October 22 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Another CO mine faces WildEarth Guardians Lawsuit; EPA panel in GJ draws large crowd; regulatory freeze as part of debt ceiling debate?
Filed under: Archive, CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, New Energy Economy, solar energy
UPDATE–Clean Power Plan rule will be published in Friday’s Federal Register, opening the door for multi-state lawsuits over the next two months:
CLEAN POWER PLAN – LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES: EPA’s carbon rule for power plants will formally be published in tomorrow’s The Federal Register, according to a pre-publication notice that showed up this morning. That means tomorrow kicks off the 60-day clock to sue over the rule. Expect the first suits to be filed shortly after the court opens for business Friday.
The Clean Power Plan, covering existing power plants, is available here. The rule for new, modified and reconstructed power plants is here. And the proposed federal implementation plan, set for finalization next year, is available here.
Just in time, environmentalists are holding a press call this morning outlining a legal defense for the rule. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee also just happens to be holding a hearing this afternoon on CPP legal issues – and the witness list includes Elbert Lin, West Virginia’s solicitor general and likely one of the people who will argue against the rule in front of judges down the line.
As Alex Guillen reports this morning for Pros, “The timing of the rules’ publication , nearly three months after President Barack Obama rolled them out at the White House, makes it unlikely that a court will act to block them ahead of December’s Paris talks, where some 200 nations will gather to hash out a pact to address climate change.”
More to come.
Another Colorado mine is facing a lawsuit from the WildEarth Guardians, but this time, the communities of western Colorado are preparing ahead of time:
MAKE A STAND
Each day, thousands of rural Coloradans, small businesses, schools and farms rely on the clean, low-cost energy fueled by Trapper Mine’s nearly 200 employees. For more than three decades, Trapper has provided affordable energy across the West, jobs to hundreds of families and vast civic and economic benefits to our northwestern Colorado community.
Now, we need our community to Stand with Trapper.
On October 29, from 4 to 8 p.m., the federal Office of Surface Mining will host a public meeting to gather public comments on the scope of an environmental assessment the agency will prepare in response to a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians. The October 29 public meeting includes a comment period through November 12 to further gather input. All public comments during this phase are due to OSM no later than November 12—and must be in written form.
The agency’s completion of this assessment is vital to Trapper’s future.
We ask that you attend this meeting and provide support for Trapper’s workers and their families, the positive impact Trapper makes to the community, the mine’s nationally recognized environmental stewardship and reclamation efforts—and its commitment to providing affordable and reliable energy.
The public meeting will be held October 29, from 4 to 8 p.m., at the Moffat County Fairgrounds’ Pavilion Building. The event will provide an opportunity to ask questions andmeet with OSM and Trapper representatives and to provide written comments on the environmental assessment.
Community members can also provide written comments via email and written letters to OSM. For more information and to submit comments, please click here.
Thank you for Standing with Trapper.
Bill Ray, public information officer for Trapper, said Moffat County’s attendance at the meeting and participation throughout the comment process is crucial.
“This process is vital to Trapper’s future, and we believe to the community’s future,” he said. “We encourage community members to come to the meeting, to provide written comments and to stand with Trapper.”
Ray said throughout the comment period, Trapper would continue to work with the community to help it stay informed. Future public meetings organized by Trapper are a possibility but none have been scheduled so far.
Chris Holmes, public affairs specialist for OSMRE, said all comments are accepted but substantive ones are the most useful.
“The comments that we look for are those that have carefully examined all the issues, looked at the specific permit that’s in question and the revisions,” he said. “Substantive comments are what carry the most weight.”
Could the debt ceiling provide a mechanism for pushback against regulatory overreach and “midnight” regulations promulgated between next year’s election and the new President’s inauguration? A proposal from the Republican Study Committee called “Terms of Credit: Budget, Work, Grow”:
Grow: In order to give firms and workers certainty and allow the economy to grow, freeze all
regulations until July 1, 2017.
• Current freeze – Prohibit any significant regulatory action through July 1, 2017, subject to
health, safety, and national security waivers
• No midnight rules – Prohibit any new regulatory action between the date of a presidential
election and the next inauguration, again subject to health, safety, and national security
The freeze on regulations would include the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. More to come.
Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, has an op-ed in The Hill calling for the U.S. to allow crude oil exports, with Colorado taking a lead:
In my state of Colorado, this is not a partisan issue but one of common sense and business opportunity. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican, both support lifting the ban. Plus, with Reps. Ken Buck (R), Mike Coffman (R), Doug Lamborn (R), Ed Perlmutter (D) and Scott Tipton (R) all voting to dump this outdated policy, once again we see Colorado as a leading bipartisan voice for this issue.
Colorado’s elected officials understand the world, and our economy, have changed greatly since the 1973 Arab oil embargo led Congress to pass the ban on U.S. oil exports in nearly all circumstances.
In today’s world, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports offer a path away from OPEC domination of the world’s energy markets. Unstable regimes in Russia and the Middle East should not be allowed to hold such sway over the international market. Increasing U.S. production and exports strengthens our country’s energy independence and national security and benefits our allies across the globe.
While opponents of lifting the ban argue that it could raise the price of gasoline studies have clearly shown the opposite is actually true. According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration, exporting U.S. oil would encourage more production while opening up new markets which can further ease the prices at the pump with the additional supply.
Lifting the export ban is a major opportunity for this country and one that should not be missed. It is time that we cement our nation as the global energy leader it is destined to be and create thousands of well-paying American jobs in the process.
But Garfield County is not optimistic about immediate development, thanks to new oil and gas regulations, and activists are happy for the additional red tape:
Garfield County commissioners are worried that proposed new state rules to address conflicts between oil and gas development and neighborhoods could unduly drag out how long it takes companies to get approval to drill.
“It adds a year to the process,” Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday about a proposed local government consultation process, echoing a concern also raised by Commissioner John Martin.
Jankovsky said the proposal could add $500,000 to $1 million to the cost of developing a well pad.
But Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said the extra time is warranted to address concerns such as the possible impacts of drilling to the thousands of residents in Battlement Mesa.
“It should go through this long process,” she told commissioners.
The commissioners are working to submit comments to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as that agency prepares to act on two recommendations of a recent state task force. The agency is looking to require energy companies to consult with the affected local government when proposing a large drilling operation near an urban residential area, and require companies to provide long-term drilling plans to local governments.
(Former PUC chair Ray Gifford offers details about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, photo courtesy of Colorado Senate GOP)
About 100 people on Colorado’s western slope attended a panel on the coming storm of EPA regulations, co-sponsored by the Independence Institute, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Americans for Prosperity, and the Colorado Senate Republicans:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan would have long-term negative impacts on the nation’s coal industry if it survives a legal challenge, one expert on the issue said on Tuesday.
At a one-sided forum sponsored by several right-leaning groups, Denver attorney and former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chairman Ray Gifford told about 100 Western Slope residents and government officials the impact the plan would have on coal-fired power plants specifically, and the coal industry in general.
Under the plan, which is to become official in the next few weeks but doesn’t fully go into effect for a few years, states would be required to reduce ozone emissions from power plants by 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.
States would have to come up with their own plans for achieving that goal by the end of next year, but can request a two-year extension if they can show they are making “substantial progress” toward a viable plan, Gifford said.
While he and others questioned whether the EPA has the legal authority to implement such a plan — lawsuits have already been filed challenging it — Gifford also said the federal agency is playing loose and easy with the facts behind the idea.
“The state lawsuit is essentially going to say that the EPA has vastly exceeded its authority, which is true,” Gifford said. “It’s undertaken a rule of scope and scale that’s never been contemplated before essentially by taking over the nation’s electric grid and dictating the change by 2030, and the assumptions that it uses are arbitrary and capricious, which are the legal magic words. How that (lawsuit) goes is anybody’s guess.”
(NFIB’s Tony Gagliardi gives an update on the Waters of the United States rule (l-r: Gifford, State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, photo courtesy of Colorado Senate GOP)
Two more EPA panels will be held next week–Wednesday October 28 in Pueblo, and Thursday October 29 in Denver.
An additional 500-600 gallons of orange water is being emitted from the Gold King Mine every minute since the August blowout, costing taxpayers nearly $15 million and prompting more calls for “Good Samaritan” legislation:
The Aug. 5 blowout at the Gold King Mine created memorable images of orange water that flowed from Colorado’s Animas River into the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah. Clean-up has cost taxpayers $14.5 million and counting. But some say spills like this aren’t the main concern.
“Blowout scenarios — they are impressive, they get a lot of attention, they are probably not the biggest issue,” said Peter Butler, co-chair of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “The biggest issue is more the continuous metal loading that comes from the mining sites.”
Take the site of the Gold King Mine spill. Construction crews have now finished a $1.5 million temporary wastewater treatment plant for the Gold King Mine. EPA on-scene coordinator Steven Way explains that 500 to 600 gallons of orange water has continued to gush out of the mine since last August.
But that facility is only handling water from the Gold King Mine. It’s not treating water from two additional old mines and an underground tunnel that are draining another 500 gallons of wastewater every minute.
The Animas River isn’t the only Colorado river running orange.
Speaking of water–another Front Range vs. rest-of-the-state battle is shaping up over the precious resource:
Objections from Front Range cities are forcing state officials to make a last-minute overhaul of Colorado’s water plan and pledge to build new reservoirs that enable population growth.
Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District providers also are demanding that the state detail plans for the diversion of more water across mountains to the Front Range.
That puts them at odds with Western Slope residents, who Tuesday weighed in with their own demand that Gov. John Hickenlooper block diversion of more water.
The Colorado Water Plan, 30 months in the making, spells out how the state intends to supply water for the 10 million people projected to live in the state by 2050. Hickenlooper has ordered the Colorado Water Conservation Board to complete the plan by Dec. 10.
The solar energy industry blames think tanks and utilities (and the fossil fuel companies that fund them) for its poor market performance in a new report:
After years of rapid growth, Colorado’s once red-hot solar energy industry has faded recently, according to a new report from Environment Colorado, which blames fossil fuel-funded think tanks and utilities for raining on the state’s solar parade.
According to “Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power,” Colorado’s solar power capacity increased 44 percent a year from 2010 to 2013, but then dropped dramatically between 2013 and 2014, knocking the state from 7th to 10th in terms of solar power capacity per capita in the United States.
“Despite the fact that we have one of the best solar assets in the country, Colorado’s market share is shrinking nationwide due to weak utility support and uneven legislative progress,” said Alex Blackmer, president of the 5,000-member Colorado Renewable Energy Society, on a conference call with reporters late last week.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
August 13 Colorado Energy Roundup: EPA dumps on Colorado with Clean Power Plan, Ozone rule–then releases a toxic mess!
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC
To say the Environmental Protection Agency has been in the news lately would be an understatement. Just this time last week, less than 24 hours after triggering a spill of toxic sludge including heavy metals into the Animas River in SW Colorado, most folks were unaware of the situation due to a lack of EPA communication–but more on that in a minute.
They were too busy focused on the new carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan rules being dumped on the state by the regulatory side of the agency.
Here’s a recap of the CPP, as Independence Institute’s Mike Krause can explain:
Or more in depth from former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chair, Ray Gifford:
Last week the EPA finalized the rule, as we told you in last week’s edition of the Energy Roundup, with the Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman considering joining a multi-state lawsuit challenging the CPP’s legality, and legislators possibly returning to some form of transparency or oversight for the CPP state implementation plan, now with pushed back deadlines (and therefore more sessions to seek legislation).
The Independence Institute has a CPP backgrounder that provides further details.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy discussed the launch of the CPP in a video on Tuesday.
