DOT Wants To Keep Oil Trains On the Rails

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

There’s a lot of oil coming up out of the ground in the U.S. right now. Especially in North Dakota and Montana where there is a good old fashioned oil boom underway. We’ve noted before that increasingly that oil is making its way to market by rail. Given the unprecedented ramp up in production, it was inevitable that pipelines wouldn’t be able to handle all that extra goo. But shipping all that oil by rail is causing some problems. For one thing, the massive increase in the number of oil cars rolling across the land is tying up other rail traffic. Wheat farmers, for instance, are having trouble getting their crops to export terminals on the Pacific coast, and face skyrocketing freight charges. The tracks they need to move their grain are too crammed with oil trains.

Also, those oil trains have a tendency to go off the rails. Not only that, the oil from those north plains oil fields, known as Bakken crude, tends to be more flammable than your garden variety oil.  The combination of flying rail cars and volatile fuel has had some very unpleasant consequences. The issue just got close to home here at Knowledge Mosaic. Last week a Burlington Northern train carrying Brakken crude derailed underneath the heavily-traveled Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. Fortunately, the tanker cars didn’t explode and nobody was injured. But having those tanks flip over a mere mile and a half from our offices was a disturbing reminder just how vulnerable densely packed urban areas are to these rolling bombs. The first thought that popped into my mind was the thundering disaster in Quebec when an oil train derailed, killing nearly 50 people.

The dangers oil trains pose has drawn the attention of the Department of Transportation which has released details of proposed rules intended to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable liquids. The Department proposes a wide ranging number of changes, from phasing out older tank cars, requiring upgraded braking systems, requiring more comprehensive flammability testing of oil prior to shipping, requiring future cars to have thicker hulls and rollover protection, and imposing reduced speed limits for oil shipments, especially in urban areas where any explosions would be the most destructive.

There will be a sixty day comment period in which the energy sector is sure to argue strenuously against the proposals. The railroad companies themselves are none too comfortable with the risks these shipments pose and are likely to support the regulations. As are the citizens of the countless cities and towns through which the trains run. Including all those people who drive over the Magnolia Bridge every day.

These Stories Are Not Related

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

Remember when Freedom Industries shut down Charleston, West Virginia by spilling thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical into the Kanawha River? Perhaps you were wondering what consequences might befall the company for poisoning the water supply for 300,000 residents of the state capital. Wonder no longer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Freedom Industries eleven thousand dollars – that’s $11,000 – for an incident OSHA itself described as one that could likely result in death or serious physical harm.

That draconian penalty is sure to impress the importance of environmental safety on the rest of the extraction industry.

Meanwhile, over in another coal-dependent state, state legislators worked themselves into a lather about new EPA carbon emission regulations. One Kentucky state senator illuminated the debate by informing us that “the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here,” and pointing out that there are no factories or coal mines on Mars, so what’s the big deal, anyway? Not content with astronomical ignorance, another senator argued that just because the dinosaurs went extinct, we humans had no need to worry. “The dinosaurs died, and we don’t know why, but the world adjusted. And to say that this is what’s going to cause detriment to people, I just don’t think it’s out there.”  Well, okay then. If we humans die out, the world will adjust. Problem solved.

Come Christmas, some people might find a lump of coal in their stocking.

 

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Salmonids

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.

 

* * *

EIS No. 20140171, Draft EIS, WAPA, NE, Interconnection of the Grande Prairie Wind Farm, Comment Period Ends: 08/04/2014, Contact: Rod O’Sullivan 720-962-7260. Website.

EIS No. 20140172, Draft EIS, USACE, OR, Double-crested Cormorant Management Plan to Reduce Predation of Juvenile Salmonids in the Columbia River Estuary, Comment Period Ends: 08/04/2014, Contact: Sondra Ruckwardt 503-808-4510. Website.

EIS No. 20140173, Final EIS, USFS, OR, Wolf Fuels and Vegetation Management Project, Review Period Ends: 07/28/2014, Contact: Jeff Marszal 541-416-6436. Website.

EIS No. 20140174, Final EIS, USAF, NH, Second Main Operating Base KC-46A Beddown at Alternative Air National Guard Installations, Review Period Ends: 07/21/2014, Contact: Kevin Marek 240-612-8855. Website and website.

EIS No. 20140175, Draft EIS, FERC, TX, Corpus Christi LNG Project, Comment Period Ends: 8/04/2014, Contact: Kandi Barakat 202-502-6365. Website.

EIS No. 20140176, Final EIS (Only Draft EIS currently available.), USACE, LA, Calcasieu Lock, Louisiana Feasibility Study, Review Period Ends: 07/21/2014, Contact: Timothy K. George 314-331-8459. Website.

 

AMENDED NOTICE:

EIS No. 20140167, Final EIS, USACE, HI, Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning Project, Review Period Ends: 07/28/2014, Contact: Ryan Winn 808-835-4309. Revision to the FR Notice Published 6/13/2014; Correct Review Period from 7/14/2014 to 07/28/214

Block Here, Block There, Block Everywhere

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

Back in the beginning of June, the EPA released its long-anticipated guidelines for cutting carbon pollution from existing power plants. The guidelines, implemented after the administration grew exasperated with Congress’ inability to cobble together sensible regulations, are intended to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants – the single largest source of such pollution in the United States. Power plants account for one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Agency. The Agency hopes to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels which it says is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.

