February 18 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Costly Clean Power Plan event video; EPA Animas River spill gets Congressional scrutiny; fracking ban off 2016 ballot

February 18, 2016 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation, regulations 

The Independence Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute joined forces on February 16 in Denver to provide an update on the Environmental Protection Agency’s costly Clean Power Plan, including where the rule stands with regard to the U.S. Supreme Court stay issued earlier in February, as well as the impact of the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the ongoing legal proceedings.

Watchdog’s Art Kane:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan rules will slow the Colorado economy, raise electricity rates and barely make a dent in carbon dioxide emissions, opponents and experts on the plan told an audience at the Independence Institute on Tuesday.

“Clean power alone will add billions if not tens of billions of costs to individual consumers and the American economy,” said Gregory Conko, executive director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Myron Ebell, CEI’s director of the Center for Energy and Enviroment released a state-by-state comparison showing Colorado’s 9.49 cents per kilowatt hour is lower than the national average of 10.11 cents. But he said California, which has extensive power plant regulation and has consumers paying 15.11 cents, is a warning for the rest of the country if the Clean Power Plan is instituted.

“This is about keeping the lights on for America’s economy, for Colorado’s economy,” he said, adding any additional costs for energy will take away consumer purchasing power for other goods.

Keeping the lights on and the cost of electricity–the energy that drives our economy.

What happens when costs of electricity go up? It hurts the average Coloradan; the ratepayers and taxpayers already pressured by an economy that has never fully recovered from the recession that have seen their electricity bills skyrocket 63 percent between 2001 and 2014, and Colorado overall, across all sectors from residential to commercial, industrial, and transportation, of 67 percent:

Energy_Increase_AllSectors_Percent_a

Energy_Increase_AllSectors_kwh

Those cost increases are being felt, not the least by folks in southern Colorado.

***

Regulations impact economies, and officials at a hearing in New Mexico on proposed Bureau of Land Management rules got an earful:

“The implementation of these proposed rules will kill revenue to state and federal government,” said Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts. “And it will kill jobs at the local level.”

To find the source of Farmington and San Juan County, New Mexico, residents’ frustration, one doesn’t need to look far. Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that showed the area ranked first in the nation in the rate of unemployment growth – from 5.2 percent in 2014 to 7.3 percent in 2015. Since 2009, the region has lost an estimated 6,000 jobs, mainly as a result of a declining oil and gas industry.

“I’ve seen the affects in my community,” said Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein. “This will be a knock-out blow to an already-crippled community.”

In January, the BLM proposed an update to 30-year old regulations on methane and natural gas leaks on BLM and Native American lands. BLM officials estimate the tougher regulations would reduce emissions of the potent methane by about 169,00 tons per year, and decrease volatile organic compound releases by 410,000 tons per year. That reduction would be in keeping with an earlier Obama Administration goal of reducing methane emissions by 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2015.

***

Keeping Colorado coal alive:

In March of last year, I had the privilege of traveling to northwest Colorado to film AEA’s “Eye of the Storm” video which chronicled the threats radical environment activists were making against the communities of Craig and Meeker. Thankfully, with your help, we were able to convince the federal government that the Colowyo mine should stay open. Unfortunately, the mine and these communities are under threat yet again.

While in Craig and Meeker, Colorado, I was blown away by the people that I met. Every person knew just how important energy is to their community. From the mayor to the hotel concierge, every single person I spoke with had a personal story about how the energy their community produces and responsibly utilizes makes their lives better. And as many miners pointed out to me, their work provides affordable, reliable energy to the entire region.

Visiting the Colowyo mine was a surreal experience. At first, you drive up a winding dirt road through checkpoints, until you finally reach the mining area. Colowyo is a surface mine situated between the towns of Craig and Meeker. Cresting the ridge and looking down on the pit, you see these bright yellow trucks scurrying around with dirt and coal, but from that distance you can’t tell how massive they are. Realizing the immense scale of this project and the work these men and women do every day is profound—and in a way, beautiful.

One real surprise to me is that soon after stepping out of the truck at the mine, I noticed wildlife. You do not expect to visit a mine and see elk, antelope, deer, and even an owl, but I saw all four within the first hour of our time there. The staff pointed with pride to the areas that had been previously been mined, but were now restored and how well the land and wildlife were thriving

***

The literal ban on fracking is out, but 10 more state constitutional amendments remain, including a “right to a healthy environment”:

“We’re going to pull the one that’s the ban, not the other ones,” Dyke told the Denver Business Journal on Friday. “We’re down to 10, but we still have plenty to work with.”

But while a proposal to ban fracking statewide may be off the table, the other initiatives backed by CREED are just as bad, said Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, an issues committee formed by the industry in 2014 to oppose anti-fracking initiatives.

“They withdrew it (the fracking ban proposal) because they know the vast majority of Coloradans support responsible oil and natural gas development and are against banning an entire industry,” Crummy said via email.

“However, their remaining proposals are just as irresponsible and extreme because they would still effectively ban development,” she said.

The other amendments, calling for 4,000 foot setbacks away from “special concern” areas along with the healthy environment proposal remain de facto fracking bans, and in most cases, include all oil and gas development not just the controversial hydraulic fracturing method.

