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Energy & 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
Monday, December 09, 2013
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From Adaptation to Resilience: Climate Change in Megacities

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

At first it sounds like the set-up of a joke or a riddle: “What has 8 percent of the world’s population, a GDP the size of China’s, and the potential to take a billion-ton bite out of the world’s carbon emissions?” These statistics characterize the 63 cities of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which brings mayors from around the world together to share strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Rit Aggarwala, the former director of long-term planning and sustainability for New York City, serves as special advisor to Michael Bloomberg in his role as chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. During his November 21 visit to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Dr. Aggarwala discussed some of the driving forces behind cities’ leadership on climate change, and explored the ways different cities apply adaptation strategies to fit local needs and resources. 

The success of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group reflects urban areas’ growing leadership in climate change adaptation. A number of factors have spurred and enabled cities to act on climate change. To start, urban dwellers are more likely to see global warming as a real issue; 90 percent of cities stand near coasts, and city residents tend to be more dependent on the infrastructure that climate change threatens. For instance, an urban resident who relies on an elevator to leave his apartment or on public transit to commute to work may be especially affected by a blackout. Mayors typically face fewer political roadblocks than state and federal politicians, and the day-to-day responsibilities of managing a city provide both the tools and the practice for implementing pragmatic solutions. 

Dr. Aggarwala highlighted heat and drought; sea level rise and flooding; storms and extreme precipitation; and changes in the geographic distribution of disease as five key themes driving cities’ preparations. As cities implement policies to protect their citizens and their infrastructure, they face a diverse and sometime counter-intuitive array of challenges. For instance, London, a city close to the coast, and famous for its rain, is actually more concerned about heat than water. A sea wall currently keeps flooding at bay, while buildings and public transportation often lack air conditioners, fans, and other means to deal with hot weather. While rising sea levels and flooding do threaten Vietnam’s Ho Chi Ming City buildings, a sea wall here would pose significant financial challenges. So, instead of trying to keep water out, the city is experimenting with strategies to minimize the damage water causes when it comes in. 

Identifying the right solution is often far easier than figuring out how to implement the fix on a megacity scale.  For instance, a SmartCity partnership between IBM and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, uses microclimate data to predict landslides up to an hour before they occur. Landslides jeopardize some of the city’s most vulnerable communities, and as storms and precipitation increase, landslides are expected to become more frequent as well. By altering community leaders of danger via text messages, IBM’s technology saves lives. However, Dr. Aggarwala noted, its success ultimately depends on strong community networks, effective community leaders, and safe evacuation routes and centers. In responding to climate change, technology only makes up half the battle.  Effective management plays an equally important role. 

Sometimes, the best solution does not rest on innovative technology, but on new applications for something as simple as a water fountain. That’s the approach London used to help address rising rates of heat stroke on its subway platforms. Similarly, New York City plans to explore the use of window screens to help combat expected increases in insect-borne illnesses. Dr. Aggarwala pointed to examples like these as he distinguished climate change adaptation from resiliency.  He worries that the framework of climate change adaptation can narrow cities’ efforts, by focusing on new challenges and tools. In contrast, resiliency involves both preparing for new threats, such as rising sea levels, and responding to new levels of severity in existing challenges, like extreme storms and heat.

Dr. Aggarwala’s presentation concluded a semester-long speaker series, From Mitigation to Adaptation: Regional Responses to Climate Change. The series, co-hosted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, highlighted regional and local approaches to climate adaptation, and how those strategies fit within the larger context of climate change mitigation. His final remarks, in response to an audience question about the future of urban adaptation, offer a fitting end to this semester-long conversation.  As populations trends continue and “everything becomes urban,” Dr. Aggarwala suggested that urban adaptation will become less of a hot topic, and more of an integrated part of city’s management frameworks.

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: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Thursday, December 05, 2013
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Giving Thanks Through CSAs: Building Relationships Between Farmers + Consumers in Fort Collins

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

In light of Rachel Armstrong’s webinar, “Business as Unusual: Building the New Food Movement with Business Law,” Thanksgiving seemed an especially appropriate moment to consider the role Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangements play in their communities. I spent the holiday home in Fort Collins, Colorado—a perfect place to highlight how CSAs engage with their community, and how the legal guidance Rachel Armstrong outlined in her webinar can equip local farms with staying power in similar towns across the country.

