October 18, 2010

In This Issue

OFFSHORE DRILLING: WHITE HOUSE LIFTS DEEPWATER BAN

The Obama Administration announced Oct. 12 that it is lifting its moratorium on deepwater oil-and-gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Administration has been under intense pressure from several regional politicians and business leaders to lift the moratorium, who attribute the ban to the temporary loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the region. While the ban on shallow-water drilling was lifted in May, operations have not yet returned to normal and several regional and federal politicians, from both sides of the aisle, have vehemently opposed the deep-water drilling moratorium. The moratorium was initially supposed to last until late November.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said new Interior safety requirements and a strong industry focus on blowout prevention led him to lift the moratorium. Salazar also noted that the plugging of BP’s well has freed up response resources should another accident occur.

Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael Bromwich said that the new requirements, including rules finalized late last month, will allow safer development. He cited provisions in the rules that include new standards for well designs, casing and cementing, certification of blowout preventers and other steps. New rig inspections are also required

Bromwich said it’s impossible to say how quickly permitting will resume, noting it depends in part on the speed with which specific companies implement the new reforms under which they will apply for permission, but suggested drilling could resume before the end of the year. Salazar said he expected drilling to resume “very soon.”

Bromwich also called on Congress to grant Interior’s request for $100 million in supplemental funds for offshore energy oversight, noting it’s needed for inspections, permitting and other functions. The latest continuing resolution to keep government running that Congress approved provides an additional $23 million for inspections. Bromwich asserted that without the full $100 million, BOEMRE will be “severely hamstrung.”

WHITE HOUSE: TASK FORCE RELEASES CLIMATE CHANGE RECOMMENDATIONS

On October 14, 2010, the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released its interagency report outlining recommendations to President Obama on how federal agencies can better respond to the impacts of climate change.

The White House report notes that “climate change is a global phenomenon that is influenced by and affects people and places throughout the world” and that the federal government “has an important stake in adaptation because climate change directly affects a wide range of federal services, operations, programs, assets (e.g., infrastructure, land) and our national security.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Make climate change adaptation a standard part of agency planning
  • Ensure scientific information about the impacts of climate change is easily accessible
  • Align federal efforts to respond to climate impacts that cut across jurisdictions and missions, such as those that threaten water resources, public health, oceans and coasts, and communities. 
  • Develop a U.S. strategy to support international adaptation
  • Build strong partnerships to support local, state, and tribal decision makers

In an effort to further integrate science into decision making, agencies within the task force are in the early stages of adapting the NOAA Climate Services Portal prototype, currently hosted at Climate.gov, into an operational interagency online portal that brings together climate science and services information from across the federal government. The report also encourages the federal government to enhance its capacity to translate information between scientists and decision makers. “Effective science translation will help to ensure that decision makers have the information they need to make decisions on adaptive measures,” the report says.

The task force will prepare another report in October 2011 that documents progress toward implementing its recommendations and provides additional recommendations for refining federal government adaption efforts. According to an Administration source, the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive will begin developing instructions for agencies to implement the new recommendations within 120 days.

President Obama signed an Executive Order on October 5, 2009 that called on the task force to recommend how the policies and practices of federal agencies can be made compatible with and reinforce a national climate change adaptation strategy. The Executive Order charged the task force with delivering a report through the Chair of CEQ to the President within one year.

STATE DEPARTMENT: CLINTON UNDER PRESSURE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Five Subcommittee Chairmen from the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to press for an independent “global climate fund” that helps developing countries. The Democrats want Clinton to push for the fund at the United Nations climate summit late this year in Cancun, Mexico.

The letter, penned by Reps. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (American Samoa), Brad Sherman (CA), Gary Ackerman (NY), Donald Payne (NJ) and Eliot Engel (NY), states the fund must be independent of existing financial institutions. There is fear among some non-governmental groups that a program under the World Bank or other development banks would face undue influence from large corporations and rich nations.

The House Democrats’ letter says that helping to establish the fund will re-assert U.S. credibility on climate change in the absence of a U.S. emissions law. It suggests that several existing funds would provide good models, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and the multilateral fund to implement the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting substances.

