January 20 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Billionaire Steyer plays CO politics; NM files intent to sue EPA over mine spill

Independence Institute associate energy policy analyst Simon Lomax has the latest on green billionaire Tom Steyer’s efforts to tilt the legislative balance in Colorado in 2016:

San Francisco billionaire activist Tom Steyer is getting more deeply involved in Colorado politics than ever before. After spending more than $350,000 on research and polling in the Centennial State last year, two groups aligned with Steyer are now funding political attacks on State Senator Laura Woods (R). Republicans control the Colorado State Senate by a single vote, so unseating Woods could return control of the state legislature to Democrats and reinstate one-party rule under Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) until early 2019 at least.

Read all of his latest piece here.

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Our neighbors to the south, New Mexico, has filed an intent to sue notice over the Animas River/Gold King Mine spill last year triggered by the Environmental Protection Agency:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico plans to sue the federal government and the owners of two Colorado mines that were the source of a massive spill last year that contaminated rivers in three Western states, officials said Thursday.

The New Mexico Environment Department said it filed a notice of its intention to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the spill, becoming the first to do so. The lawsuit also would target the state of Colorado and the owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside Mines.

The New Mexico regulators said they will sue if the EPA does not begin to take meaningful measures to clean up the affected areas and agree to a long-term plan that will research and monitor the effects of the spill.

“From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” said Ryan Flynn, state Environment Department cabinet secretary.

While the Navajo Nation is considering its options for legal action, the state of Colorado’s Attorney General had no comment at this time.

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Drilling on the Western Slope dropped in 2015:

Garfield County last year held onto the No. 2 spot statewide in terms of oil and gas drilling activity, despite the lowest level of activity since the 1990s.

Mesa County bucked the statewide trend in 2015, however, seeing a sharp increase in drilling and ranking third among Colorado counties.

Falling oil and gas prices resulted in drilling beginning on just 1,437 wells statewide last year, down from 2,239 the prior year, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data. Much of the decrease occurred in Weld County as companies slowed oil drilling there thanks to falling prices. But the county still continued to see the bulk of activity last year, with drilling begun on 1,084 wells.

Garfield County had just 173 well starts last year, down from 362 in 2014. The last time the county saw less drilling, with 94 well starts, it wasn’t Jeb Bush but his brother, George, who was harboring presidential aspirations, in the year 1999.

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Lower commodity prices have given Coloradans a bit of temporary relief, offsetting the region’s cost of living increases:

Two conflicting consumer price trends are pushing around the Denver area’s cost of living like a rag doll.

A new federal report Wednesday says that the cost of shelter in the Denver, Boulder and Greeley area jumped 5.8 percent in the second half of 2015 from a year earlier.

And yet, over the same period, energy costs fell 19 percent.

The result: a 1.4 percent year-over-year rise in the area’s overall consumer prices, the cost of a basket of typical goods and services, according to the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Kansas City office.

Shelter costs outweigh energy costs for most consumers, so shelter plays a bigger role in driving overall consumer prices.

The problem is that commodity prices fluctuate (due to market forces but also to environmental factors like government policies), and this small, offsetting bump for Colorado electricity ratepayers will provide only temporary relief. According to the Denver Business Journal, gasoline is down nearly 26 percent in 2015, with natural gas down nearly 19 percent. Household electricity was off 2.9 percent

On the other hand, gasoline cost 25.9 percent less in late 2015 than it did a year earlier, BLS said, while household natural gas cost 18.9 percent less and household electricity was down 2.9 percent. That’s hardly a dent in the 63 percent increase in residential electricity costs measured through 2014.

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Job counters will see in a few years if the solar industry’s employment numbers are real (this time, and not an ephemeral mirage like so many other “green jobs”) and not temporary construction jobs and inferred “indirect jobs,” but for now they admit what is giving the solar folks a bump:

A few key developments are driving the job surge in solar.

Businesses and homeowners are eligible for a 30% tax credit if they install solar panels on their property. That’s been in place since 2006 but in December Congress renewed the tax credit for another six years. That lowers installation costs considerably.

The climate change agreement in Paris and the global action plan to limit global warming is also a positive for the clean energy industry.

And the Environmental Protection Agency released plans last year to force states to lower their carbon output.

Not much in the way of actual demand from consumers without government force (EPA’s Clean Power Plan) or government incentive (tax credit), or public pressure (Paris).

The article notes that lower commodity prices for oil and gasoline, and natural gas, are giving solar a “headwind.” Free market effects will do that.

Despite all the supply-side incentives (tax credits, subsidies, and mandates) and the demand-side disincentives (killing coal through the Clean Power Plan) the Energy Information Administration reports that solar was at 4.4 percent of all renewables in 2014 (last full year of data available), and a mere 0.4 percent of total U.S. energy consumption that year.

September 10 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Colowyo Mine survives WildEarth legal challenge; EPA stumbles in Congressional hearing

September 10, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, Environmental Protection Agency, regulations, renewable energy, wind energy 

First up, the first of 4 free panels in September and October designed to highlight the impacts of EPA regulations–Clean Power Plan, ozone rule, and the Waters of the United States:

“The Coming Storm of Federal Energy and Environmental Regulations and their impact on Colorado families, business and economy”
Southwest Weld County Services Center
4209 WCR 24 1/2
Longmont, CO 80504
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM (MDT)
Longmont, CO

Are you concerned about all the new regulations coming out of Washington, D.C.? Want to know more about how EPA regs on carbon, ozone, and water will impact you, your family, and your community? Want to know what you can do about them?

Then join us for a free panel event featuring:
Dan Byers, Institute for 21st Century Energy U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Amy Cooke, Independence Institute, Executive Vice President and Director of the Energy Policy Center
Tony Gagliardi, Nations Federation of Independent Business, Colorado State Director
Senator Kevin Lundberg, Colorado State Senate Republicans
Moderator: Michael Sandoval

We provide the lunch and experts. You provide the questions.
Questions: Cherish@i2i.org or 303-279-6536 x 118

Event Sponsors:
Independence Institute, Americans for Prosperity, NFIB–The National Federation of Independent Business, and Colorado State Senate Republicans

Top Headlines

For folks in northwest Colorado, some much-needed resolution in the Colowyo mine legal challenge initiated by the WildEarth Guardians earlier this year:

A Colorado coal mine slated for closure due to a technicality has gotten a reprieve from the federal government in a move that could save hundreds of jobs.

The Colowyo coal mine, which has provided hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the economy of the city of Craig and the northwestern region of the state since 1977 was in danger of being closed because a renewal permit drafted eight years ago did not take into account the mine’s impact on climate change. An environmental group sued in a bid to invalidate the permit. A court-ordered review by the Department of the Interior and an environmental assessment by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) found there was no significant environmental impact and validated the permit.

“We are grateful to the staff at the Office of Surface Mining and the other cooperating agencies for their diligence and hard work to complete the environmental review within the short timeframe ordered by the judge,” Mike McInnes, chief executive officer of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns Colowyo Mine, said in a released statement provided to FoxNews.com.

But if you think the WildEarth Guardians are content to settle with this outcome, you’d be wrong:

WildEarth Guardians was satisfied with the new assessment, said Jeremy Nichols, the group’s climate and energy program director. They are not planning any further legal challenges to Colowyo.

“That said, we do see some room for improvement,” he said.

Nichols noted the new assessment estimates the mine could emit nearly 10 million tons of greenhouse gases every year. He said that doesn’t square with the federal government’s plan to fight climate change.

“If the Interior Department continues to give short shrift to carbon emissions and climate consequences of coal mining,” Nichols said, “There will be mines shut down. We’re not going to be so generous moving forward.”

The ultimate goal of Nichols’ group is to kill coal. They were simply unsuccessful here, trying to move forward on a technicality or improper paperwork. Make no mistake, this wasn’t about the agencies or the mine doing things by the book–this was an attempt to throw the book at the mine and hoping it would stick. It did not for Colowyo, but it might for Trapper, another mine in WildEarth Guardians’s path.

More on what Colowyo mine decision.

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid posted this short statement to Facebook following the decision:

I just got a personal phone call from Sen. Michael Bennet. He wanted to let me know that largely due to my efforts, Colowyo miners will be able to keep working and get on with their lives. He told me that I did a great job in advocating for northwest Colorado and getting the Secretary of Interior’s interest and help.

What a great complement.

However, you and I both know that many people worked very hard and effectively to achieve a positive outcome. Too many people to mention. And there was so much Divine intervention, as well. You know as well as I, that I’m not that smart and not that talented.

I’m so grateful for all of the assistance that we received. And yes, it was nice to get a complement from Michael Bennet. It just needs to be kept in perspective.

And of course the war on coal continues.

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Video from yesterday’s House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Gold King mine spill:

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did not appear at hearing.

Cleanup projected to cost at least a buck per gallon spilled, or $3 million.

During the hearing, the EPA commitment to transparency was called into question almost immediately, due to what appeared to be selective editing of a video of the initial moments of the spill, when a worker at the mine exclaims, “What do we do now?”:

The Environmental Protection Agency replaced a doctored video from the Gold King mine spill with the original Wednesday after being called on the discrepancy during a House committee hearing.

Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio Republican, showed both versions during the hearing before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, pointing out that the version posted on the EPA website covers up the voice of a worker as contaminated water spills from the mine saying, “What do we do now?”

EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said the redacted video was “posted by mistake.”

“The unredacted version was meant to be shared on the EPA website,” Ms. Allen said in an email. “We’ve since removed the redacted version and replaced it with the unredacted version, as was originally intended.”

The quick change is admirable but the question remains–has other information released, including the videos and other documentation, been similarly redacted, edited, or manipulated? Even if it has not, the EPA’s misstep in “bleeping” the comment in the video surely doesn’t endear it to folks already suspicious of the agency’s own review of its conduct and handling of the August spill.

The Gold King mine’s owner was also not impressed by the EPA’s testimony, alleging the agency was, at the very least, misleading:

An Environmental Protection Agency official lied during a congressional hearing Wednesday when he said the agency responded to a Gold King Mine “cave-in” when in fact EPA contractors created the disaster by barricading the mine last summer, the owner of the mine has charged.

“This was a result of cave-ins and water buildup. That’s why we were there at the time,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. His boss, Administrator Gina McCarthy, did not attend the first congressional hearing into the Animas River Spill, held by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Although Stanislaus was grilled on other issues such as transparency and double standards pertaining to non-government spills, none of the representatives drilled into Stanislaus’ claim that the Colorado spill was a result of natural forces.

But his comments weren’t lost on Todd Hennis, Gold King’s owner.

“It’s absolute baloney of the worst sort,” Hennis said immediately after the hearing. “They blocked off the flow of water out of the drain pipes and they created the huge wall of water in the Gold King by their actions last year.”

Two more hearings in different Congressional committees are scheduled for next week.

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Speaking of the EPA in the limelight, Hollywood’s toxic avenger Erin Brockovich visited Navajo Nation in the wake of the Animas River spill:

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, made famous from the Oscar-winning movie bearing her name, on Tuesday accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of lying about how much toxic wastewater spilled from a Colorado mine and fouled rivers in three Western states.

Her allegation came during a visit to the nation’s largest American Indian reservation, where she saw the damage and met with Navajo Nation leaders and farmers affected by last month’s spill, which was triggered by an EPA crew during excavation work.

Brockovich said she was shocked by the agency’s actions leading up to the release of waste tainted with heavy metals and its response afterward.

“They did not tell the truth about the amount. There were millions and millions of gallons,” she said while speaking to a crowd of high school students in Shiprock, New Mexico.

Lack of communication by the EPA and its employees in the aftermath of the spill is a consistent theme, and this Durango Herald piece is no different:

In the wake of the Gold King Mine spill, many questions have been asked and fingers have been pointed at the EPA, the agency tasked with remediating the Silverton Caldera, when it underestimated the pressure behind the abandoned mine, triggering the spill.

One issue the event did expose is the EPA’s lack of protocols for notifying downstream communities in the event of a massive blowout – a point the agency has admitted it was not prepared for.

In a prepared statement, the federal agency said a crew of EPA personnel and hired contractors accidently caused the spill at 10:51 a.m., who were then trapped without cellphone coverage or satellite radios.

It wasn’t until 12:40 p.m., after a mad rush to find the correct personnel and reach an area with phone reception that the EPA contacted by two-way radio a state worker who was inspecting a mine in another area.

The EPA’s protocols mandate it must first notify state agencies in the event of an emergency situation. The EPA’s same statement said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment contacted local agencies by 1:39 p.m.

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LINKS

Weld County, the state’s top oil and gas producer, continues to thrive. This includes the county’s more rural parts, bucking a nationwide trend away from rural areas:

Grover and New Raymer are both surviving because of the energy industry, which is a justifiable reason for the residents to live farther out because there are different types of jobs available in the areas. Atop of oil and gas and wind, both towns have people living in their communities who work as ranchers and farmers.

“I think one of the things that’s unique about Weld County is there are multiple industries,” said Julie Cozad, Weld County commissioner and Milliken resident. “Agriculture, oil and gas, and a lot of other companies. The availability of the railway and land helps have any industry here.”

Even for communities like Grover, which is a lengthy distance away and has no gas station in town, the town’s people are not deterred from living there because to them the drive to Greeley or Cheyenne is a reasonable distance and worth the drive.

“There’s enough of a benefit here,” Beerman said. “They see many pros, then cons. People here realize they’re going to have to drive for amenities. We don’t have a gas station in town, but people understand that when you live out here.”

And as for the state’s second largest oil and gas area, Garfield County:

RIFLE — Garfield County has hit another milestone in oil and gas production, with its tally of active wells now topping 11,000, more than one-fifth of the statewide total.

At current drilling rates, though, it could take several years before that number exceeds 12,000. Drilling activity in the county hasn’t been this low in 15 years, and the total number of rigs punching new wells in the region is down to just five — three in Garfield County and two in Mesa County.

Garfield County still remains the second-busiest county in the state for oil and gas activity. Weld County leads the state in well starts this year, at 798. Mesa County is third among counties, with 52 well starts, and Rio Blanco County fifth, with 16.

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Coloradans think a greater sage-grouse listing as “endangered” is unnecessary, with local efforts sufficient to maintain the species without precipitating more lawsuits:

The federal government will decide whether to list the greater sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act later this month.

Another species of the bird, the Gunnison sage grouse, was listed as threatened last November. That experience may offer some lessons about what type of public response the feds can expect.

The Gunnison grouse listing isn’t the strictest classification under the Endangered Species Act. Instead, the listing represented an attempt by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize efforts in Gunnison to protect the bird. But in the end the decision seemed to please no one.

The state of Colorado and Gunnison County sued the federal government because they thought the listing went too far. Some environmental groups sued because they said it didn’t go far enough. Similar lawsuits are expected after the greater sage grouse decision.

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What makes Denver’s eco-bike B-cycle successful? Apparently, fossil fuels (compressed natural gas):

The flood of red bikes begins shortly after 7 a.m. As the sun climbs, the tide of work-ready riders rolls into downtown, a pedaling wave threatening to overwhelm a handful of Denver B-cycle stations. But somehow, there are always empty docks. Even as the deluge peaks before 9 a.m., riders find spots for their bikes and everyone is in the office on time.

No one seems to notice the white trucks shuttling bikes away from the stations at the top of 16th Street at Broadway. The drivers swiftly load their trailers and pickup beds with as many as 24 bikes and move them up the hill to B-cycle stations around Capitol Hill.

This perpetual bike-shuffling is an essential balancing act that races against riders to keep Denver’s nonprofit first-mile, last-mile transit system flowing.

Without the efficient, technology-assisted redistribution of the fleet of 709 B-cycles across 87 stations, bikes will clog the wrong places at the wrong time, the system will falter, customers will drop off and sponsors will bail.

Rearranging B-cycles is a mix of art, science, craft and intuition. One bike is shuffled for every seven B-cycle rides.

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This week’s “you can’t make this stuff up” entry:

Waste from animals and visitors “has to go somewhere,” Lopez said. “It’s very ingenious to be able to convert it into energy. This is safe. And it is not going to stink up anything.”

But the Sierra Club and neighbors are ramping up opposition, wary of increased noise, pollution, odor and other disruption of park serenity.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes combustion of municipal solid waste. It has proven impossible for industry to develop a combustion process, even with a large biomass proportion, that does not produce unacceptable toxic and hazardous air emissions,” said Joan Seeman, toxic issues chairperson for the club. “The zoo should recycle their paper, cardboard and plastics, as well as compost, instead of destroying these valuable resources.”

Alternate headline: ‘Sierra Club opposes alternative energy’.