April 7 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper calls CDPHE refocusing away from CPP a ’shell game’, unloads on EPA ozone rule; ‘carbon tax’ defeated in Carbondale

Less than two weeks after Gov. John Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio “we don’t care what the Supreme Court says about the Clean Power Plan”, calling for continued planning for the Environmental Protection Agency’s embattled rule currently under a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Democrat initially appeared to be walking back his initial disregard for the country’s highest judicial body:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said he’s willing to temporarily halt state work on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan if that would defuse an effort to strip funding from the agency developing the plan.

“I’m happy to have them stop working on it if that’s a problem, if that becomes a partisan issue,” Hickenlooper told a CPR reporter after a lunch hosted by the American Petroleum Institute.

But the easing on Hickenlooper’s view of the work being done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment–dismissive of any SCOTUS intervention via a stay–was itself walked back, as he at first acknowledged that the state could work on its already existing regulatory mandates to achieve similar goals to the Clean Power Plan, but said that any such maneuver would be nothing more than a “shell game”:

“We’re doing the same work anyway,” said Hickenlooper. “I don’t think it would hurt our efforts if we were to reallocate some of that time in other directions. I mean, in the end, we’re going to get to the same place.”

Hickenlooper said state policy and laws, including the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act passed in 2010, already require Colorado to reduce carbon emissions from coal fired power plants.

“Our goals were very aggressive goals, and they are not the same, but they are very similar to what the Clean Power Plan wants,” he said at the gathering.

The governor clarified his comments Wednesday, dismissing the idea that suspending work on the Clean Power Plan would have much real world impact on the state’s clean air efforts.

“I look at the whole thing as ridiculous, to be perfectly blunt,” Hickenlooper told reporters at a regular press gathering. “It’s like a shell game of who’s doing which work. We’re working toward clean air, that’s what the state’s doing, that’s what people want us to do. We can get into … semantical battles over this thing, but it’s pretty straightforward.”

When it comes to Hickenlooper’s pronouncements on any number of issues, including this one, it’s usually never “pretty straightforward.”

Hickenlooper, just days ago, attempted to cast a non-partisan tenor to the debate over the Clean Power Plan:

Gov. John Hickenlooper also defended the new air quality rules at an event hosted by the Colorado Petroleum Institute.

“Clean air is too important to Colorado to become a partisan issue,” he said. “I am convinced as much as I ever have been that this is in the self-interest of the state.”

Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, disagreed with Hickenlooper’s assessment.

“We look at the Clean Power Plan as it’s unnecessary to regulate as trying to pick favorite energy forums,” Gerard said.

Hickenlooper’s soft spot for the Clean Power Plan did not hold him back from being critical of the EPA’s ozone rule, which he said risked the “possibility that there will be penalties eventually that will come from lack of compliance.” He also blasted a Democrat bill that would allow for more lawsuits over damage caused by earthquakes that allege a connection to oil and gas development, as well as a ballot measure that would create a 2500 foot setback, saying that it would deprive mineral rights owners of their property–a taking that could cost billions.

***

Energy in Depth has more on Hickenlooper’s statement on the ballot initiative that would create 2500 foot setbacks:

Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is speaking out against an initiative backed by ‘ban-fracking’ activists to dramatically increase oil and gas setback distances in the state. The comments came at an event yesterday sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Colorado Petroleum Council (CPC) featuring the governor and API President and CEO Jack Gerard.

When asked about the ballot initiative pushed by activists with strong ties to national ban fracking organizations, that would increase oil and gas setback distances to 2500 feet, Hickenlooper strongly denounced the effort. As reported by CBS Denver:

“That would be considered a taking, and I think the state would probably be judged responsible, and I think the cost could be in the many billions of dollars. I think that’s a risk that most Coloradans — if it was laid out for them in a sense they could clearly understand — would not support it.”

Hickenlooper’s assertion that the initiative could cost the state billions is backed up by a recent economic assessment from the Business Research Division at University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. Economists found that a 2,000 foot setback distance could cost the state up to $11 billion in lost GDP a year and 62,000 jobs. The 2,000 foot setback economists looked at is more modest than the 2,500 foot distance that activists are attempting to put before state voters this year.

Those mineral rights are worth billions of dollars to Coloradans and fill the coffers of counties and other entities annually to the tune of millions in property and severance taxes.

***

A thinly disguised attempt to ban fracking under the ruse of “local control” failed in the Colorado House on Monday:

Activist groups have not been shy about the fact that they see “local control” as a de facto ban on fracking. On a recent call with supporters, Tricia Olson of Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED), the group behind a series of ballot initiatives targeting energy development, even told the group that their “local control” measure is basically a “full-fledged” fracking ban:

“This version however has one significant difference, what we would call a floor, not a ceiling language. To lift its points, it authorizes local governments to pass regulations — prohibit, limit or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development. Of course the word prohibit means ban. This allows for a broad range of local government options within their jurisdictions from local actions to a full-fledged ban.” (23:14-23:44)

EID detailed the “local control” proponents’ misinformation campaign to push the measure. Two Democrats joined with Republicans to kill the bill on the floor of the Colorado House.

***

Speaking of fracking–a non-partisan study “found no definitive evidence” that hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas development has negatively affected property values in Colorado.

And former Gov. Bill Ritter–you know–of the “New Energy Economy” and a paragon of all things green (dubbed the “Greenest Governor”), rejected a national ban on fracking:

“If you passed a national ban, this industry would go away and it would be harder for us to get to our place of transition on clean energy and climate.”

“I believe that with a good set of regulations, with good enforcement, with good compliance on the part of the industry, it [fracking for natural gas] can be a part of a clean energy future,” Ritter said.

