Tom Ewing’s Environmental Report

*  Here’s a topic pretty much overlooked: EPA’s “six month letters” to Governors – a June hammer-date by which the Administrator must respond to the Governors’ initial claims/recommendations for ozone status, i.e., that certain regions in their states are okay regarding the ozone standard (“in attainment”) or not okay (“non-attainment”) and the degree to which those non-attainment areas miss the mark.  Recall: EPA set a new, lower ozone standard in October, 2015.  In the old days (pre-November, 2016), the six-month letters set the stage for frequently fierce state-federal confrontations that could drag on for years.  These regs set the critical, but labyrinthine, operating framework impacting just about every major activity in an industrial economy.  So what happened to the six-month letters?   EPA extended the deadline for initial area designations, by one year.  The Agency wants a closer look at background levels, international transport and “exceptional events.”
*    The work of California’s Vehicle-Grid Integration Communications Protocol Working Group continues today with another meeting on development of the technical details for vehicle-to-grid communication protocols. The Working Group’s recommendations will be considered and incorporated into CA’s transportation electrification (TE) efforts.  On a related note, TE plans and strategies from the State’s smaller investor owned utilities (Liberty Utilities, Bear Valley Electric and PacifiCorp) are due this week.  Recall that TE plans from the major utilities were due last January.

*  The Surface Transportation Board (STB) will hold a formal “listening session” next month to advance its work on that agency’s regulatory reform.  In May, STB submitted its first status report. Now, the agency writes that “given the direct impact of the Board’s regulations upon its stakeholders, the (STB) believes that reviewing its regulations is best conducted with input from its stakeholders.”  STB has also established a docket for comments which are due by July 25.

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

 FAA’s regulatory reform advisory committee submitted initial recommendations to agency staff.  Seems like there ought to be some good ideas in the mix – after all, the draft is 154 pages containing over 300 individual suggestions to repeal, replace or modify regulatory language.  This is a rough draft listing all of the ideas from committee members.  Next steps: further review and working towards consensus on changes FAA can make to provide near-term regulatory relief consistent with the goals in the President’s Executive Order seeking a long term strategy promoting safe and efficient transportation systems.
*  Nothing to see here, folks – keep moving… Some concerns/comments sent from citizen John Doe re DOT’s regulatory reforms.  Mr. Doe identifies himself as a highway engineer, working for a consulting company, with 20 years experience: ** Multiple standards result in far too many personal preferences and design changes and sometime higher costs. ** Property owners with political connections get preferential treatment, e.g., one state recently spent $80 million on an interchange that could have cost $50 million but a Big Guy knew the governor and he wanted a “non standard” interchange to remain near his business. ** State pension issues are leading experienced people to bail out; inexperienced staff left behind cause design and construction problems.

*  The National Coal Council’s (NCC) June Newsletter cites a report from a group called GCube Underwriting, Ltd, a “renewable energy underwriter,” based in London.  GCube cautions that “resource risk” – a lack of wind or low wind speeds – will be the most pressing concern for the wind energy sector “for a number of years.” Low wind speeds are reportedly hurting the performance of wind farms in numerous markets. In fact, GCube writes that resource risk has now surpassed mechanical and electrical breakdowns as the top potential cause of financial loss.  I sent an email to GCube asking for their full report… No reply yet.

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  California Public Utilities Commission staff continues its planning and development meetings today, work seeking to implement Vehicle-Grid Integration (VGI) Communication Protocols.  A working group was established to design and inform decisions about how and whether to adopt a communications protocol to enable electric vehicles (EVs) to “more economically participate in electricity markets at scale.”  VGI presents some fascinating ideas and possibilities, a chance to aggregate thousands (maybe millions, soon) of EVs so that the cars (and batteries) together form a dynamic part of the electric grid.  On the one hand, VGI gets presented like it’s just a policy choice.  But on the other hand, it ain’t easy from a technical standpoint, requiring many “layers,” if you will, of some below-the-waterline black-box kind of technical stuff that’s supposed to make it appealing (and affordable) for EV owners, new energy aggregators and, of course, utilities and (of course, ratepayers…).
*  Follow up: I noted last week EIA’s report that the value of Northeast states/New England’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative CO2 emission allowances were at the lowest level since 2014, selling for $3.00/ton at the March, 2017, auction.  These auction prices are important, and, importantly, indicative for many reasons.  The downward trend continued at last week’s quarterly auction  on June 7th: the clearing price was $2.53/ton, for 14,597,470 allowances raising $36.9 million for “reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs.”
*  Regulatory reform picked up steam last week.  DOT, for example, was one of a number of agencies formally announcing its request for comments about what could make things work better, more efficiently and at a lower cost.  Coast Guard, and TVA  were two other agencies with requests last week.  Importantly, DOE had its request for comments the week before.  Considering the huge scope of issues covered by these agencies the comment periods are relatively short, about four to six weeks. 
Tom Ewing
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513-379-5526 voice/text