Hot on the heels of the CPP, the EPA expects to finalize rules for ground-level ozone some time in October. But large and small businesses alike, from the National Association of Manufacturers to Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, joined the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), in a press call yesterday to announce a new study that looked at the effects of the ozone rule on Colorado. The sheer volume of bipartisan commentary opposing the proposed ozone reduction is particularly eye-opening in these normally contentious times, and shows a break with the EPA on new regulations–the ozone rule might be a step too far following so closely behind the CPP:
“This ozone proposal gives the federal government far too much control over state and local planning decisions that shape the Colorado economy,” said Karen Kerrigan, President of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “Colorado is one of the biggest success stories of the federal Clean Air Act, but now the EPA is moving the goalposts. The standard is so strict – approaching background levels in some areas – that the vast majority of the state economy will be found in violation immediately. Violation of the ozone standard gives EPA the authority to effectively rewrite state and local environmental laws the way Washington wants.”
“No wonder this EPA proposal has been met with such strong and diverse opposition from across Colorado’s political spectrum. Washington officials, all the way up to President Obama himself, should listen to the voices coming from Colorado and across the country and once again give the current standard a chance to work.”
A sample of the key findings:
By lowering the National Ambient Air Quality Standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the 65 to 70 ppb range, EPA would force, with a single action, at least 15 counties in Colorado to be in violation of federal law. These happen to be some of Colorado’s most populated counties, concentrated in the Denver metropolitan area, but a number of counties on the Western Slope may be dragged into non-attainment as well. Together, these 15 counties are responsible for 89 percent of Colorado’s economy and 85 percent of state employment. (Page 3)
Under the Clean Air Act, cities and counties that do not meet the NAAQS for ozone are placed into “non-attainment,” or violation of federal environmental standards. Once in non-attainment, local and state officials must answer to the federal government for permitting and planning decisions that could impact ozone levels. State officials are required to develop an “implementation plan” that imposes new restrictions across the economy, especially the transportation, construction and energy industries. The EPA has veto power over these implementation plans. States that refuse to comply, or have their implementation plans rejected, face regulatory and financial sanctions imposed on them directly from the federal government. (Page 19)
The report, entitled “Slamming the Brakes: How Washington’s Ozone Plan Will Hurt the Colorado Economy and Make Traffic Worse” has revealed that opposition to the ozone rule with a river of comments from Colorado state and local officials.
Here’s a sample of the bipartisan criticism:
State Senator Cheri Jahn (D):
“Coloradans care deeply about the environment. After the great progress we have made on air quality, our state should be praised, not punished. This ozone proposal out of Washington, D.C. scares my constituents, because it could hamstring our regional economy and cost jobs.
We have worked so hard to bring manufacturing jobs to Colorado, and by moving the goal posts on ozone, the EPA is going to chase manufacturing jobs away from our state. This plan could also gum up the approval process for badly needed road and transportation investments, which will make our traffic worse, and make it much harder to attract new industries, grow existing businesses, and strengthen Colorado’s middle class.”
State Senator Ellen Roberts (R):
“If the EPA carries out this ozone plan, Western Colorado will be placed at a terrible economic disadvantage. We have worked hard to responsibly care for our environment even as we grow and diversify our economy.
Tightening the ozone standard any further just does not make sense when the existing standard, which is less than 10 years old, is working. I urge the EPA to reconsider this plan and leave the 2008 standard in place.”
State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R):
“The EPA’s proposed new standards would drive small family farms such as mine out of business. We have never been able to afford new equipment and if the only way to comply with this new standard is with new equipment, my family would have to leave agriculture. Even if we could meet the standards with expensive upgrades to our machinery, the increased costs to finance those upgrades, as well as the fuel and the fertilizer, takes a marginally profitable farm and turns it into one that can’t make its payments.
Unless you want to see the family farm only as a memory, one must make the EPA understand that their new standards will have a devastating effect on rural America and the agriculture economy.”
Routt County Commissioners Douglas Monger (D), Cari Hermacinski (R), Timothy Corrigan (D):
“We set and meet high standards because we know it is good for our people and our state. So you might expect us to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards for ground-level ozone. Those standards, however, are too overbearing and are meeting with a lot of resistance even in places where air quality regulations are welcome…
These standards must not be implemented. If they go forward as proposed, they will do more than put good people out of work and cause hardships for communities that have done so much to protect the land, air and water around them. They will turn away a lot of people who have been receptive to the idea that government can be trusted to do environmental regulation the right way.”
NAM also released a video ad buy, to be seen across Colorado over the next few days:
Only the sheer quantity of toxic material–some 3 million or so gallons of Sunny-D colored water laden with heavy metals–comes close to the media coverage of one of the biggest environmental stories in recent Colorado history.
Most of the stories have been widely publicized and shared, so here is a quick look at this EPA-related (not strictly energy-related) blockbuster news blitz from just the past two days alone, in reverse chronological order (most recent first):
The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.
A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.
The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.
A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.
“Very difficult,” said Alex Mickel, who has turned hundreds of customers away from his Mild to Wild Rafting each day since the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally unleashed a 3 million gallon torrent of toxic mine water into the headwaters of the Animas last week.
“We are anticipating around $150,000 to $200,000 in lost revenue,” Mickel said. “But from an emotional standpoint, it’s difficult to see a beautiful river damaged in this way.”
The attorneys general of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah said Wednesday that a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency is an option in the wake of a massive mine wastewater spill caused by the agency.
All three, however, agreed that it’s too early to say if they will sue.
“I would hope that it would not be necessary,” Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, said of a suit in an interview with The Denver Post. “The statements by the (EPA’s administrator) indicate the EPA is accepting responsibility for the accident. The question is: What does that mean? What does accepting responsibility mean?”
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday drank a hearty gulp of the Animas River in an effort to highlight that the river has returned to pre-contamination conditions.
The governor and his health department director, however, cautioned that citizens should not be freely drinking from the river, because the water was unsafe for consumption even before the Environmental Protection Agency released an estimated 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into it.
But the drinking exercise indicated that state officials are more than confident that the river does not pose a toxic risk to humans, as they publicly stated on Tuesday.
“Am I willing to go out there and demonstrate that we’re back to normal?” Hickenlooper asked out loud after The Durango Herald raised the idea with the governor. “Certainly. I’m happy to do that. I’m dead serious.”
Navajo Nation is furious with the EPA, not just because the agency accidentally spilled three million gallons of toxic mine waste in the region, but because the agency is allegedly trying to get tribal members to waive rights to future compensation for damages incurred by the toxic spill.
“The federal government is asking our people to waive their future rights because they know without the waiver they will be paying millions to our people,” Navajo President Russell Begaye told Indianz.com. “This is simple; the feds are protecting themselves at the expense of the Navajo people and it is outrageous.”
Republican congressmen are calling for the EPA to be held accountable for spilling 3 million gallons of toxic mine wastewater into the Animas River last week, especially since the agency is a government entity and won’t be punished to the same degree a private company would for spilling waste.
“The EPA must be held accountable for its actions,” Rep. Lamar Smith told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “If a private company caused such a disaster, it would be hit with substantial penalties and would be required to pay for cleanup.”
“In this case, it will be the taxpayers who foot the bill,” the Texas Republican said. “The EPA has an obligation to the families and businesses that have been devastated by this spill.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clumsy, tone-deaf response to the toxic disaster on the Animas River was an embarrassment even to the EPA. One agency official managed to admit the reaction was “cavalier,” but that’s putting a mild face on it.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that she takes full responsibility for the spill, which she said “pains me to no end.” She said the agency is working around the clock to assess the environmental impact.
Hickenlooper sees a silver lining:
“Colorado’s governor thinks a mine spill accidentally triggered by an EPA crew will move the state and federal government to more aggressively tackle the “legacy of pollution” left by mining in the West.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that much of the wastewater has been plugged up, but the state and the Environmental Protection Agency need to speed up work to identify the most dangerous areas and clean them up.
The former geologist says that if there’s a “silver lining” to the disaster, it will be a new relationship between the state and the EPA to solve the problem.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday stood on the banks of the Animas River and said last week’s spill of 3 million gallons of contaminated mining waste water into its flow was “in every sense, unacceptable.”
He said the long-term effects of the spill, which happened as the Environmental Protection Agency was investigating the contaminated mine, are unknown.
The governor said he has spoken with the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, and described her as “committed” and “firm” in her resolve to respond to the spill. McCarthy will be in Durango and New Mexico on Wednesday, she said Tuesday on Twitter.
“I think we share the anger that something like this could happen,” Hickenlooper said. “But I think that said, our primary role is now: that’s behind us and how are we going to move forward.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized Tuesday for a mine spill in Colorado that her agency caused last week and planned to travel to the area Wednesday, amid increasing criticism from lawmakers about the EPA’s response.
Ms. McCarthy said at a news conference in Washington that she was still learning about what happened, responding to a question about whether the EPA was reviewing changes in how it cleans up old mines. “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there,” she said. “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.”
Unlike BP, which was fined $5.5 billion for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the EPA will pay nothing in fines for unleashing the Animas River spill.
“Sovereign immunity. The government doesn’t fine itself,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s division of environment and natural resources.
And of course, some folks don’t think the EPA should be blamed . . .
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
The Department of the Interior refused to appeal a court ruling on the Colowyo Mine that could cost the jobs of 220 Colorado coal miners. This has added to the growing concerns of these miners and their families regarding the future of their livelihoods. WildEarth Guardians, who have been leading the campaign to close the mine, had a less than sympathetic message in response.
“My initial response is ‘tough sh**,’ ” Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians climate and energy program director, told the liberal Colorado Independent in a July 13 post.
“They [the Interior Department] didn’t appeal, and there is nothing they can do about it now,” Mr. Nichols said.
Supporters of the mine decried his comments Thursday as “callous” and an example of the group’s “out-of-control war on coal,” as Advancing Colorado’s Jonathan Lockwood put it.
“I wonder if Jeremy Nichols has the courage to say that directly — face-to-face — to the 220 coal miners who will lose their jobs if Nichols and WildEarth Guardians are successful in shutting down the Colowyo Mine,” said Amy Oliver Cooke, energy policy director at the free-market Independence Institute in Denver.
WildEarth Guardians’ disregard for the people in Northwest Colorado has done them little good. Following a large community outcry, 450 of 600 supporters listed online asked to be removed from the list.
In a press conference last Thursday, Secretary of the Interior Jewell spoke to the anticipated effects of the proposed rule intended to protect water in the proximity of coal mines. She made sure to emphasize the minimal impact it would have on communities reliant on coal income.
Jewell called the potential loss of approximately 200 jobs across coal country “relatively minor.”
The proposed rule would adversely affect 460 jobs but at the same time account for an additional 250 jobs created under the restoration actions required by the plan, Jewell said.
“The net impact is a couple of hundred jobs in coal country, specifically due to this rule,” she said. “So, it’s relatively minor.”
Some are unconvinced that the impact will be that insignificant.
According to Yampa Valley Data Partners, a nonprofit research organization, the top 10 taxpayers in Moffat County are energy related.
Although the rule proposes to create work based on restoration efforts, it is uncertain if the effort will balance out the loss of mining jobs.
“These jobs that would be added, in theory, would certainly have to be pretty high paying jobs to even come close to rivaling the economic impact of our coal mines,” said Keith Kramer, executive director of Yampa Valley Data Partners.
According to Yampa Valley Data Partners, mining industry jobs pay an average of $1,528 per week — 72 percent higher than an average job in Moffat County.
Proponents of both fracking and the Obama administrations environmental regulations have sited the 11% reduction in US CO2 emissions between 2007 and 2013 as evidence of their respective success. A new study out of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis suggests that neither contributed significantly to the reduction… and rather it was all a result of the recession.
“After 2007, decreasing emissions were largely a result of economic recession with changes in fuel mix (for example, substitution of natural gas for coal) playing a comparatively minor role,” the study found.
The study has been sent around as evidence that natural gas is not as “climate-friendly” as proponents say it is. Natural gas is often billed as more eco-friendly than coal because it emits fewer CO2 emissions than coal when burned to produce electricity.
“Natural gas emits half as much CO2 as coal when used to make electricity,” said IIASA researcher and lead author Laixiang Sun said in a statement. “This calculation fails to take into account the release of methane from natural-gas wells and pipelines, which also contributes to climate change.”
Naturally, both sides found ways to use the study to their advantage (or the others disadvantage).
Environmentalists and liberal news sites used the study to undercut claims that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is reducing emissions. Activists have used the study to claim reduced consumption, also known as a recession, and energy efficiency programs are doing more to fight global warming.
“In other words, what worked was cutting consumption and being more efficient – not fracking,” according to the environmentalist blog Desmogblog.
That may be the case, but there’s a flip side that environmentalists have not talked about. If increased use of natural gas was not a major reason for plunging CO2 emissions, it means Obama administration regulations have also done little to lower emissions.
This is not to say that EPA regulations or fracking will not positively impact the climate in the future. This study just shows that good old fashioned cutting back can have the big results we want.
A final ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency on nationwide carbon reduction regulations is on the horizon. The 35% reduction target for Colorado has some Colorado officials concerned about just how to reach the target… or if we should try to at all.
Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said interested parties need to work together to satisfy federal rules.
“At some point we all sort of have to come together between the EPA and the state – and in this case Colorado – to say, this is how we want to pursue this, and this is how we want our own Clean Air Act to look,” Wolk said Thursday at an event in Denver hosted by Latino environmental leaders.
Once the final rule is in, state health officials will launch a stakeholder process. Next year, officials will continue developing the state-specific plan, which would be submitted that summer. The Legislature will then discuss the plan in 2017, before a final plan heads to the EPA.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said that Colorado will move forward, despite cries from Republicans to defy federal regulators. Critics of the proposal suggest that it would hurt the economy by slashing jobs and revenue.
Republicans fired a warning shot this year at the Legislature, proposing legislation that would have required both chambers to approve any plan that is sent to federal regulators. That proposal was killed by Democrats.
The Millennium Development goals, decided on by all governments in 2000, are set to expire at the end of this year. But the United Nations think there is still work to be done–and this work is reflected in the new “Sustainable Development Goals”. These new goals are to be used as a guide for all policies and agendas for the coming years.
1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere
2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
3) Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
8 ) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation
10) Reduce inequality within and among countries
11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)
14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
16) Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development
Gina Larson is a Future Leaders intern and is currently a student at American University, majoring in International Relations.
Filed under: Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, preferred energy, renewable energy
More than 400 people turned out last week for the “Stop the EPA Power Grab” rally for affordable energy just across Lincoln Avenue from the west steps of the Capitol.
Coal miners, their families, representatives of more than 20 allied mining and natural resource groups, union members, business leaders, and affordable energy activists from Colorado and many states across the Rocky Mountain region gathered to address the Environmental Protection Agency’s “listening tour” for its newly unveiled “Clean Power Plan.”
The Independence Institute was a co-sponsor of the event, along with Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, the Colorado Mining Association, and several other business and civic groups from Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. Union groups represented included the AFL-CIO of Wyoming and Boilermakers of Montana.
Over the next two years, the EPA expects each state to develop its own plan to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels.
These regulations are designed to hurt coal–and by extension, will harm low income, minorities, the elderly, and rural communities that rely on coal for affordable, reliable energy. The rule will likely artificially raise the price of electricity substantially, while inefficient and more expensive sources of energy are substituted.
While agnostic on the question of energy sources, the Independence Institute is not agnostic on the intrusion of government in the free market energy arena, and believes that each state’s energy mix should be market-driven, not shaped by onerous and far-reaching regulations that stifle competition and raise electricity rates.
That was the message the Independence Institute wished to share with the attendees last week.
The text of my speech, more or less as delivered:
Good afternoon! My name is Michael Sandoval and I’m an energy policy analyst and investigative reporter for the Independence Institute, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about how mining brought my family to Colorado 86 years ago.
More than 100 years ago, my great-grandfather Anthony, a poor Italian immigrant, moved to Utah to mine coal and achieve the American Dream–earn a living for his growing family. With the money he earned from coal mining, he moved to Denver’s Little Italy, and in 1928, along with his son–my grandfather–he purchased a grocery store that was a fixture in the Italian-American community for 7 decades, eventually becoming an historic landmark.
I stand before you a product of that rich mining heritage, and I am deeply grateful for it.
I also stand WITH you. I will NOT let the EPA CRUCIFY COAL–to use the words of Al Armendariz, former EPA administrator and now Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaigner.
Our natural resources are both a blessing and a driving economic force in our region. They provide tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and they keep the lights on and, this time of year, the air conditioning running not just for us but for our most vulnerable community members.
But EPA outsiders have decided that a different energy path should be followed. They pay lip service to those affected by having a handful of “listening tours” AFTER they’ve decided which predetermined policy course they should undertake.
That is why we are here today. To let the EPA know that we already have ABUNDANT AFFORDABLE, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, RELIABLE ENERGY.
The Independence Institute is agnostic on energy sources–we do not care if the energy comes from hydro, coal, solar, natural gas, nuclear, or wind–but we are not agnostic on the subject of government intrusion into the energy sector–free energy markets, not preferred energy mandates, should guide our economy.
Achieving our own energy mix should come from market forces as businesses and consumers choose what is best for them, not onerous regulations imposed by anonymous EPA bureaucrats.
Government agencies like the EPA or the Department of Energy should NOT be in the business of picking energy winners and losers with this proposal, which EPA DIRECTOR GINA MCCARTHY ADMITTED “ISN’T ABOUT POLLUTION CONTROL” JUST LAST WEEK IN A SENATE COMMITTEE.
THIS PITS corporate cronies–WHAT MCCARTHY DUBS “INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN CLEAN AND RENEWABLE ENERGY” against the poor, the elderly, minorities, rural communities.
Nothing was more poignant than last October, when the EPA last made a stop at its Region 8 office, as miners and rural business owners and suppliers–along with their families–were forced to plead for their livelihoods with agency representatives.
We are here, along with all of the other organizations and friends here today, to say NO–say it with me–NO–to the EPA’s energy power grab.
DON’T BE FOOLED into thinking this is just about coal, or that hydraulic fracturing is just about natural gas. Folks, this is about an agenda for putting an end to the use of ALL of our natural resources, not just in Colorado, but in the entire Rocky Mountain West.
A secret government energy lab here went on heightened alert after one of its employees used Twitter to threaten mass murder against Watchdog reporters, according to internal memos and emails received under the Freedom of Information Act.
But the added security measures utilized by the National Renewable Energy Lab weren’t to isolate and chastise staffer Kerrilee Crosby, who used Twitter in late 2012 to advocate what she called “a murderous rampage.”
Instead, the lab was concerned because an unidentified individual sent Crosby an email labeled “Because you deserve to die” — the same words Crosby used in her threat against Watchdog.
It was the subsequent threat from an unidentified individual (the name was redacted in the Freedom of Information Act documents released) that prompted this reaction from NREL:
“Details are still being assembled and the likelihood of making contact remains low.
A person named (redacted) has made a veiled threat against NREL employee Kerry Crosby.
Should we come into contact with (redacted) we are to call 911 immediately… Keep in mind, we cannot be sure this is the right name. Be very suspicious of anyone unexpected looking for Kerry Crosby.
Jeffco is already engaged in this issue.”
According to Watchdog, while the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department pooh-poohed the threat made by Crosby against the reporting outfit by refusing to take a police report, it appeared fully prepared to provide assistance to NREL–by opening a case and visiting the agency’s campus.
NREL’s security office issued these warnings to workers:
1. Be aware of an increase in anger at NREL and our mission
2. NREL Security will step up vehicle searches
3. Be prepared for an increase in press inquiries and amateur information seekers
4. Understand that this story may inspire others to be angry toward NREL, government spending, green energy, people who make threats, etc.
“The number of web-based news sources repeating the Watchdog story continues to grow,” the memo said.
Crosby drew in the Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Center director Amy Oliver Cooke into the original series of threatening tweets she made in late 2012 when she included a link to a photo of Cooke.
“I can’t remember where I left my gun, though. Found it! http://t.co/MuOpukem,” she tweeted. The original link has been removed.
The Independence Institute’s Todd Shepherd, along with this blog, have spent two years covering, and ultimately exposing, what is now the Abound Solar scandal. Understandably, much of the focus is now on Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck’s criminal investigation as well as a Congressional Oversight Committee inquiry into the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer.
Recently released emails on Complete Colorado indicate that, despite statements to the contrary, the White House politicized the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee process for politically well-connected Abound.
But something else within those emails caught my attention reminding me of free market economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman’s famous quote, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” In other words, even things that appear to be free have an associated cost.
This basic economic concept is lost on Colorado State Representative Max Tyler’s (D-Lakewood) who in a March 23, 2010, press release bragged about a government-dictated increase in Colorado’s renewable energy mandate:
With HB 1001 we will manufacture and install panels and turbines all over Colorado to capture free energy….The sun will always shine for free, the winds will always blow for free, and our energy production will be cleaner. Renewable energy, green jobs, and a cleaner future — what’s not to like?
At roughly the same time that Tyler publicly fantasized about “free energy,” a credit advisor for the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program James McCrea was concerned about “major issues” with Abound Solar’s marketability. In an email dated April 1, 2010, just seven days after Tyler’s press release, McCrea explained:
Another issue is the very limited supply of telluride, its potential price trajectory and other demands for it. Related to this is a question of the viability of the Abound panels as compared to other panels and whether there is sufficient benefit to allow the panels to be profitable if Te [telluride] prices really increase. If the price really rises will there be alternative uses that can afford it basically turning it into a non available input for Abound?
I don’t believe we have ever worked with an input material that is so limited. We need to think that through carefully.
Before going bankrupt this summer, Abound produced cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-filmed photovoltaic solar panels. Cadmium and tellurium, used in the manufacturing of Abound’s panels, are two of the world’s 17 “rare earth elements” that are needed for everything from smart phones to solar panels to high tech weapons systems. My former colleague Michael Sandoval, now an investigative reporter with the Heritage Foundation, and I have written several columns on general issues with rare earth elements.
This email highlights the problem specific to Abound, and McCrea was right to be concerned. According to the December 2011 DOE Critical Materials Strategy the price of tellurium has been going up since 2007:
The price dropped in 2006, but in 2007 resumed its upward trend owing to increased production of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells.
Furthermore, China controls the vast majority of rare earth elements. In August 2012, the Chinese announced an ambitious plan to increase its stranglehold on the world’s available supply of rare earths. According to China Daily the country:
launched a physical trading platform for rare earth metals as part of its efforts to regulate the sector and strengthen its pricing power for the resources.
As the world’s largest producer of rare earth metals, China now supplies more than 90 percent of the global demand for rare earth metals, although its reserves account for just 23 percent of the world’s total.
The article reiterated what Michael and I have said on numerous occasions, mining rare earths comes with a significant environmental cost that green zealots like Tyler completely ignore when claiming solar energy is free and clean:
Mining the metals greatly damages the environment. In recent years, China has come down heavily on illegal mining and smuggling, cut export quotas and imposed production caps, stricter emissions standards and higher resource taxes to control environmental damage and stave off resource depletion.
However, these measures have irked rare earth importers, who complained about rising prices and strained supplies.
But China did exactly what it said it would do in 2009. It drove up prices with reduced output as global demand increased.
China’s rare earth output fell 36 percent year on year to 40,000 tonnes in the first half of the year. Prices of major rare earth products in July remained twice as high as prices at the beginning of 2011, although down from the beginning of the year.
In July 2009, about a year before President Barack Obama announced a $400 million loan guarantee for Abound, Jack Lifton, an expert on sources and uses of rare minerals, wrote a lengthy article for Resource Investor about the availability of tellurium for First Solar, a global leader in cadmium telluride solar panel manufacturering. Lifton’s conclusion should have served as a prophetic warning for Abound and any hope of profitability:
A company such as First Solar, which is critically dependent on a secure supply of tellurium to exist and on an unsustainable growth in the supply to it of tellurium for it to grow and achieve competitive pricing is a big risk for short-term investors. The maximum supply and production levels attainable of tellurium are quantifiable even if the actual production figures are murky, and they do not bode well for the future of First Solar if it must make profits to survive.
The next time you hear a politician like Max Tyler tout the benefits of “free” and “clean” energy, remember Abound Solar because there is no such thing as a free lunch.
IP-10-2012 (July 2012)
Author: Donovan D. Schafer
PDF of full Issue Paper
Scribd version of full Issue Paper
A ban on fracking would not satisfy those who present general arguments against any kind of development. Acceptance of these arguments would require an outright ban on all oil and gas activities, new wind farm construction, electric transmission construction, residential housing developments, road construction, and the like. Before accepting any argument against fracking as sufficient grounds to restrict or ban its use, one should take that argument to its logical conclusion and consider the full set of repercussions. For if such arguments are granted valid status, they will be used again and again by whichever parties can benefit from shutting down any particular form of development.
This column appeared originally on Townhall Finance.
Crony capitalism Abound: anatomy of a taxpayer-guaranteed loan
By Amy Oliver Cooke
By now it’s obvious that the Solyndra scandal never should have happened. It’s not even a case of Monday morning quarterbacking. A number of people involved could see the disaster coming.
There is a larger principle here. Government should not use taxpayer money to socialize risk while privatizing profits. Examples such as Colorado-based Abound Solar, which received a $400 million loan guarantee, prove that crony capitalism simply rewards the well connected at taxpayer expense.
Abound Solar, according to its Web site, “produces next-generation thin-film cadmium telluride solar modules” and “is committed to reducing the cost of solar electricity to levels competitive with fossil fuels.”
It is the brainchild of former Colorado State University (CSU) Professor W.S. Sampath and two former students Kurt Barth and Al Enzenroth. It began as AVA Solar and then incorporated into Abound in 2007.
The Web site says it employs 350 people in three Colorado locations. Its Colorado manufacturing plant is located in Weld County, which granted Abound up to $100,000 per year for the next ten years in business property tax rebates. According to sources, the reason for the rebate was job creation intended to benefit Weld County residents. Yet when officials and interested parties ask how many of the 350 jobs have gone to Weld County residents, the solar company does not answer.
Currently Abound has a manufacturing capacity of 65 megawatts expanding to 850 megawatts – at some point. However, in 2010 it manufactured only 30 megawatts. One wonders, if Abound can produce more, why doesn’t it?
The Web site does say it is “growing,” and news reports claim the company plans to add anywhere from 850 to 1,000 employees thanks to a $400 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan Abound received in July 2010. The taxpayer cash is so it can expand its manufacturing capabilities to a facility in Tipton, Indiana. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation “extended up to $11.85 million in tax credits and $250,000 in training grants” as well.
Abound Solar further claims $260 million in private investments, part of which came from billionaire medical heiress Pat Stryker’s Bohemian Companies. This is where the story gets interesting.
Thanks to Independence Institute investigative reporter Todd Shepherd, we still have access to the Web page that lists Bohemian as an investor even though it does not appear on the company’s current Web site. The exact amount that Stryker has given is not public at this time. Also, CSU and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are listed as funding resources.
Total public and private monies equal $673,100,000. Assuming Abound can “create” some 1,350 jobs, that is $498,593 per job, of which $360,000 comes from public coffers.
However, Abound’s Indiana manufacturing facility is not scheduled to open until 2013 or 2014, which seems like a long time to wait to “create” jobs and turn a profit.
As a comparison, the Denver Bronco’s stadium cost $364 million to build of which 68 percent was publicly financed. With a yes vote from taxpayers in November 1998, construction began in August 1999 and was completed in September 2001.
This is not an endorsement of publicly funded professional sports facilities but rather an assumption that the Broncos management didn’t want a disruption in cash flow that could come from the inconvenience of a lengthy construction project.
I asked Abound if the company is still on track for a 2013 expansion and received no response. For most companies, time means money except in solar panels.
Forbes lists medical heiress and founder of Bohemian Companies/Foundation Pat Stryker as number 331 of its top “400 Richest People in America.” Worth $1.3 billion, the Fort Collins resident could single-handedly fund Abound Solar and still be well above the poverty line.
While some of her fortune has gone to Abound Solar, she also has chosen to donate more than $2.2 million (probably a low figure) to Democrats and their causes over the last several election cycles. Beneficiaries include Barack Obama, one-term Congresswoman and Fort Collins resident Betsy Markey, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar when he successfully ran for U.S. Senate in Colorado.
Stryker is also a charter member of the notorious “gang of four” which changed the political landscape in Colorado through an organization called the Colorado Democracy Alliance (CoDA). Their success was titled the “Colorado Miracle” and is being replicated in other states.
Congresswoman Betsy Markey
With the help from Stryker in 2008, Markey beat incumbent republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave in Colorado’s conservative 4th Congressional District. Abound Solar, Pat Stryker, and Colorado State University are all in the 4th CD. Between 2008 and 2010 election cycles, CSU employees also donated nearly $27,000 to Markey’s campaigns.
When the Waxman-Markey (named for Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey) cap and trade bill, which included a national renewable energy standard, came up for a vote, Congresswoman Markey danced around the issue for weeks because it wasn’t a popular bill in the 4th CD. Ultimately she voted “yes.”
In an interview on my radio show following the vote, Markey cited “green jobs” as one of her reasons. What she didn’t cite was her relationship to Pat Stryker and Abound Solar or the $2,000 campaign contribution she received from Henry Waxman the night before the vote.
Shortly after the vote, Abound Solar was part of a group that helped pay for TV ads thanking Markey for saying yes to Waxman’s bill. Todd Shepherd exposed the politically incestuous relationship and suggested:
[T]he connections between Representative Betsy Markey (D, CO-4), billionaire heiress Pat Stryker, and Abound Solar, appear to have all of the fingerprints of the kind of pay-to-play agenda that has left many Americans wondering how they got stuck with unpopular bills such as cap and trade, formally known as Waxman-Markey (named after a different Markey).
Markey also urged the approval of Abound’s $400 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan. The Denver Business Journal reported, “Abound applied for the loan guarantee more than a year ago, and Markey and other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation pushed for approval.”
Colorado State University
Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, CSU fancies itself the “green” university:
“Colorado State University is internationally known for its green initiatives and clean-energy research including alternative fuels, clean engines, photovoltaics, “smart” grid technology, wind engineering, water resources, and satellite-based atmospheric monitoring and tracking systems. It’s also known as a “green” university for its sustainability efforts on campus and abroad.
Abound Solar founders got their start at CSU as the university bragged in a 2007 press release.
Stryker also has a connection to CSU, having donated millions to the university. Furthermore, former CSU president Al Yates became Stryker’s mouthpiece and representative on CoDA. The Blueprint, a must-read book from Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, details the Yates-Stryker relationship along with how democrats won control in Colorado.
Finally, CSU is home to the Center for the New Energy Economy headed by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a renewable energy activist, and funded by private donations, a third of which came from Stryker’s Bohemian Foundation. Ritter now makes $300,000 to promote renewable energy throughout the country.
Governor Bill Ritter
With the help of CoDA and Pat Stryker, Democrat Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter won the 2006 Governor’s race. His one term legacy is the state’s New Energy Economy, 57 pieces of legislation to move the state from reliance on less costly on fossil fuels to renewables. Ritter is a true believer, an eco-evangelical, who signed laws mandating 30 percent renewable energy standards and fuel switching.
In April 2009, Governor Ritter hand-delivered two letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu who was touring NREL. One letter urged the Department of Energy to grant a $300 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan to Abound Solar:
This request for $300 million would allow [Abound Solar] to triple production capacity within 12 months, develop a second manufacturing facility within 18 months and hire an additional 1,000 employees.
Abound received $400 million in July 2010. By all accounts, the solar panel company will not meet Ritter’s original promise of triple capacity in a year and a new facility within 18 months. Just won’t happen that fast.
When Ritter left office in January 2011, he became the Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at CSU and one of the highest paid administrators on campus, thanks to Stryker.
President Barack Obama
President Obama received $11,700 directly from Stryker and Joseph Zimlich, who is a director at Abound Solar and is also associated with Stryker’s Bohemian Foundation. No doubt Obama benefitted as well from Stryker’s donations to other democrat causes including Campaign Money Watch and Democrat White House Victory Fund.
In Obama’s weekly radio address on July 3, 2010, he announced an acceleration of “the transition to a clean energy economy and doubling our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power – steps that have the potential to create whole new industries and hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America.”
He said that Abound Solar:
will manufacture advanced solar panels at two new plants, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. A Colorado plant is already underway, and an Indiana plant will be built in what’s now an empty Chrysler factory. When fully operational, these plants will produce millions of state-of-the-art solar panels each year.
That radio address was the formal announcement that Abound Solar received a $400 million loan guarantee courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. Taxpayers get the risk while individuals get the profit.
To recap, Abound Solar receives support from Pat Stryker and Colorado State University both of which fund and promote Congresswoman Betsy Markey. She in turn votes yes on Cap and Trade and urges the federal government to approve the Abound loan.
Abound Solar then contributes to TV ads thanking Markey for her yes vote on Cap and Trade.
Governor Bill Ritter hand delivers letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging the DOE to grant the loan guarantee. When he decides not to run for a second term, he is offered a job at CSU, which is funded in part by Pat Stryker.
President Barack Obama benefitted from Pat Stryker’s political donations. In July 2010, he announces a $400 million loan guarantee to Abound.
Can’t get a $400 million loan? Apparently you don’t know and fund the right people.
A recently released report titled “The Wind Power Paradox” from BENTEK Energy finds that wind energy is neither green nor cost effective. In a radio interview with Amy Oliver Cooke on News Talk 1310 KFKA (Part I and II), BENTEK president Porter Bennett* (a self-described “natural gas guy”) explained that the because the wind blows intermittently and usually when energy demand is low, wind requires fossil-fuel based back-up power.
The constant ramping up or “cycling” of the base load power plant actually increases carbon emissions. It’s analogous to how your car performs in city traffic versus more efficient highway driving. This issue is not new. What is new about this study is that it is the first to “systematically assess the emission reduction performance of wind generation based on hourly generation and emissions data.”
According to Bennett, wind as a small scale power supply such as for an individual home or farm is very green. However as a large scale power source such as commercial wind farms, it is actually much less eco-friendly than modern fossil fuel power plants.
Also wind is expensive. When asked if wind would be competitive without tax subsidies, Bennett replied no. When asked if wind would be competitive without the benefit of a carbon tax on fossil fuel, Bennett replied no. When asked if he thought investor owned utilities such as Xcel Energy would procure wind as a reliable, cost effective energy source without a state mandate, Bennett replied no.
- Wind as a large scale energy source does not reduce carbon emissions.
- Without corporate welfare and a carbon tax, wind is not an economical source of energy.
- Without a mandate, wind probably isn’t a large scale source of energy.
Replacing one megawatt hour of fossil fuel generated energy with one megawatt of wind generated energy does not automatically equate to reduced emissions, and it most certainly isn’t cost effective. The actual cost of wind energy must include its own deficiencies as a large power source but sadly this is often lost on policy makers and self-described environmentalists so infatuated with wind energy that they cannot get beyond the hot air that is blowing in the wind.
*Porter Bennett makes no apologies for his support of natural gas, especially as an alternative to coal. The Independence Institute is agnostic about energy sources. We promote a least cost principle when it comes to energy sources — free of taxpayer-funded subsidies, carbon taxes and mandates.