Archive for May, 2012

FERC Says No to Preferential Treatment

Photo by Iwan Gabovitch. Some rights reserved.

Davis Wright Tremaine, in their “Northwest Energy & Environmental Law Blog,” posted earlier this week about a recent FERC Order that denied Rock Island Clean Line LLC’s “request to apply a preference for energy from renewable resources in its open season.”

Rock Island Clean Line LLC (or “Rock Island”) submitted an application to FERC back in November 2011 requesting the authority for the Rock Island Clean Line transmission project, a 500-mile transmission line capable of delivering of up to 3,500 MW from renewable energy projects in Iowa, Nebraska South Dakota, and Minnesota to customers in Illinois and other states.

In order to establish a “preference for renewable energy” and thereby secure the support of stakeholders and potential customers, part of the application included a proposal to give preference to renewable energy resources in its open season. This part of the application was rejected:

We find that Rock Island’s general arguments do not sufficiently explain how distinctions between renewable energy resources and other types of generators justify its requested preferential treatment in an open season for initial transmission capacity.

Overall, however, the Order represented a win for Rock Island, who stated in a press release that they now have the “regulatory approval” they need from FERC to “begin negotiating transmission service agreements with potential customers of the Rock Island Clean Line transmission project, likely load serving entities or wind developers.”

New Study Suggests That Trees Are Effective Crimefighters

Photo by Geograph. Some rights reserved.

In a very unique new study (put together by Austin Troy and Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and J. Morgan Grove of the USDA Forest Service’s Research Division), research suggests that urban tree coverage in Baltimore serves as a deterrent to robbery, burglary, theft, and shooting. The study’s “more conservative spatially adjusted model indicated that a 10% increase in tree canopy was associated with a roughly 12% decrease in crime,” going against earlier theories that more densely planted trees will encourage criminals by giving them coverage to hide in.

Grist rightly points out these findings’ relation to the “broken window theory” (and gets right to it with the Wire references. I’ll spare you those, just go watch that show if you haven’t already!). This theory suggests that the upkeep of an urban environment’s appearance can have a drastic effect in reducing its crime. In this case, the planting and fostering of lush tree life suggests a healthy neighborhood watch, and would discourage criminals by enforcing the idea that the neighborhood is well protected by its community.

This is not a new idea. Similar studies and debates have existed for decades – the University of Washington’s Forestry Department had similar findings in their own study of trees’ relation to inner city crime. Some fast facts from their study include:

  • “Public housing residents with nearby trees and natural landscapes reported 25% fewer acts of domestic aggression and violence.
  • “Public housing buildings with greater amounts of vegetation had 52% fewer total crimes, 48% fewer property crimes, and 56% fewer violent crimes than buildings with low amounts of vegetation.
  • “In a study of community policing innovations, there was a 20% overall decrease in calls to police from the parts of town that received location-specific treatments. Cleaning up vacant lots was one of the most effective treatment strategies.”

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Science Center Demolition

Photo by Roger Jones. Some rights reserved.

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.

The EPA is still looking for agencies willing to participate in a new pilot program for electronic submission of EIS filings. To participate in the pilot, agencies should register at: https://cdx.epa.gov

* * *

EIS No. 20120157, Final EIS (Appendices), FTA, GA, Tier 1—Atlanta Beltline City of Atlanta, Proposed Fixed Guideway Transit and Multi-Use Trails System, Right-of-Way Preservation, Fulton County, GA, Review Period Ends: 06/25/2012, Contact: Brian Smart 404–865–5600. Website.

EIS No. 20120158, Draft EIS, USACE, NC, Figure Eight Island Inlet and Shoreline Management Project, Terminal Groin Installation and Supplemental Beach Nourishment, Implementation, New Hanover County, NC, Comment Period Ends: 07/09/2012, Contact: Mickey Sugg 910–251–4811. Website.

EIS No. 20120159, Draft EIS, EPA, FL, Jacksonville Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Site (ODMDS) Designation, Offshore of Jacksonville, FL, Comment Period Ends: 07/09/2012, Contact: Jennifer S. Derby 404–562–9401. Website.

