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.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan “Impossible” for Colorado

March 4, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency 

By Lexi Osborn

In an eye-popping column in the Denver Post last week, editorial page editor Vincent Carroll exposes the serious problems surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial Clean Power Plan.

This past summer, everyone from former Gov. Bill Ritter to two of the state’s top regulators, Dr. Larry Wolk of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Joshua Epel of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), assured the public that Colorado easily would be in compliance with this new plan; the proposal would have little impact on the lives of Colorado residents because Colorado is, “a long way down the road in being able to meet the [EPA's] 2030 goal way ahead of time.”

Apparently, they spoke too soon.

As it turns out, the EPA did not give full credit to Colorado ratepayers for their significant investment in renewable energy and efficiency. Furthermore, the carbon mandate timeline is, by all reasonable assessment, impossible to meet.  In an interview with Carroll, Wolk bluntly said “I don’t have a problem with saying I think it’s nearly impossible for us to meet the interim standard.”

The EPA’s failure to give full credit to Colorado ignited some panic among public officials. In December, Wolk, Epel and Jeff Ackerman, the director of the Colorado Energy Office, wrote a letter to the EPA criticizing in detail the mandate for Colorado, Carroll wrote. He breaks down their objections into five main points:

1)   The EPA plan in effect punishes Colorado for being ahead of the game

2)   The plan is technically naïve

3)   The plan is oblivious to the momentum of efforts underway

4)   The plan is absurdly frontloaded

5)   The deadline of June 2016 for submitting a state plan is literally impossible

Not only is this previously touted pro-environment plan riddled with issues, but it has also created a power struggle between the PUC and the CDPHE. For the mandates of the Clean Power Plan to be implemented, regulatory authority needs to be designated. Currently, the PUC and CDPHE are both vying to take on this initiative.

The CDPHE believes it has the authority to create and impose the new energy standard, even though the PUC regulates resource planning, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs at investor-owned utilities, while the CDPHE only has authority over air quality. The CDPHE also lacks the infrastructure to hold public and open hearings and testimonies, which the PUC has. When directly asked by Carroll, “So you’ll give the marching orders to all of the utilities in the state?” Wolk, despite these many factors, said, “Yes, in consultation with the EPA, the PUC and others.”

As a way to settle the issue, Rep. John Cooke (R-Greeley) proposed legislation that would make the CDPHE the lead agency in developing and enforcing air quality issues, and would require all state plans be approved by the PUC and the legislature.

But, the issue has yet to be settled.

Carroll hopes this messy situation will be rectified through similar open and transparent legislation. And let us all hope that this regulatory authority, which impacts the cost and reliability of our energy, will have at least some democratic oversight.

Otherwise Colorado electric consumers are left with the bill for plans made in the dark.

Lexi Osborn is a Future Leaders intern. She graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in political science.

NY Governor scared of his eco-left flank

January 9, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

For the last four years, the state of New York has imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing supposedly to give Governor Andrew Cuomo time to study the process before making a decision on whether or not to lift it.

Four years seems like a long time to study a process that has been around for decades and used safely and successfully in multiple states during that time. Now we may have some evidence as to why it has taken that long.

Last week the New York Times reported Gov. Cuomo, a democrat, buried a state analysis concluding that hydraulic fracturing can be performed safely in the empire state. According to the Times, Cuomo “has long delayed making a decision, unnerved in part by strident opposition on his party’s left.”

Coming from a politically savvy family (his father Mario Cuomo was Governor from 1983-1994), Cuomo is no stranger to party squabbles, which makes this situation even worse.  A seasoned politico, Cuomo is so frighten by his eco-left flank that instead he chose to bury the facts, bury the science that came from his own state agency.

Based on the degenerating fracking dialogue in Colorado, Cuomo’s fears are justified.  He may have read how the eco-left has attacked Colorado democrat Governor John Hickenlooper, a former geologist, for his support of fracking. Or Cuomo could have watched this scary video of protesters getting in Hick’s face and surrounding his car.  Or maybe he saw the “Faces of Hate” in Boulder.

These tactics are meant to intimidate and squash free speech. They seem to work in New York.