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As the United Nations hosts World Water Day 2012 today, the world is reminded that clean water is vital for life and intrinsically linked to food security:

World Water Day

There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres.

In New Jersey, water quality protection is front-and-center as Governor Christie appears to be behind the controversial and sudden firing of New Jersey Highlands Council executive director, Eileen Swan.

Via NJ Conservation Foundation:

Politics trumps water protection in Highlands

The firing is the boldest salvo to date in what appears to be a concerted effort by the Christie Administration to undo the protections of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (the Act), which was adopted in 2004 to secure the water supply for some six million people – over two-thirds of the residents of this state were in.

And right here in Essex County, Rutgers Cooperative Extension offers a highly affordable ($25!) for a professional two-day landscaping course on water-conserving and pollution-preventing Rain Garden Construction.

Via water.rutgers.edu

Attend Rain Garden Training Workshop
April 2 & April 3
Hosted by Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Garibaldi Hall at the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland
The program is open to all, but tailored for professional landscapers.

A rain garden is a landscaped, shallow depression that captures, filters, and infiltrates stormwater run off at the source. A rain garden removes source pollutants from tstormwater runoff while recharging groundwater. Rain gardens are an important tool for communities and neighborhoods to create diverse, attractive landscapes while protecting the health of the natural environment.

Bid on Artist-Decorated Rain Barrels
The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program is coordinating the “One Barrel at a Time Co-op,” where artists beautify rain barrels to be auctioned off to the public.

The Trenton Times covers recent and upcoming New Jersey solar farm developments, including how neighbors feel about living next to one.

What could be greener than a field of local, clean-energy producing solar panels? Well, a productive agricultural field, for one.

I’m interested in these cases and the public conversation about them for the intersection of private property rights, commercial enterprise and municipal oversight and control.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy environment for citizens, business owners, and the environment, today and for the future, what constitutes a “good” outcome?

Via NJ.com:

Even solar power has its detractors — especially when fields of glass replace fields of green

Once found only on the roofs of an eco-conscious few, solar panels are now popping up on business campuses, school roofs and, increasingly, on farm fields and next to homes or neighborhoods.

There are several large ground-mounted solar sites in the Mercer County area and more in the pipeline. A few, like the Lawrenceville School’s 25,000-panel project scheduled to be switched on next month, are used to offset the energy costs of an institution. The 6.1 megawatt project, located on 30 acres of farmland owned by the school, will eventually produce up to 90 percent of the school’s electricity.

Keep an eye on greenhouse gas emissions as a hotly contested political issue, playing out at the Federal and state levels.

Inside the Beltway, National Journal reporter Amy Harder asks:

What’s at Stake in Climate Debate?  in the legal fight over the Obama administration’s power to regulate carbon emissions:

This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments over four major lawsuits challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

What is at stake in the lawsuits regarding EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions? Will EPA or its challengers, which include a wide range of industry organizations and some states, prevail? Should the Obama administration or Congress do anything on climate change right now?

Well, she got some really interesting replies from completely opposite ends of the climate change conversation.

I’m spending time this week learning about where Climate Change skeptics are coming from. This exchange is giving me an eyeful.

What motivates someone to disavow the collected scientific consensus? What sources inform their conclusions? Who’s paying who for what? What are they really arguing for?

And closer to home in Trenton, environmental advocates and business interest square off against NJ’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The bill to keep NJ in the regional pollution-curbing consortium is on a a full vote and then the Governor’s desk.

Via Frank Brill at Enviropolitics Blog:

RGGI Revival Legislation Clears NJ Senate Ccommittee

“Is RGGI a failed program that has not reduced greenhouse gases but has jacked up electric costs? Or is it an evolving model for how other states, too, should be working to cut CO2 while boosting clean energy projects?”

And via NJ Spotlight, Tom Johnson’s excellent round-up of the positions and players:

Lawmakers, Environmentalists Want NJ Back in Greenhouse Gas Initiative

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee yesterday voted unanimously, joined by a Republican legislator, to vote out a bill (S-1322) that would force the state to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 10-state cooperative effort that established a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Will Governor Christie veto it again like last year? We’ll have to wait and see.

U.S. Senator and climate change denier Jame Inhofe aims his flamethrower squarely at the EPA in his new book.

The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future

The blurb:

Americans are over-regulated and over-taxed. When regulation escalates, the result is an increase in regulators. In other words, bigger government is required to enforce the greater degree of regulation. Bigger government means bigger budgets and higher taxes. “More” simply doesn’t mean “better.” A perfect example is the entire global warming, climate-change issue, which is an effort to dramatically and hugely increase regulation of each of our lives and business, and to raise our cost of living and taxes. In The Greatest Hoax, Senator James Inhofe will reveal the reasons behind those perpetuating the Hoax of global warming, who is benefitting [sic] from the general acceptance of the Hoax and why the premise statements are blatantly and categorically false.

Think climate change is going to be a hot topic for the next 8 months? You’re right. But there’s a twist.

Climate change isn’t about weather anymore, at least as far as Inhofe is concerned.

It’s not about the undeniable see it-taste it-smell-it extremes of floods and hurricanes and earthquakes (in New Jersey?) or crop-killing heat or tree-snapping ice storms.

Inhofe can’t win with facts, so he’s tacked to an emotional appeal that the government is out to get you.

Don’t let this pivot distract you. It’s a smokescreen of doubt and suspicion, designed to make you throw up your hands and say “It’s too complicated. It’s too big. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

But it does.

Climate change is close to home. It’s as close as your front yard and definitely as personal as your vote in November.

Just to review, via the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist:

2011 NJ Top 10 Weather/Climate Events
1) Wettest year for NJ (wettest station over a calendar year)

2) Tropical Storm Irene: August 27-28 (3rd wettest rainstorm, record flooding)

3) Wettest month on record for NJ: August (wettest two consecutive months: Aug-Sep)

4) Early-season snowstorm: October 29-30

5) Third warmest year for NJ (11 months above average; seven in the top ten for their month)

6) Second hottest month on record: July (including top ten hottest day: July 22)

7) Snowstorm: January 26-27

8 ) Snowiest January on record for NJ

9) Back-to-back rain storms March 6-7, 10-11 (major flooding)

10) Ice storm: February 1-2

A sure way to know more about where you stand on an issue is to stand in someone else’s shoes.

Many thanks to Professor Barbour for bringing Professor Jack Rabin to speak with our Rutgers Environmental Stewards class this week. Professor Rabin passionately believes that the best way to conserve natural resources is to protect and expand private property rights.

Professor Rabin’s lecture has me thinking hard about environmental resource economics, personal property rights and environmental regulatory actions as a blunt tool.

The tensions between personal rights and the public good usually keep people far apart from agreement. I knew that going in.

What I hadn’t considered is how these tensions can create unintended, unexpected alliances and strange bedfellows.

For example, imagine Baptists who find themselves unexpectedly allied with Bootleggers to enact Blue Laws. They want the same result, albeit for different reasons. The Baptists gets a day where people can’t buy liquor and hopefully will come to church. The Bootlegger gets a competition-free day to sell his booze. They are willing to work together to achieve their own goals.

Turns out this surprising dynamic appears in lots of environmental conflicts. Now that I am aware of it, I’ll be keeping a lookout.

While I don’t agree with Professor Rabin on all counts, I think we can agree, unequivocally, that balance and respect will go a long way to solving our country’s energy and environmental issues.

I appreciated the chance to engage in truly civil discourse. As Professor Barbour put it: arguing in good faith rather than arguing to win at all costs.

Perhaps there are win-win resolutions just wanting to be discovered in our horn-locked positions on the environment and energy issues.

View Professor Rabin’s presentation: Property Rights and the Environment: Baptists, Bootleggers and Spotted Owls

 

NJ’s Franklin Township public officials are grappling with a proposed 20-megawatt solar-power “farm” on nearly 100 acres of privately held property currently zoned as farmland.