Ritter and Hickenlooper, both Democrats, face opposition from their far-left counterparts when it comes to these types of calls for bans on responsible oil and gas development:

“We won’t transform the energy supplies of our nation overnight; there’s been rapid growth in solar and wind, but we’re a long way from saying we can walk away from hydrocarbons and not do significant damage to our economy,” Hickenlooper said.

“The number of people in Colorado who want to ban hydrocarbons is probably a small minority,” he said.

Gerard said the oil and gas sector will continue to play a significant role going forward, even through energy efficiency efforts focused on the automotive sector.

“When you look to make cars more energy efficient, you make them lighter with plastics brought to you by petroleum, you make the windows more efficient [with films] brought to you by petroleum, the gadgets you play with in your hand every day also come from petroleum,” he said.

As we can see, it’s not just about fracking, or burning oil and gas for electricity, as API’s president pointed out.

***

Hickenlooper continues to express deep concern about the EPA’s ozone rule, reducing the target for acceptable ground level ozone from 75 ppb to 70 ppb, saying a suspension of the rule “would be a great idea”:

Transcript of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone rule delivered to the Colorado Petroleum Council and the American Petroleum Institute on March 31, 2016 via the Center for Regulatory Solutions:

So I think it would be a great idea if they suspended the standard. I mean, just with the background [ozone], if you’re not going to be able to conform to a standard like this, you are leaving the risk or the possibility that there will be penalties of one sort or another that come from your lack of compliance. Obviously, no different than any business, states want to have as much predictability as possible, and I think if they suspend the standards, it’s not going to slow us down from continuing to try and make our air cleaner. …

You know, we’re a mile high. Air quality issues affect us more directly than they do at lower elevations. So we’re going to keep pushing it, we’re not going to back off, we’re going to continue to improve the air quality in the state every year if I have anything to say about it, but at the same time, those standards, you know, to be punitive when you’re working as hard as you can … to get cleaner air as rapidly as you can, it seems like it’s not the most constructive stance.

A bi-partisan chorus of opposition to the ozone rule has emerged, and Independence Institute energy policy analyst Simon Lomax notes that the rhetoric surrounding the ozone rule, and in particular, its potential impact on public health, is filled with fearmongering from the “bad-air chorus.”

Lomax testified before CDPHE last month on the ozone rule:

The nature of the problem is clear. The EPA’s new ozone standard goes too far. It will throw large areas of the state into long-term violation of federal law. Violation will impose new restrictions on economic growth and jeopardize badly needed investments in transportation infrastructure.

And because the stringent new standard approaches background ozone levels, which state regulators are powerless to control, there will be little, if any, environmental benefit in return. For months, stakeholders from across government, across the political spectrum and across the economy have stated and restated the problem. But admiring the complexity of the problem won’t solve it.

Notably, the ozone rule would attack the “bridge” fuel, namely natural gas, that the earlier versions of the Clean Power Plan envisaged would get the nation from a fossil fuel fleet to one primarily composed of renewables. Between the attempts to ban fracking, the leap made by the final Clean Power Plan that pushes almost exclusively for renewables, and the ozone rule’s affect on oil and gas development (emissions are a key component to create ground level ozone), the stage has been set for an onslaught of anti-oil and gas regulation that would devastate Colorado’s economy.

Colorado faces geographical and topographical challenges with any ground-level ozone measurements due to elevated background ozone levels, as Hickenlooper pointed out. Anthropogenic emissions in other states and Mexico and as far away as Asia (China), wildfires, atmospheric intrusions, and our elevation combine to bring levels of background ozone to the state that can’t simply be regulated away.

***

From the “excellent news” category–carbon tax gets shot down in Carbondale, 61 to 39 percent:

For the so called “carbon tax,” 1,022 voters cast ballots against, while only 637 Carbondale residents voted in favor.

And with more than $3,000 in contributions, the committee supporting the carbon tax raised and spent more money than any single candidate for the board of trustees.

The climate action tax proposed to increase residents’ gas and electric bills in an attempt to promote clean energy projects and reduce energy usage in keeping with the town’s 2020 energy goals.

The climate tax would have been applied uniformly across town, with one set of rates for residents and another for business owners.

Supporters of the carbon tax had estimated that the average household’s utility bills would go up $5 to $7, and the average business would see a $10 to $30 increase.

This carbon/climate action tax would have just added more misery to Colorado’s already skyrocketing electricity rates.

December 10 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Fracking ban faces CO Supremes; fracktivist compares technology to slavery; House GOP calls Interior EPA spill report a “whitewash”

Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments over Longmont’s fracking ban:

On Wednesday, the state’s highest court will consider Longmont’s voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits.

Longmont voters added the ban to the drilling method, also called fracking, to the City Charter in 2012, convinced that a city-negotiated set of regulations on oil and gas drilling didn’t go far enough.

Both the regulations and the ban brought lawsuits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group. The oil and gas regulations lawsuit was dismissed as part of a compromise brokered by Gov. John Hickenlooper before the 2014 election.

The suit on the charter ban, however, has progressed through district court and the Colorado Court of Appeals and is now before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The city has argued that the state allows for local control, that Longmont voters should be able prohibit a type of drilling in city limits.

It is not known when a ruling can be expected.

***

Speaking of local fracking bans, Colorado Peak Politics found this gem from “fractivist Maria Orms, head of North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy, at an Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now (ACCDAN) meeting”:

“If you accept anything like an MOU [memorandum of understanding], that’s your terms of surrender…signing an MOU is collusion with the oil and gas industry. We need to talk to our county commissioners and tell them not to agree to any of this.

“Apartheid was legal at one point. Would you agree with that? Slavery was legal. Didn’t make it right. Well, maybe that doesn’t apply here to an environmental issue, this is not right, do not agree to this.”

***

Adding more time and uncertainty to drilling operations in Colorado as a result of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s fracking task force recommendations has operators weighing risks and reconsidering Colorado operations:

“The risk [to operate] in Colorado has gone up because of this potential rule or potential application of this on a case-by-case basis,” Wonstolen said.

The COGCC on Monday held its third day of hearings on controversial proposed rules to implement two recommendations from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force in February.

The recommendations, No. 17 and 20, focused on increasing the communications between local governments and energy companies about where new oil and gas wells would be located in and around neighborhoods. It also called for the impacts of those new wells to be mitigated through best management practices.

But where the proposed rules would be enforced, and how the impacts would be mitigated, has spawned a months-long battle that’s expected to drag into next year. Another day of hearings is expected to be scheduled in late January.

Oil and gas industry representatives said the COGCC’s rules go too far. Citizen groups and representatives from local governments said they don’t go far enough.

***

And one other recommendation from the Governor’s task force calling for a complaint line on oil and gas operations has begun collecting said complaints:

A new state-run program created to field and respond to health concerns related to oil and gas operations has started to receive complaints.

As of Thursday evening, the new Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program had fielded 20 complaints, according to Dr. Daniel Vigil, who is heading the program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The program began Oct. 15, allowing people to file a health concern and access information. Information includes “unbiased” staff reviews of existing research on the health impacts related to oil and gas development, said Vigil.

In addition, a mobile air monitoring program is being designed and is expected to be completed in the spring.

The health response program, which Vigil said is the first of its kind in the country, was one of nine approved recommendations from a task force created by Gov. John Hickenlooper as part of a compromise to avoid multiple oil- and gas-related ballot issues in 2014.

It will remain to be seen how “unbiased” those review remain, and whether or not a concerted effort by anti-energy forces moves to overwhelm the complaint system in an effort to draw attention.

***

Carbondale is implementing government carbon fees based on energy consumption as state and federal subsidies for renewable energy disappear:

“Carbon fees harness market forces to encourage local investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Michael Hassig, former Carbondale mayor, said in a prepared statement. “We have to take what steps we can, now, right here in our own community, to reduce fossil fuel consumption.”

In 2010, Carbondale set the goals of increasing energy efficiency by 20 percent; reducing petroleum consumption 25 percent; and obtaining 35 percent of energy from renewable sources all by 2020. These figures are measured off of a 2009 baseline.

One scenario calculates that by installing energy-saving measures in 1,200 homes and in 60 businesses, combined with doubling the amount of solar electric systems (or the equivalent of 800 kilowatts of power-generating capacity), Carbondale could meet its targets, according to CLEER’s website. These energy improvements could be achieved by investing $1.1 million per year over the next five years.

The Carbondale trustees adopted a resolution in 2014 that dedicates 20 percent of the town’s state severance tax and federal mineral lease revenues to help reach clean-energy goals. Traditionally, funding from federal and state government grants, the town’s general fund, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (generated through building fees in Pitkin County and Aspen) and utilities have been used toward energy efficiency.

But the federal and state grants have since dried up, necessitating another path forward to raise revenue.

Carbon “fees” are not a harnessing or channeling of voluntary market decisions, they are an example of government force, picking energy behavior winners and losers.

***

A battle over a Department of the Interior inspector general report on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold King Mine spill has prompted Republican calls that the effort was “whitewash” of EPA efforts and lacked independent review:

The accident prompted harsh criticism of the EPA for failing to take adequate precautions despite warnings a blowout could occur. Yet Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said a review by her agency showed the spill was “clearly unintentional.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything in there to suggest criminal activity,” Jewell testified during an appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Republicans were dissatisfied. They pointed to earlier statements in which Jewell and other agency officials said the Interior review focused on technical mining issues — not the potential culpability of those involved in the spill.

Immediately after Wednesday’s hearing, committee Chairman Rob Bishop asked Congress’s non-partisan Government Accountability Office to investigate the Interior Department’s evaluation. The Utah Republican accused Jewell and other agency officials of stonewalling his repeated efforts to obtain documents relevant to the spill.

The clean up bill for the EPA spill is around $8 million, according to the 2015 “Wastebook” issued by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), and summarized here by Colorado Peak Politics:

An Orange River Runs Through It: The Animas River. Perhaps you’ve heard of this disaster? The EPA contaminated it, and then, denied responsibility. To date, the EPA has spent $8 million cleaning up its own mess, and that figure is expected to grow.

***

It wouldn’t be a Cheat Sheet without a Clean Power Plan update, so here’s one from the National Federation of Independent Business:

But NFIB believes that the Administration is once more overstepping with the Clean Power Plan. For one it imposes quotas on each state, mandating that they achieve targets for emission reductions—targets that, in some cases, are wholly unrealistic. The plan rewards states that have already taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but would penalize states that fail to meet their federally mandated reduction targets. To avoid those penalties the rule allows states that are missing their targets to enter into cap-and-trade compacts, which would require those states to essentially purchase credits (at great cost) from states that are meeting their targets. Thus the rule penalizes states that have chosen—for the same policy reasons as Congress—to reject such regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Accordingly, the rule raises serious federalism problems because the federal government cannot force the states to enact law that they do not wish to enact. But as we argue—first and foremost—there is a separation of powers problem with the EPA rewriting the Clean Air Act. Once again, we’re fighting in court to enforce the basic principle that only Congress can make law. And once more, we’re defending small businesses against extreme energy-rate hikes.

