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The Environmental Protection Agency evaluates the Environmental Impact Statement for FEMA projects in the East Bay

June 22, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published its comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the FEMA projects in the East Bay.  It is available here: FEMA DEIS – public comment – EPA.  We are pleased to tell you that the EPA shares many of our concerns about the environmental impact of these projects and they consider the evaluation of those impacts by the DEIS inadequate.  The EPA has rated this project “Environmental Concerns – Insufficient Information.”  These are the definitions of those terms:

  • “Environmental Concerns:  The EPA review has identified environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment.  Corrective measures may require changes to the preferred alternative or application of mitigation measures that can reduce the environmental impact…”
  • “Insufficient Information:  The draft EIS does not contain sufficient information for EPA to fully assess environmental impacts that should be avoided in order to fully protect the environment…”

EPA says, “The project could result in degradation of natural resources”

The EPA shares our opinion about the probable outcome of the proposed project:

“The document assumes that areas will naturally regenerate, once rid of non-native species.  We are concerned that some of the aspects of the project would result in degradation of natural resources and may not provide for natural regeneration.  Further, while the DEIS includes a discussion of climate change, it does not include a detailed discussion of the potential impact of climate change on the Project area.  Current research indicates that climate change could impact the amount, timing and intensity of rain and storm events; increase the length and severity of the fire season; modify the rate and distribution of harmful timber insects and diseases; and aggravate already stressed water supplies.  A significant change in the weather patterns could have important implications for the management of the Project area.”

FEMA proposed project on the right. Claremont Blvd. westbound.

FEMA proposed project on the right. Claremont Blvd. westbound.

The EPA recommends that the final EIS take into consideration the impact that climate change will have on the success of the project.  For example, as plants and animals move in response to climate change, they may no longer be viable in their historic ranges, which this project attempts to replicate.  Ironically, the project contributes to climate change by releasing tons of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.  The DEIS does not acknowledge or analyze these factors.

Completed project 10 years later


A completed project 10 years later. Southbound Grizzly Peak Blvd.

EPA says, “We note that extensive use of herbicides is proposed”

Yes, indeed, this project will require thousands of gallons of herbicide and we are delighted that the EPA has noticed this as well as the serious deficiencies of information in the DEIS regarding herbicide use:

  • There are many different formulations of Roundup with different properties, yet the DEIS does not identify which formulation of Roundup will be used.   Therefore we cannot evaluate its toxicity.
  • The DEIS does not clearly state which herbicide products will be used for what purpose and in what locations.
  • The DEIS does not clearly state the method of application of herbicides.
  • The DEIS does not acknowledge that both triclopyr and imazapyr “can migrate through the soil” which will damage the native trees and vegetation this project claims to promote.
  • The DEIS evaluates the impact of herbicides only on endangered species which may or may not be the most sensitive species to herbicides.  The final EIS must evaluate the impact of herbicides on the most sensitive species of animals, whether or not they are endangered.

The EPA is equally concerned about the impact of herbicides on human health and safety.  It therefore notes the following deficiencies in the DEIS in that regard:

  • Reports of toxicity of herbicides in the DEIS are incomplete and inaccurate.
  • The DEIS does not acknowledge the “possibility of people and or animals entering the treated areas and coming in contact with herbicides already applied.”  The Final EIS (FEIS) should therefore “clarify that there is potential for human exposure even if the chemicals do not move from the application site.”  Further, “The FEIS should include a mitigation measure to remove fruiting or other edible vegetation.”