New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act grants property owners lower tax assessments for farming or otherwise productively using their land.  The law allows for up to 10 acres to be covered with solar panels.

Since this proposal is for 10 times that limit, the owner would necessarily relinquish the farmland assessment to get into a new kind of farming.

Is this a good move for the township?

What are the risks and benefits of losing 100 acres of open space relative to this project’s clean energy generation potential?

Will the land owner be permitted to build this project?

Via NJ.com:

‘Solar Farm’ Proposal Called ‘Biggest Project’ Franklin Township Has Ever Seen

Franklin Claims Jurisdiction on Evaluating den Hollander’s Solar Project

Stay tuned for the discussions this project will raise around land use, renewable energy, and private property rights in NJ, the Crowded State.

Public hearings are scheduled for late March.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection today issued updated finding on the state’s most threatened and endangered species. Bald eagles and Cooper’s hawks are doing better but new bird species join the list.

As this week is all about the intersection of science and policy for me, I noticed that science is the caboose in the press release’s headline. I think that’s appropriate from a communications perspective. I’m just glad to see science made the cut.

DEP Adopts Updated Threatened and Endangered Species List, Revises Species Listings Based on Science <–caboose

Read the press release

The Department of Environmental Protection this week adopted revisions to its list of threatened and endangered species, upgrading the status of several species such as the bald eagle and the Cooper’s hawk to reflect improvements in their populations and adding new species to the list such as the red knot and American kestrel to reflect concerns about declines.

“This update to the state’s lists of threatened and endangered species uses the best scientific methods available to provide us with an accurate assessment of the health of our wildlife,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “The success of our threatened and endangered wildlife is an important indicator of the health of our overall environment.  We have many positive takeaways from this most recent update to the lists, but we are also reminded that much work still lies ahead of us.”

How does the DEP make these assessments?

The Department, which this week also released a major update to its Landscape Project species habitat mapping tool, made the species status changes based on a scientific review that considered population levels, trends, threats, and habitat conditions.

And how does this science inform policy?

The threatened and endangered species lists are important tools in guiding a variety of state, federal and local agencies to make sound decisions on projects and better protect wildlife and their habitats.

So then, how can we help science and policy stakeholders work together? By giving them tools.

As part of its efforts to continually use the best science in managing the state’s resources, the DEP has also released the newest version of its Landscape Project, an interactive ecosystem-based mapping tool that assists government agencies, planners, conservation groups, the public and others in making decisions that will protect wildlife. This tool can be used immediately.

The Feb. 21 2012 Rutgers Environmental Stewards‘ lecture on “The Limits of Science” was given by Dr. Jan Zientek from Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

It was utterly, completely fascinating. We discussed what science is, what it isn’t, how it is defined by scientists and how it gets used by politicians and everyone else on the way to becoming environmental policy.

Here are his 2010 lecture slides. I’ll update them once this week’s 2012 lecture slides are posted.

With these new ideas in my head, I was especially interested in this news piece about the uncomfortable position faced by Republican climate scientists. Rock, meet hard place.

Via Insideclimatenews, by way of EnviropoliticsBlog:

Republicans don’t want to hear from scientists on climate

Inside Climate News reports today that a number of prominent U.S. climate scientists who identify themselves as Republican say their attempts in recent years to educate the GOP leadership on the scientific evidence of man-made climate change have been futile. Now, many have given up trying and the few who continue notice very little change after speaking with politicians and their aides.

In my opinion, just because you stop listening to the truth, doesn’t stop it from being true.

Whose interests are being promoted when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on the environment? The answers are in the budget details.

First, NJ Governor Christie’s under-the-radar Clean Energy fund cut. Hat-tip to reporter Tom Johnson for reporting this scoop:

Via NJSpotlight.com:

Christie Quietly Diverts $210 Million From Clean Energy Fund
Administration justifies appropriation by arguing the money is ‘surplus dollars’

The governor did not mention the diversion in his speech to lawmakers, nor was it disclosed at a budget briefing for reporters earlier in the day. It only came to light late in the afternoon when the administration released a 145-page budget summary for the 2013 fiscal year — a single line item identifying $210 million in interagency fund transfers to the general fund.

