Archive for August, 2012

More Efficiency Standards, and Transportation Finance

Photo by Andrew Curtis. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced its fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to curb U.S. dependency on oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a related measure, on Thursday President Obama issued an executive order to spur energy efficiency upgrades at manufacturing facilities across the country. Energy efficiency policy, put on the back burner for years, has hardly moved forward despite support from members of both political parties. Some of that support comes from DOE studies indicating that doubling the nation’s industrial efficiency could create 1 million skilled jobs and bring in $234 million of investment.

The directive aims to boost combined heat and power capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, an increase of 50 percent compared with today. Agencies will craft best practices and help states encourage combined heat and power implementation. The administration said that reaching the goals outlined in the order would reduce energy costs by $10 billion annually in addition to attracting $40 to $80 billion in private investment.

Combining heat and power facilities to produce both simultaneously on-site is more efficient than having separate facilities. By burning less fuel, the combined heat and power technology reduces greenhouse gas emissions and lowers energy costs. By having a fuel source on-site, manufacturing facilities are protected from electricity outages.

Also in the news are the fiscal policy repercussions of the new vehicle mileage standards announced earlier, because the requirements will make less fuel tax money available for road construction and maintenance. The highway trust fund, which pays for a large portion of road projects, will take a $71 billion hit due to the requirements. Already included in the current transportation bill, set to expire in 2014, are tax loopholes and fee increases to cover a $10 billion shortfall in gas tax revenue. Expect to hear more about financing transportation projects as the gas tax brings in less revenue in the future.





Preparing for an Unwanted Guest


Photo by NASA. Some rights reserved.

Authorities and disaster-readiness companies urge families and individuals to have a plan, be prepared, and protect themselves in inclement weather. The arrival of Hurricane Isaac (now downgraded to Tropical Storm Isaac) on the Gulf Coast precipitated a flurry of evacuations, rescues, and news photographs.  But in the background, businesses and local governments are following their own plans.  

To allow for easier distribution within Louisiana’s fuel supply systems during the hurricane, the EPA granted an emergency waiver for clean gasoline requirements in the state at the request of Governor Jindal. Meanwhile, the BSEE reports that 85% of all oil platforms in the Gulf and 66% of all rigs were evacuated in preparation for Isaac. 

While waiting for the storm to move through, we can also consider the possible consequences of inadequate preparation. Today the EPA settled with Turner Construction Co. & Tompkins Builders regarding their violations of permits regulating the discharge of stormwater from their construction sites. Violations at 17 sites accured a total of $270,000 in civil penalties. Meanwhile, the BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program will conduct research on oil spills including modeling movement of surface spills and environmental impact. Underwater spills also pose a concern, however – speculation that oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be spread onto beaches by Hurricane Isaac might add additional envirnomental considerations for business and local government alike.

White House Issues Landmark Fuel Efficiency Regulations

Photo by MJ/TR. Some rights reserved.

After much delay and hubbub, today the Obama Administration, via the Department of Transportation and the EPA, issued new final rules boosting vehicle mileage standards in an effort to curb U.S. dependency on oil and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (we all know the drill by now).  The DOT and EPA’s joint mileage/carbon limit rules set two models, targeting a 34.1 MPG standard by 2016 for passenger vehicles and 54.5 MPG by 2025.

The DOT asserts that the issuance of these rules “will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads” and will save Americans “more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels,” which sounds like a positive in theory, but may well be met with some political opposition from Republicans who would claim that these rigid rules pose a threat to an American economy that’s struggling to get back on its feet as it is (Romney himself has criticized the standards as a “regulatory overreach,” though ThinkProgress points out that this is actually a reversal of his previous stance on fuel efficiency).

The standards have much in common with proposed figures that were issued last November which also required steady increases in fuel efficiency between the specified years. President Obama calls them “the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” Sierra Club President Michael Brune praised Obama’s bold actions as “the most significant…  by any President in history to move our country off oil.” As of now, there are only two American cars on the market that currently meet the standard: the Chevy Volt and the BEV FWD model of the Ford Focus.