We are currently asking a federal court to issue an injunction preventing EPA from enforcing the rule against the states. Our hope is that we will ultimately strike-down the rule as another example of executive overreach. For further explanation as to how this rule will affect ordinary small business owners, check out Randi Thompson’s recent editorial in the Reno-Gazette Journal.

***

It’s trees vs. bugs in the forests near Colorado Springs, and the U.S. Forest Service is giving the nod to the bugs, according to this Gazette editorial:

If our plush green backdrop becomes an ugly brown wasteland, tourists will avoid us. Home and business values may drop. And, of course, dead trees greatly increase the likelihood of more deadly, costly forest fires.

Because of diligence by the governor and mayor, we could have a good chance of saving thousands of acres of trees. There is one big problem: The Obama administration’s U.S. Forest Service. Federal forest officials seem to think tree-killing bugs have a right to life.

Forest-managing entities working cooperatively on a contract to exterminate the bugs include: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, responsible for the 1,260-acre Cheyenne Mountain State Park; Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, responsible for 2,132 acres of city-owned forest; NORAD, which manages 400 acres; Broadmoor Bluffs Subdivision, with 291 acres; Broadmoor Resort, 146 acres; Broadmoor Expanse, 1,677 acres; Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 81 acres, and El Pomar with 140 acres.

“The only party I know of that is not interested is the U.S. Forest Service,” said Dan Prenzlow, southeast regional manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They have 1,300 acres touching all the rest of us.”

The Forest Service remains adamantly against spraying, saying that nature should take its course:

Oscar Martinez, district manager for the Pikes Peak District of the U.S. Forest Service, said there is no chance the federal agency will join the eight other entities killing bugs. Even if federal officials could be convinced to change their minds, Martinez said, the federal government would require so much environmental assessment that nothing could be done in time to make a difference.

“If you bought a house up there with big trees, and you moved here for those big trees, I understand the concern,” Martinez said. “But there is a natural cycle of forest disturbance that must be allowed to occur as part of responsible forestry management.”

By letting nature run its course, Martinez said, dead and dying trees can “release the vegetation that was suppressed by the tree cover. If you look at butterflies, they are tied to flowering plants that are suppressed by trees.”

Martinez said a naturally occurring bacteria detected by federal foresters stands to kill many of the bugs over the coming year, which should save a lot of trees. But Prenzlow said federal officials told state officials two years ago the bugs would begin dying naturally. They remain alive and well.

“We’re going into our third year and the bugs have not died. The trees are struggling and dying, so we’re going to spray,” Prenzlow told The Gazette.

***

A lot of energy is going to pot–literally:

Attendees learned that Xcel Energy, which serves most of urban Colorado, sells some 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to pot growers per year, or enough to power some 35,000 homes. The U.S. marijuana-growing industry could soon buy as much as $11 billion per year in electricity.

One study estimates that it takes as much energy to produce 18 pints of beer as it does just one joint. The data are alarming, and will only get more so as legalization spreads. But legalization, if approached correctly, also opens doors of opportunity. The biggest guzzlers of electricity also hold the most potential for realizing gains via efficiency.

Back in 2011, a California energy and environmental systems analyst, Evan Mills, published a paper quantifying the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. That footprint, he discovered, was huge. His findings included:

While the U.S. pharmaceutical sector uses $1 billion/year in energy, indoor cannabis cultivation uses $6 billion.

Indoor cannabis production consumes 3 percent of California’s total electricity, 9 percent of its household electricity and 1 percent of total U.S. electricity (equivalent to 2 million U.S. homes per year).

U.S. cannabis production results in 15 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions per year, or the same as emitted by 3 million cars.

Cannabis production uses eight times as much energy per square foot as other commercial buildings, and 18 times more than an average home.

Time to stop before I write any more doobie-us puns. Have a great weekend!

December 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: US House resolutions push back on Clean Power Plan, rail vs. pipelines in Denver, Gold King Mine owner has strong words for EPA

December 3, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, New Energy Economy 

The U.S. House passed two resolutions on the Clean Power Plan and carbon emissions this week:

The House sent a resounding message to the nations gathering in Paris for international talks on climate change by approving two Senate resolutions to block President Obama’s restrictions on power plants.

The resolutions now go to Obama. When the resolutions passed the Senate last month, the White House said Obama would veto the resolutions.

The House on Tuesday voted 242-180 to block the Clean Power Plan, a mostly symbolic measure by Congress to stop President Obama’s signature environmental regulation. The chamber also passed a second resolution to block carbon emissions limits on new power plants, 235-188.

The Clean Power Plan, seen as Obama’s signature environmental regulation, is the centerpiece of the administration’s commitments to the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, being held in Paris during the next two weeks.

Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said the vote is meant to show the 195 other countries gathering in Paris that there are serious objections to the Obama’s plans in the United States.

“We want to send a message to the climate change conference in Paris that in America there’s serious disagreement with the extreme policies of this president,” Whitfield said.

***

There are at least two ways to ship crude oil and related fuels–by rail or via pipeline–and the recent surge in tank cars on the nation’s rail lines have mashed up against the rapid urbanization of former industrial and commercial areas of Denver, such as the neighborhoods between Union Station and the Platte River:

Peering through four panes of insulating glass, it’s not the noise that bothers Don Cohen as a daily parade of freight trains passes 50 feet outside his condo. He and some Riverfront Park neighbors are troubled by what they’re seeing on the tracks more frequently. Tanker trains carrying crude oil and other flammable liquids — reflecting a shift in energy trends — rumble past the gleaming high-rise condo and apartment buildings several times a week, he says.

