EPA opens civil rights investigation into state’s role over Jackson water system

Read the full story at Mississippi Today.

The Environmental Protection Agency wrote in a letter Thursday that it is opening a civil rights investigation into the state of Mississippi’s role in the breakdown of Jackson’s water system.

The letter is in response to a complaint the NAACP filed on Sept. 27 under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint alleges Mississippi has discriminated against the city on the basis of race, and that the state has “deprived” Jackson of federal funds intended for maintaining safe drinking water systems.

Mississippi, which has no Black statewide elected officials, is 38% Black and 59% white. Jackson is 83% Black and 16% white.

The EPA specified in the letter that it will investigate whether the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Mississippi State Department of Health discriminated against Jackson in their funding of water programs. It will also investigate whether the two state agencies have safeguards and policies to protect against discrimination as required by Title VI.

Phantom forests: Why ambitious tree planting projects are failing

Read the full story at e360.

High-profile initiatives to plant millions of trees are being touted by governments around the world as major contributions to fighting climate change. But scientists say many of these projects are ill-conceived and poorly managed and often fail to grow any forests at all.

I was a presidential science adviser – here are the many challenges Arati Prabhakar faces as she takes over President Biden’s science policy office

U.S. science policy can support anything from basic research to late-stage applications. Anchalee Phanmaha/Moment via Getty Images

by Neal Lane, Rice University

Arati Prabhakar has been sworn in as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and assistant to the president for science and technology after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, two months following her nomination by President Joe Biden. As the director of OSTP and assistant to the president, she now serves as the confidential science adviser to the president and is also accountable to Congress. Prabhakar is both the first woman and first person of color to hold this role.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Prabhakar during the Clinton administration when she was the director of the National Institute for Standards and Technology and I was director of the National Science Foundation. In 1998, President Bill Clinton selected me to be his director of OSTP and assistant to the president for science and technology, a position I held until the end of the administration in 2001.

These positions at the National Science Foundation and Office of Science Technology and Policy gave me different perspectives on how the federal government carries out its multiple complicated roles supporting science and technology, as well as a sense of some of the challenges Prabhakar faces. By focusing on cooperation among federal agencies and the White House offices in addressing the president’s goals, she can help ensure that the U.S. science and technology enterprise rises to the many difficulties the country faces today.

A white-haired man in a suit and sunglasses sits at a desk surrounded by people, with a document standing on the desk.
Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law in August 2022, providing funding for semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research in the U.S. to compete with China. AP/Evan Vucci

Eyes on innovation

Born in India, Prabhakar immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, obtained a doctorate in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology and has had a distinguished career in both government and industry. She has held leadership positions in several technology and venture capital companies. Her most recent federal appointment was as director of the Defense Advanced Project Agency, or DARPA, under Barack Obama.

Today, the U.S. faces a number of existential challenges ranging from climate change to future pandemics, to competition from China, to social inequality – all of which will require harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation. In Prabhakar’s Senate testimony, she described how the OSTP is the only place in the federal government that focuses on the overall health and global standing of U.S. science and technology capability. The full spectrum of exploration, discovery and implementation fall under her purview – from very basic, fundamental research to putting technological innovations into the market.

Biden shares this belief in the vital role of science and innovation, as does Congress. The recently passed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act promotes general research and development and semiconductor manufacturing capability, specifically as a response to the rapid rise of Chinese science, technology and innovation.

Collaboration is critical

A white-haired woman smiles in a formal portrait with an American flag in the background.
Arati Prabhakar has held leadership positions in DARPA, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology and a number of private companies. DARPA

No single U.S. executive department or agency alone can accomplish the president’s goals. The U.S. system is enormously complicated; a multitude of agencies support research and development, as well as applications of science and technology. For example, many departments and agencies were instrumental in developing and launching the internet, which many people might take for granted today.

Science agencies interact with dozens of White House offices. OSTP must work well with all these agencies and offices of the White House, a place where effectiveness depends on establishing a balance between assertiveness and cooperation with other players.

