Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Analysis of Effective Components of Climate Change Policies in Three Colorado Counties

This is the abstract of the report I've written titled, "Climate Change Policies in Three Colorado Counties."
I've included a link to the report in Google Docs. I'd love to hear your thoughts on policies that you've seen work for local government.

Climate change is critically impacting the environment and economy at the local level. County governments have an opportunity to adopt climate change policies that address local environmental and economic concerns. The Colorado counties of Boulder, Gunnison, and Pitkin have all adopted some form of climate change policies. There are some components of each of these policies that are more effective in terms of economic, environmental, and community benefits. An effective climate change policy clearly states specific cost analyses, environmental impacts at the local level, the relationship between impacts and the community, and the economic benefits of policy adoption. This Capstone project addresses specific cost and energy analyses and provides a beneficial policy framework for county governments.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vehicle miles traveled

The reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), especially in single occupancy automobiles is a critical component of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. There are various incentives that can be utilized to achieve reductions in VMT including policies, penalties and incentives. Urban planners often view land use patterns as important factor in determining VMT. Some politicians have proposed a VMT tax that would then fund infrastructure; this would be viewed as a penalty by some. Finally some jurisdictions have offered free bus service thereby reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.
Land use planning is an important tool in reducing VMT (American Planning Association 2008). Good planning can create compact development that is pedestrian friendly. Compact development often combines residential uses with commercial and retail uses so that a resident will have many of his needs met with close proximity to where he lives. Ewing et al (2007) found: “When viewed in total, the evidence on land use and driving shows that compact development will reduce the need to drive between 20 and 40 percent, as compared with development on the outer suburban edge with isolated homes, workplaces, and other destinations. It is realistic to assume a 30 percent cut in VMT with compact development. Making reasonable assumptions about growth rates, the market share of compact development and the relationship between CO2 reduction and VMT reduction, smart growth could, by itself, reduce total transportation related CO2 emissions from current trends by 7 to 10 percent as of 2050.”
A VMT tax poses some interesting dilemmas. A tax on VMT as proposed by some politicians would enable funding of infrastructure projects. The American Planning Association (2009) finds that a tax on VMT, if effective would eventually reduce funding of infrastructure projects because it encourages fewer people to drive leading fewer people to be taxed. The APA recommends that a tax on VMT be part of a larger package of incentives and policies that address infrastructure.
Some communities have offered free or subsidized bus service in an attempt to reduce VMT. The Gunnison Regional Transportation Authority has offered free bus service between the towns of Gunnison and Crested Butte for approximately three years. The service is an attempt to gain riders and reduce VMT. This service is an incentive for drivers—they don’t have to pay anything and they save money by not driving their own cars. The drawbacks of the service are limited hours of operation (typically ) and limited stops. The service has worked well for people that commute to work and work traditional hours.

Hodgson, Kimberly. American Planning Association. 2009. Rebuilding America. http://www.planning.org/conference/previous/
American Planning Association. 2008. Policy guide on planning & climate change. http://www.planning.org/policy/guides/pdf/climatechange.pdf
Ewing, Reid, Keith Bartholomew, Steve Winkelman; “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, “ Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C., 2007

Friday, August 26, 2011

Local food

I just read an interesting article about cities and the local food movement. The author asserted that the local food movement will reduce environmental impacts from transportation and can be a huge economic driver for communities.  Cieslewicz says:

"... one of the most effective things governments and citizens can buy locally is food. There’s no better way to reduce your carbon footprint than to buy locally produced food because the amount of fossil fuel required to fly your tomato in from California is extraordinary. When you add it up for all the food a family consumes in a given week, eating locally is the single best thing we can do to fight global climate change."

While I agree that purchasing food locally and supporting local industry is critical to creating sustainable communities, I disagree that it is the single best thing we can do to fight climate change. Studies have shown that transportation for food is actually a small component of the carbon footprint of food. The large carbon impact of food comes from the way agriculture operates. Feed lots, large-scale (standard and organic) operations have huge impacts on the carbon footprint of food. When we talk about purchasing food locally, it's important to be honest about it's impacts--it's a great thing but it won't solve climate change. Local farms and ranches may be operating in such a way that their carbon footprint is reduced because of the way crops and animals are managed and the soil and water resources are addressed.

The local food movement can create healthier communities and create an economic driver that may be sustainable over time. Cieslewicz goes on to say:

"In a similar way, the big national food distribution system just isn’t set up to get local produce to local markets in a way that’s big enough to make a dent in the market. So we need things like local food warehouses with their own distribution systems. We need more community gardens where local residents can grow their own food and more community kitchens where they can learn how to turn all that production into meals and maybe even businesses. And we need more community supported agriculture, where city residents can buy a membership share in a local farm and get a box of fresh produce or meat delivered to them weekly."

This is the most important point of the article. We, as planners, need to assist in setting up the framework and infrastructure to enable local food movements. This may include partnering with agricultural extension offices, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the local agricultural community to identify barriers to local food distribution. We can also work together to identify resources that are already in place and may be under-utilized. Local food is great and offers many benefits to local communities. Finding ways to take advantage of those opportunities should be at the forefront for planners.

