October 8 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Ozone rule and Colorado; ‘ban fracking’ resurfaces in Denver; ‘Fossil Fuel Free Week’ proves a challenge
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation, New Energy Economy, regulations, renewable energy
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Let’s open with a great piece from Lachlan Markay at the Free Beacon on the ways proponents of the Environmental Protection Agency’s raft of new policies, especially the Clean Power Plan, went on the offensive before the regulation was even finalized:
Supporters of a controversial Environmental Protection Agency regulation commissioned Democratic pollsters to plot ways to attack the motives and credibility of the regulation’s critics, documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon reveal.
Aides to a dozen Democratic governors and the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial advocacy arm circulated talking points and political messaging memos on EPA’s new power plant regulations that laid out ways to “sow doubts about our opponents [sic] motives,” in the words of one of those memos.
The previously unreported documents, obtained by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute through an open records request and shared exclusively with the Free Beacon, provide a window into the Democratic messaging machine’s approach to an issue that its own pollsters acknowledge is a hard sell among its target voter demographics.
In what was certainly intended as a launching point for
local national anti-energy, “ban fracking” advocates, last weekend’s confab in Denver–no doubt brought to us in no small part by fossil fuels–ramped up their efforts, as Energy In Depth’s Randy Hildreth writes:
National “ban fracking” groups descended on Denver this afternoon to protest oil and gas development as part of the “Stop the Frack Attack National Summit.”
For anyone still wondering if this was a Colorado effort, EID was on hand to note that when a speaker asked the crowd, “How many of you are from out of state?” attendees erupted into cheers. And while the group managed to draw roughly 100 participants, judging from the cheers of out of state folks, we’re guessing the showing was pretty sparse from Colorado (which, of course means they all got into planes and cars burning fossil fuels to get here).
Plenty of photos of the protestors at the link.
So what are they amping/ramping up?
Although Colorado-based environment groups such as Conservation Colorado didn’t participate; the demonstrations drew support from national groups, such as the Sierra Club, and impassioned “fractivist” residents. A group called Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development has declared the COGCC illegitimate and is developing ballot initiatives including a statewide fracking ban.
“Local control” just means “ban fracking” and all other oil and gas development, using a few local fractivists for cover, a pattern of political posturing since at least the 2013 off-year election cycle, when national anti-fracking groups enlisted or created local branches to push ballot measures at the municipal level.
How big an economic driver is oil and gas development? Energy In Depth took a national look:
While these cities lie in different geological regions, they do have one thing in common: shale development. Oil and gas development in these cities was the biggest economic driver throughout 2014. For instance, take a look at the Greeley, Colorado metropolitan area, which encompasses Weld County, where a large percentage of shale development is taking place. It grew its GDP by 9.9 percent in 2014 and ranks fourth in the nation in terms of percent growth. According to a BizWest.com article:
“Greeley’s 2014 growth was dominated by the mining sector, which includes oil and gas extraction, growing by 24.6 percent from the previous year.”
Some early analysis on the EPA’s recently announced ozone rule, set at 70 ppb. Colorado’s unique geographical and topographical situation mean that even at a higher level (original discussions for the ozone rule included possibly lowering the target to 60 ppb from 75), the state will face plenty of difficulties, including some entirely out of the state’s control:
“We don’t expect that the non-attainment areas will expand geographically,” said Will Allison, the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s air pollution control division.
But state officials do have concerns about the new standard’s impact on the state, and they will be talking to the EPA about issues unique to Colorado and other western states, such as the fact that the Rocky Mountains can act as a trap for air pollution flowing across the Pacific Ocean from Asia, Allison said.
The state’s high altitude and pattern of lightning storms also contribute to ozone levels — but there’s very little Colorado officials can do to interfere with Mother Nature.
Heritage Foundation–4 Reasons Congress Needs to Review the EPA’s Ozone Standard
Institute for Energy Research–EPA Finalizes Costly, Unnecessary Ozone Rule
In 2010, EPA reconsidered the 2008 standard and EPA’s delay means that implementation of the 2008 standard is now behind schedule. But instead of waiting until localities are complying with the 2008 regulation, EPA is imposing a newer, stricter standard that puts more counties out of attainment even though ozone levels are decreasing. Below is a map depicting the areas that are projected to be out of compliance under a 70 ppb standard.
National Association of Manufacturers–New Ozone Rule Will Inflict Pain on Manufacturers, Finalized Regulation Still Feels Like a Punch in the Gut
“Today, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that is overly burdensome, costly and misguided,” said Timmons. “For months, the Administration threatened to impose on manufacturers an even harsher rule, with even more devastating consequences. After an unprecedented level of outreach by manufacturers and other stakeholders, the worst-case scenario was avoided. However, make no mistake: The new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers. Now it’s time for Congress to step up and take a stand for working families.”
According to the National Journal, the new ozone rule has pretty much ticked off everyone concerned, including those on the side of the current administration:
After a banner second term that has seen the most aggressive action on climate change from any administration, the Obama administration just opened up a new fault line with environmentalists.
The Environmental Protection Agency today released its new air-quality standards for ground-level ozone, lowering the allowable level from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb. That’s well short of what environmentalists and public-health groups had been pushing and a level they say wouldn’t do enough to protect public health.
Industry groups and Republicans, meanwhile, are not likely to be any happier—they have been long opposed to any standard lower than the status quo because of the potential cost of compliance.
The EPA’s shady procedural efforts appear to have killed natural resource development in Alaska, using hypotheticals and possibly in collusion with environmentalists, according to a new report, writes the Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch:
The EPA may have rigged the permitting process in the Alaskan copper mining project, possibly hand-in-hand with environmentalists, to defeat the Pebble Mine before it even had a chance, a new report by an independent investigator suggests.
“The statements and actions of EPA personnel observed during this review raise serious concerns as to whether EPA orchestrated the process to reach a predetermined outcome; had inappropriately close relationships with anti-mine advocates,” reads a report by former defense secretary William Cohen, who now runs his own consulting firm.
The Pebble Partnership hired Cohen to review the EPA’s decision not to allow the Pebble Mine to seek a permit for mining copper near Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Cohen’s report only looked at the process the EPA used to pre-emptively veto the Pebble Mine. He did not make any conclusions on the EPA’s legal authority to do so or whether or not the mine should even be built.
Cohen found that the EPA’s “unprecedented, preemptive” use of the Clean Water Act to kill the Pebble Mine relied on a hypothetical mining project that “may or may not accurately or fairly represent an actual project.”
“It is by now beyond dispute that the Environmental Protection Agency went rogue when it halted Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine project. And yet, there’s more.
The more comes via an independent report that criticizes the agency for its pre-emptive 2014 veto of Pebble, a proposal to create the country’s largest copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska. Under the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers evaluates permit applications for new projects. The EPA has a secondary role of reviewing and potentially vetoing Corps approval. Here, the EPA issued a veto before [emphasis in original] either Pebble could file for permits or the Corps could take a look.”
Mountain States Legal Foundation’s William Perry Pendley on the latest private property battle vs. federal land managers–”The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday is scheduled to consider whether to take up a case from Utah that could determine whether federal land managers can steal a citizen’s private property.”
Native American energy production faces Democrat opposition:
House Democrats are expected to oppose legislation this week that would remove regulatory burdens for energy production on Native American land that tribes say have cost them tens of millions of dollars.
The Native American Energy Act would vest more regulatory authority over tribal energy production with the tribes themselves, rather federal regulators that have recently sought more stringent regulations on oil and gas production on federal land.
The bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee last month with just a single Democratic vote. Among its provisions is language that would exempt tribal land from new Interior Department regulations on hydraulic fracturing, an innovative oil and gas extraction technique commonly known as fracking.
Last but not least, the Western Energy Alliance’s “Fossil Fuel Free Week” concluded last week, and it was a tough challenge (if you’re reading this right now, you’ve failed:
Fossil Fuel Free Week, organized by Western Energy Alliance, has concluded and succeeded in getting people to think about the role of oil and natural gas in their daily lives. The campaign was designed in response to numerous anti-fossil fuel protests in recent months, such as the Keep It In The Ground Coalition, various anti-fracking rallies, demonstrations against Keystone XL and other pipelines and rail transport, the divestiture movement, and kayaktivists against arctic drilling.
The key lesson from the campaign is environmental groups, when directly challenged, fail to provide workable alternatives that replace the full spectrum of products provided by fossil fuels. Instead they respond by being predictably dismissive and offer vague visions for the future, as President Tim Wigley of the Alliance explains:
“As we’ve seen with recent protests, environmental groups incite anger amongst their supporters while dangling fossil fuels in effigy. Yet not accustomed to being poked fun of themselves, environmentalists reacted reflexively to the Challenge, offering weak observations by calling it ridiculous, snarky and a ploy. Well…yes!
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, New Energy Economy, PUC, preferred energy, regulations, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
Thanks to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for holding this event.
A few comments for the agency to consider.
First, in your December 2014 comments, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and the Colorado Energy Office all maintained that ‘In Colorado, the PUC has exclusive statutory authority to regulate the IOUs and associated electric resource decisions’ and that ‘depending upon the plan elements proposed by Colorado, legislation may be needed to clarify or direct state agencies on their respective roles and authorities’–and since no legislation appears to have clarified this point, how do you expect to proceed?
Second, the state’s top law enforcement official Attorney General Cynthia Coffman believes the CPP to be overreach and has joined more than one dozen other states suing the EPA to stop the CPP. The EPA has even said in its brief in response to petitions for extraordinary writ in the D.C. Circuit:
“…if a state believes it appropriate to do so, it could defer much of the planning effort until judicial review is complete. The initial submittal requires substantially less than a state plan.”
We are pleased to hear today that this advisement has been acknowledged and that CDPHE will take the maximum time allowed.
Third, we hope that you include more input from citizens and ratepayers, the most important stakeholders in the state. A recent Magellan poll revealed 59% of Colorado voters want to WAIT for all legal challenges to be completed BEFORE Colorado complies and the EPA says that’s okay. So it seems prudent to wait for legal challenges to be completed. In the meantime we shouldn’t be planning compliance but rather studying what the CPP’s impact on the economy and Colorado’s working family, low income and minorities in a fair and open way. We need to know the full impact of the estimated $600 additional cost per year per Colorado family for no measurable impact on emissions.
