Tag Archive for 'EPA'

ARTBA Applauds U.S. District Court Ruling That Strikes Down 2015 Wetlands Rule

A May 28 federal court ruling in the Southern District of Texas striking down the federal government’s 2015 version of the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule is a win for the nation’s transportation construction industry and builders of other much-needed infrastructure, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) says.

ARTBA and 13 other trade associations challenged the rule in July 2015. At issue is how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) decide which bodies of water are under federal jurisdiction. Under the Obama administration rule, roadside ditches could have been subject to unnecessary federal oversight, delaying transportation improvements and resulting in increased project costs.

In their lawsuit, the coalition of trade groups objected to how EPA drafted the rule. The groups said that in addition to distorting U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the agency “subverted the notice-and-comment process by (among other things) failing to seek comment on scientific reports relied on in the Rule and on major revisions of the proposed rule, conducting an inadequate economic analysis, and engaging in an unprecedented advocacy campaign that led to a distorted and biased comment process.”

In the May 28 ruling, the judge agreed with the groups’ procedural arguments and decided the rule must be sent back to EPA because “those governed by the rule were deprived of notice of a substantial change to our nation’s environmental regulation scheme.” The decision blocks enforcement of the 2015 rule in the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but leaves it in place in 22 other states.

At the same time, the Trump administration is in the process of both formally repealing the 2015 rule and finalizing a replacement WOTUS regulatory framework. ARTBA supports both those efforts.

Established in 1902 and with more than 8,000 public and private sector members, Washington, D.C.-based ARTBA advocates for strong investment in transportation infrastructure to meet the public and business community demand for safe and efficient travel.

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Now here’s something you don’t hear too much about anymore: Ozone, you know – O3, the weird molecule that includes 3 oxygen atoms and was the primary focus of air pollution policy for, oh, I don’t know, 45 years?  (Not to be confused with Ozone Park, in Queens, where “Ozone” was used in the neighborhood’s name to refer “to a park-like area with cool ocean breezes, an archaic definition” ((Ohhh…Ya think?)).  Ozone is the primary component in urban smog, summertime haze that plagued America’s urban areas for decades, and still does in LA and some other cities.  Ozone is a major regulatory focus for US and state EPAs.  The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) and the MidAtlantic Northeast Visibility Union (MANE–VU) will hold their spring meeting on June 11, in Wilmington, DE.  The purpose of the OTC is to address ground-level ozone formation, transport, and control within the Ozone Transport Region, which includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, parts of Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Ozone policy is linked to every commercial and industrial activity in the modern world – from fuels to combustion to coatings to forest fires to transportation to manufacturing.  But still, not in the news too much anymore.
*  NOAA’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES) meets June 4 in Washington.  ACCRES was established in 2002, to advise the Secretary of Commerce “on matters relating to the U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry and on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s activities to carry out the responsibilities of the Department of Commerce set forth in the National and Commercial Space Programs Act of 2010.”  The agenda includes a report on regulatory affairs and a Nanoracks overview.  Nanoracks, of course, is the deployment system for launching CubeSats, miniaturized satellites used for space research which can be launched really by anyone who has the money – and the smarts, of course!
*  National Marine Fisheries announced the availability of the “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group Draft Restoration Plan 2 and Environmental Assessment: Fish, Sea Turtles, Marine Mammals, and Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities.”  The draft describes and proposes restoration project alternatives considered by the Open Ocean TIG (Trustee Implementation Group) to restore natural resources and ecological services injured or lost as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred, of course, 9 years ago on April 20, 2010, discharging millions of barrels of oil for a period of 87 days.  The Deepwater Trustees include nine state and federal agencies.  NMFS wants public comments on the plan; comments are due by July 1.
Tom Ewing

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Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  Each year, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) develops a list of substances to be considered for Toxicological Profile development. The nomination process includes consideration of all substances on ATSDR’s Substance Priority List (SPL), as well as new substances nominated by the public. That public nomination window is open again, until May 20, both to suggest reviews for substances already on the list and to add new ones.  The Agency establishes and maintains an inventory of literature, research, and studies on the health effects of toxic substances, to respond to requests for consultation, and to support the site-specific response actions conducted by ATSDR, as otherwise necessary.  ATSDR has specific EPA guidelines for selecting which substances get placed on the SPL.
*  The Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) is an interdisciplinary research and consulting organization at the University of Technology Sydney. About 10 days ago ISF released a report titled “Responsible Minerals Sourcing for Renewable Energy,” for Earthworks, an environmental group focusing mineral and energy development.  The ISF Report notes that renewable energy technologies are now the most cost-competitive technologies for new installations – and recent investment in new renewable energy infrastructure globally has been double that of new energy investment in fossil fuels and nuclear. Recycling of metals from end-of-life batteries was found to have the greatest opportunity to reduce primary demand for battery metals, including cobalt, lithium, nickel, and manganese.  As demands grow, however, recycling won’t cover all needs.  The Report develops a number of key findings deserving close review, especially regarding responsible sourcing.
 
*  DOT/Federal Highway announced the availability of the Environmental Assessment (Draft) for the Washington, DC to Baltimore Loop Project.  The Loop Project envisions construction of approximately 35.3 miles of parallel, twin underground tunnels (Main Artery Tunnels) between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD.  It’s a “private project,” completely funded by The Boring Company.  According to DOT “the purpose of the proposed action is to construct an alternative, high speed option for traveling between Washington, District of Columbia, and Baltimore, Maryland.”  The proposed project would extend beneath public right-of-way of Route 50 and Baltimore-Washington Parkway, with termini at 55 New York Avenue Northeast in Washington, DC and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 333 Camden Street, Baltimore, MD. Battery-powered, autonomous electric vehicles, traveling at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, would transport passengers in the Main Artery Tunnels.  Comments on the Draft EA are due by June 10.
Tom Ewing

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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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FY 2019 Spending Bills Are Finally Law

By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA

The House and Senate Feb. 14 overwhelmingly approved the final seven FY 2019 spending bills after nearly five months of short-term extensions and the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.  President Donald Trump Feb. 15 signed the legislation despite the lack of southern border wall funding included in the Homeland Security portion of the package.

The law includes full FAST Act surface transportation law funding for core highway and transit programs. It also contains $5.5 billion in additional general revenue funding for surface and aviation capital investments as the second part of a two-year bipartisan budget agreement reached in 2018. Here’s the breakdown:

In a Feb. 14 letter, the ARTBA co-chaired Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) urged all members of the House and Senate to support the package.

The completion of the FY 2019 funding bills is important to the transportation construction industry for multiple reasons:

  • States will receive their full-year spending authority, which should ease uncertainty and allow their transportation departments to continue developing planned projects;
  • Congressional leadership and Trump administration officials can focus on other areas of potential agreement, such as the enactment of a robust infrastructure package in 2019; and
  • the Trump administration can send its FY 2020 budget to Congress, allowing senators and representatives to begin working on the next round spending bills.

ARTBA will continue to encourage Congress and the administration to include a solution to the Highway Trust Fund revenue shortfall in any infrastructure legislation put forward this year.