February 4 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Local governments face production-related revenue downturn; more red tape sought for resource development; Wyoming’s cautionary tale

Pushing for bans on fracking or other measures to limit responsible natural resource development will only exacerbate problems at the local level, putting education, infrastructure, and other critical services at risk, on top of the drop noted here in the Denver Post due to commodity prices tanking:

Because 97 percent of Platte Valley’s budget comes from taxes paid on mineral production and equipment — a property tax known as ad valorem — McClain said his district could be looking at a budget reduction between $300,000 and nearly $1 million next school year.

How that plays out in terms of potential cuts or program impacts is yet to be seen, he said.

“You’re always concerned about your folks,” McClain said. “You worry about it taking the forward momentum and positivity out.”

It’s not just schools that are suffering. Municipal budgets, local businesses and even hospitals in mineral-rich pockets of Colorado are watching closely to see how long prices remain depressed.

Combine that with a 72.3 percent drop in severance tax revenue–down to $77.6 million this year compared with $280 million last fiscal year–and you’ll get, in the words of the Post, “the state’s direct distributions of those proceeds to cities, counties, towns and schools will be reduced from a little more than $40 million in 2015 to just $11.9 million this year.”

Nearly 75 percent drop, just from falling oil prices. Put on top of that more red tape, or eliminate the practice altogether, and eventually those figures will head toward zero (no production = no tax revenue).

This is what is at stake when it comes to pushing back against the repetitively dubbed “common sense” regulation that threatens a rather large portion of the state’s economy.

***

Speaking of restrictions:

BRIGHTON — Adams County leaders made it clear Wednesday morning that they won’t support a 10-month ban on new oil and gas activity in urban parts of the county after hearing nearly eight hours of testimony that began Tuesday night.

Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said he wasn’t comfortable imposing a moratorium on an industry that has proved critical to Adams County’s economy. He said he supported hiring an attorney that can make sure the county is making the best deals with industry as possible.

“I want to make the right decision with the right information,” Tedesco said.

His colleague, Erik Hansen, said oil and gas workers are not the villains their opponents make them out to be and that the county has a good site-by-site evaluation system already in place.

“You know what? The folks who work in the industry care about their kids too,” he said.

Those families–the workers and the kids–live in the communities. It may be stunning to anti-energy activists, but those developing and producing the energy that drives your car (gas OR electric), heats and cools your home, keeps your iPads and laptops running, and generally produces an incredible standard of living for you might live right next door. *shudder*

Good on Adams County for rejecting hyperbolic, paranoid nonsense.

***

And not to be outdone by the anti-fracking ballot measures proposed at the state level, Colorado legislators are looking to add more red tape, because enough is never enough, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s rulemaking last month did not address those concerns, say energy development opponents:

Democrats in the Colorado House, where that party has a majority, are expected to introduce two measures later this session, one making it easier for surface property owners to collect damages from mineral rights owners if their properties are damaged, and a second measure to give local governments more regulatory authority over drilling within their jurisdictions.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said that second idea is something she highly supports.

“I think this bill would be a very reasonable approach,” she said. “I have always felt that’s where you have to get at, the conflict in property rights.”

Regardless of those measures, the backers of several proposed ballot measures dealing with fracking are still going ahead with their ideas.

Those proponents, who could not be reached for comment, have said they were not satisfied with new regulations approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last week. They said those new rules, the result of a special task force established by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a compromise to keep the proposals off the ballot in 2014, didn’t go far enough.

Rest assured, short of the outright ban, anti-energy folks will not back off even if all of the proposed measures are put into place. New development might be blocked, but continuing extraction would still be a target. They will never be satisfied, until all development is 100 percent eliminated.

Don’t take my word for it:

The Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter would like the entire state of Colorado to be 100% renewable, beginning with Denver. Becky English, the executive committee chair for the Sierra Club, responded to an email about a sustainability summit scheduled for early December in Denver:

I would have liked to share that the Sierra Club national board has declared a goal of powering the electric sector by 100% renewable energy nationwide, and that the Rocky Mountain Chapter has adopted the goal for Colorado. I will approach you offline about how best to work toward this goal in Denver.

And that’s just the Sierra Club–see also here and here.

***

Stakeholder meetings or dog-and-pony shows supporting the Clean Power Plan and the state’s agencies dedicated to enforcing the rule (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment)–the Gazette certainly has an opinion:

Reality struck when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment took the show to Brush, a rural eastern plains town where people work hard to earn a buck.

Four of five panel members were cheerleaders for the president’s plan, which has the full support of Gov. John Hickenlooper. Panelist Kent Singer, an attorney and executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, offered the panel’s only balance. He said public utilities and electric cooperatives are supposed to provide reliable energy at a price households, farms, ranches and businesses can afford. The president’s plan, he worries, would impose hardships.

Audience participants crashed the party to explain how eastern Coloradans have invested in hundreds of wind turbines that won’t count toward the proposed standards, as the plan would disqualify assets built before 2013.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg told state officials he represents 21,000 square miles that host more wind turbines than the rest of the state combined, and most would not qualify. He worries about constituents having to fund investments they already made in vain.

“We can look at the lower middle class, the working poor, the poor and the elderly and see how they would be impacted, and how it would make it even tougher for them,” Sonnenberg said. A farmer who spends $10,000 on energy to irrigate a field would take a big hit, the senator explained, at a time when some crop prices have plunged.

State health officials need to get serious about their presentation for the remaining “All Stakeholder” meetings in Pueblo and Craig. This plan poses serious consequences for those who cannot afford haphazard and experimental efforts to control the climate. We need a balance of experts presenting a variety of views, not another panel stacked with support for a political agenda.

Having attended one of the first CDPHE “stakeholder” events back in September 2015, I can assure the reader that comments in favor of the Clean Power Plan ran about 15 to 1, with plenty of others from industry to rural electric co-ops basically pleading for the agency to implement the rule as mercifully as possible.

It’s clear from the first few events that the stakeholder process is nothing more than a three ring circus for advocates like activists and renewable energy businesses to show up and applaud the agency, giving it a rather unnecessary shot in the arm of confidence. Meanwhile, the folks who actually bear the brunt of the rule itself, whether it’s the ratepayer who pays for the energy and the guaranteed profit for the utilities (all stranded assets like coal plants having to be replaced with more expensive energy alternatives), the taxpayer who is on the hook for subsidizing unaffordable and unreliable energy alternatives, the farmers and investors who were sold a bill of goods in years past of being part of a “New Energy Economy” by previous politicians only to be passed over and not counted as renewables anyway . . . the list goes on and on.

The CDPHE process is really illustrative of quite a few economic concepts, from crony capitalism to captive regulation, concentrated benefits vs. dispersed costs, and government intrusion in the free market to pick energy winners and losers. In this case, the winners repeatedly show up and applaud. The potential losers are taken out of the process, and must rely on lawsuits like the multi-state challenge joined by Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, or the much more distant hope of an administrative change in policy due to a shift in the political climate at the Federal level.

***

Turning to updates on the Gold King Mine spill:

DENVER – Southwest Colorado feels forgotten in the aftermath of the Gold King Mine spill, state lawmakers heard Wednesday.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, expressed the sentiment to a House committee just before the panel killed his legislation that would have allowed the state to file lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of individuals impacted by the spill.

Coram was especially irked by the fact that the measure was assigned to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, a committee sometimes used by the majority party to kill legislation deemed unpopular by leadership. Democrats control the House.

The bill died on a 5-4 party-line vote.

“If this (Gold King spill) had happened in a metropolitan area, we would be doing something. But the fact is, in rural Southwest Colorado, we … have the opinion that the Front Range does not care who suffers in rural Colorado,” Coram told the committee.

And while state efforts to provide relief failed, Congressional inquiries into the EPA-caused spill continue apace, with calls for transparency and clarification over the role of the EPA in a report from the Department of the Interior that was supposed to be impartial and independent:

A key report on the Gold King Mine disaster, which poisoned drinking water for three states and the Navajo Nation, is now being questioned by congressional committee and subcommittee chairmen.

New evidence may “contradict” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Gina McCarthy’s “repeated assertions” to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) “that EPA had reviewed only a [Department of the Interior] press release and had no role in DOI’s independent review” of the Gold King Mine blowout, according to a Wednesday letter to McCarthy.

“Please clarify … that DOI did not have a conflict of interest, that its review would be independent and that EPA officials had no involvement in DOI’s review,” committee Chairman Jim Inhofe and Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee Chairman M. Michael Rounds wrote.

The DOI report detailed that the EPA-caused Gold King Mine spill, which sent three million gallons of wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River, was preventable. The report stated, however, events at the site before and after the incident were beyond the investigation’s scope – even though such details were sought by the EPW committee.

We’ll keep an eye on this development.

***

News from our Wyoming neighbors, a cautionary tale of how the current administration’s push to kill coal will likely kill local communities too:

President Barack Obama’s administration has ordered a three-year moratorium on sales of federal coal reserves, and it’s putting a rare mood on folks in Gillette, a ranching-turned-energy town of 32,000: pessimism.

“Most of the time it comes back. This time, I don’t know,” said Bobbie Garcia, watching her daughter summit a two-story climbing structure at the town’s $53 million recreation center largely built with coal money.

Until recently, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana remained a rare bright spot for the industry. Even as Appalachian mines shut down and cheap natural gas started crowding out coal as a power plant fuel, economies of scale kept the region rumbling.

Massive strip mines sprawled across tens of thousands of acres, much of it in the Thunder Basin National Grassland, produce roughly 40 percent of the nation’s supply of the fuel.

For Gillette and other communities, that means more than 7,000 mining industry jobs. And not just fly-by-night, roughneck gigs, but the sort that sustain families year after year, pointed out Michael Von Flatern, a state senator who has lived in Gillette since the early 1970s.

The sort of jobs that are likely irreplaceable. Also, it’s no easy task replacing 40 percent of the country’s coal, considering that 23 percent of U.S. energy production still comes from that resource. Compare that to 0.5 percent for solar and 2 percent for wind, according to the Energy Information Administration through 2014 (the last full year).

If you want to know what’s headed for Colorado, look north. Or ask the folks in Moffat County about the Colowyo Mine situation from last year.

January 27 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: COGCC rulemaking pleases no one; anti-fracking measures disastrous for Colorado economy; pushing back against Clean Power Plan

Even small changes to oil and gas regulations can have deep and damaging effects on Colorado’s economy, according to researchers at the University of Colorado:

A statewide, 2,000-foot buffer zone between drilling rigs and homes, schools and businesses would take a hammer to Colorado’s oil and gas industry, already reeling from low commodity prices, as well as the state’s wider economy, according to a new study from University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Such a setback requirement “could result in slower economic growth” for Colorado’s economy as well as state revenue, according to the study released Wednesday.

The study said its forecast on the effects of a 2,000-foot setback included:

Production of oil and gas statewide could drop between 25 percent and 50 percent;
A $6 billion to $11 billion drop in Colorado’s gross domestic product;
A loss of 33,000 and 62,000 jobs between 2015 and 2030;
Loss of $214 million to $428 million in per year in tax revenues from oil and gas companies.

Given that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission just concluded a round of rulemaking based on the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force recommendations from 2015, new and more onerous regulations like the setback examined by CU researchers or the more dangerous proposed fracking bans and various setback ballot measures could have catastrophic consequences on top of the recent commodity downturns impacting the state.

Anti-energy activists have intimated that even more proposals could be in the offing for 2016:

Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said she would not be surprised if a citizen-initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.

“The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.

Remember when this blog said the Oil and Gas Task Force was merely kicking the can down the road?

We’ve made our way down that road, and the can is about ready to explode.

In the near term, the COGCC rules could go into effect in as few as 6 to 8 weeks, subject to review by the legislature and the Attorney General:

Compton said the months of rulemakings were “the most difficult” that he’s been through — a string that included the 2008 wholesale overhaul of Colorado’s oil and gas regulations.

The commissioners voted 5-4 to define “large” oil and gas facilities, the threshold that triggers the communication process between energy companies and local governments, as eight new wells and storage tanks that can hold up to 4,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids. The commissioners restricted the rule to large facilities in “urban” areas, defined as 22 buildings within 1,000 feet of the wellsite, rejecting request from some quarters to take the rule statewide.

But the rules appear to exceed the recommendations, and create ambiguities that will only incur more procedural red tape:

The process approved by the COGCC will triple, from 90 days to 270 days, the amount of time needed to get a hearing on a large project before the oil and gas commissioners, said Tracee Bentley, the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, an arm of the American Petroleum Institute.

The final rules also said facilities should be “as far as possible” from existing buildings, a phrase Bentley called “vague and confusing” that would cost energy companies time and money to comply with.

The commissioners also rejected a request that existing surface-use agreements between energy companies and landowners be grandfathered, and allowed to avoid the notification and consultation process.

“We feel the industry brought reasonable solutions to the table that were largely ignored, and the rules still go beyond the recommendations of the task force,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

Bringing reasonable solutions and constructive dialogue should be expected of the industry, but the same can’t be said for the forces calling for the end of natural resource development altogether:

Activists addressing a state oil and gas rulemaking hearing this week levied a barrage of accusations and insults toward state officials and even renewed calls to eliminate Colorado’s state agency responsible for regulating oil and gas development.

Speaking at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) hearing, Lauren Swain, representing national climate activist group 350.org, largely ignored the fact that the rulemaking was supposed to be the focus of the hearing and instead used her time to complain about the agency. From Swain’s testimony:

“With this new proposed rule, the COGCC has proven once again that it can no longer be considered a legitimate state agency because the COGCC continues to facilitate the pace of hazardous polluting oil and gas drilling and fracking operations near homes and schools subjecting communities to the risks of toxic emissions, spills and explosions.”

But Swain took her testimony even farther by lobbying for disbanding the agency in favor of creating a new agency that would “swiftly” transition the state to 100 percent renewables using the Solutions Project at Stanford as a guide. From Swain:

“The COGCC must be replaced with one or more agencies charged with one, facilitating to protect Coloradans from the harmful impact of oil and gas production and two, to aid and foster Colorado’s swift transition to one hundred percent renewable energy production and consumption using the Solutions Project developed at Stanford University as a guide.”

Up next was testimony from an activist who has previously accused the oil and gas industry of having a “personality disorder” and of being “socially deviant.” This time, Amanda Harper called oil and gas producers a “short sighted, selfish and sociopathic industry.”

Not a lot of balance or reasonable tone, it seems.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper offered his comments at an event that saw journalists kicked out and required an open records request to seek audio of the Democrat’s comments–and while he questioned the leverage of the anti-energy groups to get the proposed measures on the 2016 ballot, he surreptitiously argued that the COGCC rules discussed above had, in his opinion as well, gone further than his own Oil and Gas Task Force had recommended:

“I haven’t heard of any funding source for any of them,” Hickenlooper began. “Like the normal, large funders of those initiatives, you know, I haven’t heard of. So, maybe they’ll get on the ballot, but without a lot of money, I don’t think they’re going to do well. I can guarantee you there’ll be money spent showing that, the, the problems associated with any of those initiatives.” (Forum Q & A – 17:05)

Moments later, he added, “Again, we’re going further even than the commission recommended, and in certain cases, to try and give local, local municipal elected officials more, a greater role.”

Further.

We’ll see how that plays out.

***

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan received a stay of its own last week when the DC circuit refused to grant a stay of the rule, forcing 26 states to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.

Meanwhile at the Colorado legislature, Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley) has championed measures designed to keep the implementation of the Clean Power Plan at arms’ length, allowing lawsuits to be completed before the state moves forward, something Coloradans clearly support:

Two weeks into the 2016 legislative session, Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from the heart of the Front Range oil and gas patch in Greeley, has introduced two bills that take aim at the plan, which requires power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, largely by shutting down or converting coal-fired plants to alternative fuel sources.

One of Cooke’s bills couldn’t be more timely. After several state attorneys general, including Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, failed to win a stay of the plan from a federal court Thursday, Cooke’s Senate Bill 46 jumps into the ring like a tag-team wrestler, working from another angle to stall implementation of the Obama administration plan.

“Well, it wasn’t really a surprise that the court in D.C. struck down the stay request,” Cooke told The Colorado Statesman. “Unfortunately, the bill is more relevant now.”

The “Preserve State Clean Power Plan Options Act” aims to “slow down the implementation process” in part by suspending it “until all [related] lawsuits are done,” Cooke told members of three rural Colorado advocacy groups, including some representing coal mining areas, who were visiting the Capitol Friday.

In effect, Colorado wouldn’t need a stay from a court because it would have passed a stay for itself, written by Cooke.

Cooke’s other bill, SB 61 or “Ratepayer Protection Act,” would require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pay for costs generated as a result of Clean Power Plan implementation.

***

NEWS ROUNDUP:
Silverton punts on Superfund designation

How the EPA handled Flint, MI water contamination, vs. Animas River spill

Plunging oil prices means lower severance tax revenue in Colorado

Lower gas prices? Let’s raise taxes!

Anti-energy activists oppose coal development on the Western Slope. News at 11.

Trading: Coal extraction for sage grouse habitat

November 20 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Sierra Club to push for 100% renewables in Colorado; EPA Clean Power Plan hearing draws opposing sides; COGCC discusses new regs

11416162_10153626584141893_682657378597848906_n (1)
(Image Credit: Michael Sandoval)

The Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Analyst Michael Sandoval delivered this statement to the Environmental Protection Agency’s November 16 hearing in Denver, Colorado on the agency’s proposed federal plan and model trading rules for the Clean Power Plan:

In its December 2014 comments, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and the Colorado Energy Office all maintained that ‘In Colorado, the PUC has exclusive statutory authority to regulate the IOUs and associated electric resource decisions’ and that ‘depending upon the plan elements proposed by Colorado, legislation may be needed to clarify or direct state agencies on their respective roles and authorities’.

In a proposed mass-based emissions allocation trading market to trade eligible resource credits (ERCs), who is the market maker? It would appear to require institutional apparatus of some sort–what enabling legislation in Colorado is required? In other states? If no legislation at this level is required, why not?

Markets are complex and difficulty in trading–what are the rules? how are the rules established? Who handles disputes and is the ultimate arbiter? How are the credits created in the trading mechanism?

The Independence Institute is a free market think tank interested in promoting the free market in energy resources, but as nice or well-intentioned a trading market for ERCs sounds at first glance, it becomes evident that government-created “markets” are simply picking energy winners and losers, often arbitrarily, often without actual considerations of cost or impact, but rather to self-serving goals contained within a given policy, such as the Clean Power Plan. When those transactional costs of trading ERCs rise, who will pay them? The inefficiencies won’t be borne at the administrative or even generating level, but by the ratepayers and taxpayers, not all of whom will be prepared for the rising costs of the Clean Power Plan itself, much less in terms of wealth transfers from state to state as the trading scheme expands.

So far, as with much else from the rollout of the Clean Power Plan, the timeline for market creation is heavily compacted. Information from CDPHE in September on question of trading was light and unhelpful. As it appear now it is a scribbling of generalities, and it is difficult to comment because it appears to be more like a make-up-as-you-go, details to be sketched in later program that will prove harder, more expensive, and more nuanced than any central planning or federal trading scheme could possibly account for ahead of time.

These comments, of course, fall into the requisite acknowledgement of the ongoing legal, technical, and other shortcomings of the overall Clean Power Plan. Proposing a FIP and trading scheme would appear to be adopting a one-size-fits-all scheme to hasty environmental and electric generation planning at federal and state levels, and an expansion of EPA control over generation, distribution, and energy choice at the state level.

Compressing the timeline in 2016 will leave states scrambling without guidance ahead of their initial state plan submissions in 2016. Complicated mechanisms like a credit trading scheme, besides being legally or technically burdensome, surely deserve a measured approach. Concerns about the CPP or a credit trading system will continue with retards to electric reliability and electricity prices, something the state of Colorado has indicated is a foremost consideration, should we be able to take the state’s agencies and political establishment at their word.

Finally, all portions of the CPP must and should address the regressive nature of raising electricity prices on the nations’ poor, minority, elderly, and other vulnerable communities.

Thank you.

***

The Denver Business Journal captured some other responses at Monday’s EPA Clean Power Plan hearing:

Kim Stevens, Environment Colorado:
“We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change here in Colorado, from drought to floods, and these extreme weather events will only get worse without bold action to slash carbon pollution.”

Laura Comer, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign:
“The Clean Power Plan shows that the United States has a real, enforceable plan to curb dangerous carbon pollution and that we are truly to committed to combating climate disruption. We cannot let attacks from big polluters and their allies lessen our chances of a strong international agreement and undermine the safety of our communities.”

***

More reaction in the Denver Post:

“The EPA regulations will cost Colorado jobs, will cause electricity prices to soar and threaten the reliability of the electrical grid by mandating a wholesale restructuring of our electricity system for no appreciable benefit to the climate,” Colorado Mining Association president Stuart Sanderson said.

Sanderson and National Mining Association officials pointed to industry-backed studies saying power costs for residents of Colorado and other states would increase by around 30 percent between 2022 and 2030.

The plan leaves it to states to implement changes subject to EPA approval. EPA officials have said they will take into account each state’s current energy mix. If a state fails to act, federal officials would impose “an implementation plan” on that state.

The feds held the hearings on implementing the plan in Pittsburgh last week and, after Denver, will hear from residents in Atlanta and Washington D.C. A second day of comments are scheduled to continue Tuesday morning in Denver.

Sanderson called the Clean Power Plan a “stealth energy tax” for Coloradans.***

Many folks who push for clean energy or regulations like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan say that these programs will create jobs–but they never seem to remember the jobs these anti-energy choice mandates end up killing, like the more than 200 jobs Union Pacific will likely slash due to decreases in coal transportation in Colorado:

Union Pacific this week notified workers it will shutter its Burnham Shop repair yard in central Denver, putting more than 200 jobs on the line and darkening a piece of Colorado history.

Operations at Burnham will halt Feb. 14, the Omaha-based railroad said.

“The well-documented decline in the coal carloadings in Colorado — a result of natural gas prices and regulatory pressure — has diminished the need for locomotive repairs and overhauls in the Denver area,” Calli B. Hite, a Union Pacific spokeswoman, said in an e-mail to The Denver Post.

Loaded coal trains originating in Colorado have decreased 80 percent since 2005, Hite wrote.

***

Earlier this week, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission held hearings on new fracking rules, including limiting hours for fracking operations and setbacks for development:


***

The Bureau of Land Management has stirred up controversy over 65 existing oil and gas leases with a new environmental impact statement that puts nearly half at risk:

The Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) Wednesday that put 65 existing oil and gas leases on White River National Forest land under the microscope. The agency found that 25 leases in the controversial Thompson Divide area must be either wholly or partially cancelled.

This long-awaited decision was embraced by conservation groups, and panned by the oil and gas industry.

The rub was over the legality of these leases, which are owned by Houston-based energy companies SG Interests and Ursa Resources, and have been scrutinized for years. Many conservation groups have said that the leases were issued without undergoing the proper environmental evaluations.

The BLM draft EIS backs that position, and now a 49-day public comment period will begin on Nov. 20 and will run through Jan. 8, 2016.

“We appreciate the effort of the local community in this discussion,” said BLM Colorado State Director Ruth Welch in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work toward finding a path forward that balances energy development and conservation, while recognizing the White River National Forest’s planning efforts.”

***

The Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter would like the entire state of Colorado to be 100% renewable, beginning with Denver. Becky English, the executive committee chair for the Sierra Club, responded to an email about a sustainability summit scheduled for early December in Denver:

I would have liked to share that the Sierra Club national board has declared a goal of powering the electric sector by 100% renewable energy nationwide, and that the Rocky Mountain Chapter has adopted the goal for Colorado. I will approach you offline about how best to work toward this goal in Denver.

The “Sustainable Denver Summit” on December 3rd will feature Denver Mayor Michael Hancock:

Sustainable Denver Summit Program
AGENDA:

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. – Registration, Continential Breakfast, and Exhibition Space

9:00 – 10:00 a.m. – Opening plenary session – Remarks from Keynote Speaker and Mayor Michael B. Hancock

10:00 a.m. – Breakout Sessions –

• Energy – Focusing on issues of energy efficiency, renewable energy, use of energy in mobility, and air quality and greenhouse gas reduction

• Water – Focusing on both water quantity and water quality, including climate change resilience

• Materials – Focusing on cradle-to-cradle materials management issues, including environmentally preferable purchasing, recycling, composting and by-product synergy

• Mobility – Focusing on providing multiple interconnected mobility modes that are cleaner, safer, cheaper and more efficient than the current system

12:30 – 1:30 p.m. – Luncheon and Sustainability Awards – Awards will be presented to the 2015 Sustainable Denver Award winners

1:45 – 3:45 p.m. – Breakout Sessions Reconvene

4:00 – 5:00 p.m. – Closing Plenary Session – Report out on commitments

They should probably also feature a breakout session on how these programs will make the city of Denver–not to mention the entire state of Colorado under the Sierra Club’s plan–less affordable for low income and minority populations.

October 29 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper vs. Coffman over EPA lawsuit; EPA spill report short on info says New Mexico; Frack or Treat

October 29, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC, regulations, solar energy, wind energy 

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s decision to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to implement the Clean Power Plan has initiated a constitutional battle in the eyes of Governor John Hickenlooper:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he will seek the state Supreme Court’s opinion on the legality of Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s lawsuit to stop implementation of the Clean Power Plan.

“This notion of everyone suing all the time every time you disagree with a specific remedy, a specific statute, is part of what makes people so frustrated with government,” Hickenlooper, who supports the plan, said in a meeting with The Denver Post’s editorial board.

“Except in very rare circumstances, generally the governor is supposed to make that decision in concert with the attorney general,” Hickenlooper said of the lawsuit. “But the governor should have that final say.”

Hickenlooper’s office pushed the issue further, saying the AG’s actions “just gets in the way” of state plans to cooperate with the CPP:

“The statute that we’re looking at speaks of prosecuting and defending on the request of the governor,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed, Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel, citing Colorado’s revised statutes, title 24, article 31, part 1.

Cooper Melmed said she is worried about conflicts as some Coffman deputies work with Hickenlooper’s administration to implement the plan while others in the attorney general’s office try to quash it.

“This just gets in the way,” Cooper Melmed said of the lawsuit. “There’s no wall really high enough to allow these two things to happen out of the same office.”

Coffman, for her part, said she was “disappointed” in the Governor’s decision.

Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton called Hickenlooper’s stance “unusual” when it comes to the relationship between AG and Governor, even when representing opposing parties:

“For the governor to try to challenge in this way is unusual,” Norton said.

In almost all cases where a governor challenges an attorney general, Norton said, rulings are in the attorney general’s favor.

“The attorney general represents the state and not the governor,” Norton said. “The attorney general is elected to provide independent representation of the state’s interest.”

The Pueblo Chieftain and the Colorado Springs Gazette support Coffman’s lawsuit, while the Denver Post welcomes the clarification that the Colorado Supreme Court’s advice might bring.

Steamboat Today has a great roundup of other reactions for and against the lawsuit.

***

It’s not just states suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan–at least 26 states filed almost immediately after the ruling was published last Friday–but other lawsuits are on their way from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Association of Manufacturers.

The EPA, meanwhile, is touting its flexibility–a “wide range of choices”–in allowing states to file extensions:

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 2.35.42 PM

***

Taking another crack at busting the CPP progress, this time using pre-existing Congressional review legislation:

Lawmakers opposed to the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants are moving to block the regulations from taking effect.

Several senators will offer Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions Monday that seek to stop the Clean Power Plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a longtime opponent of carbon regulations for the power sector, will schedule a vote on the resolutions soon after they come out.

“I have vowed to do all I can to fight back against this administration on behalf of the thousands of Kentucky coal miners and their families, and this CRA is another tool in that battle,” McConnell said in a statement.

The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers the ability to end an executive branch regulation through an act of Congress.

***

Communities around Colorado continue to struggle with mine runoff, the August EPA spill in southwest Colorado not withstanding:

Toxic mines hang over this haven for wildflowers, contaminating water and driving residents — like counterparts statewide — to press for better protection.

A local group went to federal court this month seeking long-term assurances that a water-treatment plant will always remain open as the collapsed tunnels and heaps of tailings leak an acid mix of heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, zinc and others.

State data show these contaminants reaching Coal Creek — the primary water source for Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley’s green pastures — at levels exceeding health standards.

“A lot of people are nervous,” said Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates. “We’d like to get it as clean as possible.”

