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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Army Corps records were also subpoenaed Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read all of his latest piece here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drilling on the Western Slope dropped in 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 6 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: fracking foes awaken; legislative session promises energy battles; EPA and Gold King Mine saga

Let’s start with the obvious–the anti-fracking forces have reignited their campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing, and want to do away with property rights too, according to this Gazette editorial:

CREED, an umbrella of sorts for anti-energy activists, wants an outright ban on fracking with a proposal known as Initiative 62. In addition to banning all fracking, the measure would prevent compensation of mineral owners for financial losses incurred by the elimination of fracking.

The measure states, in part: “The prohibition of hydraulic fracturing is not a taking of private property and does not require the payment of compensation pursuant to sections 14 and 15 of Article II of the Colorado Constitution.”

In other words, they want eminent- domain-by-mob without due process or just compensation. The U.S. Constitution, thankfully, prohibits voters from taking private property or negating its value. Voters have no more authority to eliminate mineral rights than to end same-sex marriage. Federal law will prevail.

Initiative 63 would establish an “Environmental Bill of Rights,” suggesting local governments have all sorts of newfound authority to ban energy production on private property. Initiative 65 would impose 4,000-foot fracking setbacks from buildings and homes.

As the editorial correctly point out, these anti-energy measures will drive a wedge between leftwing activists and mainstream Democrats, just as they threatened to do in 2014, before Gov. John Hickenlooper threw his policy Hail Mary to halt any chance of a Dem split.

The Denver Business Journal has a quick rundown of the 11 proposed initiatives.

Which brings us to billionaire activist Tom Steyer. From our new energy policy analyst, Simon Lomax:

Steyer’s track record further suggests he won’t be limited to the presidential contest in Colorado or the effort to reelect Bennet, who served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee two years ago. Before holding talks with Colorado’s anti-fracking groups about statewide ballot measures in 2014, Steyer called for a fracking ban in his home state of California, which could only be lifted on a county-by-county basis with a two-thirds popular vote. Steyer’s views are very close to those of anti-fracking groups in Colorado, who have proposed a mix of statewide and local bans for the 2016 ballot. Steyer and Rep. Polis – who championed the 2014 anti-fracking measures before they were pulled – are “kindred spirits,” according to a top adviser to the California billionaire. Steyer has a long history with ballot initiatives in California, and is already backing a 2016 measure in Washington state to impose a carbon tax.

Along with ballot measures, Steyer also has a history of throwing his money into state legislative races. In 2014, for example, he poured money into Washington and Oregon trying to win seats for Democrats. In some cases, NextGen Climate did not spend the money directly – it was given to environmental groups like Washington Conservation Voters and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. NextGen Climate also gave generously to the national League of Conservation Voters for campaigning in Oregon, Washington and several other states, with the group’s president telling The Washington Post, “There’s not a day that goes by that someone on our team doesn’t talk to someone on the Steyer team.”

Which brings us back to Conservation Colorado. If swaying state legislative races is part of Steyer’s plan, he could not find a better partner than Conservation Colorado. The group spent more than $950,000 on Colorado elections in 2014, and appears to have hit the ground running in 2016. In a little-noticed move, Conservation Colorado gave $10,000 to Fairness for Colorado, a 527 political organization, in September 2015. According to state records, Fairness for Colorado – which focuses on economic issues and social welfare, not the environment – has already spent almost $11,000 with a Denver direct-mail firm.

Simon’s article has tons of links for all the relevant information, plus plenty more on Steyer and Democratic efforts in Colorado in 2015 and 2016.

The fracking battle will also continue in the legislature with liability for earthquakes laid at the feet of resource developers:

Democratic state Rep. Joe Salazar wants to hold drillers responsible for any earthquakes they trigger that cause property damage or physical injury.

Salazar says residents in his Adams County district are worried about a fracking group’s plans to place 20 oil and gas wells in neighborhoods there.

“These were people who were concerned for their children,” Salazar said. “They were concerned for their community. They were concerned about the environment. They’re concerned about their clean water and clean air.”

But state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, says liability would be difficult to prove. He also says that Colorado already has strict environmental guidelines – and he cautions against targeting an industry that provides a great deal of revenue to the state.

“How much longer do you want to stand on the throat of the oil and gas industry to limit that amount of money that’s being generated by the state of Colorado?” Scott said.

But even Rep. Salazar doesn’t think an outright ban on fracking–as some on his side have demanded, will work, and responses to any proposed ban are also in the works:

State Rep. Joseph Salazar, D-Thornton says he doesn’t think increased oil and gas regulation should be handled with constitutional amendments. Nor does he think an outright ban on fracking will fly. But he believes that the Legislature can do more to protect residents from the impacts of drilling.

