Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Keystone going to vote in the House

Keystone XL likely up for vote tomorrow [1]. The health, social justice, and environmental side of the issue (though likely among the most important topics) probably won't get as far without a coherent alternative on the economic "job creation" side for those of the GOP [2]. Perhaps speaking about the risks to local economies can make a measured difference?

Recall that the communities in Kalamazoo/Marshall [3-5] and in the Gulf are still struggling (and some angry) to recover from spills in 2010 [6, 7].

What will we do?

[1] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/05/21/2007191/may-21-news-gop-plans-keystone-approval-vote-tomorrow-house-dems-clarify-true-impact/

[2] An extrapolation based on Frank Luntz's insight.  Luntz remains a leading adviser for "messaging" strategy, in Washington, esp. to the GOP.  Phrases like "climate change" (promoted to reduce sense of alarm created by "global warming"), and "death tax" are a product of his advisory.


[4] Enbridge resisting final clean-up of spill as of January 2013 http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130128/dilbit-6B-pipeline-kalamazoo-river-enbridge-oil-spill-michigan-keystone-xl-epa

[5]   ~Kalamazoo is nation's most costly oil spill

[6] Check out the current news in Florida!

[7]  http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/three-years-after-the-bp-spill-tar-balls-and-oil-sheen-blight-gulf-coast/275139/

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Contentions with SB78 and policy recommendations

Waterloo Recreation Area in Pinkney, MI 2010
Photograph by Ian Tran
[The views presented here do not necessarily reflect those of the Student Environmental Association at The University of Michigan-Dearborn]

Honorable Governor Snyder and Honorable Senators of the Michigan State House:

I provided ecological economic advisory for the City of Dearborn’s sustainability master plan and was nominated subsequently for the Dearborn Mayor’s Environmental Commission in 2010.  I remain an ardent proponent for examining issues by their existing and potential consequences they have on people affected by the intermingling of social, economic, and environmental challenges.  I’m a realist rather than an environmentalist.  I oppose and urge you to oppose SB78, which strives to amend the Michigan Natural resources and environmental protection act, for the following reasons.

Summary of contentions:
1) SB78 would create uncertain and ambiguous risks to the state, businesses, and citizen taxpayers
2) Economic and scientific research provide compelling if not clear reason for environmental conservation
3) Underutilized or unconsidered alternative consensus processes exist for sound risk governance, programming, and policy solutions to ensure benefit for all stakeholders

1)  Removing regulatory capacity for conservation from state agencies create ambiguous risks which can negatively impact the state, local businesses, and citizen taxpayers in the long-run

The International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) categorizes uncertain and ambiguous risk [0] as follows:
Uncertainty refers to a lack of clarity or quality of the scientific or technical
Ambiguity results from divergent or contested perspectives on the justification,
severity or wider meanings associated with a given threat.
SB78 facilitates uncertain risk because we lack proper baseline data for accurately recognizing state-level benefits of biodiversity and conservation management, yet the legislation seeks to reduce the state’s ability to maintain and manage the areas crucial for data collection and analysis.  We also have few guarantees that unforeseen consequences of resource extraction (i.e. natural gas, shale oil) will have proper and thorough remedial response.  Many of those who testified to the committee or submitted comments presented perspectives that contested the nature and potential repercussions of SB78; these perspectives exemplify both the ambiguity and uncertainty associated with this bill.  The legacy of negative consequences from disastrous events remain real risks for the Michigan citizen from an economic and environmental health perspective.[1]  Furthermore, the state remains unprepared to thoroughly mitigate these disasters.[2]  DNRE policies and programs regarding our natural resources may require further clarification; however, removing the DNRE’s regulatory capacity is certainly excessive.

The typical citizen would rarely take issue with an individual, business, or government that strives to save money for the sake of the people's current and future well-being. Doing conservation for the sake of appropriate, ecologically informed biodiversity and long-term economic security ought to do the same.  In this sense, conservation facilitates opportunity through discipline. In other words, conservation remains a proper priority in fiscal and environmental matters alike, even if we cannot (and ought not) assume everything we live with can be approximated to a dollar value.

The principles for the origins of conservativism are shared between political, economic, and environmental practice: we conserve to know that we may live well now, and ensure that others may live well in the future. Everyone can agree with true conservative principles regardless of political background.  Conservation management looks to foster well-being for us and for things beyond our own species; the ability to exercise proper stewardship of the land we live with does not detract from our own well-being but rather supports it.

