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Federal Facilities

States Admonish DOE Over Insufficient Funds For Nuclear Waste Sites

Washington state and South Carolina officials are pressuring the Energy Department (DOE) to fully fund cleanup of DOE's nuclear waste sites, criticizing the department for proposing a budget that insufficiently funds the largest sites in the DOE complex and warning of impacts on cleanup milestones and the potential for significant fines under enforceable agreements.

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EPA, Air Force Reach Landmark Cleanup Accord, After High-Level Dispute

EPA, the Air Force and the state of Florida Sept. 20 signed an enforceable federal facility agreement (FFA) governing the cleanup of a Florida Air Force base, after years of high-level disputes between EPA and the military service over the terms of the document, particularly its reach.

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Environmentalists, Veterans Plan Push For EPA's Dioxin Cancer Assessment

Environmental and veteran groups are preparing to petition EPA to finalize the agency's long-delayed assessment of the cancer risks of dioxin and are cultivating congressional support for the effort that could lead federal and state regulators to further strengthen cleanup goals for the contaminant at sites around the country.

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DOD Official Sees Reduced Energy Use Cutting Costs, Boosting Capabilities

Despite the ongoing push for reduced spending across the Defense Department (DOD), the Pentagon will continue to fund new technologies and innovations to curb military fuel consumption, according to DOD's top operational energy official, who says that reducing energy use could cut costs and bolster DOD's warfighting capabilities.

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Draft EPA Industrial Stormwater Permit Refines Universe Of Covered Facilities

EPA is seeking to refine the universe of facilities covered by its general permit for industrial stormwater discharges, clarifying in a draft general permit that some mining activities fall under the permit and limiting discharges to Superfund sites to prevent additional contamination of sediment.

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EPA Seeks NAS Advice On How To Assess Chemicals' Safer Alternatives

At EPA's request, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is launching a panel to provide the agency with advice on how it can better assess human health and/or ecological risks of alternatives to existing chemicals of concern, which could help the agency bolster its Design for the Environment program (DfE), which seeks to conduct such assessments.

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DOD, Regulators Re-Start Group To Address Munitions Cleanup Challenges

The Defense Department (DOD), EPA and states have launched a new version of a munitions cleanup dialogue group aimed at addressing policy and procedures affecting munitions responses, overcoming obstacles to cleanup and developing best practices for these sites, according to sources.

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Corps Weighs Uniform Method For Calculating Limits Of Water Act's Reach

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering developing a uniform methodology for EPA and other regulators to use in determining the ordinary high water mark (OHWM), a legal concept used to measure the lateral limits of Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction for non-tidal waterbodies.

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McCarthy Urges State TSCA Reform Push, Vows To Clarify CWA's Scope

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is urging state environmental officials to seize a “window of opportunity” for pushing action on Senate legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), while vowing that the agency will take steps to clarify the Clean Water Act's (CWA) scope -- policy goals long sought by several states.

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Forest Service Eases Some NEPA Rules

The U.S. Forest Service, the nation's largest landowner, is easing its environmental review requirements for some  restoration projects, issuing a final rule that codifies three new categorical exclusions that the service hopes will help speed reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In a final rule published in the Federal Register Sept. 12, the service excluded from NEPA reviews activities that restore lands negatively impacted by water control structures, “disturbance events” – which the agency defines as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and mechanical and engineering failures – and roads and trails.

“These will allow the Forest Service to more efficiently analyze and document the potential environmental effects of soil and water restoration projects that are intended to restore the flow of waters into natural channels and floodplains,” the Forest Service writes in its final rule. Those projects include: removing water control structures, such as dikes, ditches, culverts and pipes; restoring lands and habitat to pre-disturbance conditions by removing debris and sediment following “disturbance events”; and restoring lands occupied by roads and trails to natural conditions.

NEPA generally requires agencies to assess environmental impacts of projects and programs and to mitigate the effects of preferred options. But the implementing regulations also allow agencies to identify categories of actions that normally do not result in individual or cumulative impacts on the environment and do not require an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA, and exclude them from review requirements.

The agency made some minor modifications and clarifications to its new exclusions in response to public comments after first proposing them in June 2012.

Some commenters expressed concerns that a categorical exclusion for water control structure restoration projects “could have significant indirect effects by reducing flows to livestock watering holes and wildlife habitat” and were also concerned that removal of such structures could cause direct and indirect effects that would warrant documentation in an EA or EIS.

The agency assured those commenters that the “reduced documentation” that comes along with a categorical exclusion “does not mean that the projects avoid or escape environmental analysis.”

“Rather, a thorough environmental analysis is conducted by paperwork is limited commensurate with an agency's experience conducting similar actions and with full regard to the potential for extraordinary circumstances that warrant preparation of an EA or EIS,” the agency writes.

Others suggested that the proposal was not specific enough, asking what constitutes minimal ground disturbance required for a water control structure project to qualify for the exclusion. In response, the agency narrowed the category to “not allow altering or canceling existing rights or special use authorizations; provided a specific example of a type of culvert to be replaced; and specific type and hazard potential of dams proposed for removal, replacement, or modification.”

The agency also removed references to “natural” and “human” caused events in its categorical exclusion for disturbance events, and further defined which projects related to “disturbance events” qualified for the exemption. Other respondents – including some environmental groups – requested that the agency clarify its use of the term “human caused events,” suggesting that the term was ambiguous and overly broad.

“The intent of the category is for restoration activities that remove debris and sediment following disturbance 'events', not correcting chronic sources of debris and sediment,” the agency writes in its response to comments.

The final notice also clarified that the exclusions will not apply “where there are extraordinary circumstances such as adverse effects on threatened and endangered species or their designated critical habitat, wilderness areas, inventoried roadless areas, wetlands, and archeological or historic sites.”

Conservation groups called the exceptions “new and improved policy.” In a Sept. 11 statement, Trout Unlimited said the exceptions would support “healthier fish and game habitat” on Forest Service lands.

“These new exclusions will minimize delay for critical restoration work on federal forest lands, resulting in benefits to fish and wildlife resources, and improving opportunity for the many hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy these public lands,” the group said in the statement.

In a separate Federal Register notice published the same day, the service announced plans to make permanent an interim ecological restoration policy and sought comment on the proposal. “The proposed directive would provide broad direction for restoring National Forest System lands and associated resources to achieve sustainable management and ecological integrity. This policy would recognize the adaptive capacity of ecosystems, the role of natural disturbances, and uncertainty related to climate and other environmental change,” the notice says.

Comments on the proposal are due by Nov. 12.

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