Environmental News Highlights – July 29, 2020

A roundup of headlines curated for state transportation environmental professionals


AASHTO, Industry Letters Highlights Immediate Fiscal Need of State DOTs – AASHTO Journal

Five things Congress can do to save transit – Transportation for America (Blog)

Senate still quiet as House moves forward on infrastructure – Politico

21 state attorneys general sue over new Trump water rule – AP

Environmentalists threaten suit over push to transport liquefied natural gas by rail – The Hill


Transportation safety: A growing COVID-19 concern – Safety+Health

Creating COVID-19 Jobs Through Small Transportation Projects Endorsed – KXAS-TV

COVID-19 quarantines reduce seismic noise across the globe – CNET


White House Updates Bedrock Environmental Rules, Setting Up Legal, Legislative Battle Over Energy, Infrastructure Permitting – National Law Review


Caltrans Releases Freight Plan, Final Two Climate Reports – AASHTO Journal

Florida moves ahead with more electric-vehicle plans – Fresh Take Florida

Illinois River Infrastructure Updates Could Improve Basis – Ag Web

Amtrak Sustainability Report – Amtrak

MnDOT releases annual sustainability report – Minnesota DOT (Press release)

Rhode Island’s First-Ever Infrastructure Report Delivers Mixed Marks – Engineering News-Record

Will Clean Energy Projects Face Troubles That Have Bedeviled Pipelines? – New York Times (Opinion)

Recent gutting of regulations is inhibiting adequate review of renewable energy projects – The Hill (Opinion)


A Surprise Surge in Air Pollution May Be Causing More Coronavirus Complications – Elemental

US says it will adopt global climate standards for aviation – KSAT


EPA Must Focus on Environmental Justice, Inspector General Says – Bloomberg Law


Closing a Concocted Clean Water Act Loophole – The Regulatory Review (Opinion)

Conservation Groups Support Lawsuit To Overturn “Waters of the United States” Rule – SGB Media

A community approach to improving water quality – News-Press (Opinion)


Google Maps just made it way easier to rent a bike in 10 cities – Mashable

DC-area leaders approve transportation network to serve walkers, cyclists – WTOP Radio

Do bicycles slow down cars on low speed, low traffic roads? Latest research says ‘no’ – Portland State University

Teleworking Can Reduce Car Travel – But Not As Much As You May Think – KPBS


2021 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting is Going Virtual – TRB

TRB Webinar: The Relationship between Bicycle Facilities and Increasing Bicycle Trips – TRB (Webinar announcement)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Chao Releases Pathways to the Future of Transportation – USDOT (Press release)


National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants Rubber Tire Manufacturing Residual Risk and Technology Review – EPA (Final rule)

Air Plan Approval; WA; Interstate Transport Requirements for the 2010 Sulfur Dioxide National Ambient Air Quality Standards – EPA (Proposed rule)

Intent to Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a Proposed Landfill Expansion within Wetlands that Drain to Burnetts Mill Creek at the Existing Regional Landfill off Merged U.S. Routes 58, 13, and 460 in Suffolk, Virginia – Army Corp of Engineers (Notice of intent)

Information Collection Request Number 2265.04; Proposed Information Collection Request; Comment Request; Information Collection Activities Associated With the SmartWay Transport Partnership – EPA (Notice)

New California EV Rule Will Phase Out Diesel Trucks by 2045

The iconic image of a smoke-belching big rig growling down the highway will slowly fade into the California sunset, replaced by a smog-free electric vehicle (EV) gently humming down the road starting in 2024.

[Above photo from WikiMedia Commons.]

The California Air Resources Board unanimously approved the Advanced Clean Trucks regulation that requires manufacturers to begin transitioning from diesel trucks and vans to electric zero-emission trucks in 2024. By 2035, at least 40 percent of truck manufacturers’ sales would have to be EV trucks, and every new medium-duty and heavy-duty truck sold in the state would be a zero-emission vehicle by 2045.

The goal of the ruling is to reduce air pollution and help California meet federal air quality standards, “especially in the Los Angeles region and the San Joaquin Valley – areas that suffer the highest levels of air pollution in the nation,” according to a CARB news release.

Although trucking interests were mixed in their opinions of the new rule, environmental groups hailed it as a historic moment. The Sierra Club California said the ruling is “a win for the environment, air quality and the economy” and predicted it will “ensure a steady supply of zero-emission trucks.”

Photo courtesy of Caltrans

Whether it will ensure a steady supply of funding for Caltrans remains to be seen.

Although California leads the nation in EV ownership, EV owners do not pay fuel taxes – a main funding source for Caltrans and other state DOTs across the country. A new registration fee for model year 2020 and newer EVs is only projected to bring in $10.9 million this year, according to the 2020-2021 Caltrans budget.

However, agency officials added that another new fee – an annual assessment of up to $175 per EV – should bring total EV fees up to $50 billion over the next 10 years, with proceeds from EV registration and annual fees helping to pay for infrastructure projects.

By contrast, the 2020-2021 combined diesel excise and sales tax revenues are expected to bring Caltrans $2.2 billion – a number that will surely drop as diesel trucks fade away.

A similar “action plan” is to support broader deployment of EVs is being developed by 15 states and the District of Columbia. It aims to ramp up electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including large pickup trucks and vans, delivery trucks, box trucks, school and transit buses and long-haul delivery trucks. In a joint memorandum of understanding issued in mid-July, that coalition aims to ensure that 100 percent of all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales be zero emission vehicles by 2050 with an interim target of 30 percent zero-emission vehicle sales in those vehicle categories of vehicles by 2030.

Minnesota DOT Releases Fourth Annual Sustainability Report

The Minnesota Department of Transportation recently released its fourth annual Sustainability Report; a 26-page document based on 2019 data that tracks the agency’s progress towards achieving a number of sustainability and climate goals.

[Above photo courtesy of MnDOT.]

Some of the sustainability achievements cited by the agency include: Reducing energy consumption per square foot by 17 percent between 2008 and 2019; issuing a request for proposal for community solar garden subscriptions that will save the Minnesota DOT more than $1.5 million and account for almost 25 percent of total agency electricity use; increasing the number of electric vehicles within the agency’s fleet from four to 29; exceeding the department’s goal in the 2018-2019 winter season for reducing salt usage.

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
Photo courtesy of MnDOT.

[Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the Minnesota DOT commissioner and chair of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on the Environment and Sustainability, recently explained Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast that Minnesota looks for the “triple bottom line” when evaluating sustainability: how sustainability efforts affect the health of people, how it impacts the environment, and how it impacts the economy.]

However, the Minnesota DOT also noted a few setbacks in its report as well. Carbon pollution from transportation, for example, continued to increase between 2018 and 2019 – an uptick attributed to low gas prices, increased freight traffic, people driving more miles, and more purchases of low-fuel efficiency pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles.  In addition, the agency reported higher fuel consumption by agency fleet vehicles in 2019, mostly by its snowplow trucks due to its winter operations needs

“Transportation is the primary source of carbon pollution in Minnesota and the U.S. and MnDOT is committed to address climate impacts and to work with communities throughout the state to develop a sustainable transportation system of the future,” emphasized Tim Sexton, the agency’s assistant commissioner and chief sustainability director, in a statement. The agency added that impacts to the state’s transportation system and its response to recent events in 2020 – including the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest related to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – may be addressed in future iterations of its sustainability report.

AASHTO Active Transportation Council Holding Free Webinar

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Council on Active Transportation will host a free 90-minute long virtual peer exchange spotlighting state department of transportation efforts to support bicycling and pedestrian mobility needs.

[Above photo courtesy of Caltrans.]

To be held August 12 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT, the webinar’s state DOT speakers present for 12 to 15 minutes on a range of active transportation topics – including speed management, decision-making collaboration, decision-making, data collection, and safety – then participate in a question and answer session with attendees.

To register for this free webinar, click here.

Toks Omishakin – executive director of the California Department of Transportation and chair of AASHTO’s Council on Active Transportation – will provide opening remarks for this webinar. His agency recently adopted an updated bicycle and pedestrian action plan that aims to reduce dependence on driving, promote safety, and reconnect communities that have been divided by freeways and high-speed roads. Caltrans said it developed that updated action plan in consultation with the California Walk/Bike Technical Advisory Committee with the goal of increasing bicycling, walking and transit trips.

Vermont Seeking Applications for Bicycle/Pedestrian Infrastructure Projects

The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) recently issued a grant solicitation for new infrastructure projects to improve statewide access and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The agency noted that in 2019, it awarded a total of $3.6 million for construction and planning projects throughout Vermont via its Bicycle and Pedestrian grant program.

“These projects make it possible for more people to walk and bike safely in Vermont communities,” noted Joe Flynn, Vermont’s transportation secretary, in a statement.

“Municipalities across Vermont understand that providing good facilities for walking and bicycling are key factors for livability that can stimulate economic development in our downtowns and improve public health,” he said. “In light of the current pandemic, providing safe ways for Vermonters to walk and bike is especially important. Supporting our downtowns is critical in helping jumpstart our economy.”

Flynn added that the goals for this VTrans grant program are to improve transportation options for commuters, visitors to the state, and recreational use. The agency also noted that Vermont ranks fourth in the nation for the percentage of commuters who bike or walk to work and fourth in per capita spending on bicycle/pedestrian projects, according to the 2018 benchmarking report on bicycling and walking in the United States issued by the League of American Bicyclists.