2) Economic and scientific research provide compelling if not clear reasons for environmental conservation

The bill misses an important nuance of the environmental-economic issue at hand: the two aren't necessarily opposed to one another.  Economic studies of states with sound environmental policy demonstrate [1]:
      The impacts of new environmental regulations are small if not negligible
      Had greater rates of job growth
      Had lower rates of business failure
      Foster a resilient economy
The economic benefits of biological conservation outweigh the costs, even under consideration for forestry, agriculture, tourism, hunting, etc.  [i.e. 2, 3, 4, 5].
Scientific and economic research demonstrates findings which stand opposed to the revised language proposed in SB78:  economic forces, spurred by intentional human actions, drive extinctions and environmental degradation [2].  In SB78, the bill's revisions would turn away from vigorously established science and economics at the expense of the people's and state's ability to ensure long-term social, economic, and environmental well-being.  The concepts conveyed by the Michigan Environmental Council and Dr. Burton Barnes are sound and commonly found in the theory and practices utilized by undergraduates and professional practitioners of the environmental field such as those in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment alike.

3) Underutilized or unconsidered alternative consensus processes exist for sound risk governance, programming, and policy solutions to ensure benefit for all stakeholders

Based on my independent assessment of testimonies submitted on the 14th of February, and the ambiguity inducing risks which arise from the possible root intentions for SB78, I suggest utilizing consensus processes to harness comprehensive stakeholder ownership of policy and programmatic decisions as a preliminary alternative to this legislation.

While I oppose the bill, it has summoned precious information that’s crucial to making Michigan a more resilient state in its policy, economy, and environment.  Companies like Louisiana-Pacific clearly demonstrate valid requests for better policy and programmatic outcomes that can work for them.  While these companies do not comprehensively represent Michigan’s citizen base and the state’s economy, their possible needs are worthy of consideration and can carry very real consequences for the people and communities they may employ.  The Feb. 14 and 21 testimonies of the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) offered assistance to the Senate committee to review, clarify, and consider revisions to improve proposed BSA/Living Legacy programs.  While I support the MEC’s motion and affirm the insight, I believe the diversity of perspectives found in the testimonies of the bill should be put to a collaborative workgroup to explore and resolve the concerns raised by existing and potential environmental policy and programs.  Organizations such as The Engineering Society of Detroit Institute (ESDI) can help facilitate strategic solutions-oriented dialog and actions.[3]

As the potential impacts of the language found in this bill risks compromising aspects of Michigan’s social, economic, and environmental well-being, I strongly encourage you to halt its immediate passage. Instead, both supporters and opponents of this bill should view this as an opportunity to bring the many organizations, corporations, and individuals that may be impacted by its passage together to develop a robust and coherent environmental policy.  In doing so, we can foster authentic and exemplary outcomes for a civil and sensible Michigan.

Thank you for your consideration.

Ian D. Tran

B.S. Environmental Science, Political Science Minor
Class of 2012
The University of Michigan-Dearborn

[0] IRGC, 2005 “An Introduction to the IRGC Risk Governance Framework”
Additionally, see: IRGC, 2005 “White Paper on Risk Governance, towards an integrative approach” for strategies
[1]  Meyer, S. "The Economic Impact of Environmental Regulation" MIT Press
[2]  IUCN, 1994 “The economic value of biodiversity” The World Conservation Union
[3]  Pimentel et al.,1997 “Economic and Environmental Benefits of Biodiversity” BioScience
[4]  Naidoo & Adamowicz 2005 “Economic benefits of biodiversity exceed costs of conservation at an African rainforest reserve”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of America
[5]  For more, see “Economic Benefits of Biodiversity” page of the Conservation Tools website

[1] For example, the record of remediation and response from the industry remains poor. i.e. the Enbridge Oil spill in Marshall, MI.  While we may have a history of safe mining operations underway in various parts of Michigan, we also have the toxic remnants of mining operations from times even in the recent past--the Upper Peninsula underwent acid mine pollution (water turns to sulfuric acid), and heavy metal (particularly selenium) contamination. Taxpayers shoulder the burden of these events. 
[2] According to reports and first-hand accounts from peers who work in the field of remediation for the environmental clean-up industry, the cleanup efforts enacted by the government and contracted firms remain insufficient either due to insufficient State funds, or due to the nature of our economic system, environmental consulting firms foremost vested in making profitable but not necessarily thorough clean-up.  Yet well maintained environments can help remediate up to 75% (by weight) of chemical pollution [5].
[3]  Full disclosure: I worked with the ESDI in the past and cite them because it’s the only entity in the state I know of with keen experience in facilitating complex technical initiatives.  The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion may be a valuable facilitator for delicate dialogs, but I’m unfamiliar with their actions.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Delete State Authority on Biodiversity via SB 1276? Burton Barnes Testimony

Burton Barnes Testimony SB 1276 9-25-12
Forest Botanist and University of Michigan Emeritus Professor Dr. Burton Barnes's testimony to the Michigan Senate on SB 1267. Barnes explains why SB 1267 should not be passed (at least not with its current articulation of intentions).

