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Renewable Natural Resources Foundation

RNRF Congressional Forum: Can epa fulfill its statutory Mandate?

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As director of the SAB staff, he instituted an “openness, transparency, and balance” policy. This policy led to larger panels that had a more diverse portfolio of people, which included minority opinions as well as industry participants. The result was more robust discussion and dissenting opinions. Although SAB and CASAC determinations are advisory, and not binding, they promote public accountability by the administrator.

Operational processes began to change at SAB in the fall of 2017. The EPA Administrator issued a directive stating that anyone on the SAB, CASAC, or a subcommittee that had an EPA grant had to resign immediately – industry participants were exempted from this requirement. Term limits for committee members were changed from six years to three years – increasing the turnover rate from 16% to 33%. Individuals with EPA grants could no longer be hired, thereby foreclosing a large pool of the most qualified candidates. The hiring process changed as well. The agency no longer conducted outreach or consultations with SAB staff.

Another worrisome development was cancellation of the particulate matter (PM) panel. The reviews for the PM standard and ozone standard were handed over to the CASAC. This change raised questions as to whether the CASAC was qualified to conduct such a review. EPA hired consultants to replace lost expertise. Interactions with these consultants were not part of the public record and no consensus was required.

Zarba was also concerned about the “Transparency in Science Rule.” The rule essentially requires that if the underlying data for a scientific study is not publicly available, the science cannot be used by EPA in its decision-making. Many scientific studies on the impacts of pollution on human health rely on underlying medical records, which contain confidential information. Thus, large swaths of vital data to protect human health and the environment will not be useable.

To combat these process changes in the future, Zarba suggested that the National Academies could send out an annual letter asking for public input on SAB and CASAC. He also suggested that staffing decisions for SAB and CASAC should be depoliticized.

To access Chris Zarba’s PowerPoint presentation, click here.

Compromising Science Issues and Processes

GoldmanGretchen Goldman is the research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Center for Science and Democracy. Goldman examined how EPA’s recent use of science in assessing health threats breaks with decades-old norms within the agency. This shift stands to diminish EPA’s ability to protect public health and the environment.

The Center for Science and Democracy is greatly concerned with the process by which science informs decision-making. It has worked on scientific integrity at the federal level for many years. For decades, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, scientific integrity had not been a partisan issue. Under the current administration, however, science has become partisan at EPA.

Challenges to scientific integrity began under the George W. Bush Administration. At that time, UCS surveyed federal scientists over several years across agencies to gauge whether scientists believed scientific integrity was being impacted. Many scientists stated that their science was being sidelined and that they were observing political interference in their work in a way not previously experienced.

UCS continued its work on preserving scientific integrity through the Obama Administration. Goldman said that they witnessed a few scientific integrity issues but overall there was progress at federal agencies during Obama’s eight years in office. This progress included establishing whistle blower protections, scientific integrity polices, and designating agency officials to oversee scientific integrity.

During the Trump Administration, there have been many reported federal scientific integrity issues. In 2018, UCS published a report on whether the actions taken by this administration were “unprecedented” violations of scientific integrity, as they had been widely publicly characterized. The report found that the “Trump Administration’s violations of scientific integrity are largely a continuation and escalation of patterns built up over the past seven decades as science and the growing federal science apparatus increasingly came into conflict with political, economic, and ideological interests.” The report went on to state that in some cases the Trump Administration displayed a “uniquely open disregard for the conclusion of its own scientists” that “fit with the ‘unprecedented’ narrative.”

Goldman described numerous EPA policy changes for which use of science was an issue. These include: The Affordable Clean Energy Rule that replaced the Clean Power Plan, updates to the ozone and particulate matter (PM) standards, the “Transparency in Science Rule,” changes to cost-benefit analysis, loosening of emissions standards, and long-term implications of process and capacity at the agency.

Cost-benefit analysis is used by the agency to characterize the benefits of environmental rules. Goldman believes that there are many problems with the way cost-benefit analysis is performed because it is limited by what is quantifiable. For example, many environmental and quality-of-life components cannot have a monetary value assigned to them, or that monetary value is not high enough to make it attractive as a policy option. UCS is trying to address this issue through greater transparency around what information is used in the cost-benefit analysis. This approach would at least provide more opportunity to understand how decisions are being made and hold the agency accountable.

Regarding emissions standards, EPA recently changed its guidance on how industrial facilities are characterized as “major sources.” Under the Clean Air Act, “major sources” are required to have more stringent emissions standards. This change of guidance on how emissions control is handled could lead to more air pollution in areas with a high concentration of facilities.

Goldman is also concerned that EPA may not be in a good position to adjust to emerging environmental issues because of the lack of science advice and staff capacity. For example, the rapid onset of public concern around the impacts of hydraulic fracturing prompted the EPA to quickly investigate the environmental and human health impacts. If EPA is not able to be nimble in its response, negative impacts to public health and the environment are more likely.

UCS also has taken issue with political appointees at EPA reviewing scientific grants. The resulting scientific research is used to make assessments of policy-relevant science. UCS also has concerns that the “Transparency in Science Rule” will fundamentally alter what EPA can consider in its rulemaking if proprietary health data are barred from use.

Goldman noted that regulation enforcement has declined and staff are leaving the agency in previously unseen numbers. This trend will ultimately put more pressure on the EPA to do more with less and put more pressure on states, which are already under-resourced to handle required enforcement.

Another recent egregious action was the disbanding of the enormously important particulate matter (PM) scientific panel. UCS recently independently reconvened the panel to ensure that the scientific body could still inform PM standards.

Goldman also noted that Congress can act to preserve scientific integrity by passing the Scientific Integrity Act. The Scientific Integrity Act would strengthen scientific integrity measures and increase the ability of scientists within the government to communicate externally to the public and to decisionmakers. Goldman emphasized that preserving scientific integrity is vital to EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission to protect public health and the environment.

To access Gretchen Goldman’s PowerPoint presentation, click here.

Madeline Voitier, RNRF Sr. Program Mgr.

WRI's David Waskow Discusses Paris Agreement Implementation

David WaskowDavid Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative, spoke at a meeting of the RNRF Washington Round Table on Public Policy on September 11. The meeting was hosted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

The goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement is to keep global heating under 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and to pursue efforts to keep it under 1.5 degrees. Under its framework, each country has put forth a set of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to work toward this goal. These are statements of intended reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, and in many cases, intended improvements in resilience to climate change. The ambition of these contributions, and countries’ adherence to them, are fundamentally important to the success of the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, the current set of NDCs that have been agreed upon are not sufficiently ambitious to keep global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, much less 1.5. This means that, if the agreement is to be successful in halting climate change, not only must countries adhere to their current commitments, they must also increase ambition.

Recognizing this deficiency, the Paris Agreement lays out a series of five-year cycles to bring countries “back to the table” to increase their ambition and strengthen their NDCs. The first such reevaluation will take place in 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland, making next year a focal point of international climate negotiations. The strengthening of NDCs, or lack thereof, in the coming months will potentially have a huge impact on future heating scenarios.

In addition to NDCs, the Agreement also asks countries to bring forth “long-term strategies,” through which they can articulate their intended trajectories out to 2050. Ideally, these trajectories will map out a plan for countries to reach net-zero carbon emissions by then. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body dedicated to bringing an objective, scientific view of climate change, concluded that this level of ambition is necessary for there to be a chance that warming will stay below 1.5 degrees. It is expected that these updated long-term strategies and NDCs will be presented officially at COP26 in Glasgow in 2020. Activities during 2019 have been developed to prepare participating nations to present more ambitious outcomes in 2020.

The multilateral Paris Agreement has been relatively resilient to recent geopolitical difficulties, with many major countries recently reaffirming their commitments in spite of some uncertainty from others. They demonstrated this at COP24, the annual meeting of the Paris Agreement delegates which took place in Katowice, Poland in December of 2018. This reaffirmation of commitments, however, was not the main focus of this meeting.

Talks were centered around the development of the “Paris Agreement Rulebook,” a set of guidelines for the Agreement’s implementation. Waskow described the rulebook as a concrete backing to Paris’ cycle of action. It provides structure to the repeating patterns of commitments, emissions reductions, re-evaluations, and increases in ambition until the world eventually reaches net-zero carbon emissions.

It involves a planning process, which includes a rubric for the development of new NDCs. It also includes mechanisms for countries to communicate their progress, and a review process to bring accountability to individual countries’ efforts. Additionally, it plans for a periodic global stocktake to assess global progress on carbon emission reductions. Finally, it began to codify a process to promote compliance – most of this was adopted at Katowice (COP24) last year. Some unfinished sections will be addressed this December in Santiago, Chile (COP25).

An important step in ramping up ambition for climate action will be the UN Climate Action Summit, scheduled for New York City, September 21-23. The UN Secretary General António Guterres and his team planned this summit to address the necessity for an increase in ambition, and concrete action alongside it, to address the climate crisis. Essentially, the world is not doing enough about climate change, and this summit’s goal is to inspire the necessary increases in action to prevent catastrophic temperature rise.

The summit will convene a wide variety of stakeholders. Since the summit is happening at the UN headquarters in New York concurrently with the UN General Assembly, leaders from around the world will be in attendance. However, it will not solely be an event for leaders and diplomats. Youth climate activists will play an important role, raising awareness of the direct impacts that climate change will have on young people throughout their lives. The weekend’s events will begin with a youth-led general climate strike on Friday, an extension of the Fridays for Future movement founded by Greta Thunberg, who is in attendance in New York. Saturday, the official beginning of the summit itself, will be dedicated to the Youth Climate Summit, where youth leaders from around the world will showcase climate solutions and engage with global leaders.

Alongside the Youth Summit on Saturday, as well as all day Sunday, there will be track events happening on topics including resilience and adaptation, nature-based solutions, and energy transitions. Leaders from local governments and the private sector will also be in attendance, discussing local action and industry transitions to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. This will give leaders from outside national governments an opportunity to display their efforts to combat climate change, setting an example for the world on a public stage.

All of these activities will lead up to Monday, the 23rd, when the summit will conclude with statements by national leaders and announcements of high-level initiatives to raise ambition on climate action. The Secretary General, in planning this meeting, has supported countries taking as concrete and ambitious an approach as possible in both their NDCs and their long-term strategies. He is especially focusing on transitioning away from coal as a power source as quickly as possible, which is a necessary early step toward creating carbon-neutral energy systems around the globe. Overall, Waskow said, it is expected that countries’ intents for next year’s communication of new NDCs will become far clearer, although there will still likely be questions as to exactly how much ambition we can expect. It is hoped that the summit will result in far more ambitious commitments at the 2020 meeting in Glasgow.

The meeting in Santiago, Chile (COP25) commences on December 2 and concludes on December 13. Waskow said that the most important items to be addressed at this meeting are issues that remained unresolved at the conclusion of the meeting in Katowice. The Paris Rulebook needs more work. Its completion will allow countries to move into the next phase, implementing and strengthening their commitments. The primary issue that remains to be resolved is creation of international carbon markets and a mechanism for permitting countries to trade against their carbon emission reduction accomplishments. Essentially, countries would be able to trade emissions reductions to another country to count toward the other country’s unmet commitments.