In my community, we have a local ranch that has created a meat CSA. Subscribers can get 5-10 pounds of assorted meat per month. They also have egg, milk and yogurt subscriptions. During the summer months when the ranch has extra they'll sell it at the farmer's market. This has been a great community resource that allows citizens to get an up close view of a working ranch.
**All photos from Parker Pastures (parkerlandmanagement.com)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Public art as public participation?

Have you seen Candy Chang’s site? She’s doing some really interesting work on public art installations that spur public input on community development. In New Orleans and Fairbanks she’s put post-it notes and stickers with fill-in blanks on them on decaying or abandoned buildings. The stickers were placed on a blighted residence in New Orleans and said “Before I Die_________. “

In Fairbanks they installed a banner on the side of the tallest building in the city that said “Looking for love again.” At the street level Chang and her team installed a chalkboard that asked people to write down their memories of the building and their hopes for the building.

It is such an interesting way to approach public participation on land use and development questions. It certainly sparks a different type of response than a public meeting or government survey. It’s more friendly, inclusive and fun. Maybe this will become a new trend or method in public input.

I think it would do all of us (planners, politicians, developer and citizens) good to refresh the process of obtaining citizen input. Truly, the process can seem stale, adversarial and tedious. Maybe art installations or unique interactions would facilitate a different type of feeling and interaction between stakeholders that would lead to new ideas and a more fun, collaborative process. Well, we can hope, right?! What do you think about public participation and how it’s evolving with or without technology? Chang makes the argument that post-its and chalkboards are accessible for all and don’t intimidate the way some technology might.

All photos courtesy of Candy Chang and the Civic Center

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Sustainability of Vancouver's Transportation Plan

The City of Vancouver is the eighth largest city in Canada with a population of 578,000 (City of Vancouver). Vancouver is on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and bordered by the Coast Mountains and experiences a relatively mild climate. The city is known for its important port which trades $75 billion in goods annually and is famous for Stanley Park (City of Vancouver). The Corporate Knights Survey (2010) named Vancouver as Canada’s most sustainable medium-sized city.
The City of Vancouver adopted a “Downtown Transportation Plan” (DTP) in 2005. The goals of the DTP are to create a sustainable transport system in the downtown core of the city that allows for maximum accessibility and increased livability. Vancouver has identified “living first” as its top priority in establishing and maintaining a vital city and urban center. The city strives to create more area for individuals to live downtown, close to where they work and play. Although the DTP does not specifically address or define sustainability it is an essential part of the DTP. Vancouver has been planning for transportation needs consistently over the past ten to fifteen years and has adopted a variety of plans that address different aspects of transportation and livability.
The City of Vancouver (2005) has adopted several critical planning documents including:
  • Central Area Plan (1991) made “Living First” a priority downtown.
  • Transport 2021 (GVRD 1993) provided a long term regional focus on transportation.
  • Livable Region Strategic Plan (GVRD 1995) established regional strategy for growth.
  • CityPlan (1995) established a vision of Vancouver’s future through extensive public consultation.
  • Vancouver Greenways Plan (1995) envisioned a network of safer, calmer, greener streets for pedestrians.
  • Vancouver Transportation Plan (1997) established citywide transportation policies.
  • Vancouver Transit Strategy (2002) confirmed short and long-term transit needs for Vancouver.
The 2005 DTP seeks to accommodate the increasing population of people that live and work downtown without adding additional roads and traffic lanes. Vancouver is one of the few major cities in the world that does not have a major highway running through or around it. The city asserts that this is one of the main reasons that Vancouver is so livable. The DTP defines livability as quality of life which includes safety, ease of transport, proximity of work, retail and recreation areas, and minimization of traffic congestion. The DTP is interesting because it does not specifically address sustainability or economic and environmental impacts of transit—the plan mainly focuses on social impacts. This is certainly a diplomatic way to address transportation and may be more politically feasible than addressing environmental impacts associated with transit.
The DTP seeks to create more transportation choices thereby reducing the number of car trips and traffic congestion. There are existing opportunities in the downtown core for pedestrian use, cycling, bus transit, and train transit. The downtown core is a critical element of Vancouver’s residential, business and retail development: Downtown comprises 5 percent of the City’s land area, contains 13 percent of the population, 39 percent of its jobs and 21 percent of its trip destinations (City of Vancouver 2005).
The DTP states that people in the downtown core use alternative forms of transportation in greater numbers than elsewhere in the region. Over a five year period walking trips increased by 40 percent while cycling use also increased and car trips remained the same (City of Vancouver 2005). These trends support the idea that sustainable transportation plans have been working in Vancouver and that there is an existing framework of sustainable transportation methods.
The existing framework however must be expanded to accommodate the growing population of Vancouver. The residential and working populations in downtown Vancouver have increased significantly over the past twenty years (City of Vancouver 2005). The DTP notes that “over the next 20 years, the total number of trips to downtown will grow by 30 percent. Some kinds of trips will increase more than others. Commuter trips on foot and bike are expected to double. Rush hour transit use will rise by 50 to 60 percent. Car and truck trips are projected to stay about the same” (City of Vancouver 2005, 10). The DTP identifies four main goals for each mode of transportation:
  • Make downtown more walkable
  • Create network of downtown bike lanes
  • Create better downtown transit routes that address new and existing neighborhoods
  • Create safe and sustainable management of roads and traffic
The DTP identifies specific recommendations to create better transportation in downtown corridor. Each mode of transportation was analyzed to determine its current viability and then recommendations were made for current and future growth.
The first half of the DTP makes very broad statements about transportation elements and sustainability. The second portion of the plan identifies more specific recommendations for each mode of transport: walking, cycling, roads and transit. There are a variety of transit methods in downtown Vancouver that include: trolley or diesel bus, streetcar, SkyTrain, SeaBus and the West Coast Express (City of Vancouver 2005). The DTP explains that this variety of options enables a wide array of users to access mass transit.
The pedestrian plan of the DTP focuses on creating connector routes and greenways that enable easier walking throughout the city. Improvements such as landscaping, wider sidewalks, awnings and corner bulges will improve safety and comfort (Victoria Transport Policy Institute 2010). These pedestrian improvements create a sustainable mode of transportation by encouraging more people to walk and enabling them to walk longer distances because of connectivity with other systems. A unique feature of the DTP is a way finding system for pedestrians that assists residents and visitors with directions (City of Vancouver 2005). It is critical that Vancouver implement pedestrian friendly streets to continue to create a thriving urban core: The high density and ease of access to retail, business and recreation all encourage walking (APA).
Cycling is another critical mode of transport in downtown Vancouver. The DTP explains that cycling makes up only 2 percent of trips in the downtown core; however that is equivalent to 8,000 trips or 230 buses in rush hour (City of Vancouver 2005). The DTP proposes to expand bike lanes by 25 kilometers which will connect routes in the downtown area. If bike lanes are not proposed, accommodations (widening and restriping) will be made on roadways for cyclists. Other changes to encourage and accommodate cyclists include more racks on mass transit, storage lockers and signs geared toward cyclists (City of Vancouver 2005). The changes made will encourage more cycling. Racks on mass transit will be an important component of the plan because it would enable longer distance commuting using a combination of modes.
