MN: Draft proposal for protecting wild rice from excess sulfate

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is proposing that rather than relying on a single sulfate level for all wild rice waters, sulfate levels should be calculated for each wild rice water, based on location-specific factors. In coming to this conclusion, the MPCA studied how sulfate affects wild rice. The study, which began in 2012, found that:

  • In the sediment in which wild rice is rooted, sulfate from the water above is converted to sulfide by bacteria.
  • Higher levels of sulfide in the sediment create an environment that is less hospitable to wild rice.

However, certain factors change the rate at which sulfate is converted to sulfide. Most significantly, higher levels of iron can lead to less sulfide, and higher levels of organic carbon can lead to more sulfide.

To take these variables into account, the MPCA developed an equation that can determine a sulfate level that will protect wild rice for a specific water body. The agency proposes collecting sediment samples in wild rice stands, measuring the iron and organic carbon concentrations in the sediment, and then plugging the data into the equation to calculate a protective sulfate concentration for that particular wild rice water.

The MPCA will be scheduling meetings with interested stakeholders to further describe and get input on its proposal. The agency will continue to refine the proposal based on feedback and any new data.

At the same time, the MPCA will consider how the study’s findings will inform regulatory decisions and develop the data collection protocol needed to implement the proposal. The MPCA plans to go through formal rulemaking to change the existing standard later this year. The rulemaking will also include listing specific wild rice waters that are subject to the standard.

The MPCA has compiled a draft list of wild rice waters, along with a process to add waters to the list over time. These files are available below, along with an interactive map showing the draft list of wild rice waters.

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What’s the Impact of the Alternative Economy? Researchers Find Out

Read the full post on Shareable.

It is increasingly apparent that today’s economy is not working for most of us. Growing inequality of wealth and income is putting the famous American middle class in danger of becoming a distant memory. Most American children now face economic prospects worse than their parents enjoyed. We suffer from more frequent financial shocks and linger in recession far longer than in the past.Our education and health care systems don’t stack up to those of other countries with similar living standards. And if all this were not enough, environmental destruction continues to escalate as we stand on the verge of triggering irreversible, and perhaps cataclysmic, climate change.

Yet, beneath the radar of the mainstream media, a diverse and energetic new generation of business models has cropped up in response to urgent, unmet needs. We’re talking about innovations like worker-owned cooperatives, credit unions,community-supported agriculture, sharing platforms and businesses, and community energy enterprises. (You may have seen organizations like this in the “new economy” section of the YES! website. But in this project we are calling them part of a “future” rather than a “new” economy because some initiatives, such as cooperatives, have been with us for centuries.)

How important are these innovations? Doing something differently isn’t inherently “good”—despite Americans’ perennial love of the next new thing. How well do these models really perform when it comes to providing prosperity for their workers and others who depend on them? Do they really deliver on their promise of distributing social and financial benefits broadly while restoring the environment?

We at the Economics for Equity and the Environment (E3) Network—more than 300 progressive environmental economists nationwide—decided it was time to find out.

Payments for Ecosystem Services? Here’s the Guidebook

Read the full story from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

A team of investors, development organizations, conservationists, economists, and ecologists have published in the journal Science six natural science principles to ensure success of Payments for Ecosystem Services, mechanisms that have helped preserve carbon stocks stored in Madagascar’s rainforests, maintain wildlife populations important for tourism in Tanzania, and protect watersheds in France by working with local farmers.

Navigating the Clean Power Plan: A Template for Including Building Energy Codes in State Compliance Plans

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan establishes state-specific targets for carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. This tool is intended to help states document and claim emissions reductions resulting from the adoption of building energy codes as a means of complying with their obligations under the Clean Power Plan. It includes a discussion of the guidance and precedents relied on to develop this template, the elements states should address in order to claim emissions reduction credit for building energy codes, recommendations on how to address these elements, and a hypothetical case study of a state that includes building energy codes in its compliance plan.

Recovery Act: GSA’s Courthouse Projects Illustrate Opportunities to Improve Management Practices and Analyze Environmental Outcomes

Recovery Act: GSA’s Courthouse Projects Illustrate Opportunities to Improve Management Practices and Analyze Environmental Outcomes
GAO-15-307: Published: Feb 12, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The General Services Administration (GSA) developed eight selection criteria for utilizing its $4.5 billion in high-performing green (green) building funds—or more than 80 percent of its total $5.5-billion budget—under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). GSA used almost $800 million of its $4.5-billion green building funds on 15 full or partial modernization projects and the remaining funds were used on federal buildings or limited scope projects. For example, at the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in San Antonio, Texas, GSA installed solar panels and a solar water heater on the roof, installed a green roof on the interior courtyard, and replaced the building’s lighting. In addition, as of May 2014, GSA used $257 million of the $750 million in Recovery Act funds dedicated to federal buildings and U.S. courthouses to construct or acquire seven courthouses.

GSA management of selected Recovery Act courthouse projects did not always align with seven successful practices that GAO developed for managing large-scale investments. GAO’s more in-depth review of 10 courthouses showed that while GSA generally provided top leadership support and sufficient funding, its management of these Recovery Act projects did not always align with the remaining five practices. For example, judiciary tenants at 3 of the 10 courthouses said that GSA management did not actively engage with judiciary stakeholders during construction. In one case, judiciary officials at the Federico Degetau Federal Building and Clemente Ruiz Nazario Courthouse in Puerto Rico said they were not consulted on the project’s phased schedule approach that required the closure of all public restrooms in the operating courthouse for a year, except for one restroom on the seventh floor of the adjoining federal building. For the projects GAO reviewed, when GSA did not incorporate the successful practices, GAO found that projects were more likely to experience schedule delays, cost increases, or lack of tenant support. GAO found that most judiciary tenants were satisfied with the completed projects, although tenants at 4 courthouses said the projects disrupted court operations.

GSA set environmental goals by establishing minimum performance criteria (MPC) to guide how it designed green courthouse Recovery Act projects; however, environmental outcomes are not yet known. The MPC included dozens of environmental requirements for projects in areas such as energy, water, and material use. While some Recovery Act projects have been completed for several years and GSA has the necessary data to evaluate projects, GSA officials have not developed a schedule for analyzing building performance against the MPC. GAO evaluated the extent to which the selected courthouses with a year or more of operational data contributed toward the energy and water- reduction goals that GSA used to develop the MPC. GAO found that as of fiscal year 2014, 2 of the 5 courthouses with available data are contributing toward energy reduction goals, and all 4 courthouses with available data are contributing toward water reduction goals. Without evaluating the performance of courthouse projects against the MPC, GSA lacks important information that could guide the agency’s future investments in green infrastructure.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Recovery Act provided GSA with $5.55 billion—over three times the agency’s 2009 funding for new construction and renovations—to invest in federal buildings and U.S. courthouses. This amount included $4.5 billion to convert federal buildings and U.S. courthouses into green buildings that would reduce energy and water use, among other goals.

GAO was asked to review GSA’s use of Recovery Act funds as they related to courthouses. This report examines (1) how GSA determined which courthouse projects to fund under the Recovery Act, (2) how GSA’s management of selected Recovery Act projects aligned with successful practices and whether these projects disrupted judiciary operations, and (3) how GSA set environmental goals for courthouses and whether selected projects met those goals. GAO reviewed relevant laws and agency documents, collected cost and schedule data on courthouse projects, and analyzed environmental outcomes for 10 projects. GAO selected these 10 Recovery Act courthouse projects, based on project size, type, and location, and interviewed GSA officials and judiciary tenants about GSA’s management and coordination.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that GSA (1) examine incorporating successful management practices into its capital investment process and (2) analyze and apply environmental outcomes for green Recovery Act projects. GSA agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact Mark Goldstein at (202) 512-2834 or

Geospatial Data: Progress Needed on Identifying Expenditures, Building and Utilizing a Data Infrastructure, and Reducing Duplicative Efforts

Geospatial Data: Progress Needed on Identifying Expenditures, Building and Utilizing a Data Infrastructure, and Reducing Duplicative Efforts
GAO-15-193: Published: Feb 12, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2015.

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What GAO Found

Federal agencies and state governments use a variety of geospatial datasets to support their missions. For example, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used geospatial data to identify 44,000 households that were damaged and inaccessible and reported that, as a result, it was able to provide expedited assistance to area residents. Federal agencies report spending billions of dollars on geospatial investments; however, the estimates are understated because agencies do not always track geospatial investments. For example, these estimates do not include billions of dollars spent on earth-observing satellites that produce volumes of geospatial data. The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have started an initiative to have agencies identify and report annually on geospatial-related investments as part of the fiscal year 2017 budget process.