Another point of uncertainty moving forward concerns emission reduction goal timeframes, or the dates upon which countries will adhere to implementing their reduction goals. Currently, the first round of nationally determined reductions ends in 2025 for some countries, and 2030 for others. The uncertainty lies in the timeframe for the next round of commitments – both when the next round will end, and whether every country will adhere to the same end date. Waskow emphasized the importance of having an earlier end date (likely 2035, as opposed to 2040) because it brings about a reconsideration of climate action strategies and the areas in which each country needs to increase its ambition sooner. Fundamentally, end dates need to be soon enough that countries feel the pressure to increase ambition. Waskow concluded discussion of COP 25 by briefly mentioning as outstanding issues: transparency of the reporting progress, capacity building for future emissions reductions, and positively receiving IPCC special reports.

An overarching theme through all of these events and negotiations moving forward is increasing ambition for climate action. Waskow listed three important aspects of increasing ambition: enhancing Paris commitments, increasing the ambition of long-term strategies for each country, and increasing climate finance, namely the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Some significant commitments have been made by Germany, Norway, the UK and France to double their commitments beyond what they had contributed in the first round. However, there are many countries that have not made any commitments, making these commitments an important variable in climate negotiations in the near future. A conference addressing the replenishment of the GCF will be held in October 2019, which will bring more certainty to the future of the fund.

Waskow concluded his presentation with a short description of the 2020 conference in Glasgow (COP26). This will be another important moment for the ambition of climate action on a global scale, since leaders will finally be able to officially announce what their country will be doing to strengthen their commitments. He noted that, in many ways, this is the moment that COP24, the UN Climate Action Summit, and COP25 are leading to. —Stephen Yaeger, RNRF Program Mgr.

Planning for Coastal Inland Resilience: Keeping Toxic Substances Out of the Water and Avoiding Unwise Development

On June 13, 2019, the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation (RNRF) presented a meeting titled “Planning for Coastal Inland Resilience: Keeping Toxic Substances Out of the Water and Avoiding Unwise Development,” hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers at its Capitol Hill office in D.C. Speakers included Pete Harrison with Earthjustice and Jeff Peterson formerly with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The speakers discussed issues and challenges of planning and developing coastal communities that are at risk from increasingly frequent and devastating storms. In particular, the speakers highlighted the weaknesses exposed by Hurricane Florence, which devastated communities of the coastal Carolinas.

HarrisonPete Harrison, a staff attorney with Earthjustice and an expert on coal pollution, spoke about dangers that coal ash poses to human and environmental health. He also described the regulatory and legal challenges of mitigating those dangers.

Coal ash is the substance that is left over after coal is burned. Coal ash is typically stored in large unlined ponds called surface impoundments and in landfills. These unlined impoundments usually are located next to coal-fired power plants in flood-prone areas adjacent to waterways.

Coal ash is problematic because it contains numerous contaminants that pose environmental and health risks to wildlife and humans. When coal is burned the contents are further concentrated. These contents include heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead and selenium. Selenium in particular is especially toxic to aquatic life.

In the United States, 110 million tons of coal ash are generated every year and much of it is stored in giant impoundment ponds. The current tally of coal ash sites is roughly 1,400 in 47 states. Harrison noted that this estimate is likely far too low since many older coal ash sites have been forgotten and are uncounted. The majority of these sites are located in the Southeast and the Ohio River Valley and are typically located in floodplains, or flood-prone areas.

Regarding regulation of coal ash impoundments in floodplains, Harrison noted that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) contains a provision that could apply to coal ash since it applies to all solid waste dumps (40 C.F.R. 257.3-1). Harrison explained that this RCRA provision is rarely enforced because the language is arguably vague and difficult to implement.

In 2015, the EPA finalized a rule that specifically applied to coal ash impoundments and coal ash landfills. Harrison pointed out that this 2015 regulation excludes any coal ash impoundments or landfills at inactive coal-fired power plants. Meaning, power plants not generating electricity after 2015 are not subject to the regulation. Additionally, Harrison explained that the 2015 rule can only be enforced through lawsuits, either by a citizen or a state, or by state adoption of the rule. A state may adopt the rule and codify it under state law to be enforced by the state. When asked about state regulation of coal ash, Harrison noted that the Illinois legislature had recently passed such legislation. For more information about the Illinois action click here.

Harrison illustrated the dangers of siting coal ash impoundments in floodplains by describing the events that took place at the Duke Energy Sutton Plant on the Cape Fear River, in North Carolina. In 2018, Hurricane Florence brought the most severe flooding in the river’s history. As a result, the flood waters broke through the dams surrounding the Sutton Plant impoundments and released several thousand tons of coal ash into the surrounding waterways, wetlands and a popular nearby fishing lake, Lake Sutton. Harrison noted that effective cleanup of coal ash contamination was difficult and that Duke Energy did not recover any of what was spilled during Hurricane Florence.

Duke University recently released a study on the sediment in Lake Sutton that documented the presence of coal ash solids. For more information on this Duke University study click here. Harrison believes that there has not been an adequate evaluation of the dangers of contaminants in Lake Sutton and that more investigation is warranted.

Harrison also discussed the potential beneficial uses for coal ash. Coal ash can be used as structural fill material in concrete for road construction projects including in roadbeds and interstate off ramps. Harrison pointed to several potential drawbacks to using coal ash this way. He noted that there are no requirements that the structural fill be monitored over time and that coal ash can be radioactive.

Overall, Harrison focused on the fact that the location of unlined coal ash impoundments in floodplains poses significant risks to human and environmental health. He observed that these risks will likely be exacerbated by more frequent and more severe storms that are predicted to occur as a result of changing climate patterns.

To access Pete Harrison’s PowerPoint presentation click here.

