Day: August 21, 2014

University of Illinois Extension Announces Successful Awards

University of Illinois Extension recently announced awards for six collaborative projects, totaling over $1.2 million, to interdisciplinary teams of faculty and staff. The awards were part of the University of Illinois Extension and Outreach Initiative, a special partnership between U of I Extension, the Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES), and the Office of the Provost. The six awards were selected from a pool of 71 pre-proposals from 16 different campus units.

“We were very pleased with the number and quality of the proposals we received from across campus in response to this initiative,” said Robert Hauser, Dean of ACES. “The six projects moving forward are outstanding examples of the impact and value that extension and outreach can provide to a variety of disciplines throughout the University.”

University of Illinois Extension is the flagship outreach arm of the University. Extension’s statewide network of educators and county-based offices provide programming in economic development, health and nutrition, agriculture and natural resources, and youth development. Traditionally, most Extension programs are related to departments within the College of ACES. This Extension and Outreach Initiative was aimed at establishing programs with departments and units elsewhere on campus.

Principal investigators and project titles:

  • Jon Gant, Library of Information Science and Illinois Informatics Institute, Graduate School of Library and Information Science. “Enhancing Economic Development in Illinois with Digital Tech Hub Creativity Studios.”
  • Kevin Hamilton, Department of Art and Design, Fine and Applied Arts. “Designing for Health in Central Illinois.”
  • Lenny Pitt, Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering. “4-H Computing Connections.”
  • Aric Rindfleisch, College of Business. “Marketplace Literacy and 3-D Printing: Enabling Economic Development for Impoverished Communities.”
  • Kim Sheahan, Spurlock Museum, Liberal Arts and Sciences. “An Artifact Speaks.”
  • Wei Zheng, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Prairie Research Institute. “Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products: Extending Knowledge and Mitigation Strategies.”

Hauser explained that the Initiative was intended to expand Extension’s research base across the Urbana campus, raise awareness of Extension among faculty and stakeholders, and advance the University’s land grant mission through new, innovative partnerships.

“This year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Smith Lever Act, the federal legislation that launched Cooperative Extension at Land Grant institutions nationwide,” Hauser said. “We are working to broaden our approach to provide research-based information from the whole University.”

For more information about University of Illinois Extension, visit extension.illinois.edu. University of Illinois Extension provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems.

Ecosystems Are Not Machines

Read the full story at Ensia.

If we want to save the world, we need to treat nature more as an organism and less as disposable and replaceable technology.

What Climate Change Means for Your Coffee

Read the full story in Ensia.

Cuppa Joe. Java. Caffeine Infusion. Liquid Lightning. Morning Mud. Rocket Fuel.

Coffee — the black liquid that kick-starts the day for billions of people each morning — is one of our most precious global commodities. But as this video from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew explains, it’s also under threat from a changing climate.

Biodiversity Detectives Solve Mysteries With Environmental DNA

Read the full story at Ensia.

Advances in gene sequencing make it easier than ever to learn what lurks beneath the waves.

Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States

Download the document (originally printed in Environmental Pollution).

Trees remove air pollution by the interception of particulate matter on plant surfaces and the absorption of gaseous pollutants through the leaf stomata. However, the magnitude and value of the effects of trees and forests on air quality and human health across the United States remains unknown. Computer simulations with local environmental data reveal that trees and forests in the conterminous United States removed 17.4 million tonnes (t) of air pollution in 2010 (range: 9.0-23.2 million t), with human health effects valued at 6.8 billion U.S. dollars (range: $1.5-13.0 billion). This pollution removal equated to an average air quality improvement of less than one percent. Most of the pollution removal occurred in rural areas, while most of the health impacts and values were within urban areas. Health impacts included the avoidance of more than 850 incidences of human mortality and 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory symptoms.

Tax Carbon and Rebate the Money? That Could Be Expensive

Read the full story in BusinessWeek.

Carbon taxes could save the planet by reducing greenhouses gases that cause global warming. But there’s a debate over what to do with the money raised. A study released Friday concludes that the “cap and dividend” approach championed by Maryland Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen—rebating the money in lump sums to every U.S. resident—would benefit the most households but also be the most expensive.

The study (pdf) by economists at Resources for the Future, a think tank in Washington, evaluates the lump-sum rebate against two other approaches: using the tax revenue to cut taxes on capital, such as dividends and capital gains taxes, and using it to cut taxes on labor, such as taxes on wages, salaries, and bonuses.

Can big data help build more wind and solar farms?

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Convincing customers to switch to renewable energy is an uphill battle. But for a former political operative, finding business is as easy as mining a consumer behavior database.

Milton Glaser designs It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying campaign to tackle climate change

Read the full story at Dezeen.

