Archive for July, 2013

The Frogs Are Our Future

Photo by Shek Graham. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Shek Graham. Some rights reserved.

Bad news for you Sierra Nevada fans (and no, I’m not talking about the beer). The Los Angeles Times reports this week that pesticides being used on crops in California’s Central Valley are having a dramatically negative effect on frogs living in the Sierra Nevada mountains over 100 miles away. Frogs are a crucial component of California’s gorgeous northern wilderness (which includes the famed Yosemite National Park, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Stanislaus National Forest, and Lake Tahoe), as they provide food for birds and other, larger wildlife, and keep the bug population in the area in check.

In 2009 and 2010, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey examined tree frogs from seven sites in the Sierra Nevada area, and found evidence of ten different pesticides present in their tissue, which include pyraclostrobin and tebuconazole (fungicides), simazine (herbacide), and a degraded form of the infamous DDT (outlawed in 1972). Scientists with the USGS also noted with some curiosity that the same chemicals were not detected in the water of the same areas, and only a few were picked up in the soil, which indicates that testing from tissue may be a more precise and accurate form of pesticide testing. The amounts found in the study were noted by the researchers as “trace,” so it’s very difficult to tell what the ultimate effects will be, both long term and short term, as these chemicals have never been found or studied in frogs before. But the measure of effects is almost beside the point: the chemicals are present, and being carried across a distance much further than we would have imagined them able to travel. That in itself is a revelation, and should be of some concern.

Old Wine in New Bottles: Can Nuclear Power Pull Us Out of Global Climate Change?

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

We wrote recently about how the Fukushima disaster seems to have slipped from our collective ADD-addled memory. We also wondered whether global climate change was best characterized as a calamity, a catastrophe, or a cataclysm.

Without a doubt, Fukushima has cast a pall over the nuclear industry around the world. A number of countries are taking a long hard look at the risks involved in nuclear energy production, Germany, which produces 20% of its electricity via nuclear energy, is vowing to eliminate its nuclear program within a decade and replace it with renewable energy, a task Chancellor Angela Merkel describes as Herculean.

But even in the midst of all the hand wringing over the risks of nuclear energy, support for our old friend the atom continues grow, and in some surprising places. Those over a certain age may remember Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalogue, the combination Bible /Sears Catalogue of the 60s counter culture. From his old haunts of Sausalito, Brand is now proselytizing nuclear power as the best (or at least the least-worse) remedy for a carbon-choked planet.  Originally a staunch opponent of nuclear power, he feared we would be handing off the problem of nuclear waste to future generations, a solution that struck him as “poor civilizational behavior.” But he now believes nuclear energy is the most promising path towards a carbon emissions-free future.

Brand is hardly alone in perceiving that nuclear power might still offer a future of comparatively clean carbon-free energy. Nuclear reactors might still produce radioactive waste and pose grave environmental risks – look no further than Fukushima if you doubt that. But the relative (and relatively local) risks nuclear reactors pose may pale in comparison to the cumulative effects of burning oil, coal, and natural gas. It can even be argued that nuclear power is more economical than alternative energy sources, such as wind energy, despite its long history of dramatic cost overruns and the ever escalating costs of storing spent fuel.

Existing reactors are still largely based on old technology, much of it developed in the early years of the nuclear era. The Three Mile Island or Chernobyl model – a massive, water cooled centralised system using massive fuel cores date to the ‘50s and ‘60s. Newer technologies are out there, waiting to be tested and deployed. So-called Generation IV reactors , among them the Pebble Bed Reactor are designed to avoid the dangers posed by traditional generators. The federal government is aggressively funneling money towards next generation reactors.

In announcing the grant of millions for nuclear energy research, energy secretary Steven Chu stated”As a zero-carbon energy source, nuclear power must be part of our energy mix as we work toward energy independence and meeting the challenge of global warming.”

In Knowledge Mosaic’s own back yard, a consortium of utilities and nuclear reactor designers are proposing construction of small-scale nuclear reactors to meet future demands for carbon-free power.

Nuclear power has a nasty reputation. Some of it is doubtless fall out from the nuclear era’s unholy birth at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The disasters at the plants in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima have only cemented public distrust of all things nuclear. But in an ironic twist, nuclear energy may prove to be the last best hope for weaning us away from carbon based energy. That is the argument made in the new documentary Pandora’s Promise.

