National Institute of Standards and Technology Releases Draft Community Resilience Guide for Public Feedback; Comments Due June 26, 2015

The Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a draft guide to help communities plan for and act to keep windstorms, floods, earthquakes, sea-level rise, industrial mishaps and other hazards from inflicting disastrous consequences. Public feedback is requested on the draft Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure. The first version of the guide will be released this fall and updated periodically as new building standards and research results become available, and as communities gain experience using the guide and recommend improvements.

U.S. Global Change Research Program Seeks Public Input on National Climate Assessment Next Steps: Comments Due June 15, 2015

A Request for Information has been issued, seeking public input on steps for the next National Climate Assessment. Effectively managing the risks of climate change requires the best available scientific information, continually updated to address rapidly evolving national needs. Building on the momentum of the 2014 National Climate Assessment report, the U.S. Global Change Research Program is conducting a sustained assessment process that enhances the federal government’s ability to deliver timely, scientifically sound products in support of climate-related decisions across the country. This process also fosters collaboration among decision makers at the national, regional, tribal, and local levels. Through the process, scientists and stakeholders are working together to build the knowledge base and capacity needed to effectively integrate new scientific knowledge into on-the-ground responses.

The Water-Energy Nexus — An Earth Science Perspective

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Water availability and use are closely connected with energy development and use. Water cannot be delivered to homes, businesses, and industries without energy, and most forms of energy development require large amounts of water. The United States faces two significant and sometimes competing challenges: to provide sustainable supplies of freshwater for humans and ecosystems and to ensure adequate sources of energy for future generations. This report reviews the complex ways in which water and energy are interconnected and describes the earth science data collection and research that can help the Nation address these important challenges.

The earth sciences have been a cornerstone in developing our current understanding of the water-energy nexus. A full understanding of the nexus, however, is limited by uncertainty in our knowledge of fundamental issues, such as the quantity of freshwater that is available, the amount of water that is used in energy development, the effects that emerging energy development technologies have on water quality and quantity, and the amount of energy required to treat and deliver freshwater. Enhanced data collection and research can improve our understanding of these important issues and thereby lay the groundwork for informed resource management.

Relevant earth science issues analyzed and discussed herein include freshwater availability; water use; ecosystems health; assessment of saline water resources; assessment of fossil-fuel, uranium, and geothermal resources; subsurface injection of wastewater and carbon dioxide and related induced seismicity; climate change and its effect on water availability and energy production; byproducts and waste streams of energy development; emerging energy-development technologies; and energy for water treatment and delivery

Pennsylvania study finds contaminants in drilling wastewater

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

Two chemicals never before considered oil and gas industry contaminants, ammonium and iodide, were found in alarming levels in drilling wastewater discharged into Pennsylvania’s waterways, according to a recent study.

EPA Science Advisory Panels: Preliminary Observations on the Processes for Providing Scientific Advice

EPA Science Advisory Panels: Preliminary Observations on the Processes for Providing Scientific Advice, by J. Alfredo Gomez, director, natural resources and environment, before the Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight, Senate Committee Environment and Public Works. GAO-15-636T, May 20.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-636T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/670289.pdf

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) procedures for processing congressional requests for scientific advice from the Science Advisory Board (SAB) do not ensure compliance with the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 (ERDDAA) because these procedures are incomplete. For example, they do not clearly outline how the EPA Administrator, the SAB staff office, and others are to handle a congressional committee’s request. While the procedures reflect EPA’s responsibility to exercise general management controls over the SAB and all its federal advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), including keeping such committees free from outside influence, they do not fully account for the specific access that designated congressional committees have to the SAB under ERDDAA. For example, EPA’s policy documents do not establish how EPA will determine which questions would be taken up by the SAB. EPA officials told GAO that, in responding to congressional requests, EPA follows the same process that it would apply to internal requests for questions to the SAB, including considering whether the questions are science or policy driven or are important to science and the agency. However, EPA has not documented these criteria. Under the federal standards of internal control, agencies are to clearly document internal controls. Moreover, under ERDDAA, the SAB is required to provide requested scientific advice to select committees. By clearly documenting how to process congressional requests received under ERDDAA, including which criteria to use, EPA can provide reasonable assurance that its staff process responses consistently and in accordance with law. Furthermore, EPA’s charter states that, when scientific advice is requested by one of the committees specified in ERDDAA, the Administrator will, when appropriate forward the SAB’s advice to the requesting congressional committee. EPA policy does not specify when it would be “appropriate” for the EPA Administrator to take this action. Such specificity would be consistent with clearly documenting internal controls. GAO will continue to monitor these issues and plans to issue a report with its final results in June 2015.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) has provided certain types of advice related to the review of national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), but has not provided advice on adverse social, economic, or energy effects related to NAAQs. Under the Clean Air Act, CASAC is to review air quality criteria and existing NAAQS every 5 years and advise EPA of any adverse public health, welfare, social, economic, or energy effects that may result from various strategies for attainment and maintenance of NAAQS. An EPA official stated that CASAC has carried out its role in reviewing the air quality criteria and the NAAQS, but CASAC has never provided advice on adverse social, economic, or energy effects related to NAAQS because EPA has never asked CASAC to do so. In a June 2014 letter to the EPA Administrator, CASAC indicated it would review such effects at the agency’s request. According to a senior EPA official, the agency has no plans to ask CASAC to provide advice on such adverse effects.

Why GAO Did This Study

EPA formulates rules to protect the environment and public health. To enhance the quality and credibility of such rules, EPA obtains advice and recommendations from the SAB and CASAC—two federal advisory committees that review the scientific and technical basis for EPA decision making. ERDDAA requires the SAB to provide both the EPA Administrator and designated congressional committees with scientific advice as requested. Amendments to the Clean Air Act established CASAC to, among other things, provide advice to the Administrator on NAAQS.

This testimony reflects GAO’s preliminary observations from its ongoing review that examines (1) the extent to which EPA procedures for processing congressional requests to the SAB ensure compliance with ERDDAA and (2) the extent to which CASAC has provided advice related to NAAQS.

GAO reviewed relevant federal regulations and agency documents, and interviewed EPA, SAB, and other relevant officials.

GAO is not making any recommendations in this testimony, but as it finalizes its work in this area, GAO will consider making recommendations, as appropriate.

For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

Waste Crime – Waste Risks: Gaps in Meeting the Global Waste Challenge

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More than ever, our future depends upon how we manage the future of our waste. As an integrated part of sustainable development, effective waste management can reduce our global footprint. Ignoring or neglecting the challenges of waste, however, can lead to significant health, environmental and economic consequences.

A staggering 1.3 billion tonnes of food is produced each year to feed the world’s 7 billion people. Yet, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), around US$1 trillion of that food goes to waste. With 200,000 new people added every day, the world can ill afford to waste such a massive amount of food.

Global waste, however, does not stop at food. Consumers are increasingly buying products that are wrapped in plastics and paper. Much of this packaging – and eventually the products themselves – will end up in landfills. This trend has both health and environmental consequences, especially given the rapid rise of hazardous waste such as electronics.

House Renews Ban on Congressional Research Service Publication of Its Reports

Read the full story from the Federation of American Scientists.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) will continue to be barred from releasing its reports to the public, the House Appropriations Committee said yesterday in its report on legislative branch appropriations for the coming year.