February 23 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Conflicting views over Colorado CPP prep; Gold King Mine persists for Navajo Nation

February 23, 2016 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

An E&E story ‘Colo. steps back from crafting formal plan for EPA rule’ might give readers pause, thinking that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was backing off its previous statement to proceed with “prudent” Clean Power Plan development even as a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court was in effect (paywall):

Colorado officials said yesterday they believe it is “prudent” for the state to keep working toward power plant carbon emissions reductions despite a recent Supreme Court ruling to freeze a key federal climate change regulation.

But the state’s original path toward meeting U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan goals will be recharted, officials declared at Colorado’s first public meeting about the regulation since the court stay.

“We don’t think it is appropriate at this point to continue drafting a full state plan,” said Chris Colclasure of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division. “There’s just too much uncertainty for that.”

Colclasure said the decision to stop work on developing a full compliance plan is part of an effort in smart time management.

“We want to take any steps that we can to put Colorado in the best position given the uncertainty so that when the Supreme Court gives us a ruling, we have used that time effectively,” he said.

The state is “trying to identify actions that we can take that will have benefits regardless of the outcome of the litigation,” Colclasure said, adding that “we don’t want to waste time, either, by having people work on activities that wind up being irrelevant.”

This would include whether to cancel, reschedule, or rework meetings already on the CDPHE agenda for this spring.

A generous reading would see CDPHE’s declarations as a revision or walk-back of its post stay bravado to carry on with CPP preparation at the state level. But there might be no walk-back, but some verbal gymnastics designed to throw off possible legislative action this session or to see other reasons (not just “we should do something anyway because it’s a good thing”) like the state’s own impending 2020 renewable energy standards or Governor John Hickenlooper’s 2015 Colorado Climate Plan.

Meanwhile, at least 17 other states’ governors have signed a bipartisan pledge to promote a “new energy future” as CPP litigation continues.

An amicus brief filed by 34 Senators and 171 Representatives supporting the CPP lawsuit:

WASHINGTON – Led by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), 34 Senators and 171 House Members filed an amicus brief today in the case of State of West Virginia, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al.

The amicus brief is in support of petitions filed by 27 states seeking to overturn the EPA final rule identified as the Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602, 80 Fed. Reg. 64,662 (Oct. 23, 2015), also known as the “Clean Power Plan.” A copy of the brief can be found here.

As Senators and Representatives duly elected to serve in the Congress of the United States in which “all legislative Powers” granted by the Constitution are vested, the members state that:

The Final Rule goes well beyond the clear statutory directive by, among other things, requiring States to submit, for approval, state or regional energy plans to meet EPA’s predetermined CO2 mandates for their electricity sector. In reality, if Congress desired to give EPA sweeping authority to transform the nation’s electricity sector, Congress would have provided for that unprecedented power in detailed legislation. Indeed, when an agency seeks to make “decisions of vast ‘economic and political significance’” under a “long-extant statute,” it must point to a “clear” statement from Congress. Util. Air Regulatory Grp. v. EPA, 134 S. Ct. 2427, 2444 (2014) (quoting FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 160, 529 U. S. Ct. 1291, 1315 (2000)). EPA can point to no statement of congressional authorization for the Final Rule’s central features, precisely because there is none.

Gov. Hickenlooper defended his views about the CPP on CPR: ignoring SCOTUS stay to do a Colorado approach–more wind, more solar–”I think we do have a responsibility to go to those communities and see what we can do to try and find new businesses or be able to retrain some of the miners so that that community doesn’t suffer so much economically.”

“We really can have inexpensive electrical generation and clean air at the same time,” said Hickenlooper.

That “responsibility” Hickenlooper outlined will be tested, as coal communities see economic upheaval already:

The downward slide continued for Colorado’s coal industry in 2015, highlighted by production at Routt County’s Twentymile Mine, which was down 38 percent.

Statewide, production in Colorado was down 18.5 percent, with 18.7 million tons, the lowest amount of coal mined in 23 years.

In Moffat County, production at the Trapper Mine was actually up nine percent, with 2.1 million tons. At Colowyo Mine, production was down six percent at 2.3 million tons.

Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said the drop in production is a result of lower demand, but it was not caused by natural market forces.

“What we are seeing is the direct result of government regulations that are designed to drive coal out of the energy mix,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson pointed to the 2010 Clean Air Clean Jobs fuel-switching bill from coal to natural gas.

“Moving forward, there is no question that the companies are suffering from this absurd action by the government to put hardworking men and women out of work,” Sanderson said.

In other words, mining communities aren’t just suffering economically, they’re suffering governmentally.

***

At the “Lifting the Oil Export Ban” event, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter indicated support for a 5-10 cent gas tax hike as an “investment”–as he “comes from a construction family” (51:00 mark):

***

The Gold King Mine spill prompted by the Environmental Protection Agency still has lingering effects in Navajo Nation areas south of Colorado:

Millions of gallons of contamination from heavy metals flowed from the Animas River in Colorado into the San Juan River in New Mexico, threatening their economy and their spiritual way of life.

Joe Ben Jr. is a farmer and representative to the Navajo Nation board. He walked with CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger through corn stalks in a field.

“This corn should normally be higher than 6 feet, it’s about 4 feet,” Ben said.

With sadness he told of how they shut off the irrigation water when they heard the toxic plume was coming and still haven’t turned it back on. Some 550 indigenous Navajo farmers in the region have felt the impact. Ben says farming is an art in their culture for those who live off the land.

Among them is Earl Yazzie and his family. He can only bundle up what remains of what might have been a bountiful harvest. The mine spill took a toll on his farm. He estimates the loss at $10,000.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked–“What if a business did this?”:

If this were a private business, EPA would never have accepted this answer. It would have decried such behavior as “cutting corners” and rushing ahead with little regard to safety and the environment. Fines would’ve been issued.

Just like when EPA fined an oil exploration company $30,500 only a few days before the Gold King Mine spill for leaking 500 gallons of well testing fluids on Alaska’s North Slope. EPA allowed 6,000 times that amount of material to pour into a river. Will EPA (i.e. taxpayers) fork over $183 million in fines?

Last year, Administrator Gina McCarthy said EPA will be held accountable for the spill:

“We are going to be fully accountable for this in a transparent way,” she said at a press conference. “The EPA takes full responsibility for this incident. No agency could be more upset.”

When asked if the EPA will investigate itself as vigorously as it would a private company, McCarthy said, “We will hold ourselves to a higher standard than anybody else.”

On the transparency front, EPA is lacking. As noted above, Griswold’s email about water pressure concerns wasn’t included in EPA’s December 2015 report. Also, committee members are subpoenaing the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers for more documents about the spill, because they don’t think the agencies have been forthcoming.

As for holding itself to a higher standard, that’s yet to be seen six months after the spill.

A House committee is seeking Interior Department documents in the Gold King Mine incident and the subsequent post-spill investigation:

Sally Jewell was ordered Wednesday by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources to produce a long list of records and correspondences by the end of next week.

Specifically, the committee wants information about how investigators under Jewell worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to peer review the report.

The committee’s chair, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the Department of Interior has interfered with his requests for information on how the Gold King Mine report was compiled.

Bishop says the DOI has tried to block records showing the Army Corps of Engineers had “serious reservations about the scope and veracity” of the interior department’s review.

Army Corps records were also subpoenaed Wednesday.

Meanwhile, CDPHE sees the Gold King Mine spill as the impetus for action on other mines around the state:

SILVERTON —Of the 230 inactive mines the state recognized six months ago as causing the worst damage to Colorado waterways, state officials say 148 have not been fully evaluated.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has cobbled together $300,000 for an “inventory initiative” to round up records and set priorities. The agency is enlisting help from the Colorado Geological Survey at the Colorado School of Mines.

Colorado officials hope attention on the Animas River after the EPA-triggered spill at the Gold King Mine in August will spur action at scores of other inactive mines contaminating waterways. After the disaster, the state identified the worst 230 leaking mines draining into creeks and rivers.

There are an estimated 23,000 inactive mines in Colorado and 500,000 around the West. State officials estimate mining wastewater causes 89 percent of the harm to thousands of miles of waterways statewide.

February 18 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Costly Clean Power Plan event video; EPA Animas River spill gets Congressional scrutiny; fracking ban off 2016 ballot

February 18, 2016 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation, regulations 

The Independence Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute joined forces on February 16 in Denver to provide an update on the Environmental Protection Agency’s costly Clean Power Plan, including where the rule stands with regard to the U.S. Supreme Court stay issued earlier in February, as well as the impact of the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the ongoing legal proceedings.

Watchdog’s Art Kane:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan rules will slow the Colorado economy, raise electricity rates and barely make a dent in carbon dioxide emissions, opponents and experts on the plan told an audience at the Independence Institute on Tuesday.

“Clean power alone will add billions if not tens of billions of costs to individual consumers and the American economy,” said Gregory Conko, executive director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Myron Ebell, CEI’s director of the Center for Energy and Enviroment released a state-by-state comparison showing Colorado’s 9.49 cents per kilowatt hour is lower than the national average of 10.11 cents. But he said California, which has extensive power plant regulation and has consumers paying 15.11 cents, is a warning for the rest of the country if the Clean Power Plan is instituted.

“This is about keeping the lights on for America’s economy, for Colorado’s economy,” he said, adding any additional costs for energy will take away consumer purchasing power for other goods.

Keeping the lights on and the cost of electricity–the energy that drives our economy.

What happens when costs of electricity go up? It hurts the average Coloradan; the ratepayers and taxpayers already pressured by an economy that has never fully recovered from the recession that have seen their electricity bills skyrocket 63 percent between 2001 and 2014, and Colorado overall, across all sectors from residential to commercial, industrial, and transportation, of 67 percent:

Energy_Increase_AllSectors_Percent_a

Energy_Increase_AllSectors_kwh

Those cost increases are being felt, not the least by folks in southern Colorado.

***

Regulations impact economies, and officials at a hearing in New Mexico on proposed Bureau of Land Management rules got an earful:

“The implementation of these proposed rules will kill revenue to state and federal government,” said Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts. “And it will kill jobs at the local level.”

To find the source of Farmington and San Juan County, New Mexico, residents’ frustration, one doesn’t need to look far. Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that showed the area ranked first in the nation in the rate of unemployment growth – from 5.2 percent in 2014 to 7.3 percent in 2015. Since 2009, the region has lost an estimated 6,000 jobs, mainly as a result of a declining oil and gas industry.

“I’ve seen the affects in my community,” said Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein. “This will be a knock-out blow to an already-crippled community.”

In January, the BLM proposed an update to 30-year old regulations on methane and natural gas leaks on BLM and Native American lands. BLM officials estimate the tougher regulations would reduce emissions of the potent methane by about 169,00 tons per year, and decrease volatile organic compound releases by 410,000 tons per year. That reduction would be in keeping with an earlier Obama Administration goal of reducing methane emissions by 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2015.

***

Keeping Colorado coal alive:

In March of last year, I had the privilege of traveling to northwest Colorado to film AEA’s “Eye of the Storm” video which chronicled the threats radical environment activists were making against the communities of Craig and Meeker. Thankfully, with your help, we were able to convince the federal government that the Colowyo mine should stay open. Unfortunately, the mine and these communities are under threat yet again.

While in Craig and Meeker, Colorado, I was blown away by the people that I met. Every person knew just how important energy is to their community. From the mayor to the hotel concierge, every single person I spoke with had a personal story about how the energy their community produces and responsibly utilizes makes their lives better. And as many miners pointed out to me, their work provides affordable, reliable energy to the entire region.

Visiting the Colowyo mine was a surreal experience. At first, you drive up a winding dirt road through checkpoints, until you finally reach the mining area. Colowyo is a surface mine situated between the towns of Craig and Meeker. Cresting the ridge and looking down on the pit, you see these bright yellow trucks scurrying around with dirt and coal, but from that distance you can’t tell how massive they are. Realizing the immense scale of this project and the work these men and women do every day is profound—and in a way, beautiful.

One real surprise to me is that soon after stepping out of the truck at the mine, I noticed wildlife. You do not expect to visit a mine and see elk, antelope, deer, and even an owl, but I saw all four within the first hour of our time there. The staff pointed with pride to the areas that had been previously been mined, but were now restored and how well the land and wildlife were thriving

***

The literal ban on fracking is out, but 10 more state constitutional amendments remain, including a “right to a healthy environment”:

“We’re going to pull the one that’s the ban, not the other ones,” Dyke told the Denver Business Journal on Friday. “We’re down to 10, but we still have plenty to work with.”

But while a proposal to ban fracking statewide may be off the table, the other initiatives backed by CREED are just as bad, said Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, an issues committee formed by the industry in 2014 to oppose anti-fracking initiatives.

“They withdrew it (the fracking ban proposal) because they know the vast majority of Coloradans support responsible oil and natural gas development and are against banning an entire industry,” Crummy said via email.

“However, their remaining proposals are just as irresponsible and extreme because they would still effectively ban development,” she said.

The other amendments, calling for 4,000 foot setbacks away from “special concern” areas along with the healthy environment proposal remain de facto fracking bans, and in most cases, include all oil and gas development not just the controversial hydraulic fracturing method.

For example, proposal #67:

Section 1. Purposes and findings. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO FIND AND DECLARE:

(a) THAT OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE USE OF HYDRAULIC FRACTURING, HAS DETRIMENTAL IMPACTS ON PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, WELFARE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT;

(b) THAT SUCH IMPACTS ARE REDUCED BY LOCATING OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT FACILITIES AWAY FROM OCCUPIED STRUCTURES AND AREAS OF SPECIAL CONCERN; AND

(c) THAT TO PRESERVE PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, WELFARE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT, THE PEOPLE DESIRE TO ESTABLISH A SETBACK REQUIRING ALL NEW OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT FACILITIES IN THE STATE OF COLORADO TO BE LOCATED AWAY FROM OCCUPIED STRUCTURES, INCLUDING HOMES, SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS; AS WELL AS AREAS OF SPECIAL CONCERN.

Section 2. Definitions.

(a) FOR PURPOSES OF THIS ARTICLE, “OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT” MEANS EXPLORATION FOR AND DRILLING, PRODUCTION, AND PROCESSING OF OIL, GAS, OTHER GASEOUS AND LIQUID HYDROCARBONS, AND CARBON DIOXIDE, AS WELL AS THE TREATMENT AND DISPOSAL OF WASTE ASSOCIATED WITH SUCH EXPLORATION, DRILLING, PRODUCTION, AND PROCESSING. “OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT” INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO, HYDRAULIC FRACTURING AND ASSOCIATED COMPONENTS.

Judge the activists by their words–they want bans or regulations so onerous as to yield the same results. This isn’t just about a fracking ban, although the most explicit amendment calling for a statewide ban has just been pulled. Make no mistake–this is about the wholesale removal of responsible natural resource extraction that gives Coloradans affordable and reliable energy.

Too little, too late?

Windsor High School junior Kamille Hocking worried a dozen oil wells on her family’s 132-acre Colorado homestead might sicken them. Then, Rebecca Johnson, an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. engineer, used a blender in her chemistry class to show the interaction of swirling frack sand, city water and friction reducer.

“We heard a lot of stories about how it could get into the water and pollute the land,” said Hocking, who is 16. “I’m going to tell my parents that fracking fluid only makes cracks in the rock the size of a hair that the sand gets into and holds open.”

Facing 10 possible ballot initiatives restricting fracking, Anadarko has deployed 160 landmen, geologists and engineers such as Johnson to Rotary clubs, high schools and mothers groups. They demonstrate how drilling works and try to convince people that the technique and the accompanying chemicals and geological effects don’t harm the environment or public health.

The wide-ranging outreach in Colorado, the nation’s seventh-biggest oil producer and sixth-largest gas provider, represents a policy shift. The energy industry that has been known for insisting on confidentiality from employees about fracking practices now allows geologists, landmen and colleagues in 40 Anadarko job categories to divulge details of what they do to their churches, neighbors and golfing buddies.

Johnson, who’s personal motto is “faith, family and fracking,” told students in Windsor that she’s supervised 1,000 fracks in the course of her 24-year career without harm to the environment.

“I live right here,” Johnson said when she visited the school 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Denver this month. “My family is here. My mother-in-law graduated from your high school. She turns 80 this year. We would know if something’s wrong.”

Real facts from the folks who live and work in the communities in question.

***

More rulemaking on the way, regardless of which amendments make the 2016 ballot:

Fresh off some recent rulemaking, Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory agency is turning its attention to one of the most persistent complaints from people living near extraction operations: noise.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is in the process of gathering technical data from state health experts, industry officials and third party consultants regarding noise, its health impacts and mitigation measures, said Dave Kulmann, COGCC deputy director.

Since discussions are still in the early stages, no date is set for when formal rulemaking might start, although it will likely be some time late in 2016. Kulmann said the agency wants to gather the technical data before speculating on which specific aspects of the current regulations might be beefed up, but it is clear, he said, that noise is an issue.

In 2015, after implementing a new complaint process on Jan. 9 of that year, the COGCC received a total of 330 complaints on issues ranging from odors to traffic problems to property damage, according to a detailed complaint report compiled by COGCC. Of the total complaints, 123 were due to noise.

***

The Gold King Mine and Animas River spill–and the EPA–are still under scrutiny, even if the prominent news coverage has waned:

If a private company dumped three million gallons of toxic sludge into Colorado waterways, we’d be flooded with daily media updates for months. Yet the press has by now forgotten the disaster unleashed in August when EPA contractors punctured an abandoned mine. New evidence suggests the government isn’t coming clean about what happened.

EPA planned its disastrous investigation of the mine for years, not that you’d know: The agency assumed a layout of the area that contradicted public records, including the remarkable conclusion that a drain ran near the ceiling of the mine’s entrance. This led EPA to believe that water backed up only about half the tunnel. The agency didn’t test the water pressure, a precaution that would have prevented the gusher. EPA hasn’t explained this decision, and emails obtained by the committee show the on-site coordinator knew there was “some pressure.”

The crew made more bad decisions than characters in a horror movie. About a week before the blowout, the on-site coordinator went on vacation and left instructions that his replacement seems to have ditched. For example: Don’t dig toward the tunnel floor unless you have a pump handy. The crew pressed downward without a pump and intentionally unearthed the mine’s plug. “What exactly they expected to happen remains unclear,” the report concludes. The Interior Department now euphemistically calls this series of events an “excavation induced failure.”

EPA is so far suggesting that no one committed crimes, and maybe so. But consider: EPA cranked out a report three weeks after the disaster and said the Interior Department would conduct an independent review that the Army Corps of Engineers would sign off on. EPA testified to the committee that Interior would look for wrongdoing, though Interior said the department was only offering technical support.