But the EPA isn’t being all the helpful, as the Interior Department inspector general report on the Gold King Mine/Animas River spill concluded, as the U.S. Chamber points out:

These two quotes from the report illustrate just how careless EPA was:

EPA has “little appreciation for the engineering complexity.”

“[T]here appears to be a general absence of knowledge of the risks associated with these [abandoned mining] facilities.”

Even EPA’s internal investigators didn’t hold back on the agencies irresponsibility. Its initial review concluded the spill was “likely inevitable,” but the agency wasn’t prepared to contain a spill before digging into the mine.

That isn’t much consolation for the folks in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation affected by the spill, as New Mexico’s top environmental watchdog Ryan Flynn said, quoted again by the Chamber:

While the report reveals that an EPA decision was made to refrain from validating the flawed water level estimates with a previously used successful procedure (using a drill rig to bore into the mine from above to directly determine the water level of the mine pool prior to excavating the backfill at the portal); the report says absolutely nothing about who made the decision to fly by the seat of their pants, by digging out the closed Gold King Mine tunnel based on un-validated estimates of what volume and pressure of contaminated water would be violently released.

Here in New Mexico, we are already quite clear on the fact that EPA made a mistake, as the DOI’s report underwhelmingly reveals. What we were wondering, and hoped the report could tell us, is why EPA made the mistake, and who at EPA made the decisions that authorized dangerous work to proceed based on un-validated estimates. It is shocking to read the DOI’s “independent investigation” only to find that it overlooks the who, the how, and the why. [emphasis added]

***

How big are subsidies for electric cars? Without the $5,000 tax credit in Georgia, the state saw sales of electric vehicles plummet nearly 90% in just two months:

According to Georgia car registrations, sales shot up as electric car buyers rushed to take advantage of the tax credit before it expired. But the numbers declined sharply in July and took a swan dive in August — the most recent month tabulated:

electric-vehicle-sales-in-Georgia-in-2015-data-compiled-by-Don-Francis

The decline from 1,338 in June to 148 in August represents a drop of 88.9 percent.

Read the rest of this excellent Watchdog article here.

***

It’s almost Halloween, so we’ll end on a spooky anti-energy note from Energy in Depth:

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 3.10.38 PM

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been waging an extreme campaign to ban fracking through so called “Community Bill of Rights” ballot initiatives, especially targeting communities in Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The group has already forced taxpayers to pay tens of thousands of dollars to defend their illegal ordinances and it is now planning to hit communities in California, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington State. In fact, as Energy In Depth’s new video shows, this Halloween, CELDF’s extreme (and expensive) campaign could be coming to a ballot box near you.

October 8 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Ozone rule and Colorado; ‘ban fracking’ resurfaces in Denver; ‘Fossil Fuel Free Week’ proves a challenge

Be sure to check out and like our Energy Cheat Sheet page on Facebook for daily, up-to-the minute updates that compliment our weekly “best of” on the I2I Energy Blog.

Let’s open with a great piece from Lachlan Markay at the Free Beacon on the ways proponents of the Environmental Protection Agency’s raft of new policies, especially the Clean Power Plan, went on the offensive before the regulation was even finalized:

Supporters of a controversial Environmental Protection Agency regulation commissioned Democratic pollsters to plot ways to attack the motives and credibility of the regulation’s critics, documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon reveal.

Aides to a dozen Democratic governors and the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial advocacy arm circulated talking points and political messaging memos on EPA’s new power plant regulations that laid out ways to “sow doubts about our opponents [sic] motives,” in the words of one of those memos.

The previously unreported documents, obtained by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute through an open records request and shared exclusively with the Free Beacon, provide a window into the Democratic messaging machine’s approach to an issue that its own pollsters acknowledge is a hard sell among its target voter demographics.

Read the whole thing.

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In what was certainly intended as a launching point for local national anti-energy, “ban fracking” advocates, last weekend’s confab in Denver–no doubt brought to us in no small part by fossil fuels–ramped up their efforts, as Energy In Depth’s Randy Hildreth writes:

National “ban fracking” groups descended on Denver this afternoon to protest oil and gas development as part of the “Stop the Frack Attack National Summit.”

For anyone still wondering if this was a Colorado effort, EID was on hand to note that when a speaker asked the crowd, “How many of you are from out of state?” attendees erupted into cheers. And while the group managed to draw roughly 100 participants, judging from the cheers of out of state folks, we’re guessing the showing was pretty sparse from Colorado (which, of course means they all got into planes and cars burning fossil fuels to get here).

Plenty of photos of the protestors at the link.

So what are they amping/ramping up?

Although Colorado-based environment groups such as Conservation Colorado didn’t participate; the demonstrations drew support from national groups, such as the Sierra Club, and impassioned “fractivist” residents. A group called Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development has declared the COGCC illegitimate and is developing ballot initiatives including a statewide fracking ban.

“Local control” just means “ban fracking” and all other oil and gas development, using a few local fractivists for cover, a pattern of political posturing since at least the 2013 off-year election cycle, when national anti-fracking groups enlisted or created local branches to push ballot measures at the municipal level.

***

Around Colorado:

“…groups do not believe grazing is compatible with the monument’s mission to protect ancient ruins…”

How big an economic driver is oil and gas development? Energy In Depth took a national look:

While these cities lie in different geological regions, they do have one thing in common: shale development. Oil and gas development in these cities was the biggest economic driver throughout 2014. For instance, take a look at the Greeley, Colorado metropolitan area, which encompasses Weld County, where a large percentage of shale development is taking place. It grew its GDP by 9.9 percent in 2014 and ranks fourth in the nation in terms of percent growth. According to a BizWest.com article:

“Greeley’s 2014 growth was dominated by the mining sector, which includes oil and gas extraction, growing by 24.6 percent from the previous year.”

***

Some early analysis on the EPA’s recently announced ozone rule, set at 70 ppb. Colorado’s unique geographical and topographical situation mean that even at a higher level (original discussions for the ozone rule included possibly lowering the target to 60 ppb from 75), the state will face plenty of difficulties, including some entirely out of the state’s control:

“We don’t expect that the non-attainment areas will expand geographically,” said Will Allison, the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s air pollution control division.

But state officials do have concerns about the new standard’s impact on the state, and they will be talking to the EPA about issues unique to Colorado and other western states, such as the fact that the Rocky Mountains can act as a trap for air pollution flowing across the Pacific Ocean from Asia, Allison said.

The state’s high altitude and pattern of lightning storms also contribute to ozone levels — but there’s very little Colorado officials can do to interfere with Mother Nature.

Heritage Foundation–4 Reasons Congress Needs to Review the EPA’s Ozone Standard

Institute for Energy Research–EPA Finalizes Costly, Unnecessary Ozone Rule

In 2010, EPA reconsidered the 2008 standard and EPA’s delay means that implementation of the 2008 standard is now behind schedule. But instead of waiting until localities are complying with the 2008 regulation, EPA is imposing a newer, stricter standard that puts more counties out of attainment even though ozone levels are decreasing. Below is a map depicting the areas that are projected to be out of compliance under a 70 ppb standard.

ozone 70 ppb

National Association of Manufacturers–New Ozone Rule Will Inflict Pain on Manufacturers, Finalized Regulation Still Feels Like a Punch in the Gut

“Today, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that is overly burdensome, costly and misguided,” said Timmons. “For months, the Administration threatened to impose on manufacturers an even harsher rule, with even more devastating consequences. After an unprecedented level of outreach by manufacturers and other stakeholders, the worst-case scenario was avoided. However, make no mistake: The new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers. Now it’s time for Congress to step up and take a stand for working families.”

According to the National Journal, the new ozone rule has pretty much ticked off everyone concerned, including those on the side of the current administration:

After a ban­ner second term that has seen the most ag­gress­ive ac­tion on cli­mate change from any ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion just opened up a new fault line with en­vir­on­ment­al­ists.

The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency today re­leased its new air-qual­ity stand­ards for ground-level ozone, lower­ing the al­low­able level from 75 parts per bil­lion to 70 ppb. That’s well short of what en­vir­on­ment­al­ists and pub­lic-health groups had been push­ing and a level they say wouldn’t do enough to pro­tect pub­lic health.

In­dustry groups and Re­pub­lic­ans, mean­while, are not likely to be any hap­pi­er—they have been long op­posed to any stand­ard lower than the status quo be­cause of the po­ten­tial cost of com­pli­ance.

The enviros are fuming.

***

The EPA’s shady procedural efforts appear to have killed natural resource development in Alaska, using hypotheticals and possibly in collusion with environmentalists, according to a new report, writes the Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch:

The EPA may have rigged the permitting process in the Alaskan copper mining project, possibly hand-in-hand with environmentalists, to defeat the Pebble Mine before it even had a chance, a new report by an independent investigator suggests.

“The statements and actions of EPA personnel observed during this review raise serious concerns as to whether EPA orchestrated the process to reach a predetermined outcome; had inappropriately close relationships with anti-mine advocates,” reads a report by former defense secretary William Cohen, who now runs his own consulting firm.

The Pebble Partnership hired Cohen to review the EPA’s decision not to allow the Pebble Mine to seek a permit for mining copper near Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Cohen’s report only looked at the process the EPA used to pre-emptively veto the Pebble Mine. He did not make any conclusions on the EPA’s legal authority to do so or whether or not the mine should even be built.

Cohen found that the EPA’s “unprecedented, preemptive” use of the Clean Water Act to kill the Pebble Mine relied on a hypothetical mining project that “may or may not accurately or fairly represent an actual project.”

The Wall Street Journal added:

“It is by now beyond dispute that the Environmental Protection Agency went rogue when it halted Alaska’s proposed Pebble Mine project. And yet, there’s more.

The more comes via an independent report that criticizes the agency for its pre-emptive 2014 veto of Pebble, a proposal to create the country’s largest copper and gold mine in southwest Alaska. Under the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers evaluates permit applications for new projects. The EPA has a secondary role of reviewing and potentially vetoing Corps approval. Here, the EPA issued a veto before [emphasis in original] either Pebble could file for permits or the Corps could take a look.”

***

Mountain States Legal Foundation’s William Perry Pendley on the latest private property battle vs. federal land managers–”The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday is scheduled to consider whether to take up a case from Utah that could determine whether federal land managers can steal a citizen’s private property.”

***

Native American energy production faces Democrat opposition:

House Democrats are expected to oppose legislation this week that would remove regulatory burdens for energy production on Native American land that tribes say have cost them tens of millions of dollars.

The Native American Energy Act would vest more regulatory authority over tribal energy production with the tribes themselves, rather federal regulators that have recently sought more stringent regulations on oil and gas production on federal land.

The bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee last month with just a single Democratic vote. Among its provisions is language that would exempt tribal land from new Interior Department regulations on hydraulic fracturing, an innovative oil and gas extraction technique commonly known as fracking.

***

Last but not least, the Western Energy Alliance’s “Fossil Fuel Free Week” concluded last week, and it was a tough challenge (if you’re reading this right now, you’ve failed:

Fossil Fuel Free Week, organized by Western Energy Alliance, has concluded and succeeded in getting people to think about the role of oil and natural gas in their daily lives. The campaign was designed in response to numerous anti-fossil fuel protests in recent months, such as the Keep It In The Ground Coalition, various anti-fracking rallies, demonstrations against Keystone XL and other pipelines and rail transport, the divestiture movement, and kayaktivists against arctic drilling.

The key lesson from the campaign is environmental groups, when directly challenged, fail to provide workable alternatives that replace the full spectrum of products provided by fossil fuels. Instead they respond by being predictably dismissive and offer vague visions for the future, as President Tim Wigley of the Alliance explains:

“As we’ve seen with recent protests, environmental groups incite anger amongst their supporters while dangling fossil fuels in effigy. Yet not accustomed to being poked fun of themselves, environmentalists reacted reflexively to the Challenge, offering weak observations by calling it ridiculous, snarky and a ploy. Well…yes!

Independence Institute comments to CDPHE on Clean Power Plan implementation in Colorado

Thanks to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for holding this event.

A few comments for the agency to consider.

First, in your December 2014 comments, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and the Colorado Energy Office all maintained that ‘In Colorado, the PUC has exclusive statutory authority to regulate the IOUs and associated electric resource decisions’ and that ‘depending upon the plan elements proposed by Colorado, legislation may be needed to clarify or direct state agencies on their respective roles and authorities’–and since no legislation appears to have clarified this point, how do you expect to proceed?

Second, the state’s top law enforcement official Attorney General Cynthia Coffman believes the CPP to be overreach and has joined more than one dozen other states suing the EPA to stop the CPP. The EPA has even said in its brief in response to petitions for extraordinary writ in the D.C. Circuit:

“…if a state believes it appropriate to do so, it could defer much of the planning effort until judicial review is complete. The initial submittal requires substantially less than a state plan.”

We are pleased to hear today that this advisement has been acknowledged and that CDPHE will take the maximum time allowed.

Third, we hope that you include more input from citizens and ratepayers, the most important stakeholders in the state. A recent Magellan poll revealed 59% of Colorado voters want to WAIT for all legal challenges to be completed BEFORE Colorado complies and the EPA says that’s okay. So it seems prudent to wait for legal challenges to be completed. In the meantime we shouldn’t be planning compliance but rather studying what the CPP’s impact on the economy and Colorado’s working family, low income and minorities in a fair and open way. We need to know the full impact of the estimated $600 additional cost per year per Colorado family for no measurable impact on emissions.

In that light, we wonder how Colorado will remain committed to ensuring reliable and affordable electricity if it pushes forward with a plan without allowing legal challenges to be resolved?

Thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of Colorado citizens and ratepayers. We appreciate CDPHE’s process and support an open, transparent stakeholder process subject to relevant legislation.

September 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.

***

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”:

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

August 6 Colorado Energy Roundup: Clean Power Plan Edition

Colorado’s expected targets on carbon reduction from the finalized Clean Power Plan unveiled Monday:

Colorado’s 2030 goal of a 28 percent reduction in overall carbon dioxide emissions — or a 40 percent reduction in the pounds of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour of electricity generated — was set using a 2012 benchmark.

“Having them stick to that baseline year of 2012, we don’t necessarily get credit for being early thinkers and early movers,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Colorado’s Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has vowed to review the new rules and could consider joining a multi-state lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan:

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said the plan “raises significant concerns for Colorado” and that she’s considering joining other states in a legal challenge.

