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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 24, 2014
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The View Without Supermarket Vision: Thomas Berry and the “Great Work”

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

Right after high school graduation my friend Emily and I took a road trip to Taos, New Mexico. We were on our way to a friend’s bed and breakfast to stay and enjoy the desert sun before facing the rest of our lives. We stopped at the Rio Grand Gorge Bridge and, as we left the car to admire the gorge, a homeless man pushed a cart across the bridge, gestured toward us and, from under a beard and baseball cap, called us “supermarket girls.” I grew up working for the family gardening business and, having grown many of my own vegetables and plants, I resented his comment and thought, “I am NOT a supermarket girl!” Although hardly the type of comment to raise one’s defenses, I have never forgotten his words. For some reason, that phrase has taken on new meaning over the years.

What was this man commenting on? He was, perhaps, pointing to some truth about where Emily and I were coming from, and what kind of life we had presumably led. Along our road trip in Colorado and New Mexico, Emily and I came face to face with expressions of our national agricultural production in the West: vast irrigation systems, dams, highways, satellite towns propped up by a fossil fuel economy, and drought-prone landscapes heavily irrigated or roamed by cattle. Indeed, despite both of our families’ humble origins, Emily and I were accustomed to going to the grocery store and unquestioningly buying produce for our families without any conception of how the system really functioned. So maybe we were, in a way, “supermarket girls.” I have never been comfortable with the phrase and am now exploring the implications of being part of a “supermarket society.” Of course, beneath the supermarket façade is the story behind the polished apples, shiny peppers, and perfect potatoes—this story is as illuminating as it is alarming. The tons of topsoil rushing downriver, the nationwide bee colony collapse, the already vanished forms of plant and animal life call for a better way or, as Thomas Berry calls it, the “Great Work.”

In his February 12 talk, “Creating a New Food Future,” Andrew Kimbrell highlighted the ways in which industrial agriculture exhausts our soils, imperils our pollinators (the critical key to fertility), and eradicates our rich history in seed biodiversity. We are now reckoning with a system that undercuts the very foundations upon which it rests. The specter of drought across the West reveals the unfortunate fact that our water law is based on data from an unusual wet spell. Now climate change will likely reduce the Colorado River’s flow even further, the source of all that is green in much of the West and Southwest, leaving regional planners and farmers clamoring for solutions. The current water crisis in California and the likely reality of a long-term drought, points to the need to re-align our agricultural regime.

The water crisis that threatens agriculture in states like California, Arizona, and Colorado is but one of many problems embedded in an agricultural system that exhausts farmland and natural resources without replenishing them. This system, as Kimbrell reminds us, is completely unregenerative and the consumers’ “supermarket vision,” or disconnection with their own food sources, is one of its symptoms. 

According to Kimbrell, as we begin to realize the vulnerability and danger involved in industrial agriculture, we should see the organic movement in the United States as the starting point, our conceptual baseline from which a greater transformation of American agriculture can occur. That is, the organic movement cannot, by itself, solve all of the problems associated with the food system as it is, but it is a worthy and necessary launch pad. Part of this change is certainly related to policy, technology, and consumer habits, to name a few, but it also has to do with the way that Americans view nature.

Many social scientists have long examined American attitudes towards nature. Thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Lynn White Jr., and Thomas Berry have all observed and decried a disjointed and extractive relationship with the natural world. This, in turn, shapes the manner in which we use nature for sustenance. Historically, westerners have understood nature to be a wilderness in need of taming, unsanitary and dangerous, or a static source of goods that exist to serve humankind. People have paid too little attention the long-term effects and viability of monocropping, mass chemical and pesticide use, or cotton farming in the desert. The industrial form of agriculture and of modern life has devastated the healthy functioning of ecosystems around the globe and academics have anticipated the need not only for economic and legal change but for a far more fundamental change in perception. The historian Thomas Berry has referred to the next significant human movement as the “Great Work,” or the “transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner” (The Great Work: Our Way into the Future). Berry asserts that we must begin to recognize and reclaim our responsibility not as commanders and takers of natural resources but as members in a community that we depend on and depends on us. Americans have little sense of reciprocity between nature and their communities, and this is borne out in exhaustive forms of modern agriculture.

