such as coal company CEO Shaun McCutcheon who brought the suit, to have more political influence. 

Professor Wood argues that because of the grip that fossil fuel interests hold on the political process, we must look at another way to fight climate change.  She argues that the Public Trust Doctrine surpasses legislative and regulatory environmental efforts that have thus far failed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  The doctrine, enshrined in constitutional and common law, states that governments hold certain natural resources needed by everyone, such as clean air and water, in trust.  Government officials cannot just give those resources away for private ownership, and may not permit the demise of those resources.  Public officials also have a continuous duty to safeguard the long-term preservation of those resources for the benefit of future generations.  Professor Wood argued that the founding fathers recognized that the people rely on clean natural resources such as wildlife and streams to exist, and that our government must act as a trustee for these resources.

Use of the doctrine for environmental protections is reaching a critical point.  In a recent groundbreaking case, on December 19,2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Robinson Township in eastern Pennsylvania was allowed to ban the practice of hydrologic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas within their jurisdiction to protect their town’s water supplies.  In that decision, former Chief Justice Ronald Castille cited the Public Trust Doctrine and wrote that there are certain environmental rights that we all hold, such as a right to clean air and water, and in addition to being identified in the Pennsylvania constitution, these rights are inherent to the public at large. 

The Public Trust Doctrine is currently being tested in federal court by a group of young people who argue that their rights to clean air are being compromised by increased greenhouse gas emissions. The youth are trying to force the Obama Administration to create a comprehensive Climate Recovery Plan in order to protect the “Atmospheric Trust” that they argue young people and future generations are entitled to.  The Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will decide the case on May 2nd, and Professor Wood will undoubtedly be paying attention to what she believes will be a historic ruling. 

 

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-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.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
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Advocate for Future Generations and Climate Change Policy to Speak at Yale Law School

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

The state of the world is at a crossroads, and according Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "in view of [the current] impacts [described by the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report], and those that we have projected for the future, nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."  Related, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization said that 2013 was the sixth-warmest year on record. Thirteen of the fourteen warmest years were in the 21st century alone, showing how human activities have warmed the planet. 

U.N. scientists that met last week in Japan to discuss these findings underscored how humans are vulnerable to a changing climate, which can mean more extreme weather events and spiral into related disasters.  They cited that without anthropogenic emissions of fossil fuels, it would have been “virtually impossible for Australia’s record hot calendar year of 2013…illustrating that some extreme events are becoming much more likely due to climate change.”  And it’s likely to get worse, which does not bode well for future generations who will have to deal with the impacts as emissions continue to increase.

That is why I’m pleased that someone who has tirelessly advocated for future generations and a new way of thinking on climate change policy will be coming to Yale Law School on Thursday April 3rd.  Mary Christina Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law at the University of Oregon as well as Founder and Faculty Director of the nationally acclaimed Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the University of Oregon School of Law. She will be discussing her recent book, Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age, which defines the frontiers of public trust law and maps out a full paradigm shift for the way government agencies around the world manage public resources.  It reveals the dysfunction of current statutory law and calls upon citizens, government employees, legislators, and judges to protect the natural inheritance belonging to future generations as part of the public trust.  Professor Wood’s talk begins at 6:10 PM on Thursday, April 3rdin Yale Law School’s Room 128 (127 Wall Street); it is free and open to the public and refreshments will be served.

The talk, co-sponsored by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Yale Climate and Energy Institute, is part of the Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series featuring new publications by renowned environmental policy thinkers including Brian Keane, Todd Wilkinson, and Tom Kizzia.

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
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2014 Farm Bill: A Fair Shake for Sustainable Farmers and Farming Systems?

By Guest Author, Jena Clarke, Yale F&ES '15

Tomorrow we have the opportunity to speak with Matha Noble, a vice-chair of the Agricultural Management Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources. On the heels of the passage on the Agricultural Act of 2014, better known as the 2014 Farm Bill, Martha will be using her presentation to ask whether this legislation is “A Fair Shake for Sustainable Farmers and Farming Systems?”

The farm bill is a hugely influential piece of legislation, forming the basis of American agricultural policy and fundamentally shaping agriculture as a process and an industry. It achieves this through numerous policies that determine what farmers and farming systems have access to federal resources for agricultural land and production, and to agricultural processing and marketing channels. It also regulates food labels and other signals to consumers about where and how their food is produced.

While these policies impact farmers across the board, they can have particular consequences for sustainable producers who attempt to operate outside the conventional framework of the agro-industrial process. Ms. Noble’s talk will touch on some of these issues and the way they played out in the debates and final outcome of the 2014 Farm Bill. She will review the fate of the proposed King Amendment that would have limited state regulation of agriculture; ongoing efforts to undo protections for individual farmers and ranchers in the relationships with meat and poultry processing companies; and other issues that determine whether sustainable farming and food systems have a level playing field in the context of the Farm Bill.

We are fortunate to have access to an authority like Martha Noble while attempting to unravel a piece of legislation as massive and mystifying as the farm bill. In addition to her current work with the American Bar Association, Martha is also an active member of the American Agricultural Law Association. Previously, she worked as a Senior Policy Associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, she was a research professor and staff attorney with National Center for Agricultural Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where she taught in both the Masters in Agricultural Law and J.D. programs, while guest lecturing at several other law and professional schools and publishing extensively. She also served on the U.S. EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Advisory Committee under two administrations. All told, on top of a law degree from the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, Martha Noble has over 26 years of experience working on agricultural law and policy issues.

Join us tomorrow for Martha Noble’s presentation, “The 2014 Farm Bill: A Fair Shake for Sustainable Farmers and Farming Systems?” The live webcast will begin at 12:00 EDT on Thursday, April 3  Her talk will be followed by an interactive question and answer session with the listening audience.  Register online at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/417819199. If you can’t join us at that time, the full webinar will be posted to our website.

Jena Clarke is a first-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She earned her B.S. in International Agricultural Development from the University of California, Davis in 2009.  She is interested in agricultural policy, especially relating to livestock production and rangeland management. Her background is in cattle ranching in the US and Australia, where she worked as a cowgirl and later as a business analyst for a corporate agricultural funds manager.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
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Brian Keane Kicks off Bookshelf Series with Discussion of Renewable and Efficiency Solutions

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

On Wednesday, February 12, SmartPower President Brian Keane kicked off Yale’s Climate and Energy Bookshelf spring 2014 speaker series. Mr. Keane is president of SmartPower, a company dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and author of the recent Green is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Your Community Profit from Clean Energy. His lecture at Yale F&ES, titled “50 Shades of Green” outlined strategies to help increase the use of renewable energy, to encourage behavior changes toward energy efficiency and other relevant public education initiatives to fight climate change. 

Mr. Keane uses a multi-prong approach in his advocacy to tackle climate change. In the book, Mr. Keane outlines why adopting green technology is not only good for the environment, but can increase savings for individuals, businesses and society. His book shows that using renewables like solar energy is much easier than many people realize, and it is more acceptable to use in today’s society. It is becoming a norm for people who once consumed old greenhouse gas emitting technologies to make the switch toward greener technologies. For example, the US Department of Energy has also made it easier for Americans to achieve this goal, outlining other ways to save money and to find rebates and tax credits in individual states

As president of SmartPower, Mr. Keane explained the approaches that his company uses to achieve their goals. SmartPower uses a form of community-based campaigning to encourage behavior change over the long term, and shows people that they truly can be part of the ‘50 shades of green’ movement as part of their efforts to reduce emissions. The main approach is called COR. It stands for efforts on Community outreach, Online platforms and social marketing (person to person outreach) and Rewards and Incentives. One example is SmartPower’s role in Solarize Connecticut, a partnership between Keane’s organization, the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and the John Mercke Fund, to increase the use of solar panels by homeowners, businesses and others in Connecticut. The organization provides countless workshops and other tools to help people understand the benefits and logistics of using solar energy. It keeps in touch with clients regularly and provides online assistance to encourage collaboration.

