Tag Archive for 'DOE'

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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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   

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  The Department of Agriculture (DOA) holds a “listening session” this week to take public comments to implement new programs to regulate hemp production, which is now legal in the US, its status changed in the 2018 Farm Bill.  Hemp can draw a giggle because it is related to marijuana plants.  Hemp contains a very low concentration of THC – the stuff that causes munchies and extremely deep insights at 2:00 AM into Elizabethan poetry, usually forgotten a few hours later.  Hemp has THC at 0.3% or less vs. maryjane (marijuana) 15-40% (dry weight basis).  Hemp is valuable for industrial purposes, a primary resource for paper, clothing, building materials, biofuel, food products, oils and more.  DOA will have oversight over upcoming, new state and tribal hemp farms.  DOA’s question to the public: How do we best make this new agri-industry work?
*  Remember the proposed Colusa-Sutter (CoSu) – 500-kilovolt transmission line project in California?  It’s canceled.  The line would have connected the California-Oregon Transmission Project (COTP) to transmission facilities on the west side of the Sacramento Valley.  Why?  “The cost estimate increased, and the value and the need of the proposed line diminished” for SMUD, that’s the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.  At the start, SMUD said that the line would create a new transmission path and needed capacity, improve local and regional reliability, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help meet renewable energy demands and improve import/export capabilities.  That big picture has changed and SMUD writes that it will now focus on local, regional and in-state renewable and reliability projects, as well as “incremental transmission infrastructure.”
*  Last week I noted DOE’s $51.5 million funding opportunity for freight vehicles.  As anyone who signs up for DOE’s press releases knows, DOE announces, almost daily, the availability of tens of millions of R&D dollars for a generation, efficiency, storage, carbon, transportation, metallurgy, hydrogen.  And that’s just one agency.  In reality, the US has a Green New Deal, which isn’t really new, of course, having started when DOE was established 42 years ago in 1977.  Did you ever wonder: What’s happened to those billions of R&D dollars?  Or more accurately, what’s happened because of those R&D dollars?  All R&D doesn’t directly “pay off,” of course.  But what are the major R&D outcomes that have transformed, at scale, the electric and transport economic sectors?  The biggest energy news this past week?  That the US is producing more oil and refined products than Saudi Arabia or Russia.  Now that’s transformative.  But not at all in line with decades of taxpayer-funded DOE research…
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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had good news last week regarding the State’s 2018 state-wide sampling of public, school, and tribal water supplies for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  This was the first such study in the nation, and it was extensive, including 1,114 public water systems, 461 schools that operate their own wells, and 17 tribal systems.  Importantly, 90 percent of these supplies showed no detection for any PFAS. Very low levels, below 10 parts per trillion (ppt) were detected in 7 percent of systems. Levels between 10 and 70 ppt were detected in 3 percent.  Work will continue: MI will pay for quarterly monitoring of the systems with levels above 10 ppt.  In addition, the ad-hoc “Michigan PFAS Action Response Team” (MPART) will continue with a new, more formal status.  In 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer established MPART as a permanent body within the MDEQ.
*  U.S. Department of Energy announced a rather generous version of its own Green New Deal last week: up to $51.5 million for new and innovative research of technologies for trucks, off-road vehicles, and the fuels that power them.  This FOA – “funding opportunity announcement” – is focused on gaseous fuels research, including natural gas, biopower, and hydrogen; heavy-duty freight electrification; hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell technologies for heavy-duty applications; and energy efficient off-road vehicles.  The FOA has five topical areas, including novel materials for high-density gas storage and transport, advanced waste to energy technologies, and technology integration that focuses on lowering costs and overcoming technical barriers to the use of medium- and heavy-duty natural gas and hydrogen-fueled vehicles.  Another focus is on battery electric heavy-duty freight and technical barriers to advanced batteries, electric drive systems, and charging systems.  Concept papers are due to DOE by March 29; full applications by May 15.
*  There is a fascinating story out of “9to5Google” about how two Alphabet divisions are working together to “train a neural network on weather forecasts and historical turbine data.”  Scientists there then use the DeepMind system to “predict wind power output 36 hours ahead of actual generation.”  Variability with wind and solar electric generation is a critical weakness.  Civilization doesn’t run on electricity, it runs on electrical systems, with dependability and timeliness two of the most critical factors.  If you know when the wind is going to blow you can plan on using it.  On the other hand, if you know wind won’t be there, 36 hours is plenty of lead time to make other, non-panicky arrangements.  Google’s report states that its algorithm is still being refined, but Google notes how machine learning — compared to no time-based commitments to the grid — has “boosted the value of our wind energy by roughly 20 percent.” The company is applying this optimization to its wind farms in the central United States that generate 700 megawatts of wind power.

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental

*  In early December USEPA published a notice requesting public comments on nominees to serve as special expert advisers to EPA’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC).  These experts, on standby, so to speak, are specialists on chemicals requiring Agency review as set by the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.  EPA posted candidates’ biographical and professional summaries on a website.  You may recall that EPA and its volunteer committee structure took a beating not long ago by some who said the Agency sold out, deliberately tilting toward Big Money.  EPA’s roster shows expertise across a variety of backgrounds, from labor to community health to industry.  The comment period was a chance to call out wolves in sheep’s clothing, so to speak.  Apparently, that fox/hen-house thing is just like, you know, so whatever.  There was no firestorm with this list; in fact, not even any interest, really.  Just eight comments were sent to EPA; unfortunately, none is posted.
*  The “Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change” is the new name for the US House Energy & Commerce Committee’s subcommittee, previously named “The Subcommittee on Environment.”  Rep. Paul Tonko (NY) is Chairman.  Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) is Ranking Member.  The text describing the new subcommittee’s jurisdiction does not directly mention “climate change” nor CO2 nor polar ice, for example.  Subjects referenced are quite traditional: Clean Air Act, water, Superfund, nuclear wastes, drinking water, noise and links related to certain work of the Department of Homeland Security.
*  US DOE’s “2019 Project Peer Review” is scheduled for March 4-8 in Denver and, wow, an expansive agenda: 24 pages, listing technology review sessions on 14 research topics, including “carbon dioxide utilization,” “co-optimization of fuels and engines,” “advanced algal systems,” and “agile biofoundry.”  The listing of CO2 utilization projects takes up one whole page.  Project Peer Review is held every two years.  This year, more than 300 researchers will make presentations.  As its title implies, projects presented are reviewed by experts from industry, academia, and federal agencies.
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