Archive for February, 2012

Seattle Will Soon Boast America’s Largest Food Forest

Photo by Oast House Archive. Some rights reserved.

In what can be seen as a prime example of classic “quirky” Pacific Northwest innovation, city planners broke ground earlier this month on a project to develop the nation’s largest public “food forest” right here in Knowledge Mosaic’s home city of Seattle (seems only fitting, as Seattle lost its “Fun Forest” in 2009). The inspiration for the food forest comes from the concept of permaculture, which promotes sustainable living through innovative agricultural design. The idea can be applied to energy, architecture, and in this case, urban farming.

The Beacon Food Forest has been in the pipeline since 2009, and takes its name from the neighborhood in which it will be built, South Seattle’s Beacon Hill (for you locals: stretching seven blocks on the southwest side of Jefferson Park, not too far from where two Green Mien contributors went to high school!). The project has been gaining momentum thanks to fundraising efforts by active members of the community, and the story has been picking up some traction in the environmental blog circuit. I won’t say too much about it myself, having only found out about the project today (embarrassingly, considering I read the Stranger, and they’ve been covering it since September), but I would recommend Robert Mellinger’s article in Crosscut for a thorough primer, with lots of quotes and intriguing tidbits:

Further down the path an edible arboretum full of exotic looking persimmons, mulberries, Asian pears, and Chinese haws will surround a sheltered classroom for community workshops. Looking over the whole seven acres, you’ll see playgrounds and kid space full of thornless mini edibles adjacent to community gardening plots, native plant areas, a big timber-frame gazebo and gathering space with people barbecuing, a recreational field, and food as far as you can see.

Sounds like paradise! Here’s hoping that this project is seen all the way to fruition (terrible joke, sorry folks!). No word yet on when the food forest is likely to be completed, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled (ugh).

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Resilience to Fire, Insects and Disease

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.

* * *

EIS No. 20120037, Final EIS, NPS, CA, Extension of F-Line Streetcar Service to Fort Mason Center Project, To Provide High-Quality Rail Transit that Improves Transportation Access and Mobility, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, CA, Review Period Ends: 03/26/2012, Contact: Steve Ortega 415–561–2841.

EIS No. 20120038, Final EIS, USFS, SD, Steamboat Project, Proposes to Implement Multiple Resource Management Actions, Northern Hills Ranger District, Black Hills National Forest, Lawrence, Meade and Pennington Counties, SD, Review Period Ends: 03/26/2012, Contact: Chris Stores 605–642–4622.

EIS No. 20120039, Draft EIS, USFS, WA, South George Vegetation and Fuels Management Project, To Improve Forest Health and Resilience to Fire, Insects and Disease in Upland Forests, Pomerory Ranger District, Umatilla National Forest, Asotin and Garfield Counties, WA, Comment Period Ends: 04/09/2012, Contact: Dan Castillo 509–843–1891.

EIS No. 20120040, Final Supplement, FHWA, TN, Kirby Parkway Project, Construction from Macon Road to Walnut Grove Road, US Army COE Section 401 and 404 Permits, Shelby County, TN, Review Period Ends: 03/26/2012, Contact: Charles J. O’Neill 615–781–5770.

EIS No. 20120041, Final EIS, USFS, MO, Integrated Non-Native Plant Control Project, Proposes a Forest-Wide ntegrated Management Strategy to Control the Spread of Non-Native Invasive Plant Species (NNIPS), Mark Twain National Forest in Portions of Barry, Bellinger, Boone, Butler, Callaway, Carter, Christian, Crawford, Dent, Douglas, Howell, Iron, Laclede, Madison, Oregon, Ozark, Phelps, Pulaski, Reynolds, Ripley, Shannon, Ste. Genevieve, St. Francois, Stone, Taney, Texas, Washington, Wayne, and Wright Counties, MO, Review Period Ends: 04/09/2012, Contact: Brian Davidson (573) 341–7414.

EIS No. 20120042, Final EIS, USFS, UT, South Unit Oil and Gas Development Project, Master Development Plan, Implementation, Duchesne/Roosevelt Ranger District, Ashley National Forest, Duchesne County, UT, Review Period Ends: 04/09/2012, Contact: David Herron 435–781–5218.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20050514, Final EIS, NIH, ME, National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, Construction of National Biocontainment Laboratory, BioSquare Research Park, Boston University Medical Center Campus, Boston, MA, Review Period Ends: 05/01/2012, Contact: Kelly Fennington 301–496–9838. In support of this Final EIS, NIH is publishing a Draft Supplementary Risk Assessment for the Boston University National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL). Comments on the risk assessment are due to NIH on 05/01/2012; For more information, please visit http://nihblueribbonpanelbumc-neidl.od.nih.gov/default.asp. Dated: February 21, 2012.