The letter calls a global fund an essential outcome of the UN talks, which are not expected to result in a binding emissions-cutting deal. Last year’s Copenhagen summit yielded a non-binding agreement to provide climate aid to developing nations that reaches $100 billion annually by 2020. - The Hill

CHEASAPEAKE BAY: NY LAWMAKERS REBUKE EPA CLEANUP PLAN

Democratic New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and seven House Members from the state have issued a letter stating that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan disproportionately penalizes their state and should make greater demands of the areas closer to the Bay.

The letter states EPA’s Chesapeake Bay restoration plan, set to take effect at the end of the year, contains “drastic” and “unattainable” pollution-reduction requirements that will “jeopardize the economic well-being of communities within New York’s Bay Watershed and the agricultural industry on which the entire state relies.”  The Members assert that “New York is required to reduce its total phosphorus load by more than 34 percent of EPA’s calculated baseline, while Maryland, a tidal state, is required to reduce its phosphorus load by only 18.89 percent.”

The Bay cleanup has struggled in part because of interstate disputes over responsibility for pollution, habitat damage and how to divide the costs of cleaning up stormwater, sewage and farm and development wastes. EPA’s plan calls for 25 percent reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus, which fuel algae blooms and lead to depletions of dissolved oxygen needed by fish and other marine life. For more information, see the Sept. 30 edition of the ESA Policy News at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/09302010.php

About 10 percent of the Bay’s watershed is in New York state and includes the headwaters of the Susquehanna and Chemung river systems. The congressional delegation calls for EPA to resurrect a principle within the plan that it said was struck from earlier documents: “States that benefit the most from the Chesapeake Bay recovery must do more.”

EPA spokesman David Sternberg said the agency “greatly appreciates” the comments and concerns of the New York delegation. He added that EPA would continue to work closely with colleagues to produce a “cost effective strategy to reduce water pollution for the benefit of all communities.”

COAL: EPA URGES VETO OF WV MOUNTAINTOP-REMOVAL PERMIT

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin has recommended rejecting a water permit for the proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia, stating that it would have an adverse impact on West Virginia streams and the wildlife they support. The 84-page recommendation was submitted last month and made public this past Friday.

EPA found that the project would bury more than seven miles of the Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch streams under 110 million cubic yards of rubble—known as spoil, killing everything in them and sending downstream a flood of contaminants, toxic substances and life-choking algae. The project was originally approved by the Bush administration in 2007 and would involve dynamiting the tops off mountains over 2,278 acres to get at the coal beneath while dumping the resulting spoil, into nearby valleys and streams.

 A symposium held during the Ecological Society of America’s 2010 Annual Meeting called attention to the practice of mountaintop removal and pointed out the damage it inflicts on wildlife and people living in these areas.  (See http://www.ecostudies.org/press/documents/2010-08-03_ESA_schedule.pdf)

EPA first threatened to veto the project more than a year ago. Though EPA has blocked 12 permits for surface mines since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the agency has never retroactively vetoed a permit. Arch Coal, which has sued EPA in an effort to move forward with the project, condemned the recommendation. Kim Link, a spokeswoman for Arch Coal, said in a statement that the company intended to “vigorously” challenge the recommendation.

Garvin, whose region has jurisdiction over the Mid-Atlantic, coupled his recommendation with a set of documents that describe the likely effects of the permit. In addition to destroying Pigeonroost Branch and Oldhouse Branch, two streams that are among the least degraded in the Coal River watershed, the mining debris from the project would also likely cause fish kills in downstream waters, according to EPA.

EPA’s recommendation drew criticism from state elected officials over its potential to eliminate jobs. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) have both urged EPA to rethink its veto recommendation. Rahall has gone as far as calling coal regulation efforts a “terrorist threat” and has pledged to use his seniority to block mountaintop removal mining legislation in Congress.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) has introduced H.R. 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act, which would amend the Clean Water Act to ban dumping of mining waste of any kind into U.S. waterways. The bill has garnered 171 predominantly Democratic cosponsors, but would need to pass through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, before it reaches the floor for a vote. Rahall, also a senior member of the committee, has pushed the committee’s chairman, James Oberstar, not to take up the legislation.

Click here to read the supplementary documents.

