* Last week the US Geological Survey hosted a public briefing on its work to develop a database on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction of fossil fuels from federal lands. In January 2015, Interior Secretary Jewell asked the USGS to establish and maintain such a public database. The meeting provided a briefing on the basic methods, data sources, and likely format and content of project output. Results and data were not presented; watch for that information next year. USGS data covered carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions.
* Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality is conducting a study on how a market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions might work in Oregon. DEQ has to report to the State legislature when it reconvenes in February. DEQ has released a “partial draft study” for public review. The work so far is focused on a “cap-and-trade” program that would be compatible with the Western Climate Initiative’s multi-jurisdiction carbon market. Comments on the draft are due December 22, the same day as a public meeting.
* Cushy gubmint jobs: “Religious Compensatory Time.” Who knew, right? Federal employees can adjust work schedules to earn time off for religious purposes via compensatory time, earned in advance or repaid after the religious observance. EPA’s Inspector General reports that one extremely devout EPA employee received a retirement payout of $32,469 for accumulated religious compensatory time. Thirteen co-workers received a total of $41,045. Without policy changes, future payments could total up to $81,927. Pretty soon that turns into real money, huh? The IG does write, however, that that first employee did “earn” his/her time; now I feel better. 😀
* It’s a big country I: A new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for transport is available from the US Forest Service: “Pack and Saddle Stock Outfitter-Guide Special Use Permit Issuance.” Topic: protection of wilderness from commercial tour and guide services in the Pasayten and Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness areas in Washington state. USFS writes that “pack and saddle stock use is an appropriate mode of transportation in wilderness, since it does not include any mechanized or motorized equipment.” Tourists and others (e.g., research groups) are not skilled in stock handling, do not own stock and equipment, do not have the knowledge of stock handling techniques that minimize resource damage, and would be endangering their lives and the lives of others because of the hazards associated with stock. The comment period ends January 9, 2017.
* It’s a big country II: A Superconducting Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) (SCMAGLEV) Project is being developed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Maryland DOT to run between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD, with an intermediate stop at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI) Airport. FRA announced an EIS on this project last week. FRA writes that the “Proposed Action consists of the construction and operation of a high-speed SCMAGLEV train system.” Written comments on the scope of the EIS are due by December 27. FRA plans two public scoping meetings: December, 2016 and January, 2017. I’ll try to update.
* Office of Management and Budget is preparing to rule in December that companies selling to the federal government must disclose whether or not they publicly report greenhouse gas emissions and reduction targets. The reporting doesn’t have to be to the government, the numbers just have to be publicly available somewhere. This would be mandatory for vendors who received $7.5 million or more in Federal contract awards in the preceding Federal fiscal year; it’s voluntary for all other vendors. OMB writes that “an annual representation will promote transparency and demonstrate the Federal Government’s commitment to reducing supply chain emissions.” Furthermore, the government will “have accurate, up-to-date information on its suppliers.” This idea was first proposed last May. OMB didn’t receive any public comments. But apparently a comment period remains open because if you want to make comments they are due on or before December 22, 2016.
* According to an EIA report the share of U.S. electricity fueled by coal is expected to slowly begin growing when compared to the same period last year. But the full story is, well, more complicated and the growth is temporary. Supply, demand, weather forecasting, proximity to fuels, all are in play. EIA concludes: “By the middle of 2017, increased generation from renewable energy sources is expected to reduce the generation shares of both coal and natural gas. In July 2017, projected generating capacity from utility-scale solar and wind plants is 57% and 10% higher, respectively, than in July 2016.” Note the reduction of natural gas – that’s an important indicator.
* Seems like yesterday. Last January EPA pressers wrote how after the “2016 State of the Union address, (EPA) Administrator McCarthy hopped on a plane to the Buckeye State to learn how universities, colleges and businesses in the state are driving clean energy innovation.” That tour included a visit to First Solar, Inc., the biggest U.S. manufacturer of solar panels. Last week Yahoo! Business reported that First Solar Inc., is cutting a quarter of its jobs worldwide and will reduce production in Toledo, OH, eliminating 450 factory jobs. Earlier, Yahoo! said, the company reported challenging market conditions and needed to retool operations to begin making a more efficient, thin-film solar panel. The Toledo Blade reported in 2013 that First Solar had received $27.1 million in government assistance.
* EPA posted a rather puzzling grant opportunity last week, seeking research “Anticipating the Environmental Impacts and Behavioral Drivers of Deep Decarbonization.” What is DD? That’s when the world has pretty much completely done away with fossil fuels, not too far off for EPA, say about 2050. EPA believes that DD itself holds environmental problems that need to be anticipated, and described. And “behavioral drivers?” Not fully spelled out. But it seems to pose the question: what will it take to get consumers to behave the right way versus the, uh, well, wrong way regarding energy choices? Is it just me or does it seem a bit creepy when government documents ask about getting certain behavior from citizens? Is there a schoolmarm standing in the shadows…with a club? This agency has a looooong reach! If you’re a PhD and you know how to work the jargon EPA has $6 million available.
* EPA is proposing enhancements to its Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) program and other related fuel regulations to support market growth of ethanol and other renewable fuels. The changes seek to “provide the opportunity for increasing the production and use of renewable fuels by allowing the market to operate in the most efficient and economical way to introduce greater volumes of renewable fuels under the program.” There’s a public hearing on this on December 6, 2016, in Chicago. A copy of the proposed rule is available from the Agency’s web site. Easy reading – just 374 pages!
* Sobering: FHWA reports that American vehicles consumed 71.8 billion gallons of gasoline in the first half of 2016, an increase of 3 percent over the same period a year earlier. That is the highest amount on record and the sixth consecutive increase in national gasoline consumption for the first six months of any year on record. The South Gulf – eight states from Texas to West Virginia – had a 4.1 percent increase, the largest percentage increase of any region in the country. California led the nation in gasoline consumption with 7.65 billion gallons, followed by Texas at 7.1 billion gallons and Florida at 4.57 billion gallons. If interested, check EIA’s data to view how transport contributes to each each state’s CO2 emissions.
* By contrast – is that the right comparative? – the American Public Transportation Association reported on Friday that US voters approved 34 of 49 local and statewide public transit measures for a current Election Day passage rate (unofficial) of 69 percent. One measure remains to be called. The current success rates for transit measures throughout 2016 is 71 percent. Throughout the country this year, in 23 states and communities of all sizes, voters considered nearly $200 billion in local investment for public transportation at the ballot box.
* Kitchen cabinet: Federal Register, last week: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it will take comments on the appropriate reference amount customarily consumed (RACC) for flavored nut butter spreads that can be used to fill cupcakes and other desserts, such as cakes and pastries. FDA recently issued a final rule updating these “reference amounts.” The agency received a citizen petition contending that ‘‘nut cocoa-based spreads’’ fall within the ‘‘honey, jams, jellies, fruit butter, molasses’’ category for RACC determination; or amend the regulation to establish a new RACC category for ‘‘nut cocoa-based spreads’’ with a RACC of 1 tablespoon (tbsp.). FDA is also responding to a request to amend serving size regulations to establish a RACC and product category for cupcake filling. Comments are due on or before January 3, 2017. [I’m not making this up. Here’s the reference number: FDA–2016–N–2938.]
* Department of confusion: A new report shows that our efforts to fight global warming are paying off in the biggest way yet
Optimistic. But, don’t get too happy: The world is racing to stop climate change. But the math still doesn’t add up
More headlines from that ol’ Internet. Sometimes you just have to wash your eyes out.
* I was researching a project in CA and came across an Environmental Impact Report from Kern County, CA. As you know, just 8 or 10 of these “environmental impact statement” types of documents, if ever printed in entirety, would fill every shelf in the Library of Congress. So, I was glad to see an Executive Summary. I clicked on it. Quick download: Executive Summary – 89 pages! Eighty-nine pages! LXXXIX pages! How is it that acceptable? Who signs somebody’s paycheck for that? Is it OK for the project manager, DOT directors, taxpayers (as if they even know about it)? No wonder people struggle and fumble with these issues. But it’s okay…Big Gubmint’s got your back on the cupcake filling!