EIS No. 20120160, Draft EIS, USFS, CO, Federal Coal Lease Modifications COC–1362 and COC 67232, Adding 800 and 921 Additional Acres, Paonia Ranger District, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Gunnison County, CO, Comment Period Ends: 07/09/2012, Contact: Nicole Mortenson 406–329–3163. Website.

EIS No. 20120161, Draft EIS, USFS, NM, North Fork Eagle Creek Wells, Special Use Authorization Project, Operation of Four Municipal Supply Water Wells, Lincoln National Forest, Lincoln County, NM, Comment Period Ends: 07/09/2012, Contact: Deborah McGlothlin 559–920–4952. Website.

EIS No. 20120162, Final Supplement, NOAA, CA, Southwest Fisheries Science Center Demolition, Soil Stabilization and Seismic Improvements, La Jolla, CA, Review Period Ends: 06/25/2012, Contact: Edward Horton 206–526–4837. Website.

EIS No. 20120163, Draft EIS, BLM, NM, AZ, SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, Resource Management Plan Amendment, Construction and Operation of two new 500 kV Transmission Lines, Right-of-Way Grant, Lincoln County, NM and Pinal County, AZ, Comment Period Ends: 08/22/2012, Contact: Adrian Garcia 505–954–2199. Website.

EIS No. 20120164, Draft EIS, BLM, CA, McCoy Solar Energy Project, Development of up to 750-megawatt (mw) Solar Energy Plant, Right-of-Way Grant, Riverside County, CA, Comment Period Ends: 08/22/2012, Contact: Jeff Childers 760–833–7100. Website.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20120098, Draft EIS, USAF, 00, F–35A Operational Basing, Beddown and Operation of F–35A Aircraft for the Combat Air Forces at One or More Locations throughout the Contiguous U.S. from 2015 through 2020, Comment Period Ends: 06/20/2012, Contact: Nicholas Germanos 757–764–5994. Revision to FR Notice Published 4/20/2012; Change Comment Period Due Date from 06/01/2012 to 06/20/2012.

California Cap-and-Trade Goes International

Photo by Mike Baird. Some rights reserved.

California’s cap-and-trade program, known as “AB32,” is moving closer to its first binding auction. Mandated as part of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, it requires greenhouse gas emissions in California to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

Recently, the state modified its greenhouse gas / carbon trading market to expand the reach of the program, proposing a formal link between the AB32 cap-and-trade system and a similar program in Quebec. The link, they expect, will expand participants’ trading options and increase liquidity in carbon markets. K&L Gates has a brief analysis of the linked system here.

The programs are similar in many ways. California’s program will at first cover 360 businesses responsible for 85% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, the regulations will apply to industrial polluters, and in 2015 to distributors of transportation fuels, natural gas, and other fuels. Its credits were designed to integrate with other cap-and-trade programs. Quebec’s market will include 75 companies mostly in aluminum and mining industries beginning in 2013 and include a much larger group of companies in 2015, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

A joint press release from California and Quebec expresses their expectation that other regions involved in the Western Climate Initiative in North America, especially Ontario and British Columbia, may soon connect their trading schemes with California and Quebec’s, possibly rivaling the European Union’s in size eventually.

The California Air and Resource Board will hold a practice auction in August 2012, and a joint auction with the Quebec market is scheduled for November 14, 2012.

The Green Mien has covered at least one interesting objection to California’s cap-and-trade system: environmental justice groups opposing its “industry-preferred” approach that does not mandate reductions, ignoring that polluters are disproportionately located in low-income, minority communities.

FERC Issues Policy Statement on Advising the EPA on MATS Extensions

Photo by Titus Tscharntke. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Titus Tscharntke. Some rights reserved.

This guidance used to be just a glimmer in the commission’s eye. But as of May 17th, it’s official. That’s when FERC released its Policy Statement on the Commission’s Role Regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

The Policy Statement specifically explains how FERC will provide advice to the EPA for it to rule on requests for Administrative Orders (AO) to operate in noncompliance with EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Last week’s Policy Statement was drawn up with consideration of all comments FERC received on a January 2012 white paper soliciting input on the staff’s position on the topic. (Our original post on the topic describes the standards and the EPA/FERC relationship in a bit more detail.)

Van Ness Feldman’s recent Alert on the topic sums up nicely both the Policy Statement and its implications:

FERC’s new Policy Statement provides that for each such extension request, it will advise EPA whether failure to grant such an extension might lead to a violation of a FERC-approved Reliability Standard.  It will not, however, recommend to EPA that the Agency grant or deny such extension requests, and will not advise EPA on potential impacts that are not within FERC’s jurisdiction over reliability standards. 

[…]

The Policy Statement has a narrow scope limited to case-by-case input to EPA on the potential reliability issues raised by individual generators retrofit or deactivation timelines that fall within FERC’s reliability jurisdiction.  FERC’s input is not binding guidance to EPA.  Moreover, the Policy Statement does not address the broad scope of reliability concerns that industry and policymakers have raised in connection with the Utility MATS rule.  Concerns such as system resource adequacy and safety, coordination to schedule outages among generators within a region, and the potential regional reliability impact of multiple base load generators that choose to deactivate rather than comply with the Utility MATS rule are not addressed in FERC’s Policy Statement.  The limited scope of the Policy Statement may prompt renewed calls by policymakers as well as industry for a more comprehensive, coordinated regional process to address the broader reliability concerns with the Utility MATS rule.

All Signs Point to a Farm Bill Reform

Photo by Andrew Ciscel. Some rights reserved.

This year, the 112th Congress is set to consider reauthorizing 2008’s Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (known familiarly as the Farm Bill), as many of that Act’s provisions expire in 2012. This bill, a continuation of the 2002 Farm Bill, contained 15 titles covering a broad range of issues. Among other things, it provided grants to develop biorefineries, gave funding to the Rural Energy for America Program, increased benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and established new research initiatives for specialty and organic crops.

… AND, amidst all of that, Title XII of the 2008 Farm Bill introduced a “permanent disaster assistance program” to insurance crops for farmers in the case of natural disasters, etc. A new study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists entitled “Ensuring the Harvest” argues for reform of the Crop Insurance and Disaster Assistance Programs on the basis that these provisions are not weighed fairly for smaller, organic farmers, favoring larger industrial farms that focus on planting larger quantities of one or two crops. The report points out that these insurance policies, as overseen by the US Department of Agriculture, operate on a per-crop basis, making it difficult for farmers who grow smaller amounts of many different crops who then have to apply for many separate policies.

In fact, organic farms were only recently given the option of receiving crop insurance, in the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 – prior to that Act, these small organic farms were considered too risky to insure. Since then, organic farmers have been forced to pay 5% surcharges as a way to account for the supposedly inherent risks associated with this kind of farming, though as agricultural economist Jeffery O’Hara pointed out in a recent New York Times article, there is no real evidence that there ARE greater risks associated with organic farming.

Meanwhile, a new survey from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation finds that three quarters of Americans support doubling the current minimum amount of financial support given by SNAP, while 70% of study participants said that they have purchased fresh produce from a farmer’s market in the past year (a statistic that supports the UCS study’s claim that smaller, organic farmers deserve more from the reformed Farm Bill). Grist has a nice, new infographic up explaining how Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and how small farms support this effort.

Extracting Information from Extractive Industries

Photo by koolmann. Some rights reserved.

A notice in the Federal Register yesterday provided details on upcoming public listening sessions and initiated a new comment period for the United States Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative’s (USEITI) Stakeholder Assessment, which was published last Friday.

USEITI is the U.S. implementation of, well, “regular” EITI, a global coalition of governments and companies that sets standards for transparency in oil, gas, and mining. The U.S. committed to implementing EITI standards in 2011, as part of our National Action Plan, charging the DOI with the task of developing a plan for the government to disclose revenues from oil, gas, and mining assets. (Sound familiar? The voluntary disclosures encouraged by EITI are similar to those required by public companies under Dodd-Frank’s Section 1504.)

Part of this implementation means forming a Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG), which will be responsible for overseeing implementation of USEITI. EITI Requirement 4(h)(v) notes that the “government may…wish to undertake a stakeholder assessment” as part of forming the MSG, and thus the aforementioned Assessment was born.

Comments on the Assessment are due June 29, 2012.

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