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Monday, April 14, 2014
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The New Farm Bill + Sustainable Farming Systems: A Conversation with Ariane Lotti

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

On Wednesday, April 16, we will continue our conversation about the farm bill and the future of farming with Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Lotti will speak with us about how the 2014 farm bill shapes emerging alternative food systems and will give us insight into spaces for subsidy reform in the coming years.

farm subsidy is essentially a financial “safety net,” which is designed to help agricultural producers weather unstable markets from year to year. This security is intended to even out the fluctuations in market prices, demand, and weather and protect the agricultural community from collapse as a result of one or two bad years. These subsidies, however, are not disseminated broadly within the entire agricultural system of the United States. Rather, they are heavily weighted towards the five commodity crops: corn, soybean, cotton, and rice. Dairy and sugar producers are also bolstered by a separate market and cost control system.

These subsidies are government intervention in the food systems that began in the United States during the New Deal and Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (though the United Kingdom has much earlier versions of such government action). Although these subsidies grew out of economic necessity, they have come under increasing attack in recent years. While proponents point to the need for subsidies in order to make domestic products competitive in the international market, others argue that they distort markets. This distortion, detractors hold, is not only detrimental to poor farmers in developing countries but also places excessive burden on domestic taxpayers, while incentivizing environmentally harmful agricultural practices, thereby leaving more environmentally friendly techniques underfunded.

Commodity programs dispense billions of dollars every year to farmers and in order to access these funds, farmers may put marginal land into production, a decision that can lead to overproduction, and a prompt price collapse as in the rice industry of the 1980s. Opponents of historic farm subsidies quickly point to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides that farmers use to make marginal cropland more productive, a behavior incentivized by subsidies.  The resulting nutrient loading and pollution, they argue, creates an unnecessary environmental problem.

While the 2014 Farm Bill may have upheld historic trends in maintaining an agribusiness protected by farm subsidies, it does invest more than $1.2 billion over the next five years for programs for beginning farmers, local food, and organic agriculture. The Farm Bill also “reconnects crop insurance subsidies to basic conservation requirements,” a good sign for those concerned about the impact of modern industrial agriculture on U.S. ecosystems. However, as Ariane Lotti will demonstrate, the Bill’s persistent subsidy structure leaves much to be desired if truly innovative farming practices are to take hold.

Arianne Lotti holds a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University and, in addition to her work at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, she has served as the policy director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Lotti is a published author and her research remains focused on organic and conventional farming in the US and in Europe. Lotti also serves on USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Advisory Committee.

To register for Lotti’s talk, please see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/576821455.

Our final speaker in our Frontiers in Food and Agriculture series is Sarah Carlson, research coordinator at the Practical Farmers of Iowa. Carlson will be concluding this series with her talk “Driving Sustainability: Empowering Growers with On-Farm Research.” For more information about her talk please visit our events page here:http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events. To register for this final webinar see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/470665063.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & Governance
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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 09, 2014
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Short of a Sea Change: Alternatives for 21st Century Farmers

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

In response to Craig Cox’s March 26th webinar, “The Farm Bill and the Environment: Missed Opportunities and Where to Next” and audience members’ unanswered questions, I’ve dedicated this blog to looking at a variety of techniques available to farmers that reduce the environmental impact of modern farming. One might call them “sustainable” farming techniques, insofar as they implement more ecologically minded thinking into a system completely decoupled from such considerations. In the very least, these practices offer farmers concerned about what’s happening to our nation’s soil, ground- and surface waters, and insect pollinators (just to name a few) methods to mitigate the damage. While none of these practices represent a “silver bullet” solution to what we’ve come to realize is a flawed agricultural system, they are responses to the question that Craig Cox posed to listeners at the very end of his webinar: “What do we want from agriculture? Mountains of corn? Or something different, like clean water?”

Techniques such as conservation tillage, crop rotation, cover cropping, and integrated crop livestock systems fall within the sustainable agriculture paradigm and demonstrate that we are gradually articulating a response appropriate for the 21st century.

Conservation tillage is simply any form of cultivating the soil that leaves the vegetative remains of the previous years’ crop, such as corn stalks or dried stems of wheat, on the ground before and after planting. At least 30% of the soil surface must be covered with such plant material in order for benefits such as erosion reduction, water conservation, and wildlife food and cover to be realized. Conservation tillage can also reduce the energy required to till the field, thereby conserving fuel and reducing diesel emissions.

Crop rotation is a practice that farmers have long used, and is even evidenced in ancient Roman farming practices. Modern-day crop rotation typically involves rotation between just a few select plants, corn and soybean being the most common. However, rotating among even a small variety of crops from year to year, rather than planting corn every single year can bring multifold benefits to both the farmer and the environment. The alternation between corn and soybeans, or other legumes, for example, can be key in reducing pests each year. Four- or five-year rotations eliminate a steady food supply for one insect, which might not feed on the alternate crop. Legumes, furthermore, can help replenish nutrients, such as nitrogen, in the soil and, in turn, can reduce fertilizer use.  In small-scale gardening, where the landowner might grow a wide variety of crops, crop rotation schedules can be an effective way to enhance soil fertility and drastically minimize the need for insecticides.

Cover cropping, or planting to cover bare soil in the off-season, can protect soil during the late fall, winter, and early spring when it is exposed to the elements. These secondary plants can provide livestock forage too. This practice is shown to increase water infiltration into soil, thereby reducing flooding and runoff, enhancing biodiversity, and attracting honeybees and other beneficial insects. For farmers, this translates into reduced erosion, better soil quality, nutrient retention, weed suppression, and even disease cycle disruption. For more detail on each of these benefits see the University of Minnesota’s Organic Risk Management chapter on rotation,found here. Plants such as hairy vetch, clover, or annual ryegrass are common cover crops. Farmers, however, are often slow to adopt cover cropping due to the extra seed cost, planting, and maintenance, all without obvious financial return.  

And yet, recent studies show that crop rotation can, in fact, boost annual yield. One Iowa study indicates a “clear rotation effect resulting in higher yield levels after legumes at both sites that could not be achieved by application of up to 240 lb [nitrogen]/acre.” Another 2012 USDA study of the benefits of maintaining crop diversity shows that a more diverse system has the potential to use far less synthetic chemicals, and use them to “tune, rather than drive” the entire agricultural system. This is possible, researchers suggest, “while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.” Although farmer uptake of cover cropping is slow, research is showing that the financial and environmental benefits might not be trivial.

To further demonstrate this point, results from one recent (2014) five-year study conducted by Iowa State University, for example, assists farmers in northwest Iowa in reducing nitrogen runoff and protecting the water source for a nearby community through cover crops, all while maintaining desired agricultural yield. In this case, researchers implemented a variety of cover cropping systems (corn/winter rye; hay/perennial grass; oat/red clover; soybean/winter wheat/corn).  For more in-depth information on cover crop benefits and barriers to implementation, check out the Iowa Cover Crops Working Group, which conducts on-going research and programs related to cover crop innovation. For more information about selection and seeding methods of cover cropping, visit Purdue University’s extension resources such as their article “Cover Crops for Modern Cropping Systems.”

Another approach to sustainable agriculture is agroecology. Agroecology responds to conventional agriculture’s lack of “a deep understanding of the nature of agroecosystems” and provides methods on designing and managing agricultural systems that conserve the functioning of local and regional ecosystems. This approach aims to generate systems that are sufficiently productive but that are also socially just and economically feasible. Agroecosystems take both environmental and human realms into consideration and are understood to be “communities of plants and animals interacting with their physical and chemical environments that have been modified by people to produce food, fibre, fuel and other products for human consumption and processing.” Agroecology places an explicit emphasis on reducing external inputs and enhancing extant processes of nutrient cycling, predator/prey relationships, and symbiosis. This approach includes crop rotations and cover cropping in its suite of techniques and methods, along with polycultures, agroforestry systems, and animal integration into cropping systems. Collectively, these practices keep the soil covered for the majority of the year (achieving soil and water conservation), provide a steady supply of organic matter, enhance nutrient cycling, and encourage pest control through biological control agents (rather than chemicals).

polyculture differs from crop rotation in its use of several crop species in the same place, growing simultaneously, thereby avoiding the hundred-acre farms planted solely in corn or soybeans. This attending crop diversity immediately offers the benefit of reducing vulnerability to pests and diseases. While the idea of incorporating greater diversity into the American farming system has certainly gained traction in recent years, the idea of polyculture is acknowledged as potentially useful, but economically very impractical since multiple crop species will demand a wider variety of watering regimes, nutrient profiles, and differing types of maintenance in general. In terms of resiliency, however, polycultures and their continued study, offer examples of systems able to withstand or respond more quickly to changes in climate or precipitation. Climate disruption poses significant challenges for conventional farming methods in the near future and developing knowledge on how to use resilient perennials and more sophisticated plant communities on farms may soon become an extremely valuable tool, and not only for US farmers.

Another practice that demonstrates the symbiosis that agroecology emphasizes is agroforestry, or the “deliberate growing of woody perennials on the same unit of land as agricultural crops and/or animals.” This premise is based on the idea that “there must be a significant interaction between the woody and nonwoody components of the system, either ecological and/or economical.” Basically, “woody” plants such as trees, shrubs, and palms, are planted within the same space and are incorporated into a single management program along with other “nonwoody” crops such as corn or alfalfa. Such a program provides an “interface” between resources provided by agriculture and forestry, and is a response to the unique combination of land uses commonly found in tropical, developing countries. However, as one might expect, this agricultural method encourages diversity on the land but also offers a host of other benefits too. Not only does “the intentional growing of trees and shrubs in combination with crops or forage” protect water resources, conserve energy, and create wildlife habitat, it also provides other useable products such as timber, fruit, nuts and feed. For more detail on practices such as alley cropping, tree gardens, aquaforestry, or protein banks see to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Appendix on agroforestry systems and practices here.

Another elaboration on this theme of interconnectivity between a locally diverse agricultural regime is the integrated crop-livestock system. While a diversified system simply involves distinct crop and livestock systems, these rarely inform one another. Resources, in these common farming scenarios, are not recycled. An integrated system, on the other hand, can recycle by-products such as manure extremely efficiently, since farmers can use products generated by one component to support another facet of the system. In China, for example, integrating fish production with duck, geese, chickens, sheep, cattle or pigs has been shown to boost fish production by 2 to 3.9 times. Here, farmers use livestock manure as feed for fish and zooplankton, as well as fertilizer for grass and other plants. Farmers irrigate the vegetables from the fishponds, which produces, in turn, livestock feed. This particular example may only be feasible in specific climates, but it demonstrates the broader concept of an integrated livestock system. In Southeast Asia, an integrated system might involve livestock grazing under oil palm, a practice that utilizes previously unused ground vegetation, thereby increasing overall farm production while saving 40% of the cost of weed control. In these cases, livestock not only contribute nutrients for the land and a fuel source for the farmers through their manure, but represent a “savings account” for the farmer too. These cases may not reflect the reality of agriculture in the US, but the concept and potential for greater integration on and between previously divided farms is, perhaps, a viable one as policymakers and farmers explore new ways to make US agricultural more sustainable. For more detail on project design and integrated systems in general, see the report “Integrated Crop-Livestock Farming Systems” by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The applicability of such a concept in the US context is not entirely far-fetched. According to one 2007 Agronomy Journal study “Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems in the Southeastern USA,” there are many possibilities for building integrated crop-livestock systems into American agriculture. In particular, the southeastern US, due to its mild climate, has great potential for expansion of integrated agricultural systems. The essential elements of a successful integrated crop-livestock system are practices already covered, namely crop rotation, cover cropping, intercropping, and conservation tillage. If cover crops are grazed, however, this would provide an immediate economic benefit to farmers, especially when considering the financial barrier to practicing cover cropping. According to the same 2007 Agronomy Journal study, research in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions indicates that integrated crop-livestock systems can protect soil and water resources by reducing external inputs, while maintaining, if not increasing, economic return.

Such alternative practices to modern and “conventional” agriculture point to the ecological necessity of such integrated modes of thinking and the economic feasibility in such an approach. Craig Cox’s discussion highlighted the ways in which the US Farm Bill’s subsidies endorse environmentally destructive agricultural methods. A cursory look into more sustainable techniques broadens our view as to what is physically possible and suggests that we don’t have to accept the manner in which our food is grown according to the oft-heard argument that any alternative whatsoever is economically unrealistic.

For those interested in engaging further in this discussion, be sure to listen to our final webinar in the series. On April 22, Sarah Carlson, the research coordinator at the Practical Farmers of Iowa, will be speaking about helping farmers make science-driven choices that minimize their ecological impact in her talk: “Driving Sustainability: Empowering Growers with On-Farm Research”  (12 pm EST). You can register for this event here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/470665063.

For a recording of Craig Cox’s presentation please see this link: https://vimeo.com/91476388

To see the rest of our line up for the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar, please see our events page here

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Thursday, April 03, 2014
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National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition Puts Theory into Practice

By Susanne Stahl

The National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition at Pace Law School in White Plains, N.Y., is the largest interschool environmental moot court in the nation, regularly attracting over 200 students from various schools to compete and 200 attorneys to serve as judges. Halley Epstein, YLS ’14, and Sarah Langberg, YLS/FES ’14, participated in this year’s competition and made it through to the semifinal round—one of the top nine teams out of the 76 competing—and the only team without a coach to advance to the penultimate round.

They recently sat down with the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy to discuss their experience.

What is a moot court?

Sarah Langberg: The Pace competition simulates writing and arguing in front of an appellate court. Participants receive a prompt describing issues decided either by a state supreme court or a lower federal district court; they then argue those issues on appeal to a higher court.

The organizers generally pick an issue that’s heavily contested in the courts—one for which there’s no clear outcome; different courts may have decided in conflicting ways; it’s not clear which side is correct or what the best argument is. It’s for the students to then determine the best legal reasoning and policy arguments and ask themselves what they can bring to bear on these unresolved questions.

What issues did the competition highlight?

Sarah Langberg: The competition highlighted six key issues—two procedural, and four substantive. Each involved the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act. The nuances of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction have been contested for decades, and a series of Supreme Court decisions in the early 2000s made these issues even more confusing.

Halley Epstein: Even though the Supreme Court addressed some of the nuances of our case, their past decisions left many unresolved questions in the field. The procedural issues we had to address dealt with who can bring suit and who can enforce certain rights in federal court.

Sarah Langberg: For the Clean Water Act in particular, jurisdiction is so important because once you say a water is protected under the Act, it’s clear cut what those protections are and how they’ll apply. But getting that water protected under the Act is the game, and people often heavily contest that jurisdiction.

How much time did you have to prepare?

Halley Epstein: We received the prompt in early October, and we had two months to research and write the brief itself. We then had another two and a half months to prepare for the oral argument part of the competition.

Sarah Langberg: There were three parties in case, and we had to choose only one party for whom to write our brief. But for the oral arguments, we had to argue all three sides.

Halley Epstein: The morning of the competition we drove from New Haven to White Plains.  We couldn’t find out which side we were arguing until we arrived, so we had a short amount of time to orient ourselves and get into the mindset of “this party’s right and here’s why.”

What was the competition itself like?

Halley Epstein: We argued five cases—three preliminary rounds, the quarterfinal round, and then the semifinal round. Each round is a full two hours, with three teams participating in a case. Each student is allotted 15 minutes (30 minutes per party, since two oralists represent each team in a given round) with the remaining time left for rebuttal.

Most teams had three students; only two argue per round, so one person typically gets a break. But as a two-person team, we did not have any breaks—the competition was non-stop. There were a lot of mental gymnastics going on in switching between the different parties each round.

Sarah Langberg: Fifteen minutes of arguing in front of the judges, by yourself—just you having a conversation with the judges—feels like a very long time. And that’s what it’s like in real appellate courts.

How does an experience like this shape or change your perspective on the practice of law?

Sarah Langberg: I’ve been thinking that I want to litigate. Successfully standing in the line of fire of the judges’ questions was definitely an affirming experience. I enjoyed the atmosphere. It didn’t feel like pressure, it felt exciting.

Halley Epstein: We’re both interested in litigation, but neither of us had participated in moot court before. The practice—even if we had gone home after the first round—gave us the opportunity to learn about our styles, things we want to work on, and the conversational aspects of our presentations that we want to continue to build.

Sarah Langberg: The brief writing aspect of it was also very valuable. We wrote briefs our 1L year, but that was just as we were coming into law school. Through various internships and practical experience, we’ve written a section of something here or there, so doing a whole brief ourselves was an invaluable experience.

Halley Epstein: And the team aspect of dividing the issues and then consulting with each other to ensure our lines of reasoning were consistent was also important because, in the real world, you may have primary responsibility for a motion or brief, but you mostly likely will be writing with someone else.

It was interesting to talk to students from the other teams and find out how they had prepared. The competition was a fun and unique way to connect with other people interested in environmental issues.

Sarah Langberg: Preparing the brief and oral arguments from three perspectives forced us to think about issues in various lights and put our education into practice in a way that we often don’t get to do in standard classes. It was a wonderful experience.

Halley Epstein: Because we had such a good experience, we’re encouraging students in the Yale Environmental Law Association to coordinate a more formal team next year. Even though our informal effort worked very well, a little more structure will help YLS field competitive teams in future years.

Halley Epstein, YLS ’14, will be clerking on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after graduation.

Sarah Langberg,YLS/FES ’14, is a joint-degree student with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She will be clerking for the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court after graduation.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance
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
Monday, March 24, 2014
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EWG’s Craig Cox to Discuss the Farm Bill in March 26 Webinar

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

On Wednesday, March 26, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy will begin the fourth and final chapter of its Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series. The speakers in this part will address the farm fill and the future of farming. To open this discussion, Craig Cox, the senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, brings us his presentation “The Farm Bill and the Environment: Missed Opportunities and Where to Next.” Cox’s talk will focus on the immense importance of the farm bill in stemming the tide of soil erosion and loss of wildlife across 50 percent of US land. He will discuss the environmental implications of the new 2014 farm bill while highlighting the limits of the legislation in bringing our agricultural system more in tune with natural ecology.

The farm bill drives one of the most environmentally intensive, and economically important, uses of land in the US: farming. While we may not immediately think of the farm bill as “environmental,” the impact that it has in regulating the conditions under which farmers grow corn and soybeans is environmental in every way. On February 7, Obama signed the farm bill, or the Agriculture Act of 2014, an act that influences multiple realms of the American economy from food stamps to rural economic development. Since its signing, many have pointed out the bill’s deficiencies, especially with regard to its cuts to the food stamp program, or SNAP. The farm bill does support some organic agriculture expansion, and seeks to address problems such as erosion and nutrient runoff, agricultural chemical pollution, and the impact of agriculture on climate change and wildlife. 

Organizations such as the Environmental Working Group, however, have pointed out that the bill stimulates “the kind of overproduction that has devastated natural areas in the past.” The bill’s expanded subsidies, the Group argues, aid the country’s biggest farms in environmentally costly practices that dominate the industry. Cox’s talk, therefore, will give listeners a unique look into the workings of a highly relevant piece of legislation and the importance it holds for this country’s ecological future.

Craig Cox is the senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group. His long-time work in conservation began as a field biologist in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and brought him onto the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, where he served as a Senior Staff Officer. Cox has also served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as a Special Assistant to the Chief. Before coming to the Environmental Working Group, Cox worked as the Director of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

To register for this event please see the following link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/438700079.

To see the remainder of our spring webinars please see the following link: http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events.

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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Tuesday, March 04, 2014
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Todd Wilkinson, Ted Turner, and the “Radical Middle”

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

“Capitalism isn’t the problem, it’s how we’ve been practicing capitalism.” This quote, from Ted Turner, reverberates through Todd Wilkinson portrait of the media mogul’s life in Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet. In the book, Wilkinson traces Turner’s path, from his days as the outspoken founder of CNN, to his equally controversial and pioneering presence in environmental conservation and philanthropy. As the book explores Turners’ ability to disrupt business as usual, it also considers the new possibilities and questions that emerge when then line between environmental conservation and capitalism thins. 

Wilkinson sees Turner’s journey as a study in “how places can transform people.” For Turner, the connection with nature started early. The swamps of North Carolina provided a refuge from a troubled childhood, and bison captured his imagination; he began to think of them as his totem animal. This connection to wildlife and wild places would bubble up throughout Turner’s career, from his work pioneering environmental programming at CNN, to his attempted reintroduction of wildlife onto a Florida plantation. Eventually, his love for the outdoors led him to purchase Montana’s Flying D ranch. The transaction, which started as a way to fuel Turner’s passion for fly-fishing, became a watershed moment for its new owner, the community around him, and the field of re-wilding and environmental conservation.

The quest to restore the Flying D ranch led Turner to an unusual solution, an approach in the “radical middle,” between typical land conservation strategies, on one hand, and traditional ranching efforts, on the other.  He replaced cattle with bison, and founded a sustainably managed restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill, to promote them as an alternative to beef. Many laud Turner’s approach as a much-needed integration of economic and environmental principles, that factors people and the planet, as well as profits, into its bottom line. However, his approach also generates controversy. Environmentalists worry about the potential domestication of Turner’s bison herds, especially in light of collaborations between state wildlife agencies and Turner Enterprises. Ranchers often object to Turner’s reintroduction of bison and prairie dogs to Western landscapes, worrying that these creatures will threaten their livestock through competition or disease

Wilksinon’s profile suggests that, for his part, Turner sees his approach as a way to leverage to environmental efforts as far as possible. Making conservation economically feasible, he argues, is key to making it more widely adopted. By managing bison to mimic their historic role in maintaining healthy grasslands, Turner also improves the land’s ability to sustain other kinds of wildlife. In addition to an estimated 55,000 bison, “populations of mule deer, white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, Rocky Mountain gray wolf, Shiras moose, pronghorn antelope, black bear, mountain lions and badgers, among others,” roam his ranches. Wilkinson likens Turner’s approach to conservation to a conservationist’s Noah’s ark; protecting a keystone species creates a refuge for a whole host of other creatures. Similarly, Turner’s championing of prairie dogsprotects more that 150,000 of these animals, but also preservesa host of other creatures, including the endangered black-footed ferret and burrowing owl, that rely on them for as a source of prey and habitat creation. 

Turner’s work promoting peace parks also leverages conversation, but from a different angle; it extends the benefits of conservation as a tool to address global conflict. In his presentation, Wilkinson cites Turner’s realization that “deep down, almost everyone cares deeply about wildlife,” as a guiding principle in his championing of peace parks. These trans-boundary protected areas focus on the common affinity that animals create, to provide neutral spaces, as well as eco-tourism and revenue-generating opportunities, for both sides of conflict-ridden borders. Turner has promoted the creation of a park to protect the biodiversity in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, and to foster dialogue between the two countries. In this arena, and in his work promoting the role of the United Nations in conflict resolution and global governance, nuclear disarmament, and women’s rights, Turner has a knack for seeing new ways for getting things done.

Wilkinson paints this technology-disrupting identity as the common link across Turner’s philanthropic work and media background. Whether pioneering the 24-hour news cycle, or re-imaging re-wilding, his greatest successes involve challenges to the status quo. His recent foray into clean energy is no exception: by partnering with one of the largest coal-burners in the U.Sto create asolar energy project, he has formed a renewable energy “odd couple.”  As the project develops, it’s likely he will continue redraw business models that make enterprise work for the planet.   

Todd Wilkinson’s presentation was co-sponsored by YCELP and YCEI, as part of the Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series. The series features new publications by renowned environmental policy thinkers including Brian Keane, Mary Wood, and Tom Kizzia. 

A podcast interview with Todd Wilkinson is availble on SoundCloud.

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.

Photo courtesy of Danielle Lehle, Yale F&ES '15.

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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.

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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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