Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  EPA’s public hearing in Charleston, WV, on its proposed decision to revoke the Clean Power Plan was an interesting session, for many reasons.  Some people slammed EPA for holding the hearing in Charleston, calling it disingenuous because it presented a kind of false hope to people forced to cling to a coal-based economy.  One attorney from Charleston said EPA’s move was pandering and condescending to WV citizens.  On the other hand, many others didn’t see it as quite so two-dimensional, pointing out that in the last year or so the State’s broader economy has been growing, not just because of greater clarity around coal but because the state’s industries depend on low-cost energy, whether that’s sourced from coal or not.  EPA as a presence stayed largely in the background.  Hearing officers were from various EPA Regional offices.  Hats off to EPA’s public affairs team which did a great job keeping a difficult process on track and on time.
* It’s no secret that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is a lightning rod for every environmental extreme under the ozone-making sun.  Still, Pruitt did an outstanding job in his initial appearance before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee last week.  Pruitt was unflappable in the face of some bizarre comments stitched together into questions by some of the Ds on the Committee, or more likely by a staff person. It appeared that for many Reps it was the first time they had seen the “question;” they couldn’t read it out loud without having to stop, repeat, go back a few words, stutter and then finally make it to where someone must have inserted a period.  Then they expected a rational “answer.”  Pruitt didn’t use any notes, yet referenced a wide range of EPA programs, including specific examples of individual cases and decisions on specific events.  Some big issues for Pruitt: making decisions, not letting open issues dither – he referenced, as an example, the West Lake Super Fund case in St. Louis – involving 8000 tons of Manhattan Project uranium, mixed with solid waste – unresolved for 27 years.  It won’t remain that way for another 27 years.
*  DOE published a Federal Register notice seeking comments and information to evaluate the potential advantages and disadvantages of additional flexibilities in the Department’s U.S Appliance and Equipment Energy Conservation Standards program. Changes could include market-based approaches like those used to set average efficiency standards, “feebate” programs, or other approaches that may reduce compliance costs and/or increase consumer choice while preserving or enhancing appliance efficiency. DOE requests comments on possible program design and insights on possible economic efficiency gains, impacts on consumer and manufacturer costs and on energy savings, and suggestions for a pilot product category and/or phase-in of revisions across the ECS program. As a concept, this has been in the works for a while at DOE.  Comments are due by February 26.
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  I’m heading to Charleston, WV, later today to attend US EPA’s public hearing on repealing the Clean Power Plan. This set of hearings starts tomorrow, Tuesday, and continues on Wednesday.  EPA’s initial plans were to add a third day if needed, but that won’t be necessary according to an EPA spokesperson.  The Agency has booked three hearing rooms at the Capitol Complex.  Busloads, literally, are expected to attend.  EPA has (as of last week) 275 people scheduled to speak.  If you would like a report from this event just let me know.  If you are also attending and want to get together later at Pies and Pints, send a text or give me a call.
*  The Fish and Wildlife Service (FSW) will review and possibly revise regulations concerning enhancement-of-survival permits issued under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 associated with “Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances” (CCAA).  These agreements enlist non-federal property owners to undertake certain conservation practices to reduce or eliminate threats to endangered species.  In return, the property owners get certain assurances regarding incidental “take” and limits on additional prevention measures should a species’ endangered status change.  Last updates were in 2004 and 2016; now FWS proposes clarifications regarding various efforts and alignment with other federal policies.

*  I thought I knew everything – no, really.  But then, last week, I see the word “bight,” and not, you know, as in what a vampire does.  No, a bight is “a long, gradual bend or recess in the shoreline that forms a large, open bay. Bights are shallow and may pose hazards to navigation, so their depths, in addition to any submerged features like sandbars and rock formations, are clearly marked on nautical charts.”  This is important because New York State wants the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to identify and lease “at least four new renewable energy lease areas, each capable of supporting at least 800 megawatts.”  In response, BOEM is developing a “Call for Information and Nominations.”  In December, it will host an Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force Webinar on the New York Bight.

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Here’s an interesting conference coming up for three days in December in Washington.  DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) will hold a hold a marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) Distributed and Alternate Applications Forum. The purpose is to gather the latest information on potential high-priority alternative markets for MHK technologies, a chance to learn about new applications for marine energy and how emerging technologies capturing wave and tidal power can help meet the energy needs of a variety of industries.  Get ready to work, too.  Each day’s session starts at 7:15 a.m. and runs until 7:00 p.m.!
*  EPA’s Office of Inspector General released another report about Agency spending.  The topic mentioned here last week, parking subsidies, is chump change compared to this new report on EPA’s use of high-risk contracts.  OIG writes that “without improving its acquisition planning process, the EPA may continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on high-risk contracts that waste taxpayer resources.”  EPA allowed sole source contracts even when there was time to plan and conduct a competitive award process.  The OIG makes six recommendations for better management; EPA agrees with all of them.
*  DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will host a public meeting in December of the Supercritical CO2 Oxycombustion Technology Group.  The topic: addressing challenges “associated with oxy-combustion systems indirectly heated supercritical CO2 (sCO2) power cycles.”  DOE writes that, potentially, this is a cost-effective and well-suited technology for carbon dioxide capture.  But there is a long list of chemical and engineering challenges.  This is actually the start of a series of meetings that will occur every other month.  Watch for announcements.

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Well, this is a bit awkward!  EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports that in 2015 and 2016 EPA paid over $1.5 million for subsidized and unoccupied parking spaces at DC headquarters and Region 4 Atlanta, the only two offices that subsidize parking.  These weren’t criticisms for employees who needed to park, either.  (Other EPA offices provide “free” parking but the OIG report doesn’t include that non-cash benefit.)  The OIG points out that a 2015 Executive Order established “a clear overarching objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions across Federal operations” encouraging agencies to “promote sustainable commuting.”  OIG found sloppy program accounting, too, with good-role-model parents apparently using their kids to qualify for car-pool spaces, which were granted even though car-pool participants didn’t list an email address on application forms, as required.  Tsk tsk… Do as we say, not as we do!
*  Someone named V V makes some thoughtful points about regulatory costs in comments to a Federal Highway docket.  V V has an interesting angle, first noting that the US GDP is around $17.6 trillion.  Then, he/she cites recent estimates that regulations cost the US economy about $1.88 trillion.  Next, some comparative figures: $2 trillion (rounding up a bit) is equivalent to more than half the 2014 level of fiscal budget outlays ($3.5 trillion), and nearly four times the $482 billion deficit.  Regulatory costs rival the level of pre-tax corporate profits, which were $2.235 trillion in 2013.  US households “pay” $14,976 annually in hidden regulatory tax ($1.882 trillion in regulation 125.67 million “consumer units”), “equivalent” to 23% of average income before taxes.  If US regulatory costs of $1.88 trillion were a “country”, it would be the world’s tenth largest economy, between India and the Russian Federation.  Hey, V V – thanks!  Happy Monday, Dude *:)) laughing!

*  EPA has a public hearing scheduled to take comments on the “Repeal of Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units,” a.k.a., ending the Clean Power Plan.  Okay, public hearings aren’t anything new, but this meeting won’t be held in boring ol’ Washington DC or Arlington or Alexandria with the usual bunch of over-paid suits milling around checking their phones.  No sir, this meeting will be held in wild wonderful West Virginia, right in the heart of coal country.  Wow, passion and policy wonks in the same room at the same time.  Should be fun.


Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  EPA seeks comments on the “Recommended Best Practices for Environmental Reviews and Authorizations for Infrastructure Projects.”  These recommendations were published last January in a report by the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council.  Now EPA wants to know whether any of the ideas are generally applicable on a delegation or authorization-wide basis to permitting under FAST-41.  A covered project is any activity “in the United States that requires authorization or environmental review by a Federal agency,” mostly big-ticket projects ranging from transportation to waterways to pipelines.  Comments are due November 20.
*  Federal agency reports are being released almost daily in response to various Presidential Executive Orders addressing energy independence and economic growth.  The reports identify possible regulatory changes that could unburden energy and economic development while still meeting all legal environmental, safety and natural resource demands.  FERC’s is one of the reports that came out last week.  It focuses actions in four jurisdictional areas: (1) hydropower licensing; (2) LNG facility, and natural gas pipeline and storage facility siting; (3) eastern states’ centralized electric capacity market policies and (4) electric generator interconnection policies.
*  The U.S. Global Change Research Program announced updates on three reports.  First, the final release of Volume I of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, with a focus on the United States.  It presents a direct conclusion: Based on extensive evidence, it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”  Second, the public draft of Volume II, “Climate Change Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States,” is available for public review and comment; deadline is January 31, 2018.  Third, the draft of the “2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Report” is also available for review and comment; deadline is January 8, 2018.  The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990. 

Tom Ewing
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