In that light, we wonder how Colorado will remain committed to ensuring reliable and affordable electricity if it pushes forward with a plan without allowing legal challenges to be resolved?
Thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of Colorado citizens and ratepayers. We appreciate CDPHE’s process and support an open, transparent stakeholder process subject to relevant legislation.
September 10 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Colowyo Mine survives WildEarth legal challenge; EPA stumbles in Congressional hearing
Filed under: Archive, Environmental Protection Agency, regulations, renewable energy, wind energy
First up, the first of 4 free panels in September and October designed to highlight the impacts of EPA regulations–Clean Power Plan, ozone rule, and the Waters of the United States:
“The Coming Storm of Federal Energy and Environmental Regulations and their impact on Colorado families, business and economy”
Southwest Weld County Services Center
4209 WCR 24 1/2
Longmont, CO 80504
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM (MDT)
Are you concerned about all the new regulations coming out of Washington, D.C.? Want to know more about how EPA regs on carbon, ozone, and water will impact you, your family, and your community? Want to know what you can do about them?
Then join us for a free panel event featuring:
Dan Byers, Institute for 21st Century Energy U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Amy Cooke, Independence Institute, Executive Vice President and Director of the Energy Policy Center
Tony Gagliardi, Nations Federation of Independent Business, Colorado State Director
Senator Kevin Lundberg, Colorado State Senate Republicans
Moderator: Michael Sandoval
We provide the lunch and experts. You provide the questions.
Questions: Cherish@i2i.org or 303-279-6536 x 118
Independence Institute, Americans for Prosperity, NFIB–The National Federation of Independent Business, and Colorado State Senate Republicans
For folks in northwest Colorado, some much-needed resolution in the Colowyo mine legal challenge initiated by the WildEarth Guardians earlier this year:
A Colorado coal mine slated for closure due to a technicality has gotten a reprieve from the federal government in a move that could save hundreds of jobs.
The Colowyo coal mine, which has provided hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the economy of the city of Craig and the northwestern region of the state since 1977 was in danger of being closed because a renewal permit drafted eight years ago did not take into account the mine’s impact on climate change. An environmental group sued in a bid to invalidate the permit. A court-ordered review by the Department of the Interior and an environmental assessment by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) found there was no significant environmental impact and validated the permit.
“We are grateful to the staff at the Office of Surface Mining and the other cooperating agencies for their diligence and hard work to complete the environmental review within the short timeframe ordered by the judge,” Mike McInnes, chief executive officer of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns Colowyo Mine, said in a released statement provided to FoxNews.com.
But if you think the WildEarth Guardians are content to settle with this outcome, you’d be wrong:
WildEarth Guardians was satisfied with the new assessment, said Jeremy Nichols, the group’s climate and energy program director. They are not planning any further legal challenges to Colowyo.
“That said, we do see some room for improvement,” he said.
Nichols noted the new assessment estimates the mine could emit nearly 10 million tons of greenhouse gases every year. He said that doesn’t square with the federal government’s plan to fight climate change.
“If the Interior Department continues to give short shrift to carbon emissions and climate consequences of coal mining,” Nichols said, “There will be mines shut down. We’re not going to be so generous moving forward.”
The ultimate goal of Nichols’ group is to kill coal. They were simply unsuccessful here, trying to move forward on a technicality or improper paperwork. Make no mistake, this wasn’t about the agencies or the mine doing things by the book–this was an attempt to throw the book at the mine and hoping it would stick. It did not for Colowyo, but it might for Trapper, another mine in WildEarth Guardians’s path.
Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid posted this short statement to Facebook following the decision:
I just got a personal phone call from Sen. Michael Bennet. He wanted to let me know that largely due to my efforts, Colowyo miners will be able to keep working and get on with their lives. He told me that I did a great job in advocating for northwest Colorado and getting the Secretary of Interior’s interest and help.
What a great complement.
However, you and I both know that many people worked very hard and effectively to achieve a positive outcome. Too many people to mention. And there was so much Divine intervention, as well. You know as well as I, that I’m not that smart and not that talented.
I’m so grateful for all of the assistance that we received. And yes, it was nice to get a complement from Michael Bennet. It just needs to be kept in perspective.
And of course the war on coal continues.
Video from yesterday’s House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Gold King mine spill:
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did not appear at hearing.
Cleanup projected to cost at least a buck per gallon spilled, or $3 million.
During the hearing, the EPA commitment to transparency was called into question almost immediately, due to what appeared to be selective editing of a video of the initial moments of the spill, when a worker at the mine exclaims, “What do we do now?”:
The Environmental Protection Agency replaced a doctored video from the Gold King mine spill with the original Wednesday after being called on the discrepancy during a House committee hearing.
Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio Republican, showed both versions during the hearing before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, pointing out that the version posted on the EPA website covers up the voice of a worker as contaminated water spills from the mine saying, “What do we do now?”
EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said the redacted video was “posted by mistake.”
“The unredacted version was meant to be shared on the EPA website,” Ms. Allen said in an email. “We’ve since removed the redacted version and replaced it with the unredacted version, as was originally intended.”
The quick change is admirable but the question remains–has other information released, including the videos and other documentation, been similarly redacted, edited, or manipulated? Even if it has not, the EPA’s misstep in “bleeping” the comment in the video surely doesn’t endear it to folks already suspicious of the agency’s own review of its conduct and handling of the August spill.
The Gold King mine’s owner was also not impressed by the EPA’s testimony, alleging the agency was, at the very least, misleading:
An Environmental Protection Agency official lied during a congressional hearing Wednesday when he said the agency responded to a Gold King Mine “cave-in” when in fact EPA contractors created the disaster by barricading the mine last summer, the owner of the mine has charged.
“This was a result of cave-ins and water buildup. That’s why we were there at the time,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. His boss, Administrator Gina McCarthy, did not attend the first congressional hearing into the Animas River Spill, held by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Although Stanislaus was grilled on other issues such as transparency and double standards pertaining to non-government spills, none of the representatives drilled into Stanislaus’ claim that the Colorado spill was a result of natural forces.
But his comments weren’t lost on Todd Hennis, Gold King’s owner.
“It’s absolute baloney of the worst sort,” Hennis said immediately after the hearing. “They blocked off the flow of water out of the drain pipes and they created the huge wall of water in the Gold King by their actions last year.”
Two more hearings in different Congressional committees are scheduled for next week.
Speaking of the EPA in the limelight, Hollywood’s toxic avenger Erin Brockovich visited Navajo Nation in the wake of the Animas River spill:
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, made famous from the Oscar-winning movie bearing her name, on Tuesday accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of lying about how much toxic wastewater spilled from a Colorado mine and fouled rivers in three Western states.
Her allegation came during a visit to the nation’s largest American Indian reservation, where she saw the damage and met with Navajo Nation leaders and farmers affected by last month’s spill, which was triggered by an EPA crew during excavation work.
Brockovich said she was shocked by the agency’s actions leading up to the release of waste tainted with heavy metals and its response afterward.
“They did not tell the truth about the amount. There were millions and millions of gallons,” she said while speaking to a crowd of high school students in Shiprock, New Mexico.
Lack of communication by the EPA and its employees in the aftermath of the spill is a consistent theme, and this Durango Herald piece is no different:
In the wake of the Gold King Mine spill, many questions have been asked and fingers have been pointed at the EPA, the agency tasked with remediating the Silverton Caldera, when it underestimated the pressure behind the abandoned mine, triggering the spill.
One issue the event did expose is the EPA’s lack of protocols for notifying downstream communities in the event of a massive blowout – a point the agency has admitted it was not prepared for.
In a prepared statement, the federal agency said a crew of EPA personnel and hired contractors accidently caused the spill at 10:51 a.m., who were then trapped without cellphone coverage or satellite radios.
It wasn’t until 12:40 p.m., after a mad rush to find the correct personnel and reach an area with phone reception that the EPA contacted by two-way radio a state worker who was inspecting a mine in another area.
The EPA’s protocols mandate it must first notify state agencies in the event of an emergency situation. The EPA’s same statement said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment contacted local agencies by 1:39 p.m.
Weld County, the state’s top oil and gas producer, continues to thrive. This includes the county’s more rural parts, bucking a nationwide trend away from rural areas:
Grover and New Raymer are both surviving because of the energy industry, which is a justifiable reason for the residents to live farther out because there are different types of jobs available in the areas. Atop of oil and gas and wind, both towns have people living in their communities who work as ranchers and farmers.
“I think one of the things that’s unique about Weld County is there are multiple industries,” said Julie Cozad, Weld County commissioner and Milliken resident. “Agriculture, oil and gas, and a lot of other companies. The availability of the railway and land helps have any industry here.”
Even for communities like Grover, which is a lengthy distance away and has no gas station in town, the town’s people are not deterred from living there because to them the drive to Greeley or Cheyenne is a reasonable distance and worth the drive.
“There’s enough of a benefit here,” Beerman said. “They see many pros, then cons. People here realize they’re going to have to drive for amenities. We don’t have a gas station in town, but people understand that when you live out here.”
And as for the state’s second largest oil and gas area, Garfield County:
RIFLE — Garfield County has hit another milestone in oil and gas production, with its tally of active wells now topping 11,000, more than one-fifth of the statewide total.
At current drilling rates, though, it could take several years before that number exceeds 12,000. Drilling activity in the county hasn’t been this low in 15 years, and the total number of rigs punching new wells in the region is down to just five — three in Garfield County and two in Mesa County.
Garfield County still remains the second-busiest county in the state for oil and gas activity. Weld County leads the state in well starts this year, at 798. Mesa County is third among counties, with 52 well starts, and Rio Blanco County fifth, with 16.
Coloradans think a greater sage-grouse listing as “endangered” is unnecessary, with local efforts sufficient to maintain the species without precipitating more lawsuits:
The federal government will decide whether to list the greater sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act later this month.
Another species of the bird, the Gunnison sage grouse, was listed as threatened last November. That experience may offer some lessons about what type of public response the feds can expect.
The Gunnison grouse listing isn’t the strictest classification under the Endangered Species Act. Instead, the listing represented an attempt by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize efforts in Gunnison to protect the bird. But in the end the decision seemed to please no one.
The state of Colorado and Gunnison County sued the federal government because they thought the listing went too far. Some environmental groups sued because they said it didn’t go far enough. Similar lawsuits are expected after the greater sage grouse decision.
What makes Denver’s eco-bike B-cycle successful? Apparently, fossil fuels (compressed natural gas):
The flood of red bikes begins shortly after 7 a.m. As the sun climbs, the tide of work-ready riders rolls into downtown, a pedaling wave threatening to overwhelm a handful of Denver B-cycle stations. But somehow, there are always empty docks. Even as the deluge peaks before 9 a.m., riders find spots for their bikes and everyone is in the office on time.
No one seems to notice the white trucks shuttling bikes away from the stations at the top of 16th Street at Broadway. The drivers swiftly load their trailers and pickup beds with as many as 24 bikes and move them up the hill to B-cycle stations around Capitol Hill.
This perpetual bike-shuffling is an essential balancing act that races against riders to keep Denver’s nonprofit first-mile, last-mile transit system flowing.
Without the efficient, technology-assisted redistribution of the fleet of 709 B-cycles across 87 stations, bikes will clog the wrong places at the wrong time, the system will falter, customers will drop off and sponsors will bail.
Rearranging B-cycles is a mix of art, science, craft and intuition. One bike is shuffled for every seven B-cycle rides.
This week’s “you can’t make this stuff up” entry:
Waste from animals and visitors “has to go somewhere,” Lopez said. “It’s very ingenious to be able to convert it into energy. This is safe. And it is not going to stink up anything.”
But the Sierra Club and neighbors are ramping up opposition, wary of increased noise, pollution, odor and other disruption of park serenity.
“The Sierra Club strongly opposes combustion of municipal solid waste. It has proven impossible for industry to develop a combustion process, even with a large biomass proportion, that does not produce unacceptable toxic and hazardous air emissions,” said Joan Seeman, toxic issues chairperson for the club. “The zoo should recycle their paper, cardboard and plastics, as well as compost, instead of destroying these valuable resources.”
Alternate headline: ‘Sierra Club opposes alternative energy’.
September 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Time running out for Colowyo Mine; Bennet, Hickenlooper concerned about EPA ozone rule; Animas River updates
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
Colorado’s Colowyo Mine–and the entire northwest part of the state–face a final decision September 6, and the Denver Post editorial board notes the significance, concluding that the judge should rule in Colowyo’s favor, as the “economic health of northwestern Colorado depends on it”:
The clock runs out this weekend on a federal judge’s extraordinary order giving the Interior Department just 120 days to fix what he said were flaws in an environmental analysis of an eight-year-old expansion permit for the Colowyo coal mine in northwestern Colorado.
At the request of WildEarth Guardians, a group opposing all fossil fuel extraction in the West, Judge R. Brooke Jackson mandated the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) take a closer look at “the direct and indirect environmental effects of the Colowyo mining plan revisions” and wrap it up by Sept. 6.
It’s unfortunate that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decided against appealing Jackson’s ruling, but she has also said federal officials were “doing everything we can” to avoid a mine shutdown.
And she may be right. On Tuesday, OSMRE released a revised environmental assessment in what may be record time for such a document, as well as an official finding of no significant environmental impact. We hope it will be enough to satisfy the judge.
The Post says to find otherwise “would be a blow to common sense.”
A $200 million blow to Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, to more than 220 employees who would directly lose their jobs and hundreds of families, friends, neighbors and businesses that would suffer.
The Post also pointed to the absurdity of of reexamining the Colowyo mine plans, as burning coal is an expected outcome of mining coal:
But coal will remain a part of America’s energy portfolio for many years and it has to come from somewhere. And the existence of a mine presupposes the product will be used. As attorneys for Colowyo Coal Co. noted in a legal filing, “Combustion of the mined coal is a necessary and foreseeable consequence of granting a federal coal lease.”
None of that matters, however, to the anti-fossil fuel activists at WildEarth Guardians.
We’ll have an update next week.
Washington, D.C., Sept. 2 – Less than a week after U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) warned that a plan to dramatically tighten the federal ozone standard “doesn’t make any sense” and is “not going to work,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is also going public with his reservations. In short, Hickenlooper is questioning the Obama administration for proposing an ozone standard at levels “where you know you’re not going to be able to achieve it.”
In a TV interview with CBS Denver, Gov. Hickenlooper said he’s unconvinced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should tighten standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the range of 65 to 70 ppb. Here are the governor’s full comments from CBS Denver’s Aug. 31 story:
“I’m still very concerned. … I’ve heard (from) both sides that there isn’t sufficiently clear evidence that this is a significant health hazard. Now I haven’t looked at that yet and our people are still looking at it…
“To set up a standard where you know you’re not going to be able to achieve it, and obviously we’re at a unique disadvantage because we’re a mile high. So when you’re at 5,000 feet your ozone challenges are significantly more difficult.”
Having both of Colorado’s top Democrats express even limited concern about the EPA’s plans is significant, and both Hickenlooper and Bennet, with caveats, appear not to be sold on the reductions projected by the agency. Both refer strongly to Colorado’s unique situation, and the West in general, with regard to background-level ozone and effect that would have on making any attainment of the new standards difficult, if not impossible, for many areas of the state, and not just the Front Range.
Video of Sen. Bennet last week, saying the EPA plan is “not going to work”:
Tony Cox, a member of the faculty of the University of Colorado School of Public Health and the editor in chief of the peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal outlining the problematic health analysis instrumental to the EPA’s push for the ozone rule:
Fortunately, there is abundant historical data on ozone levels and asthma levels in U.S. cities and counties over the past 20 years, many of which have made great strides in reducing ambient levels of ozone by complying with existing regulations. It is easy to check whether adverse outcomes, from mortality rates to asthma rates, have decreased more where ozone levels have been reduced more. They have not. Even relatively large reductions in ozone, by 20% or more, have not been found to cause detectable reductions in deaths and illnesses from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, contrary to the EPA’s model-based predictions.
How the EPA and society proceed when confronted with a divergence between optimistic model-based predictions and practical reality will say much about what role, if any, we collectively want science and objective analysis to play in shaping crucial environmental and public-health regulations.
The cynical use of asthma patients to promote a pro-regulation political agenda that won’t actually help them undermines the credibility of regulatory science and damages the public interest.
A battle over wind turbines in eastern El Paso County between residents and county officials appears to have been concluded:
El Paso County attorneys and lawyers for disgruntled residents reached an agreement this week to end a months’ long lawsuit over a controversial wind farm, the county announced on Wednesday.
On Sept. 1, an El Paso County district court approved the mutual decision to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, a move that protects the El Paso County commissioners from being sued over their decision to approve the large wind farm project near Calhan. Tuesday’s court ruling ended months of legal back-and-forth between the county officials and bitter eastern county residents, many of whom vehemently oppose the project out of fear of compromised property values and health effects.
Despite the lawsuit, residents remained divided over the project. Many long-time ranchers in the area supported the wind farm, and told the commissioners that they were happy to see some economic vitality come back to the region. But other residents fought bitterly against the entire wind farm project, and still others opposed only the above-ground powerline. Members of the property rights coalition paid their own legal fees, held regular meetings with updates and even created anti-wind farm t-shirts to sell to members.
Another Senate Democrat has signaled his support for exporting U.S. oil — as long as it is part of a broader clean energy plan.
The declaration from Sen. Michael Bennet came during the Rocky Mountain Energy Summit, when the Coloradan was asked if he backed oil exports.
“In the context of being able to move us to a more secure energy environment in the United States (and) a cleaner energy environment in the United States, yes,” Bennet said.
A spokesman for Bennet said the senator believes a move to lift the 40-year-old ban on crude exports “would have to be part of a more comprehensive plan that includes steps to address climate change and give the country and the world a more sustainable energy future.”
Bennet’s comments make him the latest Senate Democrat to suggest he is open to oil exports — even if the support is predicated on other changes.
Another renewable company and recipient of government largesse is on deathwatch:
Abengoa, a renewable energy multinational company headquartered in Spain, has been a favorite of the Obama administration in getting federal tax money for clean energy projects.
Since 2009, Abengoa and its subsidiaries, according to estimates, have received $2.9 billion in grants and loan guarantees through the Department of Energy to undertake solar projects in California and Arizona — as well as the construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas.
But in the space of less than a year, Abengoa’s financial health has become critical, leading investors to worry whether the company can survive.
A new tree census finds there are a lot more in the world than previously thought:
There are just over three trillion trees in the world, a figure that dwarfs previous estimates, according to the most comprehensive census yet of global forestation.
Using satellite imagery as well as ground-based measurements from around the world, a team led by researchers at Yale University created the first globally comprehensive map of tree density. Their findings were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
A previous study that drew on satellite imagery estimated that the total number of trees was around 400 billion. The new estimate of 3.04 trillion is multiple times that number, bringing the ratio of trees per person to 422 to 1.
While the density of foliage was surprisingly high overall, the researchers cautioned that global vegetation is still in decline. The number of trees on Earth has fallen by 46% since the beginning of human civilization, according to the report. The researchers said they believed the findings would provide a valuable baseline for future research on environment and ecosystems.
Animas River Updates
You can taste the trout again, say Colorado officials:
Colorado health officials said Wednesday trout from the Animas River are safe to eat even after being exposed to contaminants from a massive wastewater spill last month.
“Most fish tissue analyzed after the Gold King mine release showed metals below detectable levels,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a news release. “All results were below the risk threshold.”
“Because there is a potential for fish to concentrate metals in their tissue over time, the department and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will continue to monitor levels of metals in Animas River fish,” the release said. “New data will be analyzed and results reported when available.”
The hurdles for cleanup in areas like Gold King mine and the Animas River are steep:
DENVER – Despite cries for a focus on reclamation following the Gold King Mine spill, restoring thousands of inactive mines across Colorado and the nation may prove difficult, if not logistically impossible.
Ron Cohen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado School of Mines, said the technology and funding is lacking to properly perform the reclamation work needed.
“The reality is, and my prediction is, that this is going to be a problem for a long, long time,” Cohen said. He has been briefing federal lawmakers on oversight following the Gold King disaster. “Is there political will in the federal government now to come up with more monies for cleanup? I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
There has been a refocus on reclamation in the wake of the Gold King incident, in which an error by an Environmental Protection Agency-contracted team on Aug. 5 sent an estimated 3 million gallons of orange old mining sludge into the Animas River. The water initially tested for spikes in heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum and copper.
It isn’t the first time Colorado has seen its rivers turn orange because of spills from an old mining operation. Each time an incident occurred, the focus was shifted to reclamation, yet the pervasive problem lingers.
Part of the dilemma has to do with money. Estimates place national reclamation of inactive mines as high as $54 billion. Mining laws that govern the industry in the United States date back 143 years. The federal government is prohibited from collecting royalties on much of hard-rock mining, thereby leaving the coffers dry for reclamation.
Read the whole thing.
Notification of downstream officials and residents in the aftermath of the Animas River spill was late and, in some cases, not available to other states’ officials (namely New Mexico), as well as Native American tribal officials and others residing along the path of 3 million spilled gallons of toxic, metallic wastewater. A new system is now in place, according to the Associated Press:
DENVER — A massive wastewater spill from an old gold mine in Colorado has prompted state officials to expand the list of downstream users they will warn after such accidents.
Last month, Colorado health officials notified only agencies inside the state after 3 million gallons of water tainted with heavy metals gushed out of the Gold King mine near Silverton and eventually reached the Animas, San Juan and Colorado rivers in New Mexico and Utah.
In the future, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will warn downstream states as well, department spokesman Mark Salley said.
Colorado officials didn’t know the magnitude of the spill when they issued their warnings, he said.
A welcome development–Attorney General Cynthia Coffman says joining a lawsuit “where we need to be” when it comes to Colorado and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, finalized earlier this month:
Colorado has joined a growing list of states that will sue the Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to stop the implementation of President Obama’s controversial Clean Power Plan.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said the lawsuit, challenging the EPA’s authority, represents “crucial litigation” against the measure first proposed last year. More than 20 states are expected to be a part of the filing.
“We have been looking at (the plan) and evaluating whether or not there is such an impact on Colorado that we needed to put our name on a lawsuit ,” Coffman, a Republican, said in an interview Friday with The Denver Post. “… We just determined this week that is exactly where we need to be.”
This would be the second lawsuit joined by the state of Colorado. A judge earlier this week blocked the EPA from moving forward in 13 states, including Colorado, on the agency’s Waters of the United States rule.
EPA overreach and drastically elevated electricity prices form the basis of concern, accompanied by legal questions over the agency’s legal authority to steer a state’s electricity portfolio:
“If you make a change like the one we will see if this rule is implemented, I think it has the potential to cost jobs,” Coffman said. “I think it will impact the rates that we pay for our electricity. And I think it impacts the rights of our state government to make these decisions about how electricity is delivered.”
The Colorado Mining Association, an industry association with more than 1,000 members, commends Coffman for challenging the EPA’s regulations.
“By joining this lawsuit, General Coffman seeks to protect Colorado consumers from skyrocketing electricity prices as well as increased costs for all goods and services that are produced using electricity,” the association said in a Saturday news release.”The EPA regulations are legally flawed, will cost Colorado jobs and threaten the reliability of the electrical grid,” the association said in a Saturday news release.
August 27 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Bennet says ozone rule “not going to work”; net metering gets a boost from PUC
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, PUC, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
Sen. Michael Bennet, joined a bipartisan group of officials in Colorado questioning the proposed Environmental Protection Agency’s new ozone rule proposal at the recent Colorado Oil and Gas Association Energy Summit in Denver:
Senator Bennet and Gardner participated on a panel hosted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on August 26. Below is the question posed to Senator Bennet, and his response:
Manu Raju, Politico: Senator Bennet, a big issue here in the room is the ozone standards. Environmental groups, EPA officials are concerned about excessive levels of ozone; that they could lead to premature death and respiratory problems. The business community warns that the standards EPA is proposing would be very bad here in Colorado; it would cost a lot of jobs. The current ground-level ozone standard set in 2008 is 75 parts per billion. EPA’s proposal is lowering it to 65 to 70 parts per billion, and it could go even lower. Question to you: Do you think the EPA proposal is fair? Should they go to 65 parts per billion?
Senator Bennet: I’m deeply concerned about it. I think we should understand how they arrived at that conclusion, because the way some statutes are written, they don’t sometimes have the flexibility we think they should have. And this is the perfect example of applying the law and doing it in a way that doesn’t make sense on the ground. Because of the pollution that’s come in from other Western states, from across the globe, from wildfires in the West, we have significant parts of our state that would be in non-attainment [unintelligible] from the very beginning of the law. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not going to work.[emphasis added] Having said that, we need to care a lot about our kids and the elderly and the quality of the air that they breathe, and we need to care about children in our state that have asthma. So my hope is that we can work together to get to a rational outcome, but I’m not—The one that’s been proposed is not yet there.
Earlier this month, The Center for Regulatory Solutions issued a report that included opinions from Democrats, Republicans, and other elected officials from across the state opposing or pushing back against the EPA ozone rule. A sampling of those statement can be found in our August 13 edition.
Net metering, a handout from folks who don’t own solar panels to those who do, in the form of retail price reimbursement for the electricity they generate–gets a boost from a unanimous Public Utilities Commission decision to keep the current rates in place:
Colorado’s Public Utility Commission ruled Wednesday afternoon that no changes were needed to the state’s net metering process, meaning that homeowners with solar arrays will continue to receive retail rates for energy they produce.
“The PUC voted (3-0) today to maintain the status quo for the net metering program and close the docket,” PUC spokesman Terry Bote confirmed via email.
Net metering provides a credit for every kilowatt-hour an array puts on the grid at the same price residential customers are charged for electricity – about 10.5 cents.
Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, has been pushing a plan to cut the incentives for each kilowatt-hour produced to a fraction of a penny, but solar users and industry groups have lobbied hard against changes that would remove a key financial incentive.
“This appears to be the outcome we have been working towards in more than a year of work on this docket,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We have worked in full collaboration with other members of the solar industry, and this represents a tremendous amount of hard work from many people. Xcel officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Key financial incentive” = subsidy.
From my op-ed late in 2014, as the PUC was steering through a slate of meetings to determine the “value of solar”:
At issue is the method of calculating the “value of rooftop solar,” as the Public Utilities Commission chairperson put it this year. Solar proponents believe the credits for excess electricity generated by solar panels and pushed back onto the grid should continue to get 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour — the average of annual residential retail rates.
Xcel is arguing for a reduction to 4.6 cents, saying the costs associated with maintaining the grid made the reimbursement unfair.
Xcel representatives called maintaining the 10.5-cent credit a “hidden cost” for its 1.2 million Colorado ratepayers. “Everybody needs to pay for the cost of the grid,” said spokesperson Hollie Velazquez Horvath.
Rooftop solar uses the grid in multiple ways. For customers pulling energy when the sun isn’t out (or near maximum generation) or pushing electricity onto the grid at the peak of summer, the grid balances supply and demand, regulating and stabilizing electrical output. It also acts as the exchange mechanism when a customer goes from generating and reselling excess electricity, to periods when the customer needs more electricity than the solar panel provides.
Customers who generate enough “revenue” from their net metering credits end up paying little or nothing for the grid costs. The costs get shifted to the utilities’ non-solar customers.
In other words, solar proponents advocate that non-solar ratepayers continue to subsidize grid maintenance for solar customers and then purchase electricity from those same solar customers at a price higher than they would pay for Xcel to generate the power.
The PUC has closed the docket on this proposal, but the legislature may look to take up the issue of net metering in future sessions.
Speaking of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), the Democrat up for reelection in 2016 has some words of advice for embattled Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton on #KeystoneXL:
DENVER — Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Wednesday dinged Hillary Clinton for punting on the issue of Keystone XL oil pipeline.
“I think she should take a position,” Bennet said of his party’s presidential frontrunner at a Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference here. “She should take a position for it — or she should take a position against it.”
Speaking at a forum moderated by POLITICO, Bennet said he supports building the pipeline. He is up for reelection next year in this perennial swing state and could face a tough battle if the GOP fields a formidable opponent.
A Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry panel of five of the state’s Congressional delegation was split on whether federal or state and local authorities were the best in dealing with oil and gas regulations–an issue Colorado registered voters in a recent Independence Institute poll said should go the state’s way, 37 to 5 percent, over DC-based rulemaking:
On energy legislation, the three Democrats and two Republicans who represent portions of metro Denver took not two but three different stances on which government should be most responsible for oversight of the oil and gas industry:
Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver said that while she respects the laws the state has drafted, the federal government must play a role in regulating the effects of drilling on waterways that flow between states.
Coffman said that regulations should fall to the state government, where bodies like the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are much more in touch with the needs of local residents.
And Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder — who last year backed two state constitutional amendments to increase the role of cities and counties in regulation of drilling before pulling the measures— said it is actually local governments like those in Weld County that should decide where and how oil rigs should be allowed to operate in their communities. “I don’t trust the D.C. politicians. I don’t trust the Denver politicians,” said Polis, a fourth-term congressman. “This is a decision that should be made at the local level.”
Don’t be too impressed with Polis’s “local level” mantra as anti-fracking activists look to resurrect ballot issues designed to ban oil and gas development under the guise of “local community control.” Polis backed similar measures in 2014 before they were pulled in favor of Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas commission.
The Clean Power Plan may have been finalized on August 3, but serious questions about the EPA’s assumptions for the rule remain, as an analysis by Raymond L. Gifford, Gregory E. Sopkin, and Matthew S. Larson show (all emphases added):
• EPA scaled back on carbon dioxide reductions from coal plant improvements and energy
efficiency in its Final Rule under the Clean Power Plan, but nevertheless increased its
carbon reduction mandate from 30 percent to 32 percent by 2030. EPA did so through its
use of “potential renewables” as the variable driving eventual state carbon budgets. EPA now
forecasts that incremental renewable energy electric generation (Building Block 3) will more
than double, from 335,370 gigawatt hours in the Proposed Rule to 706,030 GWh in the Final
• EPA uses a complicated and unprecedented methodology to achieve its new renewable
energy forecast for the years 2024 through 2030. Looking to historic renewable capacity
additions during 2010-2014, EPA selects the maximum change in capacity for each renewable
resource type that occurred in any year over the five-year period, and adds this maximum
capacity change year-over-year from 2024 through 2030. The maximum capacity addition
year selected by EPA for each resource is more than twice as much as the average over 2010
• EPA’s methodology fails to account for the fact that expiration of the production tax
credit, or PTC, drove the development of renewable energy resources during 2012.