Because Vancouver has a strong urban core with significant retail, residential and business existing they will be able to attract and accommodate cyclists in a way that other smaller downtowns may not (APA 2009). The DTP does address traffic speeds and safety of bicycle commuters—they intend to reduce the travel speed to 40 km/hr through the use of streetlight waves. This would create a safer, more comfortable environment for cyclists. Additional considerations that the plan does not address should include working with businesses in the downtown area to encourage cycling by making storage space available and possibly even showers. Overall the plan addresses cycling as a mode of sustainable transport in an effective and thorough fashion. The only remaining question is the time frame for implementation of the recommendations.
The final portion of the plan encompasses of a variety of transport modes including bus, rail, boat and train. Transit ridership is expected to increase by 85 percent in the morning rush hour over the next 20 years which will require increases in transit options (City of Vancouver 2005). Waterfront Station is the downtown hub for all modes of mass transit which enables users to access a variety of modes and locations from one main location (City of Vancouver 2005). The DTP identifies current difficulties in utilizing mass transit to access the metropolitan core—an area where many jobs are located. More and better connections are proposed in the downtown area to make it easier for users to access popular locations. This portion of the DTP is still relatively undeveloped. Although additional connections are needed from different transport modes the DTP does not give specifics. This will be a critical component of future sustainable planning. Identifying which types of transport will require new connections and where is crucial to development. The absence of this information in the current plan limits sustainability because there is no concrete plan for the infrastructure necessary for those elements. The DTP again broadly addresses mass transit expansion but gives few specific details on how this will be accomplished. DTP also provides few details on financing. Proposed improvements, especially to mass transit will be costly and significant financing will be required—will Vancouver have the money when implementation dates are recommended?
The DTP has identified several other methods to address sustainable transportation: management of parking supply, creation of a public realm strategy, and spot improvements. The DTP proposes that there be no significant increases to available parking in the downtown core. This will effectively making parking difficult and expensive because it is not readily available and will likely encourage the use of alternative forms of transportation. Vancouver does have residential and commercial parking standards that are not specifically addressed as part of the DTP; these policies should be reviewed to determine consistency with the DTP.
The public realm is another consideration of the DTP. The public realm is defined as “the shared spaces that people use to get around, to meet, to play, to celebrate, and to shop” (City of Vancouver 2005, 26). The public realm is relative to the transportation plan in the design and development of streetscapes and the maintenance of historic streets and scenic vistas. Finally, the DTP has incorporated a list of spot improvements that are recommended for immediate action. These improvements were noted by citizens and staff and identified particularly problematic areas.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Overall, the DTP makes significant strides in the incorporation of sustainable transportation methods. Vancouver is a relatively progressive city and has already utilized alternative transportation for a number of years. The DTP does make some broad statements and does lack specific plans in some cases (specifically the increased use of mass transit); however the goals are generally admirable and sustainable. This plan is interesting in that it does not incorporate any type of penalty or taxes on drivers or users. The plan is centered around government funded solutions that do not mention any user generated fees. Some cities have adopted fees for drivers to access the urban core. While this is not a comprehensive or a particularly popular solution it is one method that communities have implemented. The DTP appears to be a plan that will please many and upset few because it is not particularly controversial. No mention is made of funding for the proposed projects and improvements and one imagines that if there is any controversy that is where it will be.
The City of Vancouver should make several additions to the DTP. While the DTP identifies a list of recommendations it gives no time frame for implementation or specific information about how items will be implemented and who will implement them. Often these general plans can contain useful recommendations but if there is not clear direction on which city departments are responsible for implementation and when they may go ignored. Because Vancouver does not have a highway system around or through the city, the city can be a challenge to navigate quickly. This is a benefit for encourage alternative modes of transportation and city should remain firm on excluding a highway. The DTP will need to make serious recommendations and plans for increases in mass transit. The use of mass transit is expected to increase significantly over the next ten to twenty years and Vancouver will need a clear plan on where riders are going and which mode of transit is preferable. The infrastructure for trolleys and trains is significant and will require comprehensive planning that includes a variety of entities (Planning Departments, Public Works, neighbors, businesses). The City of Vancouver should also work to make their planning and zoning codes compliment the transportation plan. It is critical that zoning and transportation relate to each other because they are so interconnected.
Vancouver is a truly livable city, with a thriving urban core. In order to maintain the city’s livability they will have to continue to address transportation planning now and as the city evolves in the future. There are a variety of modes of transport that are being utilized and the current infrastructure discourages the use of cars. Now and in the future specifics on mass transit including routes, connections and modes will need to be addressed to enable residents and visitors to continue to access the city in an easy and sustainable manner.

