Environmental News Highlights – July 22, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


Trump Administration Formally Overhauls NEPA Rule – AASHTO Journal (See Federal Register listing below)

House Transportation Panel Advances Water Infrastructure Bill – Transport Topics

One-Third of U.S. Solar Projects Relied on Rule That’s Changing – Bloomberg

House leaders introduce COVID-19 maritime relief legislation – Transportation Today

House panel approves measure requiring masks on public transport – The Hill


Public Transit Officials Fear Virus Could Send Systems Into ‘Death Spiral’ – New York Times

Fear In an Elevator – Bloomberg (Video)

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: Only Vaccine Can Restore ‘Normalcy’ For Transit Agencies – WBUR Radio’s Here & Now

Survey: Transportation & Mobility for All during the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery – C2SMART (Survey availability announcement)


Nixon signed this key environmental law. Trump plans to change it to speed up pipelines, highway projects and more. – Washington Post


Wind And Solar Can Power Green Recovery With Lower Risk Projects – Forbes

City of Houston’s Office of Sustainability Seeking Input on Strategy to Make Electric Vehicles More Accessible – City of Houston (Press release)

Joe Biden unveils $2 trillion green infrastructure and jobs plan – CNBC

Rising Seas Mean More Flooding Will Be Coming to New York City – Bloomberg Green

The Case for ‘Managed Retreat’ – Politico (Opinion)


15 states will follow California’s push to electrify trucks and buses – The Verge

EPA rejects tougher air-quality standards, says 2015 limits are sufficient – Washington Post

Understanding Air Quality Alerts in Your Area – Spectrum News

Masks neither help nor hurt during air quality alerts, experts say – WATE


Seventy percent of Superfund sites are within a mile of public housing, report finds – Philadelphia Inquirer

You Asked About Environmental Justice And The Effects Of Pollution. We’ve Got Answers. – Indiana Public Media

John Lewis And His Environmental Legacy – Forbes (Op-Ed)


Pennsylvania environmental group sues EPA over Clean Water Act – Jurist

EPA: Waters Around Two Hawaii Beaches Impaired by Plastic PollutionCenter for Biological Diversity (Press release)


Oklahoma City adopts first historic preservation and sustainably plan – KOKH

Study: Public Transit Benefits Exceed Costs in Rural and Small Urban Areas – Crossroads (Blog)

At the Hirshhorn, a Battle Over Plans for Its Sculpture GardenNew York Times


Michigan lawmakers put priority on recycling not dumping – MLive.com

The Impact of Ride-sharing in New York City – C2SMART (Webinar announcement)

Coronavirus has forced escooter providers and cities to work out their differences – TNW


2021 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting Is Going VirtualTRB

RFP: Mapping the Common Interests of AASHTO Committees – NCHRP (RFP announcement)

Building socioeconomic equity through transportation research TRB (Blog announcement)

TRB Webinar: Enter the Portal–The Transportation Performance Management (TPM) Portal – TRB


Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act – Council on Environmental Quality (Final rule)

Notice of Final Adoption and Effective Date for a Revised Federal Transportation Element and Transportation Addendum for the Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan for the National CapitalNational Capital Planning Commission (Notice of final adoption of and effective date)

Applications for Credit Assistance under the State Infrastructure Finance Authority Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program – EPA (Notice of funding availability)

Applications for Credit Assistance under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program – EPA (Notice of funding availability)

Trump Administration Formally Overhauls NEPA Rule

The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality formally implemented a final rule on July 15 aimed at updating and modernizing National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA regulations.

[President Trump, above left, watches Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry speaking at the NEPA overhaul announcement in Atlanta on July 15. Official White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian.]

“The final rule will make the NEPA process more efficient and effective, ensure consideration of environmental impacts of major projects and activities, and result in more timely decisions that support the development of modern, resilient infrastructure,” explained Mary Neumayr, the CEQ’s chairman, in a statement.

Signed into law in 1970, the CEQ noted that NEPA rules require federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions and that the NEPA process can apply to a variety of activities, including transportation infrastructure projects such as the construction of roads, bridges, highways, public transit, and airports.

The agency said the reason for the NEPA overhaul – which has been in the works since 2018 – is that the average length of an environmental impact statement is more than 600 pages, with the average time required for federal agencies to complete NEPA reviews now four and a half years. The CEQ added that NEPA reviews for highway projects currently take more than seven years, and in some cases take a decade or more, to complete and are also the most litigated area of environmental law.

The agency added that the modernization of NEPA regulations also incorporate key elements of the Trump Administration’s One Federal Decision policy, which includes a two-year goal for completing environmental reviews.

President Trump himself highlighted the NEPA overhaul during a press event July 15 at the United Parcel Service Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta.

“For decades, the single biggest obstacle to building a modern transportation system has been the mountains and mountains of bureaucratic red tape in Washington, D.C.,” the president said in his remarks. “At the same time, we’ll maintain America’s gold standard environmental protections.”

“[This is] another environmental process improvement that will make life much easier for people like us at [state] departments of transportation across the nation,” noted Russell McMurry, commissioner of Georgia Department of Transportation, at the event.

The NEPA overhaul will also help “to deliver infrastructure projects like the I-75 commercial vehicle lanes, to move that freight out of Savannah to Atlanta and beyond, while providing a safe corridor for the many families that travel on I-75,” McMurry added.

Some Congressional leaders and environmental organizations, however, expressed concern over the long-term impact of the administration’s revision of NEPA regulations.

“The NEPA process is critical to accounting for the impacts of climate change when considering federally funded infrastructure projects,” noted Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in a statement. “Ignoring those impacts is a mistake that will result in limited taxpayer dollars being spent on projects that cannot withstand future storms and other impacts of climate change,” he added.

Caltrans Issues Final Two of 12 Climate Change Vulnerability Reports

The California Department of Transportation recently finalized and issued the last two of 12 district-based Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Reports; studies designed to create a “comprehensive database” to help Caltrans evaluate, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of extreme weather events on the state transportation system.

[Above photo courtesy of Caltrans.]

“The completed assessments cover all 58 counties in the state and give California a comprehensive evaluation of climate change effects on the State Highway system,” explained Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement. “We are now integrating the findings into our planning process to better protect California’s citizens, economy and transportation investments.”

The final two reports cover Caltrans coastal district 1 and coastal district 5 and examine the potential impact of rising average temperatures, higher sea levels, storm surge, and precipitation on California’s transportation system – climate change trends that the agency said, in turn, increase incidences of flooding, drought, wildfires, coastal erosion and mudslides.

Caltrans said that understanding the impact of climate change helps the agency assess physical climate risk to the transportation system and work towards adapting infrastructure to be more “resilient” to those impacts. For example, the agency’s 12 climate reports project that by the year 2085:

  • Sea levels will rise 5.5 feet along the California coast—affecting 130 miles of State Highway by accelerating soil erosion and cliff retreat.
  • Increased severity and frequency of wildfires could threaten more than 7,000 miles of state highway.
  • High temperatures on the central coast and in the northwest part of the state could rise by 6 to 12 degrees, increasing drought and wildfire potential.

Caltrans began publishing those climate change reports in December 2018 partly in response to Executive Order B-30-15 issued by outgoing Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. (D), which mandated the integration of climate change analysis into transportation investment decisions.