Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 70.76
Liaison Richard Johnson
Submission Date Oct. 13, 2017
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

Rice University
EN-14: Participation in Public Policy

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Amy Griffiths
Sustainability Intern
CEVE
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Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the municipal/local level?:
Yes

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the municipal/local level, including the issues, legislation, and ordinances for or against which the institution has advocated:

SSPEED Center:

The Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation for Disasters (SSPEED) Center, a university-based research organization led by Rice University, seeks to inform the public on risks associated with severe storms and hurricanes. Led by top-quality hydrology and environmental law experts, the SSPEED Center has proposed construction of superior protection systems along the Texas Coast in order to guard the area from high storm surge and the resulting devastation that could occur. It is critical to protect the Houston Ship Channel, which is home to one of the world’s largest petrochemical complexes, because the impacts from a storm surge containing hazardous substances and oil released from the surrounding chemical plants could be disastrous. The SSPEED Center is devoted to defending the natural resources, ecological services, and recreational and commercial opportunities provided by Galveston Bay.

In 2014, the SSPEED Center announced that they are coordinating efforts with Texas A&M Galveston in order to develop the best flood protection system for the Houston Ship Channel. The researchers at Texas A&M are strong proponents for a concept called the “Ike Dike,” which involves creating a coastal barrier in the lower-bay to mitigate surge, which would cost approximately $7.6 billion. The SSPEED Center has stressed non-structural alternatives, such as re-establishing oyster reefs which are a key component of the ecosystem and can help dissipate waves. Since the collaboration, SSPEED and Texas A&M Galveston have agreed on a model called “Houston-Galveston Area Protection System” (H-GAPS) which will use both structural and non-structural strategies to protect the coast with “multiple lines of defense.” The SSPEED Center has been performing cost-benefit analyses for each proposed alternative in order to improve the model in the future.

In one report, the SSPEED Center advocated for a mid-bay gate structure to be located across the Houston Ship Channel near San Leon, which would cost significantly less than the Ike Dike ($2.8 billion rather than $7.6 billion). “One thing that is clear from each scenario we have tested is that a floodgate must be built somewhere across the ship channel in order to meaningfully reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding in the industrialized portion of the ship channel,” said Director of the SSPEED Center Philip Bedient. “The large gate structure is the single most expensive item in any regional protection plan, and the farther south you move the gate, the more expensive it is to build. The purpose of looking at each location is to determine what the benefits and costs are at each site so that policymakers will have a clear picture of how they can maximize the flood-reducing benefits for each dollar they spend.”

On September 7, 2015, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the different storm surge projects proposed by the SSPEED Center and Texas A&M.

Another of the SSPEED Center’s research interests is low impact development (LID). The City of Houston partnered with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish a green infrastructure development project at Cottage Grove. Rice University is currently monitoring outflows at the White Oak Bayou to test whether stormwater management and water quality have improved with the installation of LID. If there are significant improvements, the City of Houston will extend LID to other developments around the city.

Shell Center for Sustainability:

Rice's Shell Center for Sustainability is devoted to tackling threats to sustainable development. Their involvement spans from the Florida Keys to the Yucatan Peninsula, but the bulk of their work is in the Houston-Galveston area. By focusing on the Houston metropolitan area, researchers can focus on familiar problems, and then they can communicate their solutions elsewhere so that the scope of their work is unlimited. The Shell Center for Sustainability is primarily a research center, but it has identified several goals to advance sustainability policies. For instance, they strive to increase the flow of information between sustainability experts and policymakers by presenting their research and hosting workshops.

The Shell Center developed a program called the Houston Sustainability Indicators in order to discover which issues Houstonians prioritize and to provide a metric for analyzing them. The program is comprised of 24 economic, environmental, and social development indicators. On a website called www.houstoncommunitysustainability.com, the results are reported on the city level and the district level in order to empower the respective leaders to advocate for sustainability policies. They are also reported on the neighborhood level in order to empower citizens to vote for sustainability policies. The Houston Sustainability Indicators are published on a rolling basis to demonstrate progress in Houston with new data and updated policies.

Kinder Institute:

The Kinder Institute, Rice University’s Institute for Urban Research, functions as a “think-and-do tank,” using their research to bring social change to the Houston community, the American Sunbelt, and the rest of the world. Their mission includes collaborating with political leaders to develop solutions to pressing urban issues and using public outreach to create more sustainable cities.

As a part of the national Smart City Initiative, the Kinder Institute will lead the way in Houston’s Data Sharing Project. This project seeks to “connect the dots” between private companies, government organizations, and academia with the creation of an urban data platform. Representatives from the City of Houston and researchers from Rice will decide the research agenda after thorough discussions about the most prominent issues Houston faces.

The Kinder Institute hosted the Next City Vanguard Conference in spring 2016. This conference brought together the world’s brightest urban planners to tackle problems related to sustainable development.

In 2013, the Kinder Institute hosted a panel discussion called “The Sustainable City: Migration and Urban Growth in Shanghai and in Houston,” featuring Yuan Ren, professor of demography and urban studies at Fudan University. He discussed urban issues in both Houston and Shanghai, and based on his research, he was able to make policy recommendations that would lead to a healthier urbanization process in China.

An ongoing effort by the Kinder Institute’s Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) is to ensure that all children, regardless of their families’ economic backgrounds or where they live, are given the same opportunities for a high quality education. The members of HERC work closely with the Houston Independent School District to improve the education system for kindergarten through 12th grade. The decisions of the school district leaders are informed by the research produced by HERC and its affiliates.


Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the state/provincial/regional level?:
Yes

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the state/provincial/regional level, including the issues, legislation, and ordinances for or against which the institution has advocated:

SSPEED Center:

One of SSPEED’s non-structural flooding solutions called, “The Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area,” (LSCNRA) involves improving the undeveloped areas of Chambers, Galveston, Brazoria and Matagorda Counties in order to improve flood resiliency. This alternative emphasizes the economic value of outdoor recreation. According to a study funded by the National Parks Conservation Association, the creation of the LSCNRA would increase tourism by 1.5 million visitors and create 5000 jobs over the next ten years.

Building off of the LSCNRA proposal, SSPEED developed another initiative called the Texas Coastal Exchange (TCE) which would create a mechanism for incentivizing coastal conservation and restoration projects. Through this mechanism, “private, philanthropic, NGO and public entities can purchase and receive benefits from private landowner actions without having to buy or control land directly.” The TCE concept was developed with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This case study allowed the SSPEED Center to develop a model for valuing ecological services, but their concept can be applied anywhere.

Shell Center for Sustainability:

The Gulf Coastal Science Consortium, another program within the Shell Center for Sustainability, is active in research and outreach to protect the Gulf Coast. This consortium focuses its efforts on assessing the state of the coast and conveying the effects of climate change to policymakers, the media, and the public. The main issues covered in their research include sea level rise, subsidence, sediment supply, and hurricane impact. Representatives from the Gulf Coastal Science Consortium participated in the Joint Penrose/Chapman Conference in Galveston in April 2013, which addressed sea-level rise as a result of climate change. The consensus after the conference was that the rate of change is increasing, so policymakers need to act quickly in order to solve anticipated problems. The Shell Center participants suggested that scientists can help mitigate coastal hazards by creating maps and other informational displays.


Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the national level?:
Yes

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the national level, including the issues, legislation, and ordinances for or against which the institution has advocated:

Baker Institute:

The Baker Institute supports a variety of sustainability policies including the Science and Technology Policy Program. The mission of this program is “to engage policymakers and scientists in substantive dialogue with the hope that policy will more accurately reflect and be more consistent with current scientific knowledge.” The Science and Technology Policy Program also hosts a discussion-spurring lecture series known as the Civic Scientist Program, which stresses the idea that conversations between scientists and policymakers will become ever more crucial as technology continues to advance.

In July 2014, Neal F. Lane gave a testimony that emphasized the importance of science, engineering and technology to the nation’s leadership in the world ("Science, Technology and the American Dream"). His group worked to develop recommendations of policy actions that would help ensure the long-term sustainability of the U.S. science and engineering research enterprise.

He testified that ensuring opportunity for all Americans will require significant improvements in education and learning, especially in STEM areas, as well as a strong economy. With regard to economy, research has demonstrated a strong correlation between job growth and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – creating jobs on a large scale requires growing the nation’s GDP.

The total U.S. investment (1/3 public and 2/3 private) in R&D continues to fall short of the national goal adopted by several U.S. presidents of 3% of GDP, even as America’s economic competitors move aggressively to increase their own investments. The U.S. has fallen to 10th place among OECD countries. Lane's group advocates for a change. As a nation, we must ensure that the American people receive maximum benefits from federal investments in research, in part by strengthening partnerships across governments, universities, and industry and business. Furthermore, we must develop a sustainable approach to research funding.

