Tag Archive for 'environment'

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*   Recall The February 11, 2019, Executive Order on “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence (AI).”  The EO directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create a plan for Federal engagement in the development of technical standards and related tools in support of “reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies.” Last week the Department of Commerce published a notice requesting information to help NIST understand the “current state, plans, challenges, and opportunities” regarding the development and availability of AI technical standards and related tools, as well as priority areas for federal involvement in AI standards-related activities. NIST will consult with Federal agencies, the private sector, academia, non-governmental entities, and other stakeholders with interest in and expertise relating to AI. Comments due by May 31.
*  The Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued instructions to Federal agencies for meeting energy and environmental performance requirements “in a manner that increases efficiency, optimizes performance, eliminates unnecessary use of resources, and protects the environment.”  This is required under Executive Order 13834, ‘‘Efficient Federal Operations,’’ signed by President Trump on May 17, 2018. The purpose of the EO is to direct agencies on the management of Federal facilities, vehicles, and operations to achieve statutory requirements while prioritizing actions to reduce waste, cut costs, and enhance the resilience of Federal infrastructure and operations for the effective accomplishment of agency missions.   The Implementing Instructions are available at https://www.sustainability.gov/ resources.html.  About 23 agencies are listed as “Principal and Contributing Agencies.”
*   Here’s an optimistic study: The Federal Aviation Administration will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to assess the potential impacts of the “proposed LaGuardia Airport (LGA) Access Improvement Project and its enabling projects and connected actions (the proposed action).”  The project would provide for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) to construct an elevated automated people mover (APM) to provide direct access between LGA and two existing transit stations at Mets-Willets Point.  Right now, LGA is accessible only by road – really one big road, Grand Central Parkway. FAA writes that “passengers and employees face increasing and unreliable travel times and traffic congestion on off-Airport roadways.” The people-mover would provide air passengers and employees with a “time-certain option” for LGA access and permit the Port Authority to provide adequate employee parking for the geographically constrained airport.  You likely know this but some may find it surprising: FAA says there may be Native American tribes with a historical interest in the area.  Imagine trying to reshape those boundaries and spaces reflective of, what, maybe 1673…?  Comments due by June 17.
Tom Ewing

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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

*  NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Advisory Board meets for two days next week in Oakland, CA.  A primary topic on the draft agenda is NOAA’s “Blue Economy,” which includes marine transportation, tourism, ocean exploration, and fisheries and amounts to approximately $320 billion of the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP).  The OEAB advises NOAA leadership on strategic planning, exploration priorities, competitive ocean exploration grant programs and other matters as requested by NOAA’s Administrator.  The 12-member Board is chaired by John R. Kreider, Senior VP Advanced Technology of Oceaneering International, Inc.
*  The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed last week, on Friday, in a 40-page Federal Register notice, to delist the Gray Wolf – from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.  By the next day, Saturday, the docket had over 500 comments from interested groups and citizens.  This change – which started, nationally, in 2013 – would not impact the status of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi).  FWS writes that “We propose this action because the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the currently listed entities do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or endangered species under the Act due to recovery.” The comment period closes on May 14.
*  Two big deepwater port projects are starting off Texas’ coast.  One is called COLT, the other SPOT – not sure if those are acronyms or not.  SPOT will have over 100 miles of 36” double on-shore and in-water pipelines.   The new port will allow for up to two very large crude carriers (VLCCs) or other crude oil carriers to moor at single point mooring (SPM) buoys and connect with the deepwater port via floating connecting crude oil hoses and a floating vapor recovery hose. The maximum frequency of loading VLCCs or other crude oil carriers would be 2 million barrels per day, 365 days per year.  COLT has similar statistics.  MARAD and the Coast Guard are starting an environmental impact statement for SPOT and they have scheduled an open house and public meeting in Lake Jackson, TX next week.  You’ll be happy to know there’s free parking.

Tom Ewing
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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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