Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NAS Report On Assessing Species Risks From Pesticides

Apr 30: The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) released a report entitled, Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species From Pesticides. According to a release, the report indicates that when determining the potential effects pesticides could pose to endangered or threatened species, U.S. EPA, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should use a common scientific approach. Specifically, the agencies should use a risk assessment approach that addresses problem formulation, exposure analysis, effects analysis, and risk characterization.


    NRC indicates that under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), before a pesticide can be sold, distributed, or used in the United States, EPA must ensure that it does not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, which includes species that are listed as endangered or threatened and their habitats.  Moreover, the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires Federal agencies, including EPA, to consult with FWS and NMFS when a Federal action "may affect" a listed species or its habitat. If EPA determines that a pesticide is "not likely to adversely affect" a listed species -- and FWS or NMFS agrees -- no further consultation is required. However, if EPA determines that a pesticide is "likely to adversely affect" a listed species, a formal consultation with FWS or NMFS is required, and FWS or NMFS determines whether a proposed action is likely to jeopardize the listed species and issues a biological opinion. 


    Over the last decade, questions have been raised regarding the best approaches or methods for determining the risks pesticides pose to listed species and their habitats. EPA, FWS, and NMFS have developed their own approaches because their legal mandates, responsibilities, institutional cultures, and expertise differ. Although the agencies have tried to resolve their differences in assessment approaches, they have been unsuccessful at reaching a consensus. As a result, the NRC was asked to examine the scientific and technical issues related to determining risks posed by pesticides to listed species. 


    The committee that wrote the report said that a common approach among the agencies is needed. The risk assessment paradigm that traces its origins to the Research Council reports -- Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process; and more recently to -- Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment; has become scientifically credible, transparent, and consistent. It is reliably anticipated by all parties involved in decisions regarding pesticide use; and clearly articulates where scientific judgment is required and the bounds within which such judgments can be made. Such a process is used broadly for human-health and ecological risk assessments throughout the Federal government.


    The committee said, "If FWS and NMFS could build on EPA's analysis of whether a pesticide is likely to adversely affect a listed species rather than conduct a completely new analysis, the assessment would likely be more effective and scientifically credible."  Furthermore, agreement among the agencies has been impeded by a lack of communication and coordination throughout the process. Therefore, the committee emphasized the need for coordination, which it views as necessary to ensure a complete and representative assessment of risk and that each agency's technical needs are met.


    The committee examined several components of the risk assessment process where better coordination and agreement would facilitate an integrated approach to examining risks to listed species and their habitats. These included evaluating methods for identifying the best scientific data available, assessing approaches for developing modeling assumptions, identifying geospatial information that might be used in the risk assessment, reviewing approaches for characterizing effects, analyzing the scientific information available for estimating effects of mixtures and inert ingredients, and examining the use of uncertainty factors to account for gaps in data.


    Access a release from NAS (click here). Access links to the complete 176-page report and related information (click here). [#Toxics, #Wildlife]


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Monday, April 29, 2013

Revised Bristol Bay Assessment For Review & Comment

Apr 26: U.S. EPA released a revised version of the Bristol Bay Assessment for peer review follow-up and public comment. The assessment includes updates following an initial peer review and public comment period of the draft Bristol Bay Assessment released in May, 2012 [See WIMS 5/21/12, & WIMS 10/3/12]. EPA is arranging for the original independent, scientific peer reviewers to evaluate the revisions made following their feedback. EPA is also inviting the public to submit comments until May 31, 2013. The peer review follow-up and comment period are meant to ensure that EPA is using the best available science for its assessment, and that information from a range of stakeholders is considered, including industry, conservation groups, and Tribes. The revised assessment reflects feedback from the initial peer review report and 233,000 public comments EPA received when it released the original assessment.

