Author Archives: John Talberth

New Policy Innovation Would Force Fossil Fuel Companies to Pay for Their Risky Behavior

For Immediate Release

June 3, 2016


Press calls: Dr. John Talberth, president and senior economist, CSE: 510-384-5724

(Portland, OR) Hours after an oil train car derailment near the Columbia River in Mosier, OR, with at least one oil tank car on fire, it was too soon to tell how much this accident would cost: In first responders’ time and resources, in time missed from school for elementary students and their teachers in nearby Mosier Elementary School, in hours of delays as I-84 was shut down, in public health costs from the thick plume of smoke that could be seen from miles away, in evacuations for nearby residents.

A recent study produced by the Washington Attorney General’s Office found that a worst case scenario oil train tanker spill on the Columbia River could cost more than $170 million in damages.  These costs too often have the taxpayer picking up the tab, not the polluter because insurance coverage is only available for minor accidents.  A recent study produced by the Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE), “Fossil Fuel Risk Bonds: Making Polluters Pay for the Climate Crisis,” has found that fossil fuel companies are passing on huge financial risks to taxpayers, and politicians are simply turning their backs on the problem instead of holding those companies accountable.

At each stage of the fossil fuel product life cycle, taxpayers are increasingly burdened with a litany of costs associated with oil train derailments such as the one in Mosier, fracking-induced earthquake swarms, pipeline explosions, abandoned infrastructure, water pollution and, of course, the costs of climate change. Fossil fuel risk bond programs – a policy innovation proposed by CSE  – can help reverse this glaring inequity by shifting the economic risk back where it belongs: on the polluters.

As set forth in CSE’s new report, fossil fuel risk bond programs are systematic efforts that state and local governments can take to evaluate and respond to the financial risks they face at each stage of the fossil fuel lifecycle in their jurisdictions. The benefits could be huge for states, counties, and cities struggling with rising fossil fuel disaster-related and climate-related costs with no clear way to pay for them.

While helping to place the burden of payment where it belongs, on the risky industry, fossil fuel risk bond programs provide a way to ramp up the funding necessary to put scores of people to work – including displaced oil, gas, and coal workers – while ramping down fossil fuel consumption, decommissioning obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure, restoring mines, oil platform sites, and gas well pads back into a natural condition and implementing climate adaptation projects to help make communities safe in the face climate disasters.

For more, please visit our website here:

Economists: New BLM Logging Plan Would Generate More Economic Harm than Good

deforestCenter for Sustainable Economy has teamed up with Ernie Niemi of Natural Resources Inc. in Eugene to lodge a formal protest of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new long-term logging plan for western Oregon on the grounds that the plan would create more economic harm than good and sabotage sustainable development opportunities in forest-dependent communities.

According to Dr. Talberth, President and Senior Economist for CSE, “The Obama Administration has chosen to sacrifice natural resources essential to future economic health in order to prop up a destructive industry from the past that has gotten rich off deforestation while leaving workers and communities in the lurch. This does not bode well for the President’s environmental legacy.”

According to the economists’ protest, the new logging plan would:

  • Kill more jobs than it would create;
  • Force taxpayers to absorb $60 in costs for every $1 in timber sold;
  • Add to the deforestation crisis plaguing western Oregon, and;
  • Generate carbon dioxide emissions that cost society at least $40,000 for every acre clearcut.

The plan boosts logging levels by 37% over previous levels. Under the new plan, the BLM will offer 256 million board feet of timber for sale each year, the equivalent of over 50,000 log truck loads. To accommodate higher logging levels, the plan would rollback protections for water quality, fish, recreation, spotted owls and old growth forests established over 20 years ago by the Northwest Forest Plan brokered by President Clinton. For example, the number of acres managed for primitive or backcountry recreation experiences would fall by 112,000 acres. The plan would reduce the amount of land in protective streamside zones for water quality and fish by 292,000 acres. The protest argues that the BLM failed to take the negative economic consequences of these changes into account.

According to NRE’s Ernie Niemi, “The BLM ignored the many studies that document what most of us recognize as common sense: unlogged lands generate jobs by improving the quality of life in nearby communities, attracting new residents, and stimulating business growth. The BLM’s proposal to clearcut unlogged federal lands would kill more long-term jobs than it would create in the timber industry.”

