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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full text of the ruling can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 14 Colorado Energy Roundup: fracking, ozone, and a national renewable energy standard

Energy In Depth’s Simon Lomax pokes holes in the American Lung Association’s report on ozone–and the Denver Post’s reporting on it–with input from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

Citing its own April 29 “report card” on the region’s air quality, the ALA told the Denver Post that levels of ground-level ozone – sometimes called smog – are deteriorating rather than improving. But the ALA went much further, claiming that while the air above the Denver metro area “looks cleaner than in the 1970s,” the region actually has “higher ozone” and the gains made since the 1970s “are going away.”

In the same news story – authored by the Post’s environmental writer Bruce Finley – the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) warned the ALA’s report card was “both inaccurate and misrepresents air quality in Colorado.” But Finley’s story didn’t detail what those inaccuracies and misrepresentations actually were.

In a follow-up interview with Energy In Depth, CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) Director Will Allison revealed that the ALA report card ignored a full year of air quality data from 2014, which shows ozone levels getting better, not worse. To claim there’s higher ozone now than back in the 1970s also ignores decades of air quality data that show “it’s gotten a lot better,” Allison said.

To say the ALA took a liberal look at its own conclusions to bolster an argument for increased ozone regulation appears correct.

“If you look at 2011-2013 averages, we had 10 monitors in the Denver North Front Range that exceeded the ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. But if you look at the 2012-2014 averages, only four monitors exceeded the federal standards. So there was a significant drop from 10 noncompliant monitors to four,” Allison told EID.

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Colorado’s 21-member oil and gas task force, which concluded its meetings in February, received modest support (about $2 million) in the Colorado legislature for a handful of its recommendations:

The budget includes:
$1,364,713 to pay for 12 new employees for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with overseeing the state’s multibillion-dollar oil and gas sector.
$360,910 for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to create a hot line and website with information about the industry, and a chance to raise concerns about its operations.
$402,859 for the CDPHE to create a mobile air monitoring unit to watch for air pollution from industry operations and a person to operate it.

These small changes stand in contrast to some of the more pointed and disruptive resolutions the committee considered, and to the ballot measures that tripped off the Governor’s “compromise” move last August.

Fracking opponents, of course, decried the legislative session’s activity on oil and gas issues, while the industry hailed the results, according to Valerie Richardson at The Colorado Statesman.

Kicking the can down the road to 2016 on fracking issues–with Democrats sidestepping a fractious debate, as Richardson put it–may still not prove advantageous to Democrats split over the issue. With eco-left activists vowing to work hard again next November and having felt betrayed by maneuvering in 2014, Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election efforts might not get the smooth ride his party was hoping to craft. It certainly didn’t help former Sen. Mark Udall, who carved a more eco-friendly niche in his term, but ultimately suffered defeat last year.

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Speaking of Sen. Bennet–an attempt to bolster his green credibility with new legislation aimed at a national renewable energy standard:

The bill unveiled Tuesday that would require utilities to generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, starting with an 8 percent requirement by 2016 followed by gradual increases.

Sen. Tom Udall has introduced this legislation in every session of Congress since 2008. The bill is based on his bipartisan initiative that passed the House in 2007. Co-sponsors this time around include Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“A national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) will help slow utility rate increases and boost private investment in states like New Mexico — all while combating climate change,” Udall said in a news release. “Investing in homegrown clean energy jobs just makes sense, and that’s why I’m continuing my fight for a national RES.”

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Colorado’s western slope counties may avoid economic devastation if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides not to tap the greater sage-grouse with a designation as threatened or endangered:

The Interior Department has said it wants to reach the point that the Fish and Wildlife Service can find that no listing is warranted. Much of that decision lies with the way the BLM manages its lands and both agencies report to Jewell.

“We are very, very close to avoiding a listing altogether,” Hickenlooper said, noting that he spoke to [Secretary of Interior Sally] Jewell 10 days ago.

Finding that the bird should not be listed is Jewell’s goal, Hickenlooper said.

“I believe her. I don’t think she’s posturing.”

A listing by the FWS would be a critical blow to Colorado’s western counties, along with 10 other states, as one county commissioner told Gov. Hickenlooper.

“All of Moffat County is out of business,” Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe concluded, should the listing move forward contrary to Hickenlooper’s claims.