Environmental News Highlights – April 1, 2020

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NEPA revisions continue with senators’ supportAlaska Journal of Commerce

Federal Court Decision Underscores Need for NEPA Reform – Competitive Enterprise Institute

Participate in the federal Snake River dams public process this week — the stakes are highColumbia Basin Journal

DOI Is Using Coronavirus as a Smoke ScreenOutside Magazine (Opinion)


Climate Action Planning in a Federal Leadership VacuumResilience.org

Debunking The Myth Of Green Unaffordability – Forbes

How Politics Thwarts Alternative Ways of Getting Around Governing (Opinion)

What is COMPASS? Inside southwest Idaho’s regional planner Idaho Press


US Clean Water Rule Repeal Set to Take EffectCoastal Review Online (NC)

Senior design team working to expand suburban wetland area Temple University

Desert park will double as effluent recharge facility – Tuscon.com

State Geologist discusses how contaminants move in groundwaterSWNew4U.com

Affordable, safe drinking water for all Michiganders essential to slow spread of COVID-19: U-M experts University of Michigan


Historic Preservation Comes To Atlanta NeighborhoodBuilder

Toll of damaged historic buildings in Utah earthquake rises to 126. Here’s a map.Salt Lake Tribune

Owner of historic Zapata ranch refusing to sign right of entry request for border wall surveyLaredo Morning Times

Riverline Project Advancing to Design StageBuffalo Rising


Federal judge rules permits for Dakota Access Pipeline violated law (link to decision)- JURIST

Let’s not give up yet on sustainability, self-reliance, diversity – Greenfield Recorder (opinion)


Ex-USDoT bosses urge Congress to reauthorise FastITS International

Guest opinion: We need transportation solutions that move us forward – Idaho Press


Climate justice in frontline communities: here’s how to (really) helpThe Hill (Opinion)

New York City’s First Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice Wants to Empower Communities Next City

Whitmer orders that homes’ water service be restored amid COVID-19 pandemic The Detroit News

An effort to bring ‘environmental justice for all’ goes virtual Grist


Fire Fallout: How Ash and Debris Are Choking Australia’s RiversYale Environment 360

E.P.A., Citing Coronavirus, Drastically Relaxes Rules for Polluters – The New York Times

Decreasing air pollution increases agricultural yieldsAnthropocene/


Statewide Invasive Species Rule to Take Effect April 18th – The Times (Noblesville, IN)

Lake Tahoe invasive species inspections halted, effectively closing boat launches Reno Gazette Journal


Social distancing will impact air quality in Philly, experts say WPVI

Bay Area air quality sees dramatic improvement in only 24 hoursCurbed.com

Ports and dockworkers seek delay on ship pollution cuts, citing coronavirus Los Angeles Times

Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s traffic signal program improves traffic, air quality – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

How Traffic and Air Quality Are Changing Amid Self-Isolation – KNBC-TV

Coronavirus could be ‘bad news’ for air pollution in long-term, scientist warns AirQualityNews.com


Noise pollution in ArizonaArizona Public Media

Changes in Flight Paths at Burbank Airport are Causing Distress in Surrounding Communities KCET

Living Near Train Tracks The New York Times

The Fight to Curb a Health Scourge in India: Noise Pollution – Undark


Coronavirus Tanking Economic Growth, Creating Infrastructure Finance RisksAASHTO

Food and agriculture are critical infrastructure – Daily News

Trees as infrastructure EIT Climate-KIC

Incorporating the Costs and Benefits of Adaptation Measures in Preparation for Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change—Guidebook Transportation Research Board; National Cooperative Highway Research

New Orleans, Memphis Win Flood Mitigation Funding ChallengeThe Waterways Weekly Journal


Micromobility Becomes Reliable Option For Last Mile Connectivity In World – Urban Transport News

Scooter companies find dockless riding and pandemics don’t mix Crain’s Chicago Business

In a Global Health Emergency, the Bicycle Shines City Lab

California Transportation Commission Calls for Applications for Transportation Funding Streeetsblog CA

Traffic patterns are going to drastically be very different, says Micromobility expertCities of the Future

Minneapolis opens roads to pedestrians to practice social distancing – KMSP

Innovative Mobility Carsharing Outlook – Winter 2020 – UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center


Lime Launches Geofencing Safety Information Technology Intelligent Transport

GIS plays critical role in states’ response to coronavirus pandemicStateScoop


House stimulus includes controversial effort to stem airline pollution – The Hill (Opinion)

A ‘Green Stimulus’ Could Battle Three Crises: Coronavirus, Economic Injustice and Climate EmergencyEcoWatch (Opinion)

Execs: Consumers pushing companies toward sustainabilityCornell Chronicle

Reaching ‘beyond the possible’ in Hawaii to meet sustainability goals UN News


University study debunks EV emissions ‘myth’ITS International

Trump administration close to finalizing fuel efficiency rules rewrite -sourcesReuters

Alaska Legislature passes Energy Efficiency and Air Quality Tax Credit Act KTVF

This glass could turn skyscrapers into power generators – CNN


Nuclear waste disposal: Why the case for deep boreholes is … full of holes – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Cities Wonder Whether Recycling Counts as Essential During the Virus – Bloomberg

Transportation secretary says DOH has noticed litter increase during pandemic – MetroNews (WV)

The Ray: Fast Lane to Innovation

Imagine a highway that uses technology to track motor vehicles along an18-mile span ― that uses existing vehicle infrastructure to transmit radio data, as well as rest areas with testing zones and solar-powered charging stations.

Incorporating those features and others are part of the approach of the Georgia Department of Transportation long the said stretch of Interstate 85 via The Ray, which runs along the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway – so named for the late LaGrange, Georgia, native and businessman who promoted sustainability as a key aspect of future transportation projects.

The Ray – a high tech arterial roadway that lies south of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport – begins at the Georgia/Alabama state line and ends in LaGrange at Exit 18. It’s a “future-forward infrastructure” project made possible by what’s known as a P4 – a public-private-philanthropic partnership.

Allie Kelly

What the state “has done with its partners in the advanced technology sector is learn from an 18-mile living laboratory that’s completely open to the public,” said Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray. “It’s not a test track at a university, but a real-world environment that’s used by the 11.5 million drivers.”

The idea behind The Ray noted Kelly, “is to make highway transportation safer. Russell [McMurry, Georgia DOT commissioner] and I always talk about roughly 38,000 Americans who die in traffic crashes every year. They’re why we’ve worked together on various innovations” to make highway travel safer. 

One way to accomplish that goal, she explained, is to make testing easily accessible. And free.

“In 2016, we installed a drive-thru tire safety test station at Mile Marker 1 at a Federal Highway Administration rest area along The Ray’s northbound lane,” Kelly pointed out, highlighting the use of WheelRight technology at a tire safety station, which allows drivers to cruise over testing equipment “at 10 miles per hour or less”

She added that the technology evaluates tire pressure, tire tread depth, temperature, weight in motion and looks for damage on your tire sidewalls before printing out a report, all in about 10 seconds. “And it works on every vehicle type – aside from motorcycles,” Kelly noted.

She also noted that the Georgia DOT has built a dozen projects along The Ray since 2015, including the aforementioned connected vehicle infrastructure for radio data, which Kelly called “the biggest data pipeline the U.S. has ever seen, where we will have 105 million connected cars by 2022 sending out data packets at a rate of 10 times per second.”

The roadway also features a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station; a solar road called Wattways; and a megawatt solar array at the Exit 14 Diamond interchange, 40 feet from the pavement.

Russell McMurray, Georgia DOT Commissioner

Georgia DOT’s McMurray said such innovations are the result of “a case-by-case cost-sharing concept, with The Ray as a frequent financial partner,” in addition to private industry donating materials. 

He said other states are taking notice of Georgia’s approach.

“While Georgia is definitely leading the way in innovative partnerships like Georgia DOT’s partnership with The Ray, one example I can cite is the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Solar Energy Program,” McMurry noted. “[It] focuses on ground mount solar [photovoltaic] generation facilities within state highway layouts throughout Massachusetts. The goal is to create energy savings by procuring electricity at a favorable rate, generate revenue by using unused state land and support the Commonwealth’s green and clean economy.”

