Archive for March, 2014

Fukushima Washes Ashore

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

This month the Government Accountability Office released a report on measures taken by countries around the world in response to the Fukushima disaster. Fukushima has been a slow-motion calamity. Public awareness of its continuing effects ebbs and flows like the water that courses intermittently through damaged reactor vessels.

Governments around the world are not oblivious to the implications of the Japanese experience for their own nuclear programs. The GAO examined what steps sixteen countries have taken in response to Fukushima. The GAO notes that Germany, for instance, accelerated the shutdown of its nuclear power reactors, and Jordan reassessed plans to establish a civilian nuclear power program. A number of countries are addressing their failure to plan for more than a single incident, and are now planning for more imaginative accident scenarios, such as those that could involve multiple reactors at a single power plant. A half a dozen countries are instituting automated systems for monitoring and transmitting critical data to regulators and technicians responding to potential accidents. The report details how international nuclear organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Association of Nuclear Operators, and the European Union are trying to coordinate efforts to strengthen nuclear regulatory bodies to help them identify key elements of the Fukushima incident, and promote nuclear safety worldwide. Unfortunately, the report also concludes that, so far at least, no international organization is able really track the impact and effectiveness of the renewed safety and regulatory efforts.

The report’s release coincided with the arrival of the first radioactive water from Fukushima on North American shores. In late February, researches announced that radioactive cesium isotopes from the crippled power plant had reached the waters off the Canadian coast near Vancouver, British Columbia. The plume of radioactive water is expected to reach the U.S. coast later this year. Before you decide to move from Seattle to Missoula, bear in mind that the trace amounts of radiation in the water are not expected to reach levels unsafe for human consumption. According to a report in The New Republic, scientists predict the West Coast will see its cesium levels rise by between one and 30 becquerels per cubic meter. To put that number in perspective, the Environmental Protection Agency caps the quantity of cesium-137 in safe drinking water at 7,400 becquerels per cubic meter. In fact, the radiation recently measured in a single tuna—a fish that travels near Fukushima on its migratory route—is equivalent to the natural radiation in nine bananas. Whatever the dangers posed by the minute quantities of radiation which are drifting here might be, the fact that it is arriving at all is causing all sorts of people to make political hay. As The New Republic details, the boogeyman of radiation is uniting both the left and right wings of American politics to practically glow in the dark with suspicion and alarm. Perhaps they can buy up all the copies of the new GAO report. And use them to sop up the cesium.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Wallowa-Whitman

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.

Starting October 1, 2012, EPA no longer accepts 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. 20140062, Final EIS, NPS, CA, Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River Final Comprehensive Management Plan, Review Period Ends: 04/14/2014, Contact: Kathleen Morse 209–379–1110. Website.

EIS No. 20140063, Draft EIS, BLM, NM, San Juan Basin Energy Connect Project, Comment Period Ends: 04/28/2014, Contact: Marcy Romero 505–564–7600. Website and website.

EIS No. 20140064, Draft Supplement, USFS, MT, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan to Comply with a District of Montana Court Order (Temporary Roads), Comment Period Ends: 06/12/2014, Contact: Jan Bowey 406–842–5432. Website.

EIS No. 20140065, Draft EIS, USFS, OR, Proposed Revised Land Management Plans for the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests, Comment Period Ends: 06/16/2014, Contact: Sabrina Stadler 541–523–1264. Website.

EIS No. 20140066, Final EIS, BLM, NV, Arturo Mine Project, Review Period Ends:04/14/2014, Contact: John Daniel 775–753–0277. Website.

EIS No. 20140067, Final EIS (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3), USFS, ND, North Billings County Range Allotment Management Plan Revision, Review Period Ends: 04/28/2014, Contact: Nickole Dahl 701–227–7830. Website.

EIS No. 20140068, Draft Supplement, USFS, UT, Leasing and Underground Mining of the Greens Hollow Federal Coal Lease Tract UTU–102, Comment Period Ends: 04/28/2014, Contact: Marianne Orton 435–896–1090. Website.

EIS No. 20140069, Draft EIS, USFS, MT, Divide Travel Plan, Helena National Forest, Comment Period Ends: 04/28/2014, Contact: Heather DeGeest 406–449–5201. Website.

EIS No. 20140070, Final EIS, NASA, CA, Proposed Demolition and Environmental Cleanup Activities at Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Review Period Ends: 04/14/2014, Contact: Allen Elliott 256–544–0662. Website and website.

EIS No. 20140071, Draft EIS (at bottom of web page), NRCS, UT, Green River Diversion Rehabilitation Project, Comment Period Ends: 04/30/2014, Contact: Bronson Smart 801–524–4559. Website.

EIS No. 20140072, Final EIS, NPS, NC, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, General Management Plan, Review Period Ends: 04/14/2014, Contact: David Libman 404–507–5701. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20140054, Revised Draft EIS, USFS, CA, Harris Vegetation Management Project, Comment Period Ends: 04/21/2014, Contact: Emelia H. Barnum 530–926–4511 ext. 1600. Revision to FR Notice Published 03/07/2014; Correcting Comment Period from 4/25/2014 to 4/21/2014. Website.

Getting Ready for Salmon Season

Photo by AER Wilmington DE. Some rights reserved.

Photo by AER Wilmington DE. Some rights reserved.

Here in the northwest, we put a very high premium on our salmon. It’s one of our most important, most publicized, and most delicious exports. In fact, we’re getting close to a very important time of year for salmon connoisseurs: Copper River season. Typically falling in the mid-May to mid-June time frame,  these especially tasty fish come down fresh from the eponymous river in Alaska to markets across the city of Seattle, to much rejoicing, every year. It’s a great way to celebrate the coming summer months, by grilling up (it really is the best way) a few hulking fillets of what many would consider the best salmon that money can buy.

In that spirit, it’s perhaps a good time to take a closer look at recent changes in the salmon farming business at large. We’ve looked a bit at the various arguments for and against genetically-modified salmon in the past. This week, National Geographic released a nice primer on the current state of aquaculture (re: fish farming) and how the industry is attempting to reform itself to appeal to green-minded customers while keeping up with demand.

The standard line on farmed fish as recently as five years ago seemed to be that it was a wasteful and somewhat dangerous industry because of the amount of processed food (mostly made from other fish species) it was taking to feed the farmed fish, which typically have a much higher fat content, was way too high to be environmentally friendly. Add to that the possibility that these farmed fish could escape their pens and possibly contaminate gene pools in an ocean climate where salmon are already struggling against overfishing and other global warming-related issues. Thus, the line from enviro-carnivores has seemingly always been “buy wild fish”. But as NatGeo points out, that line of thinking is changing. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes in the industry attempting to correct some of these issues, and most interestingly, the drive to do so seems to be not necessarily purely profit-driven, but driven more by a moral responsibility to maintain the fragile ecosystem of our oceans.

Some of the changes are happening in laboratories – for instance, the article highlights the Delaware-based company Verlasso, which has been developing fish feed based around a transgenic yeast that makes omega-3s (an essential component of their diet found in non-salmon fish, which is why salmon food will usually be made up of smaller fish). Using this yeast (which is combined with other nutrients and plants to make food pellets) has created a highly-desirable 1-to-1 sustainability ratio for amount of fish used as feed to amount of salmon produced. That’s a nearly impossible figure to reach with traditional methods of farm salmon feeding. The article also goes into some of the efforts going on to promote genetically engineered fish, though that is all still pending FDA approval.

What’s clear in any case is that consumption of salmon isn’t going down. In fact, it’s up 20% over the last 10 years, and in 2013 the U.S. consumed 353,000 of the delicious pink stuff. So it makes sense that the industry would want to set itself up for the long game, and now it’s just a matter of getting everyone, consumers and manufacturers, on the same page (the Aquaculture Stewardship Council set standards in 2010 for the industry which have been very influential, and of course there’s the ever-vigilant Seafood Watch website, which will help tell you what the best sustainable choices for salmon are at any given time).

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Provo and Ochoa

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.

Starting October 1, 2012, EPA no longer accepts 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. 20140046, Draft EIS, USFS, CO, Eldora Mountain Resort Ski Area Projects, Comment Period Ends: 04/14/2014, Contact: Paul Alford 303–541–2506. Website.

EIS No. 20140047, Final Supplement (Doesn’t seem to be published online yet. Check back here for updates.), USAF, FL, F–35 Beddown at Eglin Air Force Base, Review Period Ends: 03/31/2014, Contact: Michael Spaits 850–882–2836. Website.

EIS No. 20140048, Draft EIS, USFS, NM, Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration Project, Comment Period Ends: 04/15/2014, Contact: Chris Napp 505–438–5448. Website.

EIS No. 20140049, Final EIS, USFS, ID, Beaver Creek, Review Period Ends: 04/08/2014, Contact: Clinton Scott 208–769–3030. Website.

EIS No. 20140050, Draft EIS (Not yet available online. Check back here for updates.), NRC, OH, GENERIC—License Renewal of Nuclear Plants Regarding Davis-Besse Nuclear Station, Comment Period Ends: 04/14/2014, Contact: Elaine Keegan 301–415–8517. Website.