Milton Glaser, the graphic designer behind the ubiquitous I heart NY logo, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of climate change.

Glaser’s It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying campaign aims to create a greater sense of urgency around climate change, moving away from benign language like “global warming”.

 

Environmental Regulation: EPA Should Improve Adherence to Guidance for Selected Elements of Regulatory Impact Analyses

Download the document

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used the seven Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIA) GAO reviewed to inform decision making, and its adherence to relevant Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance varied. According to senior EPA officials, the agency used these RIAs to facilitate communication with management throughout the rulemaking process and communicate information that supported its regulatory decisions to Congress and the public. However, it generally did not use them as the primary basis for final regulatory decisions.

EPA generally adhered to many aspects of OMB’s Circular A-4 guidance for analyzing the economic effects of regulations including, for example, considering regulatory alternatives and analyzing uncertainties underlying its RIAs. However, EPA did not always adhere to other aspects. Specifically, the information EPA included and presented in the RIAs was not always clear. According to OMB guidance, RIAs should communicate information supporting regulatory decisions and enable a third party to understand how the agency arrives at its conclusions. In addition, EPA’s review process does not ensure that the information about selected elements that should appear in the analyses—such as descriptions of baselines and alternatives considered—is transparent or clear, within and across its RIAs. As a result, EPA cannot ensure that its RIAs adhere to OMB’s guidance to provide the public with a clear understanding of its decision making.

In addition to using Circular A-4 (issued in 2003) to analyze the effects of regulations, EPA used more recent guidance developed by an interagency working group co-led by OMB and another White House office in 2010 for valuing carbon dioxide emissions. Applying this guidance while using Circular A-4 to estimate other benefits and costs yielded inconsistencies in some of EPA’s estimates and has raised questions about whether its approach was consistent with Circular A-4. Circular A-4 does not reference the new guidance and the new guidance does not include an overall statement explaining its relationship to Circular A-4. Without increased clarity about the relationship, questions about the agencies’ adherence to OMB guidance will likely persist.

In assessing EPA’s adherence to OMB guidance, GAO identified two other areas in which EPA faced challenges that limited the usefulness of some of its estimates. First, EPA did not monetize certain benefits and costs related to the primary purposes or key impacts of the rules GAO reviewed, such as reducing hazardous air pollutants and water quality effects. EPA officials said resource and data limitations constrained the agency’s ability to monetize these effects. OMB guidance acknowledges that monetizing effects is not always possible. However, without doing so, the public may face challenges understanding the trade-offs associated with regulatory alternatives. Second, EPA estimated effects of its regulations on employment, in part, using a study that, according to EPA officials, represented the best reasonably obtainable data when they conducted their analyses. However, the study was based on data that were more than 20 years old and may not have represented the regulated entities addressed in the RIAs. EPA officials said they are exploring new approaches for analyzing these effects but were uncertain about when such results would be available. Without improvements in its estimates, EPA’s RIAs may be limited in their usefulness for helping decision makers and the public understand these important effects.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal regulations, especially those addressing health, safety, and the environment, can generate hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits and costs to society annually. Various statutes, executive orders, and OMB guidance direct federal agencies to analyze the benefits and costs of proposed regulations. These analyses—known as RIAs—can also provide affected entities, agencies, Congress, and the public with important information about the potential effects of new regulations.

According to OMB, EPA regulations account for the majority of the estimated benefits and costs of major federal regulations. GAO was asked to review EPA’s RIAs for recent regulations. This report examines how EPA has used RIAs during the rulemaking process and the extent to which EPA adhered to OMB guidance on selected elements of RIAs for recent rules. GAO reviewed RIAs from a nonprobability sample of seven recent air, water, and other environmental regulations, assessed them against relevant OMB guidance, and interviewed agency officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that EPA improve adherence to OMB guidance and enhance the usefulness of its RIAs, and that OMB clarify the application of guidance for estimating the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In commenting on a draft of this report, EPA stated that it generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations. On behalf of OMB, in oral comments OMB staff said that they neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations but saw some merit in them.

For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gomez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

Envision 2050: The Future of Cities

Read the full story at Ensia.

By 2050, seven out of every 10 people on Earth will be an urban dweller. What the cities of the future look like depends largely on decisions we make today.

Will we design a future where driverless cars zip around under skyscraping vertical gardens in hyperconnected, energy efficient “smart cities”? Or will we be trapped in endless traffic jams while pollution overwhelms remaining green spaces and infrastructure crumbles?

For this second installment of our Envision 2050 series (read the first here), Ensia turned to five visionary urban planners, designers and architects for their views on what they would like cities to be like in 2050 and what it would take to get there. Here’s what we heard:

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