Renewable Energy: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus

Renewable Energy: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus

In 2017, the Environment California Research and Policy Center along with Frontier Group published the report, Renewable Energy 100 – The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus. The Report emphasizes the need for college campuses to be leaders in combatting the impact of global climate change. Colleges across the country are setting goals to become 100% reliant on clean, renewable sources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States could use solar and wind power to produce 100 times more electricity than the United States consumes in a year. Colleges are also opportunities for reducing carbon emissions since higher education serves six percent of the United States. Further, college campuses have good locations to implement clean energy such as parking lots, rooftops and land for wind turbines.

College Campuses Are Ideal Places for 100 Percent Renewable Energy

According to the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy, the U.S. could reduce its energy use by 40 to 60 percent below current levels, since the U.S. wastes up to 60 percent of the energy it consumes. College campuses are ideal for renewable energy because they are major energy users, spending $14 billion on energy each year. The self-contained nature of campuses makes it possible to implement microgrids, self-contained electric grids that can function independently of the central power grid. Microgrids allow campuses to function even when there are central grid outages. Our own institution, Santa Clara University, has been building a microgrid system that uses weather reports to maximize renewable energy and sensors in buildings to monitor energy use.

Moreover, colleges are in a position to promote and train students to be more mindful of energy saving solutions. College campuses can save money by switching to renewable energy which is another added bonus. Additionally, campuses tend to have more resources to be able to implement long term savings. Students can play a vital role in helping with renewable energy innovation, and their training will be needed to move our society to renewable energies.

College Campuses Are Leading the Transition to Renewable Energy

Butte community college became the first college in the nation to become “grid positive.” Butte built solar panels on rooftops, in open fields, and on parking lot canopies and shade structure. Butte’s green power eliminates 1000 passenger vehicles worth of carbon dioxide and will save the school $100 million over the next 30 years. Furthermore, the school offers classes that train students to work with solar panels.

The University of Delaware has a wind turbine that is 256 feet tall with 144 foot long blades. Not only does the wind turbine offer energy but it also offers students the opportunity to study the impacts of wind turbines on birds and bats and the corrosive impact of salty coastal air on the turbines.

Ball State in Indiana has one of the nation’s largest geothermal energy systems. The system runs water through pipes underground in order to heat and cool 5 million square feet in 47 buildings. The project saves about $2 million in operating costs per year and has created 2,300 jobs in the community.

Takeaway

Because of their size, resources, and unique structure, colleges have a unique opportunity to support the development of renewable energy.  With college campuses driving innovation throughout the nation, these small communities will be vital in pushing the nation forward on the environmental front. More campuses should start implementing and training students in renewable energies.

My personal interest in renewable energy began when I enrolled in a Bio Resource Agriculture Engineering course in renewable energy at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. I found the technology to create such complex system fascinating. And while I had heard previously that Santa Clara University has been taking steps to become carbon neutral, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Santa Clara University’s leadership in this report. And to hear that Butte community college was the first college to become “grid positive” was particularly surprising.  As a Santa Clara University student, I am proud that my institution, and institutions like it, are proactively taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

Haley Costamagna

California Agricultural Vision: Progress Report

California Agricultural Vision: Progress Report

As a follow-up to the 2010 report California Agriculture Vision: Strategies for Sustainability, American Farmland Trust published a 2012 progress report, California Agriculture Vision: Progress Report. The original Report had articulated twelve strategies for improving sustainability. In this blog post, I will reflect on the three strategies previously touched on in my first blog post: Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches, Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs, and Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change.

Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches

The Progress Report identified a number of model efforts where farms have been implementing environmental strategies to expand environmental stewardship. For example, a number of institutions, including producers, buyers, and public interest groups developed the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC), a measure of sustainable performance throughout the supply chain of specialty crops (fruits, vegetables and nuts). The purpose of the index is to allow farmers to optimize production with strong environmental protections by offering indicators of farm practices related to use of water, nitrogen and other inputs and outputs.  The California Roundtable on Ag and the Environment (CRAE) initiative is another place where progress is evident. CRAE connects agriculture and environmental leaders so that they can touch base and work together on issues.  One issue that CRAE has focused on is how to increase water availability throughout the state, especially by enhancing the management of the Sierra headwaters.  These farming leaders will help provide other farmers and ranchers with models for how to become more sustainable.

Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs

In order to decrease the use of fossil fuels, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), EPA, and USDA have sought to consolidate permitting requirements for methane digesters on dairy farms. (Methane digesters convert livestock manure into renewable energy to power farms and export to the electric grid.) Furthermore, CDFA and the California Energy Commission have been engaged in identifying the challenges and potential opportunities of biofuels in California, including the possibility of commercializing biofuels and biofuel feedstocks.  Another step taken by the State to support renewable energy was SB 618, which will boost solar photovoltaic energy facilities on farmland.

Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change

A variety of organizations have engaged in discussions and conferences to implement plans to combat climate change. In 2011, CDFA and the State Board on Food and Agriculture sponsored expert discussions about the extreme climate risks and California’s future agriculture and food systems. The meeting allowed the public to listen to climate change experts and speak to the Board about their concerns. Additionally, Governor Brown held a conference on extreme climate risks and California’s future including agriculture. The conference focused on the best ways to protect the state and adapt to extreme weather events. Even Bank of America, in collaboration with UC Berkeley and UCLA, had many meetings and even prepared their own report outlining the impacts climate change has on California’s agriculture industry. Farmers and ranchers face many obstacles due to climate change, but farmers can control their contribution to greenhouse gases. Further, they address issues with reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, such as lack of research, insufficient financing, regulatory conflicts, and lack of awareness. Consequently, all of these discussions help promote research and awareness which encourages more sustainable practices.

Key Takeaway

Personally, before reading these reports I was not aware of some of the programs in place to promote the environment within the agriculture industry, such as CRAE and the Stewardship Index for specialty crops. I think programs that make it easier for farmers and ranchers to implement environment practices will be the most beneficial such as the Stewardship Index. Moreover, I believe consumers can play a huge role in holding the industry accountable and buying from farmers that use environmentally friendly practices. Further, I believe in Ag Vision’s goal to make sure these programs stay volunteer measures. Most farmers and ranchers want to protect the environment since they rely heavily on it. Also, in my experience most are open to implementing environmental practices that they believe really help the environment. Having the research and information to back up certain environmental practices will be crucial to getting more in the industry to implement these practices.

Haley Costamagna

California Agricultural Vision: Strategies for Sustainability

Strategies For Sustainability 

In 2017, American Farmland Trust published the report, California Agriculture Vision: Strategies for Sustainability, a report making recommendations regarding the strategies the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the State Board of Food and Agriculture should implement in order to address challenges and assure the sustainability of California agriculture. In response, both state agencies developed the “California Agricultural Vision,” Twelve strategies designed to enhance sustainability. The American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization, was given the responsibility of managing the Ag Vision process. Three of those strategies – Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches, Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs, and Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change — are worth a more careful examination here.

Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches

Farmers and Ranchers have been working to enhance environmental quality and to reduce their impact on air, water, and living systems. Becoming more environmentally friendly seems to be a double edged sword, however. On one hand, environmental stewardship is likely to produce economic benefits through reduced costs for inputs such as energy, water, and agrichemicals. On the other hand, there are financial and time costs associated with complying with environmental laws and regulations. As a long term strategy of turning this tension into an opportunity for California agriculture, the Trust recommended that CDFA and the Ag industry turn the state’s sustainability objective and environmental standards into a California “brand.” To achieve this goal, the Trust suggested that the CDFA work with private agricultural institutions and nonprofit organizations on documenting their efforts to improve environmental quality, thus enhancing the visibility of success stories and the value of the brand.  Moreover, the Trust also suggested voluntary assessment and seeking federal funding for promoting environmental performance.

Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs

Agriculture is heavily reliant on fossil-derived inputs and has a significant economic stake in using renewable sources of energy. The Trust recommended that the State Board take immediate action by appointing a task force to investigate how the agriculture industry could reduce fossil fuel-derived inputs. The Trust suggested a “win-win” outcome if renewable sources of energy could be created from processes that occur naturally on farms and ranches such as biomass, a euphemism for animal manure and waste, and the methane that is created. Utilizing methane from manure instead of traditional fossil fuel inputs, such as natural gas or oil, could not only save farmers money but also lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the significant contribution of methane to climate change.

Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change

Established science is predicting that the long-term effects of climate change will result in the reduction of water supplies, increase plant heat stress, decrease nighttime cooling, and shift pollinator life cycles. Since California agriculture accounts for about six percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions, in the form of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, the industry is both a contributor and a victim of climate change. The Trust recommended that the state board survey existing studies, on-going research, and projects and take other practical steps to assess the potential impact of climate change on California agriculture. After all, understanding the contribution and effects of climate change on California agriculture is a key step in formulating appropriate responses.

Key Takeaway

Just like other industries, agriculture is trying to develop and promote ways to reduce its impact on the environment. Most farmers and ranchers do not want more regulations that add paperwork on top of their day-to-day work. However, most farmers are interested in making a positive impact on the environment and are always looking for ways to be more efficient. Developing plans and options reducing the need for regulation while encouraging sound environmental stewardship of the environment will ultimately serve everybody’s interests.

Haley Costamagna

California Farm Bureau Report “Commitment to Conservation”

By Haley Costamagna

Commitment to Conservation

As a person with deep ties to rural parts of Northern California but studying environmental law in the San Francisco Bay Area, I often encounter the myth that farmers and rancher oppose environmental protection and the environmental movement. However, nothing could be further from the truth.  While farmers and ranchers do not always agree with environmentalists and regulators, there is much they do agree on. I have family and friends involved in a variety of agricultural commodities, such as wine grapes, timber, row crops, cattle, and dairy cows. Since I have these connections, opportunities arose for me to observe exactly how farmers care for their land. In my experience, farmers are dedicated to improving their land and protecting the environment plays an integral part in doing so. In 2002, the California Farm Bureau Federation published the Report, “Commitment to Conservation,” which explores exactly how farmers and ranchers protect the environment. The California Farm Bureau Federation’s National Affairs and Research Division interviewed fifty different farmers and ranchers and analyzed the voluntary actions they are taking to enhance wildlife. The Report breaks up California into eight different regions: North Mountain Region, North Coast Region, Sacramento Valley Region, Central Valley Delta Region, San Joaquin Valley Region, Sierra Region, Central Coast Region, and South Mountain/Valley Region. I choose to look specifically at some of farmers and ranchers in the North Mountain Region, North Coast Region, and Central Valley Delta Region because of my personal connections to those regions.

North Mountain Region

Herb Jasper’s cattle ranch is home to populations of mule deer, antelope, elk, geese, ducks, pheasants, quail, and at least eight species of fish. Jasper serves on a committee designed to deal with thriving elk population. Further, Jasper has been implementing stream conservation in order to preserve fish habitats including the red-band trout that at one time was a candidate for listing on the Endangered Species Act. Jasper has worked with California Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, Trout Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Service, CA Fish and game, and the California Farm Bureau. Although many agencies are helpful, sometimes working with so many different agencies with varying goals makes things difficult.

George McArthur’s cattle ranch and crop fields are home to many species. McArthur is involved in stream bank restoration, planting willows, bank stabilization projects, tail water return systems, and rotational grazing. Sometimes while harvesting, McArthur will find eggs that he incubates and releases the birds later. McArthur emphasizes that he feels a sense of responsibility to implement conservation efforts in order to not only improve his operation but also to improve wildlife.

Mike Bryan is a fourth generation cattle rancher and hay farmer. Bryan conservation practices include fencing off the riparian zones for controlled grazing, riverbank improvement, and nesting habitat for wildlife.

North Coast Region

Frank Leeds is a vineyard manager in Napa County. His main focus has been on river restoration caused by erosion issues. The river restoration plan implements living systems such as willow mattresses in order to stop the erosion of the river and restore stream banks. Leeds has also worked to remove wild non-native plants from the region.

Larry Mailliard’s forest ranch is 10,000 acres of old growth, redwood, Douglas fir, and oak stands. Mailliard selectively harvests dilapidated trees and has planted over 900,000 seedlings surpassing the California Department of Forestry’s standards. Milliard does have some concern over new regulations each year which have driven up harvest costs as well as paperwork. Harvest plans are now 200 pages as compared to 20 pages. Further, Millard’s ranch is home to the spotted owl so old growth areas on his ranch are protected.

Central Valley Delta Region

Randy and Brad Lange’s wine grape vineyards are home to quail and owls. Lange’s bio-sustainable farming incorporates sustainable management practices such as planting native trees and grasses, controlling weeds, targeting pesticide use, planting cover crop, and installing 70-80 owl boxes.

Harley Graese is the California Waterfowl Association District Manager. The CWA started a project in order to protect the wood duck. Many local farmers and landowner have contributed to the project by monitoring and maintaining nesting boxes.

Key Takeaway

There are a number of key takeaways that the report provides. First, these few example demonstrate not only a variety of actions that farmers and ranchers have taken to improve the environment, but also shows that many of the methods used are fairly easy to implement and cost effective in the long run.  Second, most farmers respect wildlife and appreciate the ways wildlife contributes to their operations. Third, several of the farmers interviewed emphasized the need and effectiveness of voluntary involvement. Thus, imposing more regulation to improve the environment may sometimes not be as effective as encouraging people to use good environmental practices. That may be due to the fear that land rights will be restricted if mandatory regulations are implemented or because farmers disagree with the sometimes burdensome process.

I truly believe that many ranchers and farmers respect the land they share with wildlife and strive to protect and maintain wildlife. However, I know that sometimes restrictions are needed.  However, implementation of environmental objectives by non-regulatory means, including voluntary efforts, can also be just as effective if not more so.  In the end, by educating and incentivizing farmers, governmental agencies gain allies and strengthen support of those communities that are oftentimes closest to the environment that is to be protected, enhancing the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to preserve the environment for generations to come.

 

ABA/ELI Report “Environmental Protection in the Trump Era”

Recently, The American Bar Association’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Section, together with the Environmental Law Institute, published the Report “Environmental Protection in the Trump Era.”  The report is a thoughtful analysis of the major changes in the EPA that have occurred since President Trump took office in January 2017 and is well worth a read. In our view, the following three issues described by the report should present the greatest concerns for the American public:

“Two-For-One” Executive Order (or Executive Order 13771)

This order imposes two requirements: First, it mandates that for every new regulation adopted, two existing regulation have to be repealed (“two-for-one requirement”). Secondly, it establishes the “cost offset requirement”, insists that the cost imposed by new regulations must be compensated by the elimination of the existing two.

As costs are the only consideration, the order therefore discourages new beneficial regulations. Moreover, finding regulation for repeal will be difficult, because in existing regulations cost have often been internalized into efficient processes. So there is little, if any, cost saving available from the repeal of a regulation. However, the president’s intention by issuing this order appears to be to ease “over-regulation” and boost the expansion of small businesses.

Withdrawal of Funding for Regulation and Enforcement

Under The Trump Administration, the actions taken by the EPA so far indicate further that many of the rules issued during the previous administration will be frozen, reviewed, and amended. The goal appears to be to cut costs of regulation and enforcement. This effort comes with great concern for long term effects since it has been reported that the contemporary EPA’s cost-benefit analyses underestimate unforeseeable impacts on ecosystem services.

Regulations in jeopardy include: The Clean Power Plan, Waters of the United States rule, and EPA standards on methane, ozone, and toxic discharge limits. Additional costs will also be cut by decreasing enforcement measures; there will be limitations on requirements that demand polluters to pay for environmental depletion, fewer actions initiated by the EPA, smaller penalties, and caps placed on attorney’s fees. This is reflected in Trump’s FY 2018 Budget. It requests a 31% reduction in overall EPA funding; the gradual reduction in EPA responsibilities shows the agency’s preparation for this cutback.

Potential Problems of Future Regulations

The new Administration seems to be putting roadblocks in the EPA’s way, such as constraining agencies’ use of scientific data. If any of the pending bills in Congress are enacted, they would add structural constraints to the federal agencies’ ability to regulate. The Trump Administration and Congress have not given an opinion on how the states will be allowed to fill in the gaps in federal protections. Further, the Trump Administration’s actions dealing with air, water, and soil pollution have implications for vulnerable communities.

Key takeaway

When reflecting on the Report it appears to us that the Trump administration’s attempts to simplify the system are actually making it more complicated. The new EPA applies an incomplete cost benefit analysis, which is a source of controversy in the practice of environmental law. Additionally, the Administration’s goal is to help small businesses thrive, but how this is to be achieved is unclear. There is little question that businesses would likely be able to operate more profitably if there were fewer regulations. But with no market-based incentives to be environmentally friendly in the first place, fewer regulations would only result in inadequate protections for public health and the environment.

Furthermore, it appears that people in the lower socioeconomic strata will be the most adversely affected by EPA constraints. Trump’s EPA has minimized reliance on scientific data for standard promulgation in order to achieve procedural brevity. However, with less data to rely on, formulating pollutant discharge limitations will likely take even more time. In conclusion, the administration should look at new ways to handle the problems effectively (e.g., incentivizing advanced clean technology) rather than simply cutting entire programs.

Arielle Canepa, Haley Costamagna, and Josiane Weder