SmartPower is not looking at energy solutions in Connecticut alone. During the lecture, Mr. Keane discussed the Arizona Solar Challenge, which is an effort that seeks to increase the number of owner occupied homes using solar energy to at least 5 percent in sunny Arizona by 2015. If 5 percent of the total homes in a community reach this goal, SmartPower calls it an “Arizona Solar Community." So far, six communities throughout the state have been award this title, and a handful of others are heading that way. If the trend continues, it will mean a higher renewable energy profile for the whole state of Arizona. The Energy Information Agency ranks each state in terms amount of renewable energy capacity and generation, and partly by the efforts of SmartPower and others, Arizona already ranks in the top ten for renewable energy capacity. Everyone can check renewable energy usage statistics on their state here.

Renewable energy won’t be enough to reduce emissions though.  Mr. Keane pointed out that despite living in homes and having infrastructure that is more energy efficient compared to the past, we are all still using more energy than we ever did before.  Humans have to do more.  Behavior changes at both the individual level and on the societal level will be key if we are ever to get serious about climate change.  One of the behavior changes is to ensure that we understand why we are using more. 

In his book and lecture, Mr. Keane called on consumers to become more “energy smart” and to reduce energy waste. One of the wastes that he wants to tackle is called “phantom load”. It is wasted energy by everyday household items such as microwaves that use more electricity by just sitting in the house and idly being plugged into an outlet. That means more energy is used to power the microwave clock than for the purpose of actually heating food. The Carbon Fund, a 501(c) 3 non-profit also dedicated to reducing emissions, has plenty of tips on how to reduce your individual energy waste including reducing phantom load. It also lists practical steps to reduce emissions, such ways to lessen the amount of junk mail sent to you which would reduce paper use and mail distribution costs.

All of this highlights a debate on what is the most effective way to combat climate change. It is a question of whether to work towards more command and control regulations, or to focus on voluntary measures such as encouraging more energy efficient industrial and consumer behavior. Here in the US, the EPA is confronting a new Supreme Court challenge from industry groups that say EPA is overstepping its authority on regulating greenhouse gas emissions. This new case will test whether or not the EPA has the authority on a new rule that would only permit expanding new industrial energy facilities if companies also come up with ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. If the EPA wins, Mr. Keane’s efforts to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use will become all the more important. It will require one of the largest greenhouse gas emitting nations and its citizens to look at the efforts of businesses such as SmartPower before bringing more energy on the line. If that were the case, it would be a win-win situation for both Mr. Keane and the world on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-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.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, February 17, 2014
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Ted Turner and the Triple Bottom Line

By Guest Author, Amy Weinfurter, Yale F&ES '15

In the public imagination, Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and one of Forbes’ richest people in America tends to be synonymous with 24-hour new cycles, rather than with bison ranching and conscientious capitalism. However, the media mogul is building an environmental legacy as formidable as his media empire. In his recently released book, Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet, Todd Wilkinson explores Turner’s turn back toward the natural landscapes that inspired him as a child. He also considers how Turner’s business acumen and environmental values influence each other. Can capitalism, often framed as the driving force behind environmental degradation, offer a way to reverse its collateral damage to the natural world? 

With approximately two million acres of personal and ranch land, Turner is the second largest individual landowner in North America. His ranches have played a key role in reintroducing bison to the landscape. Turner Enterprises manages over 55,000 bison – the largest herd ever maintained by one person – across the various Turner properties. State agencies often partner with his ranches, in order to take advantage of their expertise and resources in bison research and management. However, Turner’s efforts also breed controversy. His initial attempts at reintroduction involved the release of one live cougar and three Nebraska black bears, and triggered a threat of misdemeanor charges from the state of Florida.

While his work to return large bison herds to the American West has taken a scientific approach, grounded in careful management, it still raises questions and ruffles feathers. The cattle industry “is generally no big fan of Mr. Turner’s,” worrying that bison populations may introduce diseases to livestock or compete with them for grazing on federal lands. On the other hand, Turner’s involvement with genetically wild herds has some environmental groups concerned about thinning lines between wild and domestic bison. A 2010 lawsuit argued that the state of Montana’s collaboration with Turner facilitated “bison’s passage from wild to owned,” countering the mission to manage wildlife for the public benefit.

Turner, in turn, counters that buffalo herds provide a healthier alternative to beef. He points out that since they have evolved along with the Western landscape, they are hardier in the face of its challenges, and, if managed carefully, able to fill a historical role in maintaining healthy grasslands. While his founding of Ted’s Montana Grill, which operated 44 restaurants in 16 states as of November 2013, raises concerns about the potential for the domestication of wild bison, Turner’s approach highlights the need to make ecological sustainability financially feasible. 

This focus on the alignment of environmental and business benefits extends to his interest and sponsorship of clean energy. Turner Enterprises currently holds five solar power installations. The largest of these, the Campo Verde Solar Facility, can produce 139 megawatts of energy, enough to power nearly 48,000 homes. Clean energy sources also fuel many of Ted Montana Grill’s restaurants and Turner ranch properties. Whether with bison or with energy, Turner blurs the lines between enterprise and idealism, and between public and private accomplishment. His approach to restoring the American West raises challenging, promising questions about  environmentalism’s own frontier.  

A nationally acclaimed journalist, Wilkinson brings 25 years of environmental reporting to bear on Turner’s ambitious and sometimes controversial efforts to repair degraded landscapes. His book explores the questions raised by Turner’s pioneering mix of public, private, and environmental enterprise. It also considers the motivations behind philanthropy, along with the personal history that led Turner to become such an iconic figure in environmental conservation. 

His talk, co-sponsored by YCELP and YCEI, is part of the Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series featuring new publications by renowned environmental policy thinkers including Brian Keane, Mary Wood, and Tom Kizzia. It begins at 5:30 PM, on Tuesday, February 18th, in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium (195 Prospect Street). The talk is free and open to the public.  

Amy Weinfurter is a first-year Masters of Environmental Management (MEM '15) candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, focusing on the intersection between environmental communication and policy. Before arriving at Yale, she studied English and environmental science at Colby College, and worked with non-profit organizations in  Colorado and Washington, D.C., on communication, watershed management, and community outreach and engagement initiatives.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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BMPs for Shale Gas Development. A Path Forward

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

Note: This post was originally published here, by the Yale Climate and Energy Institute.

Handing down its decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put Pennsylvania’s municipalities back in charge of regulating the land use impacts of shale gas development. Whether or not the court’s decision is sound, and whether or not municipal governance is desirable, substantial authority again lies with Pennsylvania’s municipalities, as it does in most other states. The pressing question, therefore, is what happens now.

Several months ago, researchers at the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, and the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School, with support from the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, began asking this very question, anticipating the state of governance that now prevails in Pennsylvania. Regardless of opinions on the pros and cons of “fracking”, it is undeniably a central part of America’s energy sector. Consequently it is important to understand fracking’s positive and negative local impacts and how local governments will capitalize on and manage those impacts.

Federal and state laws are well situated to address many risks of shale gas exploration, including, for example, climate impacts, some air and water pollution risks, contract terms, and royalties. However, federal and state laws do not cover other issues that are uniquely local in nature such as traffic, public safety, visual blight, reduction of property values, noise pollution, and the integrity of the land use plan. Likewise, the benefits of gas exploration—increased municipal revenue, economic development, and potential energy impacts, for instance—require local control to ensure that net benefits result.