A big challenge for Prabhakar – and an issue on the minds of many leaders in science and technology – will be assisting and coordinating the efforts of many research agencies to achieve national goals while protecting and strengthening their traditional roles in supporting basic research in science and engineering. This will require earning the trust and respect of the heads of the various agencies and her colleagues in the White House and making sure her voice is heard in order to achieve the goals laid out by the president and Congress.

Balancing basic research with applications

I very much agree with Prabhakar that the U.S. could benefit greatly from investments in both fundamental research as well as in technology development, but trade-offs will inevitably be made within that broad scope of federal responsibilities.

There is growing concern within the research community that, given the recent focus of Congress and the Biden administration on innovation and the translation of scientific discoveries into real-world applications, fundamental research is likely to lose support. Many worry this could harm the United States’ long-standing supremacy in science.

Prabhakar has devoted her career to creating solutions from the scientific advances that come from basic research done in universities, national laboratories and in industry. She is well aware that sound judgment, teamwork and a degree of assertiveness will be needed to advance the president’s research, development and innovation initiatives while ensuring policymakers do not neglect fundamental research.

People in business attire sit around a long conference table with microphones placed above them.
Prabhakar is now a member of Biden’s Cabinet and will play a central role in facilitating fruitful relationships between the many players in science and technology. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

How to be effective

With so many players involved, cooperation is key.

As OSTP director, Prabhakar has the task of facilitating effective cooperation among the many federal scientific, health and regulatory agencies. Cooperation among federal agencies and companies, particularly in areas of new technologies, is critically important for accelerating the pace of translation of discoveries to applications, but that has consistently been hard to manage.

The OSTP director can also play an important role in facilitating the relationships between industry and government, and there are currently both a commitment and substantial funding from both sides to support this goal. The CHIPS and Science Act calls for the government to invest US$10 billion to create 20 new “regional technology and innovation hubs” in locations that are not currently centers of technology. I believe Prabhakar’s experience in DARPA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the private sector will allow her to deftly promote cooperation.

Another particularly important challenge every OSTP director faces is in helping prepare the annual budget request. The budget consists of thousands of lines disbursing funding for executive departments and agencies. While the Office of Management and Budget plays the lead role in this process, the director of OSTP is expected to work with the director of the OMB and many other White House advisers to ensure that the president’s priorities in science and technology are addressed.

Since the president’s initiatives will involve many federal agencies, pulling together all the necessary information for the budget is going to be particularly challenging and will require considerable cooperation between agencies. It is critical that Prabhakar develop a close working relationship with the OMB to make sure the agencies get what they need.

The U.S. is facing huge challenges – from pandemics to climate change to competition with China – that all require massive national efforts in science and technology. Arati Prabhakar has devoted her career to advancing U.S. innovation and competitiveness in science and technology. I believe she will do an excellent job in her new role. A final attribute she brings to the table is the fact that, as an immigrant, she sets an example for the thousands of women and men coming to the U.S. to study science, engineering and technology. It is vitally important that the U.S. continue to be a magnet for talent from all over the world.

Neal Lane, Emeritus Professor of Science and Technology Policy and Physics and Astronomy, Rice University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

U.S. financial stability oversight council launches climate risk advisory committee

Read the full story at ESG Today.

The U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) announced today the launch of the Climate-related Financial Risk Advisory Committee (CFRAC), aimed at helping the council with identifying, assessing and mitigating climate-related risks to the financial system.

Initial members of the new council represent a broad range of backgrounds, including financial services executives, sustainability disclosure specialists, climate data providers, academics and NGOs, among others.

FSOC’ mandate is to identify risks and respond to emerging threats to financial stability in the U.S. The council is chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury, and brings together federal financial regulators, state regulators and insurance experts. Members of FSCO include the heads of the Federal Reserve, SEC, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Federal Housing Finance Agency, among others.

Memories of the end of the last ice age, from those who were there

Read the full story at Hakai Magazine.