American Planning Association (APA). Characteristics and guidelines of great streets. http://www.planning.org/greatplaces/streets/
American Planning Association Urban Design and Preservation Division (APA). 2009. In-complete streets. Urban Design and Preservation. http://www.planning.org/divisions/urbandesign/newsletter/2009/pdf/spr.pdf.
City of Vancouver. 2005. City of Vancouver Downtown Transportation Plan. http://vancouver.ca/dtp/pdf/DTP2005.pdf.
City of Vancouver. Welcome to the City of Vancouver – Host city of the 2010 winter games. http://vancouver.ca/aboutvan.htm.
Corporate Knights. 2010. The 2010 sustainable cities ranking. Corporate Knights: The magazine for clean capitalism. http://www.corporateknights.ca/special-reports/64-most-sustainable-cities-in-canada.html.
Victoria Transport Policy Institute. 2010. Nonmotorized transportation planning: Identifying ways to improve pedestrian and bicycle transport. http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm25.htm.

Making a difference?

As I was reading some comments about environmental justice on a planning blog it got me thinking about how planners are making a difference. One of the comments noted that we can create all the regulations and processes we want but we rely on developers and other people to create the actual product. I think that can sometimes lead planners to feel a lack of ownership in the final product. Do you feel that you're making a difference in your community? I believe the overall answer would be yes, from most, if not I don't think many of us would stay in the profession. Most planners that I've met have the desire to maketheir communities even more vibrant and successful.

However, the daily grind of politics and paperwork can wear on even the most ardent idealist. Finding the satisfaction and fulfillment on a daily basis can be challenging. Planning departments are often controversial and are political hot buttons. I find that the different work and issues that arise on a daily basis provide interest and challenge. Sometimes it's easier to find achievement and satisfaction in the small daily victories than the bigger goals. What do you think?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Planning and Environmental Justice

As I was riding my bike around town recently I noticed a new gravel crusher that had gone in this summer. The gravel crusher is temporary I assume because it's adjacent to airport and is being used for runway resurfacing. The crusher is in industrial zone but directly across the street from a mobile home park that houses mostly low-income and minority families.

When I saw the public notice posted at the site it was in English. Should the City have posted the notice in Spanish also? I don't think this is a huge issue, mostly because it's temporary but the crusher operates from about 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. Maybe the neighbors don't care or maybe they don't have the information to know that they have a say in the process.

Where I work I don't think it's that unusual to think that we don't have environmental justice issues because it's a small, rural area. However, as a planner one of the tenants of APA ethics is to make sure that all citizens have an opportunity to be informed and participate. When there are non-English speaking groups affected it seems that we should all work harder to make sure that all people impacted have the information they need.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Climate change vs. Global Warming--What's the difference?

Currently, the media and much of the public use the terms climate change and global warming interchangeably. It seems that climate change has become a more acceptable phrase to a larger group of people than global warming. Climate change seems to connote less political rancor. There are other differences in the terms however, NASA notes that, “To a scientist, global warming describes the average global surface temperature increase from human emissions of greenhouse gases….Global warming refers to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect” (NASA).
Climate change is due to man-made influences. Although there is debate about the impacts of climate change and its causes, much of the debate appears to be politically and financially motivated (Brennan and Expose Exxon). The oft-cited Baliunas (2002) clearly misrepresents and misinterprets much of the literature on climate change and global warming. Much of the paper has been refuted and several editors have resigned over the paper (Goodness 2003). While there may be valid scientific debate about what exactly the impacts of climate change will be, few doubt that there will be serious impacts. The International Panel on Climate Change has submitted significant research and data on climate and finds that: “attribution of anthropogenic climate change must be pursued by: (a)
detecting that the climate has changed (as defined above); (b) demonstrating that the detected change is consistent with computer model simulations of the climate change ‘signal’ that is calculated to occur in response to anthropogenic forcing; and (c) demonstrating that the detected change is not consistent with alternative, physically plausible explanations of recent climate change that exclude important anthropogenic forcings….The common conclusion of a wide range of fingerprint studies conducted over the past 15 years is that observed climate changes cannot be explained by natural factors alone. A substantial anthropogenic influence is required in order to best explain the observed changes. The evidence from this body of work strengthens the scientific case for a discernible human influence on global climate change” (IPCC 2007, 103). The counter arguments to refute climate change seem to lack significant scientific backing and significant basis in reality much of the argument appears to be politically and financially motivated.
Global warming is largely due to man-made influences. According to NASA (2), the global average temperature has increased 0.7 to 1.4 degrees since the late 1800’s and states that most experts estimate the average temperature will continue to rise another 2.5 to 10.4 degrees by 2100. The rate of increase appears to become greater over time. NASA (2) attributes global warming to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels. Additionally arguments that the earth has experienced significant cooling rates have been refuted. NASA (3) reports that David Easterling of the U.S. National Climate Data Center show that naturally occurring periods of no warming or even slight cooling can easily be part of longer-term pattern of global warming. Easterling and Wehner found that “it is possible, and indeed likely, to have a period as long as a decade or two of ‘cooling’ or no warming superimposed on a longer-term warming trend.” Although global warming may not always continue on a rising temperature trend over the long term it appears be a significant trend. The International Panel on Climate Change noted that “At the time of the TAR scientists could say that the abundances
of all the well-mixed greenhouse gases during the 1990s were greater than at any time during the last half-million years and this record now extends back nearly one million years (Section 6.3). Given this daunting picture of increasing greenhouse gas abundances in the atmosphere, it is noteworthy
that, for simpler challenges but still on a hemispheric or even global scale, humans have shown the ability to undo what they have done. Sulphate pollution in Greenland was reversed in the 1980s with the control of acid rain in North America and Europe and CFC abundances are declining globally because of their phase-out undertaken to protect the ozone layer. (IPCC 2007, 100). It seems that we have the ability to reverse the impacts of fossil fuel burning if changes are made.
Global warming would appear to be a clearer trend that could be agreed upon as compared with climate change. Certainly though scientists and politicians can and will interpret facts differently. It is important to note that whether we can agree on global warming or climate change we should be able to agree that there will be some affect from the increased burning of fossil fuels over past 100 years. We may not agree on what the impact or change is but there will certainly be some impact. The evidence from credible scientific sources clearly states that the earth is experiencing a significant warming trend over the past 150 years and that the climate is being impacted by this change.

Baliunas, Sallie. 2002. Warming up to the truth: The real story about climate change. http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/
Brennan, Phil. 2008. What global warming? Such as it was is over. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9644
Easterling, David and Michael Wehner. 2009. Is the climate warming or cooling? Geophys. Res. Lett(36).
Expose Exxon. Global warming deniers and ExxonMobil. http://www.exxposeexxon.com/facts/gwdeniers.html
Goodness, Clare. 2003. Stormy times for climate research. Scientists for Global Responsibility. Newsletter 28, November 2003. http://www.sgr.org.uk/climate/StormyTimes_NL28.htm
International Panel on Climate Change. 2007. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter1.pdf
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA 1). What’s in a name? Global warming vs. climate change. http://www.nasa.gov/topics/
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA 2). http://www.nasa.gov/worldbook/global_warming_worldbook.html
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA 3). http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/upsDownsGlobalWarming.html

China's Energy Policy

China’s energy policy does differ from U.S. energy policy on several fronts however much of China’s policy reflects past U.S. policy.  While the U.S. and other nations encourage China, largely due to its population and current industrialization, to curb its emissions and adopt cleaner standards we forget that many of these practices have been in place in the U.S. for years. Over the past 50 or so years the U.S. has focused much of its resources on obtaining foreign sources of oil for energy. Current policy is working to shift away from foreign dependence to create more domestic sources that create fewer emissions. Meanwhile, China is in the middle of a significant industrialization and modernization of the country. China is spending significant resources to acquire foreign sources of oil (McIntyre 2009). China has vast coal resources which supply about 70% of its electricity (The Economist 2009). China has also built the largest dam in the world—Three Gorges, that will supply hydropower for domestic use (Kennedy). China is experiencing astonishing growth that has surpassed their own predictions, the gross domestic product increased 11% from 2006 to 2007 (Brahic 2007). This growth and modernization are causing China to be predicted as the leader of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (Brahic 2007).
Both China and the U.S. are attempting to make strides to reduce greenhouse emissions and create more sustainable energy economies. The U.S. faces the difficulty of the cost of implementing new alternative energy infrastructure and technology while China faces that hurdle along with exploding growth. The Economist (2009) said: “…even if Mr. Hu and Mr. Obama appear in broad agreement on what needs to be done, persuading politicians and the public in both countries will not be easy. China has set impressive targets but struggles with ill-motivated bureaucrats. In America even lackluster climate-change legislation now before Congress could founder as Mr. Obama devotes political energy to what he clearly sees as a higher priority: health-care reform.”
China has made some significant choices on the global energy market by investing heavily in international energy sources and heavily financing U.S. debt (McIntyre 2009). These actions put the U.S. in a precarious position as far as dictating what type of energy policy to adopt not to mention that the U.S. has its own energy policy issues to address. China can and likely will impact global energy sustainability because of their size and growing dominance on the world economic market. China has the opportunity to create changes to their policies that will lessen their global impact to resources and carbon emissions or they can continue on the path that was so clearly paved by the U.S. of utilizing unsustainable fossil fuels for a growing population. If China continues on its current path it will certainly become a global leader in carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption—not a particularly worthy title. It will be difficult for industrialized nations, such as the U.S., to dictate to the Chinese that they choose alternatives when other nations have so clearly exploited those resources and created the initial problem.
The U.S. should develop its own domestic supplies of energy. This can be accomplished through a variety of methods including development of areas such as the Bakken formation and ANWR. However, specifically in Alaska there are other environmental resources to consider in development of the oil resource. While utilizing domestic supplies of oil is certainly useful and will be a component of future U.S. energy policy it is critical to remember that fossil fuels cannot continue to meet all of our current and future needs. The U.S. needs to invest in a wide variety of renewable resources and infrastructure that will provide long term solutions to the energy issue.