Those tankers pass near other Denver neighborhoods, too, old and new, upscale and hardscrabble. Highways and railroads box in some areas, with only one way out if disaster were to strike.

The trains also travel near the city’s major sports venues and Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, raising fears among some about what might happen in a fiery derailment or other accident — however small the chances might be.

Appeals by Cohen and others to city officials for increased emergency planning have met with mixed success.

It’s difficult to ignore that the rail lines in the region have

The numbers of rail shipments have increased over the past 7 years:

Nationally, crude oil volume on the rails has skyrocketed from just shy of 10,000 tank cars in 2008 to about 500,000 last year, The Associated Press recently reported. In Denver, according to city officials’ summary of reports by the two major railroads, trains carried well over 15,000 tank cars of flammable liquids in a recent one-year period, including 8,000 filled with crude oil.

***

The owner of the Gold King Mine shares more insights into the August Environmental Protection Agency-triggered spill in southwest Colorado:

Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, was vacationing at a remote lake in upstate New York when a friend sent him images of the Environmental Protection Agency-contracted crew’s triggered blowout on his property, effectively turning the Animas River into an orange spectacle. He was speechless and horrified, but not surprised.

“I’ve been trying to make everybody aware of the dangers posed by the Sunnyside Mine pool for 14 years,” he told The Durango Herald last week. “But when I saw the pictures, I just felt my life was over. I just thought, ‘Oh God, what did they do?’”

The EPA, investigating the Gold King Mine’s partially collapsed tunnel, accidently released an estimated 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage Aug. 5 into Cement Creek, down the Animas River and into the San Juan River in New Mexico.

Hennis, for his part, has long maintained increased flows from the Gold King Mine are a result of groundwater seeping from the vast, adjacent Sunnyside Mine network after it was plugged, first in 1996.

“I went up to the Sunnyside offices that were in Gladstone at that point and said, ‘I’d like to talk about the discharge,’” he said. “They denied everything, and have been denying it ever since.”

Hennis minced no words about how he felt since the EPA took over four months ago:

In the aftermath of the Aug. 5 blowout, Hennis said he gave the EPA the keys to his land for an immediate cleanup response. But since, he claims the federal agency has enforced a complete takeover of his property.

“They’ve been so thoroughly arrogant, incompetent, and frankly criminal in their outlook, that it’s kind of like dealing with the mafia,” he said. “It is very much an act of rape. I don’t mean to denigrate women who’ve gone through it, and for that matter, some men, but it’s been such an ugly penetrative act on an unwilling victim.”

An unrelated uranium mine spill near Cañon City has activists comparing it to the EPA Gold King Mine spill, though the volume is nowhere near as large as the August spill, and was located at a 30-year-old Superfund site (a designation many desired for area around the Gold King Mine):

Colorado health officials were reviewing an explanation from Cotter Corp. on Monday after a spill at Cotter’s defunct uranium mill in central Colorado — one of the nation’s slowest Superfund cleanups.

A pipeline leaked about 1,800 gallons last week on Cotter’s 2,538-acre property uphill from Cañon City and the Arkansas River.

Well tests in July found water in the waste pipeline area contained elevated uranium (577 parts per billion, above a 30 ppb health standard) and molybdenum (1840 ppb, above a 100 ppb standard).

This spill was the latest of at least five since 2010. Federal authorities in 1984 declared an environmental disaster and launched a Superfund cleanup.

This spill prompted comparisons to the EPA’s toxic spill near Durango:

“They need to eliminate the contamination at its source,” said attorney Travis Stills, who represents the community group Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.

Buried mill tailings and impoundment ponds “continue to be sources of contamination. It’s some of the most toxic mining residue you could have — all of what you’d expect to find at a Gold King disaster, plus an overlay of uranium and radioactive isotopes, flowing into groundwater with a very direct route to people and the Arkansas River, ” Stills said. “What’s it going to take to get real action?”

***

Approximately 89 percent of the state’s oil production, or nearly 100 million barrels by year’s end, will come from Weld County in 2015, despite declining energy prices:

Despite a general slowdown in oil drilling across the Denver-Julesburg Basin and elsewhere, production growth in Weld County this year is on track to top 100 million barrels of oil.

Oil production growth in the county continues to cast a long shadow over the rest of the state, with more than 89 percent of the state’s production this year coming from Weld, up from 85 percent in 2014.

Industry analysts say operators are getting more oil from every well by drilling the best parts of the basin, employing improved well fracturing techniques and optimizing operations.

“We are seeing a relentless drive to push down costs across the basin,” said Reed Olmstead, manager of North America supply analytics, upstream strategy and competition at IHS Energy in Englewood. “Improved productivity is an important part of well economics, and in this price environment, only the best wells are getting drilled.”

Here are some of the staggering numbers from Weld County:

For the first half of 2015, Weld oil production averaged 8.7 million barrels per month, up from a monthly average of 6.7 million barrels in 2014.

Statewide oil production for 2015 so far is at 79.46 million barrels. Of that, 70.85 million barrels, or 89 percent, were produced in Weld. Rio Blanco is the second-largest oil county in Colorado with 2015 production of 2.6 million barrels produced to date.

Barring an unexpected drop-off in production, Weld is on pace to produce more than 100 million barrels of oil this year, a remarkable milestone considering the county produced just 26.8 million barrels in 2011.

In 2014, Weld produced 81.4 million barrels, or 85 percent, of the statewide total of 95.2 million barrels. For Weld, that was an increase of 13.8 million barrels, or 19 percent, from 2013 production.

