DOT Rules Relaxed to Support Hurricane Irma Relief

September 11, 2017

DOT Rules Relaxed to Support Hurricane Irma Relief

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao has directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to issue a Regional Emergency Declaration in advance of Hurricane Irma for the States of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Emergency Declarations trigger the temporary suspension of certain Federal safety regulations for motor carriers and drivers engaged in specific aspects of the emergency relief, including direct assistance for the immediate restoration of essential services (such as electrical, sewer, water, and telecommunications) or essential supplies (such as food, water, medical supplies, and fuel).

“I have directed all USDOT modal administrations to take immediate, pro-active steps in preparation for the impending landfall of this very powerful, and very dangerous hurricane,” Secretary Chao said. “As with Hurricane Harvey, the Department of Transportation will continue to work closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other Federal and State entities to provide every resource available for areas impacted by Hurricane Irma.”

Carriers and drivers must adhere to these requirements even during relief from FMCSA regulations:

  • Drivers responding to provide "direct assistance" to an "emergency" meeting the definitions in 49 CFR 390.5 and declared by FMCSA or a governor, are exempt from applicable regulations in all States on their route to the emergency , even though those States may not be involved in the emergency or stated in the declaration of emergency.
  • These exemptions, when in effect, only apply to 49 CFR Parts 390-399. They do NOT exempt drivers/carriers from the requirements relating to CDL, drug/alcohol, hazardous materials, size and weight, or State/Federal registration and tax requirements. (However, a Governor's Declaration may add some of those exemptions—read the declaration for details.)
  • Even if an Emergency Declaration is still in effect, the emergency must be on-going and you must be providing direct emergency assistance in order to be exempt from safety regulations.

An FMCSA Regional Emergency Declaration continues to exist for Hurricane Harvey. The Agency has created a special webpage——containing resources, links and information for commercial motor vehicle carriers and drivers. Additional content will be regularly added.

A second webpage——has also been created containing resources, links and information for commercial motor vehicle carriers and drivers. Additional content will be regularly added.

For a current list of regional and state-by-state Emergency Declarations, Waivers, Exemptions, and Permits, see:

Sale of Older, Uncertified Outdoor Wood Boilers Banned in New Hampshire

As many in New Hampshire prepare for the winter heating season, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) would like to notify those considering purchasing an outdoor wood hydronic heater (commonly known as outdoor wood boilers (OWBs)) that a new state law regulating these units became effective on July 1, 2017.

The law prohibits the sale, purchase, or installation of any residential OWB that is not certified by EPA. These EPA-certified units are high efficiency, cleaner burning devices that will save the consumer money on wood. For commercial units, only those qualified by New York State's Energy Research Development Authority may be legally bought, sold or purchased. Importantly, all OWBs that have been legally installed in prior years are grandfathered by the new law and may remain in place. Also, all pellet-fueled OWBs are exempt from the statute. NHDES will be implementing an outreach and education plan to get the word out to NH citizens that non-certified OWBs, whether new or used, may no longer be bought, sold or re-installed at new locations. Violators could face fines of up to $250 and would be required to remove the OWB.

Old, inefficient OWBs are often significant local sources of nuisance smoke and can negatively impact people's health. Airborne particulate matter from wood smoke and other sources has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

For more information, please contact Evan Mulholland, Air Resources Division, Compliance Bureau Administrator at or 603-271-0882.

Researchers Find Direct Evidence of Sea Level Fingerprints

Researchers have reported the first observation of sea level “fingerprints,” tell-tale differences in sea level rise around the world in response to changes in continental water and ice sheet mass. The team’s findings have been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

“Scientists have a solid understanding of the physics of sea level fingerprints, but we’ve never had a direct detection of the phenomenon until now,” said Isabella Velicogna, professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who was a co-author of the new study.

