Archive for January, 2012

FERC Waxes Poetic on Advising EPA about MATS Extensions

Photo by Pull Strings, Push Shapes. Some rights reserved.

The same day that the EPA released the final rule on Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants, it also published a Policy Memorandum outlining how it intended to handle requests for extensions in complying with the new rule. Yesterday, FERC announced how they intended to give the EPA a hand.

Section 112(i)(3) of the Clean Air Act establishes that affected sources must be compliant with MATS within three years, with an extension of up to one year available in certain cases. In addition, under Section 113(a) of the CAA – 42 USC 7413(a) – certain affected sources can obtain another one-year extension through an administrative order (AO).

The EPA’s Policy Memorandum addresses AOs issued for sources that “must operate in noncompliance with the MATS for up to a year to address a specific and documented reliability concern.” This extension would help bridge the gap when electric generating units may be needed to operate “to maintain the reliability of the electric grid when they would prefer, or could be required, to halt operations temporarily (until controls [needed to bring the unit into compliance with the new rules] can be installed).”

And this is where FERC steps in.

Because under the Federal Power Act, FERC is the regulatory agency charged with overseeing the reliability of the bulk power system, EPA plans to take advantage of FERC’s prowess. Although “the EPA’s issuance of an AO is not conditioned upon the approval or concurrence of any entity,” states the Policy Memorandum, “the EPA intends to consult, as necessary or appropriate on a case-by-case basis, with FERC and/or other entities with relevant reliability expertise.”

On January 30th, 2012, FERC released a white paper outlining the staff’s position on how FERC should advise the EPA on the requests for extensions. For instance, “Staff believes that the Commission should not permit entities to intervene in the preparation of the Commission comments to the EPA.”

One would hope not.

FERC is currently soliciting comments on the white paper under Docket No. AD12-1-000.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Mukilteo Multimodal and Managing Motorized and Mechanized Travel

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

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EIS No. 20120013, Final EIS (scroll down to “Supporting” documents), USFS, ID, Clearwater National Forest Travel Planning Project, Proposes to Manage Motorized and Mechanized Travel, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho, Clearwater, Latah and Shoshone Counties, ID, Review Period Ends: 02/27/2012, Contact: Heather Berg (208) 476–4541.

EIS No. 20120014, Revised Draft EIS, USFS, MT, East Deer Lodge Valley Landscape Restoration Management Project, To Conduct Landscape Restoration Management Activities, Additional Information Including the Addition of Alternative 3, Pintler Ranger District, Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest, Powell and Deerlodge Counties, MT, Comment Period Ends: 03/12/2012, Contact: Brent Lignell (406) 494–2147.

EIS No. 20120015, Draft EIS, FTA, WA, Mukilteo Multimodal Project, To Improve the Operations, Safety and Security of Facilities Serving the Mukilteo-Clinton Ferry Route, Funding, USACE Section 10 and 404 Permits, Snohomish County, WA, Comment Period Ends: 03/12/2012, Contact: Daniel Drais (206) 220–4465.

EIS No. 20120016, Draft EIS, BLM, NV, Hycroft Mine Expansion Project, Proposes to Expand Mining Activities on BLM Managed Public Land and Private Land, Approval, Humboldt and Pershing Counties, NV, Comment Period Ends: 03/12/2012, Contact: Kathleen Rehberg (775) 623–1500.

EIS No. 20120017, Draft EIS, FHWA, NY, Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing Project, To Provide an Improved Hudson River Crossing between Rockland and Westchester Counties Funding, USACE Section 10 and 404 Permits, Rockland and Westchester Counties, NY, Comment Period Ends: 03/15/2012, Contact: Jonathan D. McDade (518) 431–4125.

EIS No. 20120018, Final EIS (Vol. II – Appendices), FHWA, CA, State Route 76 South Mission Road to Interstate 15 Highway Improvement Project, Widening and Realignment Including Interchange Improvements, USACE Section 404 Permit, San Diego County, CA, Review Period Ends: 02/27/2012, Contact: Manuel E. Sanchez (619) 699–7336.


Amended Notices

EIS No. 20110350, Draft EIS, USFS, AZ, Rosemont Copper Project, Proposed Construction, Operation with Concurrent Reclamation and Closure of an Open-Pit Copper Mine, Coronado National Forest, Pima County, AZ, Comment Period Ends: 01/31/2012, Contact: Bev Everson (520) 388–8300. Revision to FR Publication 10/21/2011; Extending Comment Period from 1/18/2012 to 1/31/2012.

EIS No. 20110420, Draft Supplement, USACE, TX, Clear Creek Reevaluation Study Project, Flood Risk Management and Ecosystem Restoration, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston and Harris Counties, TX, Comment Period Ends: 01/30/2012, Contact: Andrea Catanzaro (409) 766–6346. Revision to FR Notice Published 12/16/2012; Extending Comment Period from 01/30/2012 to 02/14/2012.

EU Adds Sanctions to Widening Iranian Oil Embargo

The Persian Empire ca. 5th century, BCE. Photo by Paolo Porsio. Some rights reserved.

While here at the Green Mien we typically write about US-centric energy policy, today’s post crosses the Atlantic to discuss the European Union’s new trade and financial sanctions on Iran. On January 23rd, the EU passed two Regulations (here and here) and a Decision regarding Iran. These new sanctions include an embargo on imports of Iranian crude oil as well as broad restrictions on business with the Iranian energy industry.

Phased-in through July 2012, the embargo prohibits the import, purchase, and transport of Iranian crude oil and any petrochemical products – and any related financing. The ban extends to all Iranian oil firms, even those operating outside the country, and prohibits investment in these companies. Further, exports of equipment and technology to be used by the Iranian oil industry are strictly controlled.

A memo from Sidley Austin explains that the expanded embargo targets the main sources of funding for Iran’s nuclear program. It’s a highly charged geopolitical battle on which the Green Mien writers are not prepared to take a stance. A memo from SNR Denton, however, points out that as the EU (and Australia, as they have announced recently) follows suit to join US and UN sanctions, and other countries such as South Korea and Japan consider similar measures, governments and industry worldwide will have to develop enforcement and compliance standards, respectively. For American firms, the US Treasury has an overview of sanctions regulations on their website’s resource center.

NRC Report Champions the Benefits of Wastewater

Photo by Pam_Broviak. Some rights reserved.

As the National Research Council made clear way back in 2001, “In this new century, the United States will be challenged to provide sufficient quantities of high-quality water to its growing population.” According to a new report authored and released by the NRC’s Water Science and Technology Board (made up of sixteen government officials, researchers, and industry specialists), approximately 12 billion gallons of used water is discharged each day into oceans, rivers, and groundwater by American municipalities, when this wastewater could be easily “captured and reused.”

As climate change and population growth force the need for more stringent water conservation methods ever higher, this new report argues that the current practice for disposing of this used water is to treat it by recycling it back through larger bodies of water, when in fact this “natural treatment” step may be entirely unnecessary, when this water could be put to immediate use in bolstering out national water supply.

The New York Times points out that in some areas of the U.S., local governments are already implementing such measures. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has been using un-treated wastewater for decades across a broad spectrum of uses (none of which involve any human consumption, which seems to be the biggest hang-up for the American consumer, a POV that was considered in the parameters of the NRC report). Ten percent of total water use in this district employs recycled water, whereas this figure stands at less than three-tenths of 1 percent nationwide.

Despite the obvious benefits, and though the study concludes that there are no significant risks in these potable reuse water projects (finding no comparable differences between common drinking water sources and potable reuse water), the legalities of enforcement of these standards on a larger federal level are somewhat dicier. The EPA is on shaky ground enforcing national water reuse standards under the Clean Water Act, and so, at least for now, the decision to reuse wastewater seems to rest on a district-by-district-level. I’ve linked to the full version of the NRC report above, and you can read a nice summary of the report here.

The Future of Nuclear: Small Reactors

Photo by Ayumu Kawazoe. Some rights reserved.

On Friday, we posted about the fate of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and its safety and reliability issues. Today, we turn to the future of nuclear power, as envisioned by the Department of Energy: small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). That the Yankee plant in Vermont generates 35% of the electricity used in the state without emitting greenhouse gases is an outcome the DOE wants to encourage across the country.

These small reactors draw on the engineering expertise that was developed for the reactors powering naval vessels, and could be made in factories and shipped to sites with small electricity grids. Their economy of mass production would reduce capital cost and construction time, not to mention an easier permitting process. Utilities could have the flexibility to increase production by adding small reactors to their grid over time.

On Friday, the DOE released a draft Funding Opportunity Announcement to gather input from the industry to establish cost-shared agreements and support the design and licensing of SMRs. With the goal of deploying two reactors by 2022, the Department aims to back what it describes as “first-of-a-kind engineering [and] design certification and licensing.” Serving as a model for this plan is the certification of Westinghouse Electric’s new AP1000 reactor, which was developed with funding from the Energy Department.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu portrays the move as a way to advance America’s competitive edge in developing clean energy technologies as well as a step toward the United States regaining leadership in nuclear power. Forbes reports that this leadership has moved toward Asia recently, as startups – notably the Bill Gates-backed TerraPower – foreign governments, and industry giants alike have been working on small reactors in nuclear-friendly countries such as China, India, and Russia. Chinergy is building the most advanced modular project in China, a joint venture in South Africa is developing what is called a pebble bed modular reactor, and a corner of Siberia hosts four small units of a unique “graphite-moderated boiling water design.” The World Nuclear Association’s website describes current trends in small nuclear reactors.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: 14th Street Bridge Corridor Project Song (Feelin’ Groovy)

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

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EIS No. 20120004, Final Supplement (Vol. 1, Vol. 2), BOEM, 00, Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Lease Sales: 2012 Central Planning Area Lease Sales: 216 and 222, Potential Changes to the Baseline Conditions, Offshore Marine Environment and Coastal Counties/Parishes of MS, LA, AL, Review Period Ends: 02/21/2012, Contact: Gary Goeke (504) 736–3233.

EIS No. 20120005, Draft EIS, NRCS, HI, South Kona Watershed Irrigation System, To Provide Supplemental Irrigation Water to Farms in the Honomalino/Kapu’a Area, Funding, County of Hawaii, HI, Comment Period Ends: 03/05/2012, Contact: Sharon Sawdey (808) 541–2600, ext. 125.

EIS No. 20120006, Draft EIS, USACE, AK, Alaska Stand Alone Gas Pipeline, Construction and Operation of a 737 mile Pipeline to Transport Supply of Natural Gas and Natural Gas Liquids from Alaska’s North Slope to Fairbanks, Anchorage and the Cook Inlet Area by 2019, USACE Section 10 and 404 Permits, NPDES Permit, AK, Comment Period Ends: 03/05/2012, Contact: Mary Romero (907) 261–7710.

EIS No. 20120007, Final EIS, USFWS, TX, Habitat Conservation Plan for Oncor Electric Delivery Facilities, Application for Incidental Take Permit for 11 Federally Listed Species in 100 Texas Counties, Review Period Ends: 02/21/2012, Contact: Adam Zerrenner (512) 490–0057.

EIS No. 20120008, Draft EIS, FHWA, 00, 14th Street Bridge Corridor Project, To Reduce Congestion, Enhance Safety and Improve Traffic Operation, Funding, Arlington, VA to Washington, DC, Comment Period Ends: 03/05/2012, Contact: Jack Van Dop (703) 404–6282.

EIS No. 20120009, Draft EIS, BPA, OR, Albany-Eugene 115 kilovolt No. 1 Transmission Line Rebuild Project, Extending from Albany Substation to the Alderwood Tap, Linn and Lane Counties, OR, Comment Period Ends: 03/05/2012.

EIS No. 20120010, Draft EIS, BLM, NV, Searchlight Wind Energy Project, Application for Right-of-Way Grant on Public Land to Develop, Construct, Operate, Maintain and Decommission of a 200 megawatt Wind Energy Facility, USACE Section 404 Permit, Clark County, NV, Comment Period Ends: 04/18/2012, Contact: Gregory Helseth (702) 515–5173.

EIS No. 20120011, Final EIS, FTA, CA, Regional Connector Transit Corridor Project, Proposes a Light Rail Extension Connecting Metro Gold Line to the Metro Blue Line and the Metro Expo Line, Los Angeles County, CA, Review Period Ends: 02/21/2012, Contact: Ray Tellis (213) 202–3956.

EIS No. 20120012, Draft EIS, USAF, 00, F–35A Training Basing, To Base a Pilot Training Center with the Beddown of F–35A Training Aircraft at four Alternative Bases, Boise AGS, Holloman AFD, Luke AFB, and Tucson AGS, ID, AZ, NM, Comment Period Ends: 03/13/2012, Contact: Kim Fornof (210) 652–1961.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20110436, Draft EIS, NOAA, AK, Effects of Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic Ocean, Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, AK, Comment Period Ends: 02/28/2012, Contact: James H. Lecky (301) 427–8400.

Federal Judge Prevents Vermont From Closing Nuclear Plant

Vermont in January might be better known for increasing the potential energy of individuals. Photo by yourcoco. Some rights reserved.

Earlier, we wrote about Vermont’s plan for clean energy. That plan has come up again this week, but this time in federal court. A federal judge has ruled that the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon (on the Connecticut River near Massachusetts), per the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 20-year lease extension, can continue operating despite the state legislature’s efforts to shut it down.

In the trial, Entergy argued that the state was trying to close the plant due to safety concerns through a state law that requires lawmakers to approve license extensions like the one the NRC granted to the Yankee plant in March 2011 – but both the plant’s owner, New Orleans-based Entergy, and Vermont agree that regulation of nuclear safety is solely the jurisdiction of the NRC.

Judge J. Garvan Murtha of United States District Court in Brattleboro, Vermont, found that legislators, in remarks “too numerous to recount” were primarily concerned with radiological safety. The state maintained that Vermont Yankee did not fit into its energy plan, and that it was likely to become unreliable.

Vermonters, turned against the plant since Entergy bought it in 2002, have reason to suspect unreliability. Rotting wood led to the collapse of a cooling tower in 2007. After several plants around the country leaked radioactive water into the soil, Vermont Yankee executives told state lawmakers and regulators in 2009 that the plant had no underground pipes that could lead to such leaks – just months before a radioactive isotope of hydrogen was discovered leaking from under the plant. And it is no help that Vermont Yankee is nearly identical to Fukushima’s No. 1 reactor.

The ruling was not unexpected, but it highlights an increasingly common conundrum. Of the referendums states have held recently to force the closing of nuclear plants, none have passed. In other instances, states have successfully prevented nuclear plants from operating through executive-branch accords, as the New York Times reports in their article on the Vermont ruling. So while the nuclear energy regulatory framework is not being challenged, green energy groups, the nuclear industry, and anti-nuclear groups are poised to confront each other over the issues raised in the case, the first installment of which will be Vermont’s expected appeal.

NRC regulations can be found on our Laws, Rules, and Agencies Materials page.

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