July 16 Colorado Energy Roundup: Sec. Jewell adds Colowyo Mine visit; renewable energy mandate upheld

July 16, 2015 by michael
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, preferred energy, renewable energy 

A week after the Department of the Interior declined to move forward with an appeal in the Colowyo Mine case, and facing mounting pressure to visit the northwest portion of Colorado during a scheduled trip to Aspen, Sec. Sally Jewell appears to have conceded to a meeting with county commissioners:

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said Wednesday that Jewell has added a meeting with northwest Colorado county commissioners to her itinerary Friday following her speech at the Aspen Institute.

“We look forward to meeting Secretary Jewell this Friday evening,” Kinkaid said. “I hope that she will be able to give us some assurances that our miners can keep working.”

He said he expected the meeting to include commissioners from Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, whose communities would bear the brunt of a mine closure. The meeting will take place in Glenwood Springs.

Jewell had come under pressure to visit the area after it was announced that she would deliver remarks Friday at the Aspen Institute, about a three-hour drive from Craig, where residents are alarmed about the future of the mine.

We’ll keep you posted on developments of the planned meeting.

***

Colorado’s preferred energy renewable mandate was upheld this week:

The mandate, which voters passed in 2004 and expanded in 2010, was challenged by the free-market advocacy group Energy and Environment Legal Institute. The group argued that the renewable energy requirements violate the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit claimed that the requirement that large utilities such as Xcel Energy get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources violates constitutional protections for interstate commerce.

The plaintiffs argued that because electricity can go anywhere on the grid and come from anywhere on the grid, Colorado mandate illegally harms out-of-state companies.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver disagreed. The three-judge panel ruled that the mandate does not wrongly burden out-of-state coal producers. The judges also pointed out that Colorado voters approved the mandate.

The full text of the ruling can be found here.

***

For those who do not think increased energy costs–whether from increased cost of supply of fuel, onerous regulations, or government picking (more expensive) energy winners–affect lower and middle income families in Colorado, a new examination of the state’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) reveals how devastating even modest price increases in energy can be:

About 430,000 households in Colorado — 22 percent of all households — are eligible for federal energy assistance.

These households have incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $36,372 for a family of four.

About 13 percent of Colorado households are below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.

The federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, or LEAP, administered by local agencies, provided $47 million for heating bills during the 2014-15 season.

The article laments that program has a low reach at the present time, with only 19 percent of those eligible receiving outreach.

But the article’s lede is buried–even small, incremental increases have a large and outsized effect on low-income folks given the portion of income they spend on energy:

Xcel, the state’s largest electricity utility, calculates monthly payments based on 3 percent of a household’s income.

Average households pay 2 percent to 3 percent for energy, compared with low-income households, which often pay as much as 50 percent.

“That leaves very little for food, clothing, medicine,” said Pat Boland, Xcel’s manager of customer policy and assistance.

“Once we get them in the door, we want to keep them in the door,” Boland said in a presentation.

According to the article, Black Hills reaches only 10 percent of those eligible within its system. It pays for the assistance by charging other ratepayers, and is considering a rate hike to cover the program, which is currently losing money. That hike, along with three other rate increases since 2008, make Black Hills among the most expensive electricity providers in the state, the Post article said.

***

Despite a quiet 2015, fracking is still maintaining a low boil on the backburner of the state’s energy debate, and there is every indication that it won’t be simmering any time soon, and Democratic Rep. Jared Polis told the Associated Press that options remain:

Polis said fracking could be on the 2016 ballot if state officials don’t further regulate the industry. He stopped short of saying whether he would organize the effort, but he wants lawmakers and regulators to adopt three proposals that weren’t formally recommended by the task force.

One would let local governments impose stricter rules than the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, charged with regulating drilling statewide. Another would change the commission’s role from facilitating oil and gas development to simply regulating it. The third would set up a panel to resolve disputes between energy companies and local governments or property owners before they land in court.

It remains to be seen whether or not activists, with or without Polis’s sponsorship, pursue a strategy like they did in 2013, targeting friendly and even tossup municipalities with fracking bans and moratoria, or wait for statewide opportunities in the 2016 Presidential election cycle.

***

The Bureau of Land Management has closed off nearly 100,000 acres of federal land from future leasing:

The Bureau of Land Management rejected all 19 protests from conservation groups, the oil and gas industry and other interests in approving a new resource management plan for the Colorado River Valley Field Office.

The Colorado River Valley Field Office, in Silt, manages more than 500,000 acres of land and more than 700,000 acres of subsurface federal minerals in Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco, Pitkin, Eagle and Routt counties. The agency says the majority of the 147,500 acres with high potential for oil and gas production under the office’s jurisdiction are already leased and will continue producing under the plan.

The plan closes 98,100 acres for future leasing, including in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area near New Castle, areas managed for wilderness characteristics, areas of critical environmental concern, municipalities and designated recreation areas.

***

In addition to the endangered Colowyo Mine, another Colorado mine with 150 employees faces environmental review and possible closure:

A second Craig-area coal mine apparently also will have to undergo a remedial federal environmental review process if it hopes to avoid a shutdown based on a recent court order.

The Trapper Mine near Craig is now looking at going through the same kind of review currently underway in the case of the Colowyo Mine between Craig and Meeker following a federal judge’s ruling in May.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson, in a suit brought by WildEarth Guardians, found that the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement illegally approved expansions of the two mines because it failed to provide public notice of the decisions and account for the environmental impacts.

The Trapper Mine faces discrepancies over permitted areas and coverage under filings with Judge Jackson, who did not impose a similar ruling as that issued for the Colowyo Mine.

In a notice filed last week to alert the court about the new information, the Trapper attorneys said they support doing remedial environmental analysis involving the Trapper Mine after the Colowyo review is done.

Bob Postle, manager of the program support division for the OSMRE’s western region, said the notice has “just been filed, and we’re now working through how we’re going to address it.”

Given the discrepancies, it isn’t clear at this moment whether a new or remedial environmental review is necessary, according to Trapper’s legal counsel.

***

In a meeting with Republican Senator Cory Gardner, western slope businesses and entrepreneurs described facing onerous regulatory burdens imposed by DC bureaucrats:

A Moffat County sheepherder, Delta hardware shop owner and Grand Junction manufacturer all walked into a meeting Friday with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., each with much the same punchline in mind.

The common theme: The federal government is reaching too far into their businesses, discouraging them from seeking out new ways of doing business and growing.

Constraining regulations have “taken the creativity out of business,” Jim Kendrick, owner of Delta Hardware, told Gardner. “The move is to make us all do business the same way. That’s stifling growth.”

Gardner met with two dozen western Colorado business and economic leaders at Colorado Mesa University in hopes of finding ways to improve the state’s sputtering rural economy.

“I spend all my time on regulatory compliance and none of it on product development,” one Department of Defense contractor said. That would result in pushing more business to bigger vendors able to hurdle all of the regulatory red tape due to a larger staff.

Print Friendly

Comments

Comments are closed.