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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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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

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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.