NASA study shows how glacial melt in regions of Greenland and Antarctica contributes to sea level rise in specific cities. The Energy Department approves a permit for a transmission line designed to deliver Canadian hydropower to New England states. CRS explains policy changes in a House flood insurance bill. The Supreme Court schedules oral arguments for two interstate river disputes. House committees hold hearings on the Clean Water Act, the administration’s attempt to eliminate regulations, and speeding up environmental reviews of dams, canals, and water pipelines.
“This is really a new capability. Now a coastal planner can understand and see how the melting or growing of a given ice sheet could be detrimental or beneficial to a specific location.” — Eric Larour, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, speaking about an analysis that shows how changes to ice sheets and glaciers affect local sea level rise.
By the Numbers
192 miles: Length, in New Hampshire, of the Northern Pass transmission line, a high-voltage conduit for Canadian hydropower that earned a federal permit on November 16. The controversial project — because of its path through forests — still needs state approval. (Department of Energy)
The Glaciers and the Ports
Satellite data, historical records, and computer models give us the enviable ability to look into the future. A NASA analysis and an accompanying Web tool do this in remarkable fashion for local sea level rise.
For 293 port cities, the tool shows which glaciers have the largest influence on rising seas in that city. The western side of the Greenland ice sheet contributes most to sea level rise near London, whereas New York City should be worried about melting in northeastern Greenland. Glaciers in southern Greenland appear to have little consequence for the largest city in the United States.
The tool is based on a paper published in the journal Science Advances that describes how the Earth’s gravity and rotation affect local sea level. These forces ensure that water in the ocean is not all at the same level.
The data on ice thickness that underpins the analysis is derived from the GRACE satellite mission, which recently ended. A follow-up mission is scheduled to launch in the spring of 2018.
In a reversal of opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that filling in 51 acres of wetlands for a 28,000-unit housing development in southern Arizona will not unduly harm endangered and threatened species, High County News reports.
The Army Corps of Engineers is ultimately responsible for granting a permit to build over the wetlands. But it is supposed to consult with FWS, which, in the past and as recently as October 2016, objected to the development, called the Villages at Vigneto.
Studies and Reports
Flood Insurance Explainer
The flood insurance bill that passed the House on November 14 anticipates greater participation from private insurers. Why would private insurers get into the game? A Congressional Research Service report explains that the House bill changes the standard of coverage that private policies are supposed to meet. The bill puts states largely in charge of defining acceptable coverage, which could result in more amenable terms for private insurers.
On the Radar
Great Lakes Assessment To Be Released This Week
On November 28, the International Joint Commission will release a three-year assessment of actions to clean the Great Lakes. The report covers the years following a 2012 water quality agreement with Canada.
Regulatory Reform Hearing
Of interest to regulations watchers, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on November 29 to get updates on the regulatory reform task forces. Representatives from the EPA, Interior Department, and Energy Department will testify.
The task forces were a result of a presidential order to review agency regulations for rules to eliminate.
EPA kept its task force actions behind a veil. An interim report that was due in May was not released to the public. Circle of Blue filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the report, but the EPA is still processing the request. An EPA official who oversees FOIA requests told Circle of Blue that the agency “has been swamped” with submissions and is working through a significant backlog.
A House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on November 29 on the state role in administering the Clean Water Act. The three witnesses — an Arizona lands commissioner, an Arizona rancher, and a lawyer who generally finds himself opposite the EPA in court cases — will likely argue against government rules.
Dam Permitting Hearing
Another House Natural Resources subcommittee will meet on November 30 to discuss a bill to limit the time spent on environmental reviews for dams, canals, and water pipelines overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs. The bill was introduced earlier this month by two Washington state Republicans.
Supreme Court Arguments Scheduled for Two Water Cases
The justices will hear arguments on January 8 in two interstate river disputes: Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado over groundwater pumping and the Rio Grande, and Florida v. Georgia over water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system.
Texas claims that New Mexico, by allowing groundwater pumping downstream of a key storage reservoir, is capturing water that should flow to Texas.
Florida claims that Georgia is using more water than is reasonable and is causing ecological harm to the Apalachicola Bay. A special master assigned by the court concluded that this was not the case, but the justices must be convinced as well.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton