July 30 Colorado Energy Roundup: Clean Power Plan extension expected; a new Sagebrush Rebellion?

July 30, 2015 by michael
Filed under: Abound Solar, Archive, CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, HB 1365, Legal, Legislation, PUC, renewable energy 

The Clean Power Plan’s timeline for compliance may see an extension, and the final rule itself may be revealed next Monday:

The final version of President Obama’s signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut planet-warming pollution from power plants, according to people familiar with the plan.

If enacted, the climate change plan, the final version of which is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday, could stand as the most significant action ever taken by an American president to curb global warming. But some environmental groups have cautioned that a later deadline for states to comply could make it tougher for the United States to meet Mr. Obama’s climate change pledges on the world stage.

The plan consists of three major environmental regulations, which combined are intended to drastically cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The rules take aim at coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse emissions, and are intended to spur a transformation of the nation’s power sector from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as wind and solar. Under the rules, the Environmental Protection Agency would require states to draft plans to lower emissions from power plants. The agency is also expected to issue its own model of a state-level plan, to be imposed on states that refuse to draft their own plans.

The final rules would extend the timeline for states and electric utilities to comply, compared with a draft proposal put forth by the E.P.A. in June last year, according to people who are familiar with the plan but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The Independence Institute’s backgrounder on the Clean Power Plan and its devastating effects on our energy choice and enormous costs to taxpayers and the economy in general can be found here.

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Much of the public land in the Rocky Mountain west is administered not by the states but by the federal government all the way from DC–and the debate over who should ultimately preside over these vast swathes of federal land has seen a resurgence:

Not since the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1979 has the debate over whether it’s time for federal lands to fall to states’ control gained such attention, and the anti-federal-government sentiment and talking points aren’t likely to dissipate as the West heads toward the next presidential election.

The fight stirred in 2012 when the Utah legislature passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act to demand authority over millions of acres of federal land by last New Year’s Eve. It didn’t happen.

Eight states cumulatively considered 30 bills around the issue this year. In March, Republicans in the U.S. Senate passed, without a single Democratic vote, a symbolic resolution in support of transferring or trading land to states. The resolution, though, doesn’t give Congress or any federal agency additional power to make deals.

And in the last Colorado legislative session there were three bills around the subject. Only one passed. House Bill 1225, a bipartisan bill supported by environmental groups, strengthens communities’ position in saying how local federal lands are managed.

Opponents of devolving control of public lands to the states cite the enormous costs of maintaining them, arguing states are not prepared to shoulder the added burden of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual upkeep.

For example, a single wildfire could cripple Colorado, said Governor John Hickenlooper’s advisor:

The federal government also picks up the costs for wildfires on federal lands. But just one massive wildfire in Colorado — a state that can have several in one year — could obliterate the state budget, said John Swartout, a Republican who is Hickenlooper’s top policy adviser on land, wildlife and conservation issues.

“The solution is constructive engagement,” Swartout said. “Are we always going to be happy with all the decisions? No. But we’re going to get a lot farther helping create the final solution.”

More than 1/3 of Colorado is subject to federal jurisdiction. Whether or not the debate develops into a political conflagration or peters out in favor of other issues remains to be seen, but expect energy producers and environmental activists to keep a close eye on how the narrative proceeds.

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WildEarth Guardians won’t hesitate to launch a legal battle, as a recent look at the group’s lawsuit filings shows:

Though a relatively small organization with only 26 people on staff, WildEarth Guardians’ litigious nature has established the environmental advocacy group as a dominant voice in the national debate about environmental policy.

From 2010 to present, Guardians have initiated a total of 152 cases in federal district courts and 55 in the Circuit Court of Appeals for a total of 207 cases. In 2010 alone they filed 61 claims — an average of about one per week.

However, Guardians’ pervasiveness in the courts has not gone without criticism.

In a 2012 analysis of WildEarth Guardians’ legal activity, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity claimed that Guardians has been “misusing the judicial system, exploiting poorly-written laws and taking advantage of taxpayers to pursue a narrow, litigation-driven, special interest agenda.”

For Coloradans, especially those in Craig and surrounding areas, lawsuits from the group have drawn the ire of residents and businesses for favoring costly litigation as a first-stop solution:

Lee Boughey, senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs for Tri-State, said in a statement that the courts should not be a first resort.

“Environmental policy, regulations and law should be set by state legislatures and Congress, and based on sound science, a thorough cost-benefit analysis and appropriate timeframes for implementation. These are difficult issues, and it is a far better for all stakeholders to commit to work together to develop sound regulatory policy that take these consideration into account, as opposed to running straight to the courts,” he said.

The group remains adamant, saying, the “legal system is oftentimes the last recourse of justice for interests and peoples that have been marginalized or whose issues haven’t been heard.”

In the case of Colowyo Mine, the marginalized appear to be the local residents, workers, and communities.

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A pair of energy-related ballot measures will appear in November in Boulder, including a Climate Action tax:

Boulder officials also want to ask voters to extend the portion of the utility occupation tax on energy bills that replaces Xcel Energy’s franchise fee and provides roughly $4.1 million to the city’s general fund each year. It is not the portion of the tax that funds analysis and legal efforts toward municipalization, which is not on the ballot. The municipal energy utility would also have to pay a similar amount into the general fund, but that utility may not be up and running by 2017, when the tax expires. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through 2022.

The Climate Action Plan tax, which funds energy-efficiency programs and solar rebates, will also appear on the ballot. That tax expires in March 2018, and city leaders believe the programs ultimately will be paid for out of utility rates. However, that won’t be possible until the utility is up and running. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through March 2023 so that those programs could continue regardless of progress on the municipal utility.

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