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Rochester brownfield projects receive federal funding

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $1.4 million in Western New York for three brownfield cleanup projects, including one in the Rochester region.

Nationwide, more than 150 communities will receive 154 grants totaling $66.5 million through the EPA’s Multipurpose, Assessment and Cleanup Grants. The funding will support underserved and economically disadvantaged communities nationwide in assessing and cleaning up contaminated and abandoned industrial and commercial properties. Roughly half of the selected recipients will receive EPA Brownfields Grant funding for the first time and more than 85 percent are located in or serve small communities.

“Cleaning up brownfields helps protect the environment and serves as a catalyst to jumpstart much-needed economic growth in Western New York communities, often in historically underserved areas,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan in a statement. “These grants address decades-old sources of pollution and bring together a broad spectrum of stakeholders who work in concert to make their communities better and more sustainable places to live, work and play.”

The city of Rochester will receive an $800,000 multipurpose grant to be used to conduct an environmental site assessment at the Bull’s Head Plaza on West Main Street, as well as an environmental site assessment and cleanup at the 42 York St. property.

The mostly vacant Bull’s Head plaza was constructed as an automotive-oriented commercial and retail shopping center in the 1950s and is contaminated with chlorinated volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and semi-volatile organic compounds, officials noted.

The 42 York St. property previously was developed with residential properties and parking areas. Fill material historically deposited on the property is contaminated with heavy metals and SVOCs.

Grant funds also will be used to conduct community outreach activities.

“As we work together to restore the vitality and prominence of Bull’s Head, I am extremely grateful for the Environmental Protection Agency’s continued commitment to rebuild and restore this important part of Rochester’s west side,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. “The EPA’s award of $800,000 through their Brownfield Grant Program is a critical investment towards our transformative redevelopment at Bull’s Head. Together with local resources and the EPA’s previous award of $408,000 last year, this historic part of our city is poised for remarkable positive change.”

The EPA expects to award the grants once all legal and administrative requirements are satisfied by the selected recipients.

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Document Security Systems launches solar development business

Rochester’s Document Security Systems Inc. has launched a new business to develop utility-scale solar farms at superfund sites.

Alset Solar Inc. was formed to provide a clean energy future to polluted or underutilized properties and supplement the power grid or provide small microgrids for independent energy, company officials said.

“Solar energy is a powerful force for good,” said Melissa Sims, director and adviser of Alset Solar. “It has the potential to mitigate climate change, reduce air pollution, expand access to energy for all and contribute to global economic wellbeing.”

DSS officials noted that disputes have arisen over where to locate solar farms as the demand for renewable energies continues to grow. Opponents are concerned about visual aesthetics, noise and property values. For Alset Solar, the more than 450,000 brownfield sites, 130,000 Environmental Protection Agency superfund sites and 19 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property present a major opportunity to put unwanted, unproductive land back into use.

“We are actively identifying eligible sites in key markets and will work closely with communities to put these sites back into use and back on the tax rolls,” Sims said. “By focusing our development efforts on blighted land such as current and former contaminated properties, landfills and mines, we can transform these underutilized sites into assets, providing land resources for clean energy development and diminishing development pressures on open space.”

Sims is an attorney and chair of the environmental division of the national law firm Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman PLLC, and brings extensive experience to her role at Alset Solar.

“We launched Alset Solar to help lead DSS’s clean energy future with a focus on environmental responsibility and sustainability measures,” said DSS CEO Frank Heuszel. “As states push for more renewable energy, developers must consider the environmental and land use impacts of this so-called energy sprawl – the increasing land-use footprint of energy development. We are directly addressing these valid concerns by focusing our development efforts on underutilized properties which are appropriate for solar energy and battery storage for microgrids.”

Alset Solar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alset Energy Inc., DSS’s holding company for its energy group projects. Alset Energy is headquartered in Texas.

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COVID-19 fuels reduction in gas and oil prices

(Velvet Spicer)
(Velvet Spicer)

Despite a steady drop in gasoline prices in the last few weeks, one thing remains constant: drivers in New York State will continue to pay more at the pump than many of their counterparts nationwide.

It’s a combination of gas taxes—which, at nearly 64 cents per gallon, ranks the state among the highest nationwide—and the lack of a refinery here.