PetersonJeff Peterson, formerly with EPA’s Office of Water and CEQ, discussed the dangers posed by ignoring the risks associated with rising sea levels and intensifying natural disasters to those living along the coasts. He began his talk with a broad overview of the challenges facing American coasts due to intensifying storms, like Hurricane Florence, and discussed the obstacles of planning and developing coastal communities in the times of sea-level rise.

One critical issue with more intense storms is the resulting storm surge. As sea levels rise, storm surges will increase and push water farther inland, flooding more expansive areas. Peterson explained that not only do more extensive areas flood due to storm surges, but recent research on these intensifying storms has found that they move slower, release more precipitation and intensify more rapidly than previous storms.

Peterson noted that the latest climate models indicate that approximately one foot of sea-level rise by the year 2100 is essentially a certainty. Estimates of three feet in sea-level rise globally are also a reasonable possibility according to Peterson. The U.S. coasts, particularly the East Coast, are more vulnerable to sea level rise than the rest of the world. It has been estimated that parts of the American coasts are likely to see sea-level rise of up to 30% greater than the global average. This vulnerability is due to a combination of geography, ocean currents and land subsidence in the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico regions.

Using the three feet of sea level rise estimate, scientific studies have identified 12,000 sq. miles of current American coastline likely to be inundated by 2100. Peterson acknowledged that this estimate covers three and a half million people and hundreds of communities that will be impacted by sea-level rise.  Additionally, the EPA anticipates losses of roughly $3 trillion due to coastal storms and sea-level rise based upon current population growth and assets.

Peterson contended that current federal policies give coastal inhabitants a misimpression regarding the risks associated with living in coastal areas. Namely, he pointed to the National Flood Insurance Program and federal appropriations for disaster relief. He argues that, in effect, the flood insurance program encourages people to live in flood prone areas because the federal government covers those financial losses. Peterson emphasized that this program is not financially sustainable and is losing over $1 billion a year. He also argued that federal disaster relief appropriations incentivize people to rebuild their damaged properties in these risky areas.

To help curb the impacts of sea-level rise, Peterson posed the following potential approaches. He proposed a long-term phase out of the flood insurance program that could take place over a 30-year period. He also suggested that Congress reevaluate its disaster relief policies and shift its emphasis to funding preemptive disaster planning rather than reactionary rebuilding post-disaster. The prospect of requiring upfront financial assurances for the decommissioning costs of properties built in coastal areas was also posited. Lastly, Peterson proposed implementation of a permit program, similar to the wetlands permitting program under the Clean Water Act, that could be instituted to determine if people should be building in these high-risk areas.

The majority of sea-level rise mitigation planning is happening at the state and local levels. Peterson advocates for significant federal government involvement in the planning process. He argues the federal government has the resources, most current science, and ability to avoid inconsistent plans among communities. Overall, Peterson emphasized that sea-level rise is not something in the distant future, it is happening now.
Madeline Voitier, RNRF Sr. Program Mgr.

RNRF Meeting: Deep Seabed Mineral Mining and the U.S.

On May 29, 2019, the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation (RNRF) presented a meeting titled "Deep Seabed Mineral Mining and the U.S.: Diplomatic, Legal, and Environmental Aspects," hosted by the American Geophysical Union in its newly renovated headquarters in Washington, D.C. Speakers were Greg O'Brien, U.S. Department of State; Kerry Kehoe, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and David Diamond, U.S. Geological Survey. They described how the U.S. is participating in deliberations of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the U.N organization that is writing the rules for exploring and exploiting mineral resources beneath the "high seas."

OBrienGreg O'Brien, a foreign affairs officer in the State Department’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, has led the U.S.’s observer delegation to the ISA since 2015, and spoke about the role of the U.S. in the rulemaking process.

Part XI of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the "Area" that the treaty has the authority to regulate. This includes all seabed, ocean floor, and subsoil outside of national jurisdictions. UNCLOS gives the ISA the authority to establish the rules and regulations governing exploration and exploitation of the resources found in the Area. Membership in the ISA mirrors signatories of UNCLOS, including 168 countries. Since the U.S. is not a party to the convention, it sends a delegation to attend meetings as an observer state.

Despite this non-member status, the U.S. has an interest in development of ISA regulations because of significant mineral resources in the Area. O'Brien stated that our main focus in our engagement is to ensure that regulations that have been developed for exploration and the regulations under development for exploitation are consistent with applicable law, particularly as reflected in the convention. If the U.S. were to ratify UNCLOS, it would be the only country with a permanent seat on the council of ISA, meaning that it would have the authority to veto any regulations or proposals counter to its interests

Even as an observer state, the U.S. does play a role in the rulemaking process. O'Brien noted that they work closely with other delegations, usually in the margins between sessions. The secretariat, which is the primary rulemaking body of the ISA, has also reached out to the U.S. delegation informally for collaboration in developing some parts of the regulations. Recently, ISA has reached out to the Department of the Interior about the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the development of its standards and guidelines. Regulation of deep seabed resource exploitation is relatively unprecedented, so there is a demand for expertise from existing regulatory frameworks. In that regard, O’Brien said that the U.S. has developed the gold standard. In the Q&A session after his talk, O'Brien noted that no public input on the process of drafting exploration or exploitation rules has been solicited by the U.S. delegation or government. Also, prospective mining contractors are providing technical expertise to the ISA because of its limited technical resources.

ISA rulemaking is very important because it is thought that the Area contains significant critical minerals, including rare-earth minerals. While they are unsure of the exact amount of resources on the deep seabed, many scientists (including some from the U.S. Geological Survey) believe that the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), located west of Mexico and southeast of Hawaii, holds three times the amount of certain rare earth minerals than all terrestrial deposits combined.

As a party to UNCLOS, the U.S. could sponsor companies to have mining rights in the CCZ and other areas of the international deep seabed. However, the U.S. cannot currently do this, and companies will not take the risk of mining without the legal certainty that having a sponsor affords them.

O'Brien described some issues that the ISA is currently facing in its rulemaking process. First, environmental assessment and risk management are of great concern, but there is currently much that is not known about biodiversity and the environmental baseline in the Area. This dearth of information makes it far more difficult to craft effective environmental regulation. The U.S. delegation is also advocating for heightened cognizance of other uses of the deep seabed, namely underwater telecommunications cables. Since there are such cables running through the CCZ, it is important that this be considered when crafting regulations.

Royalty payments to the ISA for mining activities are also under discussion. The U.S. is helping with this process – MIT's policy research lab has been working with the ISA secretariat for two years about options for what the formula for royalties would be and when such a policy would take effect. Overall, O'Brien says, the U.S. wants ISA to adopt policies that are friendly to enterprise and place no greater regulatory burden on mining companies than current terrestrial mining regulations.

KehoeKerry Kehoe, a federal consistency specialist in the Office for Coastal Management at NOAA, spoke about managing the Deep Sea Hard Mineral Resources Act (DSHMRA). The act established the domestic authority for regulation of deep-sea mineral mining.

DSHMRA was enacted in 1980 before the adoption of UNCLOS and the establishment of the ISA. It established the requirements for U.S. citizens engaged in exploration or mining in international waters. Mining in domestic waters is administered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. DSHMRA was drafted as an interim measure pending U.S. ratification of UNCLOS. However, since UNCLOS has not been ratified, DSHMRA remains in place.

For U.S. citizens, a license is required for exploration and a permit is required for mining activities in international waters. There are numerous environmental and other compliance regulations that may apply to these activities, like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act. Presently, there are only two ongoing exploration licenses from the U.S., and both of them belong to Lockheed Martin. While these contracts are extended every five years, no permits have been issued for mining.

Kehoe continued by discussing the interests that the U.S. has in continuing to be engaged with the ISA even without membership. He emphasized that the first companies to successfully mine the deep seabed will likely dominate the market. Just because the U.S. cannot sponsor contractors does not mean that U.S. companies cannot be involved in deep seabed mining. U.S. companies bring an abundance of expertise to the table, and so there are opportunities for them to be involved.

DiamondDavid Diamond, deputy associate director for energy and minerals at USGS, spoke about the survey's role in conducting seabed ecosystem research and informing international policymakers of scientific advances that could affect rulemaking deliberations.

Diamond provided background on the policy impetus for USGS's actions regarding deep sea minerals. In 2017, an executive order was signed establishing a federal strategy to ensure reliable supplies of minerals considered critical for various reasons. USGS produced a list of 35 minerals it deemed critical, and Diamond noted that close to half of them could be found from marine sources.

On the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), still within U.S. territory, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has jurisdiction over mineral mining activity. It has a two-stage leasing process – prospecting and leasing – and lacks the authority to lease off  the shores of U.S. Territories and Possessions. This is important because much of the most valuable areas for marine mineral mining under U.S. jurisdiction, such as Guam and Northern Mariana, are not U.S. states.

USGS has worked with the ISA since 2000, and has worked with it through the Department of State since 2007. It provides science to inform decision-making and participates in workshops defining mineral classifications and discussing environmental considerations.

For the U.S. government, USGS conducts resource evaluation and identification activities to survey areas for marine mineral deposits and collecting and analyzing samples. It also play a role in informing environmental regulations by conducting important basic research.

Diamond noted that currently the majority of interest in deep seabed mining seems to be centered around polymetallic nodules. These small nodules lay on the surface of the sea floor and are of interest because they contain numerous types of minerals. Also, falling under ISA regulation for licensing are ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic sulfides.

Diamond finished his presentation by discussing the environmental considerations of deep seabed mining. He noted that the possibility of deep seabed mining has created both the need and the means for more extensive baseline characterization of the oceans, and deeper insight into ocean processes. There are multiple, different considerations for nodules, sulfides, and crusts, including the removal of substrates and fauna, the creation of plumes, and the release of oxides and substrate particles. USGS is collaborating with academia, industry, and government to better understand these impacts and how to address them. —Stephen Yaeger, RNRF Program Mgr.

To access Kerry Kehoe's PowerPoint presentation click here.

To access David Diamond's PowerPoint presentation click here.

American Geophysical Union

AGU Releases Report to Address Flooding in Communities

AGU’s global community of Earth and space scientists has contributed research and expertise to our understanding of—and solutions for—climate change, natural hazards, and their related impacts on people. Climate change, the increasing severity of extreme weather, and resulting floods are health and economic crises that we cannot ignore.

To highlight the role that science plays to help address and mitigate issues such as flooding in communities across the United States, AGU released a report titled Surging Waters: Science Empowering Communities in the Face of Flooding. This report, reviewed by leading experts, demonstrates how science is integral to solutions that will mitigate destructive impacts on people and property in the future.

Surging Waters has been released at a crucial time for our society. Floods are the costliest, most frequent type of disaster in the United States, accounting for hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in economic losses every year. Hurricanes cost the U.S. economy an estimated $54 billion annually in damages and storm-related flooding. Flash flooding along rivers and streams is the second leading cause of death in the nation from extreme weather. Coastal flooding tied to rising sea levels is increasing and, even with clear skies on sunny days, puts communities and key military installations in jeopardy.

More information about AGU's Surging Waters report can be found here.

AGU Awarded for Thriving Earth Exchange Program

AGUAGU was recognized this June by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) with the 2019 Power of A Summit Award for its Thriving Earth Exchange program. The award recognizes organizations whose work positively impacts communities across the U.S. This year, ASAE recognized only six organizations to receive the prestigious award, making it ASAE’s highest honor.

AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange initiative seeks to promote collaboration between AGU scientists and communities to support projects that promote sustainability and resilience. Since its launch, the program has impacted the lives of millions of individuals by supporting community initiatives that address global problems such as climate change and pollution. “I am hopeful this award will encourage more scientists to offer their skills to communities and more communities to reach out to scientists,” said AGU CEO and Executive Director Chris McEntee. “This award is proof positive that scientific knowledge, combined with community knowledge, is a powerful way of ameliorating real-world problems in an inclusive and effective manner.”

Thriving Earth Exchange Executive Director Raj Pandya echoed this sentiment, stating that, “This recognition is a testament to the power of cooperation and the value of connecting science and community knowledge, and – most of all – it’s a well-deserved shout out to our scientific volunteers and the community leaders with whom they work.”

Pandya continued on to acknowledge those who played critical roles in supporting the program, stating, “Special thanks to the Thriving Earth Exchange team, our advisory board, AGU leadership, and the AGU Board and Council. We share this award with many collaborators, including Higher Ground, the International City/County Managers Association, National League of Cities, ICLEI USA, iSeeChange, EPA’s Community and Underserved Partnership Program, and Public Lab.”

More about AGU’s Thriving Exchange Program can be obtained here.

AGU to Hold Ocean Sciences Meeting in 2020

Next winter, AGU will hold the 2020 Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California from February 16-21. The meeting, sponsored by the American Geophysical Union, Association of the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and The Oceanography Society, is expected to gather over 4,000 attendees, including scientists, engineers, educators and policy experts. AGU noted that the meeting will serve as an important forum for discussion on oceanic research and policy ahead of global efforts that will begin in years following the meeting. AGU stated, “as we approach the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, beginning in 2021, it is increasingly important to gather as a scientific community to raise awareness of the truly global dimension of the ocean, address environmental challenges, and set forth on a path towards a resilient planet.”

More information about the meeting can be found here.

American Meteorological Society

Response to NOAA Statement

The American Meteorological Society fully supports our colleagues at NOAA, who consistently put the safety of the American public first and foremost. They work tirelessly employing state of the art science to keep Americans safe. With respect to the press release that was issued by NOAA on Friday, 6 September, regarding the forecast of Hurricane Dorian, AMS believes the criticism of the Birmingham forecast office is unwarranted; rather they should have been commended for their quick action based on science in clearly communicating the lack of threat to the citizens of Alabama.


This July, AMS released a study entitled, “Empowering Efforts to Make Local Communities Stronger and More Secure.” The study was produced following a meeting convened by AMS in November 2018, which gathered members from federal agencies, local governments and the NGO community to discuss pathways to make communities more resilient in facing risks from weather, water, and climate.

From the discussion and other outside analysis, AMS identified four central themes to consider when seeking to improve the resiliency of communities.

1.    Communities have both common needs and unique characteristics. This combination creates a need for place-based approaches and powerful opportunities for leverage from centralized efforts.

2.    Communities often face highly complex challenges that do not have clear solutions but that are broadly similar to challenges faced by other communities. Therefore, progress will depend on: having many local pilot projects; objective monitoring of those pilot projects for the early detection of success and failure; and rapid dissemination of lessons learned so that other communities can emulate successes and avoid failures.
3.    There is a wide range of potential federal roles for empowering and promoting community resilience. These are not mutually exclusive and comprehensive strategies almost certainly involve a diverse combination of approaches.

4.    Managing weather, water, and climate risks and opportunities depends on effective working relationships among public, private, academic, and NGO sectors and across levels of organization (local, state, and federal).

The study concluded by noting that progress in Earth system observations, science, and services (OSS) will foster strength among communities, yet use of OSS will be contingent on the development of credible sources.

The study can be obtained here.

American Society of Civil Engineers

ASCE Announces Launch of Scenario Planning Tool – Future World Vision

This May, ASCE released a report announcing the launch of the ambitious scenario planning project, ‘Future World Vision.’ The program aims to identify potential trends and scenarios that will influence future infrastructure planning by civil engineers.

In formulating the program, ASCE began by identifying six major trends that will influence the work of civil engineers over the next fifty years. The trends identified were:

    •   Alternative Energy
    •   Autonomous Vehicles
    •   Climate Change
    •   Smart Cities
    •   High-Tech Construction/Advanced Materials
    •   Policy and Funding

ASCE then identified four models in which the trends may be further examined over ten, twenty-five, and 50-year increments. The four models used were:
    •   Resilient Cities
    •   Progressive Megacities
    •   Dispersed Settlements
    •   Unequal Enclaves
    •   Policy and Funding

By deeply considering the six trends in the context of the four models, ASCE hopes to better prepare its members to work in a changing environment. ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith echoed this sentiment stating, “By looking over the horizon and preparing today for a vastly different world and profession tomorrow, the Future World Vision project will enable ASCE and its members to evaluate future trends and scenarios, and to shape a world that is safe, resilient and sustainable. Ultimately, this project is about achieving the society’s vision of civil engineers serving as global leaders building a better quality of life and preparing for the challenges of tomorrow.”

The full Future World Vision report can be accessed here.


In a statement released this July, ASCE, in conjunction with the Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI), the National Municipal Stormwater Alliance (NMSA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF), announced that it would consider stormwater infrastructure when preparing the 2021 ASCE Infrastructure Report Card.

In the past, the report card has considered water infrastructure such as dams and levees, yet, the assessment to be released in March 2021, will be the first to include an evaluation of stormwater infrastructure.

EWRI Governing Board member Eric Loucks noted that the inclusion of stormwater infrastructure in the report card would be necessary to help promote community resiliency and effective policy. Loucks stated, “with more frequent, intense storms on top of flooding events, we're seeing more stormwater runoff, risking flooding of our communities, erosion of our streams and pollution of our water. We need effective stormwater management that can treat stormwater as a beneficial resource, putting the water to work where it's needed most. Including stormwater infrastructure as a Report Card category will help policymakers get a better handle on the magnitude of the problem across the United States and how we can move forward in taking advantage of this valuable resource.”

WEF Executive Director Eileen O'Neill echoed this sentiment noting that, “the inclusion of stormwater infrastructure in the ASCE's report card will provide a much-deserved boost in visibility for infrastructure that is vital to communities across the country. We hope that adding stormwater to the report card will result in more resources and focus being directed to this essential part of our infrastructure, and subsequent improvements to water quality.”

The full press release can be read here.

American Society of Landscape Architects Fund

Society of Landscape Architects Reaffirms its Commitment to Supporting Climate Change Initiatives

Throughout 2019, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has continued to support initiatives that address climate change and equip communities to face the impacts of a changing environment. In April, ASLA signed the “We Are Still In” declaration, a bipartisan affirmation of support for the Paris Agreement. Other signatories included government officials, private sector businesses, and cultural institutions, of which collectively represent 6.2 trillion dollars in revenue. In June, ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO, Nancy Somerville, announced ASLA’s support for S. 1743, the International Climate Accountability Act, which would prohibit President Trump from withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. Sommerville noted that U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement was essential in limiting damage to the environment and public infrastructure.

ASLA has also recently announced the opening of the Smart Policies for a Changing Climate Exhibition at its Washington D.C. office. The display includes policy solutions and recommendations to make communities more sustainable. These recommendations were created during the ASLA's Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience which was held last year. The exhibit also features 20 landscape designs from across the U.S. that promote sustainability and resilience.

The exhibition opening follows recent advocacy by ASLA to support legislation that aims to safeguard coastal communities threatened by rising sea levels. In June, ASLA announced its support of S. 3087, the Living Shorelines Act, introduced by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT). The bill would establish a grant system for states to be used in improving coastal infrastructure that is threatened by climate change. Earlier this June, Sommerville applauded efforts made by Harris and Murphy, noting that monetary support will be vital in making coastal communities more resilient to a changing environment.

More information about the Smart Policies for a Changing Climate Exhibition can be found here.


This June, ALSA revealed its newly adopted policy for “Climate Change and Resilience.” The statement, approved by the ASLA Board of Trustees in May, seeks to help foster productive and meaningful dialogue regarding climate change.

In the news release, ASLA underscored that such a policy statement is necessary as landscape architects play a central role in safe guarding the ecosystems and infrastructure climate change is currently threatening.

The new policy reads:

The American Society of Landscape Architects believes climate change intensifies the negative impacts of development and puts ecosystems and communities at serious risk. Mitigation and adaptation require new paradigms that work with human and natural systems. Skillful, knowledge-based planning, design, and management contributes to addressing climate goals, including reduction of greenhouse gases, and significantly enhance resiliency in the face of extreme weather, sea-level rise, and shifting climatic patterns. Landscape architects have the responsibility to address these challenges in practice, advocacy, education, and research. As the understanding of the effects and extent of these challenges grow, landscape architects should continue to respond with innovation and leadership. ASLA supports federal, state, and local policies that promote resilient and climate-smart design and planning; educate and empower communities; promote equity; promote active and multimodal transportation; protect natural systems; and support resilient agricultural practices.

The news statement can be read here.

American Water Resources Association

AWRA President Reaffirms Support for Integrated Water Resource Management Following Spring Conference

In a statement made this May, AWRA President Lisa Beutler, reaffirmed AWRA’s support for Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) following criticism from the academic community.

In defending the use of IWRM, Beutler stated, “A lack of communication, mistaken notions, and scattered examples of poor execution have led many to believe that IWRM has expired. They proffer it was just a fad or the management du jour of a past decade.” Beutler continued, “AWRA has long promoted sustainable water management and the adoption of IWRM principles to achieve it.”

Beutler statements follow AWRA’s 2019 Spring Specialty Conference with the theme “Setting Conditions for the Success of Integrated Water Resources Management.” The conference, held during March 2019 in Omaha, Nebraska, sought to, “support dialogue, sharing, and learning about the tactics, strategies and policies that are helping IWRM succeed across North America and the world.” The conference featured abstract presentations highlighting case studies in which IWRM has been successfully used to address water resource issues in Nebraska.

On the first day on the conference, keynote speaker, Tony Willardson, of the Western States Water Council, underscored the importance of IWRM in providing a collaborative framework for solving complex water issues. Willardson emphasized that moving forward, tools that promote interdisciplinary engagement will be crucial in addressing issues of water scarcity.

Beutler echoed this sentiment in concluding her May statement, noting that IWRM principles will be useful in framing collaborative work among stakeholders. Beutler stated, “While technological advances continue to facilitate better understanding interfaces with complex physical systems, the people side of the equation, and the institutions they govern, require more attention.”

Beutler’s full statement can be read here.

Geological Society of America

GSA to Host Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

This fall, GSA is set to hold its annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona from September 22-25. The event will host geoscience researchers and professionals in an effort to foster a collaborative environment in which participants will gain valuable knowledge from lectures, field trips, and short courses centering on environmental, economic, energy, and engineering geology.

Special lecturers include GSA’s president-elect, Donald Siegel, who will focus on the responsibility of geoscientists to help society adapt to a changing climate. Siegel will also speak to the intellectual challenges associated with dealing with a global issue such as climate change, in addition to highlighting steps to begin an energy transition that is more dependent on renewable resources.

