August 24, 2007

In This Issue


Republican Dennis Hastert (IL) is expected to retire from Congress at the end of next year, but the former House speaker won’t leave without trying to work with Democrats on energy and climate legislation. Hastert is ranking member of the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee. He could play a key role this fall in the panel’s effort to craft a bill that would create a mandatory cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Former House GOP aides say Hastert could be a useful ally for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has planted global warming atop her agenda for the year. If Pelosi and the Democrats do not get global warming legislation accomplished before Hastert’s departure, they would presumably be working with a different crop of Republicans in 2009. Waiting behind Hastert on the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee are a number of members who do not hold the same moderate perspective or legislative experience, including Reps. Ralph Hall (R-TX), Fred Upton (R-MI), Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and John Shimkus (R-IL).


The Bush Administration will attempt to revive its highly touted national planning rule that governs how management plans are developed for 193 million acres of national forest.

The Forest Service rolled out a proposed planning rule on August 16 that is essentially the same as the 2005 rule blocked by a federal judge in San Francisco earlier this year. But this time, the agency will conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) with five alternatives. According to a Forest Service spokeswoman, the new proposal will strengthen the role of science in forest management and allow more public input in the planning process.

Meanwhile, the agency is proposing major revisions to its guidelines for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In a proposed rule published in the August 16 Federal Register, the Forest Service proposes to move its NEPA procedures from the agency handbook to federal regulations, and incorporate various NEPA recommendations from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

The Forest Service’s proposed changes to its NEPA procedures are designed to improve the EIS process and make the studies more relevant to actual decisions and not to potential lawsuits, according to the proposed rule.

Aside from moving NEPA procedures from the agency handbook to a federal regulation, the Forest Service proposes deleting a list of actions that require an EIS, incorporates a controversial CEQ guidance on cumulative effects, and allows for the use of “adaptive management” practices.

For an EIS, the proposed rule changes a list of classes of actions that require an EIS to actions that “normally” require an EIS. Currently, the studies are required for proposals to carry out or approve aerial application of chemical pesticides, proposals that would substantially alter the undeveloped character of an inventoried roadless area, and proposals for major federal actions with major environmental impacts.

The proposed regulations are posted in the Federal Register for a 60-day comment period. The comment period ends October 15, 2007. The federal register notice is available for review on-line at

The memo from CEQ is available at:

Forest Service NEPA Specialist Martha Twarkins contacted the Ecological Society of America to open a dialogue with the Society and to encourage anyone with questions about the proposed regulations to contact her at 202-205-2935 or Assistant Director for NEPA Joe Carbone at 202-205-0884. They request that you submit comments to the proposed regulations in writing to the address listed in the Federal Register notice.


An energy startup named Range Fuels backed by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist has picked Soperton, Georgia, for what its promoters hope will be the world’s first commercial-scale celluosic ethanol refinery. Range Fuels — a Broomfield, Colorado, company backed by Sun Microsystems’ co-founder Vinod Khosla and a $76 million Department of Energy grant — plans to break ground in coming weeks for construction of a $225 million plant to make ethanol from spindly tree tops, limbs, bark, and straw that would otherwise be burned or left to rot.

Mitch Mandich, Range Fuels’ CEO, cited figures suggesting that the state’s forests generate sufficient waste wood to produce more than 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol — enough to support many more plants the size of the planned Soperton refinery. The plant is expected to use about 1,200 tons per day of wood residues and wood-based energy crops and yield 40 million gallons of ethanol and 9 million gallons of methanol per year.

The commercial development of cellulosic ethanol is widely seen as a key to helping meet the nation’s rising demand for biofuels. Its promoters say it would lower the costs of production and ease pressure on corn growers who are stretched to meet demand for both food and ethanol. Corn is the primary U.S. ethanol crop.

Range Fuels executives say the key to their process is that it does not require enzymes or other microbial agents to convert sugars into ethanol. Rather, heat, pressure and steam are used to convert woody biomass into a synthetic gas. The “syngas” is then converted back into ethanol and methanol using a chemical catalyst.

Syngas-derived cellulosic ethanol, they say, also promises to pose fewer environmental problems due to its lower carbon dioxide emissions, and it enjoys a greater “energy balance” than conventional corn-based production, meaning it requires less energy to produce a unit of ethanol from woody biomass than from corn.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the National Science Foundation’s 1999 award of $170 million in contracts to the oil field services company VECO, which is under investigation for bribing Alaskan public officials, including Sen. Ted Stevens (R).

The contract mandated that VECO provide logistics and support for polar research, although the firm had no previous experience in that area. Stevens served for several years as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and had oversight of the National Science Foundation in his senior role on the Senate Commerce Committee.

Stevens’ aggressive support for polar research seemed to coincide with VECO’s emergence as a major player in that field. In May, the Associated Press reported that federal agents were investigating the remodeling of Stevens’ Alaska home, which occurred around the time the contract was being fulfilled, for a possible link to the ongoing bribery case.


Developing methods to detect and measure nanomaterial exposure levels in people and the environment are among the most urgent research needs in nanotechnology, according to a federal report released today.

The draft document by the National Nanotechnology Initiative lists 25 areas where more research is needed to determine the health, safety and environmental effects of nanotechnology, grouped in five broad categories — analytical methods, human health, environmental health, exposure assessment and risk management.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative is accepting written comments on the report until Sept. 17.

Click here for the report. (

Sources: Energy and Environment Daily and Greenwire