There are various facets to what is being accomplished via The Ray that include not only data collection and energy creation, but environmental aspects, too – such as the evaluation of different types of plants-pollinators and native species. For instance, the solar farm covers a natural habitat with native grasses and flowers, among others.

From environmental and safety standpoints, “all of the shredded tires on an interstate from blowouts and are very dangerous and they are often the byproduct of loss of life,” Kelly said. “While this effort is about safety, we’re also wasting two billion gallons of fuel every year because we can’t get our tire’s air pressure right.”

On that note, she added that “the big winners” traveling The Ray are fleets. “School buses, city transit buses and 18-wheelers coming out of ports can use every weigh station on I-85,” Kelly pointed out. “That’s how we correct those tire issues that are leading to tire failure, wasted, fuel, and dangerous crashes.” 

While made with sadness and frustration, Kelly emphasized there is hope in that observation, as well.

“The technology we need to make improvements exists,” she stressed. “We just need to start using it.”

Sustainability: The State DOT Perspective

The idea of tackling sustainability from a state department of transportation perspective can evoke as many questions as ideas: what should be done, who should do it, and how can anyone tell if it’s working?

In at least two states – Arizona and Minnesota – state DOTs have addressed sustainability issues for a few years now, but each is taking a different approach to how they’re attempting to alter the impact of traditional transportation activities on the environment.

Tim Sexton, Assistant Commissioner and Chief Sustainability Officer, MnDOT

“Climate change is happening in Minnesota, and we want to do our part,” explained Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner, and chief sustainability officer of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

A Minnesota state law – The Next Generation Energy Act – put the onus on the Minnesota DOT to lead the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote transit, biking and walking.

“There was some work done here prior to 2014, but it was not coordinated between departments,” Sexton said. And though the department lacked specific resources dedicated to the effort, “we started a high-level strategic planning committee on sustainability, and we saw it as an opportunity to be more strategic,” he added.

The committee created an initiative – called Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation – and began working with experts to create sustainability models and held a series of meetings around Minnesota to get public feedback. Out of that exercise, the Minnesota DOT developed incentives of up to $250 in toll credits for new electric vehicle buyers and planned a $2 million clean transportation funding pilot program.

The agency also created a Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council; an 18-member group of executives from the public, private, and non-profit sectors tasked with overseeing and evaluating Minnesota’s sustainability efforts and making recommendations to the Minnesota DOT.

While Minnesota focused on the user-end of the sustainability spectrum – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting greener transportation modes being the main efforts – Arizona directed its efforts into its core functions.

“There are a number of different approaches to sustainability,” said Steven Olmsted, Arizona DOT’s National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA assignment manager. “If you look at the material from AASHTO, it runs the gamut. We’re still adding a lot of new highways because of our growth so it made sense to look at sustainability from that point of view.”

The Arizona DOT began partnering with construction groups and industry and “really tied the effort to design engineering, construction and maintenance,” Olmsted said. “We’ve also gotten into design guidance and scoping considerations.”

He noted that many sustainability efforts can be justified from an economic standpoint, “but it still remains that you must make a qualitative business case.

“At the end of the day, we are not going to spend ten times the cost of a unit just to be sustainable,” Olmsted explained. “We’ve tried to address the social pillar of what sustainability means in a [state] DOT. At the same time, there really has to be a business case.”

In a recent report filed by the Arizona DOT on its sustainability efforts, Olmsted and his staff noted that integrating such a program inside a state DOT is “a particularly complex undertaking” and “a daunting effort.”

“It’s not for the faint of heart; I guess I’m a glutton for punishment,” Olmsted noted. “But at some point, one person or a group of persons has to decide, ‘What’s the lowest hanging fruit where we can gain some traction?’ That’s how you get started.”

Minnesota DOT’s Sexton agreed that “there’s a ton of opportunities for states to take advantage of lowering emissions and saving money,” but he said the issue goes beyond dollars and cents. “We really view this as a crisis,” Sexton emphasized. “This is a scientific issue and a moral or even an existential issue. We want our kids to enjoy the wonderful things Minnesota has to offer. There’s a culture in Minnesota that is committed to our environment. For us, it’s not a political issue.”