For example, proposal #67:

Section 1. Purposes and findings. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO FIND AND DECLARE:

(a) THAT OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE USE OF HYDRAULIC FRACTURING, HAS DETRIMENTAL IMPACTS ON PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, WELFARE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT;

(b) THAT SUCH IMPACTS ARE REDUCED BY LOCATING OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT FACILITIES AWAY FROM OCCUPIED STRUCTURES AND AREAS OF SPECIAL CONCERN; AND

(c) THAT TO PRESERVE PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, WELFARE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT, THE PEOPLE DESIRE TO ESTABLISH A SETBACK REQUIRING ALL NEW OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT FACILITIES IN THE STATE OF COLORADO TO BE LOCATED AWAY FROM OCCUPIED STRUCTURES, INCLUDING HOMES, SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS; AS WELL AS AREAS OF SPECIAL CONCERN.

Section 2. Definitions.

(a) FOR PURPOSES OF THIS ARTICLE, “OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT” MEANS EXPLORATION FOR AND DRILLING, PRODUCTION, AND PROCESSING OF OIL, GAS, OTHER GASEOUS AND LIQUID HYDROCARBONS, AND CARBON DIOXIDE, AS WELL AS THE TREATMENT AND DISPOSAL OF WASTE ASSOCIATED WITH SUCH EXPLORATION, DRILLING, PRODUCTION, AND PROCESSING. “OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT” INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO, HYDRAULIC FRACTURING AND ASSOCIATED COMPONENTS.

Judge the activists by their words–they want bans or regulations so onerous as to yield the same results. This isn’t just about a fracking ban, although the most explicit amendment calling for a statewide ban has just been pulled. Make no mistake–this is about the wholesale removal of responsible natural resource extraction that gives Coloradans affordable and reliable energy.

Too little, too late?

Windsor High School junior Kamille Hocking worried a dozen oil wells on her family’s 132-acre Colorado homestead might sicken them. Then, Rebecca Johnson, an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. engineer, used a blender in her chemistry class to show the interaction of swirling frack sand, city water and friction reducer.

“We heard a lot of stories about how it could get into the water and pollute the land,” said Hocking, who is 16. “I’m going to tell my parents that fracking fluid only makes cracks in the rock the size of a hair that the sand gets into and holds open.”

Facing 10 possible ballot initiatives restricting fracking, Anadarko has deployed 160 landmen, geologists and engineers such as Johnson to Rotary clubs, high schools and mothers groups. They demonstrate how drilling works and try to convince people that the technique and the accompanying chemicals and geological effects don’t harm the environment or public health.

The wide-ranging outreach in Colorado, the nation’s seventh-biggest oil producer and sixth-largest gas provider, represents a policy shift. The energy industry that has been known for insisting on confidentiality from employees about fracking practices now allows geologists, landmen and colleagues in 40 Anadarko job categories to divulge details of what they do to their churches, neighbors and golfing buddies.

Johnson, who’s personal motto is “faith, family and fracking,” told students in Windsor that she’s supervised 1,000 fracks in the course of her 24-year career without harm to the environment.

“I live right here,” Johnson said when she visited the school 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Denver this month. “My family is here. My mother-in-law graduated from your high school. She turns 80 this year. We would know if something’s wrong.”

Real facts from the folks who live and work in the communities in question.

***

More rulemaking on the way, regardless of which amendments make the 2016 ballot:

Fresh off some recent rulemaking, Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory agency is turning its attention to one of the most persistent complaints from people living near extraction operations: noise.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is in the process of gathering technical data from state health experts, industry officials and third party consultants regarding noise, its health impacts and mitigation measures, said Dave Kulmann, COGCC deputy director.

Since discussions are still in the early stages, no date is set for when formal rulemaking might start, although it will likely be some time late in 2016. Kulmann said the agency wants to gather the technical data before speculating on which specific aspects of the current regulations might be beefed up, but it is clear, he said, that noise is an issue.

In 2015, after implementing a new complaint process on Jan. 9 of that year, the COGCC received a total of 330 complaints on issues ranging from odors to traffic problems to property damage, according to a detailed complaint report compiled by COGCC. Of the total complaints, 123 were due to noise.

***

The Gold King Mine and Animas River spill–and the EPA–are still under scrutiny, even if the prominent news coverage has waned:

If a private company dumped three million gallons of toxic sludge into Colorado waterways, we’d be flooded with daily media updates for months. Yet the press has by now forgotten the disaster unleashed in August when EPA contractors punctured an abandoned mine. New evidence suggests the government isn’t coming clean about what happened.

EPA planned its disastrous investigation of the mine for years, not that you’d know: The agency assumed a layout of the area that contradicted public records, including the remarkable conclusion that a drain ran near the ceiling of the mine’s entrance. This led EPA to believe that water backed up only about half the tunnel. The agency didn’t test the water pressure, a precaution that would have prevented the gusher. EPA hasn’t explained this decision, and emails obtained by the committee show the on-site coordinator knew there was “some pressure.”

The crew made more bad decisions than characters in a horror movie. About a week before the blowout, the on-site coordinator went on vacation and left instructions that his replacement seems to have ditched. For example: Don’t dig toward the tunnel floor unless you have a pump handy. The crew pressed downward without a pump and intentionally unearthed the mine’s plug. “What exactly they expected to happen remains unclear,” the report concludes. The Interior Department now euphemistically calls this series of events an “excavation induced failure.”

EPA is so far suggesting that no one committed crimes, and maybe so. But consider: EPA cranked out a report three weeks after the disaster and said the Interior Department would conduct an independent review that the Army Corps of Engineers would sign off on. EPA testified to the committee that Interior would look for wrongdoing, though Interior said the department was only offering technical support.

New Belgium back at it, pushing for coal-killing Clean Power Plan

February 5, 2016 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, renewable energy 

During the last decade, Colorado has become renowned, and rightly so, for its craft beer mastery.  With more than 230 microbreweries in the state, we have the highest concentration of breweries per capita.  Thank goodness for the vast selection of quality suds, otherwise I might have to purchase New Belgium beers, and become a de facto extreme, anti-free market environmental activist.

Fort Collins’ New Belgium Brewery lists “kindling cultural environmental change” and “honoring the environment at every turn” as two of their ten core values.  That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with growth in our culture while respecting our natural surroundings.  But New Belgium’s cozy relationship with extreme environmental groups subjugates free market principles and the proper role of government in favor of promoting an economic and environmental agenda that negatively impacts Coloradans.

In 2015, there was a brouhaha brewing in Craig, the western slope town whose citizenry depends on the economics of coal mining.  New Belgium’s contributions to the anti-coal WildEarth Guardians incensed the townsfolk, prompting the brewery to sever their relationship with WildEarth Guardians.  The spokesperson for New Belgium claimed ignorance, reporting to have no knowledge of the fact that they were partners in the battle to kill local jobs.  Considering they employ a director of sustainability, it is hardly believable that nobody executed an Internet search of WildEarth Guardians before forking thousands of dollars over to them and their energy jobs killing agenda.

Having terminated that relationship and declaring the offense an oversight, one would think that New Belgium would no longer climb into bed with environmental extremists.  Or maybe, that’s just who they want as community partners, because a bottle of the season Accumulation brew boasts of a relationship with Protect our Winters, an effort co-sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s.

Via their website, Protect Our Winters purports that their relationship with New Belgium inspires people to call their governors and make policy demands including support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP).  The CPP is designed to suffocate the coal industry and its workforce. According to a report from top economists at the National Economic Research Associates, the CPP’s squeezing of coal plants will increase delivered electricity costs by 17%, while only reducing global temperatures by a mere 0.003°, an amount that will not affect extreme weather or any other purported dangers of climate change.

As evidenced by their enduring relationships with anti-energy environmental activists, it is clear that New Belgium would like to see the coal industry out of business, increase utility costs for already stretched Coloradans, but have zero measurable effects on global temperatures.  They want people to demand more state and federally imposed restrictions on the citizenry. It would seem that New Belgium knew exactly what they were doing with WildEarth Guardians, and that they intend to continue these sorts of anti-energy partnerships into the future, maybe until we can no longer afford to purchase luxuries like craft beers.  Pour me a Coors.

Sarah Huisman is an Independence Institute Future Leader, and Master’s student at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government.

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.

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

***

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.”

July 30 Colorado Energy Roundup: Clean Power Plan extension expected; a new Sagebrush Rebellion?

The Clean Power Plan’s timeline for compliance may see an extension, and the final rule itself may be revealed next Monday:

The final version of President Obama’s signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut planet-warming pollution from power plants, according to people familiar with the plan.

If enacted, the climate change plan, the final version of which is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday, could stand as the most significant action ever taken by an American president to curb global warming. But some environmental groups have cautioned that a later deadline for states to comply could make it tougher for the United States to meet Mr. Obama’s climate change pledges on the world stage.

The plan consists of three major environmental regulations, which combined are intended to drastically cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The rules take aim at coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse emissions, and are intended to spur a transformation of the nation’s power sector from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as wind and solar. Under the rules, the Environmental Protection Agency would require states to draft plans to lower emissions from power plants. The agency is also expected to issue its own model of a state-level plan, to be imposed on states that refuse to draft their own plans.

The final rules would extend the timeline for states and electric utilities to comply, compared with a draft proposal put forth by the E.P.A. in June last year, according to people who are familiar with the plan but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The Independence Institute’s backgrounder on the Clean Power Plan and its devastating effects on our energy choice and enormous costs to taxpayers and the economy in general can be found here.

***

Much of the public land in the Rocky Mountain west is administered not by the states but by the federal government all the way from DC–and the debate over who should ultimately preside over these vast swathes of federal land has seen a resurgence:

Not since the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1979 has the debate over whether it’s time for federal lands to fall to states’ control gained such attention, and the anti-federal-government sentiment and talking points aren’t likely to dissipate as the West heads toward the next presidential election.

The fight stirred in 2012 when the Utah legislature passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act to demand authority over millions of acres of federal land by last New Year’s Eve. It didn’t happen.

Eight states cumulatively considered 30 bills around the issue this year. In March, Republicans in the U.S. Senate passed, without a single Democratic vote, a symbolic resolution in support of transferring or trading land to states. The resolution, though, doesn’t give Congress or any federal agency additional power to make deals.

And in the last Colorado legislative session there were three bills around the subject. Only one passed. House Bill 1225, a bipartisan bill supported by environmental groups, strengthens communities’ position in saying how local federal lands are managed.

Opponents of devolving control of public lands to the states cite the enormous costs of maintaining them, arguing states are not prepared to shoulder the added burden of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual upkeep.

For example, a single wildfire could cripple Colorado, said Governor John Hickenlooper’s advisor:

The federal government also picks up the costs for wildfires on federal lands. But just one massive wildfire in Colorado — a state that can have several in one year — could obliterate the state budget, said John Swartout, a Republican who is Hickenlooper’s top policy adviser on land, wildlife and conservation issues.

“The solution is constructive engagement,” Swartout said. “Are we always going to be happy with all the decisions? No. But we’re going to get a lot farther helping create the final solution.”

More than 1/3 of Colorado is subject to federal jurisdiction. Whether or not the debate develops into a political conflagration or peters out in favor of other issues remains to be seen, but expect energy producers and environmental activists to keep a close eye on how the narrative proceeds.

***

WildEarth Guardians won’t hesitate to launch a legal battle, as a recent look at the group’s lawsuit filings shows:

Though a relatively small organization with only 26 people on staff, WildEarth Guardians’ litigious nature has established the environmental advocacy group as a dominant voice in the national debate about environmental policy.

From 2010 to present, Guardians have initiated a total of 152 cases in federal district courts and 55 in the Circuit Court of Appeals for a total of 207 cases. In 2010 alone they filed 61 claims — an average of about one per week.

However, Guardians’ pervasiveness in the courts has not gone without criticism.

In a 2012 analysis of WildEarth Guardians’ legal activity, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity claimed that Guardians has been “misusing the judicial system, exploiting poorly-written laws and taking advantage of taxpayers to pursue a narrow, litigation-driven, special interest agenda.”

For Coloradans, especially those in Craig and surrounding areas, lawsuits from the group have drawn the ire of residents and businesses for favoring costly litigation as a first-stop solution:

Lee Boughey, senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs for Tri-State, said in a statement that the courts should not be a first resort.

“Environmental policy, regulations and law should be set by state legislatures and Congress, and based on sound science, a thorough cost-benefit analysis and appropriate timeframes for implementation. These are difficult issues, and it is a far better for all stakeholders to commit to work together to develop sound regulatory policy that take these consideration into account, as opposed to running straight to the courts,” he said.

The group remains adamant, saying, the “legal system is oftentimes the last recourse of justice for interests and peoples that have been marginalized or whose issues haven’t been heard.”

In the case of Colowyo Mine, the marginalized appear to be the local residents, workers, and communities.

***

A pair of energy-related ballot measures will appear in November in Boulder, including a Climate Action tax:

Boulder officials also want to ask voters to extend the portion of the utility occupation tax on energy bills that replaces Xcel Energy’s franchise fee and provides roughly $4.1 million to the city’s general fund each year. It is not the portion of the tax that funds analysis and legal efforts toward municipalization, which is not on the ballot. The municipal energy utility would also have to pay a similar amount into the general fund, but that utility may not be up and running by 2017, when the tax expires. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through 2022.

The Climate Action Plan tax, which funds energy-efficiency programs and solar rebates, will also appear on the ballot. That tax expires in March 2018, and city leaders believe the programs ultimately will be paid for out of utility rates. However, that won’t be possible until the utility is up and running. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through March 2023 so that those programs could continue regardless of progress on the municipal utility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

The full text of the ruling can be found here.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 9 Colorado Energy Roundup: government won’t appeal in Colowyo case, true costs of wind energy revealed

Perhaps the most pressing energy and jobs-related issue in Colorado right now is the legal battle over the Colowyo Mine in the northwest part of the state:

The U.S. Department of the Interior has decided not to pursue an appeal of a federal court ruling that threatened to close Colowyo coal mine in Northwest Colorado.

According to a statement from Department of the Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw, “We are not appealing the court’s decision, but are on track to address the deficiencies in the Colowyo permit within the 120-day period.”

“We are disappointed that the government did not appeal the federal district court’s decision. Colowyo Mine remains confident that the U.S. Department of Interior and Office of Surface Mining are making every effort to complete the required environmental review within the 120-day period ordered by the court,” Tri-State’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Public Affiars Lee Boughey wrote in an email. “These efforts help ensure compliance with the judge’s order while supporting the 220 employees of Colowyo Mine and communities across northwest Colorado.”

The legal decision in May that tripped off the permitting kerfuffle that endangers the operation of the Colowyo Mine stemmed from a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians that the mine’s 2007 permit did not follow the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement requirements as well as National Environmental Policy Act rules.

Bipartisan efforts have poured in from across Colorado, as politicians, the business community, and legal experts recognize the importance and high stakes involved in the threat to the mine from a procedural and regulatory environment standpoint:

Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and [Rep. Scott] Tipton all joined Craig City Council and Moffat County Commissioners in addressing Jewell regarding the situation at Colowyo.

On July 2, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, the Colorado Competitive Council and the Colorado Energy Coalition sent a co-authored letter to Jewell voicing their concerns.

According to the letter, “this precedent could pose a threat to any activity on federal lands that performed an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act in order to obtain federal leases and permits. That could stretch from energy development and mining, to agricultural grazing and ski resorts becoming vulnerable to retroactive legal challenges.”

Tri-State’s Boughey noted that the government’s appeal isn’t necessary, however:

The ColoWyo appeal isn’t dependent on any other party’s decision to appeal or not appeal Jackson’s decision, Boughey said.

“We believe the court made several significant errors, including misreading the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. This prejudices not only Colowyo but other mining operations, and sets a precedent that should raise concerns for the U.S. energy industry and other activities on federal land,” he said.

In essence, Tri-State and ColoWyo officials don’t think the federal Office of Surface Mining should be looking at power plant operations.

“The court’s requirement that the agency analyze emissions from power plants inappropriately expands National Environmental Policy Act analyses for mining plans beyond what is prescribed under the law,” Boughey said.

The Independence Institute will continue to monitor the developments in the Colowyo legal battle.

***

Meanwhile, the WildEarth Guardians continue their crusade against all natural resource extraction, as the Denver Post’s Vincent Carroll recently illustrated:

Jeremy Nichols may not be the official stand-up comic of green activism, but he seems to be auditioning for the role. How else to explain his risible claim in a recent Denver Post report on the struggling economy in northwest Colorado that WildEarth Guardians isn’t trying to shut down the Colowyo coal mine and throw 220 people out of work?

“We want to have an honest discussion about the impact of coal and find a way to come together to figure out the next step,” Nichols, the group’s spokesman, maintained.

Why, of course. A group militantly opposed to fossil-fuel production files a lawsuit challenging the validity of a coal mine plan approved years ago — but does so only to provoke an “honest discussion.” Please.

WildEarth Guardians is opposed to all fossil-fuel extraction in the West, and makes no bones about it. In the winter 2013-14 edition of Wild Heart, Nichols outlined the group’s position on those other big fossil fuels, oil and natural gas.

“As communities in Colorado and elsewhere have learned well,” Nichols wrote, “it’s not enough to make oil and gas development cleaner or safer. For the sake of our health, our quality of life, and our future, it simply has to be stopped.”

“In some cases,” Nichols explained, “we can stop it cold … . In other cases, we can raise the cost of drilling to make it economically infeasible.”

The Colowyo Mine is still operating for now, but WildEarth’s apparent regulatory sabotage certainly seems consistent with its efforts to “stop it cold” when it comes to natural resources. Not to mention throwing 220 people out of work and disrupting the economy of an entire region.

Some “honest discussion.”

***

The price of a barrel of oil began to decline sharply in late 2014, prompting fears that the crashing crude market would tank the nation’s nascent energy resurgence, but despite falling numbers, 2015 still looks to be a year of production highs:

The amount of crude oil produced across the United States fell in May compared to April — but federal forecasters say 2015’s overall production is still “on track” to be the highest in 45 years.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday released its monthly short-term energy outlook, noting that crude oil production fell in May by about 50,000 barrels of oil per day compared with April.

In Colorado, oil production from the Niobrara field north of Denver, part of the larger Denver-Julesburg Basin, is expected to drop about 17,000 barrels per day in July compared to June, the EIA said.

The number of drilling rigs running in the state has dropped from 72 at the start of 2015 to 39 at the end of June as oil and gas companies have cut back on spending.

But, as we know from basic economics about supply and demand, lower oil prices mean lower gas prices, and that is driving demand back up to pre-recession levels:

But the on the consumer side, a better economy and low gasoline prices are expected to boost the amount of gasoline used in the U.S. by an estimated 170,000 barrels per day over 2014, the report said.

“U.S. gasoline demand will likely top 9 million barrels per day this year for the first time since 2007, which reflects record highway travel,” Sieminski said.

***

There’s no doubt that readers of the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center blog and op-eds are familiar with the argument that electricity derived from wind energy is more costly than other forms of generation–namely coal and natural gas–when one accounts for the massive amount of Federal subsidies, incentives, and state and local renewable mandates and other handouts.

A new study from Utah State University once again confirms that conclusion–”when you take into account the true costs of wind, it’s around 48 per cent more expensive than the industry’s official estimates”:

“In this study, we refer to the ‘true cost’ of wind as the price tag consumers and society as a whole pay both to purchase wind-generated electricity and to subsidize the wind energy industry through taxes and government debt,” said Ryan Yonk Ph.D., one of the report’s authors and a founder of Strata Policy. “After examining all of these cost factors and carefully reviewing existing cost estimates, we were able to better understand how much higher the cost is for Americans.”

The peer-reviewed report accounted for the following factors:

The federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), a crucial subsidy for wind producers, has distorted the energy market by artificially lowering the cost of expensive technologies and directing taxpayer money to the wind industry.

States have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require utilities to purchase electricity produced from renewable sources, which drives up the cost of electricity for consumers.

Because wind resources are often located far from existing transmission lines, expanding the grid is expensive, and the costs are passed on to taxpayers and consumers.

Conventional generators must be kept on call as backup to meet demand when wind is unable to do so, driving up the cost of electricity for consumers.

“Innovation is a wonderful thing and renewable energy is no exception. Wind power has experienced tremendous growth since the 1990’s, but it has largely been a response to generous federal subsidies,” Yonk stated.

But Utah State University researchers aren’t the only ones pulling back the curtain on the true cost of wind. A new study from the Institute for Energy Research demonstrates that a real comparison between existing power plants and new power plant sources shows that wind power once again comes up short in the low cost department:

Today, the Institute for Energy Research released a first-of-its-kind study calculating the levelized cost of electricity from existing generation sources. Our study shows that on average, electricity from new wind resources is nearly four times more expensive than from existing nuclear and nearly three times more expensive than from existing coal. These are dramatic increases in the cost of generating electricity. This means that the premature closures of existing plants will unavoidably increase electricity rates for American families.

Almost all measures of the cost of electricity only assess building new plants–until now. Using data from the Energy Information Administration and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we offer useful comparison between existing plants and new plants.

America’s electricity generation landscape is rapidly changing. Federal and state policies threaten to shutter more than 111 GW of existing coal and nuclear generation, while large amounts of renewables, such as wind, are forced on the grid. To understand the impacts of these policies, it is critical to understand the cost difference between existing and new sources of generation.

LCOE-press-png

A link to the complete study can be found on the Institute’s release page.

July 2 Colorado Energy Roundup: New Belgium signs ‘Brewer’s Climate Declaration’

More reaction from the ongoing Colowyo Mine saga in northwest Colorado, as Colorado Public Radio profiled residents from the community on what the possible mine closure would mean:

It’s been nearly two months since a judge required the federal government to take another look at a 2007 mining plan it approved for the Colowyo Mine outside Craig. Reaction in the small town of 9,000 was swift with much of the frustration directed at WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group that initiated the lawsuit.

Brent Malley moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to Craig 10 years ago to work at the mine, which supplies fuel to the nearby Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association power plant. Tri-State also owns Colowyo.

“It’s a much cleaner coal, low sulfur. I deal with that on a daily basis,” said Malley, who analyzes the coal at Colowyo. “There’s a bias against coal and I think it comes from pre-World War II where you saw really dirty conditions and miners getting hurt.”

Another resident, Rev. Jason Wunsch, called the actions against the Colowyo Mine–and the community–by WildEarth Guardians an “abuse.”

“The way it went about things through litigation and not through organic community dialogue I think was both an abuse to the public, but I think it will be a loss for authentic environmentalists,” Wunsch told CPR.

***

In a week filled with blockbuster Supreme Court decisions, the court’s ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury rule flew somewhat under the radar, but the agency’s illegal rule had already done the damage intended, and even offered the EPA an “out” in future rulemaking:

A measure of the Environmental Protection Agency’s radicalism is that on Monday even this Supreme Court shot down one of its regulatory abuses. The agency’s extraconstitutional law-writing was too much even for the Court willing last week to tolerate the rewriting of laws for ObamaCare subsidies and housing discrimination.

In Michigan v. EPA, several states and industry groups challenged a 2012 EPA rule related to mercury emissions, which was really a pretext to force most coal-fired power plants to shut down as part of the Administration’s climate agenda. Though the rule was then the most expensive the federal government had ever issued, the EPA said it had no obligation even to consider costs when deciding whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate.

“One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” Justice Antonin Scalia writes. “EPA’s interpretation precludes the agency from considering any type of cost—including, for instance, harms that regulation might do to human health or the environment.”

But imposing those economic costs and forcing the closure of coal-fired power plants in the process of the rule’s implementation had already occurred in between the 2012 promulgation of the rule and the Supreme Court’s finding this week. Too little, too late.

But while the initial reaction appeared to have a silver lining in forcing the EPA to consider costs, the agency got a reprieve from not only the minority who sided with the rule, but from the majority as well:

But here’s the, er, catch. Justice Scalia’s opinion says the agency can’t regulate without considering costs, but his decision also says the EPA can still decide what counts as a cost. Uh-oh.

And sure enough, Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent offers the EPA a soft-landing path for future law-writing. She does not say EPA can ignore costs altogether. But she and the three other liberals would have blessed the mercury rule because the EPA would allegedly scrutinize costs at some indeterminate point, eventually, down the line.

So while Michigan is a welcome rebuke to EPA arrogance, presumably the agency can still do most of what it wants as long as it claims to have considered costs. In any case, most of the utilities targeted by the EPA rule have already shut down those coal plants or spent billions to comply. They won the legal battle but lost the climate war.

In other words, the make-it-up-as-you-go agency’s agenda in bringing forth coal-killing regulations received the green light to conjure up any cost methodology it wanted to justify the rule, and to do so whenever it pleased.

That doesn’t bode well for future rule implementation of the EPA’s upcoming Clean Power Plan (carbon reduction) or ground-level ozone targets.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), in an op-ed at Forbes, illustrated the EPA’s attitude toward the Supreme Court’s ruling, and their attitude in general when it comes to their role in the rulemaking process:

To make matters worse, the EPA sees no problem in a regulatory process that forces electricity companies to comply with an illegal regulation. “EPA is disappointed that the Court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” an EPA spokesperson said in a statement.

As long as the rule did what was intended, even when dinged by the Supreme Court, the agency’s mission was accomplished.

***

New Belgium Brewing appears to be doubling down on its environmental commitment even as it is still contending with pushback on its support of WildEarth Guardians, the activist group responsible for threatening the Colowyo Mine (see above) through its litigation:

The beer industry is booming, but water resources are becoming scarce while warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are hurting hop production.

“They do say whiskey’s for drinking and waters for fighting out here. And there’s a reason they say that,” said New Belgium’s Bryan Simpson.

Now, brewers are finding ways to integrate green business practices and they want others to do the same. Three Colorado breweries are joining a national call-to-action, signing the “Brewer’s Climate Declaration.”

The declaration signed by New Belgium, along with a couple dozen other companies, sees climate change as a threat to its basic ingredients–water and hops:

Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.

That’s why leading breweries are finding innovative ways to integrate sustainability into their business practices and finding economic opportunity through investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste recapture, and sustainable sourcing. To highlight the steps they are taking and issue a call to action to others, brewers are signing the Climate Declaration.

***

A Colorado thin-film solar supplier company goes belly-up due to flagging sales:

Faced with slumping sales in its solar inverter business, and no suitors willing to step in to buy it, Advanced Energy Industries, Inc., announced Monday it was getting out of the business.

The move will cost the company millions of dollars and likely hundreds of jobs.

The impact on jobs at the Fort Collins-based business is unknown, but the company said in a statement it expects to spend $260 million to $290 million to wind down the company, including $15 million in employee termination costs and $30 million to $45 million in severance and other expenses related to the decision.

As of Dec. 31, AE, which develops power and control technologies for thin-film manufacturing and solar-power generation, employed 1,583 people globally. Founded in Fort Collins in 1980, AE manufactures inverters in Fort Collins, Canada and China.

Abound Solar, a thin-film solar panel manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 despite a $400 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Tracking the declining global share of thin-film solar and difficulties seen in other companies in places like China, it’s easy to see that the once highly touted technology hasn’t caught fire the way proponents once envisioned.

Screen shot 2015-06-25 at 1.39.47 AM

***

Despite top rankings as a manufacturer of wind technology and employment of wind-related workers, Colorado must increase its wind energy efforts, according to a new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs:

But the state needs to do more, according to the report.

The state needs to implement the federal Clean Power Plan, which would cut carbon emissions from “dirty” power plants in Colorado by 35 percent in part by increasing clean renewable energy.

Secondly, the state needs “new policy direction … to expand the state’s renewable energy portfolio.”

“Colorado’s leaders need to take action with policy opportunities that are good for its economy and good for its environment,” the 16-page report concludes.

June 25 Colorado Energy Roundup

Last week at the Steamboat Institute, Independence Institute Energy Policy Center Director Amy Oliver Cooke moderated a panel entitled “The Coming Storm of Federal Energy Regulations and Their Impact on Colorado Business”–with attorney Ray Gifford discussing the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” Dan Byers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offering an explanation of the newly proposed EPA ground-level ozone rule, and Lee Boughey of Tri-State Generation and Transmission revealing the impact of the WildEarth Guardians lawsuit and the Colowyo Mine:

***

Blowback over the controversial support of WildEarth Guardians and the lawsuit threatening the Colowyo Mine stirred up trouble not only for New Belgium Brewing Company but over 450 other businesses and organizations listed as WEG supporters who quickly pulled their names from a list of “supporters” on the activist group’s website:

Some businesses listed said they never gave anything to the group responsible for a lawsuit that put Colowyo Coal Mine at risk of closing.

The Craig Daily Press published its first story about local liquor stores and restaurants pulling New Belgium and Breckenridge Brewery beer on June 8, and shortly thereafter, WildEarth Guardians staff deleted its webpage called “Businesses for Guardians.”

The newspaper then published the cached webpage of supporters, and less than 24 hours later, the environmentalists republished the webpage.

On that page, a total of 605 businesses across Colorado and New Mexico were listed as supporters. As of June 18, that number shrunk to 151 businesses listed as supporters.

A complete list of all companies previously named as “Businesses for Guardians” has been archived here as well.

“You don’t mess with my community,” one resident told the Craig Daily Press.

There’s no doubt the Colowyo Mine issue is already impacting the economy of the northwest corner of Colorado:

After less than six months of being in business, the owner of Stacks Smokehouse closed the doors to his restaurant due to Craig’s economic uncertainty in light of what’s happening at Colowyo Coal Mine.

Steve Fulton said his business — which opened in the former Double Barrel Steakhouse building on Feb. 20 — dropped 40 percent days after the community met on June 3 for a public meeting with Colowyo representatives.

***

Two Colorado counties have seen tremendous growth in jobs, despite the recent oil and gas downturn:

Two Colorado counties were among the three large U.S. counties with the fastest job growth rate in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

And Colorado overall ranked No. 3 for the rate of job growth among states.

In the counties ranking, Weld County topped the list for a second straight year. Weldco tied with Midland County, Texas, with a best-in-the-nation 8.0 percent increase in employment between December 2013 and December 2014, BLS said.

In 2013, Weld County posted 6 percent job growth.

And Adams County came in at No. 3 in the nation with a 6.4 percent growth rate.

In fact, Weld County saw a 19.6 percent gain in natural resources and mining employment over the 12-month period, adding a net 2,074 jobs, BLS estimates.

And Adams County is home to companies that service the energy industry.

Only North Dakota (4.5 percent) and Nevada (4.2 percent) outpaced Colorado’s job growth rate of 3.9 percent, according to the BLS.

***

Meanwhile in Indiana (from a press release):

Indianapolis – Governor Pence sent a letter today to President Obama informing him that unless the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is demonstrably and significantly improved before being finalized Indiana will not comply. The Governor’s letter in full can be found attached.

“As I wrote to Administrator McCarthy on December 1, 2014, the proposed rules are ‘ill-conceived and poorly constructed’ and they exceed the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act,” wrote Pence. “If your administration proceeds to finalize the Clean Power Plan, and the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved from the proposed rule, Indiana will not comply. Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented.”

“Our nation needs an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that relies on a variety of different energy sources,” said Pence. “Energy policy should promote the safe, environmentally responsible stewardship of our natural resources with the goal of reliable, affordable energy. Your approach to energy policy places environmental concerns above all others.”

In addition Pence noted, “Higher electricity prices brought by the EPA’s plan will inhibit our ability to advance our manufacturing base and the jobs it creates.”

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels in Indiana by the year 2030. The proposed rules do not dictate how states achieve reduction. Instead, the rule suggests four building blocks as guidelines for compliance. The rules will increase the cost of electricity and force the premature closure of coal-fired power plants, leading to concerns of electricity shortages. On December 1, 2014, Governor Pence and Indiana State agencies submitted letters to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy detailing the proposed rules’ impact on Indiana and urging their immediate withdrawal.

More than 26,000 Hoosiers are employed in the coal industry in Indiana. Governor Pence has pledged to fight the EPA’s regulations with all legal means at Indiana’s disposal. Governor Pence’s comments today come on the heels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissing State of West Virginia et al v. Environmental Protection Agency, Case No. 14-1112. Indiana was one of fourteen petitioners in the case, which asked the Court to review the legality of the EPA’s proposed regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The Court of Appeals’ decision was based on procedural, not substantive, issues and does not preclude future litigation challenging the regulation. Indiana intends to renew its challenge in the courts following the release of the final rule.

The EPA is expected to release the final rule in August.

***

Thin-film solar–remember Abound Solar?has also taken a tumble in China.

Screen shot 2015-06-25 at 1.39.47 AM

A quick reminder of why government choosing energy winners and losers is a bad idea–an expensive burden on taxpayers and ratepayers alike.

May 28 Colorado Energy Roundup: EPA water rule, Hickenlooper pleads for Colorado mine, reduced drilling costs

Yesterday, Governor John Hickenlooper says chances for a statewide ballot measure on fracking in 2016 are pretty low, but anti-energy fractivists aren’t so sure about Hickenlooper’s prognostication:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday said he does not believe there is momentum to push a state ballot initiative that would crackdown on the oil and gas industry.

The Democrat spoke along with Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner at a breakfast in Denver hosted by industry leaders and supporters, including Vital for Colorado.

“There will be proposals, but I don’t think there will be something that will be funded to any significant extent, and therefore I don’t expect something to get on the ballot,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper is not viewed positively by the strident activists who considered the governor’s brokered deal to get the ballot measures off the table and replaced by his blue-ribbon fracking commission as a stab in the back:

“Governor Hickenlooper’s blowing hot air to justify his continued endorsement of the fracking fiasco that is making Coloradans sick, driving down property values and threatening our air and water,” said Sam Schabacker, spokesman for Food and Water Watch, one of several groups discussing local and statewide ballot initiatives. “Outrage continues to grow over the governor’s inaction to stop fracking and more parents, business owners and community members are speaking out than ever.”

The only question is whether or not the anti-fracking forces find another funder like Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). National groups are likely to go playing in Colorado, as the issues (setbacks, water, air quality) surrounding fracking haven’t disappeared, and were certainly not dealt with to any significant degree by the state’s recently concluded commission.

At least not in the estimation of the groups who would bring more ballot proposals to the Secretary of State by next year.

***

You might think that the Environmental Protection Agency’s final “water” rules won’t have an impact on energy production, but its wide-ranging scope as defined by EPA administrator Gina McCarthy should give anyone pause:

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Under the rule, tributaries and headwaters that show physical features of flowing water — a bed, bank and high-water mark — would be subject to the Clean Water Act. So would waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries. Ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream also would be covered. But ditches that flow only when it rains wouldn’t be covered, according to the EPA.

Business groups, however, contend the rule is broader than the EPA describes. They vow to fight it in the courts and in Congress. Earlier this month,the House passed legislation that would require the EPA to withdraw the rule, which was dubbed the “Waters of the United States” rule before the EPA rebranded it.

The National Association of Manufacturers opposes the definitions provided by the EPA, saying it “all adds up to increased regulatory uncertainty, permitting costs, delays and even litigation, not to mention a giant new set of hurdles standing in the way of construction.”

Given the proximity of many energy sources to rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, the EPA’s regulations will surely add cost to energy production and quite possibly halt new electricity generating units that will not comply with the new environmental impact statements the water rule will surely require.

Of course, the EPA’s own manufacturing attempts–in this case public comments in support of proposed rules–will likely not cease any time soon.

***

For the residents of northwest Colorado, Craig Station and the nearby Colowyo Coal Mine near Craig literally power the local economy, and a shutdown of the mine would cripple the local economy, perhaps permanently–so Gov. Hickenlooper has intervened:

Hickenlooper on Friday asked U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a letter to “do everything possible” to prevent a shutdown of the Colowyo Coal Mine near Craig.

The mine currently employees about 220 people and supplies coal that powers the Craig Station, one of the state’s largest coal-fired power plants. According to Colowyo’s owner, the station is capable of producing up to 1,303 megawatts of electricity.

Hickenlooper said in the letter that the mine also contributes more than $200 million to the regional economy and generates tax and royalties of $12 million annually.

“Given the importance of this mine to the economies of the region, I ask that you do everything possible to respond to the judge’s order and remedy the situation as expeditiously as possible,” Hickenlooper wrote in the letter.

Whether or not Sec. Jewell’s agency will appeal the court ruling calling for additional environmental impact statements remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the plans to put a transmission line through Moffat County, where the Craig power plant and mine reside, continue apace. The line would send electricity from wind farms in Wyoming to California.

***

Lower demand for services means some relief for driller’s in Colorado’s embattled oil and gas sector:

But the slowdown also has produced at least one upside for companies: increased availability of rigs from drilling contractors and lower costs for drilling and completing wells.

For some companies operating locally, it has helped justify drilling and completing wells at all with gas prices so low. For one company, Black Hills Exploration & Production, it resulted in a recent ramp-up from one rig to three, tying it with WPX Energy as the busiest driller in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin.

But it is not just a downturn in natural gas prices that has hurt the industry, but government red tape as well:

Bill Buniger, a Loma contractor who does energy work such as well pad construction, said he’s not willing to take a cut in pay.

“The thing about it is, when you take a cut like that, your margin of profit, that’s what you’re cutting out. All you’re doing is wearing out your machines,” he said.

The costs of things like tires and repairs don’t change, he said. Buniger, 70, has paid off most of his equipment and said he’d rather let it sit if he can’t make a profit.

Not that he’s had much of a choice. He said most of the companies he works for are small, independent oil and gas companies that simply aren’t doing any drilling, due to low oil and gas energy prices at a time of increasing state regulations.

And while commodity prices will continue to fluctuate, the state’s regulatory burden won’t be lifting any time soon.

***

Vincent Carroll, writing for the Denver Post, is skeptical of Gov. Hickenlooper’s claims that avoiding a listing of the greater sage-grouse by the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t a slam dunk:

“We are very, very close to avoiding a listing altogether,” Hickenlooper told members of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado two weeks ago, according to The Daily Sentinel. He said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would like to avoid a listing, and “I believe her. I don’t think she’s posturing.”

But of course what else would she say to him? That federal officials are eager to impose draconian restrictions on a vast swath of Western land over the bipartisan objections from all 11 governors and despite little evidence from past listings that it would do much good?