Citing concerns about potential job losses and an unrealistic set of goals and timelines, Coffman said in an e-mail she will ” carefully review the EPA’s plan and evaluate its long term consequences for our state.”

“But as I put the best interests of Colorado first, it may become necessary to join other states in challenging President Obama’s authority under the Clean Air Act.”

It is not clear at this time how long Coffman will take to render a decision on whether or not to join that lawsuit, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Dr. Wolk said that the agency is pushing forward:

“It is the right thing to do,” Wolk said.

If there’s a legal challenge to be had related to EPA authority, that’s a matter specific to the attorney general, he said.

“But it is not something we would use to deter our efforts, which have been underway for several years,” Wolk said.

Governor John Hickenlooper’s office told the Denver Post, “We respect the due diligence of the attorney general in reviewing the plan and will watch the next steps closely.”

Hickenlooper has already made it clear his administration welcomed the Clean Power Plan, and would not join an effort to thwart that plan at the state level.

The final rule moves the deadline for state implementation plans back, and the CDPHE has given an initial nod to allowing the legislature to vote on the agency’s plan:

The final state plan will go to the legislature for approval before submission to the EPA. An initial state plan will be due September 2016 with an option for states to request a two-year extension to September 2018 for submission of the final plan.

How much input the Colorado legislature will have remains to be seen due to the possibility of legislation in 2016 and even 2017. Colorado may file for an extension, giving the legislators additional opportunities to consider enabling legislation, procedural requirements such as a stronger or even mandatory role for the Public Utilities Commission, or other variations on how Colorado submits its CPP SIP. The 2015 session saw SB 258, the Electric Consumers’ Protection Act, pass out of the Senate in bipartisan fashion but ultimately die in Democratically-controlled House. The bill would have sought transparency for the CPP state plan by requiring PUC hearings and deliberation, as well as an up or down vote by the Colorado legislature as a whole.

The Independence Institute published a backgrounder in April, during the rule finalization process, that took a look at possible economic and legal implications of the CPP:

– Will require a new regulatory regime, and holistically seeks to remake the nation’s energy policy;
– Will incur massive costs;
– Will greatly affect energy reliability across the country;
– Is likely illegal; and
–Won’t have any measurable impact on global CO2 emissions.

A quick look at Colorado’s CO2 emission levels from the 2012 baseline show a 40.5 percent reduction in carbon by 2030, from 1973 pounds per megawatt hour down to 1174. Interim goals would reach approximately 31 percent reduction between 2022 and 2029, with states receiving some flexibility on reaching the step reductions. The EPA estimates that by 2020, Colorado would see a 14 percent reduction–without any Clean Power Plan guidelines.

States’ goals fall in a narrower band, reflecting a more consistent approach among sources and states.

At final, all state goals fall in a range between 771 pounds per megawatt-hour (states that have only natural gas plants) to 1,305 pounds per megawatt-hour (states that only have coal/oil plants). A state’s goal is based on how many of each of the two types of plants are in the state.

The goals are much closer together than at proposal. Compared to proposal, the highest (least stringent) goals got tighter, and the lowest (most stringent) goals got looser.

o Colorado’s 2030 goal is 1,174 pounds per megawatt-hour. That’s in the middle of this range, meaning Colorado has one of the moderate state goals, compared to other state goals in the final Clean Power Plan.

o Colorado’s step 1 interim goal of 1,476 pounds per megawatt-hour reflects changes EPA made to provide a smoother glide path and less of a “cliff” at the beginning of the program.

The 2012 baseline for Colorado was adjusted to be more representative, based on information that came in during the comment period.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 12.58.53 AM

The full text of the EPA’s outline for Colorado is here:

Colorado Clean Power Plan Goals

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So why can the EPA project an additional 14 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 without the Clean Power Plan?

Energy In Depth has the details, via the Energy Information Administration:

According to a report released today by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), monthly power sector carbon emissions reached a 27-year low in April of 2015. In that same month, natural gas was, for the first time, the leading source of American electricity. As the EIA puts it:

“The electric power sector emitted 128 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MMmt CO2) in April 2015, the lowest for any month since April 1988…Comparing April 1988 to April 2015 (27 years), natural gas consumption in the sector more than tripled.” (emphasis added)

EIA-chart

EID concludes, “As the EIA’s report clearly shows, these environmental benefits are due in large part to an American abundance of safely produced, clean-burning natural gas.” EPA’s administrator Gina McCarthy has repeatedly pointed to natural gas as a “bridge” or key component in reducing carbon.

But natural gas as a “building block” for CPP compliance is threatened by the next EPA rule to come down the regulatory turnpike, the ground-level ozone rule to be finalized in October, according to the Institute for Energy Research.

***

Studies have considered the cost to the economy and the toll in human terms due to job loss:

President Barack Obama’s plan targeting coal-burning power plants will cost a quarter of a million jobs and shrink the coal industry by nearly half, according to a new report by the American Action Forum (AAF).

The president released final regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday, which require every state to meet strict emission standards for coal-burning power plants in the next 15 years.

The so-called “Clean Power Plan” will cost the industry $8.4 billion, nearly 10 times more expensive than the most burdensome regulation released this year, according to AAF, a center-right think tank led by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

“This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for existing power plants,” according to the report, authored by AAF’s director of regulatory policy Sam Batkins. “The final plan will shutter 66 power plants and eliminate 125,800 jobs in the coal industry.”

Job loss will be substantial due to the shuttering of coal-fired power plants, including those in Colorado.

It will also likely be heavily localized, as the tenuous situation in northwest Colorado facing the Colowyo Mine and Craig’s coal-fired plant illustrate–and this comes before the state considers how to implement the Clean Power Plan.

Moffat County, where both the mine and power plant reside, would see just a few hundred jobs on the chopping block, but this would devastate the area, as a recent video from Institute for Energy Research showed:

***

Reaction to the rule varied across the spectrum, and the Denver Business Journal gathered a handful of the more pointed statements from both sides:

Joel Serface, managing director of Brightman Energy, a renewable energy development company.

“The Clean Power Plan is a huge opportunity for Colorado’s economy. By tackling the rising economic costs of climate change, we can modernize our energy infrastructure, stimulate innovation and help create thousands of good, new Colorado jobs in high-growth sectors like wind and solar.”

State Sen. John B. Cooke (R-Weld County):

“The Governor needs to commit himself to a true public process, including a rigorous review by the people’s representatives in the Colorado General Assembly, before giving a green light to Colorado’s implementation of this new federal mandate. These rules are being challenged in federal court by sixteen states, and I hope that Colorado’s Attorney General will join that lawsuit now that the EPA rules are final. The fact is, the Clean Air Act passed by Congress does not authorize these costly dictates, and there is a good chance the US Supreme Court will block these rules for that reason.”

Kansas pushes back against EPA Clean Power Plan, changes state renewables mandate to voluntary

Unlike Colorado’s failed attempt to provide state oversight to proposed Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” regulations, Kansas’ legislature has passed requirements for any CPP state implementation plan, including no plan at all, should it conflict with ongoing litigation against the EPA’s power to bring forth the CPP:

Kansas governor Sam Brownback (R) signed a bill setting parameters for how the state complies with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan.