A Trade War at 30,000 Feet

Will the F22 Raptor be subject to the ETS? Photo by Mark Kent. Some rights reserved.

The U.S. joined twenty-three other nations on Wednesday in signing the so-called Moscow Joint Declaration to protest the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which in 2008 was extended to include aviation. It is the latest show of American opposition to the scheme, following a joint letter from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to the International Civil Aviation Organization that we covered in 2010, and a bill passed in the House last year that prohibits airlines from participating in the ETS. Some of the other signing nations – which include China, Russia, India, Japan, and Saudi Arabia – are considering similar legislation.

The Emissions Trading Scheme, or ETS, is a declining cap on emissions for airlines, with allowances initially distributed based on the sector’s emissions in 2010. Eighty-two percent of the allowances will be given to airlines for free, 15% will be auctioned, and 3% reserved for new or fast-growing airlines. The cap will be reduced gradually to the average level from 2004-2006. Under such a scheme, airlines can choose the best way to meet their emissions obligations, either altering their operations or paying others to reduce their emissions by buying more allowances.

Wednesday’s Joint Declaration disputes the EU’s authority to regulate flights over international or other countries’ airspace. In response, the EU points to the Chicago Convention on international air regulation, which states that regulations must apply equally to all airlines regardless of their nationality. The Joint Declaration also echoes some of the U.S. House bill (which the Green Mien covered here), objecting that the EU’s action might jeopardize the prospects for coordinated international action. The EU has said it will scrap its program if a multilateral alternative comes around.

Is there a way forward? The aviation industry says it will lose $3 billion per year, so we can expect their continued opposition. Environmental advocates and sympathetic governments (including most of Europe, apparently) will point to the International Panel on Climate Change estimates that the aviation sector is responsible for 3.5% of climate change, and to the projected 183 million tons of CO2 reduced per year by 2020. While many governments opposing the ETS support an international solution administered by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the branch of the U.N. that coordinates international standards and procedures, it has been debating such a plan for more than a decade, with no emissions reduction scheme to show for it.

The possibility of a carbon trade war looms, and the Joint Resolution indicates that many countries are willing to start one. Signers of the Resolution stated their willingness to coordinate in retaliatory actions against European airlines that fly internationally, like Air France and British Airways, and Russia is threatening to resume charging airlines for flight routes over Siberia, a practice it abandoned recently. Their goal: to postpone or cancel the ETS.

Opinions on Rising Oil Prices and the GOP Effort to Use Them as a Campaign Weapon

Photo by dynamosquito. Some rights reserved.

New York Times political correspondent Michael Shear took an in-depth look yesterday at the GOP’s effort to spin rising gas prices against the Obama administration in anticipation of attacking the administration’s economic policies at large in the looming general election. Current oil prices are hovering somewhere around $105 a barrel and #3.58 per gallon at the pumps (up 40 cents from where it was a year ago at this time), with those prices expected to spike somewhere over the $4 mark before the summer arrives. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was quick to deflect these prices away from the President, stating that “there are no magic solutions to rising oil prices” and highlighting the fact that American oil production is at the highest level that it has been in eight years.

In his piece, Shear is quick to point at the rising conflict in Iran, and international concern over its nuclear weapons arsenal. Earlier this week, Iran announced that it would cut off oil shipments to Britain and France in response to their tougher sanctions against them, and experts have also linked the U.S.’s warnings against Israel’s hostilities towards Iran as responsible for the rising oil prices.

But growing concerns over nuclear war are not the only reason for these high domestic prices (thank God). Economists have also highlighted the recent surge in the U.S. economy as perhaps equally responsible. Shear also appeared this week on PBS’s News Hour alongside John Kilduff, founding partner at the hedge fund Again Capital. Kilduff had this to say about how the improvement in the economy could negatively affect gas prices for the American consumer:

“The U.S. employment picture in particular and a lot of the coincident economic indicators, the various Federal Reserve reports that have come out over the past couple of months now have all indicated a growing U.S. economy, which speaks directly to increased gasoline demand… There’s no doubt that there’s investors of all stripes right now betting on the fact that there’s going to be a conflict with Iran, that the global economy is going to outpace available oil demand and push the price up ahead of time.”

Meanwhile, Shear goes on to speculate how the GOP will end up using these high oil prices as ammunition against Obama in the coming election:

[Republicans] think that, you know, the gas prices both affects people in the short term. And if they can, you know, blame President Obama for what people feel like when they go and pay $60 to fill up their car, that’s a winner.

He also remarks that he’s unsure how much Iran will come up specifically on the Republican side of the conversation:

“…It’s in their interests from a political perspective to talk less about kind of the underlying economic factors that are maybe outside of the president’s control, and focus more on what they claim the president could do or is not doing to fix this situation.”

Environmental blog Treehugger points out, on the other hand, that expanding American drilling efforts will do nothing to temper oil prices in the short term, because of the time it takes to approve, develop, and transport from new operations, making very little difference in the context of the larger global oil market. As so many conservationists have pointed out, this may in fact be an opportunity for Obama and Democrats to get on message about the impossibility of relying on fossil fuels in these tumultuous times.

The Wind May Keep Blowing, Just Not From Congress

Image by Chris Winters. Some rights reserved.

The American wind energy industry has long relied on a production tax credit (PTC) that returns 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour produced as a tax credit to investors. Following the PTC’s expirations in 1999, 2001, and 2003, the industry’s installed capacity fell each time by three-quarters or more. In the past few months as the industry lobbied Congress to pass an extension to 2016 – the year the solar PTC expires – it has presented two arguments.

First, the industry has increasingly turned to domestic manufacturing for its components, sourcing 60% of its parts from American manufacturers in 2011 compared to 25% at the time the PTC was allowed to lapse at the turn of the century. Second, the industry is at such a scale that the cost of wind energy is decreasing, and a PTC effective through the 2013-2016 window would allow the industry to “finish the job,” in the words of American Wind Energy Association Denise Bode, quoted in a Greentechmedia article.

But Congress left the PTC, which had been tucked away in the payroll tax cut bill, out of the final version of the legislation. A standalone bill to extend the PTC is unlikely to pass, but some expect a lame-duck Congress to pass an extension after November’s elections. For now, it is a race for developers to get their turbines up and running before year’s end, when the tax credit ends.

The industry expects to see frantic building in anticipation of the deadline, but for construction to stall after the summer as uncertainty over the credit’s future intensifies. Business leaders say many projects that cannot be accelerated to completion in 2012 will have to be cancelled or delayed as land leases, interconnection agreements, and other permits expires. Inexpensive natural gas in addition to generally weak demand for electricity is prompting manufacturers to look to areas with strong government support for business, including Southeast Asia, Turkey, and much of Latin America.

This does not paint a rosy picture for the industry. Where can wind look for hope? To the states, for now, perhaps. On the same day that Congress appeared to leave the wind industry to its fate, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick announced a major step forward for Cape Wind, which is aiming to be the first offshore wind project in the United States. Massachusetts utility NSTAR agreed to purchase 27.5% of the proposed project’s capacity. In December, New England utility National Grid, agreed to a power purchase agreement for 50% of Cape Wind’s capacity.

With the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s acceptance of the Department of Public Utilities’ approved price, the project can begin financing for its estimated $2.6 billion cost. The turbines will be five to thirteen miles off Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound, and construction will take 2.5 years. By then, who knows how the wind industry will look.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Identifying Lands Suitable for Renewable Energy Development

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.

* * *

EIS No. 20120031, Final EIS, DOE, GA, ADOPTION—Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, Unit 3 and 4, Issuance a Loan Guarantee to Support Funding for Construction, Burke County, GA, Review Period Ends: 03/19/2012, Contact: Matthew McMillen 202–586–7248 The Department of Energy has adopted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s FEIS 20080322 filed 08/15/2008 and FSEIS 20110088 filed 03/18/2011. DOE was not a Cooperating Agency on the above FEIS and FSEIS. Under Section 1506.3(b) of the CEQ Regulations, the FEIS must be recirculated for a 30-day Wait Period.

EIS No. 20120032, Final EIS (Appendices), NOAA, 00, Amendment 18A to the fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region, To Limit Participation and Effort in the Black Sea Bass Pot Fishery, South Atlantic Region, NC, SC, FL, and GA, Review Period Ends: 03/19/2012, Contact: Dr. Roy E. Crabtree 727–824–5305.

EIS No. 20120033, Draft EIS, BLM, AZ, Restoration Design Energy Project, Identifying Lands Across Arizona Suitable for Renewable Energy Development, AZ, Comment Period Ends: 05/16/2012, Contact: Kathy Pedrick 602–417–9235.

