September 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Time running out for Colowyo Mine; Bennet, Hickenlooper concerned about EPA ozone rule; Animas River updates

September 3, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
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.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper has joined Sen. Michael Bennet in expressing concern over the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone rule:

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”:

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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.

Stinging words.

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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.

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Sen. Bennet on oil exports:

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.

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LINKS

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.