“An outright ban, that’s just not going to work,” Salazar told The Statesman. “I understand that mineral rights owners have property rights, and that’s a taking. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be safe about it by studying the effects and implementing good safety measures to ensure that when people want to exercise their mineral rights that they’re not adversely affecting their neighbors.”

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said he’s ready to sponsor his own initiative similar to one he backed in 2014 that would prevent any local government that bans oil and gas production from receiving state tax revenues generated by the industry.

“I pushed pretty hard for us not to cave on that for fear that we’d be going down this same path in 2016 that we were in 2014,” Sonnenberg said, referring to the decision to pull two industry-backed ballot questions as part of the 2014 Hickenlooper-Polis compromise. “Rest assured, I will not be silent on this issue. Whatever I need to do, I will be out front.”

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Other legislative efforts will be focused on the fallout of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold King Mine spill:

She [Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango] is also working on bills in the wake of the inactive Gold King Mine spill, in which an error by the Environmental Protection Agency caused an estimated 3 million gallons of mining sludge to pour into the Animas River on Aug. 5.

One proposal comes out of an interim water resources committee that has suggested a resolution that would encourage Congress to pass “good samaritan” legislation, which would reduce the liability associated with private entities conducting mine reclamation work.

Roberts would also like to address jurisdictional issues between states in the wake of Gold King. The incident impacted several states, including neighboring New Mexico. State agencies found it difficult to work with one another because of legal roadblocks. Roberts has proposed legislation that would eliminate some of those barriers through intergovernmental agreements.

“When minutes matter, you need a clearer pathway,” she said.

But deciding anything with regards to the EPA Gold King Mine spill might be difficult, as The Daily Caller explains:

A definitive explanation for what caused the Gold King Mine disaster may never be known if the Environmental Protection Agency is not investigated just as a private company responsible for the calamitous spill would be, according to a former enforcement agent.

The EPA accepted blame for the Aug. 5, 2015, leak that poisoned drinking water in three western states and the Navajo Nation with three million gallons of toxic mining waste, but no officials have been named as responsible or punished. Similar previous environmental disasters, however, were subjects of criminal investigations that led to severe public penalties for those responsible.

“You may not learn about it unless you engage in a criminal investigation,” Heritage Foundation senior legal research fellow and former EPA criminal enforcement special agent Paul Larkin told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Encouraging.

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And the EPA isn’t done with mining either, with backing from the usual anti-energy suspects:

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing toughening its requirements for measuring methane emissions from underground coal mines, a move that would result in some added expenses for testing and could bolster calls for regulating the emissions.

The agency recently unveiled a proposal it says will streamline — and improve the data quality of — its greenhouse gas reporting rule, which applies to a number of industries.

In the case of underground coal mines, it would no longer let them use data from quarterly Mine Safety and Health Administration reports for reporting the volumes of methane vented from mines.

Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the Earthjustice conservation group, praised the proposal as one that will provide better information on Colorado coal mines and address a major source of climate pollution.

“Methane is a greenhouse gas on steroids — it’s up to 80 times more potent than (carbon dioxide) as a heat-trapping gas over the short term. And coal mine methane is a big issue in Colorado because coal mines in the North Fork Valley are some of the gassiest in the U.S. It’s important for EPA — and the public — to have an accurate picture of this pollution, particularly after the climate accord in Paris, which put a major emphasis on transparency around climate pollution,” he said.

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Another piece from Simon, this time on the Paris climate deal and our own Sen. Michael Bennet:

Of the 26 Senate Democrats who voted with Republicans in 2009 to put the brakes on cap-and-trade, nine are still serving.

Avoiding a debate over the Paris climate agreement and its impact on energy prices, jobs and the economy is a great deal for them—especially U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who are running for re-election in November 2016. As things stand, they can just hunker down and let the EPA do its thing.

But it’s a lousy deal for the blue-collar and rural constituents who voted for these senators. Their concerns about the economy, energy prices, and jobs were front and center during the cap-and-trade debate, and they should be front and center again after the Paris climate agreement. Instead, these voters have been left in the cold while environmental groups toast themselves and whatever they think was achieved in Paris.

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Finally, your poop may be keeping the lights on:

The wastewater treatment plant in Grand Junction, Colo., takes in 8 million gallons of raw sewage — what’s flushed down the toilet and sinks.

Processing this sewage produces a lot of methane, which the plant used to just burn off into the air.

The process was “not good for the environment and a waste of a wonderful resource,” says Dan Tonello, manager of the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Now, using more infrastructure, the facility refines the methane further to produce natural gas chemically identical to what’s drilled from underground.

The biogas–a delicate term–is renewable.