The intersection between public finance and environmental sustainability is a complex and often challenging space. However, where there are challenges, there are also opportunities. Projects and initiatives that link together public finance and environmental sustainability can be found at any scale – at the organizational, local, regional, state, or national level – and in any environmental context; water, sewer, energy, land conservation, solid waste management, etc. Increased focus on environmental sustainability has led to dramatic transformations at all levels of private sector, institutional, and governmental operations that have important finance implications. Facilities are being built that use far less resources. Distributed renewable energy is becoming a viable alternative energy option. Private businesses, universities, local governments, and state governments are making investments that reduce the environmental impact of their operations.
New financial instruments, for example green bonds, are providing borrowers and investors with new choices. These developments often have significant financial implications related to who pays, how much they pay, and how they pay for essential services and products.
The core of our work at the Environmental Finance Center at UNC is helping communities tackle the challenges of paying for environmental services. The environmental finance issues that we address are as complex as they are varied, and as an organization with a research mission, our goal is to discover and share lessons learned, best practices, and innovative strategies.
As part of this effort, we hosted a group of prominent environmental finance experts and innovators at our Future of Environmental Finance Public Forum. This event fostered discussion and identified emerging trends, strategies, and ideas in answering the basic “how will we pay” questions at the heart of successful environmental protection. Because the forum was hosted a little over a year ago, we’ve had a lot of time to verify some of the experts’ predictions. In the year since the forum, the following 10 themes that emerged still hold true (read the full report here).
This week we bring you a post from our colleague Richard Whisnant from his new blog: Environmental Law in Context.
This is the way the question often comes to me–who owns it?–as a way of asking either who controls water in NC (for beneficial purposes) or who is responsible for it when it does harm (e.g., flooding). Framing the question this way is an unsurprising reflection of the importance of property rights in American law. And property rights do matter for water law. But water, the great solvent, has a way of dissolving preconceptions about ownership of property and forcing anyone who really cares to reexamine their understanding of ownership itself. Things, like water, that are always moving, often in mysterious ways, and that are so vital to us that we can’t imagine life without them, just don’t fit well in simple definitions of “property.” To make matters especially complicated for water, the law has come to treat its ownership very differently as it moves through the eternal cycle in which it always moves: from ocean to sky, back to earth as rain (“stormwater”) or snow, then either infiltrating into the ground (groundwater) or into streams and lakes (surface water), and then passing through myriad human channels, including our own bodies, on its way back to the sea. In this post, I will outline the way NC law treats ownership of groundwater–probably our biggest and ultimately most important store of freshwater.
This guest post was written by Steve Wall, Research Associate/Project Director of the Environmental Resource Program at the UNC Institute of the Environment.
On February 19th and 20th leaders in the clean technology sector will gather in Chapel Hill, NC for a two-day convening around North Carolina’s emerging clean tech industry at the NC Clean Tech Summit. The event will draw participants from a wide range of fields including, industry executives, state and local government elected officials and staff, representatives from financial institutions, economic developers, university faculty and students, and many others. Continue reading
My interest in Green Infrastructure (GI) sparked several years ago, when I worked as a college intern with the City of Greensboro, NC Stormwater Department. Back then, no one really talked about “green infrastructure”, but the city was invested in managing its stormwater. As part of that experience, I was given my first look at stormwater management in practice as I tagged along with city staff to inspect Greensboro’s Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) – features like constructed wetlands, forested stream buffers, and rain gardens, that are designed to remove pollutants from urban runoff.
This week I was reminded just how much things have changed since that first internship experience. For one, “green infrastructure” has emerged as the preferred term for these kinds of features, and has also grown as an accepted stormwater management practice among communities across the country. Even at the federal level, acceptance of GI is very clear. For example, the 2014 amendments to the Clean Water Act now include section 603(c)(5): “for measures to manage, reduce, treat, or recapture stormwater or subsurface drainage water;” language which the EPA interprets as including “green roofs, rain gardens, roadside plantings, porous pavement, and rainwater harvesting.” EPA’s recent Community Summit on Green Infrastructure in Cleveland, Ohio highlighted this shift and offered an unparalleled opportunity to capture conversations from those on the ground about lessons learned and emerging implementation issues.