Lubber to lecture on sustainability's bottom line

The Freshwater Society blog publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Leader on corporate sustainability to lecture

Mindy Lubber

Mindy Lubber, an international leader in efforts by investors to lead and pressure multinational companies to adopt environmentally sustainable business practices, will deliver a free, public lecture March 1 in St. Paul.

The lecture, “Investing in Sustainability: Building Water Stewardship Into the Bottom Line,” is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. Register to attend. Learn about the lecture series and view video of previous speakers.

Lubber is president of Ceres, a 22-year-old Boston-based nonprofit that works with companies like Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and IBM to encourage the firms to make their products and processes more water- efficient and less vulnerable to climate change. As part of that work, Lubber directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, an alliance of 100 institutional investors who manage $10 trillion in assets.

Lubber’s lecture will focus on the risks businesses and their shareholders face as a result of a population-driven demand for increased water use colliding with a fixed global supply, aggravated by more pronounced droughts and flooding resulting from climate change. She will offer specific examples of companies that are changing their business models to become more sustainable.

Conservation Minnesota analyzes spending
So how did environmental programs fare in the budget deals that ended the shutdown of Minnesota government last summer?

Not so well, according to a new 23-page analysis prepared by Conservation Minnesota, the latest in a series of such reviews the group has conducted since 2002.

The 2008 Legacy Amendment  specified that revenue from the sales tax increase approved by voters for the environment, clean water and arts and culture “must supplement traditional sources of funding for those purposes and may not be used as a substitute.” The Conservation Minnesota analysis does not directly answer the legal question whether that provision was violated during last year’s budget deals, but the title of the analysis is pointed: “If it Looks Like a Duck…”

The executive summary of the analysis states: “There are increasingly frequent instances where the Legislature has used Legacy funds to backfill budget cuts, raising concerns that the intended benefits of Legacy funds may erode over time.”

State, feds sign ag pollution agreement
 The State of Minnesota, the federal Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 17 signed an agreement to develop a new program to encourage farmers to meet still-to-be-defined standards for preventing erosion and pollutant runoff from their fields and feedlots.

Under the program, farmers who take part and meet the standards would receive a guarantee that they would not later be subject to more stringent standards for up to 10 years.

The agreement was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

Read about the agreement in the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio, a Dayton news release, a USDA news release. And read a Minnesota Environmental Partnership news release questioning the agreement and the concept of providing farmers safe harbor from future regulation.  Read a recent report to the EPA from the agency’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee that recommends the EPA encourage such “certainty” agreements. Read the memorandum of understanding signed by Dayton.

Report details nitrogen pollution of air, water
Read a new article on nitrogen escaping into the air and water. The research paper, titled Excess Nitrogen in the U.S. Environment: Trends, Risks, and Solutions, was published by the Ecological Society of America.

  •  Key findings include:  Forty to 60 percent of the world’s population depends on crops grown with synthetic nitrogen.
  • About half of the nitrogen used in agriculture escapes into the environment.
  • More than 1.5 million Americans drink water that exceeds, or comes close to exceeding, health standards.
  • Nitrogen pollution warms the climate through nitrous oxide emissions, but cools it by promoting the growth of hardwood trees, which sequester carbon dioxide. On balance, the cooling effect is greater.
  • U.S. use of nitrogen fertilizer increased rapidly in the 1960s and ‘70s, then slowed. Since 1978, nitrogen fertilizer use has increased by about six-tenths of a percent annually. During that yields of corn, a major user of nitrogen, have increased 1.9 percent per year.

The report says that current strategies exist within the “current agricultural system, that – if practiced —  could reduce nitrogen losses from agriculture by 30 to 50 percent.

Report: There is good news on acid rain
 Measurable improvements in air quality and visibility, human health, and water quality in many acid-sensitive lakes and streams, have been achieved through emissions reductions from electric generating power plants and resulting decreases in acid rain. These are some of the key findings in a report to Congress by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program, a cooperative federal program.

The report shows that since the establishment of the Acid Rain Program, under Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, there have been substantial reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from power plants that use fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil, which are known to be the primary causes of acid rain. As of 2009, emissions of SO2 and NOx declined by about two-thirds relative to levels in the 1990s. These emissions levels declined even further in 2010, according to recent data compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Because emission reductions result in fewer fine particles and lower ozone concentrations in the air, in 2010 there were thousands fewer premature human deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits annually leading to estimated human health benefits valued at $170 to $430 billion per year.
–USGS News Release

USDA promotes pollution credit trading 
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a funding opportunity that will bring states, USDA and other stakeholders together to enhance the effectiveness of water quality credit trading. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is providing up to $10 million in Conservation Innovation Grants for these projects, with up to $5 million focused on water quality credit trading in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Proposals for projects are due March 2, 2012.

“For the first time USDA has offered funding specifically for water quality trading. We want to help states and other partners develop robust and meaningful markets,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to demonstrate that markets are a cost-effective way to improve water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and agricultural producers are critical to the function of these markets.”

Water quality credit trading is a market-based approach to lowering the costs of reducing pollution, and has the potential to engage more farmers and ranchers in water quality improvement efforts through the implementation of more conservation practices on agricultural lands. Through water quality credit trading, a producer who implements conservation practices to reduce water quality pollutants can also benefit by generating water quality market credits that could be sold in an open market, which would reduce the costs of implementing and maintaining the conservation practices.

Dayton urges $$ for Lutsen snow-making 
The bonding proposal announced by Gov. Mark Dayton includes $3.6 million to build a water pipeline from Lake Superior to the Lutsen Mountains ski resort. Lutsen Mountains currently pumps water from the Poplar River, a designated trout stream, to make snow for skiing.

Despite low water levels, the DNR issued Lutsen a permit last fall to pump 150 million gallons per year. In exchange, the agency told the ski area to find another water source by 2014.

The governor’s proposal would provide water to the ski resort, a golf course, resorts and private homes.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Obama wants more time to mull pipeline
The Obama administration refused to authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying a congressionally imposed deadline left too little time to evaluate routes that would avoid an aquifer in Nebraska.

In rejecting the permit, however, the State Department said Canadian pipeline company TransCanada Corp. can reapply to build the link between oil sands in Alberta and Gulf Coast refineries. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said the company was disappointed but will reapply after mapping another route around the Ogallala aquifer, a source for drinking and irrigation water, later this year.

The pipeline has been an election year lightning rod across the political spectrum. Republican and industry leaders are painting the pipeline as creating jobs and boosting U.S. energy security. Environmentalists and many Democrats argue that the pipeline would promote a particularly polluting form of crude oil and could threaten water supplies.
–The Houston Chronicle

California suit focuses on sucker fish 
A federal plan to preserve more than 9,000 acres of river habitat so that the threatened Santa Ana sucker fish can fulfill its complex life cycle has run into stiff resistance from critics who say it jeopardizes development and water supplies in the Inland Empire.

Two cities and 10 water districts have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court over the agency’s decision to preserve the habitat. They say that it imposes restrictions on water conservation, groundwater recharge and flood control operations that affect water supplies for 1 million residents, and that it threatens plans to sell Santa Ana River water to thirsty communities elsewhere.

Environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity, CalTrout, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society responded by filing petitions to intervene in the case on behalf of the federal agency. A hearing on the case has been scheduled for February.
–The Los Angeles Times

Conservation Stewardship deadline extended
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White announced that the cut-off date for the current Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) ranking period has been extended to January 27, 2012. Producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship are eligible for CSP payments.

“We want to make sure that people who want to be considered for CSP during this first ranking period have the time they need to complete their applications,” White said. “CSP is a very popular program and I encourage interested producers to apply at their local NRCS office as soon as they can.”

CSP is offered in all 50 states, tribal lands and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups. Administered by NRCS, CSP provides many conservation benefits including improved water and soil quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and conservation activities that address the effects of climate change.