The film argues that in the face of massive climate change, nuclear energy is really the only game in town. Brand, who features prominently in the movie, notes that the ill effects of the Fukushima disaster are still largely localized, and the area around Chernobyl isn’t the apocalyptic moonscape many feared it would be. The premise of Promise is that the least-bad alternative may be a very good alternative indeed. Wherever you land on the nuclear spectrum – vehemently opposed or staunchly in favor – the movie is worth taking in. It’s a profoundly thought provoking shot across the climate change bow, and a challenge to ideologues on both sides of the divide.

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Experimental Removal of Barred Owls to Benefit Threatened Northern Spotted Owls

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). However, starting October 1, 2012 all EIS submissions must be made through e-NEPA. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

In the meantime, 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. 20130213, Draft EIS, USFS, CA, Sugarloaf Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project, Comment Period Ends: 09/09/2013, Contact: Sharen Parker 530–534–6500. Website.

EIS No. 20130214, Final Supplement (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), FHWA, WA, SR 167 Puyallup to SR 509, SR 167 Puyallup River Bridge Replacement, Review Period Ends: 08/26/2013, Contact: Dean Moberg 360–534–9344. Website.

EIS No. 20130215, Second Draft Supplement, FHWA, WI, Wisconsin State Highway 23 Fond Du Lac to Plymouth—Project ID 1440–13/15–00 Limited Scope, Comment Period Ends: 09/30/2013, Contact: George Poirier 608–829–7500. Website.

EIS No. 20130216, Draft EIS, FTA, WA, Lynnwood Link Extension, Comment Period Ends: 09/23/2013, Contact: Daniel Drais 206–220–7954. Website.

EIS No. 20130217, Draft EIS, NPS, VA, Antietam National Battlefield, Monocacy National Battlefield and Manassas National Battlefield Park Draft White-tailed Deer Management Plan, Comment Period Ends: 09/27/2013, Contact: Tracy Atkins 303–969–2325. Website.

EIS No. 20130218, Final EIS, USFWS, WA, Experimental Removal of Barred Owls to Benefit Threatened Northern Spotted Owls, Review Period Ends: 08/25/2013, Contact: Paul Henson 503–231–6179. Website.

EIS No. 20130219, Final EIS, NPS, GA, Fort Pulaski National Monument General Management Plan and Wilderness Study, Review Period Ends: 08/26/2013, Contact: David Libman 404–507–5701. Website.

EIS No. 20130220, Draft EIS (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), NPS, OH, Cuyahoga Valley National Park White-tailed Deer Management Plan, Comment Period Ends: 09/24/2013, Contact: Lisa Petit 440–546–5970. Website.

EIS No. 20130221, Draft Supplement (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), BLM, CA, Palen Solar Electrical Generating System, Comment Period Ends: 10/24/2013, Contact: Frank McMenimen 760–833–7150. Website.

EIS No. 20130222, Final EIS (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), BLM, CA, Ocotillo Sol Project, California Desert Conservation Area Plan Amendment, Review Period Ends: 08/26/2013, Contact: Noel Ludwig 951–697–5365. Website.

EIS No. 20130223, Draft EIS, USACE, MO, St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project, Comment Period Ends: 09/09/2013, Contact: Joshua Koontz 901–544–3975. Website.

EIS No. 20130224, Draft EIS, CALTRANS, CA, Ferguson Slide Permanent Restoration Project, Comment Period Ends: 09/26/2013, Contact: Scott Smith 559–445–6172. Website.

EIS No. 20130225, Final EIS (Currently only Draft EIS available online. Check back here for updates.), USACE, CA, Salton Sea Species Conservation Habitat Project, Review Period Ends: 08/26/2013, Contact: Lanika Cervantes 760–602–4838. Website.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130176, Draft EIS, APHIS, TX, Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program—Tick Control Barrier, Comment Period Ends: 08/30/2013 Contact: Michelle Gray 301–851–3186. Revision to FR Notice Published 06/21/2013; Extending Comment Period from 08/05/213 to 08/30/2013. Website.

EIS No. 20130207, Draft EIS, FHWA, DC, Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction, Comment Period Ends: 09/25/2013, Contact: Michael Hicks 202–219–3513. Revision to FR Notice Published 07/12/2013; Extending Comment Period from 08/26/2013 to 09/25/2013. Website.

Save Our Citrus!

Photo by briweldon. Some rights reserved.

Photo by briweldon. Some rights reserved.

As a person who drinks at least one tall glass of orange or grapefruit juice every morning, this is VERY germane to my interests: citrus trees across America are in trouble, due to a bacterial virus known as Huanglongbing, Yellow Dragon disease, or citrus greening. Citrus greening, thought to have originated in China in the early 20th century, is a bacteria that has already done arboreal damage across the globe. Since August 2005, the Brazilian strand of the virus (one of three well-known strands) has been appearing in Florida, America’s citrus capital. The virus is carried primarily by two types of small plant lice, that carry the disease from tree to tree, causing leaves to wither or rot and yielding very little, if any, healthy fruit.

Luckily, as it so often does, science has stepped in. In a new USDA press release, details are rolled out on a new plan to combat citrus greening not by saving the trees exactly, but by freezing them. Yes, like Encino Man and Austin Powers before them, select citrus trees (of all genealogies and varieties) will have their small buds (where genetic material is stored) cryogenically frozen in what the USDA is calling a “genebank,” in case the virus (or natural disasters, fires, or any other insane, tree-eating disease: we’ve heard of others) wipes out our citrus population entirely. The press release refers to the bank as the “Fort Knox” of plant and animal germplasm, which is both reassuring and highly amusing. Read more about their storage techniques here, and for the sake of our 3.4 billion dollar citrus industry (and of my morning routine), let’s hope this works!

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle 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). However, starting October 1, 2012 all EIS submissions must be made through e-NEPA. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

In the meantime, 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. 20130208, Draft EIS, USFS, CO, Gore Creek Restoration, Comment Period Ends: 09/03/2013, Contact: Jack Lewis 970–638–4176. Website.

EIS No. 20130209, Draft EIS, BLM, AZ, Sonoran Valley Parkway Project, Comment Period Ends: 09/03/2013, Contact: Kathleen Depukat 623–580–5681. Website.

EIS No. 20130210, Draft EIS, DOE, CA, Hydrogen Energy California Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Project, Comment Period Ends: 09/03/2013, Contact: Fred Pozzuto 304–285–5219. Website.

EIS No. 20130211, Final EIS, USN, MD, Medical Facilities Development and University Expansion at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Review Period Ends: 08/19/2013, Contact: Joseph Macri 301–295–1803. Website.

EIS No. 20130212, Final EIS, BLM, AZ, APS Sun Valley to Morgan 500/230kV Transmission Line Project, Proposed Resource Management Plan Amendment, Review Period Ends: 08/19/2013, Contact: Joe Incardine 801–560–7135. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130122, Final EIS (Have not been able to locate online.), MARAD, AL, ADOPTION—Garrows Bend Intermodal Rail, Portion of the Choctaw Point Terminal Project, Review Period Ends: 08/19/2013, Contact: Kris Gilson 202–492–0479. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration has adopted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FEIS #20040381, filed 08/10/2004. The Maritime Administration was not a cooperating agency, therefore recirculation is necessary under Section 1506.3(b) of the CEQ Regulation. Revision to FR Notice Published 05/03/2013: CEQ Wait Period Ending 06/03/2013 has been reestablished to 08/19/2013.

EIS No. 20130161, Draft EIS, USFS, MT, East Reservoir Project, Comment Period Ends: 08/15/2013, Contact: Denise Beck 406–293–7773 Ext.7504 Revision to FR Notice Published 07/26/2013; Extending Comment Period from 07/29/2013 to 08/15/2013. Website.

EIS No. 20130200, Final EIS, FTA, CA, Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit Project, Review Period Ends: 08/12/2013, Contact: Alex Smith 415–744–3133. Revision to FR Notice Published 07/12/2013; Correction to Agency Contact Name should be Alex Smith. Website.