Nobody expected the coal industry to celebrate the new rules. And nobody expected the climate change deniers in Congress to roll over, either. And sure enough, the obstruction machinery is being fired up.

Bloomberg tells us that Republicans in Congress are determined to cut the funding necessary to enforce the new guidelines and prevent them from taking effect. They are preparing for a “pitched battle” over the carbon rules which they describe as “job killers.” John Podesta, the president’s top adviser on climate change, said last month that Republicans have a ‘‘zero percent chance” of stopping the rule. We’ll see. When it comes to blocking the administration’s environmental regulations, as with every other initiative from the White House, the congressional Republican caucus has shown itself to be as tenacious as a junkyard dog.

Last (Two) Week(s) in Environmental Impact Statements: Mars 2020 Mission

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 (and the previous week’s here!). 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.

* * *

EIS No. 20140167, Final EIS, USACE, HI, Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning Project, Review Period Ends: 07/14/2014, Contact: Ryan Winn 808-835-4309.

EIS No. 20140168, Final EIS, NPS, FL, Fort Matanzas National Monument Final General Management Plan, Review Period Ends: 07/14/2014, Contact: Gordon Wilson 904-829-6506 Ext. 221. Website.

EIS No. 20140169, Final EIS, FHWA, DC, Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction, Review Period Ends: 07/14/2014, Contact: Michael Hicks 202-219-3513. Website.

EIS No. 20140170, Final EIS, USFS, NM, Gila National Forest Travel Management Rule Implementation, Review Period Ends: 07/28/2014, Contact: Lisa Mizuno 575-388-8267. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20140164, Final Supplement, FHWA, NCDOT, NC, Monroe Connector/Bypass, Contact: George Hoops 919-747-7022. Revision to the FR Notice Published 06/06/2014; Correction to Contact Phone Number should be 919-747-7022. Under MAP-21 section 1319, FHWA has issued a single FSEIS and ROD. Therefore, the 30-day wait/review period under NEPA does not apply to this action. Website.

 

And last week’s:

EIS No. 20140162, Final EIS, FAA, TX, SpaceX Texas Launch Site, Review Period Ends: 07/07/2014, Contact: Stacey Zee 202–267–9305. Website.

EIS No. 20140163, Draft EIS (Tiering), NASA, FL, Tier 2—Mars 2020 Mission, Comment Period Ends: 07/21/2014, Contact: George Tahu 202–258–0016. Website.

EIS No. 20140164, Final Supplement, FHWA, NCDOT, NC, Monroe Connector/Bypass, Contact: George Hoops 919–707–6022, Under MAP–21 section 1319, FHWA has issued a single FSEIS and ROD. Therefore, the 30-day wait/review period under NEPA does not apply to this action. Website.

EIS No. 20140165, Draft EIS, USACE, WA, Skagit River Flood Risk Management General Investigation, Comment Period Ends: 07/21/2014, Contact: Hannah Hadley 206–764–6950. Website.

EIS No. 20140166, Draft EIS, USACE, WA, BP Cherry Point Dock, Comment Period Ends: 08/06/2014, Contact: Olivia Romano 206–764–6960. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130365, Draft EIS, NMFS, USFWS, BR, CA, Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Comment Period Ends: 07/29/2014, Contact: Ryan Wulff 916–930–3733. Revision to the FR Notice Published 02/21/2014; Extending Comment Period from 06/13/2014 to 07/29/2014; The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service are joint lead agencies for the above project. Website and website.

Bobby Jindal Presents “The Creature From the Oil-Black Lagoon”

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

There’s a lot of swampland on the Gulf Coast. A lot of that swampland has been polluted with oil. And a lot of that oil has oozed into the swamps of the legal system which is brimming over with lawsuits brought against the extraction industry. BP’s Deepwater disaster is only the most high profile case. It certainly brought a lot of public attention to the parlous state of the Gulf of Mexico and its hundreds of miles of vulnerable coastline – attention BP and its energy cohorts don’t want.

Things haven’t been going well for BP in the litigation that flowed up out of its underwater well along with all that oil. It has found it rough going even in the famously conservative and business-friendly Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which has consistently swatted down the company’s attempts to wriggle off the liability hook. But the oil industry is nothing if not industrious. A business that hunts for oil thousands of feet below the surface of the sea will work just as hard to find a political solution to its legal problems. Now, thanks to Louisiana  governor Bobby Jindal, the oil business has what it hopes is a magic cloak to ward of further lawsuits.

Last week Jindal signed legislation designed to kill a lawsuit against almost 100 oil and gas companies.

