Founding of the Pioneer Valley Sustainability Network

The Pioneer Valley Sustainability Network was founded as a collaboration of the University of Massachusetts–Environmental Institute and Department of Industrial Engineering, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

ABSTRACT of proposal submitted to EPA that was awarded funding for this project:

EPA-G2006-STAR-H1 – Communities and the Built Environment; EPA Region 1

Title: Energy, Water, and Landuse: A Framework for Incorporating Science into Sustainable Regional Planning 

Richard Taupier (PI), Erin Baker (Co-PI), Sarah Dorner (Co-PI), Catherine Miller (Co-PI) 

Project period:
9/1/2006 – 8/31/2009               Project Cost: $300,000

Objectives: The long-term project objective is to advance efforts to achieve sustainability in the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts, and serve as a model that can be applied in other regions of the country.  To plan for sustainable growth in the region, we will work with the 43 communities in the Pioneer Valley to incorporate sustainability and scientific information into land-use and infrastructure decisions, taking into account scientific uncertainty. The specific objectives are to make the concept of sustainability easy to understand and act on by involving stakeholders and the general public in a facilitated process to both define Pioneer Valley specific metrics of sustainability and identify specific and targeted actions to achieve sustainability. We will develop strategies to increase communication and discussion on sustainability in the Pioneer Valley, and provide a vehicle for incorporating scientific information into regional and community-based decision making.

Approach: In order to work toward these objectives we will 1) build on current connections at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to develop a network of decision makers and scientists; 2) develop and implement a framework to assist our region and communities to develop metrics of sustainability; 3) employ these metrics in a scientifically-sound model that relates electricity generation decisions to sustainability metrics, including uncertainty in a number of dimensions; and 4) build on this model to develop a web-based decision support tool for local decision makers to use. We will focus in particular on the impacts of electricity generation choices on land use, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions; and will incorporate the role of climate change in influencing these impacts. The projects will be grounded in the Pioneer Valley, but will provide models and tools for other regions to build on. We envision this project as part of a larger project, in which we will develop a wide variety of integrated models that consider decisions on water, transportation, and land-use more generally.

Expected Results: Project outputs will include: 1) a sustainability network and associated web page; 2) sustainability metrics and associated maps representing the current values of the metrics; 3) an integrated assessment model of the impacts of electricity generation alternatives on a number of attributes as defined by the metrics; and 4) a web-based interactive decision tool. 
The expected outcome of the project will be improved communication among stakeholders and between stakeholders and scientists; and improved decisions in terms of decision makers understanding the connection between choosing an alternative and the likely impacts of that alternative. Given that the Pioneer Valley has a demonstrated interest in environmental issues, sustainability, and environmental justice, we expect that having the tools and information to make better decisions will lead toward more sustainable decisions overall.

Supplemental Keywords: Ecosystem, planning, operations research, hydrology, public health,  modeling, electricity industry.

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