Publications

Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup Releases Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives

On September 22, 2014, Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives was released as an informational resource for Tribes, agencies, and organizations across the United States interested in understanding Traditional Knowledges in the context of climate change.

The Third National Climate Assessment issued in May 2014 contained a chapter dedicated to the impact of climate change on tribal peoples. In light of the increasing recognition of the significance of Traditional Knowledges in relation to climate change, a self-organized, informal group of indigenous persons, staff of indigenous governments and organizations, and experts with experience working with issues concerning Traditional Knowledges felt compelled to develop a framework to increase understanding of issues relating to access and protection of Traditional Knowledges in climate initiatives and interactions between holders of Traditional Knowledges and non-tribal partners.

The Guidelines were originally developed to inform the Department of Interior’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science in May 2014. To learn more, visit: http://climatetkw.wordpress.com/.

White House Announces Priority Agenda to Enhance Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources

As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Administration is announcing a Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda that represents a first of its kind, comprehensive commitment across the federal government to support the resilience of our natural resources.

This agenda identifies a suite of actions that the federal government will take to enhance the resilience of America’s natural resources to the impacts of climate change and promote their ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

The agenda, which was called for in the President’s Executive Order on Climate Preparedness, was developed jointly by federal agencies and is informed by the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and other stakeholder engagement.

For more details on this announcement, see the White House Fact Sheet. The full agenda can be accessed at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/enhancing_climate_resilience_of_americas_natural_resources.pdf.

Chemical Assessments: Agencies Coordinate Activities, but Additional Action Could Enhance Efforts

Chemical Assessments: Agencies Coordinate Activities, but Additional Action Could Enhance Efforts

What GAO Found

The federal agencies GAO reviewed—the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—undertake distinct chemical toxicity assessment activities that differ in type and purpose and are driven in part by statutory requirements; the 10 states GAO reviewed largely rely on federal agencies’ assessment activities. For example, ATSDR’s toxicity assessment activities include evaluating hazards at contaminated sites and NIOSH’s activities include identifying potential health risks to workers. Agency officials from all 10 of the selected states told GAO that they have used assessment information produced by these federal agencies in the last 5 years. Officials from 6 of the 10 states told GAO they rely on federal assessments, and the remaining 4 said that they may produce their own assessments in some cases—for example, when a chemical is of interest to the state but is not a national priority.

The chemical toxicity assessment activities at these five federal agencies are fragmented and overlapping, but GAO did not find evidence that these activities are duplicative. Their activities are fragmented because they address the same broad area of national need—providing information on the toxicity of chemicals. The five agencies’ activities overlap because some of them have similar goals—such as identifying the extent to which a chemical may cause cancer—or some target similar beneficiaries—such as the general public. GAO did not find evidence of duplication, however, because the agencies did not engage in the same activities or provide the same services to the same beneficiaries. For example, although both NIOSH and EPA develop chemical toxicity assessment information, NIOSH assesses the potential risks that chemicals pose to working-aged adults in occupational settings, such as over the course of a 40-hour workweek, and EPA assesses risks that chemicals pose to a broader population, including children, typically over the course of an entire lifetime.

Officials from all five federal agencies and 3 of the 10 states told GAO that they have coordinated their chemical toxicity assessment activities and also identified challenges. For example, some agency officials identified constraints on sharing confidential business information because of legal restrictions on dissemination of such information across agencies. The Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) coordinates science and technology policies across the federal government. All executive department and agencies, whether or not they are represented on the NTSC, are to coordinate science and technology policy through it. Given that NSTC has previously facilitated federal coordination on cross-cutting topics, such as nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals in the environment, and given its purpose, an official from OSTP stated that NSTC could serve an interagency coordinating function to address certain cross-cutting challenges. By having an interagency body to address these, and any future cross-cutting challenges, the five selected federal agencies would be positioned to better coordinate their assessment activities in the most effective and efficient manner.

Why GAO Did This Study

With thousands of chemicals in commercial use in the United States, decision makers rely on toxicity assessment information to examine the risks these substances may pose. Several key federal agencies—including ATSDR, EPA, NIOSH, NTP, and OSHA—as well as state agencies, assess the toxicity of chemicals.

GAO was asked to review chemical toxicity assessment activities. This report (1) describes the chemical toxicity assessment activities selected federal and state agencies undertake; (2) assesses the extent to which these federal agencies’ chemical toxicity assessment activities are fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative; and (3) assesses the extent to which these federal and state agencies coordinate their chemical toxicity assessment activities and challenges in doing so. GAO selected five key federal agencies that assess chemicals, and a nonprobability sample of agencies in 10 states that provide a range of assessment activities. GAO reviewed federal agency documentation and compiled summaries of chemical toxicity assessment activities and compared them with one another. GAO interviewed officials from these agencies, representatives from industry, and other stakeholders.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Director of OSTP encourage the NSTC to support relevant federal agency officials’ efforts to address, as appropriate, the agencies’ cross-cutting coordination challenges. OSTP did not provide official written comments, but instead provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans

This workbook and the associated resources guide users to develop a risk-based climate change adaptation plan consisting of a vulnerability assessment and an action plan to reduce the most pressing risks.

Green Guide for Universities

The ten universities that comprise the International Alliance of Research Universities released a new publication — the Green Guide for Universities — at the international conference Making Universities Sustainable Conference in Copenhagen last week. The guide, which addresses key areas of sustainability at universities, ranging from laboratory design to managerial and organizational aspects, makes it easier for universities around the world to become more sustainable.

Loaded with Lead series details lead hazards at shooting ranges

Read the continuing series from the Seattle Times. The three parts include:

About the series (from the Seattle Times web site):

“Loaded with Lead,” an ongoing, yearlong investigation into lead hazards at shooting ranges nationwide, is based on tens of thousands of pages of public records and scores of interviews. Among the interviews were those with range employees and owners, public-health and workplace-safety officials, regulators, shooters, construction workers, family members, and medical and firearms experts.

Reporters gathered several thousand enforcement records from Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries and from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to build custom inspection databases. After analysis, these data sets provided key findings. The national database of 201 commercial shooting ranges that had been inspected details more than 1,900 violations between 2004 and 2013. Because the violations were identified by regulation code, The Times consulted hundreds of federal and state occupational-safety standards to determine which violations were lead-related.

Reporters filed scores of public-records requests with public agencies in numerous states, including Washington, California, Alaska, Kentucky, Iowa, Florida and Illinois. Among the documents: workplace inspection files (including correspondence, emails, handwritten notes, photos, audio and videos); court files; police reports; and property records. They also obtained federal records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from several regional and state OSHA offices.

Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of

Read the full story in The Guardian.

In 2011, an ecologist released an alarming study showing that tiny clothing fibers could be the biggest source of plastic in our oceans. The bigger problem? No one wanted to hear it