The lawsuit was filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority in an attempt to get oil and gas companies to pony up billions of dollars for damage caused by exploration and production in the vulnerable wetlands around New Orleans – wetlands that play a vital role in protecting the city from what the suit describes as the mortal threat of hurricane storm surges. The stakes for New Orleans could not be higher. The Authority filed suit to avert the dire consequences of the environmental degradation of the region’s coastline. The suit demanded that energy companies “honor their obligations to safeguard and restore the coastal treasures entrusted to them and from which they have so richly profited.” The Flood Protection Authority described the measures it demanded in its suit as essential to preserving the future of the state and its biggest city. The coastal barriers it sought to preserve have been brought to the brink of destruction over the course of a single human lifetime. Without immediate action to reverse the loss of wetlands and restore the region’s natural defenses, many of Louisiana’s coastal communities will vanish into the sea. Meanwhile, the Authority says, inland cities and towns that once were well insulated from the sea will be left to face the ever-rising tide at their doorsteps.”

Jindal’s signature has now thrown the future of that suit, and other similar actions, into doubt. The new law is specifically intended to stop the lawsuit in its tracks. It would limit enforcement of the state’s coastal zone program to the state Department of Natural Resources, a parish, a parish district attorney or the state attorney general.  The law previously allowed any government agency to file claims. The oil and gas industry lobbied strenuously to get the new law passed. Apparently the industry’s efforts were more persuasive than the state’s own attorney general who urged the governor to veto the bill, arguing that the language was both so vague and so sweeping that it would prohibit local governments from filing lawsuits against energy companies for past or future actions. A passel of legal scholars also weighed in warning that the bill would nullify lawsuits already filed against BP for damages from the oil spill by dozens of governmental entities. Environmentalists and urban planners are aghast.  The industry, on the other hand, was crowing about its bill, describing it as “a huge victory for the oil and gas industry as well as the economy for the state of Louisiana.”

The bill demonstrates how far and how deep the energy industry’s tentacles reach into the machinery of Louisiana politics. The Deepwater catastrophe brought a lot of unwelcome attention to the long-intertwined relationship between the oil and gas industry and Louisiana’s politicians. The new law is designed to restore that relationship to its historical centrality in the state’s political ecology. Whether it survives the inevitable appeals (it almost certainly won’t) is irrelevant. As a piece of of intimidating muscle flexing it’s in a class of its own: Let there be no doubt of who calls the shots in the state.

Jindal defended the bill by saying it creates “a more fair and predictable legal environment.” The good people of New Orleans can sleep easier now, secure in the knowledge that at least the legal landscape is predictable. The levees be damned.

Note: The Times-Picayune is, as always, doing yeoman’s work covering this story.

The Thousand Natural Shocks That Flesh Is Heir To

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like reading the words “bacteria” and “apocalyptic” in the same sentence – especially in the lead paragraph of a World Health Organization Report. The report, released last month, tells us in no uncertain terms that we are now entering the post-antibiotic world. Almost a century after the discovery of penicillin, humanity is once again vulnerable to simple infections we thought we had confined to the dustbin of medical history.

All the ills that flesh is heir to, the countless ailments and fevers that have plagued humanity for millennia, were seemingly in retreat with the flurry of antibiotics that followed on penicillin’s heels. Ten years ago, a simple urinary tract infection or a scrape from a rose bush would pass without incident – a simple course of antibiotics saw to that. Now, increasingly, even the most minor infections can take an ominous turn, thanks to the relentless evolution of the microbes antibiotics are designed to destroy. The prospect of expiring from simple infections is growing daily, in every corner of the globe.

The WHO report is a hypochondriac’s nightmare. According to the Organization, resistance to common bacteria has reached alarming levels around the world. The post-antibiotic era, far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is a very real possibility for the 21st century. Antimicrobial resistance, it says, threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections. Resistance to common bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi has reached alarming levels in many parts of the world. In some settings, there are few, if any, effective treatment options. One of the greatest achievements of modern medicine is teetering on the verge of collapse. And it isn’t simply preventing or treating hitherto minor infections which is problematic. Many pillars of modern medicine rest on defeating microbes: without antibiotics routine surgery, transplants, and chemotherapy would be impossible.

In an ironic twist, it was in hospitals themselves where resistant bacteria first appeared, and they have spread steadily outward. In 2005, approximately 100,000 Americans had severe anti-biotic resistant infections, of whom nearly 20,000 died. That’s a higher fatality rate than HIV and tuberculosis combined. In the words of Katherine Xue, writing in Harvard Magazine, this state of infectious affairs is the new normal. The relentless spread of antibiotic resistant super bugs raises the grim specter of a return to the medicine of a century ago.

Dr Jennifer Cohn, medical director of Medecins sans Frontier, says the WHO report “should be a wake-up call to governments to introduce incentives for industry to develop new, affordable antibiotics.”

Developing antibiotics is extraordinarily expensive and time consuming. Encouraging innovation in the field will likely require close coordination on a global scale and significant government intervention and support. Given that Britain’s chief medical officer has compared the rise in drug-resistant infections to the threat of global warming, we’ll have to cross our well-scrubbed fingers and hope the nations of the world can pull together on this. An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure.

 

 

 

 

 

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