The core issue raised by the protest – a formal step required by the BLM before a new management plan can be challenged in court – involves often overlooked provisions of the Oregon and California (O&C) Lands Act of 1937 that place constraints on the amount of logging BLM is expected to conduct every year. Those constraints require that the BLM only sell as much timber as it can in “normal” markets and at “reasonable prices.” The two economists argue that timber markets in western Oregon are severely distorted by hidden subsidies that allow buyers and sellers of timber to ignore costs that clearcut logging imposes on others by degrading water in streams, spoiling outdoor recreation opportunities and exacerbating climate change. These costs far exceed the unreasonably low prices the BLM will charge timber companies to clearcut federal lands throughout western Oregon.

The economists’ protest cites previous studies by CSE that identify the timber industry as Oregon’s second largest greenhouse gas polluter and document how voracious clearcutting has resulted in a loss of forest cover on over 522,000 acres since 2000. “To be consistent with the goal of sustained yield, the BLM should be pulling back on its timber sale program altogether,” Talberth added.


CSE Protest
Exhibit A: Negative Impacts of Logging (NRE)
Exhibit B: Benefits and Costs of Logging (NRE)
Exhibit C: CSE’s comments on the draft RMP and DEIS

How Industrial Forest Practices are Subverting Oregon’s Climate Agenda

ccabClearcutting and use of forest chemicals and fertilizers on industrial forestlands could represent Oregon’s second largest source of global warming pollution and are subverting the State’s climate agenda by making landscapes more susceptible to wildfires, landslides, floods and warm waters that kill salmon. And despite legal requirements to do so, the Oregon Global Warming Commission has failed to track and evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from forest practices or follow through on commitments to develop and promote alternative management techniques that can transform these lands from a net source to a net sink for atmospheric carbon. The key culprit: a flawed international greenhouse gas accounting protocol that lumps all forest owners into one aggregate “forest sector” and allows the timber industry to take credit for carbon sequestered on forests protected by non-profits, small landowners, and public agencies.

These are the key conclusions of a new report released today by Center for Sustainable Economy and Geos Institute. The report – Clearcutting our Carbon Accounts – is an analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions estimated from State and private lands in western Oregon between 2000 and 2014. The report considered emissions associated with timber harvest, which removes carbon stored in forests for decades, clearcutting beyond the rate of forest regrowth and forest chemicals like Atrazine, 2,4 D, and Glyphosate. Oregon has 1.08 million acres less forest cover than it did in 2000 due to controversial clearcut forestry practices that not only degrade water quality, fish and wildlife habitat but also impede attainment of Oregon’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets.

After taking into account carbon stored in longer lived wood products and carbon absorbed by residual forest cover, these emissions were estimated to be 9.75 to 19.35 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMT CO2-e) per year. This represents between 16% and 32% of the 60.8 million MMT CO2-e “in-boundary” emissions estimated for the State by the latest (2012) GHG inventory. The timber industry’s operations on its lands in western Oregon are likely one of the State’s largest sources of GHG emissions – second only to transportation. According to Dr. John Talberth, President and Senior Economist at Center for Sustainable Economy, “Oregon’s climate agenda is taking a big hit from industrial forest practices. Yet decision makers continue to look the other way and buy the industry’s rhetoric that since they grow trees, the State should ignore their greenhouse gas emissions and look elsewhere to meet pollution goals for 2020 and beyond. The reality is that reducing the overall rate of timber harvest and promoting alternatives to clearcutting and chemicals are some of the most effective strategies for meeting Oregon’s emissions targets and will help rebuild our forests’ resiliency to fire, floods, and disease.”

In 2007, the Legislature adopted targets for reducing Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions and charged the Oregon Global Warming Commission with developing strategies to achieve them. Yet the Commission, to date, only tracks emissions associated transportation, electricity use, natural gas use, agriculture, businesses and homes and ignores what happens on timber industry lands altogether. This is despite clear legislative requirements to track and evaluate emissions from all important sectors as well as “carbon sequestration potential of Oregon’s forests” and “alternative methods of forest management that can increase carbon sequestration and reduce the loss of carbon sequestration to wildfire.” Moreover, the Commission’s Roadmap to 2020 merely assumes that “Oregon’s forests are a carbon sink, capturing more carbon than they release. As such, Oregon’s forests and its forest sector have and will continue to contribute to the goal of achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by remaining a robust and sustainable sector in Oregon.”