Alaska Gold: PBS Frontline on Pebble Mine

Photo by simonmjowitt. Some rights reserved.

Bristol Bay is a beautiful region in Southwest Alaska, home to glacial ponds, mountain ranges, and some of the largest runs of salmon in the world. It’s also home to massive amounts of porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposits.

These natural resources haven’t gone unnoticed. The minerals in the so-called “Pebble deposit” are on land owned by the state of Alaska, but the rights to those deposits are owned by the Pebble Partnership, an Alaska limited partnership formed in 2007 between Anglo American PLC and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.

The Pebble Partnership is currently in the pre-feasibility and pre-permitting research stage of developing a mine to extract the estimated $300 billion worth of recoverable metals. As part of this research process, a few years ago the Pebble Partnership commissioned an Environmental Baseline Document characterizing the “physical, biological and social environment as it exists today.”

Using their own research earlier this year, the EPA released an assessment of potential impacts to the area from mining operations. The assessment projected a major loss of fish habitat, the high probability of a damaging pipeline break, and the continuous threat of acid mine drainage, but the developers were quick to strike back, calling the study “scientifically flawed, inappropriately timed and politically motivated.”

Such possible environmental impacts make up the bulk of opponents’ concerns. Proponents, on the other hand, see the exploration and development as a chance to create jobs in the area and reduce American dependence on foreign raw materials. To fully explain the controversy of Pebble Mine, however, you’d need a full-length documentary – so I’m handing the reigns over to PBS Frontline, which has taken on the growing battle in Bristol Bay in the documentary Alaska Gold.

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Alaska Department of Natural Resources has more links to related information.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Pendleton, Prescott, and Peak 6

Photo by Alaskan Dude. 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.

UPDATE: Starting October 1, 2012, EPA will not accept paper copies or CDs of EISs for filing purposes. All submissions on or after October 1, 2012 must be made through e-NEPA. Electronic submission does not change requirements for distribution of EISs for public review and comment. To begin using e-NEPA, you must first register with EPA’s electronic reporting site. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

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EIS No. 20120268, Draft EIS, USFWS, WV, Proposed Issuance of an Incidental Take Permit for the Beech Ridge Energy Wind Project Habitat Conservation Plan, Implementation, Greenbrier and Nicholas Counties, WV, Comment Period Ends: 10/23/2012, Contact: Laura Hill 304–636–6586, ext 18. Website.

EIS No. 20120269, Final EIS (Volume 1, Volume 2), FHWA, CA, State Route 91 Corridor Improvement Project, Widening SR 91 from SR 91/State Route 241 Interchange in Orange County to Pierce Street in Riverside County, Orange and Riverside Counties, CA, Review Period Ends: 09/24/2012, Contact: Aaron Burton 909–388–2841. Website.

EIS No. 20120270, Final Supplement, FHWA, MN, Trunk Highway 60 between Windom and St. James, Implementation of Transportation System Improvements, Funding, USACE Section 404 Permit, Cottonwood and Watonwan Counties, MN, Review Period Ends: 09/24/2012, Contact: Philip Forst 651–291–6110. Website.

EIS No. 20120271, Final EIS, USFWS, NV, Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Project, Draft Resource Conservation Plan, Implementation, Humboldt and Washoe Counties, NV and Lake County, OR, Review Period Ends: 09/24/2012, Contact: Aaron Collins 541–947–3315, ext. 223. Website.

EIS No. 20120272, Final EIS (Not yet available online. Check back here for updates.), USN, CA, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Project, Base wide Water Infrastructure, Construction and Operation, San Diego County, CA, Review Period Ends: 09/24/2012, Contact: Jesse Martinez 619–532–3844. Website.

EIS No. 20120273, Final EIS (Appendices), FHWA,  Breckenridge Ski Resort Peak 6 Project, Implementation, White River National Forest, Summit County, CO, Review Period Ends: 09/24/2012, Contact: Joe Foreman 970–262–3443. Website.

EIS No. 20120274, Draft EIS, USFS, AZ, Prescott National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, Implementation, Yavapai and Coconino Counties, AZ, Comment Period Ends: 10/08/2012, Contact: Mary C. Rasmussen 928–443–8265. Website.

EIS No. 20120275, Draft EIS (Volume 1, Volume 2), USFS, MT,Wild Cramer Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project, Swan Lake Ranger District, Flathead National Forest, Flathead County, MT, Comment Period Ends: 10/08/2012, Contact: Richard Kehr 406–837–7500. Website.


Amended Notices

EIS No. 20120201, Draft Supplement, USACE, IN,Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction, Modifications to Project Features and Realignment of the South Warfleigh Section, Marion County, IN, Comment Period Ends: 08/31/2012, Contact: Michael Turner 502–315–6900. Revision to FR Notice Published 07/20/2012; Extending Comment Period from 08/31/2012 to 09/28/2012. Website.

EIS No. 20120227, Draft EIS, USMC, GA, Proposed Modernization and Expansion of Townsend Bombing Range, Acquiring Additional Property and Constructing Infrastructure to Allow the Use of Precision-Guided Munitions, McIntosh and Long Counties, GA, Comment Period Ends: 09/27/2012, Contact: Veronda Johnson 571–256–2783. Revision to FR Notice Published 7/13/2012; Extending Review Period from 8/27/12 to 09/27/2012. Website.

EIS No. 20120247, Final EIS, USACE, 00, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Ecosystem Restoration, To Develop a Comprehensive Ecosystem Restoration Plan To Restore the Lake Borgne Ecosystems, LA and MS, Review Period Ends: 09/06/2012, Contact: Tammy Gilmore 504–862–1002. Website.

SEC Requires Disclosure of Energy Company Payments to Foreign Governments

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday approved rules requiring oil and mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments. The rule, under Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law (see the full text here through our Dodd-Frank Tracker), requires SEC-listed oil, natural gas, and mining companies to reveal payments to governments related to projects in their countries, including the type and amount of each payment and their totals every year. Money for production licenses, taxes, royalties, among other payments, fall under the rules.

The SEC vote was 2-1 for the rule, but a two-year battle has been raging behind the scenes. Human-rights groups and the oil industry threw their efforts at influencing the final rule. Groups like Oxfam American and the Revenue Watch Institute joined with other anti-poverty and human rights groups to build public pressure on the SEC to approve the draft rules proposed in 2010. They argued that greater disclosure helps ensure that revenues from energy and mining provide public benefit. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, noting that the EU is considering similar provisions because of Section 1504, lent her weight toward strong rules.

Oil companies, through the influential American Petroleum Institute, demanded that the SEC scale back the rules from their draft phase. They said the rules would make them less competitive, especially when competing with state-owned firms like Russia’s Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Company. They sought provisions such as allowing aggregate payment information by country, and exemption if host countries prohibited such disclosure.

Both sides agree that the goal of the rules is worthy: The “resource curse,” leaving many energy-rich countries in Africa impoverished by corruption and conflict, must be addressed. In favor of the rule, Luis Aguilar, Democratic SEC member, called on the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s saying that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” But Republican member Daniel Gallagher argued that an SEC rule is a strange way to achieve social and foreign-policy goals.

The rules don’t leave much middle ground, and the SEC estimates that the rule will carry industry-wide compliance costs of up to $1 billion initially, with annual costs between $200 million and $400 million. The only bone thrown to energy companies is a small one: By leaving out any specific definition of the word “project” (emphasized in the section of the rule entitled ‘Definition of the word “project”’), companies have some discretion in applying the rule to their business.

EPA Has An Air of Defeat


“Photo by Richard Croft. Some rights reserved.”

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision Tuesday striking down the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule  (aka the “Good Neighbor” Rule).  In a 2-1 opinion, EME Homer City Generation v. EPA , the court concluded that the required emissions reductions for states were too far-reaching and that the EPA had exceeded its authority.  The court did leave open the possibility that a revised rule could be enacted in place of the current version.

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