November 25 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: CO residential rates skyrocket, could get worse; AG Coffman responds to Gov. Hickenlooper challenge over authority to challenge EPA
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, New Energy Economy, preferred energy, solar energy, wind energy
Check out the latest Independence Institute research on electricity rates in the state of Colorado:
The cost of electricity for Colorado residents skyrocketed 63 percent between 2001 and 2014, far outpacing median income in the state at just 24 percent over the same time period, according to Independence Institute analysis of electricity rates provided by the Energy Information Administration and census data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Retail residential electricity rates increased from 7.47 cents per kilowatthour in 2001 to 12.18 cents per kilowatthour by 2014, a 63.1 percent hike. Coloradans’ median income, however, went up just 24.1 percent, from $49,397 to $61,303. Median income in Colorado actually declined between 2008 and 2012.
“The saddest part of all is that it’s as yet uncertain whether any of Colorado’s rateshock would help stave off the worst of the Obama administration’s climate initiative, were that regulation to survive judicial review. That means that it could get much worse,” said William Yeatman, senior fellow of environmental policy and energy markets at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the Independence Institute’s 2012 Cost Analysis of the New Energy Economy.
If you enjoy and support the important research and outreach work on issues ranging from hydraulic fracturing to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan that Amy Oliver Cooke and I do here on energy policy at the Energy Policy Center, please consider the following message from the Independence Institute’s Alexandra King:
Colorado’s Attorney General Cynthia Coffman responded to Governor John Hickenlooper’s legal filing over authority in the pushback against the Clean Power Plan:
Colorado’s Republican attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, filed a brief Friday in the state’s high court defending her authority — through case law — to challenge the Clean Power Plan in spite of the governor’s wishes.
“Even when the governor and the attorney general split along party lines, the attorney general has not only the authority but also the public duty to seek judicial review to protect the legal interests of Colorado,” the filing says.
Coffman cited a 2003 dispute in which the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that then-Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat, had the power to file lawsuits independent of former Republican Gov. Bill Owens.
Coffman’s brief is in response to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s recent filing in the high court asking them intervene and declare he “has ultimate authority” on whether to sue the federal government.
According to the article, the dispute may take the Colorado Supreme Court months to decide, meaning resolution is unlikely before 2016.
Speaking of the Clean Power Plan, the Institute for Energy Research has the latest on the analysis of the rule’s costs to the nation’s ratepayers:
Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) just released its analysis of the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” (CPP), which mandates a 32 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the electric generating sector by 2030 from 2005 levels. While EPA claims the regulation will be virtually cost free, this study finds:
Consumers will pay an additional $214 billion by 2030;
45 states will see double digit increases in wholesale electricity costs; and
16 states will see a 25 percent or higher increase in wholesale electricity costs.
Further, 41,000 megawatts of perfectly good electric generating capacity will be forced to prematurely retire, costing the nation $64 billion to needlessly replace. While the costs of the regulation are high, the carbon dioxide reductions are almost non-existent. The regulation would reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by less than 1 percent and global temperatures by 0.02 degrees Celsius by 2100, according to EPA’s own models.[i] The CPP appears to be more of an excuse to fundamentally transform the nation’s electrical generating system from a reliable and affordable one to one that burdens Americans with costly and unreliable energy, consistent with President Obama’s promise to make “electricity prices necessarily skyrocket.”
Colorado’s rates will increase approximately 20 percent by 2030, easily the highest increase among its Rocky Mountain west neighbors, tied with Wyoming. Replacing capacity in Colorado will cost $3.3 billion or more.
The EPA’s disastrous Gold King mine spill on the Animas River continues to affect those downstream:
Three million gallons of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine poured into Colorado’s Animas River in August, laden with cadmium, lead and arsenic. The water eventually found its way into the San Juan River, the primary source of irrigation for Navajo Nation farmers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted that it accidentally caused the spill while trying to prevent leakage of toxic materials.
The spill was one of the biggest environmental disasters in the region and came in the middle of growing season for hay and alfalfa. Some communities reopened their gates to water from the river. Others, including one of the largest Navajo chapters (similar to a county), voted to keep their gates closed for at least a year to avoid contaminating the soil, despite reports from the EPA that the measures of chemicals had returned to pre-incident levels.
Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, a farmer, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the effect of the spill on his life and the Navajo Nation.
What did you think when you first saw the river?
By the time it reached us, you know, it was quite diluted. We didn’t see the orange water; it was more yellow-brown.
My farm is 200 yards from the river, so I saw it coming right down toward us. No one knew the impact if we kept the water on. There could be any one of deadly metals in the water. We knew it was going to change things.
