Archive for November, 2012

National Flood Insurance and Jersey Shore Demographics

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, some rights reserved.

Back in 1968, Congress stepped into the flood insurance market to provide coverage where private insurers would not. Today, taxpayers back $527 billion of assets in coastal flood plains insured by the National Flood Insurance Program. Run by the Federal Emergency Agency, the program paid out $16 billion of claims for Katrina; Sandy-related claims could reach $12 billion. The program is already $18 billion in debt, as sum the government acknowledges will probably never be covered by higher premiums.

Besides the program’s cost, what is the issue? In New York alone, 200,000 people live less than four feet above the high tide level. Nationwide, the number of people living in flood-prone areas has been increasing, so each natural disaster damages more property and displaces more people than the last. An op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times opines that the time for the federal government to subsidize the insuring of homes and businesses in high-risk flood zones is long past. If property owners cannot find flood insurance on the private market, which in many cases they cannot, they should bear that risk instead of transferring it to the federal government.

One of the implications of changing federal flood insurance would be increased cost of living in coastal areas. Another Times article covers how Sandy and the coming National Flood Insurance Program rate hikes will make “seaside living, once and for all, a luxury only the wealthy can afford.” Building requirements for homes in newly mapped flood hazard zones could effect a demographic shift in the northeast, because much of the development encouraged by subsidized insurance would only be affordable to wealthy buyers.

The wisdom of subsidizing status quo demographics on the Jersey Shore to the tune of $18 billion aside, the point of reducing or eliminating federal flood insurance would be to end the cycle of natural disaster and expensive rebuilding without internalizing the risks of development in flood-prone coastal areas, which in light of recent events are certainly expanding. This is a step toward affordable environmental risk-management most people can back in good conscience.

President Obama Opts Out of E.U. Aviation Fees

Photo by thatsabigif. Some rights reserved.

Hot on the heels of his re-election, President Obama signed a bill Tuesday (one that had no trouble getting through the Senate and then the House earlier this year) that would exempt the U.S. (and more pointedly, its airlines) from a carbon tax for planes flying in and out of Europe. The carbon fees were first proposed by the E.U. in 2006 and adopted by the European Parliament in 2008, however the plan was delayed by the EU itself earlier this month, hoping that a year delay would give time for “a global agreement on aviation emissions.”

The legislation itself operates much like other carbon credits-based trading plans, where airlines would receive trade-able credits that would cover certain amounts of CO2 emissions per year, and any additional emissions would result in the mandatory purchase of more credits. The idea, as is most likely apparent, is to promote more efficient, less environmentally-damaging air travel by imposing taxes that are of low cost to the consumer.

The White House has thus far been quiet in their response to the bill exempting the U.S. from the carbon fees, though the industry group Airlines for America has said that “Obama’s signature will allow carriers to reduce emissions through international agreements.”

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Stanford and Stateline Solar

Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video. 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.

* * *

EIS No. 20120366, Final EIS, NOAA, CA, Authorization for Incidental Take and Implementation of the Stanford University Habitat Conservation Plan, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, CA, Review Period Ends: 12/24/2012, Contact: Gary Stern 707–575–6060. Website.

EIS No. 20120367, Draft EIS, BPA, WA, I–5 Corridor Reinforcement Project, Cowlitz and Clark Counties, WA, Comment Period Ends: 03/01/2013, Contact: Nancy Wittpenn 503–230–3297. Website.

EIS No. 20120368, Draft EIS (Appendices), BLM, CA, Stateline Solar Farm Project, San Bernardino County, CA, Comment Period Ends: 02/21/2013, Contact: Jeffery Childers 951–697–5308. Website.

EIS No. 20120369, Draft EIS, NOAA, USFWS, CA, Authorization of Incidental Take and Implementation of the Mendocino Redwood Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation and Timber Management Plan, Mendocino County, CA, Comment Period Ends: 02/21/2013, Contact: Eric Shott 707–575–6089. The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service are joint lead agencies for the above project. Website.

EIS No. 20120370, Draft Supplement, NRC, SD, Dewey-Burdock Project, Supplement to the In-Situ Leach Uranium Milling Facilities, Custer and Fall River Counties, SD, Comment Period Ends: 01/07/2013, Contact: Haimanot Yilma 301–415–8029. Website.

Methane in Boston

Photo by Paul Keleher. Some rights reserved.

In the arena of energy, America has cemented itself as solidly pro-natural gas, with politicians and corporations alike hailing it as a safe, climate friendly alternative to coal while we search for even greener, friendlier alternatives. As of 2012, 65 million American households use natural gas (which is made up of methane mixed with carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen). However, it has been pointed out in the past that natural gas may not be as environmentally friendly as suggested by its proponents, as the significant amounts of methane that leak from the gas wells and pipelines is enough to offset the benefits of avoiding dirty coal. Methane, as we all know by now, is a greenhouse gas with deadly implications for global warming (ProPublica discovered in 2011 that “Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported”).