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

NOTE: The President will reportedly visit greater Cincinnati this week as part of his national infrastructure push.  Call or email if you need boots on the ground for that event.

*  The President’s team writes in a brief infrastructure summary document that “the current system is not working” and “the federal government inefficiently invests in non-Federal infrastructure.”  That’s worth thinking about: “inefficiently invests.”  The summary lists 4 key principles to guide smarter spending, not just spending more money.  The initiative has broad scope: including air traffic control issues, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and streamlining and expediting environmental reviews.  As topics, these have been problems for years.  Will Congress work with the President to, uh, actually get something done…?
*  The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last week that Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auction prices for CO2 emission allowances are the lowest since 2014, a critical indicator – for many reasons.  RGGI is a nine-state cap-and-trade program in the Northeast and New England.  Low natural gas prices and state renewable energy demands resulted in CO2 emissions far below the allowable cap, hence the weak demand for allowances.  And that’s after the cap was reduced in 2014 by about 45% from its 2009 level!  The CO2 auction last March raised $43.1 million (from ratepayers, of course) which the states can use for “a variety of purposes,” including energy related programs.  RGGI’s next meeting is June 27, in New York City.

*  Oregon starts hearings this week on a bill giving the Oregon Transportation Commission an important new charge: to “study issues related to improving this state’s transportation system.”  Deadline: September 25, 2019.  Wow – get out the magnifying glass!  The House bill is a half-page document.  But an accompanying index is 8 pages.  What?  Oh – proposed amendments total 298 pages!  (In which “taxes” and “fees” appear 532 times. *:D big grin ) One legislative must-do: “Adopt a statewide transportation strategy on greenhouse gas emissions to aid in achieving the (State’s) greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.”Tom Ewing’s

Tom Ewing tewing@regulatoryclarity.com  
513-379-5526 voice/text

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Here’s an easy topic for public understanding and acceptance:  Researchers at Cornell University want to release genetically engineered (GE) female diamondback moths into a test agricultural field, a project formally proposed in 2016.  These moths are destructive pests, ruining cabbage, broccoli and other cruciferous crops.  Insecticides are no longer effective.  The GE moths carry a “repressible female lethality,” i.e., they die (“autocide”) if the gene isn’t repressed, in this case, via their diet in captivity.  Upon release, the lethal gene expresses itself because it is no longer repressed by the captive diet.  Critically, though, the now-free GE females live long enough to mate, passing the lethal gene to the next generation of females, which quickly die because the gene becomes immediately active, never repressed by diet. The population crashes.  Public comments closed last week.  Whew…civil discourse is a very thin line indeed.
*  In theory, federal Regulatory Reform Task Force reports are due this week, handed in to the head of each agency.  These are the reports initiated by Presidential Executive Order.  The reports are supposed to detail progress toward improving implementation of regulatory reform initiatives and policies and identify regulations for repeal, replacement, or modification.  This isn’t just one-and-done either.  Each agency is supposed to set up a schedule for subsequent reports, an important move that keeps staff committed to this process.
*  California’s energy vassals resist. The Federal Permitting Dashboard shows as cancelled a big, 332 MW solar project in Mohave and Clark Counties, NV.  The official reason: “economic considerations and feasibility issues related to the Fort Mohave tribe, resulted in a dissolution of the agreement between the Fort Mojave Tribe and First Solar,” project developer.  The project would claim 2800 acres of Fort Mohave tribal land. Southern California Edison was one of the owners and SCE planned to purchase power for the next 20 years.  Mohave and Clark Counties are 267 miles from metro LA.    According to a report, a year ago, from the Laughlin (NV) Times, the members of the tribe said the project conflicted with other priorities.  The Times quotes a tribal elder who questioned using land this way: “Everything has been taken away from us already. What are the ramifications of all these things that are happening?”  C’mon… Surely there’s an app for that…!