The testimony is extremely well-written for explaining the "why" of his position and cites some powerful research too.  However, it's not very pithy for people unfamiliar with the bill and his core arguments might not be very clear to everyone.  

Since his letter doesn't point out the particular parts of the original bill which his testimony engages, I've done my best to interpret and present them here with particular sections of the bill quoted below.

The Testimony from Dr. Burton Barnes (6 pages): http://www.scribd.com/doc/108581396/Burton-Barnes-Testimony-SB-1276-9-25-12

Dr. Barnes's particular points of contention with the bill include the following points (as best as I can tell):
  • Biodiversity management necessitates the scientific and regulatory capacity of state agencies/departments.
Currently, the bill seeks to remove this.

[quoted from Page 7 of the bill, SB 1276--sorry about the strange spacing]
18 (2) This part does not require a state department or agency to 
19 alter DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING: 20 (A) ALTER its regulatory functions.
  • Conservation/natural resource management from a state agency/department is necessary for the well-being of our state's economy because the MDNR is among the few, if not the only, entities which knows the value of natural resources within our state to a fair extent.
[quoted from Page 8 of SB 1276]
23   (iii) Manage SUBJECT TO SECTION 504(7), MANAGE the quality and
24  distribution of wildlife habitats and contribute to the 
25  conservation of biological diversity by developing and implementing  
26  stand and landscape-level CONSIDER measures that promote habitat
27  diversity and the conservation of forest plants and animals
[quote continued Page 9]
1  including aquatic flora and fauna and unique ecosystems.WHILE
3   (iv) Protect forests from wildfire, pests, diseases, and other
4  damaging agents.
5   (v) Manage areas of ecologic, geologic, cultural, or historic
6  significance in a manner that recognizes their special qualities.
7   (vi) Manage activities in high conservation value forests by
8  maintaining or enhancing the attributes that define such forests
  • Conservation and conservativism in ecological and political contexts go hand-in-hand.
This claim stands as an ethical argument, but the principles for the origins of true conservativism are shared between economic and environmental practice: we conserve to live well now, and so that others may live well in the future.  Biodiversity management looks to foster well-being for things beyond our own species, but make no mistake, giving proper stewardship to the land we live with does not detract from our own well-being.
Misers aside, we would rarely find issue with an individual, business, or government that strives to save money for the sake of current and future well-being.  Doing conservation for the sake of appropriate, ecologically informed biodiversity ought to do the same.  In this sense, conservation facilitates opportunity through discipline.  In other words, conservation remains a proper priority in fiscal and environmental matters alike, even if we cannot (and ought not) assume everything we live with can be approximated to a dollar value.

We can see similar support for these ideas flesh out with more technical implications within the bill for the argument below.
  • Good sustainability/conservation practices are cognizant of economics, and strive to improve or enhance the social, economic, and environmental status of a place while acknowledging its interconnecting impact on the rest of the world. 

I don't have particular section of the bill to point to, this bullet point serves more like a summarizing statement of the content that appears in Barnes's testimony toward the end.  However, contents throughout the bill do suggest some cognizance of sustainability awareness to me:

[quoted from Page 6]

10  Sec. 35502. The legislature finds that:
11  (a) The earth's biological diversity is an important natural
12  resource. Decreasing biological diversity is a concern.
13  (b) Most losses of biological diversity are unintended 
14  consequences of human activity.
15  (B) (c) Humans depend on biological resources, including
16  plants, animals, and microorganisms, for food, medicine, shelter,
17  and other important products.
18  (C) (d) Biological diversity is valuable as a source of
19  intellectual and scientific knowledge, recreation, and aesthetic
20  pleasure.
21  (D) (e) Conserving biological diversity has economic
22  implications.
23  (E) (f) Reduced biological diversity may have potentially
24  serious consequences for human welfare as resources for research
25  and agricultural, medicinal, and industrial development are
26  diminished.
27  (F) (g) Reduced biological diversity may also potentially
02395'11                             TMV 
[quoted from Page 7]

1  impact ecosystems and critical ecosystem processes that moderate
2  climate, govern nutrient cycles and soil conservation and
3  production, control pests and diseases, and degrade wastes and
4  pollutants.
5  (G) (h) Reduced biological diversity may diminish the raw
6  materials available for scientific and technical advancement,
7  including the development of improved varieties of cultivated
8  plants and domesticated animals.
9  (H) (i) Maintaining biological diversity through habitat
10  protection and management is often less costly and more effective
11  than efforts to save species once they become endangered.
12  (I) (j) Because biological resources will be most important
13  for future needs, study by the legislature regarding maintaining
14  the diversity of living organisms in their natural habitats and the
15  costs and benefits of doing so is prudent.
16  Sec. 35503. (1) It is the goal of this state to encourage the
17  lasting conservation of biological diversity. 
[Edited 23:32 7 X 2012 ]

From reading all of the above I can say this:  Details AND the big picture definitely matter.  When I first looked at the bill, I thought it was fine.  Page 7 made a lot of sense at first until I got to line 18 and onward.  The bill contains many contradictory goals

Personally, I am opposed to SB 1276 at least for the reasons illustrated above, I'll articulate my own commentary in a future post (and letter to my representatives).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Detroit Works Project, others, and you!