Speaker Scott Tinker, current director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, will also discuss the challenges with beginning an energy transition. Tinker’s presentation entitled, “Switch is Back! Energy Poverty, the Energy Transition, and Modern Energy Education” will assess how different energy resources can be used to minimize poverty and environmental degradation.

On the third day of the conference, climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe will speak to specific environmental and social consequences of climate change and discuss possible actions stakeholders might take to ensure a sustainable future.

On the last day of the conference, Meghan Kish, current superintendent of the Southern Arizona Office of the National Park Service (NPS), will present remarks on how the NPS can begin to foster more interest in STEM fields, particularly in a time when engagement in earth sciences is crucial to maintaining environmental quality and management.

More information about the conference can be learned here.

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

SETAC to Hold 14th Europe Special Science Symposium in Brussels, Belgium

In November, SETAC will hold its 14th Europe Special Science Symposium in Brussels, Belgium. Participants will convene on November 19-20 to discuss issues relating to soil biodiversity.

The meeting will also focus on the ecological impacts of various plant protection chemicals used in soils, in addition to discussion on the experimental and modeling techniques used to assess environmental risk.

The symposium will include specialists in ecotoxicology who will provide insight on how soil biodiversity contributes to larger ecosystem function and health. The meeting will provide a forum for discussion and interdisciplinary collaboration among policy makers, scientists, and businesses, with the intention of promoting environmental quality and sustainability.

Key questions that will be addressed during the symposium include:

    •   What is known about soil biodiversity?
    •   Why is structural and functional soil biodiversity important?
    •   Which soil functions depend or are influenced by soil organisms?
    •   Which methods are available for soil biodiversity?
    •   How could soil organisms be determined robust, reliably and efficiently?
    •   Which natural factors affect the occurrence of soil organisms?
    •   How could the diversity of soil organisms be modeled?
    •   Which chemical and non-chemical stressors affect soil organism communities?
    •   Are there case studies available showing the impact of stressors on soil organisms?
    •   Which regulations exist for the protection of soil organisms?
    •   Which ideas exist to protect soil organism structural and functional diversity?

More information about the symposium can be learned here.

SETAC Announces Initiative to Include Sustainable Development Goals in Journal

SETAC has announced an initiative to incorporate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their peer-reviewed journal, Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM).

The SDGs, first developed in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, establish 17 goals that seek to address social, economic, and environmental issues by 2030. Of the 17 goals, SETAC leaders identified those that were most relevant to IEAM, during the 29th Annual SETAC Meeting in Helsinki, Finland, including:

•    Goal 2: Promote sustainable agriculture.
•    Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
•    Goal 11: Incorporate nature into the human built environment to support urban ecosystem services.
•    Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
•    Goal 13: Implement strategies and actions to respond to climate change and its impacts.
•    Goal 14: Conserve and use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
•    Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt or reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.

IEAM Editor-in-Chief Richard J. Wenning, and SETAC director of publications, Jen Lynch, noted that consideration of the SDGs in IEAM will help disseminate important research on environmental issues. Wenning and Lynch stated, “the SDGs are guide-posts for society as it attempts to respond to an array of pressing environmental challenges. Five years into the initiative, the editors felt it was a good time to explore where the research is and what is still needed to support these goals.”

Wenning and Lynch continued on stating, “the goal is to call attention to the urgent need for interdisciplinary research geared toward developing new data, scientific tools and fresh perspectives that will promote governmental policies, business strategies, and comprehensive and integrated science-to-policy assessments aimed at sustainability.”

Read more about the initiative here.

International News

UN Human Rights Council

Report Finds Poor Will Be Disproportionately Affected by Climate Change 

On June 25, 2019, Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, released a report detailing that global inequality will be intensified as a result of climate change.

Throughout the report, Alston framed climate change as a human rights issue, noting that, “climate change will exacerbate existing poverty and inequality,” and that, “it will have the most severe impact in poor countries and regions, and the places poor people live and work.”

Alston also noted that forced migration, food insecurity and disease will be just some of the consequences resulting from inaction in addressing climate change. “Climate change threatens to undo the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction…The World Bank estimates that without immediate action, climate change could push 120 million more people into poverty by 2030—likely an underestimate, and rising in subsequent years.”

Alston observed however, that, “the richest, who have the greatest capacity to adapt and are responsible for and have benefitted from the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, will be the best placed to cope with climate change, while the poorest, who have contributed the least to emissions and have the least capacity to react, will be the most harmed.”

He also criticized inaction by nation states and specifically condemned decisions by government officials from Brazil, China, and the U.S. who have promoted the use of fossil fuels and the destruction of carbon sinks. Alston also noted that while global climate agreements have the capacity to prompt action, they have fallen short of leading to meaningful progress.

In assessing the potential of the 2015 Paris Agreement, Alston said that the accord, “represents the most promising step in addressing climate change to date. Yet the commitments by states in pursuit of the agreement are woefully insufficient, and would lead to a devastating 3 °C of warming by 2100.” He continued by noting that where governments have fallen short, there remains a space for collaboration among human rights and environmental groups, which has yet to be seized.

Alston underscored that meaningful action will require a coordinated effort from stakeholders and actors. The report noted that, “addressing climate change will require a fundamental shift in the global economy and how states have historically sought prosperity, decoupling improvements in economic well-being and poverty reduction from resource depletion, fossil fuel emissions, and waste production.”

He listed potential avenues for action by government officials, including further use of pricing mechanisms and regulation that more accurately conveys the environmental costs of climate change.

In concluding, Alston emphasized the need for a “human rights-focused climate response” that incorporates the voices of those in poverty, who will be most impacted. He noted that beyond being an environmental and economic disruptor, climate change will be, “an unconscionable assault on the poor.”

Alston’s full report can be accessed here.

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