Arriving home, my stepmom, Tonya proudly showed me her homemade yogurt (amazingly creamy!), fermented cabbage, grown on a nearby farm, and kombucha (her latest experiment). She dreamt of having chickens and finally making a go at a vegetable garden in the spring. The next day, my mom, Aimee, opened her storage freezer to show me their “harvested” chickens that she was planning to use in a stew. As much as she might like to have goats in the backyard, and despite her insistence that my stepdad wouldn’t have to mow the lawn anymore, Jeff is not so keen on the idea. Tonya is religious in her CSA memberships every summer and Aimee is the most doting mother chickens could possibly have (up until the moment they are “harvested” that is). They are both reflections of their Fort Collins community.

If not oriented toward meeting the needs of a single household, Fort Collins local farms take the form of community-supported agriculture or CSA. The CSA format is both a marketing and philosophical approach in which customers make a non-refundable payment ahead of the season’s harvest, for regular deliveries of produce. This way, the farmer does not carry all the production risk, and the producer and consumer build a more direct and reciprocal relationship, something Fort Collins residents like my parents are coming to appreciate.

Nestled at the foot of the Rockies, Fort Collins residents have access to some of the country’s cleanest water, abundant sunshine, and to numerous sources of locally grown produce. Over the last decade, the city has seen urban farms sprout up in backyards throughout Old Town and small farms emerge at the city’s edge. These farms are a part of a local scene that supports and embraces local producers. The city, in fact, recently adopted a revised city code that allows residents to scale their chicken flocks according to property size, raise ducks, keep bees, and tend dwarf or pygmy goats for household milk production. These new rules allow more citizens to engage in urban agriculture, and they help create markets in more areas for farmers. More than that, however, they are an indication of increased collaborationbetween the city and the farming community.

The local university, Colorado State University, historically an agricultural school (Go Aggies!), also supports urban agriculture through the Extension Office, which offers a wide variety of programs and services for new farmers. CSU manages the 2014 Building Urban Farmers Program, maintains an urban “land-for-lease” list that connects landowners to farmers, and catalogues urban farming internships and volunteer opportunities. CSU students are also becoming more involved in the CSA scene. Though the up-front cost is hard for some students to meet, the cost per pound of food is less than grocery store prices. One farmer, Justin Norton, a CSU student and owner of Donoma Farms, offers a 15-week winter share (from December through March) of salad greens grown in raised beds under greenhouses in his backyard. A share costs students just $55.                

Fort Collins and the Be Local Northern Colorado organization host local farmers markets throughout the year, including the winter months, and provide farmers and artisans regular opportunities to market their goods to local consumers. Such markets, along with local and state-wide directories of CSAs and blogs dedicated to bringing farmers of “the Fort” together, lend greater access and transparency to the movement as farmers find more ways to reach consumers.

Local farms such as Jodar Farms, which specializes in free range poultry, eggs, and pork, Native Hill Farm, Cresset Farm, Garden Sweet Farm, and Happy Heart Farm provide the Fort Collins community with organic and, in some cases, biodynamic, produce. Some farms, such as Happy Heart and Native Hill offer working shares, and volunteer or internship opportunities that reduce the cost of a member’s share and engage the individual more directly in the processes of food production.

Recently, however, the CSA community in the area has been prompted to consider what community-supported agriculture is and how large such farming enterprises can be while still adhering to the intent and philosophy behind the concept. During the summer of 2013, a particularly large CSA, Grant Family Farms, which had a membership of more than 5,000 members, declared bankruptcy. Grant Family Farms struggled with many of the same challenges Armstrong described in her recent webinar: large debt burdens, managing volunteers, and giving choice produce to grocery stores, where they can demand higher prices, rather than to CSA members. Grant Family Farms distributed produce throughout Colorado’s Front Range, and though the reason for its closure might not have been related to its size, others in the farming community are left wondering: can a CSA get toobig? Some farmers seem to think so; for others, the critical issue is the integrity of the relationship with customers. According to one biodynamic farm owner, Jean-Paul Courtens in New York, “When size becomes a factor in dehumanizing the whole transaction, yes, you are too big…Where is that? I don’t know.”

Fort Collins farmers and CSA farmers across the country are, in fact, confronting the “tricky business” of figuring out how to communicate to customers the risks inherent in farming each year, and balancing the distribution of produce to local markets, restaurants, and members. They are tasked with finding the right size to meet demand while not inviting disaster if a bad weather year drives away customers, disappointed and unfamiliar with the risk-sharing concept. Scaling up a CSA farm, though tempting, can pose significant legal and financial challenges and the stakes, a farm’s reputation for example, are high. Farmers looking to grow may be faced with a lack of data about what can work financially and economically, though this picture is slowly changing nationally. In this light, as Rachel Armstrong explained, legal advice becomes an equally vital component in giving small farms the support and guidance they need to maintain strong relationships with their customers while still protecting their investments.