Renewable energy capacity additions fluctuated substantially between 2010 and 2014,
especially the largest component of Building Block 3, onshore wind power. EPA uses the
anomalous year, 2012, to predict future growth of wind power. In 2012, the wind production
tax credit was expected to expire at the end of the year, causing producers to rush to install as
much wind capacity as possible. Other renewable resource types also showed non-linear and
unpredictable trends during 2010 – 2014.
• EPA’s renewable energy expectations diverge by an order of magnitude from the EIA’s
base case renewable energy capacity and generation forecasts over the 2022 – 2030 period.
Notwithstanding these incongruences with EIA’s forecasts, EPA suggests that its forecasted
renewable energy additions would occur in the normal course even without the CPP.
• EPA assumes that fossil fuel generation could be displaced based on the average capacity
factors of renewable energy resource types (e.g., 41.8 percent for onshore wind power).
However, utilities and restructured market system operators assign a much lower capacity value
for wind power, in the 10-15 percent range, because wind production is often not available during
peak load conditions. To the extent that the EPA’s assumed renewable energy displacement of
fossil fuel resources does not occur because wind, solar, or other intermittent generation is not
available, system capacity will in real terms be lost absent planners assigning a much lower
capacity value to the given renewable resource (and in turn adding additional capacity, be it
fossil-based or renewable).
The authors conclude:
Setting aside enforceability, the President gave EPA a goal in his Climate Action Plan: achieve a 30% carbon emission reduction by 2030. EPA proceeded to solve for that goal with a capacious construction of the BSER [Best System of Emission Reduction] under the Clean Air Act. While gas “won” in the near-term under the Proposed Rule, in the end renewable energy resources assume a Brobdingnagian role in determining the level of carbon emission reductions that are purportedly possible under the BSER. EPA’s Final Rule constructs a method that solves for a conclusion, instead of having a method that yields a conclusion. Of even greater concern, EPA’s use of renewable average capacity factors instead of capacity credit exacerbates reliability risks to the electric system during peak load conditions. The end result may be unknown, but the method of getting there is highly questionable at best.
Despite tanking oil prices, a new outfit, Evolution Midstream, announced a planned $300 million launch, saying of the current situation that “this too shall pass.”
Paving the way for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the billionaire Tom Steyer funded and pushed a “state-level advocacy network” to prop up the controversial plan and give endangered politicians cover.
Colorado’s oil and gas production projected to fall, according to a University of Colorado study.
Animas River updates
EPA officials knew of a “blowout” potential as much as a year before the Animas River spill, but even the release of this info took place late on a Friday, in what AP reporter Nick Riccardi called a “very late-night document dump on Gold King mine”:
U.S. officials knew of the potential for a catastrophic “blowout” of poisonous wastewater from an inactive gold mine, yet appeared to have only a cursory plan to deal with such an event when a government cleanup team triggered a 3-million-gallon spill, according to internal documents released by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA released the documents late Friday following weeks of prodding from The Associated Press and other media organizations. While shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the newly disclosed information also raises more questions about whether enough was done to prevent it.
The Aug. 5 spill came as workers excavated the entrance to the idled Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, unleashing a torrent of toxic water that fouled rivers in three states.
A June 2014 work order for a planned cleanup noted the mine had not been accessible since 1995, when the entrance partially collapsed.
“This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse,” the report said. “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine.”
An EPA internal review post-spill revealed that they never checked the water levels or the pressure contained within the mine despite their June 2014 work order:
Dangerously high water pressure levels behind the collapsed opening of the Gold King Mine were never checked by the Environmental Protection Agency, in part because of costs and time oversights.
The revelations came Wednesday as the EPA released an internal review of a massive Aug. 5 blowout at the mine above Silverton. The report called an underestimation of the pressure the most significant factor leading to the spill.
According to the report, had crews drilled into the mine’s collapsed opening, as they had done at a nearby site, they “may have been able to discover the pressurized conditions that turned out to cause the blowout.”
EPA officials claim they were caught unaware:
EPA supervisor Hays Griswold, who was at the scene of the blowout Aug. 5, told The Denver Post in an interview this month conditions in the mine were worse than anticipated.
“Nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high,” he said.
The report says, however, that decreased wastewater flows from the mine, which had been leaching for years, could have offered a clue to the pressurization. Also, a June 2014 task order about work at the mine said “conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages.”
The inability to obtain an actual measurement of the mine water pressure behind the mine’s blocked opening “seems to be a primary issue,” according to the review. It went on to say if the pressure information was obtained, other steps could have been considered.
It did not elaborate on what those steps could have been.
“Despite the available information suggesting low water pressure behind the debris at the adit entrance, there was, in fact, sufficiently high pressure to cause the blowout,” the review says. “Because the pressure of the water in the adit was higher than anticipated, the precautions that were part of the work plan turned out to be insufficient.”
Stan Meiburg, EPA’s deputy administrator, said during the call that “provisions for a worst-case scenario were not included in the work plan.”
The 3 million gallon orange spill was, apparently, the worst-case scenario.
The internal investigation called the agency’s preparedness when it came to analysis of the water issue as “insufficient.”
It may take a while–many years–to know how the toxic minerals and metals released by the EPA will settle in the sediment of the Animas River and further downstream:
As communities along the Animas River continue to wonder about the long-term consequences of the Gold King Mine spill, one of the biggest questions remaining is the orange sediment lying along riverbeds and riverbanks.
What’s in it? How long will it be there? How might it affect our drinking water and our health? These are all concerns for community members, and many experts say we may not know until time goes by and a few spring runoffs continue to wash it downstream.
The EPA isn’t getting off the hook with the release of internal reports admitting lack of preparation or failure to measure water levels, or even late-night docu-dumps:
Republicans say the administration has been too wrapped up in guarding the world against climate change to address environmental dangers closer to home and should be held accountable, according to Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who is leading a probe into the spill in the House.
“Even in the face of self-imposed environmental disaster, this administration continues to prioritize its extreme agenda over the interests and well-being of Americans,” said Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
The committee has scheduled a Sept. 9 hearing on the spill and has requested the head of EPA and the contractor involved in the mine incident to testify. It appears from the internal reports that the contractor involved in the spill was the same one that drafted the blowout report.
The report that was released “in the dead of night” Friday raises new questions about the depth of EPA’s culpability, according to Smith. “The actions that caused this spill are either the result of EPA negligence or incompetence,” he said. “We must hear from all those involved to determine the cause of what happened and how to prevent future disasters like this.”
The agency’s lack of timely dissemination of documents and details has been a theme since the spill erupted earlier this month.
But partisan flaps at the federal level between Republicans in Congress and one of the administration’s favorite agencies is not the only scene of squabbles, as local officials allege Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman had a partisan agenda in mind when scheduling meetings in Durango in the aftermath of the spill.
And finally, Silverton decided to seek federal funds for clean up operations after years of reservations over possible “Superfund” designation:
After two decades resisting Environmental Protection Agency funds for cleanup of the festering mines that dot its surroundings, Silverton on Tuesday announced it is seeking federal help.
A joint resolution passed by the town’s board and the San Juan County Commission says officials will work with neighboring communities to petition Congress for federal disaster dollars they hope will address leaching sites quickly.
“Silverton and San Juan County understand that this problem is in our district, and we feel we bear a greater responsibility to our downstream neighbors to help find a solution,” the resolution said.
The decision is a paradigm shift for the small town of about 650 year-round residents in the wake of a 3 million-gallon wastewater spill Aug. 5 at the Gold King Mine in the mountains to the north.
August 20 Colorado Energy Roundup: Poll shows Coloradans not impressed by Clean Power Plan, fracking ballot measures expected, #greenjobsfail, and EPA/Animas River saga continues
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
This week the Independence Institute released the results of poll concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and who Coloradans feel does a better job when it comes to guarding the state’s environmental quality–folks here prefer Colorado oversight to meddlesome DC regulations:
The poll was conducted August 9-10th and found those surveyed more likely to oppose the EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan if the rule resulted in electricity bill hikes, 59 to 33 percent.
Fifty-five percent said they would oppose the plan if it meant spiking poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities by 23 and 26 percent, as a recent study by the National Black Chamber of Commerce concluded.
Respondents also opposed the plan when it came to the core environmental impacts projected by the agency—a 0.02 degrees Celsius reduction in global temperatures and no notable impact on carbon emissions. Fifty-one percent said the promised temperature reduction would make them more likely to oppose the finalized rule, while 58 percent said that the Clean Power Plan’s non-existent impact on carbon emissions would do the same.
You can read the rest of the topline results here.
Colorado’s registered voters put their trust in the state to manage the environment, and not federal regulators from the EPA or DC in general:
While Colorado’s Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, has not weighed in on whether the state could join a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA over the Clean Power Plan (she has said it is on the table), a 53 to 37 percent majority favored the state joining at least 16 other states in the suit.
Nearly 6 in 10 said the state should wait to comply—not move forward as Governor John Hickenlooper has directed—on drawing up a state implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan.
Nearly half said that they would be more likely to support a plan if the state of Colorado determined the cost of compliance before that plan became law.
When it comes to environmental regulation and quality, Coloradans clearly preferred the regulators in Denver to those in Washington, D.C.
The State of Colorado does a better job regulating for a clean environment 37 to 5 percent over federal regulators. Twenty-seven percent said both state and federal agencies handled the job equally well, with nearly one in five saying that neither has done particularly well in this area.
How did the results breakdown along partisan and demographic lines?
Only Democrats (64 percent) and those earning between $100-$124K per year (51 percent) were more likely to support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan even if it meant an increase in electricity bills as a result of implementing the regulations. Overall, 59 percent of Coloradans were more likely to oppose the plan, with men and women showing no gender gap and nearly identical opposition to costly rate hikes.
A National Black Chamber of Commerce study found that poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities were likely to increase significantly—23 percent and 26 percent—under the Clean Power Plan. Fifty-five percent of Colorado voters said they would be more likely to oppose the federal regulations under those circumstances, with women edging out men (57 percent to 53 percent, respectively) in opposition. Majorities of Republicans, independents, and all age and income groups offered the same negative responses when it came to impacts on minority community poverty rates, as did the respondents when viewed across all seven congressional districts.
Democrats were still more likely to support the EPA’s carbon reduction plan by a slim 42 to 37 percent margin. The party was split, however, along gender lines, with Democratic women in opposition, 44 to 36 percent. Their male party counterparts gave the Clean Power Plan a large boost, saying 48 to 27 percent that they were more likely to back the EPA’s measure despite minority community concerns.