Results from a recent Quinnipiac poll on Colorado’s attitudes to climate change:
Thirty-four percent of Colorado voters surveyed say they’re very concerned about climate change, and 26 percent say they’re somewhat concerned, versus 23 percent who say they’re not concerned at all and 15 percent who say they’re “not so concerned.”
The Obama administration has made combating climate change a top priority, while many Republicans in Congress and elsewhere as have objected to climate-control steps as harmful to the economy, and some question whether climate change is caused by human activity or is just a natural phenomenon.
Meanwhile, 52 percent of surveyed voters say the U.S. should be doing more to address climate change.
Concern about climate change doesn’t necessarily translate into support for rules like the Clean Power Plan, as results from an August survey show.
Filed under: Legislation, New Energy Economy, preferred energy, regulations, solar energy, wind energy
The cost of electricity for Colorado residents skyrocketed 63 percent between 2001 and 2014, far outpacing median income in the state at just 24 percent over the same time period, according to Independence Institute analysis of electricity rates provided by the Energy Information Administration and census data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Retail residential electricity rates increased from 7.47 cents per kilowatthour in 2001 to 12.18 cents per kilowatthour by 2014, a 63.1 percent hike. Coloradans’ median income, however, went up just 24.1 percent, from $49,397 to $61,303. Median income in Colorado actually declined between 2008 and 2012.
In comparison, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ CPI inflation calculator returned an inflation measurement of 34 percent between 2001 and 2014.
It’s clear from the data that Coloradans’ income is not keeping pace with almost continuous electricity price increases over the past 15 years, consistently outpacing the rate of inflation. Colorado’s ratepayers have had to endure two economic recessions over that period, while feeling no relief from escalating energy prices driven by onerous regulations driving energy costs ever higher.
From fuel-switching and renewable mandates to other costly regulations imposed by state and federal agencies, Colorado’s ratepayers and taxpayers alike have been subject to policies that do not consider energy affordability or reliability as a primary concern. The most vulnerable communities–elderly, minorities, and the poor–are the most sensitive to even the smallest increases in energy costs.
Not to mention the state’s many business owners, including small business owners, who face the same hikes in energy costs that could force decisions like layoffs or relocation to nearby states, where energy costs are lower. This reduces job growth and harms the state’s economy twice, with increased business costs passed on to consumers–the same ratepayers who already are paying more at the meter.
“Colorado is an outlier in front of an unfortunate nationwide trend. According to federal data, average U.S. electricity prices in 2016 are projected to be about 4.5 percent greater than 2013 levels, despite decreasing overall demand, historically low natural gas prices, and plummeting oil,” said William Yeatman, senior fellow of environmental policy and energy markets at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the Independence Institute’s 2012 Cost Analysis of the New Energy Economy.
“The best explanation for this confounding upward trend in utility bills nationwide is the Obama’s administration’s war on coal. Colorado, alas, was well ahead of the curve on the war on coal, which explains much of why the state’s rate increases are presently so much greater than the nationwide average,” he continued. “Governor Ritter and PUC Chairman Ron Binz were the primary players responsible for the creation of the so-called New Energy Economy, which is perhaps better labeled the Expensive Energy Economy. Theirs was a two-part policy. First, they shuttered a number of coal-fired power plants that were already paid for and that enjoyed among the lowest fuel costs on the state’s grid. To be clear: they shut down the cheapest sources of power. Second, they replaced this cheap power with expensive power. Instead of having power plants that were paid for, they required the construction of brand new gas power plants. And they required wind, much of which was “locked in” for long periods at exorbitant rates set on the price of natural gas 8 years ago. And they required solar, a program on which all ratepayers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize the installation of solar panels for the relatively few. Ritter and Binz are well out of office, but Coloradans now shoulder the burden of their misguided policies,” Yeatman concluded.
Yeatman’s analysis of 57 legislative items guided by Governor Ritter’s New Energy Economy push yielded $484 million in additional costs by 2012 to the state’s Xcel customers alone, or an additional $345 for every ratepayer.
But even these costs might not be all that’s in store for Colorado’s pressured electricity consumer.
“The saddest part of all is that it’s as yet uncertain whether any of Colorado’s rateshock would help stave off the worst of the Obama administration’s climate initiative, were that regulation to survive judicial review. That means that it could get much worse,” Yeatman said.
