Education News

Spring Workshops Connect Students with Public Sector Clients

2009-01-28
Workshop in Applied Policy Analysis
MPA in Environmental Science and Policy

The Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis

The Wildlife Conservation Society, The Energy Department of the New York City Housing Authority, Gateway National Recreation Area, the National Audubon Society, and EarthAction together with the Alliance for Renewable Energy (ARE) are all clients for the spring Workshop in the MPA program in Environmental Science and Policy.  In the spring semester, Workshop groups 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.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Payments for Environmental/Ecological Services

Client:  The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Forest Trends (FT)
Faculty Advisor: Kathleen Callahan

This project is focused on the efforts to use payments for ecological/environmental services (PES). Payments for environmental services (PES) aim to support the positive incorporation of environmental externalities through the transfer of funds from beneficiaries of those environmental services to the service provider.  The WCS, in partnership with the Earth Institute of Columbia University, Enterprise Works/VITA, Forest Trends, the Land Tenure Center of the University of Wisconsin, has received a 5 year grant from the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with the objective of enhancing social, economic and environmental benefits that may be achieved through sustainable natural resource management.  Key goals in this effort, which is known as TransLinks, include poverty reduction and equitable governance.

Students in this workshop group will work with the WCS and its partner, Forest Trends (FT).  FT is a public/private, non profit organization that works to expand the value of forests to society and promote sustainable forest management and conservation.  In the TransLinks program FT has taken a lead role in using PES for forest preservation.  However, WCS and Forest Trends wish to do an update on broad PES efforts to date.   The MPA ESP students will work to evaluate PES efforts in areas that may include carbon markets, water accessibility markets and biodiversity markets. 

Retrofitting Older Apartment Buildings for Energy Efficiency: Practical Proposals for Public Housing in New York City

Client: Lloyd Kass, Director of the Energy Department at the New York City Housing Authority
Faculty Advisor: Steven Cohen

The New York City Housing Authority has embarked on an effort to scale up its energy-efficient building retrofit efforts to an “enterprise” level.  The workshop group has been asked to describe and assess comparable efforts to enhance the energy efficiency of older multi-family residential buildings. The issues facing the NYCHA are technological, organizational, financial, and behavioral.  We will analyze the questions surrounding these issues and determine the impact of these factors on energy efficiency programs.

Changing variables in the financial plans of NYCHA threaten the viability of initiatives which was only exacerbated in 2008 by the intense variability in energy costs. These government energy efficiency projects are generally financed with the promise that the debt service costs are the same or lower than the avoided energy costs resulting from the improvement.  Cost of capital, volatile energy prices, poor project management, and unrealized energy savings make energy efficiency initiatives risky enterprises. Due to these risks, agencies and other contractors generally play it safe. Only easy energy-efficiency measures are implemented and the cost of the more promising technologies remains too high for wide adoption. Students will be searching for examples of these problems outside of New York City and can for examples of strategies and programs that have reduced these problems. The group has been asked to survey and develop a set of comparative case studies and concrete examples of successes and failures and recommend approaches that might be suitable for public housing in NYC.

Gateway’s Long-Term Ecosystem Management Options under Changing Climate Conditions

Client:  National Park Service, Gateway National Recreation Area
Client Contacts:  Barry Sullivan, General Superintendant
Faculty Advisor:  Tanya Heikkila


This Workshop group has been asked to develop a report that discusses environmental policy implications for Gateway National Recreation area using conceptual models and comparisons to other urban centers’ reaction to climate change.  A conceptual model must be created to describe the response of Gateway’s major ecosystem types to the various components of climate change such as sea level rise, storm intensity, precipitation, water and soil temperature increases, and others. To help identify ecosystem processes or key species groups that may be expected to change, the cohort will need to determine what the expected response of key biotic components, processes, and functions of the ecosystems will be to climate change.  Aside from the physical and hydrological predictions of Gateway, students are asked to examine and compare how different regions are evaluating and addressing climate change.  The student’s could seek-out the climate change programs of major coastal urban centers (NYC, Boston, Miami, LA, Hong Kong, etc.), identify the focus areas of these places and synthesize information from these programs that would be relevant to Gateway’s objective of effectively planning for climate change.

Time permitting, students could also help scope out opportunities for Columbia University to facilitate and host an open one-day forum roundtable discussion. This would be comprised of National Park Service urban park leaders, and recognized academic leaders involved with public policy, recreation and conservation, who would explore “the role of a National Park in the context of a large urban environment, for the 21st century.” 

Quantifying and Reducing a National Organization’s Impact on Global Climate Change and Developing a Model to be Replicated

Client: National Audubon Society, Bob Perciasepe, Chief Operating Officer (former EPA Assistant Administrator for Water (1993-1998) and Air (1998-2002))
Faculty Advisor: Gail Suchman


National Audubon's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity. Audubon has a national network of over 50 community-based nature centers (some as old as 70 years and newer ones that are LEED certified), runs many scientific, educational and advocacy programs, and publishes Audubon Magazine. National Audubon has a history of leading by example and desires to further enhance its organization's impact and influence.  Therefore, National Audubon is requesting support for a project that will provide a comprehensive evaluation of its own carbon footprint and recommendations for how to reduce it. All of National Audubon's facilities and property holdings would be covered in this analysis.

The Board of Directors has established a basic organizational framework for the project in order to reduce Audubon’s impact on global warming.  Audubon will determine the “Carbon Footprint” of their facilities, discover opportunities to improve “sequestration” at sanctuaries or land holdings, and encourage and make tools available for all employees to determine their own personal footprint.

Audubon will develop a plan to achieve a carbon neutral profile considering all of its facilities and land holdings and will decrease its FY08 greenhouse gas footprint by at least 10% by FY13.
Audubon has already begun to collect data for this project.  The project team must evaluate the available data, and identify and fill data gaps to the extent possible.  Through research, the project team will identify various valid methodologies for calculating contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and will recommend and implement the appropriate methodology for Audubon.  The team will also recommend actions which National Audubon should take in the short and longer term, as well as assess financial support options available at the state or federal level to assist Audubon in its efforts to reduce its carbon impacts.  Finally, the team will use its findings to develop a model to be used by other organizations and even businesses for quantifying and reducing their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Renewable Energy Payments (REPs) Policies for the United States

Client: EarthAction and the Alliance for Renewable Energy—ARE
Client Contact:  Lois Barber
Faculty advisor:  Sara Tjossem

Renewable Energy Payment (REP) policies (aka Feed-in Tariffs) are in place in over 40 countries and are being called ‘The World ‘s Most Effective Renewable Energy Policies’.  Research will strengthen ARE’s ability to engage in a full scale, multi-track campaign to bring REPs to the USA.  Students will be determining the successes and failures of REP policies both at the federal and state level.  Asking the question of how REP policies can be integrated with the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RSPs) policies already in place students will design a model for REP policy in New York State that is reconsidering its RPS. By comparing the costs per kwh or producing renewable energy, students can determine which policies create the best value for ratepayers and the economic costs and benefits of REPs in Germany and Spain as well as the expected impacts in the US. 
In terms of job creation and economic development, students will analyze what effects decentralized RE production has had on job creation and whether REPs could help create jobs in Florida or Michigan. Students will also analyze what the investment security merits of REPs that would make RE more financeable would be, given the credit crunch in the US which would severely inhibit RE growth.  Finally, this workshop group will find and evaluate other policy incentive mechanisms such as Cap & Trade, Renewable Energy Certificates, Individual Tax Credits, and Production Tax Credits.