Perhaps, to some this may sound either bizarre or unrealistic, but the evidential need for a change in attitudes is compelling. We are losing topsoil up to forty times faster than the land is regenerating it, we continue to massively overdraw 20 percent of the world’s aquifers, we’ve already lost 75 percent of crop biodiversity, and we’ve seen a 50-percent decline in pollinator populations in a single year. We must consider the underlying reasons for this trend.

Values, it would seem, are as much of our common heritage as the land. The Great Work that Berry articulates so clearly, and which others like Rachel Carson, have made movements toward, expand our cultural view to recognize that "in reality there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human” (The Great Work: Our Way into the Future). Our intellectual, emotional, and economic capacity for a sense of relatedness will be a central component in our response to a faltering food system and as we learn more about our launching pad, the organic movement. Kimbrell’s talk was practical and illuminating as he highlighted both the promise and limitations of the organic movement in confronting industrial agriculture—it cannot solve everything—but it is our first step out of the trench we’ve collectively dug. 

A recording of Andrew Kimbrell’s webinar, “Creating a New Food Future,” is available at https://vimeo.com/87359019

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorEnvironmental Law & Governance
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
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
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GM and GE Foods Decoded: Federal Regulation and the (expired) Monsanto Rider

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

Images of innocent tomatoes pierced by a needle, biohazard signs next to corn fields, or some mixed animal-fruit or animal-human species circulate in the popular media. These images reflect widespread public concern about the implications of GMOs for future agriculture production and for human health. The popular debate about genetically modified organisms or GMOs is, as one could expect, polarized and often lacking a nuanced understanding of what GMOs are, and how the US federal government handles the manipulation of genetic material. As the journalist Nathanael Johnson reminds us, the topic of GMOs is immediately charged because they are symbols: for proponents, GMOs represent the human ability to end hunger and poverty through technological advances, while for opponents, GMOs embody all that is evil about corporate control in the country’s food systems.

Beneath the hype, however, lies an issue that many Americans are overlooking or do not care to observe. In her talk, “The [In]significance of the Monsanto Rider to the Farm Bill”on January 28, Professor Beyranevand argued that while much attention was paid to the Monsanto Rider – which would have allowed farmers to keep using biotech seeds even if they were under court review –its inclusion in the Farm Bill would not have substantively changed the current regulatory regime or mitigated the perceived threat of GMOs. In order to more fully convey the weight of Beyranevand’s claim, this blog is devoted to contextualizing the GMO debate and providing a glimpse into why superficial attacks on GMOs can be so misleading.

To be clear, the term GMO makes a broad reference to plants that have undergone traditional hybridization techniques, a practice that humankind has been engaged in for many years, as well as those that have been genetically engineered (GE). Genetically engineered organisms, more specifically, garner far greater public attention. With GE organisms, scientists add foreign genes from an unrelated plant or animal to the chosen crop’s genetic structure to alter key traits, such as growing rate, taste, or resistance to pests.

American citizens have expressed great concern about the effect of GE food crops and, in particular, the main company that produces bioengineered seeds, Monsanto. Recently, protestors gathered outside a shareholder meeting at Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, decrying the company’s “corporate greed” and its “mutant seeds.” Similarly, the 2013 film GMO OMG, poses the question, “is this the end of real food?” The filmmakers express not only grave concern with the corporate control over the world’s food supply but air widespread worry about the uncertainty surrounding the potential or unknown human health impacts of GE products.

Although much of the debate revolves around labeling regulation, concerned groups such as the Non GMO Project, endeavor to raise awareness about what genetically modified foods are, which food sources may contain GE ingredients, and potential health risks associated with them. Other groups point to observed or unforeseen ecological impacts of GMOs such as the inadvertent creation of increasingly resistant pests, the elimination of wild and rare plant species (i.e. permanent loss of biodiversity), and collateral impacts to beneficial organisms. Another criticism levied against Monsanto, is the unequal distribution of profits associated with their sale and the subsequent corporate ownership of genetic material in the farmers’ fields. In other words, the issue is a socio-economic and ethical one too. Collectively, skeptical organizations doubt whether the purported benefits of GMO and GE crops (greater productivity, less insecticide needed etc.) are worth the potential ecological harm they represent. While some citizens wonder if the debate matters at all, concerned local leaders and politicians, as in Hawaii, face serious backlash from their own constituents for remotely entertaining the idea of permitting GMO crops or considering their benefits.

However, for the lay person not tuned into the debate, news reports state that the Food and Drug administration regulates GMO and GE foods “the same as any other foods,” a statement intended to convey trust in existing federal regulation. For some, including Professor Beyranevand, this is the problem.

While public debates continue about labeling and potential health impacts of GE foods, little public attention is paid to the limitations of the existing systemto adequately regulate bioengineered seeds and crops. The coordination between federal agencies, overlapping jurisdiction, and potentially inadequate statutory authority are among the more prominent points of criticism of the existing federal regulatory framework.

Federal regulation of biotechnology is executed through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the US Department of Agriculture, and depends on the stage of the seed, crop, or final product in the market. The EPA regulates biopesticides (pesticides derived from animals, plants, bacteria, or minerals), some of which are not necessary genetically engineered or toxic. For example, one common household item that is classified as a biopesticide is canola oil. The EPA regulates and defines the conditions under which canola oil, and other plant-based oils, can be used to control agricultural pests. Nevertheless, the EPA controls pesticides through two federal laws, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA). In order for a pesticide, including biopesticides, to be marketed in the US, the EPA is required to determine whether the substance does not pose “unreasonable risk of harm to human health or the environment.” In accordance with this FIFRA requirement, the EPA requires the submission of data that describes a pesticide’s chemical composition, assesses the long-term fate of the substance in the environment, and analyzes its toxicity and effect on human and environmental health.

The EPA divides biopesticides into three main categories, microbial pesticides, plant pesticides, and biochemical pesticides. Microbial pesticides are microorganisms such as bacterium, fungus or virus, and are used to target a variety of agricultural pests. Different kinds of fungi, for example, can control certain weeds and insects. Plant pesticides are those generated within a plant as a result of added genes. The gene for a commonly used pesticidal protein, Bt, for example, can be inserted into a plant’s genetic material and effectively eliminate pests that attempt to consume the plant. The EPA regulates the protein and its enabling genes, but not the plant. Biochemical pesticides are “naturally occurring substances” such as insect sex pheromones or a scented plant extract, both of which alter a potential pest’s behavior.

The FDA presides over GM crops that human and/or animals consume and manages them according to their “substantial equivalence” (their essential “sameness”) in comparison to non-GM plants. The FDA regulates the inclusion of GE plants into human and animal food sources through a voluntary consultation process with GE plant developers. These consultationsinvolve a developer entering into discussion about the safety, nutritional, and regulatory issues associated with a GE food item. The developer submits summaries of scientific analyses of its product, which the FDA evaluates and determines whether unresolved problems persist, or if all safety and regulatory facets are adequately addressed, thereby granting or denying permission to enter the US food market. An “unresolved issue” in these proceedings might entail the reduced concentration of important nutrients, new allergens, or the presence of an unapproved additive. In general, foods that contain corn, soybean and/or cotton oil are foods which likely contain genetically engineered plant ingredients, which the FDA tracks and controls, but for which currently does not require labeling.

The USDA regulates GE crops through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) according to the Plant Protection Act of 2000. The USDA regulates GM plants under a permit or notification process. For simple field testing, the USDA requires a notification process, typically a formality, which involves a company giving APHIS notice of the trial while consenting to follow USDA rules. For crops that produce pharmaceutical or industrial chemicals, the USDA requires a more extensive permit process, along with field trials and an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement. Once a company can commercialize a crop and produce sellable seed for farmers, it then petitions APHIS for “deregulated status” and submits comprehensive risk-assessment data. Monsanto, for example, continuously develops new GE corn and wheat seeds, among many other crops. In order to market these seeds to farmers, the company must first demonstrate to the USDA that these crops do not pose significant threats to human or environmental health. The USDA system, however, does not guarantee in-depth environmental impact statements; its confinement measures for field tests may not reliably prevent migration of GM crop genes, and understaffing can lead to self-regulation on behalf of the private biotechnology companies.

A 2003 PEW Initiative on Food and Biotechnology report, Post-Market Oversight of Biotech Foods, calls attention to similar systemic issues within the USDA. The report highlights APHIS’ powerlessness in imposing conditions on the use or environmental impact of a GM crop after deregulation. The PEW report also cites a 2002 National Resource Council publication, Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants, which focuses on problems associated with the notification, permit, and deregulation processes, also citing the need for more robust post-commercialization and environmental testing. The National Resource Council report grounds its assessment in the “inherent scientific difficulty and uncertainty of predicting system ecological effects on the basis of field trials that are necessarily small relative to the commercial scale.”

The issue of genetic containment has caught media attention in recent events, which may lead to more calls for greater federal oversight. In Oregon, for example, a strain of Monsanto’s GM wheat mysteriously found its way into the field of a farmer who had not purchased or intentionally planted the product. The investigation linking the “rogue” seeds to Monsanto’s research site hasn’t produced a plausible answer, but it brings to light the difficulty inherent in tightly controlling the global distribution of GM or GE seeds.

Professor Beyranevand argues that even if the Monsanto Rider had made its way into the final Farm Bill, it would not have substantively changed the way the federal government regulates GM and GE seeds, crops, and products. Public skepticism about GMOs is, perhaps, warranted given the surreptitious inclusion of the Monsanto Rider. However, in focusing on this facet of the bill, the public may be missing an opportunity to address fundamental issues in how the American government ensures food that is beneficial for its citizens and the environment.

A link to the recording of Professor Beyranevand’s talk can be found here: https://vimeo.com/86143076.

For further reading:

GMO and GE Defined

World Health Organization: 20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods

Farm Bill and the Monsanto Rider

Monsanto Rider’ in Farm Bill Allows Planting of Genetically Modified Crops without Environmental Impact Studies

‘Monsanto’ Rider Ridiculed by Both Sides, But Is it as Bad as it Looks

Federal GMO Regulation

Federation of American Scientists: US Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops

Council on Foreign Relations: The Regulation of GMOs in Europe and the United States 

PEW Trusts Report: Post-Market Oversight of Biotech Foods

Berkeley Technology Law: Issues in the Regulation of Bioengineered Food

Cornell University: The Role of Government in the Labeling of GM Food      

FDA Regulation and Consultation Procedures

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:
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
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Andrew Kimbrell to Discuss Moving Beyond Industrial Agriculture

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

On Wednesday, February 12, Andrew Kimbrell, founder and executive director of the Center for Food Safety, will discuss genetically engineered crops as the latest iteration of industrial agriculture. His talk, “Creating a New Food Future,” continues Part III of the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series, which focuses on genetically modified food and intellectual property in the American food system. Kimbrell’s talk will place the conversation about GM and GE food within the larger context of modern farming, and examine how the future of food really can move beyond industrial agriculture.

As Beyrenevand’s webinar on the Monsanto Rider in the Farm Bill indicated, GE foods raise nationwide and global controversy about the technology’s unknown ecological or human health effects. These concerns are often raised in conjunction with discomfort and anger about the corporatization of the food industry. Repeated legal battles between Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and farmers demonstrates how the company’s ownership of patented seeds can pose significant challenges for American farmers by making them patent “infringers,” and “dependent on the grace of a single company to avoid liability.” The company, which makes $14.7 billion in annual revenue, continually seeks ways to prevent farmers from saving seeds grown from Monsanto’s stock and is generating wide-spread resentment about its growing “seed oligarchy.”

As Kimbrell will demonstrate, GM and GE foods are one symptom of an increasingly industrialized agriculture drawing wide-ranging criticism from the American public. In the long run, the organic movement may gain greater momentum as a result of an industrial and corporate food system that offers little transparency and yields to consumer demand only after great pain and labor.

Andrew Kimbrell is an author and activist promoting sustainable forms of agriculture. His most recent book, Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food (2006) tackles the current controversial issues of GE foods and the vital need for a more just and healthy food system. Kimbrell is also an international figure in his role as a public interest attorney, and the senior attorney and policy director for the Foundation for Economic Trends. In all of these roles, Kimbrell works to protect the environment and the public from threats posed by global industrial agriculture and faulty governmental policies. Utne Reader recognized Kimbrell as among the world's leading 100 visionaries, and The Guardian recognized him in 2008 as one of the 50 people who could save the planet.

Registration for the event can be found here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/650444167.

To see YCELP’s complete event calendar, including more details about upcoming webinars, follow this link: http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events.

Our final speaker in Part III is Lauren Handel, Counsel at the Food Law Firm, and her talk, “GMO Labeling Laws: Constitutaional Considerations.” Please join us on Thursday, February 27 at 12:00 PM EST for this final webinar before we launch into our fourth and final topic of the series, which focuses on the Farm Bill and the future of farming. Registration for Lauren Handel’s talk can be found here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/804265159.

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.

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