Our research is finding interesting examples of local control of fracking.  Apart from the hundreds of localities that are banning the practice, others are regulating where it can be located within their borders and controlling uniquely local impacts. Peters Township, Pa., for example, adopted a zoning regulation that permits drilling on parcels 40 acres in size or larger and requires seismic testing prior to drilling. Longmont, Co. adopted an ordinance that excludes oil and gas operations in hazard areas and residential zoning districts, which includes planned unit development districts and mixed use zoning districts. A local law adopted in Oklahoma City, Ok. creates an oil and gas zone, defines permitted uses for the zone, requires permits for drilling, requires the drillers be insured, regulates the location of wells, has enforcement provisions, and regulates fencing, screening, landscaping, equipment, storage tanks, noise, and other nuisance effects. Finally, Santa Fe, N.M. established an oil and gas overlay district governing oil and gas exploration, drilling, production, transportation, abandonment, and remediation. It prohibits any oil or gas facility in the county as of right and requires the owner to apply for and obtain an Oil and Gas Overlay Zoning District Classification, a Special Use and Development Permit, Grading and Building Permit, and a Certificate of Completion, which may require other local, state, and federal development approvals.

In his dissenting opinion in the Robinson case, Justice Saylor wrote that natural gas is “essential the Commonwealth’s economic longevity and growth.” Conversely, Chief Justice Castille stated that removing local authority overfracking, and permitting the practice in any part of a community “compels exposure of otherwise protected areas to environmental and habitability costs associated with this particular industrial use: air, water, and soil pollution; persistent noise, lighting, and heavy vehicle traffic; and the building of facilities incongruous with the surrounding landscape.”

Our research is premised on the idea that fracking will proceed more safely, more efficiently, and with more actualization of benefits if local leaders are trained to confront the complexity, and address it in a way that best suits their constituents. To that end, Robinson is a positive development because it has returned authority to local governments. Both New York and Ohio are dealing with similar legal proceedings to determine the division of responsibility for local impacts. This state of play makes the empowerment and preparation of local decisionmakers even more important.  Regardless of one’s position on shale gas exploration and the best level of governmental control, there is no question that local leaders cannot promote benefits nor manage costs without preparation, and preparing local leaders is exactly what the Yale-Pace research team aims to do.

Our research began with a simple hypothesis that federal and state actions related to hydraulic fracturing would leave a local-governance gap. In December 2013 we hosted an expert workshop and panel in White Plains, New York. With representatives of industry, academics, environmental groups, and local government, we reached a consensus that this gap does, in fact, exist. With that assurance, we are preparing a second workshop in New Haven for March 28, 2014. At this workshop we will begin collecting best practices for governing fracking at the local level. Our expectation is that we can identify best practices that involve regulation, but also non-regulatory ideas that promote opening dialogues between communities and industry, establish community benefit agreements, or other flexible options that allow localities to identify and manage negative impacts while capturing the positive outcomes of new industry and a new energy option.

Based on the information we gather at these two expert events, we will develop model planning documents, non-regulatory templates, and ordinances to help us offer a robust training program to equip local leaders, and the professionals who serve them, to deal confidently with the growing role of hydraulic fracturing.

In his opinion in Robinson, Chief Justice Castille wrote: “By any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.” On the other hand, Justice Eakin dissented, stating: “our unique shale resource can benefit all citizens; indeed the resource already has resurrected many local economies, though not without cost.” We agree with both of these perspectives, and the best way to rectify them is to train those who are most impacted to make informed decisions based on complete information.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, February 10, 2014
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Author of “Green Is Good” to kick off Yale Climate Change Book Shelf Series

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

This Wednesday, February 12, SmartPower President Brian Keane will kick off Yale’s Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series featuring new publications by renowned environmental policy thinkers including Todd Wilkinson, Mary Wood, and Tom Kizzia.

Mr. Keane will discuss his new book, Green is Good: Save Money, Make Money, and Help Your Community Profit from Clean Energy, which offers a guide for individuals in making clean energy and energy efficiency a part of daily life. His talk begins at 5:30 PM in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium (195 Prospect Street); it is free and open to the public.

Green Is Good promotes clean, renewable energy as well as energy efficiency.  It is a useful guidebook for businesses and consumers alike on how to reduce their carbon emissions by using clean energy. Mr. Keane and his company SmartPower have been recognized with numerous awards from the EPA, and Department of Energy and the State of Connecticut.