The EPA also noted many of the troubling inaccuracies and contradictions in the DEIS that were also a concern to us:

  • The DEIS claims as “mitigation” the requirements on the labels of the herbicide products that will be used.  These are mandatory requirements for legal use of the products, not voluntary measures that can be described as “mitigation.”
  • Likewise, the DEIS claims that requiring applicators of herbicides to wear protective clothing is a “Best Management Practice.”  Wearing protective clothing is required for legal application of herbicides, not a voluntary measure.
  • Several contradictory statements are made in the DEIS regarding maximum wind speeds beyond which herbicides should not be applied.
  • The DEIS claims that the “Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Levels” of herbicides can be estimated from an experimentally derived “No-observed Adverse Effect Level” without providing any supporting reference.  The EPA asks, basically, where does that claim come from?
  • The EPA points out inconsistent and incorrect use of the phrase “Certified Pesticide Applicator.”  That may seem a small quibble, but it means that we have no idea what the qualifications will be of the people who will apply herbicides.
  • The DEIS announces that a specific adjuvant or surfactant will be used without telling us anything about the properties of that product.  The adjuvant or surfactant is the inert ingredient in a formulated herbicide product that delivers the active ingredient (the poison) to the plant.
  • The DEIS uses an outdated EPA study about the effect of glyphosate on rabbits to report the toxicity of the product on rats.  Whoops!  Old data about the wrong animal!  Picky, picky.

EPA asks, “Are the trees being removed for development?”

The EPA has apparently noticed that the DEIS mentions the long-term plans to build on some of the project areas of UC Berkeley.  Therefore, it wants to know if that’s why the trees are being destroyed: 

“Given that development is not included in the purpose and need for this Project, it is unclear whether the trees in these overlap areas would be removed for construction purposes regardless of whether they are removed as part of the proposed Project or not.”

Government is doing its job!

We are amongst the slim majority of voters who believe that government has an important job to do.  We are often disappointed by government, but we aren’t inclined to kill it because it is sometimes incompetent.  We are therefore very pleased to tell our readers that the EPA has apparently read the DEIS published by its sister/brother agency, The Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Although they did not identify many of the important issues in the DEIS, they identified some of them.  For that we are grateful as well as hopeful that the sponsors of these destructive projects will be forced to at least modify them, if not abandon them altogether.  Thank you, EPA!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2013 7:47 am

    Hurray for this comment from the EPA. I have faith again. Or least a little more confidence.The question is “what do we actually get from these removal programs?” It is not a regenerative program as it is based on a snapshot view of plant ecology and not long term. If there was such a program it would span 50-100 years of cutting and replacing trees and expanding the native plant base WITHIN the eucalyptus groves. We had a program here where Austrian pines were removed for erosion control on the dunes on Lake Michigan because “they were lowering the water table.” In another dune location American chestnut was removed because “it did not belong there.” You cannot make this up.

    Webmaster: Can you provide references about those projects, particularly the outcomes? It sounds like something that might interest our readers. As you say, we should be most interested in the results of these projects. Do they do more harm than good? We need to know that before we do irreparable damage. The information is less useful after the fact.

  2. June 22, 2013 9:06 am

    God, this was a satisfying read. Yay for the EPA!

    ________________________________

  3. Keith McAllister permalink
    June 22, 2013 9:34 am

    Whoa! They removed American chestnuts? The American chestnut that was once the dominant, iconic tree of eastern hardwood forest? The American chestnut that was driven to the brink of extinction in the 20th century? The American chestnut that has virtually no chance of survival in its original range, “where it belongs?” The American chestnut whose survival as a species depends on 1) a lot of human intervention, and 2) planting outside its historical range, where the fungus doesn’t spread as easily?

    Sounds familiar. The Monterey cypress survives in two small patches of its historical range, on the Monterey peninsula south of San Francisco. But the National Park Service, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, and other public lands managers, are eradicating Monterey cypress outside its historical range, “where it doesn’t belong.”

    And these projects are pushed on the public in the name of “Biological Diversity.” Like you said, you can’t make this stuff up; no one would believe you.

    • June 23, 2013 10:31 pm

      You are so right, Keith. As I’ve been horrified by the threat to our parks and trees, I’m noticing even more how much the majestic Monterey Cypress are used for landscaping in parks. Why would any maniac want to kill such a magnificent tree, especially when it is in danger of survival since it does have such a small natural range? I did notice that after almost all the old ones used as windbreaks at the beginning of the Pt. Reyes Tomales Pt. trail have died, they finally are re-planting them. I’m shocked actually that the park service is showing common sense.

  4. June 22, 2013 10:53 am

    Oh, thank god someone is listening and noticing and concerned about these proposed environmental atrocities. Thank you EPA for doing your job.

  5. June 22, 2013 12:09 pm

    Yes… The EPA tends to be very supporting of environmental efforts in most EIS planning processes. That why the right wing agenda is about entirely eliminating, or at least neutering the EPA a little more every year.

    Historically, the EPA is ignored in EIS plan writing because they don’t have funding to litigate these plans and thus we need to start thinking about fundraising for own lawyer if we’re to shut down this awful plan after our appeal of the FEIS is denied…

    And with 40 billionaires living in the SF Bay Area alone we’re more likely to succeed here than elsewhere!

    We also need to work on writing an alternative document that’s based on funding intensive flora and fauna observation and documentation with a minor component of manipulation via low impact gardening techniques only after they’re agreed upon via a meaningful democratic process that fairly represents everyone’s interests, especially the wildlife.

    Key to all this is how can we begin to create online vegetation maps that chart out the direction each survey plot is growing into, as well as how we all prefer to see those plots further grow.

    In short: we need grassroots people-powered solutions that are generative, not degenerative.

    The abuse and desertification of our parklands must end!!!

  6. Melitta von Abele permalink
    June 22, 2013 3:43 pm

    Yes to all the above, and one observation. Trees are like people with the exception that they cannot relocate themselves. They need our help to do that if their existence is threatened. Imagine if certain groups of people had stayed “where they belong” and think about certain groups of people who were forced to stay “where they belong”: the Armenians, the Tutsis, the Chechens, the Kurds… and many others. Is there a term for tree genocide?

  7. Dee Seligman permalink
    June 22, 2013 9:27 pm

    This is wonderful news! Maybe it will have an effect on San Francisco’s proposed management plan for the Natural Areas in the public parks. One could only hope.

  8. Dee Seligman permalink
    June 22, 2013 9:29 pm

    This is fantastic news! They got em on Insufficiency, one of the three criteria for EIRs (at least in SF.) I’m so proud of all the effort you (and others) have made.

    Best,

    Dee Seligman

  9. June 23, 2013 4:38 am

    Awesome! I hope this has an impact.

  10. June 23, 2013 10:42 pm

    This is so hopeful.

    This site is so important in helping to save our environment and in getting people to just think. Tonight I talked with an EBMUD ranger about the trees at the Moraga watershed of the Upper San Leandro reservoir. It’s a wonderful species-diverse place where a few eucalyptus live with wonderful Monterey pines, now-wild orchard trees, and native oaks, willows, bays, etc. It’s a brilliant example of how much more diverse the animal life is in the diverse non-native forest than the native part. (There are many snake species as well as coyotes, bobcats, boar, deer, rabbits, hares, as well as an incredible variety of water birds, raptors, woodpeckers, kingfishers, etc.) If you want to see a raptor, go and look at the tops of the dead or old pines.

    I worry about that they will stop the pines from re-seeding and continuing their natural cycle, so said that to the ranger and she said they want the pines gone and are re-planting with redwoods. This is the very far east of their range, and there are only tiny ones who look terrible and are growing uncharacteristically slowly for redwoods. I told her that I do not think they will do well with climate change and increasing heat and drought. Another factor is that there is much less species diversity under redwoods and NONE of their native companion plants, which we can see in Marin, are even there. It’s too dry and hot!

    How lucky to have the pine forest, but they want it gone? Nearby, you can see the usual dry, barren, desolate hills that are not natural also. Again, we need every tree we can get. And so do the animals. I could go on forever, but even just the California Newt needs the shade of the pines to survive the long journey to the water.

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