USDA accepts applications for Rural Energy for America Program

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack yesterday announced that the department is making $300 million available under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to expand renewable energy and support energy-efficiency projects for people living in rural America. This funding includes $250 million provided by the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic legislative package known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

USDA Rural Development is in a unique position to make climate-smart investments in rural infrastructure. The Inflation Reduction Act represents the largest ever federal investment in clean energy for the future. This historic funding will strengthen our energy security, create good-paying jobs, and save Americans money on their energy costs.

USDA is seeking applications for Fiscal Year 2023 funding. Two significant changes to this additional funding include an increase in the maximum Federal grant share from 25% to 40% of total project cost and an increase of maximum grant amounts from $250,000 to $500,000 for energy efficiency projects and an increase from $500,000 to $1,000,000 for renewable energy systems. Projects in underserved areas are prioritized for funding under this notice.

USDA will host an informational webinar for applicants and stakeholders on Wednesday, December 21, 2022, from 3:00 – 4:30pm Eastern Time. To register, visit: 
https://www.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_BSQ3b8K6Sz-sbpdJluEtfw.

Agricultural producers and rural small businesses are eligible applicants for loan guarantees and grants to develop renewable energy systems and to make energy efficiency improvements. State and local governments, federally-recognized tribes, land-grant colleges or universities or other institutions of higher education, rural electric cooperatives, public power entities, and Resource Conservation & Development Councils (as defined in 16 USC §3451) are eligible applicants for grants to conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.

Interested applicants are encouraged to contact their local USDA Rural Development State Energy Coordinator well in advance of the application deadlines to discuss their project and ask any questions about the REAP program or the application process.

Additional information on the required materials and how to apply for the REAP program are available on page 77059 of the Dec. 16, 2022, Federal Register.

Senate hearing looks at bottle bills, chemical recycling, other methods to urgently reduce plastic pollution

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

At the Senate committee hearing on plastics, the Plastics Industry Association’s CEO warmed to bottle bill possibilities but clashed with Beyond Plastics on chemical recycling’s risks and merits.

The right nudge: Targeted interventions to accelerate the technology shift in buildings

Read the full story from RMI.

Our previous blog post presented the financial sector’s opportunity and obligation to lead the way in decarbonizing the built environment in the United States. But what does that mean? After all, the financial sector is multifaceted, and there are many potential intervention points in real estate.

It is not technological breakthroughs we need. For the most part, buildings already have all the tools they need to decarbonize. What we need is a common framework for building decarbonization and an understanding of the ways in which new technology has historically displaced the old. Then, we can illuminate the way forward for finance to accelerate that displacement in order to rapidly and efficiently eliminate the 13 percent of US emissions that come from building operations today.

State releases $15M in funding for NIU sustainability center

Read the full story from Northern Illinois University.

It’s all systems go on NIU’s planned $23 million Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability (NICCS), as the State of Illinois has released the remainder of its funding set aside for the project.

Governor JB Pritzker announced yesterday the release of $37.3 million to launch facilities for five hubs of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), created to accelerate job creation and economic growth through groundbreaking education, research and discovery.

Satellites detect no real climate benefit from 10 years of forest carbon offsets in California

Redwood forests like this one in California can store large amounts of carbon, but not if they’re being cut down. Shane Coffield

by Shane Coffield, NASA and James Randerson, University of California, Irvine

Many of the companies promising “net-zero” emissions to protect the climate are relying on vast swaths of forests and what are known as carbon offsets to meet that goal.

On paper, carbon offsets appear to balance out a company’s carbon emissions: The company pays to protect trees, which absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The company can then claim the absorbed carbon dioxide as an offset that reduces its net impact on the climate.

However, our new satellite analysis reveals what researchers have suspected for years: Forest offsets might not actually be doing much for the climate.

When we looked at satellite tracking of carbon levels and logging activity in California forests, we found that carbon isn’t increasing in the state’s 37 offset project sites any more than in other areas, and timber companies aren’t logging less than they did before.

The findings send a pretty grim message about efforts to control climate change, and they add to a growing list of concerns about forest offsets. Studies have already shown that projects are often overcredited at the beginning and might not last as long as expected. In this case we’re finding a bigger issue: a lack of real climate benefit over the 10 years of the program so far.

But we also see ways to fix the problem.

How forest carbon offsets work

Forest carbon offsets work like this: Trees capture carbon dioxide from the air and use it to build mass, effectively locking the carbon away in their wood for the life of the tree.

In California, landowners can receive carbon credits for keeping carbon stocks above a minimum required “baseline” level. Third-party verifiers help the landowners take inventory by manually measuring a sample of trees. So far, this process has only involved measuring carbon levels relative to baseline and has not leveraged the emerging satellite technologies that we explored.

Forest owners can then sell the carbon credits to private companies, with the idea that they have protected trees that would otherwise be cut down. These include large oil and gas companies that use offsets to meet up to 8% of their state-mandated reductions in emissions.

A man measures a tree with a tape measure.
Most offset projects are verified by manually measuring the size of a sample of trees. Jerry Redfern/LightRocket via Getty Images

Forest offsets and other “natural climate solutions” have received a great deal of attention from companies, governments and nonprofits, including during the U.N. climate conference in November 2022. California has one of the world’s largest carbon offset programs, with tens of millions of dollars flowing through offset projects, and is often a model for other countries that are planning new offset programs.

It’s clear that offsets are playing a large and growing role in climate policy, from the individual to the international level. In our view, they need to be backed by the best available science.

3 potential problems

Our study used satellite data to track carbon levels, tree harvesting rates and tree species in forest offset projects compared with other similar forests in California.

Satellites offer a more complete record than on-the-ground reports collected at offset projects. That allowed us to assess all of California since 1986.

Map shows protected areas and zooms in on one to show how we compared carbon and harvest for the project and similar forests.
Using satellite data, we can track carbon changes and harvest rates in offset projects (red) compared with other private forests (black and gray). The highlighted example project started in 2014 (dashed vertical line). Adapted from Coffield et al., 2022, Global Change Biology

From this broad view, we identified three problems indicating a lack of climate benefit:

  1. Carbon isn’t being added to these projects faster than before the projects began or faster than in non-offset areas.
  2. Many of the projects are owned and operated by large timber companies, which manage to meet requirements for offset credits by keeping carbon above the minimum baseline level. However, these lands have been heavily harvested and continue to be harvested.
  3. In some regions, projects are being put on lands with lower-value tree species that aren’t at risk from logging. For example, at one large timber company in the redwood forests of northwestern California, the offset project is only 4% redwood, compared with 25% redwood on the rest of the company’s property. Instead, the offset project’s area is overgrown with tanoak, which is not marketable timber and doesn’t need to be protected from logging.
Color-coded satellite image shows how protected areas are carefully carved out, often allowing higher-quality trees to remain in areas being logged.
Example of one large timber company’s properties and offset project, which appears to be protecting lands at less risk of logging. Adapted from Coffield et al., 2022, Global Change Biology, CC BY-ND

How California can fix its offset program

Our research points to a set of recommendations for California to improve its offsets protocols.

One recommendation is to begin using satellite data to monitor forests and confirm that they are indeed being managed to protect or store more carbon. For example, it could help foresters create more realistic baselines to compare offsets against. Publicly available satellite data is improving and can help make carbon offsetting more transparent and reliable.

California can also avoid putting offset projects on lands that are already being conserved. We found several projects owned by conservation groups on land that already had low harvest rates.

Additionally, California could improve its offset contract protocols to make sure landowners can’t withdraw from an offset program in the future and cut down those trees. Currently there is a penalty for doing so, but it might not be high enough. Landowners may be able to begin a project, receive a huge profit from the initial credits, cut down the trees in 20 to 30 years, pay back their credits plus penalty, and still come out ahead if inflation exceeds the liability.

Ironically, while intended to help mitigate climate change, forest offsets are also vulnerable to it – particularly in wildfire-prone California. Research suggests that California is hugely underestimating the climate risks to forest offset projects in the state.

The state protocol requires only 2% or 4% of carbon credits be set aside in an insurance pool against wildfires, even though multiple projects have been damaged by recent fires. When wildfires occur, the lost carbon can be accounted for by the insurance pool. However, the pool may soon be depleted as yearly burned area increases in a warming climate. The insurance pool must be large enough to cover the worsening droughts, wildfires and disease and beetle infestations.

Considering our findings around the challenges of forest carbon offsets, focusing on other options, such as investing in solar and electrification projects in low-income urban areas, may provide more cost-effective, reliable and just outcomes.

Without improvements to the current system, we may be underestimating our net emissions, contributing to the profits of large emitters and landowners and distracting from the real solutions of transitioning to a clean-energy economy.

Shane Coffield, Postdoctoral Scientist in Biospheric Sciences, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA and James Randerson, Professor of Earth Science, University of California, Irvine

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

FAIRsharing.org

Read the full story at Inside Science Resources.

FAIRsharing.org is a curated, searchable registry of metadata standards; databases and repositories; and funder and journal policies that are relevant to specific domains or types of data…

FAIRsharing.org is a registry developed to help researchers and those who support them fulfill the FAIR principles by enabling them to readily locate the recommended metadata and reporting standards for particular domains or types of data, identify appropriate repositories for data storage and access, and reference journal and funder policies. As of this writing the site contains over 1600 records for standards, nearly 2000 records for databases/repositories, and over 150 records for policies. 

Most packaged food companies have weak or no comprehensive water management practices: Morningstar Sustainalytics

Read the full story at Food Industry Executive.

In an analysis of 114 packaged food companies, ESG research firm Morningstar Sustainalytics found that 60% have weak or no comprehensive water management practices in their direct operations and 43% lack adequate practices in their supply chains.

Morningstar’s report, which focuses on the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains region, finds that, as a whole, packaged food companies have a lot of work to do to mitigate water risks that are only becoming more severe.

Talking sustainability and food colors with GNT: ‘Of course, natural does not automatically mean sustainable…’

Read the full story at Food Navigator USA.

From breeding carrots with greater color intensity to using filtration to increase dry matter content in fruit concentrates before deploying energy-intensive evaporation techniques, coloring foodstuffs specialist GNT is exploring a multi-pronged approach to reducing its environmental footprint, says sustainability manager Rutger de Kort.

More sustainable packaging regs are coming

Read the full story at Food Engineering.

As many of us strive to be better environmental stewards, industry standards are changing as well. More state mandates for sustainable packaging are coming, in the food and beverage industry and across various sectors. California has been leading the way and other states have also begun the process toward greater packaging regulation.

It is only a matter of time before you might face new rules in your state, especially with food and beverage accounting for about half of packaging waste in U.S. landfills, according to data cited by Food Tank. There are financial steps you can take now to get your company ready for the potentially higher expenses—and benefits—of being more environmentally conscious and compliant.

BloombergNEF outlines energy transition net-zero scenarios

Read the full story at Environment + Energy Leader.

Energy transitions in the power and transportation sectors are key in advancing toward international net-zero targets, but without companies and governments taking action to accelerate low-carbon technologies, the goals may not be realized, according to BloombergNEF.

The research company released its 2022 New Energy Outlook with a focus on two decarbonization pathways – an economic transition and a net-zero scenario. The economic outlook assumes no new policy to enhance clean energy transitions, and the net-zero target looks at advancing energy technologies, including rapid deployments of clean power generation.