It wasn’t long after Henry David Inglis arrived on the island of Jersey, just northwest of France, that he heard the old story. Locals eagerly told the 19th-century Scottish travel writer how, in a bygone age, their island was much more substantial, and that folks used to walk to the French coast. The only hurdle to their journey was a river—one easily crossed using a short bridge.

“Pah!” Inglis presumably scoffed as he looked out across 22 kilometers of shimmering blue sea—because he went on to write in his 1832 book about the region that this was “an assertion too ridiculous to merit examination.” Another writer, Jean Poingdestre, around 150 years earlier, had been similarly unmoved by the tale. No one could have trod from Jersey to Normandy, he withered, “vnlesse it were before the Flood,” referring to the Old Testament cataclysm.

Yet, there had been a flood. A big one. Between roughly 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, massive flooding caused by melting glaciers raised sea levels around Europe. That flooding is what eventually turned Jersey into an island.

Rather than being a ridiculous claim not worthy of examination, perhaps the old story was true—a whisper from ancestors who really did walk through now-vanished lands. A whisper that has echoed across millennia.

That’s exactly what geologist Patrick Nunn and historian Margaret Cook at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia have proposed in a recent paper.

Corporate climate reporting lacking transparency on financial impact: EY

Read the full story at ESG Today.

Global professional services firm EY announced the publication of its annual Global Climate Risk Barometer report, analyzing the state of corporate climate disclosures. The study found a significant increase in TCFD-aligned reporting by companies over the past year, but a continuing shortfall of transparency into the financial impact of climate-related risks, and a disconnect between climate reporting and action on decarbonization.

A key issue raised by the report is the disconnect between an increased level of climate-related disclosure, and companies’ ability to provide transparency on the material climate-related information, with only 29% of companies referencing climate-related matters in their financial statements.

Chart: Clean energy jobs still lag dirty ones, but they’re growing fast

Read the full story at Canary Media.

The U.S. had more than 600,000 jobs in carbon-free electricity and fuels in 2021. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s poised to add millions more.

Campus Landscape Master Plan: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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The Campus Landscape Master Plan (CLMP) presents a shared vision for the overall campus landscape and provides specific design guidelines, tested through extensive public engagement and stakeholder input. The campus community desires a landscape that inspires, nurtures, restores and educates. They desire a multifunctional landscape that provides opportunities for collaboration, celebration and gathering; a landscape that clearly defines the University of Illinois brand and is accessible, safe, inviting and manageable; a landscape that respects origins and heritage, a landscape that will amplify the region’s biodiversity and assist in the University with achieving its Climate Leadership commitments. The CLMP outlines a vision to achieve a resilient, sustainable campus landscape. The realization of this vision will require a commitment towards phased investment year by year over the coming decades. By committing to a sustainable campus the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) will embody resilience as a model landscape in the Midwest and a world-leader in campus native landscape expression and honoring rain water as a valued resource.

Voluntary Codes and Standards: Teaching Resources for Law and Public Policy Courses

With support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Penn Program on Regulation has developed course modules and multi-media case studies which use examples from the world of voluntary codes and standards to teach broader legal concepts.

The case studies feature real-life narratives and video interviews with key participants and experts designed to engage students and stimulate lively discussion. The materials are intended to be integrated into existing law school courses with the aid of teaching materials that can be used by instructors without any prior background in working with voluntary codes and standards.

Pipeline Incidents and Property Values: A Nationwide Hedonic Analysis

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Economic impacts of energy infrastructure incidents have been a focus of attention, especially since the rapid pipeline expansion due to the domestic shale oil and gas boom. While previous studies focus on individual pipeline incidents, we provide the first nationwide assessment of pipeline incidents’ impacts on housing prices using data from 864 gas distribution pipeline incidents and 17 million property transactions from 2010 to 2020. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that a pipeline incident decreases housing prices by 4% — 6% on average. We explore the heterogeneous impacts of incidents with different characteristics. These heterogeneous impacts can potentially explain conflicting results from previous studies.