The New York Times brought the issue to light yet again today, with a report on methane leaks in the Boston area. Led by Boston University professor Nathan Phillips, a research time recently discovered that Boston, along with other older U.S. cities of the northeast, has an unusually high level of methane leaks due to archaic (some over a century old) low-pressure pipelines beneath the city that are “riddled with leaks.” This loose methane gets into the air and can kill trees and vegetation, cause natural gas explosions, and of course, contribute to the ozone layer that accelerates global warming.

Unfortunately, repairing these pipelines is very expensive – $1 million per mile expensive. With the data Phillips and his team have uncovered, however, it appears that it would be in the city of Boston’s best interest to demand a new set of pipes.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Casa Diablo

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.

* * *

EIS No. 20120361, Final EIS, BR, UT, Narrows Project, Development of a Supplemental Water Supply for Agricultural and Municipal Water Use, Sanpete County, UT, Review Period Ends: 12/17/2012, Contact: Peter Crookston 801–379–1152. Website.

EIS No. 20120362, Draft EIS, BLM, CA, Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Development Project, Mono County, CA, Comment Period Ends: 01/15/2013, Contact: Collin Reinhardt 760–872–5024. Website.

EIS No. 20120364, Draft EIS, BLM, WY, Gas Hills In-Situ Recovery Uranium Project, Fremont and Natrona Counties, WY, Comment Period Ends: 12/31/2012, Contact: Kristin Yannone 307–332–8400. Website.

EIS No. 20120365, Final EIS (Not yet available online. Check back here for updates.), USACE, CA, Pier S Marine Terminal Development and Back Channel Improvements, Los Angeles County, CA, Review Period Ends: 12/17/2012, Contact: John W. Markham 805–585–2150. Website.

Second Term Preview of Environmental Regulation

Photo by Carl Chapman, some rights reserved

In the next four years, the Obama administration will make its mark on energy and environmental laws, working through pending legislation and proposed regulation as well as considering further reforms in response to environmental and industry lobbying.

A Marten Law memo has the rundown on anticipated changes to energy and environmental laws. Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, well chronicled at the Green Mien, is likely to continue. Federal renewable energy programs have seen opposition recently, and the outcome of the pending battle of the wind energy production tax credit will be an early test of the Obama Administration’s policy. Either way, renewable energy growth is likely to be lower in the coming years as production of natural gas continues to increase.

Fracking, too, has contributed to the domestic supply surge, while prompting calls for closer regulatory scrutiny. In response, the Obama Administration has proposed regulation of fracking on federal lands, and EPA is studying the potential impact of horizontal drilling on drinking water.

Energy infrastructure questions are on the agenda, too. Most importantly, the Administration will decide whether to authorize a re-routed Keystone XL pipeline bringing oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Proposals for coal and natural gas export terminals are making their way through state and federal agencies as well.

In the news this week is Obama’s stance on climate change, a topic he avoided during his election campaign. A second term will ensure that EPA will proceed with its plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under existing provisions of the Clean Air Act, a plan upheld last summer by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition, EPA is expected to release standards for greenhouse gas emission from power plants and refineries. Several challenges to air quality rules are still pending, though, notably the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Boiler MACT rule affecting industrial facilities.

At a press conference Wednesday, President Obama responded to a reporter’s question about his specific plans to address climate change. You should read his entire response here, but he made himself clear that ignoring jobs and growth simply to address climate change is not on his agenda: “I won’t go for that.” An agenda for job growth that includes making a dent in climate change, however, is “something the American people would support.”

In addition to air and energy policy previews, Marten Law’s memo has summaries of expected policy developments in natural resources and hazardous waste regulation.

FERC Flexes Its Muscle

Today the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced that it will investigate prices charged by two natural gas pipeline companies. The probe will determine whether both companies overcharged customers. The targets are Wyoming Interstate Company and Viking Gas Transmission Company. Viking connects Canadian natural gas to major pipelines in Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Minnesota; WIC transports through Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Both companies have 75 days to submit full cost of service and revenue information to FERC for analysis.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the market, FERC has sidelined JP Morgan Ventures Energy Corp. and laid down a six-month suspension of the company’s electric market-based sales rate authority beginning April 1, 2013. JP Morgan Ventures made factual misrepresentations and omitted information from filings to FERC and in communications with the California Independent System Operator, according to FERC. JP Morgan Ventures will still participate somewhat in wholesale energy markets during the suspension, but its rate will be capped at the higher of the applicable locational marginal price or its default energy bid.

%d bloggers like this: