February 23 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Conflicting views over Colorado CPP prep; Gold King Mine persists for Navajo Nation

February 23, 2016 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy 

An E&E story ‘Colo. steps back from crafting formal plan for EPA rule’ might give readers pause, thinking that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was backing off its previous statement to proceed with “prudent” Clean Power Plan development even as a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court was in effect (paywall):

Colorado officials said yesterday they believe it is “prudent” for the state to keep working toward power plant carbon emissions reductions despite a recent Supreme Court ruling to freeze a key federal climate change regulation.

But the state’s original path toward meeting U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan goals will be recharted, officials declared at Colorado’s first public meeting about the regulation since the court stay.

“We don’t think it is appropriate at this point to continue drafting a full state plan,” said Chris Colclasure of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division. “There’s just too much uncertainty for that.”

Colclasure said the decision to stop work on developing a full compliance plan is part of an effort in smart time management.

“We want to take any steps that we can to put Colorado in the best position given the uncertainty so that when the Supreme Court gives us a ruling, we have used that time effectively,” he said.

The state is “trying to identify actions that we can take that will have benefits regardless of the outcome of the litigation,” Colclasure said, adding that “we don’t want to waste time, either, by having people work on activities that wind up being irrelevant.”

This would include whether to cancel, reschedule, or rework meetings already on the CDPHE agenda for this spring.

A generous reading would see CDPHE’s declarations as a revision or walk-back of its post stay bravado to carry on with CPP preparation at the state level. But there might be no walk-back, but some verbal gymnastics designed to throw off possible legislative action this session or to see other reasons (not just “we should do something anyway because it’s a good thing”) like the state’s own impending 2020 renewable energy standards or Governor John Hickenlooper’s 2015 Colorado Climate Plan.

Meanwhile, at least 17 other states’ governors have signed a bipartisan pledge to promote a “new energy future” as CPP litigation continues.

An amicus brief filed by 34 Senators and 171 Representatives supporting the CPP lawsuit:

WASHINGTON – Led by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), 34 Senators and 171 House Members filed an amicus brief today in the case of State of West Virginia, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al.

The amicus brief is in support of petitions filed by 27 states seeking to overturn the EPA final rule identified as the Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602, 80 Fed. Reg. 64,662 (Oct. 23, 2015), also known as the “Clean Power Plan.” A copy of the brief can be found here.

As Senators and Representatives duly elected to serve in the Congress of the United States in which “all legislative Powers” granted by the Constitution are vested, the members state that:

The Final Rule goes well beyond the clear statutory directive by, among other things, requiring States to submit, for approval, state or regional energy plans to meet EPA’s predetermined CO2 mandates for their electricity sector. In reality, if Congress desired to give EPA sweeping authority to transform the nation’s electricity sector, Congress would have provided for that unprecedented power in detailed legislation. Indeed, when an agency seeks to make “decisions of vast ‘economic and political significance’” under a “long-extant statute,” it must point to a “clear” statement from Congress. Util. Air Regulatory Grp. v. EPA, 134 S. Ct. 2427, 2444 (2014) (quoting FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 160, 529 U. S. Ct. 1291, 1315 (2000)). EPA can point to no statement of congressional authorization for the Final Rule’s central features, precisely because there is none.

Gov. Hickenlooper defended his views about the CPP on CPR: ignoring SCOTUS stay to do a Colorado approach–more wind, more solar–”I think we do have a responsibility to go to those communities and see what we can do to try and find new businesses or be able to retrain some of the miners so that that community doesn’t suffer so much economically.”

“We really can have inexpensive electrical generation and clean air at the same time,” said Hickenlooper.

That “responsibility” Hickenlooper outlined will be tested, as coal communities see economic upheaval already:

The downward slide continued for Colorado’s coal industry in 2015, highlighted by production at Routt County’s Twentymile Mine, which was down 38 percent.

Statewide, production in Colorado was down 18.5 percent, with 18.7 million tons, the lowest amount of coal mined in 23 years.

In Moffat County, production at the Trapper Mine was actually up nine percent, with 2.1 million tons. At Colowyo Mine, production was down six percent at 2.3 million tons.

Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said the drop in production is a result of lower demand, but it was not caused by natural market forces.