Kinder Institute:

During the summer of 2015, the Kinder Institute created a national network called the National Education Research-Practice Partnerships Network, which will advance HERC’s goals of ensuring that all children, regardless of their families’ economic backgrounds or where they live, are given the same opportunities for a high quality education on a national level. It includes partnerships in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, Missouri.


Does the institution advocate for public policies that support campus sustainability or that otherwise advance sustainability at the international level?:
Yes

A brief description of how the institution engages in public policy advocacy for sustainability at the international level, including the issues, legislation, and ordinances for or against which the institution has advocated:

Baker Institute:

Rice University’s Baker Institute on Public Policy has also put forth effort to advocate for sustainability policies. The Baker Institute consists of more than 20 programs and over 100 Fellows who have been designated as experts their fields of policy studies. Many of these experts conduct research on sustainability topics, and they frequently collaborate with government officials in order to make policy recommendations. On the Baker Institute official blog, the experts post their research and opinions on local and global policies.

One of the Baker Institute’s sustainability-focused programs is the Center for Energy Studies (CES). This Center regularly brings together academics, policymakers, global leaders, and the general public to highlight sustainability policies. In the 2014-2015 year, the CES hosted the following lecture series:

1) Shell Distinguished Lecture Series –Shaping Sustainable Future Cities: Lessons from Shell’s New Lens Scenarios, featuring Cho-Oon Khong, Ph.D., Chief Political Analyst, Strategy and Scenarios Team, Shell International

2) Shell Distinguished Lecture Series—World Energy Outlook, featuring Fatih Birol, Ph.D., Chief Economist, International Energy Agency

3) Shell Distinguished Lecture Series—Leading in a Climate of Change, featuring Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida

4) The EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Ambitiously Optimistic, featuring Megan Ceronsky, Director of Regulatory Policy and Senior Attorney, Domestic Climate and Air Program, Environmental Defense Fund

5) The Value of Clean Air, featuring Drew T. Shindell, Ph.D., Professor of Climate Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

6) Climate Change: Water as a Bridge to Mitigation and Adaptation, featuring John H. Matthews, secretariat coordinator for the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation

These lectures and conferences served as a starting place for discussions concerning major sustainability issues. The Center for Energy Studies gives profound advice to policymakers with their unbiased, data-driven analysis of energy markets. Their influence extends all the way to Capitol Hill.

SSPEED:

In April 2015, the SSPEED Center was invited to take part in a colloquium at TU Delft in the Netherlands. The SSPEED Center representatives and representatives from the Netherlands and United Kingdom exchanged ideas on the future of storm surge mitigation strategies, comparing and contrasting their approaches. Participants agreed that a major goal is to improve communication with the public on flood risks and storm forecasting.


A brief description of other political positions the institution has taken during the previous three years (if applicable):

In October 2015, an advertisement in the Houston Chronicle called “Houston Business Leaders Support Proposition 1” mentions Rice President David Leebron. Along with other business leaders, President Leebron urged Houstonians to “vote YES on Proposition 1,” or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). HERO’s purpose is to protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Houston was the only major city in the United States that had not passed an Equal Rights Ordinance at this point, which is surprising considering Houston’s size and diversity.

Rice maintains ongoing contact with the infrastructure and city planners whose projects will affect the area around the university. Rice regularly voices concern to the local area community association about safer crosswalks between the campus and the surrounding neighborhoods to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

In 2015, the City of Houston announced a redesign project for a street adjacent to Rice called Greenbriar Drive. The project entailed widening the street and smoothing the potholes. However, this kind of work would lead to a faster street, and Rice was concerned about danger to pedestrians. In addition, Rice objected the initial plan because it called for destroying many of the trees surrounding the street. To overcome these issues, Rice worked with a City Council member to emphasize that the City of Houston had overlooked its own rules, and as a result, the redesign project is now more in line with Rice’s expectations.


A brief description of political donations the institution made during the previous three years (if applicable):

Rice is a non-profit organization that does not make political donations. Rice retains a lobbying firm in Austin and in Washington D.C. that can lobby for Rice at the state and federal level, usually with regard to the research agenda. Before each legislative or congressional session begins, Government Relations works with the vice provost for research, deans and faculty members to identify opportunities for legislation and funding. It prioritizes those opportunities, shares them with elected officials who represent Rice, and works with them to win support and passage. For example, they typically advocate for legislation that gives private universities an equal chance to compete with public universities for higher education funding. Anyone can engage in the process through the Rice Communication Action Network, Rice CAN.


The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
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Additional documentation to support the submission:
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