Archive for August, 2013

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Highly Migratory Species

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.

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EIS No. 20130250, Draft EIS, USACE, FL, Central Everglades Planning Project, Comment Period Ends: 10/15/2013, Contact: Gretchen Ehlinger 904-232–1682. Website.

EIS No. 20130251, Final EIS, USFS, MN, BWCAW Non-native Invasive Plant Management Project, Review Period Ends: 10/15/2013, Contact: Jack Greenlee 218–229–8817. Website.

EIS No. 20130252, Final EIS, USN, CA, Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing, Review Period Ends: 09/30/2013, Contact: Cory Scott 808–472–1420. Website.

EIS No. 20130253, Final EIS, USN, 00, Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing, Review Period Ends: 09/30/2013, Contact: Lesley Dobbins 757–322–4645. Website.

EIS No. 20130254, Draft EIS, USFS, UT, Smiths Fork Vegetation Restoration Project, Comment Period Ends: 10/15/2013, Contact: Pete Gomben 801–999–2182. Website.

EIS No. 20130255, Draft EIS, NOAA, 00, Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP), Comment Period Ends: 10/23/2013, Contact: Thomas A Warren 978–281–9260. Website.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130087, Draft EIS, BLM, NM, TriCounty Resource Management Plan, Comment Period Ends: 09/12/2013, Contact: Jennifer Montoya 575–525–4316. Revision to FR Notice Published 04/12/2013; Extending Comment Period from 07/11/2013 to 09/12/2013. Website.

On the Yosemite Fires, Spending, and Public Image Issues

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Wildfires are a strange and sad and often mesmerizingly beautiful phenomenon. Every summer, somewhere in the American south, west, or Southwest, hundreds of Americans band together to fight against one of nature’s most potent defense mechanisms (or call them what you will). This summer, over the last week especially, the nation has watched (mostly through convenient web-based slideshows) as the seventh largest fire in California history raged across the Stanislaus National Forest and into the treasured and revered Yosemite National Park and Hetch Hetchy valley, covering a total of over 280 square miles so far. More than 3,700 individuals have been summoned to help contain the fire with more than a dozen water dropping helicopters at their disposal, but only 20% of the fire has been contained.

Despite the size, the park remains open and naturalists remain cautiously optimistic that the fire will be contained without any dire, lasting consequences to the area. The park remains open for tourism, as the fire continues to blaze in the somewhat remote northwestern corner of the park, a (somewhat) safe 20 miles from the Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park-as-tourist destination.

But some good info has also been dished out on the financial toll the fires will take on the already-tight California state budget, as well as on the behind-the-scenes strategies being employed in how the containment efforts are being handled. The LA Times takes a worthwhile look at how, having already used 15% of the $172 million set aside for wildfires, the state plans to handle the financial end of things if this fire continues to grow. The state budget includes a $1.1 billion reserve for emergencies, and FEMA has agreed to reimburse the state for up to 75% of “eligible firefighting costs,” but the point remains that these efforts always involve a price tag, and for a state that has been painted as “in trouble” for some time now, I’m sure this is not welcome news.

Meanwhile, NatGeo published some good reporting on the crafty PR strategies being employed. Specifically, how containment efforts have included placing sprinklers around two groves of giant sequoias, some of the parks most popular attractions, when the reality is that these older, larger trees have a much better chance of surviving the blaze than younger, weaker trees. However, officials worry that the fires could cause cosmetic damage to the giant sequoias that would make them “ugly” to the public and could hurt tourism in the immediate future.

Forgotten But Not Gone (Godzilla Edition)

via Giant Freakin Robot

via Giant Freakin Robot

Last May, I wrote about the strange cloud of amnesia that seemed to have settled over the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan and how the disaster had faded almost entirely from public view, at least in the U.S.  At the time, Tepco, the plant owner and operator, was pouring water into the crippled reactor buildings to keep the nuclear cores cool. Unfortunately, all that water had to go someplace, so it was being stored in a massive 42 acre tank farm. Already, the tanks had started leaking. That jury-rigged system was intended to keep the cooling water (and the copious amounts of ground water flowing into the reactors) from being dumped at sea. Japanese fishermen really aren’t keen on radioactive fish.

Since that post, things have only gotten worse at Fukushima. This week Tepco officials reported that 300 tons of highly radioactive water has escaped from a storage tank and is making its way inexorably towards the sea. Indeed, it may already be flowing into the ocean. This is really a pretty dire situation, and certainly the worst turn of events since the original disaster. Monday’s discovery has definitely put Fukushima back into the news.

Tepco’s response has been hapless from the beginning. Now, in keeping with the whole Godzilla, sci-fi nightmare quality of the situation, the company has hatched a bizarre and improbable plan to keep the radioactive water from entering the ocean. It proposes to build a gigantic, upside down comb-shaped device to freeze the ground between the stricken reactors and the coast. Nothing else has worked so far, so maybe The Big Chill will succeed where every other attempt to contain the free-flowing waste has failed. But this latest scheme smacks of desperation. Perhaps recognizing the almost slapstick nature of the scheme, Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said “It’s like a haunted house, one thing happening after another. But we must take any steps that would reduce risks to avoid a fatal accident.”

Freezing the ground indefinitely may strike us as an absurd solution. It’s easy to invoke images of Godzilla and low rent B-movie nightmares, and crack wise about the sci-fi weirdness of Tepco’s frantic efforts to stay on top of the Fukushima disaster. But it’s important to remember that the original Godzilla movies were not the chuckle-inducing late night movie fare we remember. They were grim and fiercely anti-nuclear parables made in a country which had only recently been devastated by nuclear weapons. For all the mad scientist vibe of Tepco’s latest folly, the consequences aren’t funny. They aren’t funny at all.

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Invasive House Mouse

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. 20130244, Draft EIS, USFWS, CA, South Farallon Islands Invasive House Mouse Eradication Project, Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, Comment Period Ends:09/30/2013, Contact: Gerry McChesney 510-792-0222, ext. 222 This document was inadvertently omitted from the FR Notice published 8/16/2013. The Comment Period will end09/30/2013. Website.

EIS No. 20130245, Final EIS, BR, CO, Arkansas Valley Conduit and Long-Term Excess Capacity Master Contract, Review Period Ends: 09/23/2013, Contact: J. Signe Snortland 701-221-1278. Website.

EIS No. 20130246, Draft EIS, USFS, NV, Greater Sage Grouse Bi-State Distinct Population Segment Forest Plan Amendment, Comment Period Ends: 11/20/2013, Contact: James Winfrey 775-355-5308. Website.

EIS No. 20130247, Final EIS, FHWA, LA, Interstate 69 Segment of Independent Utility 15, US 171 to I-20, Review Period Ends: 10/07/2013, Contact: Carl M. Highsmith 225-757-7615. Website.

EIS No. 20130248, Final EIS (Use the section links at the bottom of the page), USDA, NC, ADOPTION – North Topsail Beach Shoreline Protection Project, Review Period Ends: 09/23/2013, Contact: Frank Mancino 202-720-1827. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service has adopted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FEIS #20100025, filed 01/26/2010 with the USEPA. The Rural Housing Service was not a cooperating agency to this project. Recirculation of the document is necessary under Section 1506.3 (b) of the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations. Website and website.

EIS No. 20130249, Draft EIS, USACE, LA, West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction, Comment Period Ends: 10/07/2013, Contact: William Klein504-862-2540. Website.

AMENDED NOTICES

EIS No. 20130237, Final EIS, NMFS, NJ, FEIS Amendment 14 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan, Review Period Ends: 09/16/2013, Contact: Aja Szumylo 978-281-9195. Revision to FR Notice Published 08/16/2013; Correction to Review Period Ends: Change from 10/14/2013 to 09/16/2013. Website.

The Panels Are Transparent But the Practices Are Not

Photo by Phil Champion. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Phil Champion. Some rights reserved.

The solar power industry gets a lot of love for being a sustainable, creative, efficient alternative energy source – and rightly so. Once the manufacturing of the panels is complete, the upkeep is relatively cheap and the things are built to endure the weather and last a long time (save for the occasional defective panel). But what about the manufacturing process? The idea that solar panels are being mass produced using only sustainable energy and materials is a paradisal paradox and, sadly, too good to be true (the solar industry is an industry, after all).

Yes, the crafting of these solar panels often involves toxic materials and unstable gases, and the process with which they are made is not getting any cleaner. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a group that oversees environmental conditions involved in manufacturing solar panels, publishes an annual “solar scorecard” which ranks solar manufacturing companies based on factors like emissions transparency, use of conflict minerals, C2C recycling, etc. This year’s scorecard was published last week, and based on their criteria, it looks link Trina, Yingli, and Sunpower came in on top, with scores of 77, 75, and 69 respectively (out of 100, presumably). Seven companies tied for last place (with a score of 5), including manufacturing giant Westinghouse.

Mother Jones points out, however, that transparency has  become a huge issue in this arena. Apparently only 35% of the industry responded to the SVTC survey, compared to last year’s 51%, and many of the companies gave very little to no useful information about their business practices. As SVTC executive director Sheila Davis points out, “If they are not providing the information, we have to assume the worst.” But with crude oil prices on a steep rise again, the solar industry seems primed for rapid expansion, and these are the kinds of kinks that should probably be worked out before the next big solar boom.

The Arab Spring and Global Warming

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

The last several years have seen a remarkable reshaping of the cultural and political landscape of the middle east. The so-called “Arab Spring” has brought about a remarkable and, for many people, unexpected seismic shift in the balance of power between the often autocratic rulers who have dominated so many Arab countries for so many years, and the people who are, in varying ways and to varying degrees of success, squirming out of the yoke of entrenched power. Civil uprisings have broken out from Tunisia through Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. Syria is in the midst of a particularly virulent civil war and Egypt is teetering on the edge of chaos.

One of the distinctive features of all these manifestations of popular discontent is how diffuse and seemingly leaderless the various rebellions have been. While some of the uprisings have been factional to some degree (Syria stands out as possibly the most factional conflict in the Arab world right now), one striking aspect of the Arab Spring is how organic, how spontaneous, and how amorphous have been the mechanisms by which the popular will has morphed from discontent to outright rebellion. Quick, can you think of a single, charismatic leader who is the face of the opposition in most of the Arab countries undergoing turmoil right now? It’s the autocrats whose names and faces we know. Gadhafi, Mubarak, Asad – the names of the authoritarian leaders are familiar. But the crowds who toppled them are notable for their apparent lack of leadership. They seem to be arising spontaneously, a product of the times and the circumstances. No single leader seems to be required. The populations of the Arab states appear, by all indications, to have risen up as one without being cajoled, pushed, inspired, or lead by any single figure.

This is quite a change from the great upheavals of the past. Just as we have long been familiar the names of the Arab world’s leaders who have recently been toppled, we know the names from the great revolutions of the past. Robespierre and Danton of the French Revolution, Marx and Lenin of the Russian revolution, Washington and Jefferson of our own revolution, and Martin Luther King of the civil rights movement. Each of those epochal events found their impulse and their guidance in particular individuals, individuals who condensed and represented their times and their movements. The Arab Spring feels largely ahistorical in that regard.

But is the Arab Spring a harbinger of politics to come? Consider the Occupy Movement. That was a broad-based and spontaneous expression of disgust and resistance to the depredations of unchecked capitalism. At the other end of the spectrum is the Tea Party which, despite the deep-pocket backing of the Koch brothers and their fellows, prides itself on its “grass roots” image. Are we entering a time of spontaneous, leaderless political action?

If the environmental movement has a leader it would be Bill McKibben. The founder of 350.org, author of numerous (and enormously influential) books on environmental issues, McKibben has written a strikingly thought-provoking article for Tom Dispatch. McKibben posits that our culture is now so fragmented and segmented, yet so united by new media, that traditional hierarchical political structures, particularly revolutionary or resistance movements, are necessarily diffuse and spontaneous.  As he writes, “We’re struggling to replace a brittle, top-heavy energy system, where a few huge power plants provide our electricity, with a dispersed and lightweight grid, where 10 million solar arrays on 10 million rooftops are linked together. The engineers call this “distributed generation,” and it comes with a myriad of benefits. It’s not as prone to catastrophic failure, for one. And it can make use of dispersed energy, instead of relying on a few pools of concentrated fuel. The same principle, it seems to me, applies to movements.”

The solutions to global climate change are less technical than political. Just as famine is a political problem more than a natural one (the world has plenty of food, just not in all the right places), so global climate change is exacerbated by the resistance of entrenched powers. McGibben argues that only broad-based, interconnected communities will be able to  stand up to the power of the energy giants, the richest industry the planet has ever known. It is bottom up rather than top down political action, political action independent of “leaders” as we have traditionally known them which will bring about effective responses to climate change, McGibben argues.

McGibben is no shrinking violet. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying he makes compelling arguments. He’d love to argue with you. So go read the whole thing, as the kids say. You can find it here.

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Bogue Banks and Butterfish

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. 20130236, Final EIS, NIH, MD, National Institute of Health Animal Center Master Plan, Review Period Ends: 09/16/2013, Contact: Valerie Nottingham 301–496–7775. Website.

EIS No. 20130237, Final EIS, NMFS, NJ, FEIS Amendment 14 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan, Review Period Ends: 10/14/2013, Contact: Aja Szumylo 978–281–9195. Website.

EIS No. 20130238, Draft EIS, USACE, NC, Bogue Banks Coastal Storm Damage Reduction, Comment Period Ends: 09/30/2013, Contact: Eric Gasch 910–251–4553. Website.

EIS No. 20130239, Draft EIS, BLM, USFS, CO, Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment, Comment Period Ends: 11/13/2013, Contact: Erin Jones 970–244–3008. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are joint lead agencies for the above EIS. Website.

EIS No. 20130240, Draft EIS, USA, AZ, PROGRAMMATIC—Yuma Proving Ground Activities and Operations, Comment Period Ends: 09/30/2013, Contact: Mr. Chuck Wullenjohn 928–328–6189. Website.

EIS No. 20130241, Final EIS, USACE, FL, Tarmac King Road Limestone Mine, Review Period Ends: 09/16/2013, Contact: Edward Sarfert 850–439–9533. Website.

EIS No. 20130242, Final EIS, FHWA, IN, I–69 Evansville to Indianapolis, Indiana Project, Section 5, Bloomington to Martinsville, Contact: Michelle Allen 317- 226–7344. Under MAP–21 section 1319, FHWA has issued a single FEIS and ROD. Therefore, the 30-day wait/review period under NEPA does not apply to this action. Website.

EIS No. 20130243, Draft EIS, FHWA, DE, US 113 North/South Millsboro South Area, Comment Period Ends: 10/04/2013, Contact: Nick Blendy 302–734–2966. Website.

Let’s Talk About Hyperloop

Photo by Daniel Case. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Daniel Case. Some rights reserved.

Since it was announced earlier this week, the Internet has been abuzz with speculations about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop – a super-super-high-speed rail train that, performing as imagined, could carry passengers in 28-person capacity pods across the vast desert wasteland between San Francisco and Los Angeles at almost 800 miles per hour, resulting in a 30 minute trip time if conditions were perfect. Additionally, reports indicate that, theoretically, the g-force of such a trip would be similar to that of a standard airplane flight, and that the high speeds and (again, theoretically) comfortable seats would be like “riding on a cushion of air.” And speculative ticket prices, as indicated by Musk, would start at $20. Sounds good to me, sign me up!

Musk, the entrepreneur/mad scientist behind PayPal and Tesla Motors, unveiled the project in a 57 page plan that includes detailed information on the pods themselves (including mock-ups) and figures on cost, safety, etc. As Musk sees it, it would cost $6 billion to build, a figure many have expressed surprise at, considering the much higher speculative figures associated with other high rail projects currently being batted around, specifically the California high-speed rail project currently in development which many residents and experts have expressed skepticism about.

Musk, though, seems to have very little interest in bringing this project to fruition. He released his plans with no patents and has said to the press that he may build a prototype, but only if it seems like no one else is interested in doing it. It seems that, with running his private technologies company SpaceX along with Tesla Motors, Musk has left himself very little time for building enormous high-speed wondertrains on a shoestring budget. On the other hand, based on his success with Tesla, it certainly seems like Musk knows what he’s doing. So, if you’ve got $6 billion burning a hole in your pocket… However, some experts have expressed skepticism, as they always do, and the cheesy anchors of CNBC raise silly but valid point in this video: if you’re traveling at 800 miles an hour and you can’t get out of your seat, what do you do if you need to go to the bathroom?

Bloomberg has an exclusive interview with Musk, in which he goes into greater detail about the specifics and his hopes for the project.

Blaming the Victim

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

A year ago the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California exploded, sending a giant plume of toxic smoke over the small city sandwiched between Oakland and San Francisco. Thousands of Richmond residents fled the smoke and ended up in hospitals with respiratory problems. This wasn’t the first massive explosion at the refinery. It went up in 1989 and again a decade later. But the one last year was big enough to cause the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to bring the hammer down in a report which accused Chevron of knowingly failing to replace old corroded pipes, and calling for more stringent national safety standards.

Last year’s explosion, too, was a result of corroded pipes and Chevron’s failure to correct deficient equipment at the refinery. Indeed, Chevron pleaded no contest to charges filed by the California Attorney General’s Office and the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, and agreed to pay $2 million in fines and restitution.

The City of Richmond and Chevron have had a prickly relationship for years. While Chevron is the second largest oil company in the United States, Richmond is a small working class city living in the shadow of its hipper and much wealthier neighbors. It has plenty of woes, including high unemployment and a high crime rate, and has long sought to have the oil giant step up its civic contributions as a corporate citizen.

Perhaps Chevron decided that little old Richmond doesn’t pose as much of a legal threat as the combined forces of the state and the county.  When the city announced that it would pursue negligence claims against Chevron, accusing it of “willful and conscious disregard of public safety” and seeking financial compensation for the costs of emergency response, medical treatment, environmental cleanup and damage to public health,  the company decided to take another tack. It decided to blame the victim. Chevron’s spokeswoman airily dismissed the city with these words:

“We believe the decision to pursue such a suit is a waste of the city’s resources and yet another example of its failed leadership.” The city’s failed leadership. Chevron pleads no contest to criminal negligence, then turns around and accuses the city – the city whose residents fled the billowing plumes at Chevron’s refinery in droves – of failed leadership.

There’s a lot of words you could use to describe that response. One word in the dictionary should do nicely, though: Chutzpah.

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Salmon-Challis

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. 20130231, Final EIS, USFS, OR, West Bend Vegetation Management Project, Review Period Ends: 09/19/2013, Contact: Beth Peer 541-383-4769. Website.

EIS No. 20130232, Final EIS (Website currently down.), USN, MD, Outdoor Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Activities at NSWC, Review Period Ends: 09/09/2013, Contact: Stacia Courtney 540-653-8154.

EIS No. 20130233, Draft Supplement, USFS, ID, Salmon-Challis National Forest Travel Planning and OHV Designation Project, Comment Period Ends: 10/08/2013, Contact: Karen Gallogly 208-756-5103. Website.

EIS No. 20130234, Draft EIS, BLM, NM, Ochoa Mine Project, Comment Period Ends: 09/23/2013, Contact: Shiva Achet 575-234-5924. Website.

EIS No. 20130235, Draft EIS, VCT, NM, Valles Caldera National Preserve – Landscape Restoration and Stewardship Plan, Comment Period Ends: 09/26/2013, Contact: Marie E. Rodriguez 505-660-3333. Website.

 

AMENDED NOTICES

EIS No. 20130148, Draft Supplement, USACE, FL, Jacksonville Harbor Navigation, Comment Period Ends: 09/30/2013, Contact: Paul Stodola 904-232-3271. Revision to FR Notice Published 07/12/2013; Extending Comment Period from 07/31/2013 to 09/30/2013. Website.

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