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, regulations, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
Or so it would seem based on a photo taken this past Monday at the Environmental Protection Agency’s hearing on the federal implementation and model trading rules portions of the Clean Power Plan:
Independence Institute’s Mike Krause analyzes how even the mere appearance of preferential treatment really calls into question the impartiality of the agency when it comes to hearings on a finalized rule that endangers coal-fired energy use, by putting an organization whose stated goals are to move “Beyond Coal” and whose Rocky Mountain chapter wants to move Colorado to 100% renewable energy, starting with Denver:
November 20 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Sierra Club to push for 100% renewables in Colorado; EPA Clean Power Plan hearing draws opposing sides; COGCC discusses new regs
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation, New Energy Economy, regulations, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
(Image Credit: Michael Sandoval)
The Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Analyst Michael Sandoval delivered this statement to the Environmental Protection Agency’s November 16 hearing in Denver, Colorado on the agency’s proposed federal plan and model trading rules for the Clean Power Plan:
In its 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’.
In a proposed mass-based emissions allocation trading market to trade eligible resource credits (ERCs), who is the market maker? It would appear to require institutional apparatus of some sort–what enabling legislation in Colorado is required? In other states? If no legislation at this level is required, why not?
Markets are complex and difficulty in trading–what are the rules? how are the rules established? Who handles disputes and is the ultimate arbiter? How are the credits created in the trading mechanism?
The Independence Institute is a free market think tank interested in promoting the free market in energy resources, but as nice or well-intentioned a trading market for ERCs sounds at first glance, it becomes evident that government-created “markets” are simply picking energy winners and losers, often arbitrarily, often without actual considerations of cost or impact, but rather to self-serving goals contained within a given policy, such as the Clean Power Plan. When those transactional costs of trading ERCs rise, who will pay them? The inefficiencies won’t be borne at the administrative or even generating level, but by the ratepayers and taxpayers, not all of whom will be prepared for the rising costs of the Clean Power Plan itself, much less in terms of wealth transfers from state to state as the trading scheme expands.
So far, as with much else from the rollout of the Clean Power Plan, the timeline for market creation is heavily compacted. Information from CDPHE in September on question of trading was light and unhelpful. As it appear now it is a scribbling of generalities, and it is difficult to comment because it appears to be more like a make-up-as-you-go, details to be sketched in later program that will prove harder, more expensive, and more nuanced than any central planning or federal trading scheme could possibly account for ahead of time.
These comments, of course, fall into the requisite acknowledgement of the ongoing legal, technical, and other shortcomings of the overall Clean Power Plan. Proposing a FIP and trading scheme would appear to be adopting a one-size-fits-all scheme to hasty environmental and electric generation planning at federal and state levels, and an expansion of EPA control over generation, distribution, and energy choice at the state level.
Compressing the timeline in 2016 will leave states scrambling without guidance ahead of their initial state plan submissions in 2016. Complicated mechanisms like a credit trading scheme, besides being legally or technically burdensome, surely deserve a measured approach. Concerns about the CPP or a credit trading system will continue with retards to electric reliability and electricity prices, something the state of Colorado has indicated is a foremost consideration, should we be able to take the state’s agencies and political establishment at their word.
Finally, all portions of the CPP must and should address the regressive nature of raising electricity prices on the nations’ poor, minority, elderly, and other vulnerable communities.
The Denver Business Journal captured some other responses at Monday’s EPA Clean Power Plan hearing:
Kim Stevens, Environment Colorado:
“We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change here in Colorado, from drought to floods, and these extreme weather events will only get worse without bold action to slash carbon pollution.”
Laura Comer, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign:
“The Clean Power Plan shows that the United States has a real, enforceable plan to curb dangerous carbon pollution and that we are truly to committed to combating climate disruption. We cannot let attacks from big polluters and their allies lessen our chances of a strong international agreement and undermine the safety of our communities.”
More reaction in the Denver Post:
“The EPA regulations will cost Colorado jobs, will cause electricity prices to soar and threaten the reliability of the electrical grid by mandating a wholesale restructuring of our electricity system for no appreciable benefit to the climate,” Colorado Mining Association president Stuart Sanderson said.
Sanderson and National Mining Association officials pointed to industry-backed studies saying power costs for residents of Colorado and other states would increase by around 30 percent between 2022 and 2030.
The plan leaves it to states to implement changes subject to EPA approval. EPA officials have said they will take into account each state’s current energy mix. If a state fails to act, federal officials would impose “an implementation plan” on that state.
The feds held the hearings on implementing the plan in Pittsburgh last week and, after Denver, will hear from residents in Atlanta and Washington D.C. A second day of comments are scheduled to continue Tuesday morning in Denver.
Sanderson called the Clean Power Plan a “stealth energy tax” for Coloradans.***
Many folks who push for clean energy or regulations like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan say that these programs will create jobs–but they never seem to remember the jobs these anti-energy choice mandates end up killing, like the more than 200 jobs Union Pacific will likely slash due to decreases in coal transportation in Colorado:
Union Pacific this week notified workers it will shutter its Burnham Shop repair yard in central Denver, putting more than 200 jobs on the line and darkening a piece of Colorado history.
Operations at Burnham will halt Feb. 14, the Omaha-based railroad said.
“The well-documented decline in the coal carloadings in Colorado — a result of natural gas prices and regulatory pressure — has diminished the need for locomotive repairs and overhauls in the Denver area,” Calli B. Hite, a Union Pacific spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to The Denver Post.
Loaded coal trains originating in Colorado have decreased 80 percent since 2005, Hite wrote.
Earlier this week, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held hearings on new fracking rules, including limiting hours for fracking operations and setbacks for development:
The Bureau of Land Management has stirred up controversy over 65 existing oil and gas leases with a new environmental impact statement that puts nearly half at risk:
The Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) Wednesday that put 65 existing oil and gas leases on White River National Forest land under the microscope. The agency found that 25 leases in the controversial Thompson Divide area must be either wholly or partially cancelled.
This long-awaited decision was embraced by conservation groups, and panned by the oil and gas industry.
The rub was over the legality of these leases, which are owned by Houston-based energy companies SG Interests and Ursa Resources, and have been scrutinized for years. Many conservation groups have said that the leases were issued without undergoing the proper environmental evaluations.
The BLM draft EIS backs that position, and now a 49-day public comment period will begin on Nov. 20 and will run through Jan. 8, 2016.
“We appreciate the effort of the local community in this discussion,” said BLM Colorado State Director Ruth Welch in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work toward finding a path forward that balances energy development and conservation, while recognizing the White River National Forest’s planning efforts.”
The Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter would like the entire state of Colorado to be 100% renewable, beginning with Denver. Becky English, the executive committee chair for the Sierra Club, responded to an email about a sustainability summit scheduled for early December in Denver:
I would have liked to share that the Sierra Club national board has declared a goal of powering the electric sector by 100% renewable energy nationwide, and that the Rocky Mountain Chapter has adopted the goal for Colorado. I will approach you offline about how best to work toward this goal in Denver.
The “Sustainable Denver Summit” on December 3rd will feature Denver Mayor Michael Hancock:
Sustainable Denver Summit Program
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. – Registration, Continential Breakfast, and Exhibition Space
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. – Opening plenary session – Remarks from Keynote Speaker and Mayor Michael B. Hancock
10:00 a.m. – Breakout Sessions –
• Energy – Focusing on issues of energy efficiency, renewable energy, use of energy in mobility, and air quality and greenhouse gas reduction
• Water – Focusing on both water quantity and water quality, including climate change resilience
• Materials – Focusing on cradle-to-cradle materials management issues, including environmentally preferable purchasing, recycling, composting and by-product synergy
• Mobility – Focusing on providing multiple interconnected mobility modes that are cleaner, safer, cheaper and more efficient than the current system
12:30 – 1:30 p.m. – Luncheon and Sustainability Awards – Awards will be presented to the 2015 Sustainable Denver Award winners
1:45 – 3:45 p.m. – Breakout Sessions Reconvene
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. – Closing Plenary Session – Report out on commitments
They should probably also feature a breakout session on how these programs will make the city of Denver–not to mention the entire state of Colorado under the Sierra Club’s plan–less affordable for low income and minority populations.
October 29 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper vs. Coffman over EPA lawsuit; EPA spill report short on info says New Mexico; Frack or Treat
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC, regulations, solar energy, wind energy
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s decision to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to implement the Clean Power Plan has initiated a constitutional battle in the eyes of Governor John Hickenlooper:
Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he will seek the state Supreme Court’s opinion on the legality of Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s lawsuit to stop implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
“This notion of everyone suing all the time every time you disagree with a specific remedy, a specific statute, is part of what makes people so frustrated with government,” Hickenlooper, who supports the plan, said in a meeting with The Denver Post’s editorial board.
“Except in very rare circumstances, generally the governor is supposed to make that decision in concert with the attorney general,” Hickenlooper said of the lawsuit. “But the governor should have that final say.”
Hickenlooper’s office pushed the issue further, saying the AG’s actions “just gets in the way” of state plans to cooperate with the CPP:
“The statute that we’re looking at speaks of prosecuting and defending on the request of the governor,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed, Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel, citing Colorado’s revised statutes, title 24, article 31, part 1.
Cooper Melmed said she is worried about conflicts as some Coffman deputies work with Hickenlooper’s administration to implement the plan while others in the attorney general’s office try to quash it.
“This just gets in the way,” Cooper Melmed said of the lawsuit. “There’s no wall really high enough to allow these two things to happen out of the same office.”
Coffman, for her part, said she was “disappointed” in the Governor’s decision.
Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton called Hickenlooper’s stance “unusual” when it comes to the relationship between AG and Governor, even when representing opposing parties:
“For the governor to try to challenge in this way is unusual,” Norton said.
In almost all cases where a governor challenges an attorney general, Norton said, rulings are in the attorney general’s favor.
“The attorney general represents the state and not the governor,” Norton said. “The attorney general is elected to provide independent representation of the state’s interest.”
Steamboat Today has a great roundup of other reactions for and against the lawsuit.
It’s not just states suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan–at least 26 states filed almost immediately after the ruling was published last Friday–but other lawsuits are on their way from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Association of Manufacturers.
The EPA, meanwhile, is touting its flexibility–a “wide range of choices”–in allowing states to file extensions:
Taking another crack at busting the CPP progress, this time using pre-existing Congressional review legislation:
Lawmakers opposed to the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants are moving to block the regulations from taking effect.
Several senators will offer Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions Monday that seek to stop the Clean Power Plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a longtime opponent of carbon regulations for the power sector, will schedule a vote on the resolutions soon after they come out.
“I have vowed to do all I can to fight back against this administration on behalf of the thousands of Kentucky coal miners and their families, and this CRA is another tool in that battle,” McConnell said in a statement.
The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers the ability to end an executive branch regulation through an act of Congress.
Communities around Colorado continue to struggle with mine runoff, the August EPA spill in southwest Colorado not withstanding:
Toxic mines hang over this haven for wildflowers, contaminating water and driving residents — like counterparts statewide — to press for better protection.
A local group went to federal court this month seeking long-term assurances that a water-treatment plant will always remain open as the collapsed tunnels and heaps of tailings leak an acid mix of heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, zinc and others.
State data show these contaminants reaching Coal Creek — the primary water source for Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley’s green pastures — at levels exceeding health standards.
“A lot of people are nervous,” said Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates. “We’d like to get it as clean as possible.”
But the EPA isn’t being all the helpful, as the Interior Department inspector general report on the Gold King Mine/Animas River spill concluded, as the U.S. Chamber points out:
These two quotes from the report illustrate just how careless EPA was:
EPA has “little appreciation for the engineering complexity.”
“[T]here appears to be a general absence of knowledge of the risks associated with these [abandoned mining] facilities.”
Even EPA’s internal investigators didn’t hold back on the agencies irresponsibility. Its initial review concluded the spill was “likely inevitable,” but the agency wasn’t prepared to contain a spill before digging into the mine.
That isn’t much consolation for the folks in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation affected by the spill, as New Mexico’s top environmental watchdog Ryan Flynn said, quoted again by the Chamber:
While the report reveals that an EPA decision was made to refrain from validating the flawed water level estimates with a previously used successful procedure (using a drill rig to bore into the mine from above to directly determine the water level of the mine pool prior to excavating the backfill at the portal); the report says absolutely nothing about who made the decision to fly by the seat of their pants, by digging out the closed Gold King Mine tunnel based on un-validated estimates of what volume and pressure of contaminated water would be violently released.
Here in New Mexico, we are already quite clear on the fact that EPA made a mistake, as the DOI’s report underwhelmingly reveals. What we were wondering, and hoped the report could tell us, is why EPA made the mistake, and who at EPA made the decisions that authorized dangerous work to proceed based on un-validated estimates. It is shocking to read the DOI’s “independent investigation” only to find that it overlooks the who, the how, and the why. [emphasis added]
How big are subsidies for electric cars? Without the $5,000 tax credit in Georgia, the state saw sales of electric vehicles plummet nearly 90% in just two months:
According to Georgia car registrations, sales shot up as electric car buyers rushed to take advantage of the tax credit before it expired. But the numbers declined sharply in July and took a swan dive in August — the most recent month tabulated:
The decline from 1,338 in June to 148 in August represents a drop of 88.9 percent.
Read the rest of this excellent Watchdog article here.
It’s almost Halloween, so we’ll end on a spooky anti-energy note from Energy in Depth:
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been waging an extreme campaign to ban fracking through so called “Community Bill of Rights” ballot initiatives, especially targeting communities in Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The group has already forced taxpayers to pay tens of thousands of dollars to defend their illegal ordinances and it is now planning to hit communities in California, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington State. In fact, as Energy In Depth’s new video shows, this Halloween, CELDF’s extreme (and expensive) campaign could be coming to a ballot box near you.
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.
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.