Archive for September, 2012

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Sounding Rocket Program

Photo by Erik Charlton. 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. 20120305, Final EIS (Appendices), USFS, OR, Ogden Vegetation Management Project and Forest Plan Amendment, Proposes to Conduct Vegetation and Fuel Management Activities that will Protect, Maintain, and/or Enhance the Forests Natural Resources and Recreational Opportunities, Bend/Ft. Rock Ranger District, Deschutes National Forest, Deschutes County, OR, Review Period Ends: 10/29/2012, Contact: Beth Peer 541–383–4769. Website.

EIS No. 20120306, Final EIS (Appendices), USFS, WI, Park Falls Hardwoods Vegetation and Transportation Management Activities, Implementation, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Medford-Park Falls Ranger District, Price County, WI, Review Period Ends: 10/29/2012, Contact: Jane Darnell 715–748–4875, ext. 38. Website.

EIS No. 20120307, Draft EIS, USFS, AZ, Rim Lakes Forest Restoration Project, Amendment to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Land and Resource Management Plan, Coconino County, AZ, Comment Period Ends: 11/13/2012, Contact: Sandy Hurlocker 505–753–7331. Website.

EIS No. 20120308, Draft EIS (Tiering), NASA, AK, Sounding Rocket Program (SRP) at Poker Flat Research Range (PFRR), Continuing Sounding Rocket Launches, Alaska, Comment Period Ends: 11/26/2012, Contact: Joshua Bundick 757–824–2319. Website.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20100234, Final EIS (Appendices), USAF, 00, ADOPTION—Shaw Air Base Airspace Training Initiative (ATI) of Bulldog Military Operating Areas, 20th Fighter Wing Proposal to Modify the Training Airspace Overlying Parts, South Carolina and Georgia, Review Period Ends: 07/26/2010, Contact: Linda Devine 757–764–9434 ADOPTION—The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration adopted partial of the U.S. Air Force’s Final EIS filed with EPA. The FAA was a cooperating Agency with the USAF’s EIS therefore, no distribution was needed for this adoption and there is no comment period. Website.

Arctic Drilling: What’s it Worth?

Beaufort Sea, Alaska, one of Shell’s drill sites. Photo by NASA/Kathryn Hansen, some rights reserved.

Last week, Shell called off its plans to drill in the Arctic until next summer after part of its spill-containment system was damaged. Earlier, encroaching sea ice forced the company to abandon its drill site in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska just a day after it started drilling. Now that Shell has spent $4.5 billion on its Arctic drilling sites since 2005, we might ask, is it worth the money?

Geologists from the United States Geological Service sparked a discussion on the costs of drilling in the Arctic this week, including a succinct piece in Grist. Their research suggests that the amount of oil that can be pumped out of accessible fields in the Arctic is significantly lower than previously thought, requiring huge exploration budgets to even access the oil (this considering Arctic oil in Greenland and Russia as well). They estimate that prices of $100 to $300 a barrel would be necessary for Arctic drilling to be economically feasible.

Right now, we know little about the average cost of producing oil in the Arctic besides that it is high. It is worth noting that in the 1970s, Canadian companies ended a decade of exploration projects by sealing off drilling sites because commercial production was too expensive. We do know, however, that in the oil boom in Mozambique, French Guiana, and Angola, marginal costs are less than $70 a barrel, and that plans for drilling there go through the 2020s.

Where does that leave us? Well, with 7,000 blocks of drilling leases over 38 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico up for auction in 2013. Sure seems like there are easier places to get your oil than the Beaufort Sea.

Data Centers: The High Environmental Cost of Computing

Copley

Photo by Humphrey Bolton. Some rights reserved.

Here at the Green Mien, we’ve brought your attention to the issue of power usage (and the accompanying emissions, depending  on the energy sources) by data centers before. The New York Times produced several lengthy pieces this week regarding the ongoing effects of large data centers (citing Microsoft’s and Facebook’s, among others) on the environment.  Microsoft has been accused of energy waste and was the subject of legal action by disgruntled locals regarding its “nearly 40 giant diesel generators that Microsoft’s facility — near an elementary school — is allowed to use for backup power.”  The Facebook piece noted that since Internet companies “typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock,” the possibility for waste is high – “data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid,”  according to the NYT.

But measures are in the works to make some changes. Google announced this week that it will purchase wind power-based energy to run its data center in Oklahoma. And House representatives who sit on energy-related committees were alarmed enough by the New York Times stories that they are asking the DOE and EPA if steps are being taken to improve usage and efficiency.

And although the figures in the Times pieces are certainly worth a closer look, both InformationWeek and Wired have pointed out that in several spots the pieces refer to older-style data centers, and that recently built, more modern facilities have increased efficiency in step with improved technology. New data centers are being built all the time, however, and even with improvements in energy use, this issue will continue to be a prominent one.

Oceana Report Sounds a Warning Bell For Dwindling Fish Populations

Photo in the public domain. Some rights reserved.

A new report released this week by Oceana (the non-profit group based in Washington D.C.) raises some alarming points about potential food insecurity across the globe, as ocean acidification due to climate change continues to damage fisheries in areas where fish and seafood are “a primary source of protein,” such as in the Maldives (where more than half of residents’ protein intake comes directly from seafood), Iceland, and Japan. The situation only worsens in impoverished areas where seafood is a common dietary staple, such as in Haiti, Madagascar, and Eritrea, where daily salaries often settle at around 1 US Dollar per day.

The report, titled “Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a high CO2 World,” states that “by 2050 the global demand for seafood is expected to rise” as a result of overpopulation, while at the same time a rise in global temperature threatens to wreak havoc on the fragile balance of marine life as the temperature ranges of our oceans continue to rise, and their pH levels continue to drop. America is expected to lose 12% of its annual catch by 2050, while some small coastal and island countries are expected to lose as much as 40% of their catch, at a time when coral reef eco-systems are in a state of rapid decay.

The Persian Gulf is well represented in the report’s rankings of “Most Vulnerable Nations to Food Security Threats,” with areas in the Middle East such as Iran, Libya, Kuwait, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates ranking high on the charts, just below small island nations such as The Maldives and Comoros. The report used factors such as Exposure levels, dependence on seafood, and adaptive ability to make these rankings.

The 2050 City

In this TEDxYouth@MSC video, architect Gregory Kiss walks us through the next 38 years, in which the world’s urban population is expected to double. This shift, emphasizes Kiss, means that cities are where the “future environmental footprint of the world is going to be defined.”

After acknowledging the world’s most important renewable resource, The Youth (or, to his young audience, “you guys”), Kiss goes on to talk about all the other renewable resources we’re going to have to rely on in the year 2050.

Kiss has been working in “the art and technology of environmentally responsible architecture” for over 20 years, founding Kiss + Cathcart Architects in 1983. And he seems to have spent much of that time wondering – is it possible to build a truly sustainable city? One that generates its own energy renewably and provides its own food and water sustainably? During his TEDx talk, Kiss shows a slide with a picture of a city inside a dome: “Now we’re not suggesting that we want to build cities in domes,” he laughs, “but we’d like to see if it’s possible to have cities that perform that way.”

Kiss then walks us through modern day NYC’s use of the resources necessary to sustain such a city. The most striking set of slides first shows a pea sized spec on the map that represents the aggregated acreage of fields used to grow the vegetables eaten in NYC (data is for 2010). Kiss then jumps to a slide showing a basket-ball sized circle representing the amount of land is used to grow the vegetables that feed the animals that we eat.

But the slides are meant less as a scare tactic and more for baseline comparison. Kiss projects that by 2050 – through improvements in technology (solar panels, hydroponics) – we can shrink the geographic requirements for all these energy needs to an almost city-sized scale.

Kiss goes on to talk about some real-life projects he is working on in NYC that include adding features such as solar panels, rain gardens and green roofs to existing infrastructure, with varying results (one project generated about 25% of its own energy, while another was paying energy back into the system with 108% “energy independence”.)

His grand finale is a series of slides showing the design for a non-real project that he developed for a museum. It is an impressive, sustainable, and beautiful “mini-city” housed in a building that incorporates greenhouses, helicopter landing pads, movie theaters, wind turbines, and more.

The talk is worth a watch – it’s aimed towards kids, so don’t expect anything revolutionary, but seeing Kiss bristle with a restrained excitement and an optimism for our future is absolutely inspiring. It’s a great reminder that there are smart folks out there working on the kind of real-world problems that face us in the next few decades.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project

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. 20120302, Final EIS, HUD, CA, Alice Griffith Redevelopment Project, Redevelopment of the #4-Arce ‘‘Project Site’’ for 1,200 New Dwelling Units, Retail Development, Open Space and Associated Infrastructure, City and County of San Francisco, CA, Review Period Ends: 10/22/2012, Contact: Eugene Flannery 415–701–5598. Website.

EIS No. 20120303, Draft EIS, DOE, TX, W.A. Parish Post-Combustion CO2 Capture and Sequestration Project, Funding, Fort Bend, Wharton, and Jackson Counties, TX, Comment Period Ends: 11/05/2012, Contact: Mark J. Matarrese 202–586–0491. Website and website.

EIS No. 20120304, Final EIS, USFS, 00, Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project, Implementing Multiple Resource Management Activities, Black Hills National Forest, Custer, Fall River, Lawrence, Meade, and Pennington Counties, SD and Crook and Weston Counties, WY, Review Period Ends: 10/22/2012, Contact: Katie Van Alstyne 605–343–1567. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20110108, Draft EIS, USFS, OR, WITHDRAWALKapka Butte Sno-Park Project, Proposal to Build a New Sno-Park to Provide more High-Elevation Parking for Winter Recreationist, Bend-Ft. Rock Ranger District, Deschutes National Forest, Deschutes County, OR, Comment Period Ends: 06/30/2011, Contact: Beth Peer 541–383–4769. Revision to FR Notice Published 06/03/2011; Officially Withdrawn by the Preparing Agency. Website.

Another Threat to the Electric Grid

Photo by Peter Craine. Some rights reserved.

Back in May, we posted about an external threat to the electric grid – solar storms. That possibility seemed pretty exciting, and warranted a really cool picture; check out our post here. Today, we cover another threat, more quantifiable but maybe less exciting – the inability to respond to deliberate cyber attacks on the electric grid.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff has been pushing for cybersecurity reforms at the federal level for years. Currently, regulators have limited ability to respond to most threats to the electric grid: FERC’s jurisdiction does not reach the distribution-level utilities that run 97% of the nation’s power lines. No federal agency has the power to direct such a broad swath of energy infrastructure, but Wellinghoff suggested a starting place. First, FERC needs to be able to confidentially communicate threats to utilities, and second, needs some sort of enforcement authority.

On Thursday, FERC acted on its own to establish a division dedicated to mitigating cyber threats on the electric grid, despite lacking any additional enforcement authority from Congress. The new office’s initial focus will be on communicating with private-sector firms about cyber vulnerabilities – the current limit to federal authority.

Though Wellinghoff has been lobbying for increased cybersecurity enforcement authority for six years, legislation on the issue is stalled in Congress now. The White House is circulating a draft executive order on cybersecurity that would set standards to which infrastructure networks like the electric grid would adhere on a voluntary basis, so even if Congress is unable to address the issue this session, it will certainly remain on the table in the future. Some Congressmen, like Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, describe the electric grid’s vulnerability to attack as “one of the single greatest threats to our national security.”

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