And two links views on how the environment and clean energy might fare with President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal:

Via CleanWaterAction.org:

The President’s Budget – Do the Math

The proposal includes increased funds for the research, program development, and enforcement of health and environmental laws.  In fact, one of the biggest increases in the EPA budget is for strapped state programs which bear the day-to-day responsibility of implementing federal laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the Clean Water Act.  Funding for the Agency’s drinking water program is increased, particularly important for Clean Water Action’s work watchdogging SDWA implementation. These aren’t always headline grabbing activities, but they’re critical to enabling government to carry out the intent of that law – clean drinking water from our nation’s public water systems. We’re also glad to see increased investment in small drinking water systems, who are often most challenged by the costs up-to-date drinking water treatment.

Via RealEnergyWriters.com

Obama’s Budget Good for Energy Efficiency

In all, Obama increases the Department of Energy budget by 3.2%,  bringing it to $27.2 billion for 2013. He allots $2.3 billion for both the efficiency and renewable energy programs in EERE, and maintains Energy Star spending at the same level. Funding for  high-risk research increases 27% and for manufacturing advancement 150%. Obama offers an 80% increase in programs that cut energy use in buildings and factories. He also continues to press Congress to pass the HomeStar bill to reduce household energy use.

 

 

“Companies that value and integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into their strategic plans are best positioned for the future by operationalizing sustainability.”–Dow Chemical CEO

We care for things we value.

What a tree worth today? What’s it worth 20 years from now? Which time frame provides the greater financial and human well-being?

A scientific concept called “EcoSystem Services” helps answer these questions by providing tools to measure and consider the value of natural resources long-term when making business, political and social decisions.

It’s a new idea to me to try to put a financial number on what a forest is worth. But now that I’m thinking about it, I can see the value in treating natural systems as capital assets. By assigning hard-cost value to trees and seas and wildlife today, the full long term value of these resources can be considered, replenished and protected for long-term sustainable human and natural success.

Here’s how the U.S. EPA puts it:

Ecosystem services are rarely considered during environmental decision-making, principally because they are not well identified, quantified, or considered in ways applicable to commerce. The Program research results will enable economists, social scientists, environmental managers and others to incorporate an enhanced understanding of value and risk when making decisions about the costs and benefits of using and protecting ecosystem services. To ensure sustainable human and natural systems, the full long term value of ecosystem services must be considered when making decisions.

The best example I can think of in my life is how the Hudson River’s health has dramatically improved in the last 40 years. Thanks largely to the awareness raised by the Clearwater Environmental Foundation and successful polluter litigation waged by Riverkeeper, the water is cleaner.

Fish have returned to New York Harbor in greater numbers. With more food, harbor seals now live and breed year-round on rocky outcrops south of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Dolphins are a common sight. The cleaner water attracts more people who want to live, work, and play on and near its banks. Business, city, environmental and citizen groups profit and benefit from the water in ways not seen since the early 20th century when the city’s piers teemed with ship commerce. Multiple stakeholders have skin in the game to keep the water clean. So they do. (Visit the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance for more on this interconnected, unfolding success story.)

The Ecosystems Services definitions were formalized by the United Nations 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), a four-year study involving more than 1,300 scientists worldwide.

The MEA assigned four broad categories to show the relationships among Ecosystem Services and human well-being. These categories are: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

MEA: Relationships Among Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being (click to view larger)

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the earth’s resources are  intrinsically linked to our collective well being. They have value. In a way, Ecosystems Services is like a worldwide General Ledger to help us measure, grow and prudently spend from our global bank account.

Ecosystem Services Links:

Wikipedia

EPA’s Ecosystem Services Research

USDA’s Forest Service on Ecosystem Services

Nature Conservancy on Ecosystem Services

Nature Conservancy’s Jan 2012 Partnership with Dow Chemical