Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), is seeking comments on its Draft Toxicological Profile for Glyphosate, “a phosphonoglycine non-selective herbicide, first registered for use by the EPA in 1974.”  Roundup is one common product containing glyphosate in concentrations ranging from 0.96% to as much as 71%.  In 2007, U.S. agricultural use of glyphosate was approximately 82,800 tons and non-agricultural use was approximately 9,300 tons. In 2014,  agricultural use was approximately 124,953 tons and non-agricultural use approximately 13,260 tons.  All toxicological profiles issued as ‘‘Drafts for Public Comment’’ represent ATSDR’s best efforts to provide important toxicological information on priority hazardous substances.  ATSDR wants comments and additional information about the health effects of glyphosate for review and potential inclusion in a final profile. Comments are due on or before July 8, 2019.
*  In a somewhat related development the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), established within Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), selected three experts to work with a Science Advisory Workgroup to recommend PFAS drinking water standards.  PFAS = per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of industrial compounds used in production and on finished consumer products, e.g, non-stick cookware.  The Workgroup is developing health-based recommendations for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to consider as part of a rulemaking process for Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFAS in drinking water.  The new members of the team are specialists in toxicology, epidemiology and risk assessment.  The Workgroup’s recommendation is due July 1, 2019.
*  Have you ever heard of Nature’s Notebook Plant and Animal Observing Program, run by the Department of Interior?  Neither had I.  It’s sponsored by the US Geological Survey using standardized forms for tracking plant and animal activity. Nature’s Notebook forms are used to record phenology (e.g., the timing of leafing or flowering of plants and reproduction or migration of animals) as part of a nationwide effort to understand and predict how plants and animals respond to environmental variation and changes in weather and climate.  DOI wants to know: Is this worthwhile?  Should we keep it going?  The bigger question – who knows about this?  Last October DOE asked the same questions.  They received one comment, from a science educator who wrote: “This program provides critical data on changes in seasonality and plant and animal patterns. Phenology is incredibly important to understand—for people, wildlife, and industry—and the USA–NPN is the best resource for compiling, analyzing, and distributing this information.”  A year ago I wrote a report on challenges faced by wild bees and honeybees.  One big problem: observational data.  Could this Notebook effort teamed with citizen science help establish critical bee data…?   Comments are due May 13.
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Let’s Talk About Roads

Let’s Talk About Roads

By Greg Sitek

There are things that we, as a society, have developed a need for, a need that readily translates into a necessity of the same magnitude as air, food, and water. In fact, as we currently exist the elimination of the human-made necessities will eliminate the three basics.

Think about it. Think about life as you know and live it without electricity, running water, cable/internet, sewerage systems, stores, roads, cars, trucks, trains, ships, airplanes, gas, oil, etc. etc. etc. When I try to I find that I am in deep trouble.

All of these “needs” are intricately intertwined much like a spider’s web, one “need” supporting the other. In today’s world the linking, supporting “spider web” is our transportation infrastructure, our roads. Take the roads away and everything we “need” to continue living as we do can no longer exist as we do. Each and every component is dependent on our roads for its continued, long-term existence.

Roads are the arteries that provide the means to install and maintain our electricity, cables, phones, waterlines; roads are the web-strands that bring groceries, clothing, stuff to our stores; roads bring farm products to the processors; roads make our lives possible.

We use them, we complain about them, we take them for granted. But we need them and we need to maintain them.

Many of the states have increased their “gas taxes” while others are introducing bills to do the same.

A recent ARTBA Transportation Investment Advocacy Center  (TIAC) release noted, “ Legislators in 37 states have introduced 185 bills aimed at boosting transportation investment in the first two months of 2019,

a new analysis finds. This number is higher than the amount of legislation the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s Transportation Investment Advocacy Center (ARTBA-TIAC) tracked over the same time period last year and is projected to grow as additional measures are introduced throughout the year.

“Continuing a trend seen in recent years, many states introduced electric vehicle fees to help ensure all vehicles that create wear and tear on roads pay for their share of maintenance. Sixteen states filed legislation to implement an electric vehicle registration fee, with 10 of those states including an additional registration fee for hybrid vehicles.

