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…!

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  An exciting conference is planned in Detroit in two weeks: The first ever Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Green Infrastructure Conference focusing on green infrastructure to protect surface waters in the entire Great Lakes region. Much of Detroit is being recreated from the ground up and this conference seeks ways to reduce the burden on combined sewers for less than the cost of storing and treating combined effluent. Over 130 speakers will address green infrastructure technology, economics, local government/public works, and multi-jurisdictional/regional scale issues.  It’s expected to draw engineers, landscape architects, water quality professionals, and government officials from around the Great Lakes basin.  Contact DEQ at 517-284-6855.
*  US Fish & Wildlife is reviewing a plan addressing the potential “take” of the Mount Harmon June beetle because of school construction in Santa Cruz County, CA – the only place, apparently, where this beetle lives – the County, not the school.  The beetle was listed as endangered in January, 1997.  ‘‘Take’’ includes the following activities: ‘‘to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.’’ However, a permit can authorize “incidental take,” i.e., “take that is not the purpose of carrying out an otherwise lawful activity.”  F&W is seeking comments on the plan.  The school will fund up to $1,012,085 to ensure beetle protection.
*  Remember Red Rock Biofuels?  You know, they are going to convert agricultural waste and forest bi-products into jet fuel.  They are one of the companies integral to US DOE’s efforts to jump-start, by any means necessary it oftentimes seemed, a liquid biofuel industry in the US, fuel that would decrease airlines’ CO2 emissions.  I’d kinda forgotten about them until I got a Google news headline from an alert that I must have set 35 or 40 years ago: still no ground-breaking for Red Rock’s plant in eastern Oregon.
Tom Ewing

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  The website for the White House Council on Environmental Quality – CEQ – is back up for the 1st time in a long time.  It was one of those websites on hold as the President’s new team moved in.  A new CEQ director starts with some important tasks linked to the President’s Executive Orders.  One of them is working with Governors and federal agency leadership to develop a list of priority infrastructure projects.  So far, no insight on that.  You know how it is: just ‘cuz there’s a website doesn’t mean there’s anyone home to answer the mail…!  Oh, and that’s mail via the US Post Office.  The website’s “contact info” lists its street address in DC, no email address!
* Energy: it’s not easy.  The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD – great name, huh?)  and the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) released a study document in April presenting preliminary analyses for a proposed Colusa-Sutter (Counties) transmission line project.  Whew, despite the need to access low-carbon, renewable power – important in California – the SMUD and WAPA team got pushed face down, well, into the mud.  Does anyone support the proposed CoSu line?  I scanned the public comments – including letters from attorneys, of course, representing blocs of landowners – and didn’t see one attaboy from anybody.
* The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) was passed in December, 2015.  It was a big deal.  Section 41 outlined a new way that project permitting was supposed to be coordinated among agencies and, hopefully, streamlined.  The Act established a permitting dashboard to track progress on a host of projects, not just roads and highways either, but a range of projects from pipelines to power projects to rail transit.  Last month, the new FAST Federal Permitting Improvement Council released a report with recommendations on how agencies can best work together to speed up projects.  It’s an extensive report with a lot of good ideas.  And the report will now be used…uh, for what? Oh, yes – re-purposed as an updated dust collection device…!  *:)) laughing

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

* The President’s 03/28 Executive Order “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” deserves a close read. This is the EO that upends the Clean Power Plan and related issues such as calculating the “social cost of carbon,” sometimes referred to as the most important number most people have never heard of. Agency heads face specific deadlines, the first one in 45 days, to present a plan for reviewing “all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (collectively, agency actions) that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.”

* The Massachusetts Cape Wind energy project is one of those projects that you hear about, forget about, hear about, forget about (at least if you’re not living near Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket). Now it’s back in the news: On March 30 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) about whether the ocean floor can support structural frameworks: yes, it can. But does this mean anything for this tortuous, twisted, never ending timeline and process that started in 2001?! Remember that old movie – 2001: A Wind Odyssey

* OK, yes, it’s an overly blunt metric but the annual, total number of Federal Register pages does give some insight into big and bigger government. So what’s the total number of FR pages after the 1st quarter? Glad you asked. As of March 31, the FR was up to page 16099. One year ago, the total was 18737 pages. So this year, for what it’s worth: 2,638 fewer pages.

Tom Ewing

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

* Musical science: Harmony. On March 22 EPA and DOT announced reconsideration of the mid-term evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions standards for model year 2022-2025 light duty vehicles. EPA regulates GHG. But DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sets fuel economy standards. EPA finished its work and, in January, unilaterally set new fuel standards since that’s really the only way (right now) to control GHG. However, NHTSA’s evaluation was not ready and it pushed back. EPA’s GHG review is supposed to evaluate impact on fuel economy and “a national harmonized program.” EPA, naturally, wanted the solo part. Now a new choral directed yanked ‘em off stage, so to speak. A review will restart. EPA’s new Final Determination is due no later than April 1, 2018, likely to be arranged as a duet or maybe even an ensemble. You can be sure those engines will be purring with complex harmonies…

* DOE’s Electricity Advisory Committee meets this week in Arlington, VA. The agenda covers a range of issues critical for the critical changes that electricity planners say are required to transition the US from old-school power systems to an integrated system able to move almost as fast as the electrons themselves, and provide enough power for the transportation sector. The Internet of Things is a central agenda item – there are a lot of things that use electricity. Other topics focus on smart grids, power delivery, storage and presentation of MIT’s Utility of the Future Study.

* Colonialism. Energy agencies in California released a final Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative report last month. It’s a difficult read (mostly because it’s written in the docu-speak language) but it is chock full of important information. Transmission is a critical concern, such as a California “intertie” to wind projects in Wyoming and New Mexico! (What if Chicago, about equidistant, wants Wyoming’s wind power?) Meanwhile, while donor states get spiked and laced with oh-so-scenic generation and transmission infrastructure the report also tells of local prohibitions on renewable energy in San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Solano Counties, the CA end-points sucking up the energy produced 1000 miles away! What?