Environmental News Highlights – May 20, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Ranchers, conservation groups unhappy with the new clean water rule, but for different reasons – NM Political Report

Buffett-backed giant solar project near Las Vegas wins Trump’s blessing – Los Angeles Times

Green Groups Ask D.C. Circuit to Uphold Pollution Safeguards for Freight Trailers – Environmental Defense Fund (Press release)

Lawsuit: US plan for Indiana forest could taint water supplyDaily Independent

Trump Administration Waives Environmental Safeguards to Fast-Track 69 Miles of Border Fence Construction – Government Executive


Proposed Phase 4 COVID-19 Relief Bill Contains $15B for State DOTs – AASHTO Journal

More People Turning to Cars Because of Fears of Coronavirus Infection on Public TransitWeather Channel

COVID-19 Will Exacerbate Rural Transportation Funding Needs, TRIP FindsTransport Topics

How Will Americans Commute After Lockdowns End?CityLab

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Approves FEMA Section 106 Emergency Procedures for COVID-19 Emergency/Disaster Response Undertakings – Insurance News Net


Public Strongly Opposes CEQ’s National Environmental Policy Act Proposal – EHS Daily Advisor


Illinois to ‘Fast Track’ $25M in Infrastructure Grants – AASHTO Journal

Transformative solar power agreement will help Emory reduce greenhouse gas emissions – Emory News Center

New Jersey Makes Significant Commitments to Transportation Electrification – ActNews.com

Changes for 2020 Atlantic hurricane season: New storm surge map, 60-hour forecast message – Times-Picayune


Many cities around the globe saw cleaner air after being shut down for COVID-19. But not Chicago. – Chicago Tribune

Cleaner Air Is Actually Hobbling California’s Climate FightBloomberg Green

Lawsuit Targets Arch Coal’s Illegal Air Pollution at Colorado Coal MineCenter for Biological Diversity (Press release)

Has the pandemic cleaned up our air? Answers could lie on your doorstep – WHYY


House Dems’ stimulus bill aims to fight coronavirus with ‘environmental justice grants’ – Fox News

Restarting Florida’s economy by weakening water quality and growth management is a bad idea | Column – Tampa Bay Times (Opinion)


Reusing wastewater at Minnesota’s truck stations could help conserve state’s water resources – Catalyst

In a First, Renewable Energy Is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S.New York Times (account required)

Utah Inland Port Authority signs deal with Rocky Mountain power for renewable energy – Salt Lake Tribune

Navigable Waters Protection Rule (formerly the Clean Water Rule) – JD Supra

Panel to consider petition seeking Pecos River protections – KOB

For the first time, Washington will regulate Columbia-Snake River dams if they violate federal pollution rules – Inlander


What’s a historic district, anyway? – Greater Greater Washington

How Historic Preservation Shaped the Early United States – Smithsonian Magazine


Coronavirus News: 58 days since last pedestrian killed in NYC; longest stretch ever recorded: Officials – WABC

Transportation Ushers In A New Age Of Agile Experimentation – Forbes

Ten Cities Recognized with “Walk Friendly” Designation – Walk Friendly Communities

Uncharted Territory: Building New Pathways To E-Mobility Resilience – Forbes

Boston is planning to repurpose streets for pedestrians during the coronavirus outbreakBoston.com


Paths to biking, walking improvements supported by wealth of research – TRB

TRB Webinar: Traffic Trends and Safety in a COVID-19 World – TRB


National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan; National Priorities List: Partial Deletion of the Omaha Lead Superfund Site – EPA (Proposed Rule)

Withdrawal of Certain Federal Water Quality Criteria Applicable to Washington – EPA (Final Rule)

Final Flood Hazard Determinations (LA & WA) – FEMA (Notice)

Proposed Flood Hazard Determinations (MI) – FEMA (Notice, correction)

Changes in Flood Hazard Determinations (AR, CO, CT, FL, KY, GA, MA, MS, OK, NC, TX, VA) – FEMA (Notice)