FGDC and selected federal agencies have made progress in implementing their responsibilities for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure as outlined in OMB guidance; however, critical items remain incomplete. For example, the committee established a clearinghouse for records on geospatial data, but the clearinghouse lacks an effective search capability and performance monitoring. FGDC also initiated plans and activities for coordinating with state governments on the collection of geospatial data; however, state officials GAO contacted are generally not satisfied with the committee’s efforts to coordinate with them. Among other reasons, they feel that the committee is focused on a federal perspective rather than a national one, and that state recommendations are often ignored. In addition, selected agencies have made limited progress in their own strategic planning efforts and in using the clearinghouse to register their data to ensure they do not invest in duplicative data. For example, 8 of the committee’s 32 member agencies have begun to register their data on the clearinghouse, and they have registered 59 percent of the geospatial data they deemed critical. Part of the reason that agencies are not fulfilling their responsibilities is that OMB has not made it a priority to oversee these efforts. Until OMB ensures that FGDC and federal agencies fully implement their responsibilities, the vision of improving the coordination of geospatial information and reducing duplicative investments will not be fully realized.

OMB guidance calls for agencies to eliminate duplication, avoid redundant expenditures, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the sharing and dissemination of geospatial data. However, some data are collected multiple times by federal, state, and local entities, resulting in duplication in effort and resources. A new initiative to create a national address database could potentially result in significant savings for federal, state, and local governments. However, agencies face challenges in effectively coordinating address data collection efforts, including statutory restrictions on sharing certain federal address data. Until there is effective coordination across the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, there will continue to be duplicative efforts to obtain and maintain these data at every level of government.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government collects, maintains, and uses geospatial information—data linked to specific geographic locations—to help support varied missions, including national security and natural resources conservation. To coordinate geospatial activities, in 1994 the President issued an executive order to develop a National Spatial Data Infrastructure—a framework for coordination that includes standards, data themes, and a clearinghouse. GAO was asked to review federal and state coordination of geospatial data.

GAO’s objectives were to (1) describe the geospatial data that selected federal agencies and states use and how much is spent on geospatial data; (2) assess progress in establishing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure; and (3) determine whether selected federal agencies and states invest in duplicative geospatial data. To do so, GAO identified federal and state uses of geospatial data; evaluated available cost data from 2013 to 2015; assessed FGDC’s and selected agencies’ efforts to establish the infrastructure; and analyzed federal and state datasets to identify duplication.

What GAO Recommends

GAO suggests that Congress consider assessing statutory limitations on address data to foster progress toward a national address database. GAO also recommends that OMB improve its oversight of FGDC and federal agency initiatives, and that FGDC and selected agencies fully implement initiatives. The agencies generally agreed with the recommendations and identified plans to implement them.

For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or

We’re finding out what’s in fracking wastewater, and it ain’t pretty

Read the full story in Grist.

On so many issues, California is the green leader, showing other states how it should be done better. But better is not necessarily the same thing as flawless. Right now, California is doing a better job of regulating fracking than any other state that allows it — but, of course, many local activists would rather the state just banned it, as New York has.

The federal government doesn’t require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use in their operations, and it has failed to produce data on the safety of fracking. Five years after the U.S. EPA announced plans to study fracking’s effect on drinking water, industry resistance has thwarted the effort. It’s up to states to require fracking operations to disclose what chemicals they are using and to find out if those chemicals are getting into the public water supply when frackers inject their wastewater underground. Most state governments, beholden to fossil fuel interests, aren’t doing this.

In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and setting up monitoring for air and water quality near unconventional drilling sites. No other state has adopted as comprehensive a system for finding out what’s actually in fracking wastewater. California environmental activists worry, though, that the law doesn’t go far enough in protecting against the adverse impacts of fracking, from polluting neighbors’ water and air to triggering increased seismic activity.

Still, information is better than nothing. On Tuesday, the Environmental Working Group released a report reviewing California’s implementation of the fracking disclosure law and what it has found. The group points out, “Because California is the only state to require comprehensive chemical testing of drilling wastes and public disclosure of the results, the findings also provide a unique window into what chemicals likely contaminate fracking wastewater nationwide.”