Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*   The Spring 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions was announced in the Federal Register last week.  The Unified Agenda lists the actions that administrative agencies plan to issue in the near and long-term.  The Agenda is released by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  It shows how the President plans to “maintain his commitment to regulatory reform” and “a reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on the American people.”  The Agenda shows each agency’s reform priorities and where each related policy stands within the rule development process, from a “pre-rule stage” to proposed to final.   If you want a crystal ball, this is an important one.

*  FERC has scheduled an all-day Reliability Technical Conference – led by FERC Commissioners – at the end of July that will take a close look at critical new energy policy initiatives.  An afternoon session, for example, is called “Managing the New Grid.”  The discussion will explore power system planning and operations and related challenges and opportunities from the changing mix of electric generation resources, including impacts of power plant retirements and increasing dependence on natural gas, solar, and wind power.  An expert panel will discuss critical issues linked to frequency response, ramping and voltage support – the dynamics required to turn electric power into an electric system.  Difficult stuff, kind of important…!
*   FERC also gave notice last week that it received a complaint from a city council person in Rhode Island alleging that the Rhode Island Public Utility Commission on August 16, 2010, as directed by the Rhode Island General Assembly, approved a 20-year Purchase Power Agreement between Deepwater Wind and National Grid that “appears to constitute a violation of the Federal Power Act.”  The complaint is extensive and hard-hitting, including charges that the Block Island wind project does “not serve a public interest, and creates a significant economic hardship for all levels of residential, commercial, and manufacturing sectors.”  The Complaint states further that studies in Texas, where wind power is prevalent, have shown that the net effect of adjusting conventional power plant output to accommodate intermittent and unpredictable power sources like wind turbines can “actually cause higher net fossil fuel usage and carbon emissions.”  There’s an open window, until June 27, to officially intervene in this interesting case.

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*   FHWA is conducting a series of public meetings during the next few months and in various cities across the country to seek comments on the “integration of automated vehicles on the Nation’s roadways.”  FHWA is seeking insights on key issues and implications for roadway infrastructure and to gather comments on highway automation to help inform FHWA research, policy, and programs. The public meetings will have presentations and breakout sessions during which participants can provide written and oral comments. Due to some confused up-front office work the first meeting was already held – in fact it was held the same day the initial announcement appeared in the Federal Register!  Upcoming dates are still being finalized; each meeting will focus on a specific topic, e.g., freight will be the focus of the meeting coming up in September.
 
*  The General Services Administration (GSA), which manages the federal government’s buildings, has long had a “Green Building Advisory Committee” (established in 2011).  As its title implies, the GBAC provides policy advice and recommendations to GSA to advance federal building innovations in planning, design, and operations regarding a number of factors, from reducing costs to minimizing environmental impacts.  Now the Agency has established a new Building and Grid Integration Task Group which is charged with developing recommendations on the integration of federal buildings with the electrical grid to enhance resilience, provide savings of both energy and cost, and facilitate distributed energy generation, including renewable sources.  The new Task Group has a fast start: an initial conference call this month with weekly conference calls after that, helping to prepare for an in-person meeting in late September.

*   We’re gettin’ the band back together, man… C.F. Martin & Co. (better known as Martin Guitar) was recently honored nationally by US DOE for the company’s energy productivity achievements.  Martin, based in Nazareth, PA, founded in 1833, remains a family owned operation.  Martin participates in DOE’s “Better Plants Challenge.”  Martin committed to improving its energy performance across its U.S. operations by 25% within 10 years and to share strategies and results.  In fact, Martin’s team reached this milestone in just two years!  Martin upgraded an aging distributed HVAC system with a state of the art Central Hot/Chilled Water Plant. The heart of the central plant is three water-cooled centrifugal chillers (each with a capacity of 500 tons) and three high-efficiency condensing boilers (each with a capacity of 1,000,000 btus).  The project exceeded expectations, cutting electricity use by 46% and natural gas consumption by 20%. These savings translate into a 27% improvement in energy intensity at the Nazareth plant and more than $500,000 in reduced annual energy costs. Nearly 200 manufacturers participate in DOE’s Better Plants program, saving, to date, $4.2 billion in cumulative energy costs, according to DOE.

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update


*  Colman Dock in Seattle is Washington State Ferries’ largest ferry terminal. and supports transportation across Puget Sound.  Key infrastructure, though, has deteriorated and Washington DOT has a major replacement project underway.  Marine habitat disturbance is inevitable and US DOT has a request for comments on WA DOT’s plans to avoid incidental wildlife “takes:” accidental or unavoidable deaths of animals including seals, whales, porpoises, and dolphins.  WA DOT’s preventative efforts are extensive.  Highest estimated “takes” are to California sea lions and harbor porpoises which could reach 1,254 and 3,997 animals, respectively.  There’s a lot of numbers theory here, however, which is why this extensive document deserves a close review, especially regarding the impact on the harbor porpoise as a percentage of its total estimated population.  Comments are due June 21.
*  The Federal Transit Administration announced a competitive funding program for almost $26 million to support comprehensive planning associated with new fixed guideway and core capacity improvement projects.  This work would support economic development, ridership, multimodal connectivity and accessibility, increased transit access for pedestrian and bicycle traffic and mixed-use development near transit stations.  FTA wants big picture stuff: projects covering an entire transit capital project corridor, as opposed to proposals for individual station areas or smaller corridor sections.  Also important: “engagement with the private sector.”  Proposals are due July 23.
*  In April, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) requested public comments on offshore wind energy development within the New York Bight.  Last week, BOEM announced it is extending the public comment period to July 30, a move taken at the request of interested parties.  Potential wind energy developments would affect commercial and recreational fisheries and, of course, maritime operations, not to mention future energy customers.  A check with the docket shows 14 comments received so far, but none are yet posted for review.  The New York Bight is an area of shallow waters between Long Island and the New Jersey coast.
Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

 *  Frances A. Ulmer is the Chair of the US Arctic Research Commission (USARC), appointed by President Obama in 2011. She is one of the international experts, influencing US maritime and oceanographic policies, participating in the oceans/climate change symposium next month in Washington.  Her paper: the “Geopolitical Implications of Arctic Warming.”  If you need a correspondent at this international event please advise; I will be attending.


*  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments on a draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) for the potential issuance of a “take permit” for bald eagles linked to the operation of the Courtenay Wind Farm in Stutsman County, North Dakota.  The applicant is Northern States Power Company—Minnesota, doing business as Xcel Energy, which operates an approximately 200.5-megawatt commercial wind energy facility in Stutsman County. The 100-turbine project became operational on December 1, 2016.  The DEA evaluates risks to eagles versus the offsetting conservation measures within Xcel’s eagle conservation plan.  A “take permit” means a permit holder can avoid federal charges from eagle deaths if those deaths are truly accidental, occurring despite all reasonable efforts to avoid such deaths from otherwise lawful activities.  Comments are due June 18.

*  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the availability of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) for review and comment pertaining to environmental impacts that may result from the potential approval of a permit application for the environmental release throughout Florida of genetically engineered (GE) Citrus tristeza virus (CTV).  The purpose: to use GE CTV as a biological control agent to help manage “citrus greening disease” (also known as Huanglongbing – HLB) which presents devastating impacts: reducing yield, causing misshapen, bitter and small green fruit that is unmarketable and, if that’s not enough, causes the citrus trees to die. HLB is always preceded by the appearance of an insect known as the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), which introduces a disease-causing bacterium into the plant. Presently, tree removal and intensive insecticide applications are the only available management options for HLB. These options are unlikely sustainable, USDA writes.  Comments are due June 25.

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

In its Sixth Assessment Cycle, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is producing three Special Reports: Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Global Warming of 1.5°C and Climate Change and Land as well as the main Working Group Assessment Reports. This session will start with reports focusing on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.  Much of this session will be devoted to open discussion with participants regarding oceans and climate and the Working Group II Assessment Report, including topics such as what literature does IPCC assess, how were authors selected and how does IPCC review process work, as well as ocean knowledge gaps highlighted in previous reports and emerging knowledge of climate change impacts and risks for ocean ecosystems and human communities.   I will be attending this Symposium.  Advise if you need a correspondent or someone to work with your team reporting on this complex set of issues.

  •  My how time flies!  Last week EPA proposed withdrawing four proposed rules dealing with groundwater and pesticides and plant genetics.  But don’t worry too much about public safety and environmental decline.  There’s a lot of cobwebs here.  Two rules were proposed in 1994.  Uh, that’s 24 years ago.  Bill Clinton was President.  One proposed rule did have more recent action, at least partially – in 2001, just 17 years ago, you remember, about the same year as that space odyssey.  The most recent rule? 1999, dealing with pesticide registration requirements; left in the dust as other laws changed, leaving the proposals, yes, still proposals, stranded by the regulatory roadside.  I wonder if the typewriters still work that were used to draft those rules?  I do need a new ribbon for my Selectric…  Imagine all the things that don’t happen as people wait and wait and wait for answers, direction, approvals…
  • Last week was the deadline for a DOE request for comments on the development of a Solid State Power Substation (SSPS) Roadmap.  An SSPS is defined as “the strategic integration of high voltage power electronic converters in substations to provide enhanced capabilities and support the evolution of the grid.” SSPS technology can overcome some of the current limitations within substations by enabling control of real and reactive power flows, management of voltage transients and harmonic content, and the ability to increase the flexibility, resiliency, and security of the electric power system.  Deployment of SSPS technology within substations can enable better asset utilization, increasing system efficiency, enhancing security and resilience, and easing the integration of distributed energy resources and microgrids.  This is important stuff, note the reference to distributed energy, or microgrids –  two big issues as renewable and storage technologies (e.g., electric vehicles) work to get mainstreamed
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