Emergency Management Priorities and Allocations System (EMPAS) – FEMA (Interim Final Rule)

National Wetland Plant ListArmy Corps of Engineers (Notice)

Allocations of Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Allowances From New Unit Set-Asides for 2020 Control Periods – EPA (Notice of Data Availability)

Pine Tree Poisoning Provides Lessons for Oregon DOT

The Oregon Department of Transportation is approaching the end of a multi-year environmental and public relations ordeal in which a seemingly routine herbicide-spraying project in a national forest poisoned 2,300 towering Ponderosa pine trees that eventually had to be cut down.

By June, the agency should be grinding down the last of the stumps left by its massive 2019 logging of herbicide-poisoned trees along U.S. 20 in the Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon.

Photo courtesy Oregon DOT

Aside from the wood chips, what will remain are valuable environmental lessons the Oregon DOT is taking to heart.

The problem began when the Oregon DOT contracted with Jefferson County Public Works in 2013 to spray the herbicide aminocyclopyrachlor – also known as Perspective – along a 12-mile stretch of U.S. 20 to kill vegetation that could pose a fire hazard.

In 2014, U.S. Forest Service rangers noticed some trees were stressed, but no one linked it to the herbicide until the spraying was completed in 2015. By then, the damage was done and the Oregon DOT determined the trees – some of which were 36 inches in diameter – were safety hazards and had to be removed.

Environmental groups and residents criticized the agency, its contractor and the U.S. Forest Service for using the herbicide. Although a review of the decision-making process did not fully put the blame on the Oregon DOT, “at best, it wasn’t clear,” explained Joel McCarroll, Oregon DOT’s District 10 manager.

“We took full responsibility. It was not a comfortable decision, but I felt it was an easy decision,” he emphasized. “It just didn’t make sense to lay the blame off on someone else. It was just easier to go forward and get this done.”

Photo courtesy Oregon DOT

To that end, the agency held open houses for public discussion of its remediation plan because “we needed to be transparent with the public – we had more than 2,000 trees that had to come down,” McCarroll noted. “We were very clear about the criteria and the process we were using. And, people were fine. I’ve had people come unglued on me for other things at public meetings, but these crowds were respectful.”

Although Perspective was legal to use, a warning label about its use around pine trees was added before the project ended, but no one caught the change. “We overlooked a warning label, and that’s one of the process-improvement changes we’ve made,” McCarroll said.

In response to the tree killing, Oregon became the first state to prohibit the use of aminocyclopyrachlor in numerous applications on May 9, including along rights-of-way. Additionally, each Oregon DOT district now has an integrated vegetation program, and personnel within the district are cross trained to prevent a loss of institutional knowledge, McCarroll noted.

“Learn from our experience – you still have to have the expertise internally, even if you’re contracting out spraying,” he explained. “If you’re dealing with highways that are on federal lands, make sure the decision-making is clear. And it’s important to be public about your process.”

FHWA Unveils New CMAQ Emissions Calculator

The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement or CMAQ program offered via the Federal Highway Administration provides funding to state and local governments for transportation projects and programs that reduce emissions and help improve air quality and congestion. And to help those agencies track the emissions benefits of their projects, the FHWA developed and is now rolling out a new CMAQ Emissions Calculator Toolkit.

“CMAQ project justification as well as annual reporting require the development of reliable air quality benefit estimates,” the agency explained. “Realizing that every potential project sponsor may not have the capacity for developing independent air quality benefit estimates, the FHWA has undertaken the initiative of developing a series of spreadsheet based tools to facilitate the calculation of representative air quality benefit data.”

There are 10 tools currently available which cover a wide range of CMAQ-eligible project types, including: bicycle-pedestrian improvements; transit service and fleet expansion; alternative fuels and vehicles; diesel retrofit/repower; and traffic flow improvements.

More information about the new CMAQ tools can be found by clicking here.