SCIENCE EDUCATION: INCREASING MINORITY REPRESENTATION KEY TO ADVANCING U.S. COMPETITIVENESS

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine urges increased minority participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels and outlines a comprehensive roadmap for increasing involvement of underrepresented minorities in these fields.

Underrepresented minorities — including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans — comprised just over nine percent of minority college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations in 2006, the report notes.  This number would need to triple to match the share of minorities in the U.S. population.

Currently, the majority of growth in STEM doctorates is attributable to non-U.S. citizens, particularly those from India and China.  The tendency of many students to want to return to their home countries, coupled with stricter visa requirements make it increasingly unlikely that these students will make a substantial contribution to U.S. science and technological needs, according to the report.

The report’s recommendations build upon “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” a 2005 publication from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine that urged improvements in STEM education at all levels as part of a larger plan to sustain U.S. scientific and technological leadership. The report makes the following findings and recommendations:

  • Minorities major in STEM at the same rate as do other groups, but are more likely not to complete degrees or to change majors. 
  • Higher education institutions should create programs that provide underrepresented minority students in STEM with strong financial, academic and social support. 
  • K-12 STEM teachers need better preparation and high school programs should emphasize college readiness. 
  • Long-term actions should include offering stronger programs that develop reading, mathematics skills and creativity in preschool as well as improve the quality of K-12 math and science education for underrepresented minorities.
  • The challenge of increasing underrepresented minority participation and success in STEM requires commitment from every type and size of learning institution — from community colleges to large state schools and from predominantly white institutions to historically black colleges and universities.

The study was sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Otto Haas Charitable Trust #2. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. 

EDUCATION: SUMMIT EXPLORES WAYS TO ADVANCE ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND STEWARDSHIP

More than 200 educators, scientists and policy professionals from around the country came together October 14-15 for the Ecology and Education Summit, “Environmental Literacy for a Sustainable World.” Participants from academia, business, the religious community, agriculture, government, the health industry and the media shared ideas for advancing environmental education and stewardship and the event featured keynote addresses from polar explorer Will Steger and urban farmer Will Allen.

Co-sponsored by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the National Education Association (NEA), together with many other partners, the two-day conference sought to generate ideas and collaborations for developing a green workforce and society.  For more information see http://www.esa.org/eesummit/ or today’s ESA blog post: http://www.esa.org/esablog/research/moving-forward-on-environmental-literacy/

ETHANOL: EPA GRANTS E15 WAIVER FOR NEWER VEHICLES

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waived a limitation on selling fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks on Oct. 13. The waiver applies to fuel that contains up to 15 percent ethanol – known as E15 – and only to model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.

Environmental groups and the auto industry criticized the decision as “premature” while, ethanol advocates said the approval did not go far enough. Growth Energy had sought approval for 15 percent ethanol, or E15, to be blended with gasoline, up from the current 10 percent cap. EPA only granted a waiver for E15 use in cars and trucks built since 2007.

EPA still plans to issue a separate decision on cars and light-duty trucks from model year 2001 through 2006 next month after it receives more testing results from the Department of Energy (DOE). Since 1979, up to 10 percent ethanol or E10 has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and non-road vehicles. Vehicles that have the green light to run on E15 account for about one-third of the nation’s fuel demand, according to EPA.

The agency is taking several steps to help consumers identify the correct fuel for their vehicles and equipment. EPA is proposing E15 pump labeling requirements, including a requirement that the fuel industry specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. The agency will also conduct a quarterly survey of retail stations to help ensure their gas pumps are properly labeled. EPA is hoping the new label requirements will help allay misfueling concerns among retailers. If E15 is used in older vehicles, it could corrode their engines.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-14) mandated an increase in the overall volume of renewable fuels into the marketplace, reaching a 36 billion gallon total in 2022. Ethanol is considered a renewable fuel because it is produced from plant products or wastes and not from fossil fuels. Ethanol is blended with gasoline for use in most areas across the country.

While the EPA decision would only allow for five percent more ethanol than the E10 version, it amounts to a 50 percent increase in renewable fuels. That boost is crucial for helping the nation reach its renewable fuel goals, according to ethanol advocates. The E15 petition was submitted to EPA by Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers in March 2009.  In April 2009, EPA sought public comment on the petition and received about 78,000 comments.