***

Meanwhile, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) has introduced a bill designed to spur carbon capture technology:

A bipartisan measure being carried by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and a Republican senator from Ohio aims to boost capture and storage of carbon dioxide, which would not only keep it out of the atmosphere but make it available for use in boosting oil production.

Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Rob Portman introduced the Carbon Capture Improvement Act last month. It would help power plants and industrial facilities finance the purchase and installation of carbon capture and storage equipment. Businesses would be able to make use of private activity bonds, which typically are used by local or state governments, are tax-exempt, and can be paid back over a longer period of time.

The captured carbon dioxide could be stored underground or used by energy companies in a process known as enhanced oil recovery.

“This bill would reduce upfront costs, one of the largest impediments to carbon capture technology. It is good for the economy and good for the environment,” Bennet said in a recent news release. “In Colorado it would enhance our diverse energy portfolio. The captured carbon dioxide can be used by oil producers to extract more oil out of current wells — improving our energy security and boosting domestic energy production. It also reduces emissions from power plants and industrial facilities to help keep our air clean — which is something that Coloradans value and makes our state an attractive place to live.

“This bipartisan bill is a market-based, technology-neutral approach to attacking the problem that carbon dioxide creates.”

***

Finally, State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-SD1) says no to a carbon tax:

A tax on CO2 would also negatively impact those not directly tied to Colorado’s coal industry. From home heating to electricity to transportation, Coloradans depend heavily on energy to power their lives. The NAM study estimates that, under a carbon tax, prices for natural gas used for heating and electricity would rise more than 40 percent. Meanwhile, gasoline prices at the pump could jump by more than 20 cents a gallon. These price hikes will affect every family and business in the state and, by 2023, as many as 52,000 people could be put out of work.

This would hit rural Colorado especially hard, as the state’s agricultural sector would face higher prices at every level of production. These costs will ripple throughout the economy, affecting everyone from the ranchers and farmers who drive Colorado’s $40 billion agriculture industry, to families buying local produce.

This regressive, job-killing tax is often advertised as a market solution to cutting emissions. In reality, it’s simply another means of artificially raising the prices of affordable, reliable electricity and pressuring investment in expensive, unreliable energy sources like wind or solar. Rather than imposing additional costs on Colorado families, policymakers should adopt a real market solution that relies on technological innovation and consumer choice while retaining economic growth and low energy prices. If Colorado’s leaders are committed to protecting hard-working Coloradans and growing the state’s diverse economy, they should reject a carbon tax.

Fix is in: Senator misses testimony, knows to vote with Xcel

March 21, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Senator Betty Boyd, a democrat member of the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, was not present in the committee hearing for any of the testimony either for or against HB 1172, the carbon tax repeal. Yet she knew exactly how to vote — against electricity ratepayers, against the environment, and for Xcel Energy.

According to lobbying disclosure reports available on the Secretary of State’s Web site, Xcel spent $64,243.38 in January and February to lobby lawmakers in the Colorado state legislature. Today it paid off when HB 1172 was killed in the Senate committee on a party line vote. After not ever making it out of committee last year, this year the “phantom carbon tax” repeal actually passed the House and made it all the way to committee in the Senate.

No worries for Xcel, all three Democrat Senators — Rollie Heath, Bob Bacon, and Betty Boyd — were there to stop any further progress on the bill sponsored by RepublicanTed Harvey. Boyd was in another committee hearing during testimony on HB 1172. After testimony was complete, she was called back for the vote. Committee Chair Rollie Heath asked her if she had any questions. She answered, “No,” and was pretty sure that she understood what was being proposed.

Boyd missed powerful testimony from Syndi Nettles Anderson, an engineer and NREL employee who is getting her PhD in biofuels. Anderson, who is also looking to replace Bob Bacon once he is term limited in SD 14, said that the imputed carbon tax on coal actually harms the environment because it incentivizes other technologies that have not yet been fully tested for their environmental impact. Some of these technology may do more harm than carbon emissions.

The results of today’s committee hearing does lend some credibility to a saying that is whispered in the halls of the capitol: “Xcel owns this place.”

Full Disclosure: I testified today on behalf of HB 1172. My full testimony is below.

Testimony on behalf of

HB 1172 No Imputed Carbon Tax

March 21, 2012

Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee

My name is Amy Oliver Cooke. I write on and direct the energy policy center for the Independence Institute, 727 E. 16th Ave, Denver, CO 80203

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify today on behalf of HB 1172.

At the Independence Institute, we are agnostic on energy resources. It is our strong belief that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups.

HB 1172 is simple in nature, unless a carbon tax is passed at the federal level, ratepayers should not be disadvantaged financially by paying the phantom carbon tax to an Investor Owned Utility such as Xcel Energy.

History

We haven’t been able to find any other state that has a carbon tax in statute. Colorado’s is based in HB08-1164, which says the Public Utilities Commission “may give consideration to the likelihood of new environmental regulation and the risk of higher future costs associated with the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide when it considers utility proposals to acquire resources.”

HB 1172 would change the wording ever so slightly to the PUC “may give consideration to the existence of new environmental regulation and the costs imposed by current federal law or regulation on the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide when it considers utility proposals to acquire resources.”

When the 2008 bill passed, Colorado Conservation Voters explained the passage of HB 1164 this way: “By giving the PUC the ability to use carbon as a value in resource planning decisions, HB 1164 represented the first time that the Colorado General Assembly took a substantive step forwards in giving regulators the tools they need to explicitly address global warming.”

It is a selective, regressive tax – selective on resource fossil fuels and selective on customers (Xcel Energy), although pass through costs affect almost everyone in the state.

To tax or not to tax?

While it’s prudent for the PUC to consider the risks of Congress passing a cap-and-trade scheme that would put a price on carbon, it is, in equal measure, rash to include the cost of a federal carbon tax in resource planning that covers a time frame in which these costs don’t exist.

Ratepayers already are saddled with costs that do exist — $1.1 million for Xcel executives to travel via private jet. Or just in the last two months, $64,243.38 to lobby the Colorado state legislature, part of which is to kill this bill. Have you ever wondered where the “carbon tax” goes? Does Xcel cut a check to the state of Colorado or to the federal government? No.  It doesn’t.

To its credit, the PUC staff registered second thoughts about the application of a carbon tax. Alluding to the $20 ton carbon tax during hearings for Xcel’s 2010 renewable energy compliance plan, PUC staff witness William Dalton expressed concern about “including costs that do not exist.”

But even Xcel Energy doesn’t believe that a carbon tax will be passed at the federal level any time soon.

As early as June 2010, Xcel petitioned the PUC for permission to renege on a commitment to build a 250 megawatt solar thermal power plant due to “changed circumstances,” among which the utility cited “the expectation that carbon legislation won’t be enacted for several years,” which would, “erode the economics of solar thermal” [Direct Testimony James F Hill, Xcel Witness, 4 June 2010, Docket 10A-377E]

In the 2012 Renewable Energy Compliance Plan, In Section 7 — Retail Rate Impact and Budget, Xcel acknowledges that the Independence Institute was correct in February 2011 when we predicted that there would be no national carbon tax in the near future with this statement:

“The carbon assumptions approved by the Commission in Docket No. 07A-447E assumed carbon regulation would be enacted in 2010; such regulation was not enacted and the prospects for near term carbon regulation appear to be slim.”

Because Xcel assumes there will be no carbon tax in the near future, it presents a cost model that excludes the carbon tax and another model that does include the tax but not until 2014:

“Due to the uncertainties related to the timing associated with possible carbon emission regulation, the Company did not include any carbon cost imputations in the model runs and other calculations set forth on Table 7-3. However, as discussed later, Public Service also presents with this Compliance Plan, as Table 7-4, a sensitivity case that assumes the same carbon imputation costs ($20 per ton, escalating at 7% annually) as approved in the 2007 Colorado Resource Plan but on a delayed implementation schedule of 2014.”

The cost difference between a carbon and non-carbon compliance plan is substantial – roughly $584 million between 2014-2021. That’s over $400 per Colorado ratepayer for a tax that doesn’t exist.

Colorado Legislative Council Staff wrote in the fiscal note for HB 1164, “the bill will not affect state or local revenue or expenditures, and is assessed as having no fiscal impact.” But including a non-existent $20 per ton carbon tax that adds millions of dollars to the cost of otherwise inexpensive fuels such as coal, has an impact on ratepayers. Currently, according to DOE statistics Colorado has the highest electric costs of any neighboring state, second highest in the Rocky Mountain West,

Conclusion

It’s true that the carbon tax is not a line item on a ratepayer’s bill, but is in included in the modeling of costs for resource acquisition. Costs dictate rates. The higher the costs, the higher the rates. The higher the rates, the more Xcel Energy makes. The “phantom carbon tax,” as we call it, increases costs and therefore rates. Xcel customers pay Xcel for a tax that doesn’t exist. It is a redistribution of wealth from ratepayers to shareholders.

If the state legislature wants to tax Coloradans to pay for global warming, they should make their case to voters  — all voters – and not just penalize Xcel Energy ratepayers, who have no other place to go, no recourse.

As I stated at the beginning it is the strong belief of the Independence Institute that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups and we believe that HB 1172 is consistent with that principle.

HB 1172: Which House lawmakers put ratepayers above Xcel?

March 1, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

A “Yes” vote on HB 1172 “No imputed carbon tax” is also yes to ratepayers and “No” to Xcel Energy and global warming alarmists for whom cost of electricity is of no concern:

Recorded Vote on HB 1172

HB 1172 passed third reading in the House. Two Democrats joined all Republicans to advance the pro-ratepayer bill.

Breaking news: carbon tax repeal passes Colorado state house

February 29, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Good news for Xcel Energy ratepayers. HB 1172 “no imputed carbon tax”, Representative Spencer Swalm’s second attempt to repeal Colorado’s carbon tax, passed the state House on third reading this morning. It is now headed to the Colorado Senate with Senator Ted Harvey as the sponsor. Details of the recorded vote to follow when available.

Quote of the day

February 17, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

During the discussion phase of HB 1172, Representative Spencer Swalm’s bill to repeal Colorado’s “phantom carbon tax,” Representative Marsha Looper (R-Calhan) stated:

Whenever we have an opportunity to repeal a tax, especially a phantom tax…it behooves me to do so. I will be supporting it [HB 1172].

As posted earlier, HB 1172 moved out of the Ag Committee and to the House floor for debate.

Xcel admits what “clean energy” advocates won’t

August 29, 2011 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

Normally reading an energy compliance plan is about as exciting as watching low VOC paint dry.  But Xcel Energy’s 2012 Renewable Energy Standard Compliance Plan, filed with the Public Utilities Commission in May 2011, has some pretty powerful stuff in it including admissions about Colorado’s “phantom carbon tax” and the cost effectiveness of renewable energy.

In Section 7 — Retail Rate Impact and Budget, Xcel acknowledges that my testimony in front of the Agriculture Committee on HB 1240 (the bill explained here and here) in February 2011 was correct. No national carbon tax in the near future.

The carbon assumptions approved by the Commission in Docket No. 07A-447E assumed carbon regulation would be enacted in 2010; such regulation was not enacted and the prospects for near term carbon regulation appear to be slim.

Passage of a national carbon tax under Cap and Trade was the underlying assumption when HB 1164 passed the state legislature in 2008. With no carbon tax at the national level and virtually no chance of one passing any time soon, why does Colorado still have one? Good question. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle capitulated to special interests, including Xcel, and voted to kill HB 1240, which would have repealed the controversial “phantom” tax.

Because Xcel assumes there will be no carbon tax in the near future, it presents a cost model that excludes the carbon tax and another model that does include the tax but not until 2014.

Due to the uncertainties related to the timing associated with possible carbon emission regulation, the Company did not include any carbon cost imputations in the model runs and other calculations set forth on Table 7-3. However, as discussed later, Public Service also presents with this Compliance Plan, as Table 7-4, a sensitivity case that assumes the same carbon imputation costs ($20 per ton, escalating at 7% annually) as approved in the 2007 Colorado Resource Plan but on a delayed implementation schedule of 2014.

One wonders if the the carbon tax supporters feel a bit betrayed by Xcel’s admission.

For those of you searching for the “carbon tax” on your Xcel bill, stop looking. It does not show up as a line item, but as my colleague William Yeatman and I have written before, “the tax is used in the models, and the models dictate spending. It leaps from the computers to your wallet, like the worst sort of virtual reality.”

The carbon tax is just one way that the PUC allows Xcel to greenwash the real cost of Colorado’s renewable energy, which must be 30 percent of Xcel’s electricity portfolio by 2020.  In spite of a legislatively-mandated two percent rate cap, Yeatman documented how Colorado’s New Energy Economy will cost Xcel ratepayers an additional 8 percent this year alone.

Which leads to this gem about the economic viability of renewable energy. Xcel says it just isn’t cost effective unless it is taxpayer subsidized.

Going forward, it is very questionable if new renewable resources can be cost effective if they do not get the benefit of the Federal Production Tax Credit. Currently the production tax credit for wind is set to expire at the end of 2012 and at the end of 2016 for solar resources.

This is interesting because former Governor Bill Ritter said recently in a debate titled “Clean energy can drive America’s economic recovery” that both he and “the utility” can increase renewable energy for the same price. (Read the entire debate transcript here)

In fact, last year, the utility and I, after talking with each other said, you know what? We can get to 30 percent [renewable] with the same rate cap in place. So, as a state, we’ve got a 30 percent renewable energy standard.

This is where the financial shell game tricks ratepayers. The rate cap is a sham. The real cost of renewable energy is recovered elsewhere on ratepayers’ bills, as we have explained in the past. The American Enterprise Institute’s Steven Hayword, one of Bill Ritter’s opponents in that debate, stated what should be clear economically unless one’s judgment is clouded by green energy infatuation.

the basic problem with so-called clean energy is that nearly every form of it is more expensive than the fossil fuel energy it seeks to displace. Now, I know of no economic theory that says the economy benefits by reducing the purchasing power of consumers.

Representative Max Tyler also claimed an economic fantasy in a Denver Post opinion editorial, “Raising the RES [Renewable Energy Standard] will not raise utility rates.” Writing that rates won’t go up, does not make it true. Rates will go up as we have demonstrated, and now Xcel says that unless taxpayers subsidize renewable energy sources, they just aren’t cost effective — certainly not for ratepayers or taxpayers.

The PUC will decide on Xcel’s Compliance Plan in October 2012. While Xcel seems to accept the reality of no national carbon tax and that renewable energy is an economic fairy tale, it remains to be seen if the PUC, lawmakers and special interest groups will have the same eco-epiphany.

How Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s New Energy Economy Is Like the Bowl Championship Series

October 18, 2010 by williamyeatman · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive 

On GQ’s blog, there’s an interesting interview with two acclaimed sports writers, about the Bowl Championship Series. As millions of Americans know well, the BCS is the complicated system that chooses a national champion in the billion dollar college football industry. There are more than 100 schools vying for the crystal football awarded to the BCS champion, so it’s not surprising that every year, more than 100 schools are dissatisfied with a system didn’t crown them #1. That is, the BCS is universally reviled.

So we all know and hate the BCS, yet even college football enthusiasts like me don’t know how it works. Somewhat paradoxically, this might be the very reason it persists, according to these two sports reporters,

GQ: What was the thing your reporting that surprised you the most or caught you off guard?

2 Sports Reporters: How little even the people in college sports know how this [BCS] works. It’s less of a conspiracy as much as it’s people just too uninterested or incapable of figuring out what the real deal is.

No one likes the BCS, but it fumbles on, because it’s too arcane to be bothered with. I think this dynamic is represented well by Kaiser Soce’s famous admission in the Usual Suspects that the devil’s best trick is to make people think he doesn’t exist.

Something very similar is going on with Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s New Energy Economy.” Coloradans don’t like energy taxes—especially ones they didn’t vote for—but they can’t be unhappy when they are oblivious. After all, ignorance is bliss. Undoubtedly, Ritter’s energy policies will make energy more expensive (see here and here and here), yet it is achieved primarily through the impossibly convoluted procedures of the regulatory state with which virtually no one is familiar. As a result, Ritter’s anti-energy policies proceed apace.

Here’s an ultra-brief rundown of just a few of Ritter’s most insidious energy policies

  • In 2007-2008, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) changed the rules so that its lodestar changed from lowest-cost electricity to protecting the climate
  • The PUC interpreted the legislature’s 2% rate cap for 2010 HB 1001, a renewable energy production quota, to mean “incremental” costs instead of “total” costs; as such, the rate cap became a sham
  • The PUC allows Xcel to incorporate a $20 per ton carbon tax into its resource acquisition models;