“Several states are also considering innovative funding solutions. Mileage-based user fee studies or pilot programs are being considered in eight states. Four states have introduced legislation to implement tolling.

“Of the legislation introduced in January or February, 19 measures have advanced beyond one legislative chamber, with one bill—an electric vehicle registration fee increase in Wyoming— signed into law. Another bill in Arkansas to convert the state’s flat excise tax to a variable-rate formula based on the average wholesale price of fuel, implement new electric and hybrid motor vehicle registration fees, and utilize at least $35 million in casino revenues for transportation funding has been sent to the governor and is expected to receive final approval in March. One hundred sixty-six bills have been introduced and are awaiting further action. Several states have not yet convened for their legislative session, and at least one state—Alabama—is expected to file a significant transportation investment bill.”

Since this information was released Wisconsin’s governor has a proposed bill to increase the state’s fuel tax and consider other long-term possibilities to insure continued funding for Wisconsin’s roads. Michigan’s governor has announced plans for introducing a 45-cent per gallon gas tax increase to fund meeting its highway need.

The TIAC report points out the fact that along with fuel tax increases some states are considering tolls, vehicle mileage taxes, increased licensing fees and are open to other suggestions this due to the increased number of electric, hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles on the roads. This is an issue that needs to be addressed on a federal level as well as locally.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is ensuring road-users that the monies collected for highway maintenance are spent for highway maintenance. Too often the collected revenue ends up in the general fund and never get spent on filling potholes, widening narrow roads or building new ones.

Roads are a lifeline of our country and our way of life. Since you use them and you depend on them make sure you are involved with their future…

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  On April 2 USDA and EPA kicked off “Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month.”  Unbelievably, in the US, more than one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste!  One third!   Food is the single largest type of waste in daily trash.  On April 1 President Trump issued a Presidential Message addressing food waste.  Next week EPA will host an event that will announce additional joint agency actions to reduce food waste, including ways for localities and states to become more active on this set of issues.  The agencies are asking for corporate and business leaders to join their peers who have already made a public commitment to reducing food loss and waste in their U.S. operations by 50 percent by the year 2030.
*  In March I referenced a major deep-water port project getting started in Texas.  An interesting comment came in last week by an affected property owner first claiming lax notification for people directly impacted.  But that was small potatoes compared to her subsequent comments.  She wrote that it seems unbelievable that such a project could even be considered, much less proposed, “given all the warnings recent events have shown (about?) the hazards of similar projects.”  (Seems she left out a word…)  But her sentiment is clear:  Fears from the recent Houston storage tank fire.  A submerged leak in the Louisiana Gulf.  The proximity to wildlife preserves.  “Can you not imagine,” she writes to MARAD, “the impact when 28 miles of underwater line is involved was a leak to occur, to say nothing of the impact of installation? Is there no ‘saturation point’ for potential pollution and Gulf disruption for this area?”  Hmmmm….
*  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposes to establish a “nonessential experimental population” (NEP) of the California condor in the Pacific Northwest.  An NEP could facilitate reintroduction of California condors to the region and provide for “allowable legal incidental taking of the California condor” within a defined NEP area. “Take” or “taking” is the official word for, uh, killing – not casually, of course, but unavoidable deaths associated with otherwise legal activities that can proceed only if project managers have done everything possible to avoid situations in which a “take” might occur.  The NEP would include northern California, northwest Nevada, and Oregon. FWS writes that “the best available data indicate that reintroduction of the California condor into the Pacific Northwest is biologically feasible and will promote the conservation of the species.”  Regulatory restrictions are considerably reduced under an NEP designation.  However, FWS explains that regulatory flexibility can make a reintroduction process more palatable to apprehensive stakeholders. “We have seen stronger support for conservation efforts when stakeholders are involved and have a voice in the process.”  Comments are due by June 4.
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  A new Department of Energy study indicates that the universe is running out of electrons, i.e., free electrons not already held within a flashlight battery or an app or an Internet-of-Things application or Youtube cat videos.  “It sounds inconceivable,” MIT professor Dymm Witt said in a recent lecture, “but there are a finite number of particles in our world, as immeasurable as that once seemed to be.  But it takes electrons in motion to, well, respond to billions of constantly working thumbs.  Everyone has two thumbs,” Dr. Witt advised students, “and that adds up to a lot of constant electrical demand.”  Witt said that even wood, old 2x4s in your basement, for example, are now electrically charged, like cell phones, iPads, laptops, and EVs place a premium on any undisputed electron from here to Taurus Afurass, 200 billion light years away.
*  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) made two important announcements this week: one, that upcoming hearings will be in Latin and, second, that commissioners and hearing participants must wear wigs.  “Non inhaero ad furca ad ostium tabernaculi,” Slip op. 10, “whatever the hell that means,” remarked Commissioner Leck Tron, who explained that “we are a legal and formal process; clarity is job number 1 for the Foederati Industria Regulatory Commissione bigas.”  In a press release, FERC said a toupee, no matter what color, will not count as a wig, although it can be worn under the wig or transferred discreetly to a brief-case or purse at the start of a hearing.  In the 200 page ruling, Commissioner Tron said Latin to English translations will not be provided (except for a fee).  He said, “nobody can figure out what we do anyway so why translate from Latin to sine fine particularibus infimis?”  Wigs will be collected after each hearing and given a good shakepostridie parati.
*  You’ve likely seen reference to “cultured meats,” i.e., collections of live animal cells grown within very specific conditions, critical research for food and related to efforts to re-grow human organs. Turns out that a few buckets of this slop were recently delivered to at least one Silicon Valley lab.The reason: venture teams are trying to develop a third arm and hand, something that can be affixed, still to be determined how and where, to a person so that after transplant she/he can use both regular hands and still hold a cell phone.“We’ve had new moms and dads complain that it’s really hard to change a baby and hold a phone,” commented director Lawng Gnudle, “right now, this is early stage.”  Another likely application, Gnudle suggested, might be for people who unload a grocery cart with just one hand because they can’t put their phone down.  Gnudle said this would likely, at first, be a somewhat rudimentary appendage. An “enhanced person,” he said, couldn’t play both parts of a piano duet, for example. Well, maybe both parts of   

Tom Ewing

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Here’s something not for the faint-hearted: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is seeking comments on “possible improvements to its electric transmission incentives policy.”  Still there?  C’mon this is important.  Incentive policies encourage the development of infrastructure that is reliable and reduces congestion and ratepayers’ costs.  FERC’s upcoming effort will review an order adopted in 2012.  Some fundamental issues are at play: should incentives be granted based on project risks and challenges or based on benefits?  Economic efficiency vs. reliability?  In addition, FERC is interested in comments about possible metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of incentives.  Hmmm… checking to see whether something actually works… better take a brisk walk and get some more coffee… Comments are due 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.
*  The Global CCS Institute will release a new report highlighting strategic policy priorities for the large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Institute’s upcoming report also reviews current progress achieved with existing policies and the reasons behind positive investment decisions for the current 23 large-scale CCS projects in operation and construction globally.  Look for that report on April 2.  Then, watch for an upcoming webinar during which two of the paper’s authors will provide insights into the key findings and recommendations.  The webinar will address barriers to CCS deployment, the conditions that have enabled current CCS facilities, lessons from current projects and the strategic priorities for policymakers to support CCS deployment.  Click here for more info.
*  The ocean off the West Coast is shifting from several years of unusually warm conditions – a marine heat wave known as the “warm blob” – toward a cooler and more productive regime that may boost salmon returns and populations of other ocean predators, according to a new NOAA Fisheries report.  The report cautions against expecting a return to “normal,” given the continuing wide variability of conditions in recent years. This perspective echoes other recent reports from around the world that note the increasing frequency of climatic disturbances is making it hard for ecosystems to recover before “being knocked out of whack again.”  The report, now in its seventh year, informs Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries managers as they develop fishing seasons and limits.

Tom Ewing
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