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Learning Lessons from Wildfires, from Texas to Brazil

This post was written with James Anderson, Communications Coordinator at the World Resources Institute.

“This is unprecedented fire behavior. We’ve never seen conditions like this before. Not a single one of our firefighters has ever faced such extreme conditions.”

This statement from the director of the Texas Forest Service makes it clear that the recent wildfires that scorched Texas belong in a new category of disaster. Already, the state’s wildfires this season have consumed 3.6 million acres (an area the size of Connecticut), swallowed over 1,500 homes, and killed at least four people. According to NOAA, the current wildfire is costing more than $1 million per day and exceeds $5 billion in overall damages across the Southwest. These are costs that will be borne by government, business and residents, alike.

An Extreme Summer Shows Why We Need to Get Real About Climate Change

A version of this piece originally appeared in a special energy section of The Hill.

2011 was the summer of extreme weather— from the massive drought in the Southwest to record-breaking heat waves to Hurricane Irene’s torrential rains. Each of these events serves as a stark reminder of the growing impacts of climate change. Even so, the main recent discussion around climate change comes from Republican presidential candidates who have been debating the issue. Notably, Jon Huntsman recently Tweeted that he trusts scientists on global warming, adding “Call me crazy”– an invitation surely welcomed by some of his competitors.

Conservation Easements: a Good Investment for the U.S. South

With forests being converted at a rapid pace in the South, conservation easements are one of the most promising approaches to conserve and sustainably manage them. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement in which a landowner agrees to sell or donate the development rights to his or her land. In contrast to some traditional approaches to forest conservation, conservation easements can prevent forest loss while still allowing landowners to own their land. This has made conservation easements an increasingly popular land conservation tool in the United States. While the use of conservation easements continues to grow nationally, adoption lags behind in the South (Figure 1).

WRI’s new issue brief, “Gaining Ground: Increasing Conservation Easements in the U.S. South,” released today jointly with the American Forest Foundation, aims to increase the use of conservation easements in the South by helping landowners, conservation professionals, and conservation funders understand the unique benefits that conservation easements provide, key barriers to their implementation, and how to best address those barriers.

What Do We Know About “Green Jobs”?

While the potential role of ‘green jobs’ is hotly debated, many participants in this debate are talking past one another – starting from different assumptions and definitions, working from different datasets, or hailing from opposite ideological viewpoints on the “true” costs of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions.

A review of the literature provides evidence that clean energy policies and investments can help create job opportunities and competitive gains for the economy. These findings should heighten the demand for policies and investments that hasten a shift to a low-carbon economy and the creation of more clean-energy jobs.

What Woodland Owners Should Know About Forest Carbon Offsets in the U.S. South

This piece was written with Paula Swedeen of the Pacific Forest Trust

A new issue brief, released today by the World Resources Institute and the Pacific Forest Trust, looks at the economic opportunities for southern landowners created by emerging forest carbon offset markets. This new revenue stream can offer real rewards to landowners who steward their forests for climate benefits.

Original economic analysis done by the authors suggests that under current market conditions (offset prices in the $8-$12/metric ton CO2e range), income from carbon offsets may be sufficient in some instances to pay property taxes or the “incremental” costs of sustainable forest management certification. From a purely financial perspective, however, revenue from offsets in today’s still-developing market is not likely sufficient to outcompete real estate development in the region.

Opening Doors to U.S.-China Cooperation on Energy and Environment

Vice President Joe Biden had it right in his recent visit to China. Global stability, he declared in an August 18 speech in Beijing "rests in no small part on the cooperation between the United States and China."

The U.S. vice president was referring to economic stability. But the world's ability to come up with a stable and sustainable energy and environmental policy for the 21st century will also depend significantly on cooperation between the world's current and emerging superpowers. As I have found from my experience in China, Beijing's door is increasingly open to such cooperation. The United States would do well to come knocking.

California Cap-and-Trade: Taking the Time to Get the Details Right

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) staff is holding a workshop today on additional details that were recently announced for California’s cap-and-trade program. These details on allowance allocation, reporting, verification, and other aspects of the program, and the recent announcement on the program’s timing by CARB Chairman Mary Nichols are important, since they show that California is taking the time needed to get it right.

What happens with this program is important for U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions – California represents one-eighth of the U.S. economy and the program will place a price on carbon for 85 percent of its emissions. In the absence of a comprehensive federal climate policy, state-level and regional actions like these will be key drivers for achieving GHG emission reductions in the U.S. in the near term.

New Fact Sheet Helps Chesapeake Bay States Design Nutrient Trading Programs

2011 will be an important year for the Chesapeake Bay, not only because scientists are predicting an unusually bad “dead zone” this summer.

Last December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) that establish the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution that the Bay and its tidal tributaries can safely receive each year. The TMDLs divide the pollution loads among sources, such as urban areas regulated for stormwater runoff, wastewater treatment plants, and agricultural lands.

Now, responsibility for implementing the TMDLs falls to states in the Bay watershed that have been delegated authority from EPA to run water quality programs. By December 1, 2011, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia will submit plans to EPA that explain how sources within their jurisdiction will meet and maintain the TMDLs.

The December deadline has states reviewing legislation and regulations that could reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution that impairs Bay water bodies.

Should America Follow Europe's Lead on Energy?

This post originally appeared on the National Journal Energy & Environment Experts Blog.

As the United States sorts out its next moves on energy policies to enhance long-term security and strengthen its economy, policymakers will need to weigh both benefits and risks of various energy sources. Looking at what other countries are doing is a good place to start. European countries’ recent moves have one thing in common: each is moving to cleaner energy sources and greater energy efficiency.

Myths and Facts about U.S. EPA Standards

In recent months, the debate over U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations of greenhouse gas emissions took on a heated tone across the country. At the federal level, the Senate voted down several amendments (detailed summaries available here) that would have restricted EPA’s ability to regulate dangerous greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. During the same week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would severely restrict EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs, while taking the highly unusual step of overturning a scientific finding. Meanwhile, opponents of pollution controls continue to press for further debate and additional votes on bills that would restrict or eliminate EPA’s authority.

Throughout the debate, some of the loudest voices have argued that EPA’s actions would be harmful to industry and the economy. Looking closer, however, we find that these claims are largely inaccurate – many of them are exaggerations or, in some cases, outright misinformation. WRI analysts set the record straight.

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