The petition was submitted under a Clean Air Act provision that allows EPA to waive the act’s prohibition against the sale of a significantly altered fuel if the petitioner shows that the new fuel will not cause or contribute to the failure of the engine parts that ensure compliance with the act’s emissions limits.

For more information: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/regs/fuels/additive/e15/

SOLAR: INTERIOR APPROVES FIRST ENERGY PROJECTS ON PUBLIC LANDS

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the first large-scale solar energy plants ever to be built on public lands on Oct 5, 2010. The two projects, located in the California desert, are the first in a series of renewable energy projects on public lands under final review by the agency.

Interior’s approval grants the U.S.-based companies access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants that could produce enough energy to power 226,000 – 566,000 typical American homes. The solar-thermal project in Imperial Valley would rank as one of the world’s largest solar projects.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, renewable energy developers that have their projects under construction by the end of 2010 or meet one of the program’s safe harbor provisions can qualify for significant funding. The Recovery Act’s payment for specified energy property in lieu of tax credit program makes the companies Tessera Solar and Chevron eligible for approximately $273 million and $31 million, respectively.

Interior reports that each project has undergone environmental review, including public scoping, draft environment impact statements (EIS) and final EIS’s and that the companies have undertaken extensive mitigation efforts to minimize impacts to wildlife, water and other resources. State and federal agencies have set up a joint compensation fund operated by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to mitigate impacts.

The Imperial Valley project sparked controversy among environmental groupsconcerned that it could imperil habitat for the desert’s flat-tailed horned lizard and bighorn sheep. After much protest, the company behind the project, Tessera Solar, made several concessions, including promising to set aside 6,000 acres for the two species and to use wastewater from a nearby water-treatment plant for its operations.

A fact sheet on the Tessea Solar Imperial project is available HERE.

A fact sheet on the Chevron Lucerne Valley Solar project is available HERE.

CURRENT POLICY

Introduced in the House

H.R. 6252, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act – Introduced by Reps. Gene Green (D-TX) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), the bill would provide the United States with the regulatory framework to monitor the export of used electronics. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that many developing nations who receive e-waste from the United States do not have the capacity or facilities to safely recycle and dispose of these used electronics. The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act will create a new section of 1976’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RICRA) to prohibit the export of restricted e-waste to developing nations.

While tested and working equipment can still be exported to promote reuse, other consumer electronic equipment, parts, and material derived from them that contain toxic chemicals could not be exported to developing nations, under the legislation. The bill has received support from Dell, Apple, Samsung, The Electronics TakeBack Coalition, and The Natural Resources Defense Council. The bill was introduced Sept. 29, 2010 and referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Introduced in the Senate

S. 3935, the Advanced Energy Tax Incentives Act of 2010  - Introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee Ranking Member  Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) the bill is a bipartisan package of clean energy tax incentives to address building and industrial energy efficiency, domestic manufacturing, new energy technologies and carbon dioxide mitigation. The bill provides $2.5 billion in tax credits to manufacturers of technologies that generate renewable energy or enhance energy efficiency; creates a tax incentive for energy storage systems; retools a tax credit for carbon capture and storage; and extends a $1.01-per-gallon cellulosic producer tax credit to algae-based bio-fuels.

S. 3935 incorporates several bills the Senators jointly introduced earlier this Congress alongside numerous new provisions. The bill was introduced Sept. 29 and referred to the Senate Finance Committee. A summary of its provisions is available online at: http://bingaman.senate.gov/policy/aetia_summ.pdf.

S. 3922, the Furthering International Nuclear Safety Act of 2010 – Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Ranking Member George Voinovich (R-OH) and Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Nuclear and Clean Air Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) have introduced a bill that would direct the United States to implement a strategic plan to improve safety at civilian nuclear power plants worldwide. The bill would focus international nuclear safety efforts under the Convention on Nuclear Safety, created in the aftermath of the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union. The bill was introduced Sept. 29 and referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Sources: ClimateWire, Environment and Energy Daily, The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, Greenwire, The Hill, The New York Times, The National Academy of Sciences, Third World Network, The Washington Post, The White House

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