This Was The First Year It Ever Went To Zero

via The Guardian

via The Guardian

Yes, it really is that bad. California is shriveling up before our eyes. Staggering under the worst drought in history, the state is confronting the possibility that it might just plain run out of water. Cities and counties around the state are imposing draconian penalties on water wasters  – don’t water that brown lawn, don’t wash that filthy car – and the state is scrambling desperately to divert precious water from where there is some to be found to where there is none. Governor Brown just signed legislation putting a $7.545 billion water bond before the voters. There’s an impressively long and (mirabile dictu) bipartisan list of supporters of the bill ranging from environmental groups through agricultural and construction organizations to the state chamber of commerce. But all that broad support still leaves unanswered the central question of how to divide a disastrously diminishing water supply around a state as populous and diverse as California. Who is more deserving? Almond farmers or vintners? The Los Angeles megacity or the small towns in the Sierra foothills where the ground is literally sinking because wells have run dry?

In the shadow of those snow-bereft mountains, California farmers are emptying their wells of ground water – the aquatic equivalent to eating your seed corn. When that water is gone it’s as good as gone forever: replenishing aquifers is a job of decades and centuries. Jeffrey Sutton of a Sacramento area canal authority is struggling with the fact that this year for the first time, some of its customers will receive no water. Nothing. Zip. Nada. “This was the first year it ever went to zero,” he says. “You can’t allocate water that’s not there.”

If you crane your neck, you can look back 500 years or more to find the Anasazi people who disappeared from the southwestern US. Decades of relentless drought did them in. That was a disaster for them. What to do with the tens of millions of present day Californians? What happens when a whole state finally runs dry? No one sees any easing of the current drought coming anytime soon. And there’s really no question that global warming will only make things worse.

California has always had a parlous relationship with water. There’s a road much loved by sports car drivers called Mulholland Drive that hugs the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s named after William Mulholland, the man who so famously brought water to a sleepy little desert town called Los Angeles. If you want a terrific history of the politics behind that feat, watch Roman Polanski’s brilliant 1974 film Chinatown which is based on Mulholland’s audacious accomplishment. It’s a compelling illustration of just how ugly the politics around water has always been in the Golden State. It doesn’t promise to get any prettier.

Update: In an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warns bluntly that the state has “only enough water in storage to get through the next 12 to 18 months, and that’s it.”

Prosecutors to PG&E: We Are Not Amused

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

Back in 2010 a Pacific Gas &Electric gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California. The blast killed eight people, injured 66 and turned several blocks of the suburb just south of San Francisco into what looked like Baghdad after the shock-and-awe campaign. The disaster ignited a brief flurry of interest in pipeline safety but the national attention soon drifted on to other matters. San Bruno city officials, however, have kept the heat on the utility which provides gas and electricity to most of  Northern California.

On July 29 a bevy of prosecutors, including the U.S. Attorney, the California Attorney General, the San Mateo County DA, and the FBI announced an indictment charging PG&E with obstructing a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the blast as well as knowingly and willfully violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. According to the indictment, the utility provided the National Transportation Safety Board with a copy of its draft policy regarding pipeline threats, then withdrew it and replaced it with another policy claiming the first was a draft released in error. In fact, the indictment alleges, PG&E had been operating under the purportedly unapproved draft for years, meaning it did not properly assess the risks to pipelines running through urban and residential areas. According to the indictment, the utility ignored or failed to investigate threats to its gas pipelines, kept inaccurate and incomplete records, did not investigate the seriousness of threats to pipelines when they were identified, and failed to assess the threats posed by over-pressurized pipelines.

All in all it’s not a pretty bill of goods, and San Bruno is spitting mad. And the city’s anger isn’t just directed at PG&E. According to city officials, PG&E essentially colluded with state regulators. The mayor is accusing the  chairman the California Public Utilities Commission of receiving “confidential, non-public information from PG&E regarding its internal deliberations and financial conditions outside of the CPUC public hearing process” and demanded his immediate removal from proceedings related to the blast. The city accuses PUC and PG&E officials of being in regular email contact despite commission rules forbidding private conversations between parties to official actions and regulators.

Pipeline safety generally has an enforcement problem. Congress has consistently starved the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration of adequate funding. According to Rep. Jackie Speier whose district includes San Bruno, “The industry has a lock on PHMSA. It has a lock on Congress. And the public’s interest gets dramatically watered down.” In fact, the head of the PHMSA, Jeffrey Wiese, offered up an unusually frank confession about the state of his agency in a speech last fall. According to Wiese, the regulatory process is “kind of dying.”

Perhaps the grand jury that returned the indictment against PG&E can stave off the demise.

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.

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