“There’s no refinery in the state and we’re at the so-called end of the pipeline, so we’re usually slower to see the lower prices,” said Elizabeth Carey, director of public relations & corporate communications for AAA Western and Central New York. “Prices here have been dropping, just not as drastically as some other places across the country.”

In fact, the average price for a gallon of gas statewide this week was $2.29, according to AAA. Last week it was $2.33 and a month ago it was $2.57. Last year at this time, a gallon of gas would have cost $2.76 in New York State.

In Rochester, the average price of gas was $2.27 per gallon this week and $2.32 a week ago. A year ago, a gallon of gas in Rochester cost $2.75, AAA reported.

That compares with the national current average of $1.92 per gallon, which is down from $2.40 a month ago and $2.74 a year ago.

(Velvet Spicer)
(Velvet Spicer)

Similarly, GasBuddy this week reported the average price for a gallon of gas in Rochester as $2.24, roughly 26 cents lower than a month ago and 51 cents lower than a year ago. Buffalo’s gas prices also stand at $2.24 per gallon, while Syracuse drivers are paying on average $2.14 per gallon.

“The national average continues to fall as every state has seen yet another decline in average gas prices over the last week as overall oil demand remains constrained due to COVID-19,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis. “The decline has been most significant thus far in the Great Lakes due to the region being landlocked and challenging to ship gasoline out of. Prices have been depressed significantly, driving these states to some of the lowest prices in the country.”

The U.S. has an unusually high amount of the cheaper winter-blend gasoline still available, which prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to extend the sale of the winter-blend gas past the May 1 deadline to May 20 this year.

“The EPA’s extension of the winter-blend gasoline waiver will contribute to sustained lower prices, especially as U.S. gasoline demand readings look more like winter driving season than spring,” Carey said.

The EPA also plans to give small refineries more time to meet the U.S. biofuel mandate.

“By waiving the low volatility and blending limitations through May 20, EPA will ensure a steady supply of gasoline,” the agency said in a statement. “EPA will continue to monitor the adequacy of gasoline supplies and, should conditions warrant, may modify or extend this waiver at a later date.”

Typically in April, drivers begin to brace themselves for the summer increase in gas prices, but in addition to the availability of winter-blend gas, prices have been on the downswing due to the recent plunge in demand for oil and gasoline attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It started with China. They’re the biggest user of oil out there,” Carey explained. “The factories shut down there and that really sent the demand down and prices started to come down.”

Now that the virus has become a global pandemic and people are social distancing and working from home, demand for gas has declined.

Map of state and local tax rates on gas from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
Map of state and local tax rates on gas from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

A report from Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) by IHS Markit for the week ended March 14 shows that same-store gasoline sales at U.S. gas stations were down 2.4 percent nationwide, when compared to the same week last year.

According to the latest OPIS demand data for the week ending March 28, same-store sales were down 46.6 percent nationwide, and that is not expected to improve anytime soon.

“At a time when rapidly decreasing oil prices would theoretically lead to an increase of consumer demand for gasoline, much of the country is shutting down economic activity due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at OPIS. “We are likely to see weekly gasoline demand numbers drop to levels last witnessed in the Nixon Administration, and we’ll see those lower levels in April.”

The Northeast region, where New York State has restricted non-essential businesses to work from home where possible and set guidelines for social distancing, saw year-on-year fuel demand decline 3.7 percent during the week ended March 14, OPIS officials said. Conversations with retailers in some of the impacted states suggested year-on-year volume losses of 20 percent to 40 percent, OPIS reported.

“At the same time, there’s an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, so that’s been pushing oil prices down,” Carey noted. “When oil prices come down that directly impacts the prices that we pay at the pump.”

In February, the International Energy Agency said that oil demand growth would fall to its lowest rate since 2011, with growth falling by 325,000 barrels per day to 825,000 barrels per day, and a contraction in consumption by 435,000 barrels per day. At an OPEC summit in early March, Saudi Arabia agreed to reduce production by 1.5 million barrels per day and called on Russia and others to also reduce oil production.

Russia declined and Saudi Arabia launched an oil price war with the country, although neither country admits to doing so. U.S. oil prices have fallen 34 percent and the price cuts are believed to have triggered the stock market crash currently being experienced around the globe.

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 / @Velvet_Spicer

Wegmans wins EPA award for promoting safer cleaning products

Wegmans this week won an award from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for its promotion of safer cleaning products.

This marks the fourth year Wegmans won the Safer Choice Partner of the Year Award. The EPA praised Wegmans for offering customers 17 store-branded cleaning products with the Safer Choice certification, along with national brands that carry the certification. Additionally, Wegmans created educational materials to familiarize its employees with the Safer Choice labeling and promoted the program on its website and in direct mailings to consumers.

“The Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards go to businesses that extend their goals beyond the bottom line to provide consumers with products that are safer for human health and the environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “Wegmans’ initiative to educate their employees and customers about the Safer Choice-certified products on their shelves represents ideal business leadership in safer products and sustainability.”

Wegmans rolled out its own line of cleaning products with the Safer Choice certification in 2017.

“We’re committed to offering effective cleaning products that are Safer Choice-certified whenever possible because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Dave Tantillo, Wegmans category merchant. “Because Safer Choice makes it easy for consumers to find cleaning products that are safer for them, their families, and the environment, it is the seal of approval we want our customers to know, understand, and trust.”

Eleven others also received the Safer Choice Partner award on Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,  including a university and several formulators and manufacturers of cleaning products.

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New York sues EPA over automobile emissions standards

pexels-photo-164634New York has joined 16 other states in a lawsuit to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from rolling back greenhouse gas emission standards.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general to sue the EPA over standards the AGs say save drivers money at the pump, reduce oil consumption and curb greenhouse gases.

The federal standards the states are suing to protect—for model year 2022 through 2025 vehicles—are estimated to reduce carbon pollution by 1.8 billion metric tons and to save each consumer $1,650 per vehicle.

Officials say the auto industry already is on track to meet or exceed these standards.

“These emission standards are common sense—protecting our air and mitigating our contributions to climate change, all while saving drivers money at the pump,” Schneiderman said in a statement this week, condemning the Trump administration for a “phony study” that ignored the facts.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, stating that the EPA “acted arbitrarily and capriciously, failed to follow its own Clean Car regulations and violated the Clean Air Act.”

In 2012 the EPA and the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration adopted national standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy for cars to be sold from 2017 to 2025, which allows automakers to design and manufacture their fleets to a single target. Officials have said they expect fleet-wide fuel economy of 40.3 to 41 miles per gallon by 2021.

For its part, the National Automobile Dealers Association has stood firmly against the Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules, contending it would be too difficult and cost automakers too much to adhere to that standard. NADA has said that the average price of a new vehicle will increase by about $3,000 in 2025, and that vehicles that currently cost $15,000 and less will be regulated out of existence.

NADA has said that performance cars with V-8 engines will become as “rare as white flies.”

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EPA gives city money to ameliorate brownfields

abandoned-automobile-broken-53161The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has chosen Rochester as the recipient of two Brownfield Grants to revitalize blighted properties and promote economic redevelopment. Rochester received $400,000 in assistance for two projects.

The City of Rochester received a $200,000 brownfields petroleum cleanup grant to clean up a vacant site at 121-123 Reynolds St. The 0.2-acre site formerly housed a gas station and auto repair shop, as well as a single-family home. Underground gas storage tanks were on the property from 1936 to 2011, when they were removed by the city after petroleum was found contaminating the soil and groundwater.

Grant funds also will be used for post-cleanup monitoring and community engagement activities.

The second $200,000 award is in the form of a brownfields grant for community-wide hazardous substance site assessments. Funds will be used to identify priority brownfield sites, select sites for assessment and support community outreach activities. Future plans for sites focus on the needs of low-income neighborhoods, including the redevelopment of a former coal-power generating facility into a mixed-use waterfront project.

“I want to thank the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for supporting our efforts to bring investment to Rochester’s neighborhoods through environmental improvements,” said Mayor Lovely Warren.

The city has completed nine environmental cleanup projects totaling 24 acres, with help from the EPA, Warren said, and is in the process of redeveloping five of those sites.

“Abandoned brownfields pose complicated and costly challenges for municipalities and we very much appreciate the U.S. EPA’s continued technical assistance and financial support for these projects,” Warren said. “Brownfield restoration and mitigation is a critical component of our efforts to create a cleaner, greener, more sustainable city for future generations, which will help us create more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for our citizens.”

The EPA awarded five grants totaling $1 million in central and western New York. Other recipients included Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency, Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency and the City of Cortland. The Brownfield Programs targets communities that are economically disadvantaged and provides funding and assistance to transform blighted sites into assets that can generate jobs and spur economic growth.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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