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Sounding Rockets Program at Poker Flat

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). However, starting October 1, 2012 all EIS submissions must be made through e-NEPA. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

In the meantime, 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. 20130199, Draft Supplement, BLM, WY, Bighorn Basin Draft Resource Management Plan Revision Project, Comment Period Ends: 10/12/2013, Contact: Caleb Hiner 307–347–5100. Website.

EIS No. 20130200, Final EIS, FTA, CA, Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit Project, Review Period Ends: 08/12/2013, Contact: Alex Smit 415–744–3133. Website.

EIS No. 20130201, Final EIS, USFS, AK, Big Thorne Project, Review Period Ends: 08/12/2013, Contact: Frank Roberts 907–828–3250. Website.

EIS No. 20130202, Draft EIS, NOAA, 00, Amending the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, Vertical Line Rule, Comment Period Ends: 09/13/2013, Contact: Kate Swails 978–282–8481. Website.

EIS No. 20130203, Final Supplement, USFS, CA, Eldorado National Forest Travel Management, Review Period Ends: 08/12/2013, Contact: Diana Erickson 530–621–5214. Website.

EIS No. 20130204, Final EIS, NASA, AK, Sounding Rockets Program at Poker Flat Research Range, Review Period Ends: 08/12/2013, Contact: Joshua A. Bundick 757–824–2319. Website.

EIS No. 20130205, Final EIS (Only DEIS available online at this time. Check back here for updates.), FHWA, CA, State Route 58 (SR–58) Hinkley Expressway Project, Review Period Ends: 08/12/2013, Contact: James Shankel 909–383–6379. Website.

EIS No. 20130206, Revised Final EIS, USACE, FL, Addendum to the Final Areawide EIS on Phosphate Mining in the Central Florida Phosphate District, Review Period Ends: 08/12/2013, Contact: John Fellows 813–769–7070. Website.

EIS No. 20130207, Draft EIS, FHWA, DC, Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction, Comment Period Ends: 08/26/2013, Contact: Michael Hicks 202–219–3513. Website.

 

Amended Notice

EIS No. 20130148, Draft Supplement, USACE, FL, Jacksonville Harbor Navigation, Comment Period Ends: 07/31/2013, Contact: Paul Stodola 904–232–3271. Revision to FR Notice Published 06/07/2013; Extending Comment Period from 07/15/2013 to 07/31/2013. Website.

Infrastructure Issues on the (Hot, Hot) Horizon

Photo by Patrick Feller. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Patrick Feller. Some rights reserved.

Last Friday, while all decent Americans were recovering from another no-doubt jubilant Fourth of July, NPR’s Science Friday was running a story looking at how severe heat increases have drastic effects on American infrastructure (roads, runways, rails, etc.). The story begins by pointing to a YouTube clip which went online last week and, as of writing this, has almost 150,000 views, which shows a shaky cellphone video of an SUV going airborne in Wisconsin after the freeway road began to buckle from abnormally high temperatures. If the comments section for the video are any indication, this clip is more of a fun viral video with a high wow-factor (no one in the car were seriously hurt) than a grim harbinger of things to come. Still NPR, in their story, make a good point that rapid changes in temperature will have drastic and somewhat unpredictable consequences on American travel.

For instance, in the first half of the story, host Ira Flatow points out that the Virginia Railway Express Company claims an 80-degree change in temperature would expand an 1,800-foot rail by a foot, which would obviously create a serious problem for railroads in our countries hotter states, and not necessarily a problem that engineers were considering when the railroads were being built decades ago. Similarly, the Washington D.C. government is spending a billion dollars to bury power lines to avoid power outages from extreme weather events in the future. Across the country, the government is slowly realizing that in order to keep up with the reality of global warming, serious money will need to be sunk into infrastructure changes, and sooner rather than later. In fact, studies from the DOE and the GAO indicate that these changes are being seriously debated and considered.

In closing, here is a clip of University of Minnesota student Daniel Crawford playing a composition he himself wrote by mapping U.S. temperatures from 1880 to present, with each year serving as a single note. As you can imagine, its basically a pentatonic scale moving from the cellos lowest register into its highest, with some variation in between. Still, in terms of an instrument to capture the hauntingly sad reality of global warming, the cello is a pretty ideal choice:

 

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