    EPA indicates that key changes to the assessment include r
efinement and better explanation of the mine scenarios assessed, including the role in developing these scenarios of worldwide industry standards for porphyry copper mining and specific preliminary mine plans submitted to state and Federal agencies related to the Pebble Mine Project [See WIMS 10/3/12]. Pebble Mine is a giant gold and copper mine proposed at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed. The Bristol Bay watershed feeds the greatest wild salmon fishery in the world, supporting valuable (around $500 million annually) fish- and tourism-related activity, indigenous people, and a vast array of wildlife. Environmental groups have said that the proposed Pebble Mine, one of the largest mines in the world with a footprint that would cover 28 square miles of land, would siphon as much as 35 billion gallons of fresh water out of the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska every year, eliminating critical salmon habitat, and would likely facilitate the development of a much larger mining district, further endangering the world's largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. EPA highlights the following changes:
  • Incorporation of modern conventional mining practices into mine scenarios and clarification that some of the projected impacts assume that those practices are in place and working properly.
  • Addition of an appendix describing methods to compensate for impacts to wetlands, streams and fish.
  • Reorganization of the assessment to better reflect the ecological risk assessment approach and to clarify the purpose and scope.
  • Additional details about projected water loss and water quality impacts on stream reaches, drainage of waste rock leachate to streams, and mine site water balance to assessment of potential mine impacts.
  • Expanded information on the potential transportation corridor, including analysis of potential diesel pipeline spills, product concentrate spills, truck accidents involving process chemicals and culvert failures.
    EPA released the draft Bristol Bay Assessment on May 18, 2012. The agency held a series of public meetings concurrent with the release and received feedback from 12 independent expert peer reviewers. In February 2011, in response to growing interest in large-scale mining in the watershed from a number of stakeholders and local communities with a range of views, EPA launched the Bristol Bay assessment to gain a better understanding of the watershed and the potential impacts of large-scale mining in the area. The assessment provides a scientific foundation for future decision-making by federal and state agencies and to inform public discussion. EPA has made no decisions about using its Clean Water Act authorities in Bristol Bay. After this peer review follow-up and public comment period are complete, EPA will review feedback and move forward to finalize the assessment. EPA intends to issue a final assessment in 2013.
    U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), issued a statement on the revised assessment saying, "My review of the full document is still underway, but in the meantime I want to reiterate what I have said in the past. Attempts to prejudge any mining project before the full details of that proposal are submitted to the EPA for review is unacceptable. The permitting process exists for a reason and a federal agency can no more ignore the established process than can an applicant. If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them -- after a permit application has been made, not before. It is clear to me that a preemptive veto of resource development is quite simply outside the legal authority that Congress intended to provide to of the EPA. I made that clear to the previous EPA administrator and I will make it clear to the current nominee, Gina McCarthy."

    Sen. Murkowski indicates that EPA undertook the watershed assessment in response to petitions to preemptively veto development in Alaska. She has continually criticized the EPA for failing to rule out using the watershed assessment to justify preemptively blocking development, including mineral production by the Pebble Limited Partnership, in Southwest Alaska. Sen.Murkowski has also stated that EPA's use of a hypothetical mine -- much of which is designed to violate modern environmental standards -- is a fundamental flaw that must be fixed if Alaskans are to make informed decisions about development in the state. The revised watershed assessment does not fix this flaw.

    More than 300 leading scientists sent a letter to the White House on April 26, 2013 expressing "deep concerns" about the prospect of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed of Southwest Alaska, home to the world's largest wild salmon runs. In their letter, the scientists indicate in part, "In our view, EPA's draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment aptly identifies the outstanding ecological and cultural values at risk from a mine on the scale of the Pebble discovery or from other mine operations that would likely follow an initial mine opening in the region. The Bristol Bay area, comprised of the Nushagak and Kvichak river watersheds, the headwaters of three other pristine rivers, and the largest undeveloped lake on Earth, is one of the most productive, beautiful, and bountiful landscapes on the continent. Undeveloped watersheds are a rarity throughout the world and Bristol Bay's pristine watersheds support a world-class salmon fishery, which includes all five salmon species native to Alaska and the largest sockeye salmon runs in the world. Annual salmon returns, fully unsupported by hatcheries, typically average in the millions. The Bristol Bay Sport Management Area also supports abundant sport and subsistence fisheries. Together, this keystone fishery and the diverse habitats of the region are home to abundant populations of brown bears, gray wolves, and bald eagles. Caribou and moose frequent the areas' wetlands. . .

    "We understand that no specific mining proposal has yet been put forward for approval and that the agency has been criticized for utilizing hypothetical mine scenarios for assessment of impacts. We disagree strongly with these criticisms and believe that the use of credible mining scenarios is appropriate for this sort of forward-looking analysis. We would also note that the nature of metal mining, with its high potential for encountering unanticipated conditions, means that nearly any major mine plan is subject to change. Indeed, the footprints of many mines that have operated over decades are far larger than initially planned. . ."

    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access the Bristol Bay assessment website for complete information and commenting instructions (click here). Access the release from Sen. Murkowski with links to her previous inquiries and EPA's responses (click here). Access more information from the Wild Salmon Center on the Pebble Mine proposal (click here). Access more information on the Pebble Mine from Northern Dynasty (click here). Access a 4-page fact sheet from Northern Dynasty (click here). Access the Pebble Partnership website for more information including a Pebble Environmental Baseline Document (click here). Access the Keystone Center website for the Pebble Mine project for background and links to more information (click here). [#Land, #Wildlife, #Water] 

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Monday, April 15, 2013

WIMS Spring Break

WIMS will be taking our Spring publication break the next two weeks. 
We will resume regular publication on Monday, April 29, 2013.
During our break you may want to
follow some of the news on our:
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Friday, April 12, 2013

House Hearing Focuses On Nuclear Waste Disposal

Apr 11: The House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies, held a hearing on Nuclear Programs and Strategies that focused for the most part on siting and developing a high-level nuclear waste disposal site. Witnesses included representative from the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board; Member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future; U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff; Department of Energy staff; and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO's testimony provides background and was summarized in a report entitled, Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel: Observations on the Key Attributes and Challenges of Storage and Disposal Options (GAO-13-532T, Apr 11, 2013).
    GAO indicates that spent nuclear fuel, the used fuel removed from commercial nuclear power reactors, is one of the most hazardous substances created by humans. Commercial reactors have generated nearly 70,000 metric tons of spent fuel, which is currently stored at 75 reactor sites in 33 states, and this inventory is expected to more than double by 2055. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, directs DOE to investigate the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada --100 miles northwest of Las Vegas -- to determine if the site is suitable for a permanent repository for this and other nuclear waste. DOE submitted a license application for the Yucca Mountain site to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008, but in 2010 DOE suspended its licensing efforts and instead established a Blue Ribbon Commission to study other options. The commission issued a report in January 2012 recommending a new strategy for managing nuclear waste, and DOE issued a new nuclear waste disposal strategy in 2013.
    GAO testified that in November 2009, it reported on the attributes and challenges of a Yucca Mountain repository. A key attribute identified was that the Department of Energy (DOE) had spent significant resources to carry out design, engineering, and testing activities on the Yucca Mountain site and had completed a license application and submitted it to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has regulatory authority over the construction, operation, and closure of a repository. If the repository had been built as planned, GAO concluded that it would have provided a permanent solution for the nation's commercial nuclear fuel and other nuclear waste and minimized the uncertainty of future waste safety. Constructing the repository also could have helped address issues including federal liabilities resulting from industry lawsuits against DOE related to continued storage of spent nuclear fuel at reactor sites. However, not having the support of the administration and the state of Nevada proved a key challenge. As GAO reported in April 2011, DOE officials did not cite technical or safety issues with the Yucca Mountain repository project when the project's termination was announced but instead stated that other solutions could achieve broader support.

    Temporarily storing spent fuel in a central location offers several positive attributes, as well as challenges, as GAO reported in November 2009 and August 2012. Positive attributes include allowing DOE to consolidate the nation's nuclear waste after reactors are decommissioned. Consolidation would decrease the complexity of securing and overseeing the waste located at reactor sites around the nation and would allow DOE to begin to address the taxpayer financial liabilities stemming from industry lawsuits. Interim storage could also provide the nation with some flexibility to consider alternative policies or new technologies. However, interim storage faces several challenges. First, DOE's statutory authority to develop interim storage is uncertain. Provisions in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, that allow DOE to arrange for centralized interim storage have either expired or are unusable because they are tied to milestones in repository development that have not been met. Second, siting an interim storage facility could prove difficult. Even if a community might be willing to host a centralized interim storage facility, finding a state that would be willing to host such a facility could be challenging, particularly since some states have voiced concerns that an interim facility could become a de facto permanent disposal site. Third, interim storage may also present transportation challenges since it is likely that the spent fuel would have to be transported twice -- once to the interim storage site and once to a permanent disposal site. Finally, developing centralized interim storage would not ultimately preclude the need for a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.

    Siting, licensing, and developing a permanent repository at a location other than Yucca Mountain could provide the opportunity to find a location that might achieve broader acceptance, as GAO reported in November 2009 and August 2012, and could help avoid costly delays experienced by the Yucca Mountain repository program. However, developing an alternative repository would restart the likely costly and time-consuming process of developing a repository. It is also unclear whether the Nuclear Waste Fund--established under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended, to pay industry's share of the cost for the Yucca Mountain repository--will be sufficient to fund a repository at another site.

    University of Michigan professor Rodney Ewing, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board addressed issues relating to: 1. What do international and U.S. experiences tell us about consent-based siting? 2. What can we learn from Yucca Mountain, technically and otherwise? 3. What is the current thinking and consensus around preferable options for nuclear waste disposal and the siting of a geologic repository? He summarized his testimony saying, "I would observe that not using a consent-based approach for repository siting can slow the process or lead to delay or failure, but using a consent-based process does not guarantee that a repository will be successfully sited. Programs in other countries are using a variety of consent-based approaches, with mixed results. Deep-mined geologic disposal remains the approach that is being pursued by most of the countries with nuclear waste programs, worldwide, and a deep geologic repository will be needed regardless of the fuel cycle option selected. The only operating deep-mined geologic repository in the world for disposal of radioactive waste is the WIPP [Waste Isolation Pilot Plant] facility in New Mexico, and important lessons can be taken from the development of that facility. Finally, ongoing, independent technical oversight of the activities undertaken by the implementer of a consent-based repository-siting program is crucial, regardless of whether the implementing entity is a government agency, a non-governmental organization, or a federal corporation."

    DOE testified that, "The Administration looks forward to working with this Subcommittee and other members of Congress on crafting a path forward for used nuclear fuel and high-level waste management and disposal. This progress is critical to assure that the benefits of nuclear power are available to current and future generations." DOE said the President's FY 2014 budget request includes a multi-part proposal to move ahead with developing the nation's used nuclear fuel and high-level waste management system outlined in the Administration's Strategy [See WIMS 1/14/13]. First, it lays out a comprehensive funding reform proposal. As described in the Strategy, the Administration's proposal includes three elements for funding reform: ongoing discretionary appropriations, reclassification of existing annual fees from mandatory to discretionary or a direct mandatory appropriation, and access to the balance of the nuclear waste fund. Included in the amounts that would be made available under this proposal, are defense funds to pay for the management and disposal of government-owned wastes within the overall system. In total, the Administration proposes $5.6 billion in spending to implement the strategy over the next 10 years.
    The representative from the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) said, "Development of consolidated storage capability was one of many of the Commission's recommendations incorporated into the Administration's January 2013 Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste. The Subcommittee asked that I provide my personal views on the Administration's strategy. On balance, I was pleased to see that the Administration's strategy embraces the spirit of the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations, from supporting a consent-based siting process and establishing a new waste management organization to conducting R&D on advanced fuel cycles. As noted earlier, the Administration's projected timeframe for establishing consolidated storage capability is generally consistent with the Commission's findings, though the Administration projects that development of a repository will take a decade-plus longer than the Commission believed is achievable."
    She said, "According to a legal analysis performed for the BRC, which I would like to submit for the record, further legislative action would not be required prior to the designation of a storage site (and potentially not until the construction phase). . . We must couple this siting effort with a renewed initiative to communicate broadly about the benefits and risks associated with the long-term management of spent fuel and high-level waste. In particular, I believe we must communicate effectively about the steps that are taken to ensure safety in the transport of radioactive wastes. During my service on the Commission I learned of the outstanding track record accumulated over decades of safe spent fuel shipments in the U.S. I firmly believe that an effective outreach program is essential to building public confidence that spent fuel and high-level radioactive wastes can be safely shipped, stored and disposed in the U.S."
    Access links to all of the testimony (click here, See 4.11.13). Access the January 2013 Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste (click here). [#Haz/Nuclear, #Energy/Nuclear]
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rep. Goodlatte's RFS Elimination & Reform Acts

Apr 10: Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) released introduced legislation to alter the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). He said, "The RFS debate is no longer just a debate about fuel or food. It is also a debate about jobs, small business, economic growth and freedom. The federal government's creation of an artificial market for the ethanol industry has quite frankly triggered a domino effect that is hurting American consumers, energy producers, livestock producers, food manufacturers, and retailers. Extreme drought last summer and record corn prices made it clear that the RFS is not working. 

    "Diverting feed stocks to fuel has diminished corn supplies for livestock and food producers resulting in higher corn prices.  Higher prices are then passed on to livestock and food producers, meaning consumers across the nation see that increase reflected in the price of food on the grocery store shelves and in restaurants.  At a time when our economy is still struggling to recover, the last thing families and small businesses need are costly government policies that increase their gasoline and grocery bills. Today, I introduced the RFS Elimination Act [H.R.1461], which eliminates the RFS and makes ethanol compete in a free market. This legislation would give relief to livestock and food producers as well as consumers of these products. Renewable fuels play an important role in our all-of-the-above energy policy, but should compete fairly in the marketplace and not be the beneficiary of an anti-competitive government mandate. American families and businesses should not have to shoulder the high cost of this unworkable federal ethanol mandate."

    The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandates that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels be part of our nation's fuel supply by 2022. Almost all of this is currently being fulfilled by corn ethanol. In 2011, five billion bushels of the corn supply was used for ethanol -- equal to nearly 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop. Rep. Goodlatte also introduced the bipartisan RFS Reform Act (H.R.1462), which eliminates corn-based ethanol requirements, caps the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at 10 percent, and requires the EPA to set cellulosic biofuels levels at production levels. He said, "This is a common sense solution to make sure that we have enough corn supplies to meet all of our demands." Both the RFS Elimination Act and the RFS Reform Act will be referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

    According to a release from Rep. Goodlatte, the RFS Reform Act is supported by a diverse group of more than 45 organizations, including ActionAid USA, the American Frozen Food Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Environmental Working Group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Milk Producers Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the National Restaurant Association, the National Taxpayers Union, the National Turkey Federation, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
    The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) forcefully responded to the new legislation. Bob Dinneen, RFA's President and CEO, fired back saying, "The motivation behind this bill is backwards, silly, circular logic. The authors insist they're not anti-biofuels, but the bill guts the only program that has successfully opened the market to these new technologies, lowering our dependence on imported oil and reducing the consumer price of gasoline. The authors state they want a 'free market' for energy, but they do nothing to end the billions in subsidies to Big Oil and they deny market access to E15. The authors portend to retain the mandate for new cellulosic and advanced biofuels, but the bill handcuffs the commercialization of these fuels by removing the forward-looking, market-driving provisions of the original legislation. It would be more direct and intellectually honest to simply say 'this bill restores Big Oil's monopoly.' You can't legitimately say 'we support biofuels' and then pull the rug out from underneath companies that relied upon government policy and are now building biorefineries that create hundreds of construction jobs at each location or are hitting milestones in new production. This legislation should have been introduced on Halloween because it will scare away investors. Nothing undermines next generation innovation like uncertainty."
    The American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Jack Gerard said he welcomed the bipartisan proposals. He said, "The nation's ever increasing ethanol mandate is a crisis in waiting, and a chorus of concerned groups has joined API in calling on congress to repeal it. Unless we stop this madness now, the mandate could put consumers in harm's way, hurt the economy, and disrupt the nation's fuel supply. Ethanol and other renewable fuels have an important role to play in our transportation fuel mix and will continue to be used after Congress repeals the mandate. But we cannot allow a mandate for ethanol that exceeds what is safe and that could put upward pressure on fuel prices."
    Gerard said that the industry is hitting the ethanol blend wall, meaning the amount of ethanol required to be blended under the RFS is unsafe for most vehicles on the road today. He said millions of cars could be severely damaged by fuel blends that contain more than 10 percent ethanol, and cited studies by the Coordinating Research Council. He also cited statements by the automakers which have said higher ethanol blends would void car warranties. He indicated that by 2015, the mandate would cause severe fuel rationing that would lead to a $770 billion decrease in U.S. GDP and a $580 billion decrease in take-home pay for American workers according to a study by NERA economic consulting. 
    Environmental Working Group (EWG) Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber issued a statement indicating that the RFS Reform Act, which is also sponsored by Jim Costa (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Steve Womack (R-AR), ". . .makes much-needed room in the fuel pool for advanced alternatives that actually lower greenhouse gas emissions and do not compete with our food needs. In doing so, it helps ensure a cleaner energy future that benefits both consumers and the environment."
    Access a release from Rep. Goodlatte (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.1461 (click here); and H.R.1462 (click here). Access a release from RFA (click here). Access a release from API with links to the cited information (click here). Access the statement from EWG (click here). [#Energy/RFS, #Energy/Ethanol, #Energy/Biofuels]
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

President Announces His Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal

Apr 10: The President announced his Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal which he said would make critical investments in infrastructure, strengthen the middle class, create jobs, and grow the economy while continuing to cut the deficit in a balanced way. Among other items he said the budget proposes to continue efforts towards energy independence and address the threat of climate change. The budget calls for more than $2 in spending cuts for every $1 of new revenue from closing tax loopholes and reducing tax benefits for the wealthiest. The President said in part:

"The point is, our economy is poised for progress -- as long as Washington doesn't get in the way.  Frankly, the American people deserve better than what we've been seeing:  a shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making, like the reckless, across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting a lot of communities out there -- cuts that economists predict will cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs during the course of this year. If we want to keep rebuilding our economy on a stronger, more stable foundation, then we've got to get smarter about our priorities as a nation.  And that's what the budget I'm sending to Congress today represents -- a fiscally responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth. . .

". . .this budget invests in new manufacturing hubs to help turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.  We'll spark new American innovation and industry with cutting-edge research like the initiative I announced to map the human brain and cure disease.  We'll continue our march towards energy independence and address the threat of climate change.  And our Rebuild America Partnership will attract private investment to put construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads, our bridges and our schools, in turn attracting even more new business to communities across the country. . .

"For years, the debate in this town has raged between reducing our deficits at all costs, and making the investments necessary to grow our economy.  And this budget answers that argument, because we can do both.  We can grow our economy and shrink our deficits.  In fact, as we saw in the 1990s, nothing shrinks deficits faster than a growing economy.  That's been my goal since I took office.  And that should be our goal going forward. . .

"My budget also replaces the foolish across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting our economy. . . My budget makes these investments to grow our economy and create jobs, and it does so without adding a dime to our deficits. Now, on the topic of deficits, despite all the noise in Washington, here's a clear and unassailable fact: our deficits are already falling.  Over the past two years, I've signed legislation that will reduce our deficits by more than $2.5 trillion -- more than two-thirds of it through spending cuts and the rest through asking the wealthiest Americans to begin paying their fair share. 

"That doesn't mean we don't have more work to do.  But here's how we finish the job.  My budget will reduce our deficits by nearly another $2 trillion, so that all told we will have surpassed the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that independent economists believe we need to stabilize our finances.  But it does so in a balanced and responsible way, a way that most Americans prefer.

    A summary from the Department of Management and Budget indicates that the budget invests in repairing existing infrastructure and building the infrastructure of tomorrow, including high-speed rail, high-tech schools, and power grids that are resilient to future extreme conditions. The investments will both lay the foundation for long-term economic growth and put workers back on the job now. 

  • Provides $50 billion for upfront infrastructure investments, including $40 billion for "Fix it First" projects, to invest immediately in repairing highways, bridges, transit systems, and airports nationwide; and $10 billion for competitive programs to encourage innovation in completing high-value infrastructure projects.
  • Boosts private investment in infrastructure by creating a Rebuild America Partnership including" Establishes an independent National Infrastructure Bank to leverage private and public capital to support infrastructure projects of national and regional significance; and Creates America Fast Forward (AFF) Bonds, building on the successful Build America Bonds program to attract new sources of capital for infrastructure investment.
  • Dedicates funding for the development of high-speed rail to link communities across the country, the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NexGen) to improve air travel and safety, and a robust long term increase in levels for core highways, transit, and highway safety programs. 
  • Expedites infrastructure projects by modernizing the Federal permitting process to cut through red tape while creating incentives and better outcomes for communities and the environment.  Establishes a new goal of cutting timelines in half for major infrastructure projects in areas such as highways, bridges, railways, ports, waterways, pipelines, and renewable energy.

    A separate fact sheet on "Building a Clean Energy Economy, Improving Energy Security, and Addressing Climate Change" indicates that the Budget "supports a range of investments and initia­tives to help make the United States the leader in the clean energy sector and bring about a clean energy econo­my with new companies and jobs.  The Budget also supports work to prepare and strengthen our communities against extreme weather and other impacts of climate change, while cutting the carbon pollution that causes it. Cleaner energy will play a crucial role in meeting the President's goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and enhancing energy security by reducing our dependence on oil.  The President is committed to an "all-of-the-above" approach that develops all American energy sources in a safe and responsible way and builds a clean and secure energy future." The Budget increases funding for the Department of Energy's (DOE) clean energy technology activities by more than 40 percent above the 2012 enacted level, to $6.2 billion, and increasing funding for clean energy technology across all agencies by 30 percent, to approximately $7.9 billion.

    The Budget proposed to "eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that im­pede investment in clean energy sources and un­dermine efforts to address the threat of climate change. The Budget would repeal over $4 billion per year in tax subsidies to oil, gas, and other fos­sil fuel producers." It calls for $200 million for "Climate Ready Infrastructure" and provides for $2.7 billion for thirteen Federal agencies in the U.S. Global Change Research Program to support research to improve our ability to understand, predict, mitigate, adapt to climate change, and increase communication among scientific and stakeholder communities. The budget provides $8.2 billion for U.S. EPA, a decrease of $296 million, or 3.5 percent, below the 2012 enacted level.

    Access the full text of the President's budget announcement (click here). Access the DMB overview with links to complete budget details including Analytical Perspectives, Historical Tables, Supplemental Materials, Fact Sheets, Past Budgets and more (click here). Access a fact sheet on clean energy and climate change initiatives (click here). Access a fact sheet on Infrastructure (click here). Access a 20-page detail of the U.S. EPA budget proposals (click here). Access the 140-page EPA budget detail (click here). Access the 1024-page EPA FY2014 budget justification document (click here). Access the 48-page detail of the DOE budget proposals (click here). Access links to other agencies details (click here). Access links to the 244-page budget summary and details by section (click here). [#All]

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Wine-Producing Regions Will Move With Climate Change

Apr 8: A study by a team of international researchers and led by Conservation International suggests that "your merlot [could] be growing near the moose, grizzly or elk of Yellowstone National Park soon or in prime panda habitat in China? The key finding: climate change will dramatically impact many of the most famous wine-producing regions in the world today and prompt the opening of new areas to wine production in unusual places, which would likely degrade or put pressure on the critical natural capital and ecosystems that support species and human well-being.

    The study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and is the first ever worldwide analysis of the impacts of climate change on wine production and conservation. It found that the area suitable for wine production will shrink by as much as 73% by 2050 in certain parts of the globe, with high potential for stress on rivers and other freshwater ecosystems as vineyards use water to cool grapes or irrigate to compensate for rising temperatures and declining rainfall.

    Dr. Lee Hannah, lead author and Senior Scientist for Climate Change Biology at Conservation International's new Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Ecosystem Science and Economics, said, "Climate change is going to move potential wine-producing regions all over the map. These global changes put the squeeze on wildlife and nature's capacity to sustain human life in some surprising places. Consumer awareness, industry and conservation actions are all needed to help keep high quality wine flowing without unintended consequences for nature and the flows of goods and services it provides people. This is just the tip of the iceberg – the same will be true for many other crops."

    The researchers looked at nine major wine producing areas within the first global map of future winemaking using multiple models of wine suitability. The areas analyzed in more details are: California, Western North America, Chile, Mediterranean Europe, Northern Europe, Cape Floristic region of South Africa, parts of Australia with Mediterranean climate, parts of Australia with non-Mediterranean climate and New Zealand.

    Another key finding from the study is that new areas will become more productive, including parts of Western North America and Northern Europe. These places at higher latitudes and higher elevations will become increasingly suitable for wine making and sought after by vineyards as they search for the climatic conditions that are ideal for wine grape growing.

    According to a release, this will have implications for conservation of wildlife and ecosystems in regions as diverse as the Rocky Mountains around Yellowstone National Park and in Central China, where new vineyard suitability will open in the habitat of the endangered giant panda. Mature, producing vineyards have long-lasting effects on habitat quality for native species as they involve, for instance, removal of natural vegetation, spraying of chemicals and use of fences. According to the study, the greatest area of increasing wine production suitability is in the Rocky Mountains near the Canadian-US border, putting at risk species such as the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), gray wolf (Canis lupus) and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana).

    Co-author Dr. Rebecca Shaw, a climate scientist and Associate Vice President for Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF's) Land, Water and Wildlife program said, "Climate change will set up competition for land between agricultural and wildlife -- wine grapes are but one example. This could have disastrous results for wildlife. Fortunately, there are pro-active solutions. We are creating incentive-based programs with private landowners to provide wildlife habitat as we expand our capacity to feed a growing planet in the future under a changing climate."

    The authors concluded that wine grapes are symbolic of a wide variety of crops whose geographic shifts in response to climate change will have substantial implications for conservation, and that adaptation strategies are urgently needed to maintain productivity and to minimize impacts on terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Among their key recommendations are:

  • joint planning of vineyard expansion between business managers and conservationists to avoid areas of high environmental importance;
  • investment in new varieties of grapes that offer similar flavors but with altered climate tolerances;
  • consumer awareness (by purchasing bottles with natural cork, and from vineyards that adopt sustainable practices)

    Patrick Roehrdanz of the Bren School of the University of California at Santa Barbara, one of the study authors, said, "Consumers can do their part by purchasing wine from vineyards that participate in programs like the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance or the South African Biodiversity and Wine Initiative and through supporting organizations that are dedicated to finding solutions such as Vinecology, Conservation International or Environmental Defense Fund."

    Access a lengthy release with more details and links to related information including photos, maps, presentations and more(click here). Access the complete 15-page published paper (click here). [#Climate, #Agriculture]

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Investors Call For Uniform Sustainability Disclosure

Apr 8: A group of investors announced a Consultation Paper with recommendations for integrating sustainability disclosure requirements into listing rules for U.S. and global stock exchanges. The draft recommendations were developed by nearly a dozen investors who are part of the Ceres-led Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR).
    BlackRock, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, and the AFL-CIO Office of Investment are among those who participated on the INCR Listing Standards Drafting Committee. The initiative is part of a growing effort by investors and stock exchanges, including NASDAQ OMX, to make environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure a consistent requirement for corporate listings on stock exchanges. While several exchanges have adopted their own sustainability listing requirements and guidance, INCR members and NASDAQ OMX have set out to develop a uniform standard that all stock exchanges can use.

Meyer Frucher, vice chairman at NASDAQ OMX said, "Creating a corporate sustainability reporting standard across all exchanges will encourage a shift in how companies assess the importance of their efforts in environmental, social and governance issues. It is a win-win for both companies and investors, encouraging sound business practices and responsible investing." Investors are being asked to review and comment on the paper's recommendations by May 1, 2013. Once comments are considered and key issues are incorporated, the final document will be submitted to stock exchanges for consideration at the World Federation of Exchanges annual meeting in October.

    Gwen Le Berre, vice president of corporate governance and responsible investment at BlackRock, an international investment manager with $3.8 trillion in assets under management said, "Stock exchanges can play a leadership role in moving ESG disclosure practices forward. We believe that this proposed listing standard strikes a good balance between investors' need for consistent and comparable ESG information, and companies' need for flexibility."

    INCR director and Ceres president Mindy Lubber, whose organization convened the listing standards consultation said, "Investors are increasingly frustrated by the lack of sustainability disclosure across markets, and how inconsistent that data is even within the same industry. We can solve this problem by bringing investors together on standards that make such information comparable and useful. This paper is the result of such discussions." The Consultation Paper calls for the following disclosures by companies as part of a listing standard:

  • Materiality assessment: An assessment in annual financial filings where company management will discuss its approach for determining the company's material ESG issues and the outcomes of such an assessment.
  • Sustainability table of disclosures: Provide a hyperlink in annual financial filings to a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Content Index. Such disclosure will let investors know if key ESG information exists, and if so, its exact location and the completeness of the data.
  • Improved corporate ESG disclosure: Companies must provide reporting on a "comply or explain" basis for eight key ESG categories. They can either provide such disclosures or explain why they are not.
    According to the Paper, "The standard global definition of sustainability is derived from the Brundtland Report (released by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development): 'Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' For the purposes of this paper, 'sustainability reporting' addresses the integration of environmental, social and economic considerations into corporate strategy, business practices and capital markets, as well as the key impacts on social and environmental systems that are caused by corporate activities. In this paper, ESG refers to environmental, social and governance matters related to sustainability. Governance in this context means the oversight and management of environmental and social issues -- not necessarily limited to the parameters of traditional corporate governance analytics. Since the terminology still varies in the marketplace, our use of ESG is meant to encompass sustainability, corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility and other similar terms."
    The eight key ESG categories would include: Climate change; Diversity; Employee relations; Environmental impact; Government relations; Human rights; Product impact and safety; and Supply chain. Every company would be required to disclose information in the categories of ESG issues, using a comply or explain approach for each category. Examples of reporting topics in each category include for example, but are not limited to:
  • Climate change: greenhouse gas emissions and reduction initiatives, physical risks and opportunities
  • Diversity: employee, board and supplier diversity; training and recruitment programs
  • Employee relations: labor relations and freedom of association, safety, employee turnover and demographics, training, remuneration
  • Environmental impact: water, energy and materials consumption; emissions and waste; toxins; packaging
  • Government relations: political involvement and spending, contracting and revenue payments, tax strategy
  • Human rights: non-discrimination efforts, prevention of child and forced labor, compliance with international human rights norms
  • Product impact and safety: cultural and community impacts, product life cycle assessments, recalls, product integrity and safety
  • Supply chain: size and geographic scope, risks of disruptions (due to e.g. extreme weather events, labor disputes, etc.), impacts on local communities, labor and environmental compliance efforts

    Investor companies participating on the INCR Listing Standards Drafting Committee included: Rockefeller & Co. Sustainability & Impact Investing Group; Boston Common Asset Management; Pax World Management LLC; Rockefeller & Co. Sustainability & Impact Investing Group; Domini Social Investments LLC; BlackRock; F&C Management Ltd.; British Columbia Investment Management Corporation; AFL-CIO Office of Investment; and F&C Management Ltd.

    Access a release from Ceres (click here). Access an overview and link to the Consultation Paper and comments (click here, registration required). [#Sustain, #Climate]

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