Angang, Hu. 2006. Green development: The inevitable choice for China (part two). China Dialogue. http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/
Brahic, Catherine. 2007. China’s emissions may surpass the U.S. in 2007. New Scientist. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11707
Claussen, Eileen. 2009. Roadmap for a U.S.-China partnership on climate change. http://www.pewclimate.org/op-ed/us-china-roadmap
Institute for Energy Research. http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/
Kennedy, Bruce. China’s biggest construction project since the Great Wall generates controversy at home and abroad. http://www.cnn.com/
McIntyre, Douglas. 2009. China’s political battle to buy strategic interests around the globe. http://247wallst.com/2009/07/06/
Wong, Julie and Andrew Light. 2009. China begins its transition to a clean-energy economy. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/

Energy Corridors

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) designated the Southwest Area National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (including parts of California and Arizona). The designation of a national corridor accomplishes two tasks:
  • It signifies that the federal government has concluded that a transmission congestion problem exists in the area and requires timely solution.
  • It enables the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), under certain conditions, to approve siting and construction of transmission facilities within the Corridor (Meyer 2007).
According to the DOE the congestion in the Southwest is significant and will worsen without sustained and appropriate actions such as the Corridor designation. The DOE also states that the designation does not necessarily preempt state jurisdiction, although this is disputed by states and environmental groups. Secretary of Energy, Samuel W. Bodman said, “The goal is simple—to keep reliable supplies of electric energy flowing to all Americans. By designating these National Corridors, we are encouraging stakeholders in these regions to identify solutions and take prompt action” (U.S. DOE 2007). The DOE explains that the Corridor designation does not:
  • Determine how the affected area’s congestion problem should be solved.
  • Propose, direct, order or authorize any activity.
  • Endorse particular transmission projects.
  • Circumvent compliance with any existing federal environmental requirements concerning transmission or other facilities (Meyer 2007).
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may take action under the following circumstances:
·         The state does not have the authority to site the project.
·         The state does not have the authority to consider interstate benefits associated with the project.
·         The applicant does not qualify for a state permit because it does not serve end-use customers in the state.
·         The state has withheld approval of the project for more than one year.
·         The state has conditioned its approval such that the project would not significantly reduce congestion or be economically feasible (Meyer 2007).
The actions of FERC may be viewed by states and local jurisdictions as excluding their regulatory process. This appears to be a significant issue in the Corridor process receiving support from the states. The states of California and Arizona both opposed the corridor designation.
The State of California offered much of its comment through the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). CPUC expressed general concern about the lack of state involvement in the FERC process. The FERC process generally seems to override any state concerns or denials. The CPUC noted that the corridor designation is “overly broad from a legislative and practical perspective, and could seriously impair California’s coordination of its transmission and renewable energy planning” (State of CA). CPUC also argued that potential litigation over the siting of transmission lines under the Corridor/FERC process could lead to significant litigation which would cause significant delays for all interested parties. CPUC continued to argue that these delays would make the process more onerous than the existing processes and it would be better to let the stakeholders work out a compromise than letting the issue linger in litigation (State of CA). The CPUC also argued that they are currently working to address the congested areas of Southern California and that the Corridor designation should not have occurred until the current state processes are complete.
California is currently addressing congestion and transmission lines in several projects. It is estimated that there is $2.3 billion in potential transmission infrastructure investment before the CPUC in 2008 and 2009. California has also worked to streamline their transmission process in order to expedite applications. According to the CPUC, California has adopted new energy policies which require substantial increases in the generation of electricity from renewable resources. These new energy policies will require “extensive improvements” to the electric transmission infrastructure to transfer the electricity generated from renewables to consumers. California has created the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) to address the transmission needs for the new renewable energy projects. RETI is also intended to support future energy policy and facilitate transmission corridor designation and transmission and generation siting and permitting (California Energy Commission). CPUC also notes that “RETI will assess all competitive renewable energy zones in California and possibly also in neighboring states that can provide significant electricity to California consumers by the year 2020. RETI will identify those zones that can be developed in the most cost effective and environmentally benign manner and will prepare detailed transmission plans for those zones identified for development (California Energy Commission).
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is an agency similar to the California Public Utility Commission. In 2007 the ACC responded to a request for comments from the DOE regarding the Corridor designation. The ACC commented that the Corridor designation “in its entirety is unwarranted, not well founded on available information, and not needed in any location in Arizona” (ACC 2007). The ACC also expressed concerns similar to California regarding the lack of state and local control or interaction.
Arizona is also working toward creating improvements to their transmission capabilities. The ACC prepares a Biennial Transmission Assessment (BTA) every two years which is intended to inform the ACC regarding the adequacy of existing and planned transmission facilities in Arizona to meet present and future energy needs of Arizona customers, in a reliable manner (ACC 2007). The BTA process ensures that transmission issues are not placed on a back burner until they reach a critical point. By regularly assessing and identifying the existing situation, the Commission is kept aware of the necessity of transmission (Mayes 2009). The ACC works with transmission planning groups and government agencies to create regional planning efforts to address transmission. The ACC believes these efforts are “superior” to any federal process for transmission planning (ACC 2007). Arizona also employs a Line Siting Committee which is charged with efficient siting and construction of transmission lines. The Committee has 180 days to reach a decision from the date of filing of an application. The ACC says that “this streamlined approach is in part one of the reasons why the ACC has approved over twenty major transmission projects totaling in excess of 600 linear miles of transmission corridor plus associated substation facilities since 2000 (Mayes 2009).
The general function of a state is to serve the citizens of that particular state. It is to be expected that individual states would give siting priority to electric transmission projects that primarily serve their state over another state. However, this approach should be done within the legal confines of the siting process. If a state were to create a process that favored siting of transmission projects that only served that state it would seem to be open to a variety of lawsuits. Even though it is expected that states would favor projects in their own best interest it may not be the best choice. This puts everyone at a disadvantage and may create backlash among project proponents. The best approach would be for states to work together as part of a regional cooperative group that addressed the needs of a particular region rather than only identifying those needs within state boundaries. A regional approach favors the consumer and provides a better product in the end. Although the regional approach is not easy and does not always offer the best solution for individuals of a particular state it is likely the most effective approach for dealing with the increasingly congested transmission lines across the United States.
The Corridor designation is a difficult issue and comparable to the advantages and disadvantages of regional approaches. The most controversial part of the Corridor designation appears to be the implication that there is little to no local involvement and if a project has been denied by a state or delayed FERC can override that determination. It may have been more savvy to create a process whereby the states involved received a seat at the table and were allowed to participate in discussions or the permitting process. Although there certainly may be additional time required for such participation it is still important that states are able to represent the needs and concerns of their citizens and not be ignored by the federal government.

Reference List
Arizona Corporation Commission. 2007. http://www.cc.state.az.us/
California Energy Commission. Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI). http://www.energy.ca.gov/reti/
California Public Utilities Commission. 2006. Developments in transmission siting at the PUC. ftp://ftp.cpuc.ca.gov/puc/
Mayes, Kris. 2009. Arizona Corporation Commission. NARUC Electricity Committee Meeting. http://www.narucmeetings.org/
Meyer, David. 2007. Draft Southwest area national interest electric transmission corridor. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. http://sites.energetics.
State of California. California Public Utilities Commission. http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/energy/wholesale/02_planning/01_eap/nietc.htm
U.S. Department of Energy. 2007. DOE designates Southwest area and Mid-Atlantic area national interest electric transmission corridors. http://www.energy.gov/news/5538.htm

Monday, July 25, 2011

Agriculture and Development Impacts: A Comparison of the Impacts and Discussion of the Preferred Method of Preservation and Development

Agriculture and development have significant impacts on the environment. While agriculture, and specifically cattle ranching, can cause severe damage to the environment the alternative of residential development causes different impacts that may be equally severe. It is important to consider the differing impacts of agriculture versus development in different countries in light of global agricultural impacts. The preservation of agriculture operations in the U.S., reduction of development of agricultural lands and prevention of further clearing of international lands for agriculture may be a better choice relative to environmental impacts. This is not a clear cut issue: agriculture provides a vital income for many in third world countries but the clear cutting of rainforests and other prime habitat has proven detrimental. The global community will need to weigh the benefits and costs of agricultural sustainability and human welfare.
In the Western United States cattle ranching is an important component of the western heritage. The cost of doing business is dramatically increasing over time with costs of raising cattle increasing, the price of beef decreasing and the temptation to develop high value land: “Increasingly, ranchers in Gunnison County face strong financial incentives to subdivide and develop their vast acreages into higher density uses to serve new residents, second home and tourism development” (Orens and Seidl 2004, 1). In Gunnison County, Colorado, ranching is a traditional way of life for many families. Agriculture accounts for 96% of the private land use in Gunnison County (Tadjion and Seidl 2006, 1). The County is currently considering instituting agricultural ranchland preservation regulations that would create a process to develop small portions of ranchland while preserving a significant portion of the ranch in perpetuity. These regulations are specifically aimed at large acreage operations—not feedlots. There is concern by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) of Gunnison County that continued financial pressure on ranchers will lead to more 35-acre developments throughout the County causing not only sprawl, but loss of the ranching heritage of Gunnison County; negative impacts to the tourism economy (Orens and Seidl 2004); habitat fragmentation and loss of scenic vistas and open space. These impacts can occur on a broad scale when rural land across the U.S. is regularly being converted to residential development. Preservation of the agricultural lands is shown to positively impact the local economy through tourism benefits and benefits to the public of the open space of ranches. Ranchlands are also considered an area of carbon sequestration; since the lands are left essentially undeveloped the County believes that the environmental impacts will be less than with residential development.
It is critical to compare the impacts of cattle ranching in the U.S. to impacts from development. There is no easy answer that clearly delineates one use as less impactful than the other. Cattle ranching has significant impacts on the environment:
In many situations, livestock are a major source of land-based pollution, emitting nutrients and organic matter, pathogens and drug residues into rivers, lakes and coastal seas. Animals and their wastes emit gases, some of which contribute to climate change, as do land-use changes caused by demand for feedgrains and grazing land. Livestock shape entire landscapes and their demands on land for pasture and feedcrop productions modify and reduce natural habitats (Steinfeld and others 2006, 4).
Residential subdivisions are the most common form of development on agricultural lands. Residential development leads to increased roads, larger number of septic systems in rural areas, habitat fragmentation and filling of wetlands. If this consumption continues as is, it will be important to understand that utilization of existing agricultural operations in the U.S. will not only provide local benefits through open space but may prevent large scale destruction of critical habitat in other parts of the world.
Brazil is a major exporter of beef in the world and continues to increase its market share (United States Department of Agriculture 2008). Much concern exists about Brazil’s land development policies and the destruction of rainforest for agricultural land:
Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring – 70 percent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder. About 20 percent of the world’s pastures and rangelands, with 73 percent of rangelands in dry areas, have been degraded to some extent, mostly through overgrazing, compaction and erosion created by livestock action. The dry lands in particular are affected by these trends, as livestock are often the only source of livelihoods for the people living in these areas (Steinfeld and others 2006, xxi).
The environmental impacts are not the only impacts to consider with agriculture, there are human and social impacts. Many individuals rely on agriculture as their livelihood. The difficulty with agriculture in developing nations is that it is often an unsustainable practice that is utilized as a sole means of survival and does not reflect the ability of the land to produce a viable product. Sustainable agriculture is largely connected to the larger problem of sustainable development in developing nations: “Small farmers are held responsible for environmental destruction as if they had a choice of resources to depend on for their livelihood, when they really don’t. In the context of basic survival, today’s needs tend to overshadow consideration for the environmental future. It is poverty that is responsible for the destruction of natural resources, not the poor (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987, 127). The crux of the issue is: how will the global community address the needs of the citizens of developing nations? All citizens deserve the opportunity to earn a livelihood and provide for themselves and their families. The creation of a sustainable economy will lessen the dire impacts of unsustainable agricultural practices on the environment. The World Commission on Environment and Development recommends: “…reducing incentives that force overproduction and non-competitive production in the developed market economies and enhancing those that encourage food production in developing countries. At the same time, these incentive structures must be redesigned to promote farming practices that conserve and enhance the agricultural resource base” (1987, 132).
There is no easy answer but programs in the U.S. that would assist in the continued operation of agriculture will provide local benefits and may benefit the global environment by preventing more destruction of native landscapes abroad. However this perspective does not address the need for sustainable development in third world countries where agriculture offers a means of income that may not easily be replaced: “Ultimately, environmental issues are social issues: environmental cost created by some groups and nations are carried by others, or by the planet as a whole. The health of the environment and the availability of resources affect the welfare of future generations, and overuse of resources and excess environmental pollution by current generations are to their detriment” (Steinfeld and others 2006, 5). The global community should create a global agricultural policy that considers the value of the land relative to non-economic values such as watershed protection, carbon sequestration, habitat for flora and fauna and also considers the need for sustainable economic development. There are some places that agriculture is appropriate and viable and there are some places that it is not. The global community will need to reassess our growing consumption of animal products in light of the damage it incurs while balancing that against the impacts that development of agricultural lands incurs. The impacts of agriculture and development are critical at this time in history and are intertwined with social and political issues that are difficult to resolve but it is critical that the issue be addressed.
Orens, Adam and Andrew F. Seidl. 2004. Winter tourism and land development in Gunnison, Colorado. Economic Development Report, No. 10. http://dare.colostate.edu/pubs/edr04-10.pdf.
Steinfeld, Henning, Pierre Gerber, Tom Wassenaar, Vincent Castel, Mauricio Rosales, Cees de Hann. 2006. Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, http://meteo.lcd.lu/globalwarming/FAO/ livestocks_long_shadow.pdf.
Tadjion, Omar and Andy Seidl. 2006. Economic impact of the livestock industry in Gunnison County, Colorado. Economic Development Report, No. 4. http://dare.colostate.edu/pubs/edr06-04.pdf.
United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agriculture Service. 2008. Livestock and poultry: world markets and trade. http://www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/circulars/livestock_poultry.pdf.
World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future. New York: Oxford University Press.