Mr. Keane provided an example to the Huffington Post of what clean energy solutions could look like.  In the 2012 article before the release of Green Is Good, Keane talked about Solarize Connecticut, a partnership between his company, the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and the John Mercke Fund to increase the use of solar panels by homeowners, businesses and others in the state. Over two years later, Solarize Connecticut is still providing countless workshops and other tools to help people understand the benefits and logistics of using solar energy. 

Mr. Keane’s trip to Yale will come during the same week that French President Francois Holland visits the US to have meetings with President Barack Obama and others about the lead-up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. This week, both presidents wrote an article in the Washington Post stating that in 2015 they expect an ambitious agreement to address climate change. The leaders wrote:  “We can expand the clean energy partnerships that create jobs and move us toward low-carbon growth…we can do more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy as well, and deal with rising seas and more intense storms.” It will undoubtedly be local grassroots efforts like that of Mr. Keane’s that will help the world’s leaders achieve this important global goal.

Verner Wilson, III, is a first-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.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Monday, December 30, 2013
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The Fractured State of Shale Gas Development Regulation

By Guest Author, Eric Ellman, Comm. Dir., Yale Climate and Energy Institute
 
Five years into a prolonged recession the economic benefits of shale gas development are compelling.  American shale gas reserves have buoyed the U.S. economy, reduced reliance on foreign oil and helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012 alone shale gas and tight oil put $74BB into state and federal coffers and created 2.1 million jobs.(1) A broad-based shift from coal to natural gas has had the unforeseen effect of allowing the United States to reduce its CO2 emissions to Kyoto Protocol levels without even being party to the convention.(2)
 
At the local level, however, the potential negatives associated with development are less clear.  Lacking that clarity, and without federal or state regulations to control the many adverse local impacts ranging from depleted groundwater to contamination, deteriorated roads and rising crime,(3) communities have responded the only way they know how, by passing moratoriums on development of the resource.  And because local ability to use police and zoning laws originates with the State, there is a constant fear that courts will preempt the local action, allowing development to proceed and disregarding local concerns.
 
[The recent] 12th annual Land Use and Sustainable Development conference at Pace Law School included a YCEI-sponsored panel discussion developed with Yale Center for Law and Environmental Policy (YCELP) students and staff.  YCELP identified 36 potential local impacts from gas shale development identified by communities around the nation not addressed by higher levels of government.  The list and the workshop were intended to help communities develop planning and regulatory practices that protect them while allowing safe development of what could be a critical bridge fuel that lets the world meet its energy needs while minimizing atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide.
 
At a pre-panel workshop to discuss that challenge, conference organizer Professor John Nolon suggested an ideal outcome: a model ordinance that financially strapped communities could use as the basis for safe and reasonable regulation, protecting them from impacts that are beyond the scope of state and federal regulations.
 
“A model ordinance would have made my job a lot easier,” responded panelist Stephen Ross, County Attorney from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where residents had urged a moratorium to prohibit fracking in the scenic Galisteo Basis.  Now the framework for drilling in Santa Fe County is established, and both residents and drillers know what to expect.  For some, the new law is effectively the same as a ban:  The company whose plans to drill had prompted passage of the Santa Fe Land and Gas Amendment to the Santa Fe County Land Development Code chose to explore for oil and gas elsewhere. For others the law may create new opportunities.
 
Santa Fe was enjoying the benefit of a strong economy at the time of their skirmish over hydrocarbons.  That’s not the case in New York towns that could be the scene of a land rush if and when the state lifts its fracking moratorium.  “Many local governments have limited professional staff, few resources”, was a common refrain among participants.  Consequently, it’s easy to imagine small communities embracing fracking when they see it’s near-term benefits.  While it’s not a universal refrain, Dan Raimi, a researcher with Duke University’s Energy Initiative quotes a local official telling him, “I wish we had a well on every road because the roads are so much better.”
 
