State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MPA Students Present Mid-Semester Briefings

Members of the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act group pose after the Midterm Briefings.
Members of the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act group pose after the Midterm Briefings.

On Wednesday, June 26, the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy students presented their Midterm Briefings for their class: Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis. A continental breakfast was provided before the presentations began and the students and faculty had a chance to mingle and discuss informally what they had been working on for the first half of the summer. Students in the program conduct research and analysis in the Workshop course for each of the three semesters they spend in the program. By shifting the focus of their research each semester, students are able to gain a variety of skills and experiences addressing such issues as management, funding and legislative initiatives.

The objective for the Midterm Briefing was for the students to present 10 minutes of clearly and concisely explaining their proposed legislative bill, the issues behind it, the science behind it, and also the legal implications of what the bill would cover if it were to be passed.These briefings are the culmination of the students’ hard work for first half of the summer semester.

“I was very impressed by the way that all the groups managed to distill such complex environmental issues into clear and polished ten-minute presentations,” remarked Professor Howard Apsan, who serves as a Faculty Advisor for the course.

The briefings covered the following bills: HR 764 Coastal State Climate Change Planning Act, S.279 Public Land Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013, S. 332 Climate Protection Act of 2013, Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act, and the Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act. Please see below for detailed descriptions of each bill.

The methodological purpose of the Workshops is to create a collaborative environment for the students to understand how to work in groups. Group collaboration is stressed throughout the MPA ESP program to emphasize that environmental problems are multi-faceted and need lawyers, scientists, economists, naturalists, and non profit grassroots organizers to help solve the challenging environmental and economic problems that we as a society face, and will continue to face in the coming years.

“The Workshop has been a wonderful experience thus far, and it’s exciting to see all our hard work pay off,” said Olin Berger, ESP ‘14, “I really enjoyed seeing the other workshops presentations as well and look forward to the final briefings.”

The students will be presenting their Final Briefings for the semester on Wednesday, August 14 from 9am-11am. Please contact Sarah Tweedie ( if you are interested in attending.

Title: H.R. 764, The Coastal State Climate Change Planning Act (Faculty Advisor: Howard Apsan)

Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy highlight the current coastal storm risks facing the 30 states that border the oceans, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. As climate data continues to suggest, global warming and the concomitant sea level rise will only exacerbate future coastal storm risks. The Coastal State Climate Change Planning Act (HR 764) establishes a coastal climate change adaptation and response plan to minimize contributions to climate change and mitigate its potential impacts on America’s coasts. H.R. 764 amends the current Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 to require the Secretary of Commerce to establish a coastal climate change adaptation planning and response program.

The Act will (A) identify public facilities and public services, working waterfronts, coastal resources of national significance, coastal waters, energy facilities, or other land and water uses located in the coastal zone that are likely to be impacted by climate change; (B) develop adaptive management strategies for land use to respond or adapt to changing environmental conditions, including strategies to protect biodiversity, protect water quality, and establish habitat buffer zones, migration corridors, and climate refugia; and (C) require the initiation and maintenance of long‐term monitoring of environmental change to assess coastal zone adaptation.

Title: Public Land Renewal Energy Development Act of 2013 (Faculty Advisor: Kathleen Callahan)

This bill amends the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require amounts received through 2020 (currently 2010) from leases under the Geothermal Steam Act of 1970 to be available to the Secretary of the Interior for implementing the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It requires the Secretary of Agriculture to (1) prepare and publish a notice of intent to prepare a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to develop solar and wind energy on National Forest System land and any necessary amendments to land use plans for such land, and (2) amend such plans to provide for the development of renewable energy on completion of the programmatic EIS.

Title: S.332: Climate Protection Act of 2013 (Faculty Advisor: Steve Cohen)

The Climate Protection Act would give the EPA the authority to impose a fee on producers of carbon emissions including manufacturers, producers, or importers of “carbon polluting substances.” It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of 2005 levels by January 1, 2050. The funds raised from the fees will go towards State and local programs for climate change adaptation, infrastructure resiliency, while other funds would go to transportation infrastructure and resiliency projects including electric vehicle charging stations.  Three fifths of the funds raised would be returned to households in a monthly rebate to offset the increase in energy costs that would inevitably be passed down from energy  producers. It would also establish a trust fund which would distribute $7.5 billion in funds raised each year for the first ten years to “energy intensive and trade‐exposed industries” that may be put at disadvantage to other global industries from increased operating costs. Other funding would go towards weatherization programs, and job training, Department of Energy research funding, and federal budget deficit reduction.

Title: Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act (H.R. 996) (Faculty Advisor: Dr. Robert Cook)

The National Invasive Species Council defines invasive species as those that are alien to the ecosystem in which they are found and whose introduction does or is likely to cause  economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. It is important to note that invasive species do not include those under human control or domestication. It is estimated that damage from invasive species worldwide totals more than $1.4 trillion dollars equivalent to 5% of the world’s economy.  The purpose of the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act is to establish an improved regulatory process for injurious wildlife to prevent the introduction and establishment in the United States of nonnative wildlife and wild animal pathogens and parasites that are likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to humans or animal health. The bill outlines numerous requirements and activities to be undertaken by the
Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. These include defining terms, promulgating regulations, outlining emergency powers, establishing an electronic database, monitoring importations, preventing certain importations, establishing civil and criminal penalties and raising fees to provide a Wildlife Prevention Fund to carry out the Act.

Title: Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (Faculty Advisor: Matthew Palmer)

Much of the world depends on oceanic fish as a source of protein, but global fisheries are in decline as a result of overharvesting and other forms of mismanagement. In addition, much of the seafood sold in the international market is poorly documented, which poses a major challenge to natural resource and public health professionals attempting to enforce existing regulations on harvest and sale. The Safety And Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act is proposed legislation to improve the safety of the seafood supply and to prevent fraud,
primarily through mislabeling, that is often used to obscure safety or sustainability concerns. This bill aims to improve cooperation between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on seafood safety and fraud prevention through the efficient use of inspection personnel, interagency cooperation, use of data, and utilization of the NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program as a third‐party auditor to inspect imported seafood.

Title: S.1120: Provides Small Businesses with Grants to Commercialize Energy and Environmental Technology Innovations In‐State (Faculty Advisor: Louise Rosen)

The New York State Urban Development Act was created in 1968 to assist with urban renewal in primarily New York City. The Act allowed the formation of a corporate governmental
agency, called the “New York State Urban Development Corporation.” This corporation, now doing business as the “Empire State Development Corporation,” has the authority to finance projects by issuing tax‐free bonds. In 1975, the Corporation expanded its mission from targeting subsidized housing to larger economic development. Since 1968, it is credited with expanding the state’s correctional facilities, revitalization of 42nd Street, revitalization of Niagara Falls, and construction of Battery Park City and Roosevelt Island. The proposed S.1120 is sponsored by Republican State Senator, George Maziarz, who represents Niagara, Orleans and western Monroe counties. The bill would provide capital grants (up to $100,000) to small businesses to promote innovative energy and environmental technology development. The bill amends the New York State Urban Development Corporation  Act by adding a new section to create this program supporting technology development. The bill aims to stimulate New York State economic development by providing incentives for new business and jobs in the energy environmental sector. The Empire State Development Corporation is in charge of overseeing the grant process to small businesses and starting in September, 2014, and annually thereafter, must report out to the Governor and State Assembly progress on the program.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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