The bill, HB 2233, requires state agencies responsible for drafting a state implementation plan (SIP) to examine potential electricity rate impacts that may arise from complying with the EPA rule to address CO2 emissions from existing power plants. The law mandates that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment identify ways to avoid unreasonable costs under a best system of emissions reductions, which may include emissions trading or emissions averaging across the generation fleet. Brownback signed the bill into law on 28 May.

The law creates an oversight committee of state lawmakers that will track the progress of and vote on the SIP. The Clean Power Plan Implementation Study Committee will run from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2017.

Like other states such as New Mexico, Kansas state agencies have called the EPA’s CPP into question, “citing concerns over its legality, federal overreach into grid reliability and a limited timeline for implementation.”

Those concerns have prompted Kansas to join other state attorneys general in legal challenges targeting EPA’s ability to bring forth regulations like those under the CPP:

Attorney general Derek Schmidt (R) is among 19 state attorneys general who have called on EPA to withdraw its proposed CO2 standards for new power plants, and the state is participating in two lawsuits challenging the Clean Power Plan proposal.

The new law allows state regulators to not submit a plan if the attorney general determines that such a plan would conflict with Kansas’ legal position in current or pending legal challenges against the rule.

In testifying for Colorado’s Electricity Consumers’ Protection Act (SB 258), attorney Mike Nasi outlined possible legal objections to the EPA’s proposed rules.

Colorado’s SB 258 would have tasked the Public Utilities Commission, with input from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as well as approval from the state legislative body, with creating a CPP SIP for the state that considered costs and required a full, public, and deliberative process rather than unilateral executive agency rulemaking from CDPHE under the Governor John Hickenlooper’s direction.

With the defeat of the bill, Governor Hickenlooper announced that, unlike Kansas’ measured approach, Colorado would capitulate to the EPA’s CPP and push forward with state implementation.

***

Colorado environmentalists and renewable energy advocates enjoy touting other states’ efforts on issues including renewable energy standards and renewable subsidies.

But this year, Kansas modified its RES, making the mandate a “voluntary goal”:

Kansas governor Sam Brownback (R) yesterday signed into law a bill converting the state’s renewable energy standard to a voluntary goal.

The bill, SB 91, replaces the state’s standard, which required 20pc renewable energy use by 2020, with a voluntary target on the same timetable. SB 91 also exempts existing renewable energy facilities in the state, mostly wind farms, from property taxes and gives new renewable energy facilities a 10-year property tax exemption.

Wind accounted for 21.7pc of Kansas’ generation mix in 2014, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
….
While the bill was supported by some state wind industry and business groups, environmentalists have criticized it, saying it should have at least called for a higher voluntary goal to give utilities “something to aspire to.”

In a free market, utilities and others involved with energy production will voluntarily move to where the market leads–they will “aspire to” serve their customers with an energy fuel mix that best suits the state’s and individual utility’s needs and consumer’s wants.

Government should not be picking energy or electricity winners and losers, and moving from a legal mandate to voluntary guidelines is a step in the right direction for free market energy, as is limiting a property tax exemption from permanent to a sunset at 10 years.

May 21 Colorado Energy Roundup: capitulating to the EPA, sage-grouse protections, and lazy fracktivists

May 21, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC 

Gov. John Hickenlooper intends to capitulate to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” rejecting a suggestion by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to avoid implementing the new federal rules:

Gov. John Hickenlooper rejected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s call for states to defy new federal pollution controls on coal-burning power plants, saying Colorado has a long history of protecting its environment — despite its heavy reliance on coal.

In a letter to McConnell dated Thursday, Hickenlooper also disputed McConnell’s contention that the rules would cause electric rates to soar. Hickenlooper said Colorado is cutting pollution while keeping energy affordable.

The full text of Gov. Hickenlooper’s letter to Sen. McConnell. The Democrat called the suggestion by the Kentucky Senator “irresponsible”:

In a letter dated May 14, Hickenlooper told McConnell that compliance with the EPA’s proposal would be “a challenge,” but said “states tackle problems of this magnitude on a regular basis.”

“We think it would be irresponsible to ignore federal law, and that is why we intend to develop a compliant Clean Power Plan,” Hickenlooper said in his letter.

About 64 percent of Colorado’s electricity was generated by coal in 2013; when the state ranked 11th nationwide in overall coal production, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Hickenlooper said the state has “a long-standing history of investing in our natural environment, with the engagement of local business and civic leaders.”

“We have made immense strides in eliminating the ‘brown cloud’ for which Denver and the front range of the Rockies were once famous; stunning, clear views of the Rocky Mountains have been restored to our residents and the tens of millions of visitors who come here annually,” he said.

The Colorado Assembly entertained SB 258–the Electric Consumers’ Protection Act–this past legislative session, passing the State Senate in a bipartisan vote, but ultimately dying in a Democratic House kill committee late in the session. The bill would have called for any state implementation plan for the EPA Clean Power Plan to be reviewed by the Public Utilities Commission in a public, transparent manner with heavy input from the public as well as agencies such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, with a final review and vote by the full state legislature, instead of a policy written behind closed doors by CDPHE and implemented unilaterally at the executive agency level, with input offered only after the fact.

Opponents of the bill called the transparency measure “red tape.”

Appealing for broad inclusion and procedural transparency, the Colorado Mining Association’s Dianna Orf hopes that CDPHE and the Governor’s administration will ensure that Colorado’s plan include those most affected by the rule–energy producers and consumers:

“We ask that it be as inclusive and transparent a process as possible,” Orf said. “The magnitude and significance of the plan, and how it’s implemented, is so far reaching that we’d ask that they not only include utilities, but consumers and fuel suppliers as well as the larger business community.”

Indeed.

***

On the other hand, late last week, Gov. Hickenlooper issued an executive order on behalf of the greater sage-grouse that is designed to shield the state from expanded federal efforts to list the animal as threatened or endangered, which would have a devastating economic impact on the western part of the state, and many surrounding states as well:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an Executive Order on Friday (May 15) directing state agencies to take additional conservation measures for the greater sage-grouse.

“Our actions, in conjunction with the efforts of our local governments, landowners and many others to protect the greater sage-grouse, have been extensive,” Hickenlooper said in a press release that accompanied the order. “With this Executive Order we are directing our state agencies and our partners to do even more to protect this treasured species.”

Hickenlooper directed state agencies to take a number of actions designed to reduce impacts to the greater sage-grouse and its habitat, including taking inventory of — and improving habitat within — state lands with grouse populations.

“We firmly believe that state-led efforts are the most effective way to protect and conserve the greater sage grouse and its habitat,” said Gov. Hickenlooper in the release. “Conversely, a decision by the federal government to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act would have a significant and detrimental economic impact to the state, as well as threaten the very state-led partnerships that are working to protect the species.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has until September 30, 2015 to render its decision on any listing action for the greater sage-grouse. Full text of Gov. Hickenlooper’s executive order can be read here.

***

Outgoing Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Tisha Schuller had some thoughts on anti-energy fracktivists in Colorado:

On what she sees as a hypocrisy by those who want to ban fracking

“Communities that use oil and gas can’t ban it and say someone else has to produce it for them… We are consumers demanding a product and demanding it at a very affordable price. We know how sensitive consumers are to changes in their heating bill and their gasoline bill… I think a better paradigm is we are totally interdependent on oil and gas, and vilifying it is simply silly and a very lazy way of trying to address climate change.”

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