More results from the poll’s crosstabs can be perused here.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy even admitted explicitly that the Clean Power Plan would adversely harm minority and low-income families the hardest:
The chief environmental regulator in the United States had some blunt words of reality regarding the administration’s climate change regulations.
The Clean Power Plan that will require drastic cuts in 47 states’ carbon dioxide emissions – consequently shifting America’s energy economy away from affordable, reliable coal – will adversely impact poor, minority families the most.
When speaking about the higher energy prices caused by the administration’s climate regulations on power plants, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “We know that low-income minority communities would be hardest hit.”
McCarthy downplayed that fact by saying any minimal higher prices would be offset by implementing energy efficiency measures that would save consumers money in the long run.
Cato shows how “carbon dioxide emissions” have turned into “carbon pollution” when it comes to EPA messaging over the years.
Another new EPA rule? Yep:
With the Environmental Protection Agency expected to release a rule this month on methane regulations, proponents are gearing up for a messaging war.
Federal regulators aim at reducing oil-and-gas methane emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2025. The idea is that companies can use new technology to better capture methane emissions from operations.
The EPA estimates that 7 million tons of methane are emitted every year, though environmentalists suggests that it could be much higher.
The issue is relevant in Southwest Colorado, where researchers identified a significant methane “hot spot” in the Four Corners. A team of scientists is currently investigating the cause of the concentration, which could stem from a combination of natural-gas exploration and natural occurrences.
But industry efforts have already cut methane emissions significantly, making the rule seemingly superfluous:
This is going to go down in the books as one of the most curious moves ever taken by the Obama EPA, not because the reduction of methane emissions is a bad idea, but because it’s already been taking place in gangbuster fashion. The Institute for Energy Research put out a statement as soon as the new proposal was announced which put the question in context.
“Since 2007, methane emissions fell by 35 percent from natural gas operations, while natural gas production increased by 22 percent. According to EPA, voluntary implementation of new technologies by the oil and natural gas industry is a major reason for the decline in emissions.”
And where is the IER getting these figures about reductions in emissions? Are they coming from some big oil loving, pro-drilling think tank? No. It’s data taken from the EPA’s own studies which were cited in generating these rules. But just in case any of them don’t read their own promotional material, here are the numbers in graph form.
Anti-frack is BAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!
After failing to gather enough signatures last summer, Coloradans for Community Rights said Monday it will try again to get a statewide initiative giving communities control over oil and gas exploration on the ballot.
Spokesman Anthony Maine said the group will begin circulating petitions early next year to get the Colorado Community Rights Amendment to the state Constitution on the November 2016 ballot.
“This is about communities being allowed to decide for themselves,” Maine said at a press conference in Denver.
He said the oil and gas industry and their supporters are expected to pump in millions of dollars to fight the proposed amendment.
“This radical measure would allow city councilors and county commissioners to ban any business or industry for any reason even if those reasons violate federal or state law,” Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, said in a statement. Protect Colorado is an issue committee organized to fight anti-energy ballot measures.
Unlike other observers who felt that this issue might recede into next year’s political battles or be left up to the current court battles, it’s been clear to me from my work on this issue that activists are gearing up for the long game, announcing their efforts more than a year from the 2016 ballot, banking on possible favorable wins in a presidential cycle rather than the 2014 midterm. Many anti-fracking activists felt burned by Governor John Hickenlooper’s “compromise” last year that appeared to be an effort to provide fellow Democrats political cover in what was shaping up to be a costly and election-determining fight at the ballot box. Hickenlooper’s commission did not assuage the resentment of activists, Democrats lost a U.S. Senate seat, and the issues remained unresolved, just kicking the can down the road.
We’ve caught up to the can once again.
At the Independence Institute, we’ve been taking a look at the failed promises of “green” jobs since 2011, and a California initiative passed with the help of billionaire Tom Steyer appears to have fallen, uh, short of its job creation goals in the green sector–by about 90 percent:
The California ballot measure funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer that raised taxes on corporations to create clean energy jobs has generated less than a tenth of the promised jobs.
The Associated Press reported that the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Prop. 39) has only created 1,700 clean energy jobs, despite initial predictions it would generate more than 11,000 each year beginning in fiscal year 2013-14.
Prop. 39, which voters approved in 2012 after Steyer poured $30 million into the campaign supporting it, closed a tax loophole for multi-state corporations in order to fund energy efficient projects in schools that would in turn create clean energy jobs.
More than half of the $297 million given to schools for the projects has been funneled to consultants and energy auditors.
As we noted in late 2013, the current administration pushed for changes it hoped would bolster the long term outlook for wind energy by attempting to deal with one of the unfortunate tradeoffs of giant wind turbines–bird deaths:
But a move to extend the life of one renewable energy source–in this case, wind–by granting a six-fold extension to ‘takings’ permits issued to wind farms that allow the accidental killing of bald and golden eagles has united opponents normally at odds: Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and groups like the National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council.
A sampling, from Politico:
It’s baldly un-American, Vitter said Friday.
“Permits to kill eagles just seem unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said the Louisiana senator, who is the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of wind.
Sounding a similar theme, National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold said it’s “outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.” He indicated his group may sue the administration.
The rule also drew criticism from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said it “sets up a false choice that we intend to fight to reverse.”
“This rule could lead to many unnecessary deaths of eagles. And that’s a wrong-headed approach,” she said. “We can, and must, protect wildlife as we promote clean, renewable energy. The Fish and Wildlife Service missed an opportunity to issue a rule that would do just that.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell defended the rule change.
“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way. The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations,” Jewell said.
Well, the so-called “takings” extension to 30 years has had its wings clipped by the court:
The express purpose of the 30-Year Rule was to facilitate the development of renewable wind energy, since renewable developers had voiced a need for longer-term permits to provide more certainty for project financing.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued the 30-Year Rule without preparing either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); instead, the FWS determined that the 30-Year Rule was categorically exempt. In overturning the rule, the court found that the FWS had not shown an adequate basis in the administrative record for its decision not to prepare an EIS or EA and therefore failed to comply with NEPA’s procedural requirements.
Finally, to the EPA induced toxic spill saga of the Animas River . . .
Congressman Scott Tipton (R-3rd CD) and colleagues are asking the EPA questions:
We remain completely unsatisfied with the delay in notifying the impacted communities and elected officials responsible for preparing and responding to a disaster such as this one.
What was the reason for the over 24 hour delay between the time of the incident and official notification and acknowledgment by your agency that a blowout had occurred?
Who in the EPA’s regional office was first notified of the blowout and when?
What steps has the EPA taken, or does it plan on taking in the very near future, to ensure that this type of delay in acknowledgment and notification of the appropriate parties does not happen again? What additional steps will the EPA take to create and implement an emergency response plan for EPA projects such as this?
That’s just a sample of a raft of questions from the House members.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of colleagues sent their own questions to the EPA:
We, therefore, respectfully request the following be included in a report on the events surrounding the Gold King Mine spill:
1. Details on the work EPA was conducting at the Gold King Mine prior to the spill on August 5, 2015;
2. Details of the expertise of the EPA employees and contractors carrying out that work;
3. Criteria EPA would apply before approving a contractor for a similar cleanup performed by a private party and whether EPA applied the same criteria to itself;
4. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on reporting a release of a hazardous substance;
5. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on contacting tribal, state and local government agencies when the agency creates a release of a hazardous substance;
Again, just a sampling of what members of Congress–and the public both down in southwest Colorado, northern New Mexico, and Utah–would like to know, demanding a full accounting of the EPA spill as soon as possible.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez wasn’t drinking the EPA
tang koolaid, or its official responses so far, and is asking for her state to investigate as well:
Today, I ordered the New Mexico Environment Department to investigate the circumstances surrounding the EPA-caused toxic waste spill into the Animas River.
New Mexicans deserve answers as to why this catastrophe happened and why the EPA failed to notify us about it — the first we heard about it was from the Southern Ute Tribe nearly 24 hours later.
The EPA should not be held to a lower standard than they hold private citizens and businesses.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman feels that she is not getting the whole picture either, and is still considering a lawsuit against the EPA for the spill:
The attorneys general of Colorado and Utah visited this still-festering site on a fact-finding mission Wednesday and left feeling the Environmental Protection Agency had not provided them with the whole picture.
“There’s a list, honestly,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said of her questions.
Coffman and her Utah counterpart, Attorney General Sean Reyes, are among a group that have said legal action against the EPA is being weighed after the agency’s Aug. 5 wastewater spill in the San Juan County mountains above Silverton.
The spill sent 3 million gallons of contaminated water surging into the Animas and San Juan rivers.
New Mexico’s attorney general said last week he is considering a lawsuit, and Navajo Nation leaders, whose community arguably has been most impacted by the disaster, said they will sue.
That lack of information–or, indeed, a coverup–has been the focus of much attention, and Colorado Peak Politics believes the EPA hasn’t been forthcoming from the beginning.
The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday that it is beginning an investigation into the agency’s role in triggering a massive toxic waste spill in southwest Colorado.
The IG alerted a number of senior EPA officials to the investigation in a memo released on Monday. “We will request documents, and interview relevant managers and staff in these locations and elsewhere as necessary,” the IG said.
The announcement comes amid controversy over EPA’s role in the spill. Agency chief Gina McCarthy admitted last week that EPA inspectors had triggered the incident while inspecting cleanup efforts at the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colo.
What are the cleanup costs estimated to be? The Daily Caller’s examination of potential burdens to the taxpayer due to EPA negligence are big:
The right-leaning American Action Forum estimates the total cost for responding to the Gold King Mine Spill could range from $338 million to $27.7 billion based on the federal government’s own cost-benefit analyses for cleaning up toxic waste and oil spills.
“There is no direct precedent for the toxic Animas River spill in Colorado and past regulatory actions from agencies, but we can learn from previous benefit-cost estimates,” writes Sam Batkins, AAF’s director of regulatory policy, adding that he “evaluated four recent regulations’ benefit figures to approximate the cost of the current spill in the Mountain West.”
That’s not good news, considering the mine owner’s allegations that the EPA has dumped toxic waste as far back as 2005, or that billions of gallons might be poised to spill in the future.
And that future is unclear due to what still lies beneath:
State and federal officials have offered assurances that the river is returning to “pre-event conditions,” but uncertainty remains over the residue that still lurks beneath the surface flow.
