Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Say what…?  Nine days to comment on the easy, non-controversial subject of “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth?”  That’s the topic of a Federal Register request for information, published by the Department of the Treasury, on July 6, part of Executive Order 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.  All comments were due Friday, July 14 – 7 business days later, 9 days total if your team was working again all day Saturday and Sunday (which, of course, they were…*:)) laughing ).  Was that deadline a typo?  I’m trying to find out; stay tuned for an update.
*   Good news from Michigan: the state’s Department of Environmental Quality announced a milestone in the recovery of the St. Clair River Area of Concern. Multiple studies show that the reproduction and life cycles of area wildlife are not being hindered by historic development activities. The findings are attributed to improved environmental protection practices reducing regional pollution levels.  The St. Clair River carries Great Lakes water from Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair and forms a natural border with Canada.  US EPA agreed with MDEQ’s assessment based on a review of environmental data, including studies of the fish, tree swallows, mink, and bald eagles within the St. Clair River region.

*  Oregon’s legislative session ended July 10.  We’ve been tracking some issues in that state because its attention to certain energy and environmental issues is so prominently out front compared to other states, and, now, of course, new federal directions.  One bill introduced in the waning days, is called a “cap and price” bill “designed to reduce carbon emissions and create new jobs in communities across Oregon.”  The bill would establish a price per ton of emissions for the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, then spend about $700 million/year on “projects to reduce pollution and bring job opportunities to economically distressed communities across the state – rural, urban and everywhere in between.”  Sponsors say the bill is intended to “tee up the conversation for the 2018 Legislative Session by incorporating all the feedback that’s been received throughout this session’s work.”

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  True, symbolism here may be more important than actual (eventual) impact but the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a final rule for a pilot program to competitively select an

New York Central 20th Century Limited

operator on “not more than three long-distance routes operated by Amtrak.” This is an important step in FRA’s proposals for competitive passenger rail service, a move required by the FAST Act – the national transportation bill.  It will take a while – operating petitions are due in six months – but eventually FRA will select a route operator, which could remain Amtrak if that’s the best (oronly) bid, for intercity passenger service, and the subsidy for that service.  BTW, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the final run of the NY Central’s legendary 20th Century Limited, overnight luxury service between Chicago and New York.

*   At the end of June, the Department of Agriculture hosted a “Listening Session” to develop strategies to monitor native bees, an effort that continues the work started by a 2014 Presidential memorandum responding to bee population declines.  Basic topics at the June meeting included why a national monitoring plan is important, the kind of information/data needed and how information would be used.  This Session will help develop a national monitoring plan, part of Ag’s 2015 Pollinator Research Action Plan. Presentations were from government staff, agricultural and university researchers and others who work directly within this critical environmental sphere.

*  Okay, so it’s just a rough indicator but since we mentioned it at the end of 1st quarter we’re compelled to follow up: the number of Federal Register pages at the end of 2nd quarter – June 30, 2017.  The grand total: 30,719 pages.  Same time in 2016: 42,982 pages.  That’s 12,263 fewer pages for the year, or about 1,022 fewer pages each month.  Whew – don’t your eyeballs feel better already *:)) laughing ?

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Ahhh…. Summertime!
*  Remember, save some ashcans and cherry bombs for the kids to set off…!

*  Hollah atcha next week!  Have a great 4th!

Tom Ewing
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Report

*  Here’s a topic pretty much overlooked: EPA’s “six month letters” to Governors – a June hammer-date by which the Administrator must respond to the Governors’ initial claims/recommendations for ozone status, i.e., that certain regions in their states are okay regarding the ozone standard (“in attainment”) or not okay (“non-attainment”) and the degree to which those non-attainment areas miss the mark.  Recall: EPA set a new, lower ozone standard in October, 2015.  In the old days (pre-November, 2016), the six-month letters set the stage for frequently fierce state-federal confrontations that could drag on for years.  These regs set the critical, but labyrinthine, operating framework impacting just about every major activity in an industrial economy.  So what happened to the six-month letters?   EPA extended the deadline for initial area designations, by one year.  The Agency wants a closer look at background levels, international transport and “exceptional events.”
*    The work of California’s Vehicle-Grid Integration Communications Protocol Working Group continues today with another meeting on development of the technical details for vehicle-to-grid communication protocols. The Working Group’s recommendations will be considered and incorporated into CA’s transportation electrification (TE) efforts.  On a related note, TE plans and strategies from the State’s smaller investor owned utilities (Liberty Utilities, Bear Valley Electric and PacifiCorp) are due this week.  Recall that TE plans from the major utilities were due last January.

*  The Surface Transportation Board (STB) will hold a formal “listening session” next month to advance its work on that agency’s regulatory reform.  In May, STB submitted its first status report. Now, the agency writes that “given the direct impact of the Board’s regulations upon its stakeholders, the (STB) believes that reviewing its regulations is best conducted with input from its stakeholders.”  STB has also established a docket for comments which are due by July 25.

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

 FAA’s regulatory reform advisory committee submitted initial recommendations to agency staff.  Seems like there ought to be some good ideas in the mix – after all, the draft is 154 pages containing over 300 individual suggestions to repeal, replace or modify regulatory language.  This is a rough draft listing all of the ideas from committee members.  Next steps: further review and working towards consensus on changes FAA can make to provide near-term regulatory relief consistent with the goals in the President’s Executive Order seeking a long term strategy promoting safe and efficient transportation systems.
*  Nothing to see here, folks – keep moving… Some concerns/comments sent from citizen John Doe re DOT’s regulatory reforms.  Mr. Doe identifies himself as a highway engineer, working for a consulting company, with 20 years experience: ** Multiple standards result in far too many personal preferences and design changes and sometime higher costs. ** Property owners with political connections get preferential treatment, e.g., one state recently spent $80 million on an interchange that could have cost $50 million but a Big Guy knew the governor and he wanted a “non standard” interchange to remain near his business. ** State pension issues are leading experienced people to bail out; inexperienced staff left behind cause design and construction problems.

*  The National Coal Council’s (NCC) June Newsletter cites a report from a group called GCube Underwriting, Ltd, a “renewable energy underwriter,” based in London.  GCube cautions that “resource risk” – a lack of wind or low wind speeds – will be the most pressing concern for the wind energy sector “for a number of years.” Low wind speeds are reportedly hurting the performance of wind farms in numerous markets. In fact, GCube writes that resource risk has now surpassed mechanical and electrical breakdowns as the top potential cause of financial loss.  I sent an email to GCube asking for their full report… No reply yet.

Tom Ewing
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