That echoes the experience of Joe Greenberg, co-founder with Todd Mitchell of Alta Resources, one of the first companies to find the sweet spots of key shales including the Marcellus and applied good engineering and hydraulic fracturing to develop them.  In Joe’s experience, it’s communities that don’t stand to benefit where opposition is strongest.  Those likely to benefit from the resource, and those in states like Oklahoma and Texas where drilling is part of life’s fabric, are least likely to have objections and most likely to have an efficient and centralized regulatory structure.
 
Others are less sanguine.  Cornell Professor Susan Christopherson cited her survey showing that 67% of New York residents had low to no confidence that New York State officials will protect the economic and social stability of their communities.(4)  Kate Hudson, Watershed Manager for River Keeper, a non-profit dedicated to safeguarding the Hudson River and its tributaries, is concerned about the nation’s distribution network for gas shale products.  Albany, New York has already become a major transshipment center for trains carrying North Dakota’s Bakken oil to refineries on the Eastern Seaboard.  Last December the Stenna Primorsk, an oil tanker carrying about the same 12,000,000 gallons of crude as the Exxon Valdez, ran aground en route to its destination of New Brunswick, Canada.  Thanks to the double-hull design that became a requirement after the Valdez spill, no oil escaped.  But, says Hudson, the accident revealed that despite the surge in tanker traffic no emergency management plan for responding to such an event on the Hudson currently exists.(5)
 
Panelist Jim Saiers, a Yale University hydrologist and expert on fracking offered the opinion that the most frequently vocalized concerns about water quality impacts from hydraulic fracturing can be addressed by appropriate regulations such as those conference organizers envision.  A bigger question, he suggested, relates to the potential escape of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, during the drilling and production process.
 
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences summarizing data from 12,700 atmospheric samples collected over the United States in 2007-08 found methane levels 1.5 times higher than previously assumed by the EPA.(6)  Levels over Texas and Oklahoma were up to 2.7 times higher with livestock and the oil and gas industry identified as primary contributors. Five years later, however, a joint study by the Environmental Defense Fund and the University of Texas indicates that companies following proposed new EPA “green completion” strategies reduce methane escape from natural gas wells by up to 99%.(7) 
 
Successful reduction of fugitive methane – critical to capitalizing on natural gas’s potential to satisfy energy demands with minimum contributions to greenhouse warming – is an example of how good regulations can reconcile the needs of the nation with local concerns.  With climate change an issue for every community, a comprehensive model ordinance to help regulate gas shale development might include measures to assure compliance with methane management too.
 
***
 
 
***
 
1.     America’s Unexpected Jobs Boom.  Daniel Yergin.  http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2013/09/05/energy-us-jobs/
 
2.     Rise in U.S. gas production fuels unexpected plunge in emissions. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324763404578430751849503848.
 
3.     Controlling the local impacts of hydrofracking. Facilitated Discussion Outline. Yale Center for Law and Environmental Policy
 
4.     Confronting an uncertain future.  How US communities are responding to shale gas and oil development.  Susan Christopherson and Ned Righter.  National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center Brief 18, November 2013
 
5.     Kate Hudson, personal communication
 
6.     Emissions of methane in US exceed estimates study finds.  Michael Wines.  New York Times. November 11, 2013.
 
7.     Study delivers good, bad news on climate impacting methane gas. Lisa Song and Jim Harris.  Center for Public Integrity.  September 13, 2013.
Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
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After Warsaw Climate Negotiations, Individual Nations Must Lead the Way on Climate Change

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson, III, Yale F&ES '15

It was my first time attending the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This 19th COP was held in Warsaw this year from November 11 to 23. As a Yup’ik Eskimo from Alaska whose family has seen the impacts of climate change firsthand, it was an honor to attend this international convention on behalf of Yale University. I learned about the process of international negotiations, and heard what the world leaders who populate the COP are planning to do to address climate change.

The outcome of the COP will affect my family and my future personally.  In my home state of Alaska, my village of Dillingham is one of nearly two hundred Alaskan Native villages at risk of coastal erosion from lower sea-ice levels and rising seas.  My family’s salmon fish camp has lost a warehouse to erosion already. We’ve seen invasive species invading our forests and infecting our salmon because warmer temperatures are allowing them to survive in Alaska. People have fallen through the abnormally thin ice on the rivers, lakes and oceans we use for transportation during the winter, because the ice has not been thick enough for us to do traditional ice fishing and hunting. Warmer temperatures are changing our way of life in a way that our elders say they have not seen before.