As ice sheets and glaciers undergo climate-related melting, they alter Earth’s gravity field, which causes nonuniform sea level change. Certain regions, particularly in the middle latitudes, are harder hit. For instance, Antarctica-generated sea level rise in California and Florida is as much as 52% greater than what’s average in the rest of the world.

The team calculated sea level fingerprints using time-variable gravity data collected by the twin satellites of NASA’s Gravity Recovery & Climate Experiment between April 2002 and October 2014. During that time, according to the study, the global mean sea level grew by about 1.8 millimeters per year, with 43% of the increased water mass coming from Greenland, 16% from Antarctica, and 30% from mountain glaciers. The scientists verified their calculations of sea level fingerprints associated with these mass variations via ocean-bottom pressure readings from stations in the tropics.

“It was very exciting to find the sea level fingerprints in the tropics, where no one expected to find them,” said Chia-Wei Hsu, a graduate student researcher at the University of California, Irvine and lead author of the new study.

“We know that sea levels climb faster in the middle to low latitudes versus the high latitudes and that Greenland and Antarctica contribute differently to the process,” Velicogna said. “With our improved understanding through GRACE data and other techniques, we’re now able to take any point on the global ocean and determine how much the sea level there will rise as a result of glacier ice melt.”

How Ambient Energy Could Power the Internet of Things

In the modern world, we are increasingly surrounded by digital sensors, cameras, and communications devices sending data cloud-based analysis services. Those devices need power, and designers are finding new ways to draw it from ambient sources rather than rely on batteries or hard-wired grid connections. Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, examined energy harvesters and their role in the growing internet of things.

C&EN Senior Correspondent Marc S. Reisch explains that most digital sensors can easily be wired to existing electrical grids, but this is not always practical for certain locations like the insides of air ducts or the undersides of trains. Batteries, which must be periodically replaced or recharged, may also be unsuitable for hard-to-reach places. To meet this need for more versatile power sources, device makers are turning to energy harvesters, which extract trickles of free power from ambient light, heat, or motion. Designs heading to the market include everything from comparatively simple solar cells to a wall switch that, rather than being hard-wired to a light fixture, uses the energy from pressing the switch to send a wireless signal to turn a light on or off.

Batteries and wired connections are unlikely to go extinct any time soon, however. Since the ambient energy that harvesters rely on may not always be present, they cannot meet the demand for 100% reliability that some applications require. Instead, energy harvesters can be used alongside batteries to extend charge life and provide passive recharging. Still, those in the energy-harvesting business remain optimistic. They say the technology is improving, and that it will soon take off.

Truck Driver Jailed for Dumping Industrial Surfactants in Tuscarawas River

Adam Boylen, a 46-year-old truck driver was sentenced to more than three years in prison for dumping wastewater into tributaries of the Tuscarawas River. Boylen was previously pleaded guilty to four counts of violating the Clean Water Act by making unpermitted discharges. U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi sentenced him to 42 months in prison and ordered him to pay $85,338 in restitution.

“This defendant intentionally dumped waste into a tributary of the Tuscarawas River, killing fish and other aquatic life,” said U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman. “We will always protect our waterways and environment.”

“Protecting our water is critical, both for the health and safety of our citizens and our wildlife,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “We will continue to assist in this case and others like it to protect Ohio.”

“The defendant's deliberate and illegal dumping of wastewater killed thousands of fish and wildlife and harmed the quality of local waterways,” said Scot Adair, Acting Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio. “Today's sentence reinforces EPA's commitment to work with its law enforcement partners to pursue egregious environmental crimes and the individuals who commit them.”

“Today’s sentencing concludes a successful investigation and prosecution of the multiple discharges into waters of the state, which violated the federal Clean Water Act,” said Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler. “We will continue to work with our partners at the local, state and federal agencies to make sure that public health and the environment is protected and responsible parties are held accountable.”

Boylen was a driver employed by an Ohio-based trucking company. Boylen’s job was to load wastewater generated from corporate facilities into a tanker truck and to drive the wastewater to a designated facility located in Pennsylvania for proper disposal. The wastewater contained surfactants capable of killing vegetation and fish, according to court documents.

Instead of delivering the wastewater to Pennsylvania, Boylen drove the tanker truck to remote locations in Tuscarawas County and central-eastern Ohio and emptied the wastewater containing surfactants into waters of the United States, according to court documents.

Boylen was charged with dumping the wastewater into two different tributaries of the Tuscarawas River, a wetland adjacent to the Tuscarawas River, and the Beach City Reservoir, on numerous occasions between April 18 and May 4, 2016.

White foam flowed down tributaries and streams as a result of Boylen’s actions. In one instance, the foam traveled four miles downstream from the location where the tanker truck was emptied. Vegetation was killed at all the locations. Approximately 709 fish were killed in one of the tributaries, and collectively, approximately 3,231 minnows, crayfish, frogs, and tadpoles were killed, according to court documents.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad J. Beeson. The case was investigated by the United States and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies, the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Stark County Sheriff’s Offices, the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Offices, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

NRDC and Partners Sue Trump Administration for Unlawful Delay of Fuel Economy Penalties

Natural Resources Defense Council and two other groups recently sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), accusing it of unlawfully delaying a rule that would increase penalties for carmakers that violate fuel economy standards. The agency's delay is letting auto manufacturers off with a slap on the wrist when they exceed standards that are saving drivers money at the pump and reducing pollution.

The lawsuit, joined by the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, outlines how NHTSA lacked authority to delay the penalty increase, and illegally ignored process and transparency requirements that give the public a chance to comment on the decision. Last year, the Obama administration increased the penalty rate from $5.50 to $14 per tenth of a mile per gallon, to account for inflation.

The following is a statement from Irene Gutierrez, an attorney with NRDC’s Energy and Transportation Program:

“President Trump is attacking our successful clean car program from all sides. Letting automakers off the hook for breaking the law comes at the expense of consumer savings and healthier communities.

“As the recent Volkswagen scandal showed, some automakers are more than willing to place their profits ahead of protecting public health. Laws must have teeth to hold bad actors accountable. Unfortunately, we have an administration that is doing the automakers’ bidding, instead of delivering on its responsibility to protect the public’s health and welfare. If the federal government won’t do its job, NRDC will step in to protect public health and uphold the law.”

Environmental News Links

Cleanup Bill for Toxic Firefighting Chemicals at Military Bases Could Reach $2 Billion

Is Your Shampoo Poisoning Your Drinking Water?

After Oil Refinery Is Damaged by Harvey, Benzene Is Detected in Houston Area

240-Year-Old Nautical Maps Show Coral Loss is Much Worse than We Knew

Environmental and Health Groups Gear Up to Defend Obama EPA’s Gas-Mileage Standards

Private Enforcement of U.S. Environmental Laws — Why Standing Still Matters

Chocolate Manufacturer Mars Promises $1 Billion to Fight Climate Change

Senate Panel Votes to Fund UN Climate Agency

EPA Staffing on Pace to Dip to 1980s Levels

Revisiting the Concluded Review of Clean Car Standards Is a Waste of Taxpayer Resources

Hazardous Waste Illegally Trucked in Franklin County, Missouri

Official in Charge of Awarding EPA Science Grants Doesn’t Want to See the Words “Climate Change”

EPA Now Requires Political Aide’s Sign-Off for Agency Awards, Grant Applications

More than a Dozen Texas Hazardous Waste Sites May Be Flooded, Damaged

MassDEP Seeks Public Comments on Cleanup Plan to Restore the Health of Wild Harbor, Fiddlers Cove – Rands Harbor, Quissett Harbor on Cape Cod

Trivia Question of the Week

The California Air Resources Board is recognized as one of the most powerful state environmental agencies. Which California governor signed the law that created the CARB?

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
  2. Jerry Brown
  3. Earl Warren
  4. Ronald Regan