Detroit initiatives worth knowing:
1)  Detroit Works
[Important ongoing/upcoming events in motion] The Detroit Works project has the city municipality's attention and leans strongly toward economic revitalization.  It takes public recommendations, and would certainly benefit from balanced perspectives in community and environmental development toward comprehensive sustainability.

Schedule of events/strategic sessions (soonest August 14th at 2929 Russell Street the full schedule is in the link below, and pasted for viewing-purposes only at the bottom of this post):

2)  Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) framework
Thomas Stephens, a long-time Detroit community advocate (he gave strong comments at last year's EPA Enviro. Justice conference) and policy analyst for the City pointed me to the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) framework, which outlines roles for community organizations and downtown development which are soundly informed by comprehensive principles of sustainability and existing visioning (earth charter, etc.):

CDAD Declaration (fair summary of principles, etc.):
The Framework (Visioning--the big picture about what organizations fit in where)
This was informed by local input and key principles to sustainable cities from "Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems" [see bottom of this post for the key points and book it came from], some Detroit groups were using these to guide their visioning efforts and city/community development plans.

The CDAD was supposed to do what the Detroit Works project strives to do now and had a lot of heart put into it but before it really got traction a change in City administration seems to have hampered its promotion and use.  From what I've interpreted from reading the CDAD, it leans more toward vision than direct recommended actions, but the conditions established in the document are important for the amount of consideration they give.  I'd recommend they be included in the Detroit Works plans.
Key points from Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems (8 pages of bullet points, etc):
The book from which it was sourced from:

Additional Detroit visioning initiatives:

At this point, I've counted and/or participated in four Detroit-shaping visioning events, I'm certain there are more that I'm missing.  I'm listing them here for any potential readers to consider and urge you to represent the insight from your experience as well as the insight found in these previous initiatives at the ongoing Detroit Works program.

The Engineering Society of Detroit Institute's Future Detroit youth symposium (Disclaimer: I was a facilitator there--middle school students from Detroit and Dearborn school districts came up with how and what they wanted Detroit to transform 30 years into the future. Their insight was very good, but I'm unclear if anyone followed up on the policy recommendations submitted to city administration garnered from this event.  Also, it's worth noting some important narratives were trimmed down for space concerns--some worthwhile ideas didn't make it into the final print but you can request the full drafts.):

CDAD (mentioned above)

Detroit Vision 2012 (I don't know what came of the event, but here's what the website says is their "takeaway" message from having it happen--I suspect the wisdom garnered from the event was a "you-should-have-been-there" case, all of the recommendations seem rather generic but the community organizations are accessible and continue to do substantial work):

Detroit Works (mentioned above):

Good science considers all data, and authentic community input is no exception--I believe the time, talents, hope, and effort put into these initiatives are invaluable and should not be wasted.  With all due respect to the creators and contributors of these events, from an outsider's perspective, there seems to be a substantial disjoint between good community engagement and coherent plans for focused actions among the people responsible and capable of enacting insight.  Hopefully this will change.

The Detroit Works schedule:
Please call 313-259-4407 or e-mail Info@DetroitLongTerm.com.

Please come out and participate in any of the events listed below (note: all times below are in E.S.T.):

Open Houses will be hosted at the Long Term Planning HomeBase at 2929 Russell Street in August and September from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with brief presentations at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. The open houses will focus on Draft Strategies that relate to the following:
  • Tuesday, August 7: Economic Growth;
  • Tuesday, August 14: Neighborhoods;
  • Tuesday, August 21: City Systems, Infrastructure and Environment;
  • Tuesday, August 28: Land Use, Zoning and Urban Design; and
  • Tuesday, September 4: Public Land and Facilities.

  • August 9: Zion Chapel, 3000 24th St, Detroit, MI 48216
  • August 16: Highland Park Housing Commission 13725 John R.  Please note this event has been cancelled.
  • August 24: Boys and Girls Club, 20100 Schoenherr Street between E.7 Mile and 8 Mile Rd.

  • July 31;
  • August 7, 14, 21, and 28; and
  • September 4 and 11.

  • August 22
  • August 29, and
  • September 5.

Four Community Conversations about the Draft Strategies will be hosted between September 10 and September 14, 2012. They will provide another opportunity for Detroiters to connect with one another, learn about some Draft Strategies and provide their feedback. The locations and times are as follows: