August 20 Colorado Energy Roundup: Poll shows Coloradans not impressed by Clean Power Plan, fracking ballot measures expected, #greenjobsfail, and EPA/Animas River saga continues

August 20, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

This week the Independence Institute released the results of poll concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and who Coloradans feel does a better job when it comes to guarding the state’s environmental quality–folks here prefer Colorado oversight to meddlesome DC regulations:

The poll was conducted August 9-10th and found those surveyed more likely to oppose the EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan if the rule resulted in electricity bill hikes, 59 to 33 percent.

Fifty-five percent said they would oppose the plan if it meant spiking poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities by 23 and 26 percent, as a recent study by the National Black Chamber of Commerce concluded.

Respondents also opposed the plan when it came to the core environmental impacts projected by the agency—a 0.02 degrees Celsius reduction in global temperatures and no notable impact on carbon emissions. Fifty-one percent said the promised temperature reduction would make them more likely to oppose the finalized rule, while 58 percent said that the Clean Power Plan’s non-existent impact on carbon emissions would do the same.

You can read the rest of the topline results here.

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Colorado’s registered voters put their trust in the state to manage the environment, and not federal regulators from the EPA or DC in general:

While Colorado’s Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, has not weighed in on whether the state could join a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA over the Clean Power Plan (she has said it is on the table), a 53 to 37 percent majority favored the state joining at least 16 other states in the suit.

Nearly 6 in 10 said the state should wait to comply—not move forward as Governor John Hickenlooper has directed—on drawing up a state implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan.

Nearly half said that they would be more likely to support a plan if the state of Colorado determined the cost of compliance before that plan became law.

When it comes to environmental regulation and quality, Coloradans clearly preferred the regulators in Denver to those in Washington, D.C.

The State of Colorado does a better job regulating for a clean environment 37 to 5 percent over federal regulators. Twenty-seven percent said both state and federal agencies handled the job equally well, with nearly one in five saying that neither has done particularly well in this area.

How did the results breakdown along partisan and demographic lines?

Only Democrats (64 percent) and those earning between $100-$124K per year (51 percent) were more likely to support the EPA’s Clean Power Plan even if it meant an increase in electricity bills as a result of implementing the regulations. Overall, 59 percent of Coloradans were more likely to oppose the plan, with men and women showing no gender gap and nearly identical opposition to costly rate hikes.

A National Black Chamber of Commerce study found that poverty rates in black and Hispanic communities were likely to increase significantly—23 percent and 26 percent—under the Clean Power Plan. Fifty-five percent of Colorado voters said they would be more likely to oppose the federal regulations under those circumstances, with women edging out men (57 percent to 53 percent, respectively) in opposition. Majorities of Republicans, independents, and all age and income groups offered the same negative responses when it came to impacts on minority community poverty rates, as did the respondents when viewed across all seven congressional districts.

Democrats were still more likely to support the EPA’s carbon reduction plan by a slim 42 to 37 percent margin. The party was split, however, along gender lines, with Democratic women in opposition, 44 to 36 percent. Their male party counterparts gave the Clean Power Plan a large boost, saying 48 to 27 percent that they were more likely to back the EPA’s measure despite minority community concerns.

More results from the poll’s crosstabs can be perused here.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy even admitted explicitly that the Clean Power Plan would adversely harm minority and low-income families the hardest:

The chief environmental regulator in the United States had some blunt words of reality regarding the administration’s climate change regulations.

The Clean Power Plan that will require drastic cuts in 47 states’ carbon dioxide emissions – consequently shifting America’s energy economy away from affordable, reliable coal – will adversely impact poor, minority families the most.

When speaking about the higher energy prices caused by the administration’s climate regulations on power plants, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “We know that low-income minority communities would be hardest hit.”

McCarthy downplayed that fact by saying any minimal higher prices would be offset by implementing energy efficiency measures that would save consumers money in the long run.

Cato shows how “carbon dioxide emissions” have turned into “carbon pollution” when it comes to EPA messaging over the years.

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Another new EPA rule? Yep:

With the Environmental Protection Agency expected to release a rule this month on methane regulations, proponents are gearing up for a messaging war.

Federal regulators aim at reducing oil-and-gas methane emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2025. The idea is that companies can use new technology to better capture methane emissions from operations.

The EPA estimates that 7 million tons of methane are emitted every year, though environmentalists suggests that it could be much higher.

The issue is relevant in Southwest Colorado, where researchers identified a significant methane “hot spot” in the Four Corners. A team of scientists is currently investigating the cause of the concentration, which could stem from a combination of natural-gas exploration and natural occurrences.

But industry efforts have already cut methane emissions significantly, making the rule seemingly superfluous:

This is going to go down in the books as one of the most curious moves ever taken by the Obama EPA, not because the reduction of methane emissions is a bad idea, but because it’s already been taking place in gangbuster fashion. The Institute for Energy Research put out a statement as soon as the new proposal was announced which put the question in context.

“Since 2007, methane emissions fell by 35 percent from natural gas operations, while natural gas production increased by 22 percent. According to EPA, voluntary implementation of new technologies by the oil and natural gas industry is a major reason for the decline in emissions.”

And where is the IER getting these figures about reductions in emissions? Are they coming from some big oil loving, pro-drilling think tank? No. It’s data taken from the EPA’s own studies which were cited in generating these rules. But just in case any of them don’t read their own promotional material, here are the numbers in graph form.

Methane

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Anti-frack is BAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!

After failing to gather enough signatures last summer, Coloradans for Community Rights said Monday it will try again to get a statewide initiative giving communities control over oil and gas exploration on the ballot.

Spokesman Anthony Maine said the group will begin circulating petitions early next year to get the Colorado Community Rights Amendment to the state Constitution on the November 2016 ballot.

“This is about communities being allowed to decide for themselves,” Maine said at a press conference in Denver.

He said the oil and gas industry and their supporters are expected to pump in millions of dollars to fight the proposed amendment.

“This radical measure would allow city councilors and county commissioners to ban any business or industry for any reason even if those reasons violate federal or state law,” Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, said in a statement. Protect Colorado is an issue committee organized to fight anti-energy ballot measures.

Unlike other observers who felt that this issue might recede into next year’s political battles or be left up to the current court battles, it’s been clear to me from my work on this issue that activists are gearing up for the long game, announcing their efforts more than a year from the 2016 ballot, banking on possible favorable wins in a presidential cycle rather than the 2014 midterm. Many anti-fracking activists felt burned by Governor John Hickenlooper’s “compromise” last year that appeared to be an effort to provide fellow Democrats political cover in what was shaping up to be a costly and election-determining fight at the ballot box. Hickenlooper’s commission did not assuage the resentment of activists, Democrats lost a U.S. Senate seat, and the issues remained unresolved, just kicking the can down the road.

We’ve caught up to the can once again.

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At the Independence Institute, we’ve been taking a look at the failed promises of “green” jobs since 2011, and a California initiative passed with the help of billionaire Tom Steyer appears to have fallen, uh, short of its job creation goals in the green sector–by about 90 percent:

The California ballot measure funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer that raised taxes on corporations to create clean energy jobs has generated less than a tenth of the promised jobs.

The Associated Press reported that the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Prop. 39) has only created 1,700 clean energy jobs, despite initial predictions it would generate more than 11,000 each year beginning in fiscal year 2013-14.

Prop. 39, which voters approved in 2012 after Steyer poured $30 million into the campaign supporting it, closed a tax loophole for multi-state corporations in order to fund energy efficient projects in schools that would in turn create clean energy jobs.

More than half of the $297 million given to schools for the projects has been funneled to consultants and energy auditors.