“What we are seeing is the direct result of government regulations that are designed to drive coal out of the energy mix,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson pointed to the 2010 Clean Air Clean Jobs fuel-switching bill from coal to natural gas.

“Moving forward, there is no question that the companies are suffering from this absurd action by the government to put hardworking men and women out of work,” Sanderson said.

In other words, mining communities aren’t just suffering economically, they’re suffering governmentally.

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At the “Lifting the Oil Export Ban” event, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter indicated support for a 5-10 cent gas tax hike as an “investment”–as he “comes from a construction family” (51:00 mark):

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The Gold King Mine spill prompted by the Environmental Protection Agency still has lingering effects in Navajo Nation areas south of Colorado:

Millions of gallons of contamination from heavy metals flowed from the Animas River in Colorado into the San Juan River in New Mexico, threatening their economy and their spiritual way of life.

Joe Ben Jr. is a farmer and representative to the Navajo Nation board. He walked with CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger through corn stalks in a field.

“This corn should normally be higher than 6 feet, it’s about 4 feet,” Ben said.

With sadness he told of how they shut off the irrigation water when they heard the toxic plume was coming and still haven’t turned it back on. Some 550 indigenous Navajo farmers in the region have felt the impact. Ben says farming is an art in their culture for those who live off the land.

Among them is Earl Yazzie and his family. He can only bundle up what remains of what might have been a bountiful harvest. The mine spill took a toll on his farm. He estimates the loss at $10,000.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked–“What if a business did this?”:

If this were a private business, EPA would never have accepted this answer. It would have decried such behavior as “cutting corners” and rushing ahead with little regard to safety and the environment. Fines would’ve been issued.

Just like when EPA fined an oil exploration company $30,500 only a few days before the Gold King Mine spill for leaking 500 gallons of well testing fluids on Alaska’s North Slope. EPA allowed 6,000 times that amount of material to pour into a river. Will EPA (i.e. taxpayers) fork over $183 million in fines?

Last year, Administrator Gina McCarthy said EPA will be held accountable for the spill:

“We are going to be fully accountable for this in a transparent way,” she said at a press conference. “The EPA takes full responsibility for this incident. No agency could be more upset.”

When asked if the EPA will investigate itself as vigorously as it would a private company, McCarthy said, “We will hold ourselves to a higher standard than anybody else.”

On the transparency front, EPA is lacking. As noted above, Griswold’s email about water pressure concerns wasn’t included in EPA’s December 2015 report. Also, committee members are subpoenaing the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers for more documents about the spill, because they don’t think the agencies have been forthcoming.

As for holding itself to a higher standard, that’s yet to be seen six months after the spill.

A House committee is seeking Interior Department documents in the Gold King Mine incident and the subsequent post-spill investigation:

Sally Jewell was ordered Wednesday by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources to produce a long list of records and correspondences by the end of next week.

Specifically, the committee wants information about how investigators under Jewell worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to peer review the report.

The committee’s chair, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the Department of Interior has interfered with his requests for information on how the Gold King Mine report was compiled.

Bishop says the DOI has tried to block records showing the Army Corps of Engineers had “serious reservations about the scope and veracity” of the interior department’s review.

Army Corps records were also subpoenaed Wednesday.

Meanwhile, CDPHE sees the Gold King Mine spill as the impetus for action on other mines around the state:

SILVERTON —Of the 230 inactive mines the state recognized six months ago as causing the worst damage to Colorado waterways, state officials say 148 have not been fully evaluated.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has cobbled together $300,000 for an “inventory initiative” to round up records and set priorities. The agency is enlisting help from the Colorado Geological Survey at the Colorado School of Mines.

Colorado officials hope attention on the Animas River after the EPA-triggered spill at the Gold King Mine in August will spur action at scores of other inactive mines contaminating waterways. After the disaster, the state identified the worst 230 leaking mines draining into creeks and rivers.

There are an estimated 23,000 inactive mines in Colorado and 500,000 around the West. State officials estimate mining wastewater causes 89 percent of the harm to thousands of miles of waterways statewide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further.

We’ll see how that plays out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NEWS ROUNDUP:
Silverton punts on Superfund designation

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

Plunging oil prices means lower severance tax revenue in Colorado

Lower gas prices? Let’s raise taxes!

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

Trading: Coal extraction for sage grouse habitat