So I went to Warsaw with a personal stake. I was both heartened and taken aback to learn that many other people around the world have similar concerns and also have seen changes to their livelihoods. While at the COP, I worked with the Red Cross Climate Center, whose efforts help ensure that vulnerable communities become more prepared to adapt to a changing climate, and face reduced risks from climate disasters such as deadly hurricanes and severe drought. I helped with the Center’s Development and Climate Days (D&C Days) side event, which invited policymakers and other leaders from around the world to a two-day conference to learn more about climate change and how to prepare for it.

I was also involved in the deliberations of Arctic peoples and states, the Indigenous Caucus, the US delegation, and the younger generation’s caucus, or “YOUNGO.” They all had a similar message: our leaders must produce strong mitigation and adaptation measures to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Some highlights include meeting with former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, who is a strong advocate for helping people vulnerable to climate change.  I was also able to meet some youth delegates from the Arctic and the Caribbean Islands, who had a side event called “Portraits of Resilience” to show their own pictures and stories of how climate change is affecting their communities and their future. I witnessed a walkout protest by non-governmental organizations that said the COP delegates were not doing enough to take strong measures against climate change. I was involved with both the YOUNGO and Indigenous Caucus while they passed resolutions urging leaders to address the threats of climate change. And I was able to chat and ask questions with top US delegate officials while attending their high-level negotiation events.

I was at COP for its second week, when the high-level negotiations between the nations occur. This year’s COP was supposed to lay the groundwork for a groundbreaking 2015 COP in Paris, which is expected to achieve big results in emissions reductions. While some believed that the negotiations did not achieve this, nations did agree to finish making plans for their  “contributions” to reduce climate change emissions by the 2015 conference, to the best of their ability. The “contributions” language was weaker than what  the US delegation wanted. The US asked nations to make firm “commitments” on how much they would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Since it will be up to the nations themselves to come up with this “contribution” level, I went to the side events and negotiations of the US delegation as much as I could, to see what our leaders were saying. At one of the side events, I was able to meet with Council for Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, who is a top environmental advisor to President Obama. The US delegation stated that the US is on target to reduce their greenhouse emissions by at least 17 percent by 2020.

Since it is unlikely that the US will institute new emissions rules by passing legislation through Congress, it will be up to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control emissions through new regulations. The US Supreme Court handed the EPA a victory in 2007 when it ruled that EPA could regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants. Now, new EPA rules on emissions may be central for the US to achieve its greenhouse reduction goals. In October, I was able to go to the first of 11 listening sessions across the US by the EPA on proposed rules to reduce emissions from power plants. This effort could cut emissions and help with America’s commitments, since power plants contributed 40 percent of the US carbon emissions in 2012. The new set of proposed rules will be subject to a forthcoming ruling by the Supreme Court though, which will determine how much authority the EPA has to regulate certain emissions.

Moving forward, it will be important for US officials to better understand the emissions science in order to achieve our emissions reductions goals. A new study released in late November found that methane emissions are perhaps 50 percent higher than the EPA had anticipated. Methane is emitted from agriculture sources and from fossil fuel sources such as natural gas, and though it does not remain in the atmosphere as long, it is four times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Emissions of methane may increase due to large finds in hard-rock natural gas deposits in the U.S. The increased use of fracking may pose a challenge to America’s ability to achieve its emissions goals as stated in Warsaw.

It will be interesting to watch what regulations the Obama Administration will propose moving forward. With the new study on methane, as well as another study released this week that says Arctic methane is leaking into the atmosphere at an alarming rate, a reduction in carbon emissions cannot be the only answer.  One thing is certain: a legal framework by the US and individual nations must lead the way to reduce climate emissions, as nations agreed to in Warsaw.

Verner Wilson, III is a first-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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate

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