The CSE-Geos report tells a dramatically different story. According to Dr. Dominick DellaSala of Geos Institute, “Oregon’s clearcut forestry practices are polluting the climate with the equivalent emissions of over 2 million vehicles or 7 coal-fired power plants making forestry one of the biggest polluters in the State at a time when Oregon is seeking to drastically cut its global warming emissions. It’s time for forestry to be proactive like numerous other businesses in the State in being responsible for a safe climate and ecologically healthy future.”

The report was submitted to the Oregon Global Warming Commission, Governor Kate Brown, the Board of Forestry and key legislators. In a letter transmitting the report to the Commission, CSE and Geos have requested a meeting to review the report’s findings and begin the process of enrolling the timber industry in Oregon’s climate agenda.

Please click here for a copy of our report, “Clearcutting our Carbon Accounts.”

Please click here for a copy of the transmittal letter to the Oregon Global Warming Commission.

Pay for Performance: Maximizing the Impact of BMP Investments

Agricultural best management practices (BMPs) such as streamside buffer zones and cover crops are increasingly being used to reduce nutrient pollution from fertilizers into water bodies. Eutrophication from fertilizer runoff is the key driver behind growth of hypoxic “dead zones” where fish production comes to a standstill. The extent of these dead zones has increased more than nine fold since 1969 and now encompasses more than 245,000 km2. Continued growth of these marine dead zones undermines global biodiversity conservation goals and poses a significant challenge to meeting the world’s increasing demands for capture fisheries and aquaculture.

Governments heavily subsidize BMPs, but do not generally allocate funds to maximize their environmental benefits. The conventional approach to allocation of subsidies is most often first-come-first-served. But with ever-increasing fiscal constraints, policy makers are searching for ways to enhance efficiency of BMP programs and maximize their bang for the buck.

Pay for performance (PFP) presents an alternative platform based on the level of environmental quality actually achieved on the ground. With respect to agriculture, a PFP program would allocate subsidies for BMPs to those practices that accomplish the maximum amount of nutrient reduction for each dollar invested. PFP programs are applicable not only to BMPs that reduce nutrients, but to any subsidy program designed to achieve environmental quality outcomes including emerging payments for ecosystem services markets. In a new paper published in the journal Ecological Economics, CSE’s John Talberth and researchers from the World Resource Institute compared a conventional subsidy approach with PFP for BMPs designed to reduce nutrient pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.

We model four paired scenarios using a constrained optimization model. In the first pairing we held the level of nutrient reduction constant and compared cost effectiveness of the two subsidy allocation methods. In the second pairing we held the level of program investment constant and compared nutrient reduction outcomes. In both pairings, PFP was far superior – delivering identical nutrient reduction outcomes at less than half the cost in the first and delivering two to three times the amount of nutrient reduction for the same budget allocation in the second. CSE is now seeking partnerships with federal, state, and local governments as well as non-profits to investigate the feasibility of PFP for a wide range of programs that provide public financial support for sustainable land management practices.

To download the PFP publication, click here.

Coal vs. Wild Salmon: The Chuitna Mine Should Never See the Light of Day

In this late stage of the global warming crisis, it is hard to imagine why the Obama administration and decision makers in Alaska continue to push hard to approve a five thousand acre coal strip mine that will pump over 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Yet PacRim Coal LP’s Chuitna Coal Mine project is alive and well with the Army Corp of Engineers leading the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The tragic consequences of this project on the Earth’s climate are bad enough. But what is being lost on the ground is equally disturbing.

According to the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, “the mine will set a dangerous precedent for the State of Alaska by permitting the destruction Middle Creek (stream 2003) by the complete removal of 11 miles of streambed and more than 300 feet of underlying soil and rock strata.” Middle Creek is a valuable fishery supporting chinook and coho salmon, rainbow trout, steelhead, and Dolly Varden trout. It provides roughly 20% of the silver salmon for the entire Chuitna River system and would be utterly destroyed by the mine. Existing uses of the stream and its watershed would also be lost: hunting, fishing gathering wild foods, sportfishing and recreation.

In 2009, the CCC took a novel approach for protecting Middle Creek against the catastrophic impacts of the mine and maintaining these existing uses. CCC used a provision of Alaska law that allows citizens to petition to reserve instream flow rights for fish, wildlife, and recreation. As part of the adjudication process, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must determine whether or not the proposed reservation is in the public interest. Quantifying economic benefits are key to this determination. In a hurried, back of the envelope calculation completed in the spring of 2015, DNR has determined that this pristine wilderness is worth, at best, only $10,600 per year. That’s the dockside value of 1,789 coho salmon the river supports. But what about all the other uses this watershed supports as well as the inherent values Alaskan’s place on preserving this refugia for native biological diversity?

Working with Cook Inletkeepers, CSE conducted a review of the DNR approach and conducted a preliminary ecosystem service valuation of the Middle Creek watershed left in its natural state. Unlike DNR, CSE incorporated all known information about the economic values the watershed supports. What we found is that ecosystem service benefits of the Middle Creek watershed are likely to be in the range of $55.4 million to $134.2 million each year, or a present value of $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion over 50 years. Instream flow benefits are a sub-component of ecosystem services provided by Middle Creek. These are the benefits associated with direct uses of the river. The literature on instream flow benefits per acre-foot suggests an annual value of instream flow on Middle Creek to be in the order of $7.1 million to $17.0 million each year, or a present value of $183.4 million to $436.6 million over 50 years.

By concentrating on a single benefit – the dockside value of a single species of fish – DNR has drastically underestimated Middle Creek’s economic values and, thus, has biased its decision making process against instream flow protection. CSE’s analysis has now been submitted to DNR for consideration in the adjudication process and submitted to the Army Corp for consideration in the NEPA process. Cook Inletkeeper, CSE and partners in Alaska hope this will force these agencies back to the drawing board to consider the true worth of this pristine Alaska wilderness.

For a copy of CSE’s Middle Creek valuation, please visit our Chuitna Project Page here.

Forest Liquidation in Quartz Creek

quartzFew rivers are more vital to the health and wellbeing of communities along their banks than the McKenzie River as it flows off the high Cascades through the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area to its confluence with the Willamette. But deforestation and degradation of private forestlands in the McKenzie River watershed poses a direct threat to the ecological health of the river.

What is happening in Quartz Creek – one of the McKenzie’s major tributaries – is emblematic of the scale and scope of the problem. The situation is worsening as Rosboro Lumber Company – the prime landowner – seemingly liquidates its holdings. CSE is a partner in the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch Program (GFW), which provides users access to real time satellite imagery and data depicting forest loss and forest gain over time.  The GFW’s online interactive mapping tool permits users to take a look not only where logging is taking place but also its pace over time in relation to forest cover gain so that the sustainability of timber harvests can be assessed.

CSE conducted a GFW analysis of logging and regrowth trends in the lower Quartz Creek Watershed. The results are alarming. Our analysis reveals a pattern of forest liquidation that will be reflected in a watershed largely stripped of forest cover for decades to come. Since 2001, nearly 7,200 acres (2,913 ha) of forest cover (trees at least 5 meters high with 30% canopy closure) have been lost to extensive clearcutting while only 2,576 acres (1,043 ha) have been gained through natural afforestation or reforestation. In other words, logging has exceeded forest regrowth by a factor of 3.

But these figures underestimate the problem. First, there has been extensive new clearcutting in 2014 and 2015 not reflected in the data. Secondly, what is lost is typically more biologically diverse than what is gained since tree plantations are far less capable of supporting many of Quartz Creek’s endowment of native fish and wildlife. Third, the figures do not reflect longer term damages that arise from clearcutting and roads that will manifest in the form of degraded water quality, increased susceptibility to flooding and drought, declining site productivity, and fragmentation of intact forests on nearby federal lands. The GFW analysis only measures the sustainability of timber harvests through the lens of forest gain and loss. Bad as the figures are, the on-the-ground reality is much worse.

The situation with Quartz Creek underscores the imperative of reforming Oregon’s antiquated Forest Practices Act. CSE is

The acceleration of unsustainable and destructive logging in the Quartz Creek watershed underscores the urgent need for reform of the OFPA. CSE and our partners are working to achieve four major clusters of reform. These include:

  1. Forest diversity standards: This would entail greater restrictions on the size and placement of clearcuts to reduce fragmentation and maintain forest cover as well as new standards for retention of “biological legacy” such as residual trees, snags, and downed logs.
  1. Water resource protection standards: All streams and streamcourses should be protected with no-cut buffers adequate to protect water quality, temperature, and flow and provide habitat and migration corridors for fish and wildlife species that depend on aquatic ecosystems. Clearcutting should not take place at all in watersheds that provide domestic drinking water and coldwater fish or on steep, unstable soils prone to landslides.
  1. Economic incentives: Timber taxes unwisely rescinded in 1999 should be reinstated to help cover the costs unsustainable logging imposes on public finance. Harmful types of logging practices should be taxed at the highest rate. Foresters who truly implement sustainable forest practices and mill their wood in the state should be exempted from these taxes and instead given subsidies like payments for ecosystem services and carbon storage and preferential treatment in public contracting and procurement. Conservation easements, parks, and protected area acquisitions should be ramped up to provide those who want to protect their forests the means to do so.
  1. Public participation and enforcement: The ability of the State Forester to approve or disapprove of major logging operations should be reinstated. Cynically, this authority was rolled back in 2003 to help shield timber companies and the State Forester from lawsuits over endangered salmon and other imperiled species. Forest management plans demonstrating a commitment to sustainability should be required for all major timberland owners. DEQ should be empowered to authorize or disapprove logging operations that affect water resources. All stakeholders should have the right to challenge logging operations detrimental to public health and their communities and negotiate changes before logging commences.

With these reforms in place, the OFPA can move closer to internationally accepted standards for sustainable forestry and help the forest industry become a driver for prosperity of people, communities, and other species with whom we share this landscape.

For a copy of the Quartz Creek report, please click here to visit our Oregon Forest Practices project page.

Portland Safe from LPG Export Terminal, For Now

pembina blogIn a stunning reversal, Portland’s Mayor Charlie Hales withdrew his support for the proposed Pembina LPG export terminal and pulled a final vote on the proposal off the City Council’s agenda for early June with no plans to reschedule. The move comes on the heels of an unprecedented outpouring of opposition to the project from a diverse coalition of community leaders and climate activists and experts in the fields of public health, sustainable economics, and disaster modeling. From the standpoint of land use and economic development policy, Mayor Hales’ decision was a smart one.

Center for Sustainable Economy provided expert testimony on these policy issues twice during the planning process. In our filings, CSE noted that the City’s intent to bend the rules of its land use code to accommodate the $500 million project was seriously out of sync with both economic development and climate action plans put in place after extensive public involvement over the past decade. We argued that using scarce Port of Portland lands to facilitate a $6 billion-a-year foreign company’s exports of fracked gas in order to help China be more competitive in production of plastics could not be further from Portland’s recently achieved title of ‘climate champion,’ or further from the City’s vision of sustainable and equitable economic development.

We also noted serious deficiencies in the environmental, economic, social and energy analysis (EESE) prepared for the proposal. For example, no actual environmental impacts were quantified and addressed in the EESE and not a single negative economic consequence (like increased costs of policing and disaster response) was discussed even in a qualitative sense. Oregon’s land use laws contain unambiguous requirements for a balanced treatment of impacts, both negative and positive in the EESE. But official filings from both Pembina and the Port instead read like an ad for the project rather than an objective analysis.

Apparently, the lopsided environmental analysis along with public safety and climate concerns were enough to persuade the Mayor to change his mind. Although the Mayor was a strong supporter of the project early on, he did say from the beginning that he was concerned about the safety of the export terminal and whether the project meets Portland’s environmental standards. In a statement provided to the Oregonian, Hales said “I think both the Port and Pembina have failed to make the case.”

It remains to be seen whether Pembina will find a way around the Mayor’s opposition and the land use protections that now preclude the proposal. For now, Portland is safe from this major threat. But stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure is just the first step towards addressing a problem that spans decades – the extensive network of mines, wells, pipelines, export terminals and distribution systems for coal, oil and gas that keep us locked into a pattern of fossil fuel extraction and consumption that must be drastically curtailed. Ultimately, and in light of scientific consensus that we need to leave at least 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground, CSE believes that we should begin the process of dismantling and cleaning up this fossil fuel infrastructure to reduce public health and safety threats and make room for sustainable economic development. Adding to it is simply not an option. We will be pursuing this goal in Portland and other cities as they update and refine their climate, land use, and economic development strategies in the years ahead.

Media coverage:

Guardian – “Portland mayor pulls support for fracked gas terminal amid protests”

Oregonian – “Mayor Charlie Hales ‘urges’ Pembina to withdraw plans for North Portland propane terminal.”

Hawaii’s FARM Center Showcases Innovative Model of Agro-Forest Restoration

farm-hawaiiCenter for Sustainable Economy (CSE) is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Hawaii-based Forest Agriculture Research Management Center (FARM) to propagate an innovative model of forest restoration designed to manage watersheds as successional agro-forests. FARM Center’s mission is to assist in the recovery and vitalization of our planet’s varied forest ecosystems by protecting healthy watersheds and cultivating biological and cultural diversity. The restoration model FARM Center is demonstrating is the agro–successional restoration (ASR) system. ASR holds great promise throughout the arid tropics because it combines restoration of native flora with the need to enhance food security. In Hawaii, restoration of native sandalwood forests can be co-mingled with staple foods such as taro, sweet potato, manioc, yacon, banana, papaya, pineapple, and certain vegetables and legume crops suitable for polycultures that provide microclimate and income while the young sandalwood trees develop.

But ASR is not just applicable to the arid tropics. CSE is keenly interested in promoting this kind of model in many regions of the US where collapsing and unsustainable industrial agriculture and forestry systems have replaced natural forests and woodlands. In Oregon, for example, the Willamette Valley once supported over 400,00 acres of while-oak savanna – a habitat that is now just hanging on by a thread. For thousands of years, Native Americans actively manipulated these habitats to produce high yields of foods like acorns and mushrooms, plant medicines and materials for building and basketry.  A restoration strategy for white-oak savannas can be used to replace agricultural systems with high carbon and water footprints that pollute rivers and streams with both nutrient and temperature pollution to ones that provide food for local consumption while providing habitat and shade, reducing erosion, and mitigating an increasingly hot micro-climate.

CSE is providing fiscal sponsorship to the FARM Center, and will be collaborating with their experts as we continue to build out our Wild and Working Forest Program in the years ahead to promote a vision of ecological restoration. Short-term goals for the FARM Center include:

  • Developing bio-regionally appropriate ecological education networks.
  • Assisting in the R&D of relevant Agro–Successional Restoration (ASR) systems supported by ecologically, culturally and economically appropriate crops.
  • Educating and training interested communities in the implementation of ASR systems in a manner that is culturally sensitive and reinforces an ecological paradigm integral for the long-term system maintenance.

For more information about the FARM Center, please click here

Baltimore’s Stormwater Management Plan Will Generate Significant Social and Economic Returns

bsmIn December 2014 the City of Baltimore released an ambitious management plan for reducing stormwater pollution from nearly 24,000 acres of pavement within City limits. Nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediments contained in this stormwater are responsible for recurring hypoxic “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay devoid of fish, crabs, and other aquatic life. Stormwater runoff from cites accounts for 10-20% of the load of these pollutants entering the Bay. Although efforts to control pollution from other sources are beginning to pay off, pollution from urban runoff is still growing. Baltimore’s Stormwater Management Plan (SMP) will play a role in reversing this trend.

The SMP was created to meet Baltimore’s obligations under the Clean Water Act and is based on implementation of a variety of best management practices (BMPs) designed to reduce runoff and filter out pollutants from at least 4,240 acres of paved surfaces. Major BMPs will include expanded mechanical street sweeping, stream restoration, bioretention ponds, artificial wetlands, and converting impervious pavement to open space and forest.

Many, including Maryland’s new Governor Larry Hogan (R) have expressed concerns over the costs jurisdictions like Baltimore will face implementing their SMPs and over the stormwater fees collected to pay for them. But from an economics standpoint, the point is not how much it costs but whether or not the benefits generated by these SMPs exceed costs and how they can be configured to maximize such benefits. CSE’s preliminary analysis of Baltimore’s SMP tackles these questions by using Baltimore’s Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as a framework. The results are encouraging. In particular, our analysis found that:

  • The SMP has the potential to generate nearly $20 million in economic benefits each year with no special emphasis on GPI-enhancing design features. Major annual benefit categories include those related to ecosystem services of streams, wetlands, parks and open space as well as volunteering, employment, and water quality.
  • If GPI-enhancing design features were added – features like local hiring preference, greater emphasis on green infrastructure, and location of BMPs in residential areas – then the SMP’s annual economic contribution would rise by 29% to over $25 million per year.
  • Over a 20-year period, the SMP as currently configured is likely to generate over $22 million in net benefits with a benefit-cost ratio of 1.08 and a social return on investment of over 8%.
  • With GPI-enhancing features added, net benefits could be substantially larger. Our analysis shows that 20-year net benefits could be over $107 million with a benefit-cost ratio of 1.40 and social a return on investment of nearly 40%. This underscores the importance of paying attention to design features of the SMP as it is implemented on the ground and recognizing that some design features will pay off far better from a social, economic, and environmental perspective than others.

As more precise economic data on both costs and benefits of projects and programs to implement the SMP become available, CSE’s preliminary analysis can also be refined and updated. So too can the list of GPI-enhancing measures. Doing so will help decision makers implementing the SMP to choose options that maximize its social and economic returns – an important goal recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency in its new Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework, adopted last summer. That framework recognizes that communities can “manage stormwater as a resource, and support other economic benefits and quality of life attributes that enhance the vitality of communities.” As shown in CSE’s preliminary analysis, the GPI provides a useful analytical tool for achieving this goal.

For a copy of CSE’s preliminary analysis, click here to visit our GPI project page

Plum Creek’s Illegal Logging Certified as Sustainable

Plum-Creek-Illegal-LoggingIn many states it’s three strikes and you’re out. Harsh penalties for repeat offenders. But in Oregon, you can be cited eleven times in six years for violating laws meant to protect soil and water from clearcuts, slapped with trivial fines, and walk out the door to do it again. And despite your recklessness with the law, you can still win a sustainability seal of approval from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). As an organization that promotes sustainable brands as a way to reduce humanity’s footprint, CSE feels compelled to fight this flagrant abuse of green labeling.

The Center for Sustainable Economy has filed a formal complaint with the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) for breaking its own rules by continuing to provide its seal of approval to Plum Creek Timberland, LP in Oregon despite a pattern of willful non-compliance with the law and clearcuts that have left extensive resource damage on the ground. “A sustainability certification should be reserved for practices that meet the highest standard of excellence, not those that warrant jail time,” said Dr. John Talberth, the Center’s President and Senior Economist. “Plum Creek and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative are doing a grave disservice to consumers and investors alike who want to make responsible buying and investment choices but are instead told that illegal logging is somehow good for the Earth.”

In the past six years, Plum Creek has received 11 civil penalties from the Oregon Department of Forestry for violations related to clearcut size, logging in riparian zones, and improper notifications of impending logging operations. Detailed satellite imagery provided by Google Earth and appended to the complaint shows that these illegal practices have left Plum Creek lands scarred by major landslides and streams filled with debris.

In its complaint, CSE has asked for an immediate suspension of SFI certification for Plum Creek, an investigation into the full extent of legal violations, and notifications to both the Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission about Plum Creek’s unwarranted use of the SFI label in connection with its Oregon operations. CSE has also asked SFI to disqualify Bureau Veritas Certification North America, Inc., as a credible SFI auditor of Plum Creek timberlands for failing to conduct due diligence in researching Plum Creek’s record of consistency with SFI principles or compliance with the law in Oregon.

For a copy of CSE’s Plum Creek Inconsistent Practices Complaint, click here to visit our project page.