EIS No. 20120034, Draft EIS, USFS, CA, Harris Vegetation Management Project, To Improve Forest Health and Restore Fire-Adapted Ecosystem Characteristic on National Forest System Land, Implementation, Shasta-McCloud Management Unit, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Siskiyou County, CA, Comment Period Ends: 04/02/2012, Contact: Emelia Barnum 530–926–4511.

EIS No. 20120035, Draft EIS, USACE, NC, US 64 Improvements, Widening from Columbia to US 264 and Replacement of Lindsey C. Warren Bridge, USCG Bridge Permit, Tyrrell and Dare Counties, NC, Comment Period Ends: 04/02/2012, Contact: Bill Biddlecome 910–251–4558.

EIS No. 20120036, Draft EIS, FHWA,TN, SR–126 (Memorial Boulevard) Corridor Improvement Project, from East Center Street to Interstate 81, Funding, USACE Section 404 Permit, Sullivan County, TN, Comment Period Ends: 04/02/2012, Contact: Charles J. O’Neill 615–781–5770.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20110353, Draft EIS, USFS, UT, Fishlake National Forest Oil and Gas Leasing Analysis Project, To Exploration, Development, and Production of Mineral and Energy Resources and Reclamation of Activities, Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Juab, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, and Wayne Counties, UT, Comment Period Ends: 04/02/2012, Contact: Diane Freeman 435–896–1050.
Revision to FR Notice Published 10/21/2011: Re-opening Comment Period to End 4/2/2012 due to two appendices that was inadvertently not included in the Draft EIS.

EIS No. 20110438, Draft EIS, USFS, ID, Scriver Integrated Restoration Project, Improve Watershed Conditions by Reducing Road-Related Impacts to Wildlife, Fish, Soil, and Water Resources and Restoration of 2010 Forest Plan Vegetation Conditions, Emmett Ranger District, Boise National Forest, Boise and Valley Counties, ID, Comment Period Ends: 03/05/2012, Contact: Melissa Yenko 208–373–4245.
Revision to FR Notice Published 02/30/2011: Extending Comment Period from 2/13/2012 to 3/5/2012.

The Agencies Align for Nuclear

Secretary Chu. Photo by NNSA News. Some rights reserved.

Last Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.’s construction of a nuclear reactor near Waynesboro, Georgia, the first new reactor to be approved since the 1978 construction of the Shearon Harris plant in North Carolina. (The Hill covers the approval in more detail here). The story of the next year’s accident at Three Mile Island and its drag on the nuclear industry has been well told, and in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, an Obama-mandated task force calling for sweeping improvements to the NRC’s “patchwork” of regulatory requirements threatened to extend what has been decades of regulatory delays. Combined with financing problems, the industry has struggled to build new reactors. On both fronts, this week’s developments point to good news for the industry.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group, touts NRC’s approval as recognition that nuclear energy can contribute to a low-carbon future and a diversified energy supply, while critics say that the project should face additional scrutiny and environmental review after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Those events have prompted the NRC to consider new rules to better protect the country’s 104 reactors from earthquakes and floods, but did not deter the Commission, which voted 4-1 in favor of approval. The Commission’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, was the lone dissenter, highlighting that reactor operators have made no assurances they will incorporate lessons learned from Fukushima into their operations.

The government also has an instrumental role in financing the new plant. The Energy Department announced this week that it is finalizing an $8.3 billion taxpayer-backed loan to build the reactors. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that though the project still has to meet a number of conditions, the loan is nearing final approval, as reported in this article from The Hill. No surprise to anyone following the story behind another government-backed loan to an alternative-energy company, that company’s subsequent bankruptcy, and a year-long House investigation, the DOE’s loan is not without its own controversy.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, in his opposition to the plant, pointed to anger over a $535 million loan to California solar firm Solyndra, which House Republicans of the Energy and Commerce Committee have been investigating for more than a year, alleging that administration officials missed warning signs and mishandled taxpayer funds. Markey wants the Committee to open an inquiry into Southern Co.’s new loan, noting that it is worth fifteen times more than Solyndra’s ill-fated loan, and describing it as “exponentially riskier.” Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Florida, who heads the oversight panel, says the renewable energy loan guarantees that his panel is investigating are at a higher risk than the “proven [nuclear] industry” with its “established record.”

While the tentacles of politics are wrapped around every bit of this story, it illustrates some of the major hurdles alternative- and clean-energy projects face in the future, from regulatory uncertainty to evaluating risk in financing such projects. The Green Mien has posted about significant progress in financing clean energy, but we predict that Knowledge Mosaic’s tools in navigating the regulatory landscape will not prove obsolete anytime soon.

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