Those remaining metals on the river bottom still could affect aquatic life, agriculture and other aspects of life along the water in ways that are difficult to predict.
“The long-term effects are the concern that every time we have some sort of a high-water event, whether a good rain in the mountains or spring runoff next year, that’s going to stir up sediments and remobilize those contaminants that are sitting at the bottom of the river right now,” said Ty Churchwell, Colorado backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited.
CBS4Denver had the opportunity to get an early look at the mine itself, post-spill.
Perhaps the only thing quite as toxic as the spill itself is the messaging cover both local and regional environmental groups and pro-administration activists are providing the EPA, casting blame on private mismanagement and pollution and offering only an “aw shucks, only trying to help” defense of the agency:
Only the NRDC offered a response.
Earth Justice and several other environmental groups have made no public comment on the Animas River spill at all. In their public statements, neither the NRDC nor the Sierra Club pointed the finger at the EPA.
Though the Sierra Club did not respond to our inquiries, it did offer this public statement on August 11:
The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse. As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.
In a recent statement, the NRDC’s President Rhea Suh said only that the EPA “inadvertently triggered the mine waste spill last week,” while casting mining companies and Republicans in the House of Representatives as the responsible parties.
They probably wouldn’t like the Colorado Springs Gazette’s suggestion that mine clean up be privatized:
Critics have recoiled at the thought of putting the government’s environmental work into private hands.
No longer should they perceive or argue a level of federal competence that exceeds what the private sector might provide. The EPA unleashed a toxic sludge of arsenic, lead and other harmful toxins without bothering to warn people downstream, including tribal leaders and governors of neighboring states. They botched the inspection that led to the spill and bungled the response.
August 13 Colorado Energy Roundup: EPA dumps on Colorado with Clean Power Plan, Ozone rule–then releases a toxic mess!
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC
To say the Environmental Protection Agency has been in the news lately would be an understatement. Just this time last week, less than 24 hours after triggering a spill of toxic sludge including heavy metals into the Animas River in SW Colorado, most folks were unaware of the situation due to a lack of EPA communication–but more on that in a minute.
They were too busy focused on the new carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan rules being dumped on the state by the regulatory side of the agency.
Here’s a recap of the CPP, as Independence Institute’s Mike Krause can explain:
Or more in depth from former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chair, Ray Gifford:
Last week the EPA finalized the rule, as we told you in last week’s edition of the Energy Roundup, with the Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman considering joining a multi-state lawsuit challenging the CPP’s legality, and legislators possibly returning to some form of transparency or oversight for the CPP state implementation plan, now with pushed back deadlines (and therefore more sessions to seek legislation).
The Independence Institute has a CPP backgrounder that provides further details.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy discussed the launch of the CPP in a video on Tuesday.
Hot on the heels of the CPP, the EPA expects to finalize rules for ground-level ozone some time in October. But large and small businesses alike, from the National Association of Manufacturers to Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, joined the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), in a press call yesterday to announce a new study that looked at the effects of the ozone rule on Colorado. The sheer volume of bipartisan commentary opposing the proposed ozone reduction is particularly eye-opening in these normally contentious times, and shows a break with the EPA on new regulations–the ozone rule might be a step too far following so closely behind the CPP:
“This ozone proposal gives the federal government far too much control over state and local planning decisions that shape the Colorado economy,” said Karen Kerrigan, President of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “Colorado is one of the biggest success stories of the federal Clean Air Act, but now the EPA is moving the goalposts. The standard is so strict – approaching background levels in some areas – that the vast majority of the state economy will be found in violation immediately. Violation of the ozone standard gives EPA the authority to effectively rewrite state and local environmental laws the way Washington wants.”
“No wonder this EPA proposal has been met with such strong and diverse opposition from across Colorado’s political spectrum. Washington officials, all the way up to President Obama himself, should listen to the voices coming from Colorado and across the country and once again give the current standard a chance to work.”
A sample of the key findings:
By lowering the National Ambient Air Quality Standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the 65 to 70 ppb range, EPA would force, with a single action, at least 15 counties in Colorado to be in violation of federal law. These happen to be some of Colorado’s most populated counties, concentrated in the Denver metropolitan area, but a number of counties on the Western Slope may be dragged into non-attainment as well. Together, these 15 counties are responsible for 89 percent of Colorado’s economy and 85 percent of state employment. (Page 3)
Under the Clean Air Act, cities and counties that do not meet the NAAQS for ozone are placed into “non-attainment,” or violation of federal environmental standards. Once in non-attainment, local and state officials must answer to the federal government for permitting and planning decisions that could impact ozone levels. State officials are required to develop an “implementation plan” that imposes new restrictions across the economy, especially the transportation, construction and energy industries. The EPA has veto power over these implementation plans. States that refuse to comply, or have their implementation plans rejected, face regulatory and financial sanctions imposed on them directly from the federal government. (Page 19)
The report, entitled “Slamming the Brakes: How Washington’s Ozone Plan Will Hurt the Colorado Economy and Make Traffic Worse” has revealed that opposition to the ozone rule with a river of comments from Colorado state and local officials.
Here’s a sample of the bipartisan criticism:
State Senator Cheri Jahn (D):
“Coloradans care deeply about the environment. After the great progress we have made on air quality, our state should be praised, not punished. This ozone proposal out of Washington, D.C. scares my constituents, because it could hamstring our regional economy and cost jobs.
We have worked so hard to bring manufacturing jobs to Colorado, and by moving the goal posts on ozone, the EPA is going to chase manufacturing jobs away from our state. This plan could also gum up the approval process for badly needed road and transportation investments, which will make our traffic worse, and make it much harder to attract new industries, grow existing businesses, and strengthen Colorado’s middle class.”
State Senator Ellen Roberts (R):
“If the EPA carries out this ozone plan, Western Colorado will be placed at a terrible economic disadvantage. We have worked hard to responsibly care for our environment even as we grow and diversify our economy.
Tightening the ozone standard any further just does not make sense when the existing standard, which is less than 10 years old, is working. I urge the EPA to reconsider this plan and leave the 2008 standard in place.”
State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R):
“The EPA’s proposed new standards would drive small family farms such as mine out of business. We have never been able to afford new equipment and if the only way to comply with this new standard is with new equipment, my family would have to leave agriculture. Even if we could meet the standards with expensive upgrades to our machinery, the increased costs to finance those upgrades, as well as the fuel and the fertilizer, takes a marginally profitable farm and turns it into one that can’t make its payments.
Unless you want to see the family farm only as a memory, one must make the EPA understand that their new standards will have a devastating effect on rural America and the agriculture economy.”
Routt County Commissioners Douglas Monger (D), Cari Hermacinski (R), Timothy Corrigan (D):
“We set and meet high standards because we know it is good for our people and our state. So you might expect us to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards for ground-level ozone. Those standards, however, are too overbearing and are meeting with a lot of resistance even in places where air quality regulations are welcome…
These standards must not be implemented. If they go forward as proposed, they will do more than put good people out of work and cause hardships for communities that have done so much to protect the land, air and water around them. They will turn away a lot of people who have been receptive to the idea that government can be trusted to do environmental regulation the right way.”
NAM also released a video ad buy, to be seen across Colorado over the next few days:
Only the sheer quantity of toxic material–some 3 million or so gallons of Sunny-D colored water laden with heavy metals–comes close to the media coverage of one of the biggest environmental stories in recent Colorado history.
Most of the stories have been widely publicized and shared, so here is a quick look at this EPA-related (not strictly energy-related) blockbuster news blitz from just the past two days alone, in reverse chronological order (most recent first):
The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.
A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.
The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.
A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.
“Very difficult,” said Alex Mickel, who has turned hundreds of customers away from his Mild to Wild Rafting each day since the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally unleashed a 3 million gallon torrent of toxic mine water into the headwaters of the Animas last week.
“We are anticipating around $150,000 to $200,000 in lost revenue,” Mickel said. “But from an emotional standpoint, it’s difficult to see a beautiful river damaged in this way.”
The attorneys general of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah said Wednesday that a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency is an option in the wake of a massive mine wastewater spill caused by the agency.
All three, however, agreed that it’s too early to say if they will sue.
“I would hope that it would not be necessary,” Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, said of a suit in an interview with The Denver Post. “The statements by the (EPA’s administrator) indicate the EPA is accepting responsibility for the accident. The question is: What does that mean? What does accepting responsibility mean?”
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday drank a hearty gulp of the Animas River in an effort to highlight that the river has returned to pre-contamination conditions.
The governor and his health department director, however, cautioned that citizens should not be freely drinking from the river, because the water was unsafe for consumption even before the Environmental Protection Agency released an estimated 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into it.
But the drinking exercise indicated that state officials are more than confident that the river does not pose a toxic risk to humans, as they publicly stated on Tuesday.
“Am I willing to go out there and demonstrate that we’re back to normal?” Hickenlooper asked out loud after The Durango Herald raised the idea with the governor. “Certainly. I’m happy to do that. I’m dead serious.”
Navajo Nation is furious with the EPA, not just because the agency accidentally spilled three million gallons of toxic mine waste in the region, but because the agency is allegedly trying to get tribal members to waive rights to future compensation for damages incurred by the toxic spill.
“The federal government is asking our people to waive their future rights because they know without the waiver they will be paying millions to our people,” Navajo President Russell Begaye told Indianz.com. “This is simple; the feds are protecting themselves at the expense of the Navajo people and it is outrageous.”
Republican congressmen are calling for the EPA to be held accountable for spilling 3 million gallons of toxic mine wastewater into the Animas River last week, especially since the agency is a government entity and won’t be punished to the same degree a private company would for spilling waste.
“The EPA must be held accountable for its actions,” Rep. Lamar Smith told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “If a private company caused such a disaster, it would be hit with substantial penalties and would be required to pay for cleanup.”
“In this case, it will be the taxpayers who foot the bill,” the Texas Republican said. “The EPA has an obligation to the families and businesses that have been devastated by this spill.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clumsy, tone-deaf response to the toxic disaster on the Animas River was an embarrassment even to the EPA. One agency official managed to admit the reaction was “cavalier,” but that’s putting a mild face on it.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that she takes full responsibility for the spill, which she said “pains me to no end.” She said the agency is working around the clock to assess the environmental impact.
Hickenlooper sees a silver lining:
“Colorado’s governor thinks a mine spill accidentally triggered by an EPA crew will move the state and federal government to more aggressively tackle the “legacy of pollution” left by mining in the West.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that much of the wastewater has been plugged up, but the state and the Environmental Protection Agency need to speed up work to identify the most dangerous areas and clean them up.
The former geologist says that if there’s a “silver lining” to the disaster, it will be a new relationship between the state and the EPA to solve the problem.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday stood on the banks of the Animas River and said last week’s spill of 3 million gallons of contaminated mining waste water into its flow was “in every sense, unacceptable.”
He said the long-term effects of the spill, which happened as the Environmental Protection Agency was investigating the contaminated mine, are unknown.
The governor said he has spoken with the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, and described her as “committed” and “firm” in her resolve to respond to the spill. McCarthy will be in Durango and New Mexico on Wednesday, she said Tuesday on Twitter.
“I think we share the anger that something like this could happen,” Hickenlooper said. “But I think that said, our primary role is now: that’s behind us and how are we going to move forward.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized Tuesday for a mine spill in Colorado that her agency caused last week and planned to travel to the area Wednesday, amid increasing criticism from lawmakers about the EPA’s response.
Ms. McCarthy said at a news conference in Washington that she was still learning about what happened, responding to a question about whether the EPA was reviewing changes in how it cleans up old mines. “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there,” she said. “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.”
Unlike BP, which was fined $5.5 billion for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the EPA will pay nothing in fines for unleashing the Animas River spill.
“Sovereign immunity. The government doesn’t fine itself,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s division of environment and natural resources.
And of course, some folks don’t think the EPA should be blamed . . .
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, PUC, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
Colorado’s expected targets on carbon reduction from the finalized Clean Power Plan unveiled Monday:
Colorado’s 2030 goal of a 28 percent reduction in overall carbon dioxide emissions — or a 40 percent reduction in the pounds of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour of electricity generated — was set using a 2012 benchmark.
“Having them stick to that baseline year of 2012, we don’t necessarily get credit for being early thinkers and early movers,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Colorado’s Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has vowed to review the new rules and could consider joining a multi-state lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan:
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said the plan “raises significant concerns for Colorado” and that she’s considering joining other states in a legal challenge.
Citing concerns about potential job losses and an unrealistic set of goals and timelines, Coffman said in an e-mail she will ” carefully review the EPA’s plan and evaluate its long term consequences for our state.”
“But as I put the best interests of Colorado first, it may become necessary to join other states in challenging President Obama’s authority under the Clean Air Act.”
It is not clear at this time how long Coffman will take to render a decision on whether or not to join that lawsuit, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Dr. Wolk said that the agency is pushing forward:
“It is the right thing to do,” Wolk said.
If there’s a legal challenge to be had related to EPA authority, that’s a matter specific to the attorney general, he said.
“But it is not something we would use to deter our efforts, which have been underway for several years,” Wolk said.
Governor John Hickenlooper’s office told the Denver Post, “We respect the due diligence of the attorney general in reviewing the plan and will watch the next steps closely.”
Hickenlooper has already made it clear his administration welcomed the Clean Power Plan, and would not join an effort to thwart that plan at the state level.
The final rule moves the deadline for state implementation plans back, and the CDPHE has given an initial nod to allowing the legislature to vote on the agency’s plan:
The final state plan will go to the legislature for approval before submission to the EPA. An initial state plan will be due September 2016 with an option for states to request a two-year extension to September 2018 for submission of the final plan.
How much input the Colorado legislature will have remains to be seen due to the possibility of legislation in 2016 and even 2017. Colorado may file for an extension, giving the legislators additional opportunities to consider enabling legislation, procedural requirements such as a stronger or even mandatory role for the Public Utilities Commission, or other variations on how Colorado submits its CPP SIP. The 2015 session saw SB 258, the Electric Consumers’ Protection Act, pass out of the Senate in bipartisan fashion but ultimately die in Democratically-controlled House. The bill would have sought transparency for the CPP state plan by requiring PUC hearings and deliberation, as well as an up or down vote by the Colorado legislature as a whole.
The Independence Institute published a backgrounder in April, during the rule finalization process, that took a look at possible economic and legal implications of the CPP:
– Will require a new regulatory regime, and holistically seeks to remake the nation’s energy policy;
– Will incur massive costs;
– Will greatly affect energy reliability across the country;
– Is likely illegal; and
–Won’t have any measurable impact on global CO2 emissions.
A quick look at Colorado’s CO2 emission levels from the 2012 baseline show a 40.5 percent reduction in carbon by 2030, from 1973 pounds per megawatt hour down to 1174. Interim goals would reach approximately 31 percent reduction between 2022 and 2029, with states receiving some flexibility on reaching the step reductions. The EPA estimates that by 2020, Colorado would see a 14 percent reduction–without any Clean Power Plan guidelines.
States’ goals fall in a narrower band, reflecting a more consistent approach among sources and states.
At final, all state goals fall in a range between 771 pounds per megawatt-hour (states that have only natural gas plants) to 1,305 pounds per megawatt-hour (states that only have coal/oil plants). A state’s goal is based on how many of each of the two types of plants are in the state.
The goals are much closer together than at proposal. Compared to proposal, the highest (least stringent) goals got tighter, and the lowest (most stringent) goals got looser.
o Colorado’s 2030 goal is 1,174 pounds per megawatt-hour. That’s in the middle of this range, meaning Colorado has one of the moderate state goals, compared to other state goals in the final Clean Power Plan.
o Colorado’s step 1 interim goal of 1,476 pounds per megawatt-hour reflects changes EPA made to provide a smoother glide path and less of a “cliff” at the beginning of the program.
The 2012 baseline for Colorado was adjusted to be more representative, based on information that came in during the comment period.
The full text of the EPA’s outline for Colorado is here:
So why can the EPA project an additional 14 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 without the Clean Power Plan?
Energy In Depth has the details, via the Energy Information Administration:
According to a report released today by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), monthly power sector carbon emissions reached a 27-year low in April of 2015. In that same month, natural gas was, for the first time, the leading source of American electricity. As the EIA puts it:
“The electric power sector emitted 128 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MMmt CO2) in April 2015, the lowest for any month since April 1988…Comparing April 1988 to April 2015 (27 years), natural gas consumption in the sector more than tripled.” (emphasis added)
EID concludes, “As the EIA’s report clearly shows, these environmental benefits are due in large part to an American abundance of safely produced, clean-burning natural gas.” EPA’s administrator Gina McCarthy has repeatedly pointed to natural gas as a “bridge” or key component in reducing carbon.
But natural gas as a “building block” for CPP compliance is threatened by the next EPA rule to come down the regulatory turnpike, the ground-level ozone rule to be finalized in October, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
Studies have considered the cost to the economy and the toll in human terms due to job loss:
President Barack Obama’s plan targeting coal-burning power plants will cost a quarter of a million jobs and shrink the coal industry by nearly half, according to a new report by the American Action Forum (AAF).
The president released final regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday, which require every state to meet strict emission standards for coal-burning power plants in the next 15 years.
The so-called “Clean Power Plan” will cost the industry $8.4 billion, nearly 10 times more expensive than the most burdensome regulation released this year, according to AAF, a center-right think tank led by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
“This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for existing power plants,” according to the report, authored by AAF’s director of regulatory policy Sam Batkins. “The final plan will shutter 66 power plants and eliminate 125,800 jobs in the coal industry.”
Job loss will be substantial due to the shuttering of coal-fired power plants, including those in Colorado.
It will also likely be heavily localized, as the tenuous situation in northwest Colorado facing the Colowyo Mine and Craig’s coal-fired plant illustrate–and this comes before the state considers how to implement the Clean Power Plan.
Moffat County, where both the mine and power plant reside, would see just a few hundred jobs on the chopping block, but this would devastate the area, as a recent video from Institute for Energy Research showed:
Reaction to the rule varied across the spectrum, and the Denver Business Journal gathered a handful of the more pointed statements from both sides:
Joel Serface, managing director of Brightman Energy, a renewable energy development company.
“The Clean Power Plan is a huge opportunity for Colorado’s economy. By tackling the rising economic costs of climate change, we can modernize our energy infrastructure, stimulate innovation and help create thousands of good, new Colorado jobs in high-growth sectors like wind and solar.”
State Sen. John B. Cooke (R-Weld County):
“The Governor needs to commit himself to a true public process, including a rigorous review by the people’s representatives in the Colorado General Assembly, before giving a green light to Colorado’s implementation of this new federal mandate. These rules are being challenged in federal court by sixteen states, and I hope that Colorado’s Attorney General will join that lawsuit now that the EPA rules are final. The fact is, the Clean Air Act passed by Congress does not authorize these costly dictates, and there is a good chance the US Supreme Court will block these rules for that reason.”
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
New Belgium Brewing Company, along with Colorado renewable companies and a few dozen other organizations, has submitted a letter today to Governor John Hickenlooper, encouraging the state’s top official to move forward in a timely manner to impose the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan rule on carbon reduction, stressing the importance of renewable energy:
We, the undersigned companies and investors, have a significant presence in Colorado and strongly support the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Pollution Standards for existing power plants. These standards, also called the Clean Power Plan, are critical for moving our country toward a clean energy economy. The Plan’s flexible approach provides an exciting opportunity for states to customize their own energy portfolio, expand clean energy solutions, attract new industries to the state, and create thousands of jobs.
Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality. Clean energy solutions are cost effective and innovative ways to drive investment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Increasingly, businesses rely on renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions to cut costs and improve corporate performance. In 2014, a study by Ceres, Calvert Investments and the World Wildlife Fund revealed that 60 percent of Fortune100 companies have set their own clean energy targets and have saved more than $1 billion a year in the process.
Clear and consistent policies can send market signals that help businesses and investors plan for the future. We are seeking long-term policies that provide businesses the certainty needed to transition to a clean energy economy. Electric power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States and the Clean Power Plan will be pivotal in reducing their emissions.
As you develop your implementation plan we hope you will include the building blocks of renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will allow you to mitigate the risks of climate change and the volatility of fossil fuel prices.
To “send market signals,” this group would prefer onerous regulation that threatens places like Craig, Colorado and Moffat County in favor of preferred investments, and perhaps more importantly, preferred investors.
Send clear market signals = government picking energy winners and losers.
The full text of the letter and complete list of signatories: