Tag Archive | "federal land management agencies"

Climate Change and NEPA: Getting it Right

Climate Change and NEPA: Getting it Right

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law in 1969 and has gone on to be one of our country’s most important environmental laws. The law creates a framework and process by which federal agencies must consider the impacts of their actions on the environment – including natural resources, human health, infrastructure, and land use. Since climate change is one of the most important environmental issues to emerge in the past few decades, and promises to remain so for the foreseeable future, it is clear that NEPA has an important role to play in how agencies consider the effects of climate change both on their investments, and also on the resources that their projects affect. It is increasingly critical for agencies to thoughtfully and thoroughly consider climate change, from both an emissions and adaptation standpoint, as part of NEPA analysis, particularly in the most detailed and through decision documents, Environmental Impact Statements.

In order to facilitate agencies’ consideration of climate change, the administration released Draft NEPA Guidance on Consideration of the Effects of Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2010. The Draft Guidance clearly indicated that relevant climate information includes both greenhouse gas emissions information, and also climate change impacts and adaptation. To date, however, most of the attention paid to the guidance has been from the point of view of emissions analysis.

To get a better understanding of whether and how well agencies were incorporating the adaptation recommendations, we analyzed 154 Final Environmental Impact Statements released between July 2011 and April 2012. To our dismay, we found that very few incorporated the climate adaptation elements of the 2010 draft guidance. Even the best-performing EISs tended to incorporate climate change into a limited number of the elements of the affected environment, failed to make a full comparison between the various alternatives, or used short and qualitative statements rather than full analysis based on the best available science. We explore the possible reasons for this and present recommendations for overcoming these obstacles in our new report Reasonably Foreseeable Futures

The Chiracahua Mountains in the Coronado National Forest support the sky island ecosystems of the southwest, some of the most unique and biodiverse areas on our public lands.  Portions of the sky islands would be put at risk by this bill.

The Chiracahua Mountains in the Coronado National Forest support the sky island ecosystems of the southwest, some of the most unique and biodiverse areas on our public lands. These ecosystems are severely threatened by climate change, and climate-smart management will be key to their survival.

.

Posted in Climate Change, Federal Policy, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, NEPA, Public Lands, Smart from the Start, UncategorizedComments (0)

West Front of the Capitol. Photo Credit- Architect of the Capitol.

Secure Capital for Renewable Energy is Good for Wildlife and the Economy

The Obama administration has done a commendable job jumpstarting renewable energy development and is well on its way to achieving the president’s goal of providing enough renewable energy to power three million homes.  Although the administration’s efforts to boost the renewable energy sector have been successful to date, there is little doubt that concern for continuing access to capital –the result of the potential loss of the production tax credit and grant programs, the impact of cheap natural gas, and the failure to agree on a national energy policy that would spur investment in clean energy development — is undercutting the administration’s successful effort to move the clean energy economy forward. This uncertainty – especially for financing and a growing market for clean energy – will continue to thwart the growth of this energy sector.

Congress could address these concerns by extending tax credits (which could be paid for by redirecting current oil and gas production subsidies) and by passing legislation to establish a national goal for renewable energy production or by finally putting a tax on carbon pollution. These solutions would help spur private-sector investment in clean energy and reduce the industry’s dependence on federal subsidies.  The result would be good for economic growth, stimulate employment, and reduce the federal deficit (by reducing federal outlays and generating increased tax revenue over the long term).

Instead, Congress has chosen to do none of the above — leaving the market uncertain while complaining that the Obama administration has no energy policy.  At the same time, anti-environmental members of Congress choose to argue that regulations designed to protect human health and natural resources are thwarting efforts to promote clean energy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To the contrary, the conservation community has worked in partnership with the solar and wind energy industries to frame policies to guide solar development on public lands and promote responsibly wind energy projects.   With encouragement from the industry and conservation groups, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is poised to finalize a first-of-its-kind plan for responsible solar energy development on public lands, which should help solar energy projects move forward more efficiently by reducing risk to wildlife and natural and cultural resources.

In addition, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued guidelines for wind energy development that were based on the recommendations of a scientific panel (established, in fact, by the Bush administration) and fully-supported by the wind energy industry association and leading conservation organizations. This is ground-breaking progress for the energy sector that has never been seen before and a reflection of a common understanding of the need to develop cleaner, more environmentally-responsible and secure sources of energy.

But to keep the clean energy boom from going bust, our nation’s leaders need to act quickly to shore-up the nascent industry. Congress can start by creating demand for renewable energy, following the lead of some 33 states – most notably California, which has set the highest target aiming to generate 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 – and setting a national renewable energy standard. Although such legislation is currently pending, its prospects for passage are not good, to no one’s surprise.   Congress must also make financing for renewable energy development – solar, wind and geothermal projects – more secure as President Obama has called for time and again. The uncertainty of our nation’s commitment to clean energy discourages investment from the private sector. The oil and gas industry receives billions of dollars worth of incentives each year. For the clean energy industry to take flight, Congress must at least make a commitment to renewables on par with fossil fuels.

Last, but certainly not least, the Obama administration must put in place a national program for siting and permitting responsible clean energy projects. As mentioned earlier, the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed solar-energy program stands as an example of “smart from the start” clean energy policy. It was developed with input from conservation organizations, industry representatives, clean energy advocates, utilities, and investors. The program aims to accelerate solar energy development by guiding projects to low-conflict areas that are least likely to impact imperiled wildlife and sensitive lands. This approach reduces risk for investors and provides developers with greater certainty that their projects can move forward and conservationists with greater confidence that risk to wildlife and the environment will be minimized.

If the clean energy sector goes bust, it cannot be blamed on the Obama administration, the solar and wind energy industries, or conservation groups. The blame will fall squarely on Congress, which chooses instead to complain about the lack of a national energy policy, while blocking any effort to help advance our clean energy future and pointing a finger at others for their failure to lead.

Posted in Renewables, Smart from the StartComments (0)

Funding the Refuge System – Is the Battle Just Beginning?

Although the FY 2012 Interior appropriations bill (H.R. 2584), which would have slashed funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System and other important conservation programs, was abruptly pulled from the House schedule following word of an agreement on the national debt limit, the battle over deep cuts is just beginning.  As the new fiscal year quickly approaches, debate over Interior Department funding will have to resume after the August recess, potentially in the context of an omnibus measure that would combine this and other agency spending bills.

What does this mean for national wildlife refuges?  While it’s unclear how much the Refuge System will ultimately receive for its operations and maintenance in FY 12, H.R. 2584 would see it funded at only $455 million.  When factoring in rising costs of fuel, rent, and other fixed expenses, this represents a $45 million cut from FY 11.  At this level, the Refuge System would be forced to:

  • Close, or eliminate major programs at, 128 refuges.
  • Eliminate an estimated 200 wildlife and habitat management positions, reducing capacity for inventory and monitoring work, treatment of invasive species, and other habitat management activities.
  • Eliminate about 35 visitor service positions, leaving fewer staff available to coordinate a critical force of refuge volunteers and reducing the quantity and quality of recreational opportunities.  This could be devastating to many communities whose economic well being depends on high visitation at nearby refuges.
  • Eliminate approximately 40 law enforcement positions, leaving only 173 officers to do the work of what an International Association of Chiefs of Police study recommends should be done by 845 officers.

For an agency already stretched too thin, such cuts can be debilitating.  Complicating matters, the debt deal signed into law on Tuesday requires Congress to find $1.5 trillion in federal budget savings by the end of the year, and a further $917 billion in discretionary spending cuts over the next decade.  It remains to be seen where these savings will come from, but growing political hostility over environmental protection does not bode well for national wildlife refuges.

Posted in National Wildlife Refuges, Public LandsComments (0)

Conservation in the Information Age Table

Conservation in the Information Age

Data.  We live in the information age.  Information is power.  Information and data can help us see problems and solve problems.

Just three days after his inauguration, President Obama issued a memorandum on open government and transparency.

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

In May, 2009, Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, launched Data.gov “to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). Data.gov strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from Data.gov will strengthen our Nation’s democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

Data.gov is a surprisingly innovative and modern initiative by the federal government, and invites independent developers to develop “apps” for viewing and processing data, and invites the public to comment on, visualize and participate in an online community around the datasets and what they reveal. Data.gov launched with only 47 datasets and today boasts over 300,000.

But if you are looking for data and information to democratize federal natural resources agencies and help the public understand and solve our pressing conservation problems, well, look again.  Here are the number of datasets available on Data.gov for the major natural resources-related federal agencies:

That’s right: federal conservation agencies have posted a whopping 0.05% of all datasets on Data.gov.

Through our work on the Conservation Registry, we’ve found a fairly high level of resistance to the reality of sharing data, although there are bright spots at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  A related National Database of Conservation Easements has been successful in getting more information from federal sources.

In December of 2009, Office of Management and Budget Director, Peter Orszag, issued a directive to all agencies on implementing the President’s Open Government Initiative.  To speed the availability of government data to the public, the directive required:

“Within 45 days, each agency shall identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets (see attachment section 3.a.i) and register those data sets via Data.gov. These must be data sets not previously available online or in a downloadable format.”

Apparently these agencies thought the directive said they had 450 days to deliver more information to the public.

True, some of these agencies do have data available, albeit buried, on their agency web pages.  But imagine for a minute if these agencies had embraced the call for transparency and openness.  What connections could we see between agencies?

Posted in Public LandsComments (0)

A Community on Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are generally thought to be benefits that nature provides to humans. Things like clean water from healthy watersheds, clean air, climate regulation and protection from floods. As these services are diminished through over-exploitation and poor management, people discover that they are valuable, perhaps when it’s too late to reverse the damage.

Interest in ecosystem services as a new approach to resource management has grown dramatically in recent years, especially in academic and government circles. In December, a conference was held in Phoenix, called A Community on Ecosystem Services. It attracted over 400 scientists, economists, lawyers, nonprofits, businesses and federal officials and included over a hundred sessions on everything from measurements to markets for ecosystem services. Participants promoted their research, programs and new ideas.

Community on Ecosystem Services highlights
Rock Salt (yes, his real name) solicited assistance from the group to help the Army Corps of Engineers incorporate ecosystem services into the Corps’ decision-making framework – what to build, where, and how, given lots of competing demands and limited resources.

Amanda DeSantis from DuPont chided the United States for being so far behind the rest of the world in tracking environmental quality and preparing for widespread resource scarcity in the face of a growing world population that desires to consume as we do.

The best idea came from Shiprock Partners investment company managing partner Paul Brown, who pointed out that a ½ of 1% tax on the 30 trillion dollars in financial investments in the United States every year would purchase all of the carbon and other eco assets in the country.

University of Idaho law professor Dale Goble cautioned the group against taking too utilitarian and anthropocentric view of ecosystem services, and to continue using ecological risk assessment to determine impacts to the environment without confounding the results by including people’s preferences.

Defenders organized a panel on national policy options that highlighted the importance of addressing ecosystem services at the proper scale, working across agency boundaries, using consistent measurements and establishing clear ecological goals. Speakers proposed engaging utilities in programs to finance the protection of ecosystem services through ratepayers, and creating eco-enterprise zones for pilot programs.

Many sessions summarized ongoing efforts to assign dollar values to ecosystem services, using a variety of methods. Studies comparing the costs and benefits of using natural systems (like protecting forests, restoring floodplains and wetlands) instead of concrete and steel structures to retain floodwaters and improve water quality are among the most compelling.

A town hall meeting was held to invite feedback on a proposal to establish a National Ecosystem Services Partnership, initially housed at Duke University at the Nicholas School.  I am on the steering committee, so share your ideas on the topic with me. View A Community on Ecosystem Services presentations and abstracts.

Posted in Paying for Conservation, UncategorizedComments (1)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo: NPS

Climate Convergence: Common Themes in Agency Climate Plans

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo: NPS

Adaptation plans. Mitigation strategies. It seems sometimes that hardly a week goes by without one or more agencies putting forth an approach for managing land, water, infrastructure or other assets in the face of already-occurring and anticipated future changes in climate. Since the nation as yet lacks an overarching planning framework and communication structure for the development of these plans, they have to date mainly been developed in isolation. This begs the question: how do the various plans compare? Are the agencies drawing similar conclusions about what they need to emphasize and how to proceed? Are any (or all) of the agencies moving forward with significant gaps in their plans?

Defenders of Wildlife examined recently-released climate change response plans from three of the four major federal land management agencies: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S Forest Service (USFS). The Bureau of Land Management has not yet embarked on a comprehensive climate change strategic plan.

In comparing the three plans we found significant parallels, despite the fact that each agency produced its climate change strategic plan independently and in the absence of overarching guidance for the elements those plans should contain. Though they differed in structure, the areas of emphasis in each could be summarized under four major topic areas, which provide a solid general framework:

  • Climate Change Policy
  • Adaptation Science and Management
  • Mitigation
  • Education, Outreach and Collaboration

Within each of these larger themes, our analysis presents the specific objectives and actions presented by each agency’s plan.  Looking at the three plans in tandem provides a clearer vision of the types of goals and actions needed to prepare agencies to respond to climate change than any of the three plans offer alone. Thus, viewing the three in this crosswalk format and drawing lessons from that is more useful than using any single plan as a template for future plans. We suggest that future climate change planning efforts can benefit from this crosswalk, which shows both the commonality among the agencies and highlights ways in which their thinking on particular aspects of climate change planning have differed.

Defenders of Wildlife’s “Climate Change and Federal Land Management” comparison paper is available at:

www.defenders.org/resources/publications/programs_and_policy/gw/climate_change_and_federal_land_management.pdf

Posted in Climate ChangeComments (0)


dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

www.defenders.org