EIS No. 20140051, Draft EIS, DOI, UT, Provo River Delta Restoration Project, Comment Period Ends: 05/07/2014, Contact: Richard Mingo 801–524–3168. Website.

EIS No. 20140052, Final EIS, BLM, NM, Ochoa Mine Project, Review Period Ends: 03/31/2014, Contact: Shiva Achet 575–234–5924. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20140001, Draft EIS, APHIS, 00, Determinations of Nonregulated Status for 2, 4–D–Resistant Corn and Soybean Varieties, Comment Period Ends: 03/11/2014, Contact: Sid Abel 301–734–6352. Revision to FR Notice Published 01/03/2014; Comment Period will remain open through 03/11/2014, per request of the lead agency. Website.

EIS No. 20140038, Draft Supplement, NMFS, 00, Fishery Management Plan for Regulating Offshore Marine Aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico, Comment Period Ends: 04/04/2014, Contact: Jess Beck-Stimpert 727–551–5755. Revision to FR Notice Published 02/07/2014; Extending Comment Period from 3/31/2014 to 4/04/2014. Website and website.

EIS No. 20140043, Draft EIS, USFS, UT, Energy Gateway South Transmission Project, Comment Period Ends: 05/22/2014, Contact: Kenton Call 435–865–3730. Revision to FR Notice Published 02/14/2014; Correcting Lead Agency from AFS to USFS. Website.

Judge Pulls Spikes Off TransCanada’s Pipeline Tracks

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has been hurtling along and blowing through opposition like a runaway train. Opponents of the pipeline haven’t exactly been meek and mild but TransCanada has been able to roll right over them without so much as a bump.

Most of the opposition to the pipeline has focused on its obvious ecological demerits; the dirty fuel’s filthy extraction at the source in Alberta, the near certainty of a rupture, the consequences of fuel spills in the  Ogallala Aquifer, and the increase in global emissions. Those concerns have given way like wet Kleenex in the face of TransCanada’s political and financial clout. The State Department’s recent report on the pipeline’s impact certainly doesn’t look like it will produce much friction – its conclusion that pushing ahead with the project won’t have any significant impact on global emissions or the rate of oil sand extraction is hardly calculated to put the brakes on the project.

While TransCanada has been able to sweep the nation’s environmental groups aside, a single judge in Nebraska has succeeded in taking the sheen off the company’s aura of  invincibility. The Nebraska legislature, in its wisdom, recently passed a law placing the state’s power of eminent domain at TransCanada’s disposal. In effect, it forced landowners to sell their property to TransCanada by transferring the power to force such sales from the Nebraska Public Service Commission – where it had resided for more than a century – to Governor Dave Heineman.

Late last month, District Judge Stephanie F. Stacy took a long hard look at that law and decided to drag it out behind the barn and put a bullet in its head. The law, she said, was unconstitutional and void in that it divested the PSC of authority and bestowed upon the governor the ability to wield the power of eminent domain without the possibility of judicial review. In other words, it allowed the governor to grab Nebraskans’ land and give it to a foreign company for that company’s profit.

Nebraskans are an ornery and independent lot, and some of the ranchers over whose land the pipeline is slated to run didn’t take kindly to having the governor  snatch their property up in such an imperious fashion. Three landowners whose property was in the path of the pipeline filed suit. The judge’s decision went over very well with them. The attorney who handled their case had reason to crow, saying, “They thought the governor would be a rubber stamp and he was.”

For the time being, TransCanada will have to negotiate with every individual landowner along the pipeline’s route, a prospect that must not fill the company’s directors with delight; the ranchers in the pipeline’s path haven’t been sending TansCanada Valentine cards. The issue will surely be fed into the appeals system where it will grind along. But the delay won’t do the company any favors either. The administration is unlikely to act on the State Department report while the court’s clear this issue off the tracks – the delay is a perfect excuse not to act. And Nebraska isn’t the only state gumming up the works. The Texas Supreme Court recently handed pipeline opponents a major victory in ruling that TransCanada couldn’t avail itself of the right of eminent domain under the state’s “common carrier” regulations. “We’re thrilled,” said one of the plaintiffs fighting TransCanada’s land grab, “because the Supreme Court has finally ruled in favor of us—the little guys—and against a foreign oil giant.”

Nobody likes the idea of having their property taken and handed over to a foreign company so that company can make money off the property. The misuse of eminent domain has been a volatile issue ever since the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London opinion upholding a city’s use decision to use eminent domain to take property from one private owner for the gain of another private owner.

If Keystone is running into a buzz saw over the issue in deep red, oil-friendly states like Nebraska and Texas, it’s got more trouble on its hands than it might have reckoned with. TransCanada’s train may be running at full throttle, but the tracks might not be stable.

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