Although the legal measures Armstrong proposes for the farming community may seem alien or, perhaps, impersonal, they touch on highly relevant topics for farms even in my own home town. In Fort Collins, the issues Armstrong brings into focus are as apparent as anywhere else in the country. As vibrant as this farming community may seem, and as thankful as residents may be for it, local farms are still vulnerable to the capriciousness of weather, insects, and even customers. Armstrong’s pioneering work in re-formulating the legal apparatus to work forfarmers and protect the fruits of their labor may, in fact, go a long way in preserving that all-important relationship between farmers and customers, and building more resilient local farming businesses.

A link to a recording of Armstrong’s webinar can be found here: https://vimeo.com/80411482

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
Monday, December 02, 2013
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Legal Structures for Just and Sustainable Food Systems

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

This week, the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series features Janelle Orsi, who will conclude our segment on the Legal Framework for the New Food Movement. To participate, register here and then join us online at 3:00 pm EST on Wednesday, December 4. Janelle’s presentation will be followed by a moderated discussion of audience questions.

Janelle Orsi is an attorney, author and the executive director of the Oakland, CA-based Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC). SELC is a nonprofit organization that works to promote just and resilient economies through legal tools that include education, research, advice, advocacy. The Center uses unconventional and innovative approaches to foster local communities and practices that promote sharing and sustainability. The work is diverse, with programs that focus on shared housing, local investment, and food systems, to name just a few. 

In the food space, SELC is actively involved with grassroots promotion of community-based urban agriculture, and also with policy advocacy supporting local and community interests. Recently, SELC provided commentary on the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to voice concern that the proposed rules will excessively burden small food and farming businesses. SELC is also advocating for the California Neighborhood Food Act, a law that will support small, local producers and remove undue legal and policy barriers created by cities, counties and homeowners associations.

In addition to her work with the Sustainable Economies Law Center, she also runs the Law Office of Janelle Orsi, a law and mediation practice that provides services for shared housing, nonprofits, cooperatives, social enterprises and individuals. She is a self-described “sharing lawyer” and has written extensively on the legal and communal aspects of sharing. She is the author of Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, co-author of How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community, and a frequent blogger on Shareable.net. She has been widely praised for her creative approach to social issues, including being recognized by the American Bar Association as a “Legal Rebel” and being named by The (En)Rich List as one of 100 people “whose contributions enrich paths to sustainable futures.”

On Wednesday, Janelle will speak about the “Legal Structures for Just and Sustainable Food Systems.” In her presentation, she will explore the potential contributions of the legal system to create a more just and sustainable food system. In particular, she will address the key legal principles underlying cooperatives and common pool resources, highlighting the primary legal barriers inhibiting the transition of the food system and looking at how these barriers might be overcome and transformed through policy change.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Janelle’s presentation will concludes the second segment of the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar and marks the conclusion of our 2013 program. On January 28, 2014, Laurie Beyranevand, the Assistant Director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School will kick off the third part of our series, “GMOs and Intellectual Property.” We encourage you to check back in January to register for this and other presentations on the future of food and agriculture.

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
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
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Where’s the Law?

By Guest Author, Jennifer Skene, Yale Law School '14

“Where’s The Finance (WTF)?” That was the question posed repeatedly the past two weeks during the UNFCCC’s 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Warsaw. But this simply leads to another question: “Where’s the Law?”

In other cases of environmental damage for the past seventy years, under international law the question of “Where’s the Finance?” has been comparatively easy to answer—it lies with the countries to blame for the harms caused. This is known as the polluter pays principle (PPP), and it is now a widely recognized tenet of international law. Yet the PPP has yet to materialize in any UNFCCC agreements, meaning that developing countries, which are the hardest hit by climate change, are left with minimal financial assistance.

Ironically, it was a case brought by the United States that provided the initial foundation for the PPP. In the 1941 Trail Smelter decision the United States won a dispute against Canada for compensation for pollution damages caused to the U.S. by a Canadian smelter.

With climate change, however, the U.S. and other developed countries are successfully keeping compensation out of the picture, and this COP in Warsaw was no different.  The “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage (IMLD)” is the compromise States reached during their overtime negotiations on Saturday, November 23. Despite the calls of developing nations to create a separate loss and damage mechanism, the IMLD will be housed under the existing adaptation mechanisms. Essentially this means that funding provided by developed nations, if and when it should materialize, will come in the form of financial assistance, not compensation for harm caused by greenhouse gas emissions. And this financial assistance will almost certainly be far from adequate.

It may be up to other international legal institutions to bring compensation into the picture. In 2011 and 2012 the island nation of Palau sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on whether the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters are responsible for harm caused to developing countries. While an advisory opinion would not be binding, it could offer sufficient legal support to compel States to create a loss and damage mechanism based on compensation. However, developed countries, led by the United States, stymied Palau’s campaign, and it is, for now, dead in the water.

So Where’s The Finance? Until we answer the question of “Where’s the Law?” finance may remain elusive. As the latest COP further demonstrates, answering the question of “Where’s the Law” may take the authority of a body outside the UNFCCC altogether—like the ICJ. Until the entire international community understands compensation to be a legally binding obligation that they cannot negotiate away, developing countries will likely be left asking “WTF?”

Jennifer Skene is a third-year law student at Yale from Tallahassee, FL. She is the chair of the Native American Law Students Association, a board member for the Yale Environmental Law Association, and a Features Editor on the Yale Journal of International Law. Jennifer is active in Yale's Environmental Protection Clinic, and this past summer she received a Ford Fellowship to work at the Center for International Environmental Law. 

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Friday, November 22, 2013
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Down the Drain—Water Metering in the Home

By Guest Author, Rachel Lipstein, Yale College '15

Superstorms and costal flooding may grab headlines, but water scarcity is emerging as our most immediate environmental concern. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent assessment highlights the increasing risk of water scarcity in this age of climate extremes and skyrocketing populations. Another recent study finds that if, by the end of the century, 500 million people are subjected to water scarcity, it will be the result of an optimistic warming scenario. Even now, the droughts plaguing many of the world’s most arid regions—including parts of western United States—are contributing to economic fragility and social unrest.

Water meters, small devices that track water usage, could play a key role in helping people understand the reality of water as a limited resource. Because they allow utilities to bill by volume, meters encourage customers to conserve—often with dramatic results. In this series, we will examine metering's effect on water consumption, its intersection with cultural norms and individual rights, and its impact on communities.The first installment highlighted water metering policy in Chile.

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In 2009, only 55 percent of the homes in California’s San Joaquin Valley had water meters installed. That low percentage was not the result of a naturally slow adoption process. It was a result of aggressive resistance to the devices, which were billed as “taxing machines.”[1] When the city of Fresno, in the heart of the arid valley, attempted to install 8,000 meters in a pilot program, a group of taxpayers fought fiercely and successfully to amend the city charter, banning residential meters.

The United States isn’t the only developed country with popular opposition to metering. In southern England a renewed compulsory metering drive has been met with indignation. Some customers claim that volumetric pricing is a tax on children, as larger families might now pay more.[2] Financial concerns are colored by a popular distrust of England’s private utility companies. In the past decade, water prices have increased 84 percent, while the utilities profits have jumped up to 200 percent.[3]

With correct regulation, however, residential metering encourages individual conservation. When coupled with grace period and gradual price increases, metering can be rolled out fairly. In Denmark, the transition to residential metering and volumetric billing were correlated with a 12.6-percent decrease in consumption between 1996 and 2007.[4]

Metering also improves equity. When customers pay by volume, the implicit subsidy that high-volume users receive at the expense of low-volume users is eliminated. Although most residences in the United States are metered, regulations differ by state and even by district. Water is not always billed volumetrically. Many meters are never even read.

In the past, Fresno utilities charged a flat rate regardless of usage. For a city that averaged just under 290 gallons per person per day—almost triple the national average of 100 gallons—this was a problem.[5] In light of diminishing aquifer levels and excessive usage, the California legislature mandated that any city drawing from federal dams install water meters by 2013.[6]

Today, Fresno is almost completely metered, and the results have been positive. Patrick Weimiller, Fresno’s director of Public Works, told local news affiliate KFSN that he has already seen a reduction in usage. “Our actual numbers are showing we're about 17 percent below where we were with the fixed rate, with some room to grow.”[7]

This post is the second in a series on water metering. The next installment will look at agricultural metering in the United States.


[7] http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/local&id=8934000

Rachel Lipstein is a junior at Yale College majoring in English major with a concentration in Writing. She is interested in sustainable agriculture and enjoys spending time on farms. Previously, she worked on the 108-foot sloop, Clearwater, which is dedicated to protecting the Hudson River through education, advocacy, and celebration.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
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Heirs to Our Land: The Changing Face of US Farmers and Resources for Incoming Practitioners

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

Jason Foscolo’s November 6 webinar, “Food Law Activism: Legal Models for Sustainable Businesses,” launched Part II of the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series. Part II of the series focuses on food and agriculture law—often a complex and bewildering topic for producers across the country. The principal attorney at the Food Law Firm in New York, Foscolo works with local farmers and producers committed to sustainability, offering legal guidance on how to remain competitive in the food industry in the long term. His work is especially important as both the farming demographic and modes of agricultural production shift, but must still work within the same legal apparatus.

Even as conventional family farms in the Intermountain West, for example, are finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat, and as the percentage of residents in the region involved in agriculture have declined to less than 2 percent, recent shifts in the national agricultural community may indicate that trend is changing. Utah counties have lost 434,000 acres of farmland between 1974 and 2007 and yet smaller urban farms have increased by 20 percent during the same period. This change has prompted some farmers to consider diversifying and becoming involved with organic farming or even growing landscaping plants.

Median farm household income, according to a USDA study, was expected to decrease by 2.5 percent in 2013. Furthermore, many farms (defined broadly) continued to remain unprofitable nationwide even in the best of years, painting what is, perhaps, a less-than-reassuring entré into the scene for beginning farmers. Although the career path may not promise dividends in the short term, for many families and individuals, farming is an essential part of their family history, or it may simply represent a new way of living in modern society. Whatever the draw is, a new, and decidedly young, approach to farming is emerging.

The agriculture business is dominated by an aging population (the average farmer age increased from 47.6 to 57.1 from 2003-2007), unable to pass their farms onto their daughters or sons. Since 1982 the percentage of new farmers who have managed their land for ten years or less has steadily declined, according to the 2007 Agricultural Census. However, the faces of America’s farmers may slowly be changing. The passing of lands, so to speak, is nothing to overlook as less than 10 percent of U.S. farmers have transition plans for their lands or businesses and the eventual passing of these properties will represent the transfer of an enormous amount of real estate. Into whose hands will these lands fall?

A 2011 National Young Farmers Coalition Survey found that not only do many young people want to farm, they also want to farm in unconventional ways. The biggest barriers to their entry, predictably, are access to land and capital. As a recent NPR feature highlights, young, aspiring farmers aren’t necessarily flocking to the farm out of any romanticized notion of a bucolic lifestyle, but out of a genuine desire to create viable small farming and ranching business models that advance new agricultural techniques. Their efforts, though, are beset by high land prices and student loan debt.

In other words, “(t)oday’s new farmers aren’t just white hipsters;” rather, they are individuals and couples in their 20s, 30s and 40s from widely varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds who are ready to buy farmland, build businesses or cooperatives, and continue old family traditions, or create new ones. This upwelling of more-than-a-passing interest is reflected in the emergence of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition and the Young Farmer’s Conference, both of which give new farmers venues through which they can voice ideas, gather legal and business resources, and build collective momentum. New publications like the Modern Farmer Magazine, which features farmers across the country and offers news on a wide variety of daily farming topics, attempt to facilitate this burgeoning conversation amongst new and old practitioners. Although the next frontier for America’s food movement remains to be seen, online publications such as Young Farmers Unite, which offers information on topics such as agroecology, loan equity, and healthcare issues, indicate that for many incoming farmers, collaboration, education, innovation, creativity and empowerment are central tenets of their endeavors.

A change in demographics alone may have a variety of implications for how farming in the US looks in the twenty-first century. It may mean more non-conventional farming operations seeking legal support from attorneys like Foscolo as they implement new business models, develop alternative farming practices, and establish new regional markets for their goods.

A recording Jason Foscolo's webinar is available here: http://vimeo.com/79785843.

Resources For New Farmers

National Young Farmers’ Coalition: http://www.youngfarmers.org/

This organization works to support young farmers and offers news and a wide variety of resources on policy, food safety, the Farm Bill, and USDA farming programs. It also features a database for training and educational opportunities nationwide.

Report: “Building a Future with Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help them Succeed,”National Young Farmers’ Coalition, November 2011

Young Farmers Conference: http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/articles/2012-young-farmers-conference-1.html

The New York-based Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, an organization dedicated to creating sustainable food systems through education and training, holds the annual Young Farmers Conference to offer workshops, business courses, and demonstrations for beginning farmers. The Center’s websiteis also a valuable source of regional farming resources as well.

Greenhorns:  http://www.thegreenhorns.net/#

This non-profit organization offers an online network of support for beginning farmers by producing “avant-garde programming, video, audio, web content, publications, events, and art projects” that bring new and innovative resources to the fore. The Greenhorns produces the 2013New Farmers Almanac, which offers essays on agrarian philosophy with the intent of shaping and implementing an alternative food system or, in their words, to “reclaim a landscape dominated by monoculture.”

The National Young Farmer Association: http://www.nyfea.org/what-we-do.html                 

NYFEA is a leadership development and community service organization based in Montgomery, AL and focuses on educating beginning/young farmers and agribusiness professionals through workshops, conferences, and seminars.

The Land Stewardship Project: http://landstewardshipproject.org/morefarmers/fbresources

The Land Stewardship Project is a Minnesota-based organization that provides information and workshops for farmers on how to map out business plans and learning strategies. If offers a Farm Beginnings Course as well as a Farmer Network of more than 130 farms of widely varying enterprises.

Beginning Farmers: An Online Resource for Farmers, Researchers, and Policy Makers: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/finding-land-to-farm/

This website offers a clearing house of resources on finding land to farm across the country with links to programs such as LandLink, Lands of America, LoopNet, and Land and Farm.

Farm Aid-Beginning Farmer Resource Guide:  http://www.farmaid.org/site/c.qlI5IhNVJsE/b.8064555/k.95D2/Beginning_Farmers.htm

Farm Aid lists a wide variety of resources for individuals to get started, and includes listings on internships, and apprenticeships nationwide. It also provides the Farm Start-Up Resource Guide, which outlines aspects such as creating a business plan, financing, and finding land.

The Center for Rural Affairs: http://www.cfra.org/resources/beginning_farmer

The Center is a Nebraska-based organization focused on supporting rural communities and farms. Like other regional farming sites it lists resources for financing, connecting new farmers with retiring landowners, and business strategy.

US Farm Lease : http://www.usfarmlease.com/

US Farm Lease provides a venue for landowners to be connected with operators. The website facilitates this process with a national database and map of all available listings, as well as educational tools, newsletters, and Farm Bill updates.

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: http://afsic.nal.usda.gov/

This component of the USDA National Agricultural Library collects information and resources regarding sustainable food systems.

Beginning New Farmers: http://afsic.nal.usda.gov/farms-and-community/beginningnew-farmers

Recognizing the aging farming population in the US this USDA online source looks to enable the transition of the farm economy to new hands with programs such as Start2Farm.

Farm Loan Programs-Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loans: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=fmlp&topic=bfl

The USDA Farm Service Agency gathers information for new farmers on initiating and navigating the loan application process.

Ag Link: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/bfc/farm

Ag Link is a resource for incoming Iowa farmers to find land and financial support and for retiring farmers who wish to preserve their farm business but do not have anyone to continue the enterprise.

Connecticut FarmLink: http://www.farmlink.uconn.edu/

The FarmLink program helps family farms prepare for a transition in ownership to facilitate their continued operation. The program also helps new farmers create business plans, and become familiar with local regulations.

Food Law Resources

The National Agricultural Law Center: http://nationalaglawcenter.org/

The Center is the “only agricultural law research and information facility that is independent, national in scope, and directly connected to the national agricultural information network.” It covers many aspects of food and agricultural law and allows users to research by topics such as agricultural leases, corporate farming laws, crop insurance, or national organic programs. The Center publishes research articles on a wide range of topics and assembled an Ag Law Bibliography and Glossary.

The Association of American Law Schools: https://memberaccess.aals.org/eWeb/dynamicpage.aspx?webcode=ChpDetail&chp_cst_key=9744d7fd-4898-415c-8c15-4740cc8f204e

The AALS website may not be a particularly useful source of information regarding legal issues, aside from providing potential points of contact. However, the blog “Agricultural Law,”the official blog of the AALS’ section on Agricultural and Food Law may provide relevant and up-to-date information or discussion on legal aspects of farming.

American Agricultural Law Association: http://aglaw-assn.org/

The AALA provides resources on various topics such as agricultural law, animal rights, cooperatives, farm policy, land use regulation, and property rights, along with bibliographies, and seminar and conference listings. AALA also maintains the “Ag & Food Law Blog,” with the National Agricultural Law Center, a source of nation-wide news.

Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network: http://www.nichemeatprocessing.org/

NMPAN helps connect small meat processors with each other and support their network with access to business and policy resources.  The organization also offers particular sets of tools for individuals new to the industry.

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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