#greenfail

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As we noted in late 2013, the current administration pushed for changes it hoped would bolster the long term outlook for wind energy by attempting to deal with one of the unfortunate tradeoffs of giant wind turbines–bird deaths:

But a move to extend the life of one renewable energy source–in this case, wind–by granting a six-fold extension to ‘takings’ permits issued to wind farms that allow the accidental killing of bald and golden eagles has united opponents normally at odds: Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and groups like the National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council.
A sampling, from Politico:

It’s baldly un-American, Vitter said Friday.

“Permits to kill eagles just seem unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said the Louisiana senator, who is the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of Congress’s most outspoken critics of wind.

Sounding a similar theme, National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold said it’s “outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.” He indicated his group may sue the administration.

The rule also drew criticism from Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said it “sets up a false choice that we intend to fight to reverse.”

“This rule could lead to many unnecessary deaths of eagles. And that’s a wrong-headed approach,” she said. “We can, and must, protect wildlife as we promote clean, renewable energy. The Fish and Wildlife Service missed an opportunity to issue a rule that would do just that.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell defended the rule change.

“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way. The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations,” Jewell said.

Well, the so-called “takings” extension to 30 years has had its wings clipped by the court:

The express purpose of the 30-Year Rule was to facilitate the development of renewable wind energy, since renewable developers had voiced a need for longer-term permits to provide more certainty for project financing.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued the 30-Year Rule without preparing either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); instead, the FWS determined that the 30-Year Rule was categorically exempt. In overturning the rule, the court found that the FWS had not shown an adequate basis in the administrative record for its decision not to prepare an EIS or EA and therefore failed to comply with NEPA’s procedural requirements.

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Finally, to the EPA induced toxic spill saga of the Animas River . . .

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-3rd CD) and colleagues are asking the EPA questions:

We remain completely unsatisfied with the delay in notifying the impacted communities and elected officials responsible for preparing and responding to a disaster such as this one.

What was the reason for the over 24 hour delay between the time of the incident and official notification and acknowledgment by your agency that a blowout had occurred?

Who in the EPA’s regional office was first notified of the blowout and when?
What steps has the EPA taken, or does it plan on taking in the very near future, to ensure that this type of delay in acknowledgment and notification of the appropriate parties does not happen again? What additional steps will the EPA take to create and implement an emergency response plan for EPA projects such as this?

That’s just a sample of a raft of questions from the House members.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan group of colleagues sent their own questions to the EPA:

We, therefore, respectfully request the following be included in a report on the events surrounding the Gold King Mine spill:

1. Details on the work EPA was conducting at the Gold King Mine prior to the spill on August 5, 2015;

2. Details of the expertise of the EPA employees and contractors carrying out that work;

3. Criteria EPA would apply before approving a contractor for a similar cleanup performed by a private party and whether EPA applied the same criteria to itself;

4. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on reporting a release of a hazardous substance;

5. EPA’s legal obligations and current policies and guidelines on contacting tribal, state and local government agencies when the agency creates a release of a hazardous substance;

Again, just a sampling of what members of Congress–and the public both down in southwest Colorado, northern New Mexico, and Utah–would like to know, demanding a full accounting of the EPA spill as soon as possible.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez wasn’t drinking the EPA tang koolaid, or its official responses so far, and is asking for her state to investigate as well:

Today, I ordered the New Mexico Environment Department to investigate the circumstances surrounding the EPA-caused toxic waste spill into the Animas River.

New Mexicans deserve answers as to why this catastrophe happened and why the EPA failed to notify us about it — the first we heard about it was from the Southern Ute Tribe nearly 24 hours later.

The EPA should not be held to a lower standard than they hold private citizens and businesses.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman feels that she is not getting the whole picture either, and is still considering a lawsuit against the EPA for the spill:

The attorneys general of Colorado and Utah visited this still-festering site on a fact-finding mission Wednesday and left feeling the Environmental Protection Agency had not provided them with the whole picture.

“There’s a list, honestly,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said of her questions.

Coffman and her Utah counterpart, Attorney General Sean Reyes, are among a group that have said legal action against the EPA is being weighed after the agency’s Aug. 5 wastewater spill in the San Juan County mountains above Silverton.

The spill sent 3 million gallons of contaminated water surging into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

New Mexico’s attorney general said last week he is considering a lawsuit, and Navajo Nation leaders, whose community arguably has been most impacted by the disaster, said they will sue.

That lack of information–or, indeed, a coverup–has been the focus of much attention, and Colorado Peak Politics believes the EPA hasn’t been forthcoming from the beginning.

The EPA’s own watchdog is also launching an investigation:

The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday that it is beginning an investigation into the agency’s role in triggering a massive toxic waste spill in southwest Colorado.

The IG alerted a number of senior EPA officials to the investigation in a memo released on Monday. “We will request documents, and interview relevant managers and staff in these locations and elsewhere as necessary,” the IG said.

The announcement comes amid controversy over EPA’s role in the spill. Agency chief Gina McCarthy admitted last week that EPA inspectors had triggered the incident while inspecting cleanup efforts at the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colo.

What are the cleanup costs estimated to be? The Daily Caller’s examination of potential burdens to the taxpayer due to EPA negligence are big:

The right-leaning American Action Forum estimates the total cost for responding to the Gold King Mine Spill could range from $338 million to $27.7 billion based on the federal government’s own cost-benefit analyses for cleaning up toxic waste and oil spills.

“There is no direct precedent for the toxic Animas River spill in Colorado and past regulatory actions from agencies, but we can learn from previous benefit-cost estimates,” writes Sam Batkins, AAF’s director of regulatory policy, adding that he “evaluated four recent regulations’ benefit figures to approximate the cost of the current spill in the Mountain West.”

That’s not good news, considering the mine owner’s allegations that the EPA has dumped toxic waste as far back as 2005, or that billions of gallons might be poised to spill in the future.

And that future is unclear due to what still lies beneath:

State and federal officials have offered assurances that the river is returning to “pre-event conditions,” but uncertainty remains over the residue that still lurks beneath the surface flow.

Those remaining metals on the river bottom still could affect aquatic life, agriculture and other aspects of life along the water in ways that are difficult to predict.

“The long-term effects are the concern that every time we have some sort of a high-water event, whether a good rain in the mountains or spring runoff next year, that’s going to stir up sediments and remobilize those contaminants that are sitting at the bottom of the river right now,” said Ty Churchwell, Colorado backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

CBS4Denver had the opportunity to get an early look at the mine itself, post-spill.

Perhaps the only thing quite as toxic as the spill itself is the messaging cover both local and regional environmental groups and pro-administration activists are providing the EPA, casting blame on private mismanagement and pollution and offering only an “aw shucks, only trying to help” defense of the agency:

Only the NRDC offered a response.

Earth Justice and several other environmental groups have made no public comment on the Animas River spill at all. In their public statements, neither the NRDC nor the Sierra Club pointed the finger at the EPA.

Though the Sierra Club did not respond to our inquiries, it did offer this public statement on August 11:

The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse. As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.

In a recent statement, the NRDC’s President Rhea Suh said only that the EPA “inadvertently triggered the mine waste spill last week,” while casting mining companies and Republicans in the House of Representatives as the responsible parties.

They probably wouldn’t like the Colorado Springs Gazette’s suggestion that mine clean up be privatized:

Critics have recoiled at the thought of putting the government’s environmental work into private hands.

No longer should they perceive or argue a level of federal competence that exceeds what the private sector might provide. The EPA unleashed a toxic sludge of arsenic, lead and other harmful toxins without bothering to warn people downstream, including tribal leaders and governors of neighboring states. They botched the inspection that led to the spill and bungled the response.

May 14 Colorado Energy Roundup: fracking, ozone, and a national renewable energy standard

Energy In Depth’s Simon Lomax pokes holes in the American Lung Association’s report on ozone–and the Denver Post’s reporting on it–with input from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

Citing its own April 29 “report card” on the region’s air quality, the ALA told the Denver Post that levels of ground-level ozone – sometimes called smog – are deteriorating rather than improving. But the ALA went much further, claiming that while the air above the Denver metro area “looks cleaner than in the 1970s,” the region actually has “higher ozone” and the gains made since the 1970s “are going away.”

In the same news story – authored by the Post’s environmental writer Bruce Finley – the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) warned the ALA’s report card was “both inaccurate and misrepresents air quality in Colorado.” But Finley’s story didn’t detail what those inaccuracies and misrepresentations actually were.

In a follow-up interview with Energy In Depth, CDPHE’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) Director Will Allison revealed that the ALA report card ignored a full year of air quality data from 2014, which shows ozone levels getting better, not worse. To claim there’s higher ozone now than back in the 1970s also ignores decades of air quality data that show “it’s gotten a lot better,” Allison said.

To say the ALA took a liberal look at its own conclusions to bolster an argument for increased ozone regulation appears correct.

“If you look at 2011-2013 averages, we had 10 monitors in the Denver North Front Range that exceeded the ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. But if you look at the 2012-2014 averages, only four monitors exceeded the federal standards. So there was a significant drop from 10 noncompliant monitors to four,” Allison told EID.

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Colorado’s 21-member oil and gas task force, which concluded its meetings in February, received modest support (about $2 million) in the Colorado legislature for a handful of its recommendations:

The budget includes:
$1,364,713 to pay for 12 new employees for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with overseeing the state’s multibillion-dollar oil and gas sector.
$360,910 for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to create a hot line and website with information about the industry, and a chance to raise concerns about its operations.
$402,859 for the CDPHE to create a mobile air monitoring unit to watch for air pollution from industry operations and a person to operate it.

These small changes stand in contrast to some of the more pointed and disruptive resolutions the committee considered, and to the ballot measures that tripped off the Governor’s “compromise” move last August.

Fracking opponents, of course, decried the legislative session’s activity on oil and gas issues, while the industry hailed the results, according to Valerie Richardson at The Colorado Statesman.

Kicking the can down the road to 2016 on fracking issues–with Democrats sidestepping a fractious debate, as Richardson put it–may still not prove advantageous to Democrats split over the issue. With eco-left activists vowing to work hard again next November and having felt betrayed by maneuvering in 2014, Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election efforts might not get the smooth ride his party was hoping to craft. It certainly didn’t help former Sen. Mark Udall, who carved a more eco-friendly niche in his term, but ultimately suffered defeat last year.

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Speaking of Sen. Bennet–an attempt to bolster his green credibility with new legislation aimed at a national renewable energy standard:

The bill unveiled Tuesday that would require utilities to generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, starting with an 8 percent requirement by 2016 followed by gradual increases.

Sen. Tom Udall has introduced this legislation in every session of Congress since 2008. The bill is based on his bipartisan initiative that passed the House in 2007. Co-sponsors this time around include Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“A national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) will help slow utility rate increases and boost private investment in states like New Mexico — all while combating climate change,” Udall said in a news release. “Investing in homegrown clean energy jobs just makes sense, and that’s why I’m continuing my fight for a national RES.”

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Colorado’s western slope counties may avoid economic devastation if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides not to tap the greater sage-grouse with a designation as threatened or endangered:

The Interior Department has said it wants to reach the point that the Fish and Wildlife Service can find that no listing is warranted. Much of that decision lies with the way the BLM manages its lands and both agencies report to Jewell.

“We are very, very close to avoiding a listing altogether,” Hickenlooper said, noting that he spoke to [Secretary of Interior Sally] Jewell 10 days ago.

Finding that the bird should not be listed is Jewell’s goal, Hickenlooper said.

“I believe her. I don’t think she’s posturing.”

A listing by the FWS would be a critical blow to Colorado’s western counties, along with 10 other states, as one county commissioner told Gov. Hickenlooper.

“All of Moffat County is out of business,” Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe concluded, should the listing move forward contrary to Hickenlooper’s claims.