California Dream 2.0

New methodology creates access to carbon markets for California rice growers, model for the rest of the world

By Candice Chow, Agricultural Policy Fellow in EDF’s Sacramento office. 

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in partnership with the California Rice Commission, Applied Geosolutions, LLC, and TerraGlobal Capital, LLC, have developed a-first-in-kind methodology to quantify greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions from rice production in California.

The methodology, drafted by TerraGlobal Capital, LLC, is a framework for developing offset projects using specific practices in order to sell credits on voluntary and compliance GHG markets.  This is an exciting step forward in reducing emissions from agriculture and the California rice industry is one of the first to lead the way.

“The California Rice Commission hopes to demonstrate how our rice growers can assist in addressing the state’s climate change program goals by voluntarily generating offsets and making them available to other affected industries in California,” said Paul Buttner, Manager of Environmental Affairs at the California Rice Commission.

Modeling Rice Emissions

In 2007 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved a grant for EDF and the California Rice Commission to study practices for reducing emissions from rice production.

Different environmental factors affect rice GHG emissions, preventing a one-size-fits-all solution. A process model like DeNitrification-DeComposition (DNDC) can more accurately predict GHG emissions when given specific parameters, such as soil type, temperature and water regime.  Applied Geosolutions, LLC calibrated and validated the DNDC model using field measurements and was able to identify management practices that reduce GHG emissions without affecting yields and to assess mitigation potential in California. 

Mitigation Practices

Changing water management, such as reduced flooding and altered drainage timing, provides the largest mitigation opportunity to reduce methane emissions. Water cuts off the oxygen supply from the atmosphere to the soil that results in anaerobic fermentation. Methane, a GHG with a global warming potential 20 times that of carbon dioxide, is a byproduct of anaerobic fermentation. 

 As a result of an economic feasibility analysis by UC Davis, GHG reduction practices in California were narrowed down to reduced winter flooding, straw baling after harvest, and dry-seeding (as opposed to seeding while flooded), and these three practices are included in the methodology.

Growers who implement one or more of these practices and produce emissions reductions based on DNDC modeling will be eligible to sell offset credits on carbon markets.  As a result, growers create an additional revenue source while providing GHG offset credits that are real, permanent, additional, and verifiable. 

Global Potential

“The methodology is a first step towards achieving the global mitigation potential for rice,” said Belinda Morris, EDF’s Working Lands Regional Director.  “In the future, expanding the methodology to include other practices and other geographies could provide incentives for substantial GHG emissions reductions from rice production.” 

Rice is grown on approximately 346 million acres worldwide, and 90 percent of rice land is flooded for at least part of the season.   The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that rice production emits between 31-112 million metric tons of methane per year.   Some academic studies have suggested the potential reductions from practices, such as mid-season drainage, in other parts of the world (it is not viable in California) could be in the range of 50 percent. Major emission variables include factors such as production of more than one crop per year and/or farming in certain regions that have higher emissions due to regional soil and weather factors.  

While this is an exciting step forward, more work is needed to accurately estimate reductions given economic and technical constraints in various rice-producing regions.  For example, in California where only one crop per year is produced, costs of production are high and the soils have relatively low emissions characteristics, it is difficult to envision a program that could achieve much beyond a 10 percent reduction level while other regions might deliver much greater initial reductions.

The methodology has been submitted to two registries, and it is currently open for public review through the Verified Carbon Standard before it is approved and available to generate offset credits.  EDF and its partners expect to have protocols approved by the end of 2011.  In the meantime, we will continue to find means of reducing transaction costs and further define the market potential of these emission reduction projects.

Posted in Climate, Ecosystem Restoration, Offsets / Comments are closed

Save the Date to “Ask Mindy” about Going Green in 2011!

The New Year is a time for healthy resolutions, including all those ways to improve our home, our fitness and our lifestyles.

And while more and more of us are interested in going green, we can be inundated with information that can feel as overwhelming as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

What we really need are practical answers. What plastics are safe to use? Should I be drinking from plastic water bottles? What about all those plastic forks, knives and spoons? Is it ever safe to use plastic in microwaves? And what are the risks to our health and for the environment of using unsafe chemically-derived products? 

