MPA in Environmental Science and Policy Students Work on Public Policy Issues in Their Spring Workshop

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy Students Work on Public Policy Issues in Their Spring Workshop

The Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis

In the spring semester, groups of Environmental MPA students are formed to undertake analytic projects for real-world clients in government and nonprofit agencies. These teams, working under the supervision of faculty members, write a report analyzing an actual environmental policy or management problem faced by their clients. These projects are part of the 3-semester 12-point workshop requirement for the MPA Program. They enable students to integrate the environmental science learned in the summer semester with the policy, politics and management issues they have learned throughout the program.

UN World Food Programme and Climate Change in West Africa
Client: UN World Food Programme
Faculty Advisor: Cathy Callahan,
EPA Deputy Regional Administrator of Region 2

The mission of the World Food Programme (WFP), as the food aid arm of the United Nations, is to use its food to meet emergency needs and support economic & social development.  It also provides the logistics support necessary to get food aid to the right people at the right time and in the right place.  WFP works to put hunger at the centre of the international agenda, promoting policies, strategies and operations that directly benefit the poor and hungry.  This project will support WFP efforts to mitigate the impact of and adapt to the effects of climate change on food, food security, life and livelihoods in West Africa.

The goals for this group will include summarizing the potential environmental emergencies to which WFP will have to respond and analyzing the potential effect of climate change on WFP’s activities. Students will also propose programmatic options for WFP in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Outputs will include summarizing  IPCC findings for the region, focusing on rainfall, drought, and food security; researching best practices for minimizing effects of climate change on the food supply, food security, life and livelihoods (both agricultural and pastoralism); and highlighting the role of Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping in an overall strategy to adapt to and mitigate effects of climate change.

Act Locally: Implementing Sustainability in Local Governments
Client: U.S. EPA Region II

Faculty Advisor: Steve Cohen,
Director of the MPA-ESP program and Executive Director of the Earth Institute

This workshop will build strategies for local governments to green their communities. Creating more sustainable communities will require planners and environmental managers to use every tool at hand. Many communities face common problems, such as air pollution, but may also have unique environmental constraints, like exhausted landfills, and opportunities such as a stable clean water supply. Most municipalities do not have the staff or resources to create the equivalent of a PlaNYC or The London Plan.

Using case studies from successful community efforts and resources from NGOs and public agencies, students in this workshop group will create a framework (possibly in the form of a handbook) for communities to create their own sustainability plan. In addition, they will outline a rapid assessment for environmental planners to do to in their community as a low threshold entry point. Students will develop a reference document that describes the different types of utility structures and resulting relationships that local governments have with utilities, especially for key resources such as drinking water, wastewater treatment, solid waste disposal, and electricity, and will present these strategies as a resource that can be useful to local governments and will reflect the needs of different population sizes and varying capacities of municipal resources

Opportunities and Challenges for Integrating the Ocean Observing System into Coastal Zone Management in the Mid-Atlantic
Client: The Mid-Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association

Faculty Advisor: Tanya Heikkila,
Assistant Professor at SIPA and a researcher for the Earth Institute

With about half of the US population living in coastal regions, policymakers and managers increasingly are concerned with how to manage the risks associated with extreme weather events (e.g. flooding, pollution run-off, erosion, destruction of property, etc.), which are expected to continue  with increasing frequency and severity in coming decades with a changing climate. One of the pressing issues facing coastal populations is how to acquire accurate and immediate information on oceanic and climatic conditions driving these events and how to respond appropriately to them. Hundreds of cities, dozens of counties, as well as numerous states and federal agencies, face tremendous challenges in coordinating responses needed for coastal communities to prepare and adapt.

How the coastal zone managers and agencies use and respond to information from the Ocean Observing System has not yet been assessed. MACOORA, an organization overseeing this Ocean Observing System, is seeking a partnership with Environmental Policy students to examine various operational, administrative and policy issues regarding this implementation specific to the New York area. This effort will work among entities in the New York/New Jersey area to examine and evaluate emergency management, hazardous materials response and coastal zone management policies among them; evaluate existing communications plans during emergency response; and draft a communications protocol for use during an extreme emergency communication.

Developing a model for Green Jobs in New York and other cities
Client: Sustainable South Bronx and its Green-for All project
Faculty Advisor: Gail Suchman, Lecturer at SIPA and Columbia Law School, and Senior Legal Advisor to the Urban Design Lab for Sustainable Development at Columbia's Earth Institute

In New York City’s April 2007 Sustainability Plan (PlaNYC 2030), the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Sustainability and Planning identified existing buildings as a significant source of greenhouse gases and concluded that incentives were necessary to encourage building owners and tenants to make changes to reduce their carbon footprint. 

The project is to assist SSB to identify opportunities and obstacles and to recommend a plan for the development of a green building retrofit training program.  In addition, the project team should research currently active programs that may serve as models and to identify the stakeholders (city, state and federal) to whom SSB must reach out for consultation and support.  The project team will interview the Ella Baker Center, the NYC Alliance and other groups working on the green jobs issues.  Finally, the work of the project team should be presented in a report format that will provide SSB with an advocacy piece and also to provide adequate information for other cities to follow suit. 

Evaluating Biomass Lifecycle Emissions Calculation Methods for Use by Electricity Generating Facilities
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Faculty Advisor: Sara Tjossem, Lecturer and Associate Director of Curriculum for MPA-ESP program

Liquid fuels developed from biomass, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are receiving increased emphasis throughout the world as ways to offset rising oil prices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  New Jersey has a special interest in the greenhouse gas emissions implications of biofuels.  The State’s Energy Master Plan, Executive Order 54, and Global Warming Response Act call for major reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.  It is important to determine the role biofuels could play in these reductions, which are to take place over the next decade and beyond. 

It is recommended that the work focus on likely production scenarios of first-generation biomass-derived fuels, especially biodiesel and related fuels.  It is further recommended that biodiesel as derived from used oil, yellow grease, brown grease, and soy meal and other agricultural feedstocks that could be grown in the region be made a special focus of the work.  In addition, the comparison of CO2 emissions savings between biodiesel and similar fuels produced in New Jersey and similar fuels transported from several places including the Midwest to New Jersey would also be useful.