Fortunately we can “Ask Mindy” Pennybacker for tips from her book  Do One Green Thing, Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices. Mindy writes a monthly “Ask Mindy” column for Whole Living magazine that helps guide consumers towards the most healthy and green choices when making purchases for the home or on the go.

On January 11, Mindy will join EDF’s Wade Crowfoot and Beth Trask for a moderated conversation sponsored by Whole Living magazine. Together with Debbie Raphael of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, we’ll explore practical ways to get toxic contaminants out of our daily lives. 

For a snapshot preview of areas that Mindy will cover, watch her interview with Martha Stewart here.

Let’s make 2011 the time to do those daily green things and urge our political representatives and corporations to support green initiatives, from removing toxic synthetic chemicals in the supply chain of major retailers to strengthening the California Green Chemistry Initiative.  Currently the U.S. government is lagging behind other nations in limiting or banning the use of BPA and other chemicals and even dragging its heels on listing chemicals of concern

Yet these chemicals of concern are all around us, in water bottles and food cans and in home care products. Watch this video and join the “I am not a guinea pig” campaign to demand chemical safety reform. Join us on Jan. 11 to learn more about which products to use and which ones to lose. 

Until Jan. 11, here are some easy tips from Mindy for detoxifying your New Year by doing “One Green Thing” in each area of your daily life. 

1.  Phase out sports bottles and kitchenware made with polycarbonate plastic, that often can be identified by the recycling code #7, which contains the toxic chemical Bisphenol-A.

2.  Choose green, botanically-derived household cleaning and personal care  products and discover which  ingredients  you should avoid, and why, to keep from polluting your indoor air and our waterways. Mindy will show how to mix some “do it yourself” (d.i.y.) versions.

3.  Avoid toys, apparel and home decorating products made with PVC vinyl, often identified by the recycling code #3, which can be contaminated with lead and phthalates, plasticizing chemicals that have been linked to obesity in human adults and reproductive deformities in infants and wildlife.

4.   Eat more organic and locally-grown produce and fewer meats and processed foods. It’s good for your waistline and you’ll reduce toxic pesticide exposures and unhealthy fats, preservatives and sugars. You can also choose low-mercury, sustainable fish using EDF’s handy seafood selector cards.

5.  Stop buying bottled water.  Eighty percent of disposable plastic bottles wind up in landfills and oceanic garbage patches.  Drink tap water, and get involved with EDF’s efforts to preserve major ecosystems by making water use more sustainable.   

Join us in ringing in a green New Year with sustainable snacks, wine and beer, and a free copy of the January Whole Living Magazine!  Mindy’s book will be available for purchase and signing, too! Or, you can buy the book ahead of time  and EDF will receive a percentage of the sale price to help fund our advocay work.

Date:  1/11/2011

Time:  5:30-7:30 p.m. 

Place:  EDF’s green L.E.E.D. certified San Francisco office

123 Mission Street, 28th floor San Francisco, CA 94105

RSVP:  by 1/7 to jwitherspoon@edf.org

Posted in General / Read 2 Responses

Turning (and Overturning) 23

By Caroline Crandall

When you are 23, like I am, your major life milestones include getting your license, being able to drink legally, and graduating from college.  

Now that we have come of age in so many other ways, it is time for my generation to own up to one of our more important (and maybe more unappreciated) milestones: voting.  

In November, we will face a major decision that will affect us and the rest of our nation for decades to come:  the vote on Prop 23.  

Prop 23 would suspend AB 32 (California’s landmark law limiting global warming pollution) until the state’s unemployment rate hits 5.5%.  California’s unemployment has only reached that level three times (and briefly) in the past 30 years.  Prop 23 will, in essence, suspend one of the more innovative laws California lawmakers have ever produced. 

Who is really behind Prop 23?

Valero and Tesoro, who have given 97% of the funding to the Yes on 23 campaign, are fighting hard to overturn AB 32.  But when we look closely, Valero and Tesoro are mainly refineries, not the big oil companies like Chevron and BP who manage all aspects of the oil supply chain.  San Jose Mercury News columnist Chris O’Brien did some investigating and found that Valero and Tesoro simply buy oil, refine it and sell it back. They are middlemen who profit from America’s dependency on oil. 

“In 2009, with the recession slowing gas consumption, Valero’s revenue dropped to $68.1 billion from $119.1 billion in 2008 (Exxon Mobil, the country’s largest oil company, took in $311 billion in 2009, by comparison). Tesoro’s revenue fell to $16.9 billion in 2009 from $23.8 billion.”

So what is this really about? California’s emissions laws or two companies that are interested in maintaining their billion-dollar bottom lines? Imagine if cassette tape manufacturers spent millions to pass laws that would shut CD makers out of business.  Or if Blockbuster spent millions to keep Netflix from invading their market share.

You don’t have to care about the environment to see that Prop 23 is simply a bad deal.   

If we let Prop 23 pass because it is in the business interest of two very large, struggling companies who can’t afford to keep up with the times, we really will send ourselves back to the Dark Ages. 

What can you do? 

Political events aren’t hip you say?  Well, the energy in the room was infectious.  The NO on 23 campaign is feisty, youthful and of the future.  Ian Kim from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Aaron Ableman of the Clean Energy Tour rapped (seriously) about Prop 23.  And even more entertaining was to see a group of professionals ages 35 and up join in (and not just join in but get into it).    

Political decisions do not have to be driven by wealthy special interests, they can—and should be—driven by the engaged, attentive and motivated people who make up the majority.  You don’t have to protest at the Valero station and you don’t have to donate the last $10 in your bank account to the campaign (and you don’t have to rap… if you don’t want to).  All you have to do is spread the word.   

My one vote may not make a difference, but the 2,500,000 votes of Californians aged 20 to 25 can.  These businesses may pour millions of dollars into a campaign, but we can pour millions of people into the polls. 

Now, more than ever, is time to take advantage of that one milestone we rarely get to take advantage of.  

Vote NO on Prop 23.  And tell all your friends to do the same.

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32 / Comments are closed

Farmers Clean Up California’s Waterways

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: Photo by brothergrimm (CC)

By: Carlee Brown, EDF summer 2010 intern  

In 2008, California waterways in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties ranked among the most polluted in the state. Water draining from these rich agricultural areas carried high loads of pesticides, sediments, and nutrients into the San Joaquin River, threatening ecosystems and wildlife downstream.  

Groups that had monitored the region’s water quality for years – watershed coalitions and the non-profit group CURES (Coalitions for Urban/Rural Environmental Stewardship) – knew that a combination of farm management practices could keep pollutants out of the San Joaquin River. Infrastructure improvements such as sediment basins, drip irrigation, and irrigation tailwater recirculation systems all offered ways to prevent water pollution. These measures are considered best management practices (BMPs) that keep pesticides and sediments  contained on farms, but they can be cost prohibitive to farmers even in profitable years.    

In order to promote these infrastructure improvements, CURES teamed up with local watershed coalitions, EDF, and ten other partner organizations to apply for funding through the federal Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). AWEP, championed by Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to help agricultural producers conserve water and improve water quality. The partner organizations secured $10 million from AWEP for infrastructure improvements. Since then, they’ve reached out to farmers and encouraged them to apply for funding to mitigate the cost for the innovative pollution-prevention installations on their farms. 

Through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, 22 projects were funded in 2009, 23 were approved for 2010, and even more will be added in the coming years. Today, waterways that exceeded recommended levels of agricultural inputs in 2004 have shown dramatic improvement. Of the three priority waterways identified by the watershed coalitions for 2009, two met recommended levels for pesticides and toxicity and the third met water quality regulations for all but one pesticide.  

These extraordinary water quality improvements were largely a result of direct outreach to farmers. CURES has contacted more than 95% of the farmers in the impacted area, instructing them on simple measures to help mend some of the most polluted waterways in the Central Valley. Farmers learned about their direct impact on water quality and many took individual steps by managing and monitoring their land inputs to reduce pollution. 

“The early benefits (in water quality) have come from outreach,” said Chris Hartley of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which administers the program. “Infrastructure improvements we make are going to give them the opportunity to have long term impacts on the resource base.”  

And as farmers learned about their impact on water quality, they also learned about additional infrastructure improvements for which they could apply to receive AWEP funds. So far, more than $3.5 million has been allocated under this partnership. Parry Klassen, Executive Director of CURES, said he was confident that with continued funding, pesticide contamination problems in the Northern San Joaquin area can be eliminated.  

This extraordinary progress shows why conservation programs like AWEP – and its parent program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program – should be preserved rather than cut back. The combination of AWEP funding, innovative farmers and fourteen partner organizations have paved the way for dynamic change in Central California’s waterways.

Posted in Ecosystem Restoration / Comments are closed

Lesson from The Climate War: the missing ingredient is presidential leadership

An interview with editor and author Eric Pooley  

Tonight, Eric Pooley, deputy editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, will join the Environmental Defense Fund at our San Francisco office to celebrate the release of his new book, The Climate War – True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth

California Dream 2.0 took the opportunity to interview Mr. Pooley about the book, which features EDF President Fred Krupp and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and chronicles their efforts — along with other leaders of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, Al Gore and the Alliance for Climate Protection, and many others, to pass national climate and energy legislation. 

Q: When did you first get the idea for the book?  

A: In the early spring of 2007, I wrote a cover story for Time magazine about Al Gore. Speculation was that he might be considering another run for president, following the major successes of An Inconvenient Truth. As I reported it I saw that the debate was finally changing from climate science to climate politics — from whether climate change was happening to what we were going to do about it. And I got interested in what was causing America to drag its heels on enacting comprehensive climate and energy reform.  

Q: What did you discover?  

A: I didn’t come into this as an environmental journalist. I came to this as a political correspondent and the editor of a business magazine, Fortune. So I began to do a lot of research and what I discovered was that solutions existed and were being refined and improved. These policies had their roots in the 1980s, and that is where I got acquainted with EDF, which as you know has advocated for these market-based ideas since the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, which imposed a mandatory declining cap on sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants. So I decided to write a book about the battle over climate action — the people at EDF and elsewhere who were trying to get these ideas signed into law — and people on the other side who were trying to keep it from happening. 

It is no easy feat to transform the entire energy & industrial complex of the United States. I think that the market-based ideas behind the declining cap on carbon and the emissions trading program that was in the original Lieberman-Warner bill and was approved by the Waxman-Markey bill in the U.S. House is the best chance we have right now to address climate change. How that bill got passed a year ago is sign of what is right with the U.S. political system; it shows politics doing what politics are supposed to do, addressing economic imbalances and cushioning consumers and carbon-intensive industries from rising costs.   

Q: In light of the Gulf oil spill do you think the U.S. Senate will pass a climate bill this summer?  

A: When I started the book three years ago, I had hoped that the narrative would start with the U.N. climate conference in Bali and end in Copenhagen. But as President Bill Clinton said, what the global warming story “doesn’t have is an ending; that part is still up to us.” I hope the Senate will act this summer. This is a big week right now, as President Obama meets with senators from both sides of the aisle to discuss what should be in a climate and energy bill. 

I think the American people will get behind the idea of a carbon cap, but they need to understand it first. It can’t be forced upon them. That’s why we need President Obama to use the tragedy of the Gulf oil spill as a great teaching moment – now is the time for America to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Obama has the ability to explain how a cap on carbon will unleash America’s clean energy market, but his recent Oval Office speech was a disappointment, missing a major opportunity to explain the need for the carbon cap to the American people. 

China is already ahead of America, spending nearly 9 billion dollars a month on clean energy. America is a decentralized, debtor nation. We can’t rely on the government to make those kinds of investments and create industries by decree. We need a market to do it. The government can pass smart policies, like the cap on carbon, to spur America’s ingenuity and draw private capital off the sidelines. America needs a market to compete with China and other nations and that’s what the Senate could provide this summer. But the senate won’t do it unless Obama makes the case forcefully and in a sustained way. The lesson of The Climate War is that presidential leadership is the necessary, and until now missing, ingredient. 

Q: I’m sure you’ve heard about California’s cap on carbon, AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act and new efforts by out-of-state oil companies to roll back that law?  

A: I cover AB 32 briefly in The Climate War. It was a real victory for California to pass the nation’s first climate cap. It is a shame that some would try to delay our future until some perfect moment. We need to move into the future with confidence. Business people understand that and that’s why so many of them support AB 32. We need to treat voters like grown ups, however, and not try to sweep the costs of transitioning to clean energy under the rug. There are short-term costs, but the benefits are greater down the line. After writing the book, I still don’t know if our political system will rise to the challenge. I just know that the time is now and that the president needs to lead.

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Politics / Comments are closed