April 7 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper calls CDPHE refocusing away from CPP a ’shell game’, unloads on EPA ozone rule; ‘carbon tax’ defeated in Carbondale
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
Less than two weeks after Gov. John Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio “we don’t care what the Supreme Court says about the Clean Power Plan”, calling for continued planning for the Environmental Protection Agency’s embattled rule currently under a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Democrat initially appeared to be walking back his initial disregard for the country’s highest judicial body:
Gov. John Hickenlooper said he’s willing to temporarily halt state work on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan if that would defuse an effort to strip funding from the agency developing the plan.
“I’m happy to have them stop working on it if that’s a problem, if that becomes a partisan issue,” Hickenlooper told a CPR reporter after a lunch hosted by the American Petroleum Institute.
But the easing on Hickenlooper’s view of the work being done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment–dismissive of any SCOTUS intervention via a stay–was itself walked back, as he at first acknowledged that the state could work on its already existing regulatory mandates to achieve similar goals to the Clean Power Plan, but said that any such maneuver would be nothing more than a “shell game”:
“We’re doing the same work anyway,” said Hickenlooper. “I don’t think it would hurt our efforts if we were to reallocate some of that time in other directions. I mean, in the end, we’re going to get to the same place.”
Hickenlooper said state policy and laws, including the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act passed in 2010, already require Colorado to reduce carbon emissions from coal fired power plants.
“Our goals were very aggressive goals, and they are not the same, but they are very similar to what the Clean Power Plan wants,” he said at the gathering.
The governor clarified his comments Wednesday, dismissing the idea that suspending work on the Clean Power Plan would have much real world impact on the state’s clean air efforts.
“I look at the whole thing as ridiculous, to be perfectly blunt,” Hickenlooper told reporters at a regular press gathering. “It’s like a shell game of who’s doing which work. We’re working toward clean air, that’s what the state’s doing, that’s what people want us to do. We can get into … semantical battles over this thing, but it’s pretty straightforward.”
When it comes to Hickenlooper’s pronouncements on any number of issues, including this one, it’s usually never “pretty straightforward.”
Hickenlooper, just days ago, attempted to cast a non-partisan tenor to the debate over the Clean Power Plan:
Gov. John Hickenlooper also defended the new air quality rules at an event hosted by the Colorado Petroleum Institute.
“Clean air is too important to Colorado to become a partisan issue,” he said. “I am convinced as much as I ever have been that this is in the self-interest of the state.”
Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, disagreed with Hickenlooper’s assessment.
“We look at the Clean Power Plan as it’s unnecessary to regulate as trying to pick favorite energy forums,” Gerard said.
Hickenlooper’s soft spot for the Clean Power Plan did not hold him back from being critical of the EPA’s ozone rule, which he said risked the “possibility that there will be penalties eventually that will come from lack of compliance.” He also blasted a Democrat bill that would allow for more lawsuits over damage caused by earthquakes that allege a connection to oil and gas development, as well as a ballot measure that would create a 2500 foot setback, saying that it would deprive mineral rights owners of their property–a taking that could cost billions.
Energy in Depth has more on Hickenlooper’s statement on the ballot initiative that would create 2500 foot setbacks:
Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is speaking out against an initiative backed by ‘ban-fracking’ activists to dramatically increase oil and gas setback distances in the state. The comments came at an event yesterday sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Colorado Petroleum Council (CPC) featuring the governor and API President and CEO Jack Gerard.
When asked about the ballot initiative pushed by activists with strong ties to national ban fracking organizations, that would increase oil and gas setback distances to 2500 feet, Hickenlooper strongly denounced the effort. As reported by CBS Denver:
“That would be considered a taking, and I think the state would probably be judged responsible, and I think the cost could be in the many billions of dollars. I think that’s a risk that most Coloradans — if it was laid out for them in a sense they could clearly understand — would not support it.”
Hickenlooper’s assertion that the initiative could cost the state billions is backed up by a recent economic assessment from the Business Research Division at University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. Economists found that a 2,000 foot setback distance could cost the state up to $11 billion in lost GDP a year and 62,000 jobs. The 2,000 foot setback economists looked at is more modest than the 2,500 foot distance that activists are attempting to put before state voters this year.
Those mineral rights are worth billions of dollars to Coloradans and fill the coffers of counties and other entities annually to the tune of millions in property and severance taxes.
A thinly disguised attempt to ban fracking under the ruse of “local control” failed in the Colorado House on Monday:
Activist groups have not been shy about the fact that they see “local control” as a de facto ban on fracking. On a recent call with supporters, Tricia Olson of Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED), the group behind a series of ballot initiatives targeting energy development, even told the group that their “local control” measure is basically a “full-fledged” fracking ban:
“This version however has one significant difference, what we would call a floor, not a ceiling language. To lift its points, it authorizes local governments to pass regulations — prohibit, limit or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development. Of course the word prohibit means ban. This allows for a broad range of local government options within their jurisdictions from local actions to a full-fledged ban.” (23:14-23:44)
EID detailed the “local control” proponents’ misinformation campaign to push the measure. Two Democrats joined with Republicans to kill the bill on the floor of the Colorado House.
And former Gov. Bill Ritter–you know–of the “New Energy Economy” and a paragon of all things green (dubbed the “Greenest Governor”), rejected a national ban on fracking:
“If you passed a national ban, this industry would go away and it would be harder for us to get to our place of transition on clean energy and climate.”
“I believe that with a good set of regulations, with good enforcement, with good compliance on the part of the industry, it [fracking for natural gas] can be a part of a clean energy future,” Ritter said.
Ritter and Hickenlooper, both Democrats, face opposition from their far-left counterparts when it comes to these types of calls for bans on responsible oil and gas development:
“We won’t transform the energy supplies of our nation overnight; there’s been rapid growth in solar and wind, but we’re a long way from saying we can walk away from hydrocarbons and not do significant damage to our economy,” Hickenlooper said.
“The number of people in Colorado who want to ban hydrocarbons is probably a small minority,” he said.
Gerard said the oil and gas sector will continue to play a significant role going forward, even through energy efficiency efforts focused on the automotive sector.
“When you look to make cars more energy efficient, you make them lighter with plastics brought to you by petroleum, you make the windows more efficient [with films] brought to you by petroleum, the gadgets you play with in your hand every day also come from petroleum,” he said.
As we can see, it’s not just about fracking, or burning oil and gas for electricity, as API’s president pointed out.
Hickenlooper continues to express deep concern about the EPA’s ozone rule, reducing the target for acceptable ground level ozone from 75 ppb to 70 ppb, saying a suspension of the rule “would be a great idea”:
Transcript of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone rule delivered to the Colorado Petroleum Council and the American Petroleum Institute on March 31, 2016 via the Center for Regulatory Solutions:
So I think it would be a great idea if they suspended the standard. I mean, just with the background [ozone], if you’re not going to be able to conform to a standard like this, you are leaving the risk or the possibility that there will be penalties of one sort or another that come from your lack of compliance. Obviously, no different than any business, states want to have as much predictability as possible, and I think if they suspend the standards, it’s not going to slow us down from continuing to try and make our air cleaner. …
You know, we’re a mile high. Air quality issues affect us more directly than they do at lower elevations. So we’re going to keep pushing it, we’re not going to back off, we’re going to continue to improve the air quality in the state every year if I have anything to say about it, but at the same time, those standards, you know, to be punitive when you’re working as hard as you can … to get cleaner air as rapidly as you can, it seems like it’s not the most constructive stance.
A bi-partisan chorus of opposition to the ozone rule has emerged, and Independence Institute energy policy analyst Simon Lomax notes that the rhetoric surrounding the ozone rule, and in particular, its potential impact on public health, is filled with fearmongering from the “bad-air chorus.”
Lomax testified before CDPHE last month on the ozone rule:
The nature of the problem is clear. The EPA’s new ozone standard goes too far. It will throw large areas of the state into long-term violation of federal law. Violation will impose new restrictions on economic growth and jeopardize badly needed investments in transportation infrastructure.
And because the stringent new standard approaches background ozone levels, which state regulators are powerless to control, there will be little, if any, environmental benefit in return. For months, stakeholders from across government, across the political spectrum and across the economy have stated and restated the problem. But admiring the complexity of the problem won’t solve it.
Notably, the ozone rule would attack the “bridge” fuel, namely natural gas, that the earlier versions of the Clean Power Plan envisaged would get the nation from a fossil fuel fleet to one primarily composed of renewables. Between the attempts to ban fracking, the leap made by the final Clean Power Plan that pushes almost exclusively for renewables, and the ozone rule’s affect on oil and gas development (emissions are a key component to create ground level ozone), the stage has been set for an onslaught of anti-oil and gas regulation that would devastate Colorado’s economy.
Colorado faces geographical and topographical challenges with any ground-level ozone measurements due to elevated background ozone levels, as Hickenlooper pointed out. Anthropogenic emissions in other states and Mexico and as far away as Asia (China), wildfires, atmospheric intrusions, and our elevation combine to bring levels of background ozone to the state that can’t simply be regulated away.
From the “excellent news” category–carbon tax gets shot down in Carbondale, 61 to 39 percent:
For the so called “carbon tax,” 1,022 voters cast ballots against, while only 637 Carbondale residents voted in favor.
And with more than $3,000 in contributions, the committee supporting the carbon tax raised and spent more money than any single candidate for the board of trustees.
The climate action tax proposed to increase residents’ gas and electric bills in an attempt to promote clean energy projects and reduce energy usage in keeping with the town’s 2020 energy goals.
The climate tax would have been applied uniformly across town, with one set of rates for residents and another for business owners.
Supporters of the carbon tax had estimated that the average household’s utility bills would go up $5 to $7, and the average business would see a $10 to $30 increase.
This carbon/climate action tax would have just added more misery to Colorado’s already skyrocketing electricity rates.
By Robert Applegate
Amid the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) latest report1 on the land requirements of solar power generation, others are taking a look at what is really required to power homes using solar and wind and comparing that to another carbon free source, nuclear power generation.
A nuclear power plant, the biggest reactors currently available would take up less than 2 square miles and produce 3200MW of power.2 To achieve this same power output from solar would require 292 square miles, 146 times the amount of land required for a nuclear plant.2 A wind farm would need to be 832 square miles, or 416 times the land to create the same amount of power of the nuclear plant.2 To put this into perspective, the land footprints are shown over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island, where the blue is a nuclear plant, the yellow a solar farm, and the green a wind farm all of equal capacity.
Land footprints of a nuclear plant (blue), solar array (yellow), and a wind farm (green) all of equal capacity (3200MW), over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island.2
1 NREL Report Firms Up Land-Use Requirements of Solar. Study shows solar for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres. July 30, 2013. http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/2269.html
2 What Does Renewable Energy Look Like? Clean Energy Insight, 10 Apr, 2010. http://www.cleanenergyinsight.org/energy-insights/what-does-renewable-energy-look-like/
According to Xcel Energy’s regulatory filings, the utility spent $275 million in ratepayer subsidies for customer-sited solar panel systems from 2008-2012.*
That breaks down to:
Cost of these solar subsidies for each of Xcel Energy’s 1.4 million Colorado customers.
Percentage of Xcel Energy customers (approximately 9,200) that benefit from lower electricity rates by having subsidized solar panels installed on their property. Although only a fraction of 1 percent of Xcel Energy customers benefit from solar subsidies, 100% of customers pay for the cost of these subsidies.
Cost in Xcel Energy ratepayer subsidies for each of the 3,600 employees that work “throughout the value chain” of Colorado’s solar industry (job numbers are from the Solar Energy Industries Association).
Capital cost per kilowatt capacity of the solar panels subsidized by Xcel Energy ratepayers.** This compares to $2,040/kilowatt for the 750 megawatt Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant in Pueblo,*** and $1,400/kilowatt for a combined cycle natural gas plant.
*See page 1, final column of Xcel Energy, December 2012 RESA budget Report, filed 2 February 2013.
**Capacity of Xcel Energy’s distributed generation solar panel assets—44.9 megawatts—was taken from Section 2.11 of the Technical Appendix to Xcel Energy’s 2011 Electric Resource Plannb (page 341).
***The Comanche 3 cost data is derived from following assumptions: Capital cost–$1.3 billion; and capacity 637 megawatts (85% capacity factor of 750 megawatt nameplate capacity).
Predictions from the first Earth Day in 1969, “Environmentalists’ Wild Predictions,” by Walter Williams:
At the first Earth Day celebration, in 1969, environmentalist Nigel Calder warned, “The threat of a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery for mankind.” C.C. Wallen of the World Meteorological Organization said, “The cooling since 1940 has been large enough and consistent enough that it will not soon be reversed.” In 1968, Professor Paul Ehrlich, Vice President Gore’s hero and mentor, predicted there would be a major food shortage in the U.S. and “in the 1970s … hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” Ehrlich forecasted that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980 and 1989, and by 1999 the U.S. population would have declined to 22.6 million. Ehrlich’s predictions about England were gloomier: “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
It’s time for a separation of earth and state. The eco-left “Earth Day religion: Now there’s even a hymn to accompany the theology,” by Robert Knight in the Washington Times:
Earth Day is emblematic of the Earth religion, which has a decidedly strong sense of superiority of its vision. If you don’t believe it, here’s the first stanza of the “Earth Day Anthem,” set to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”:
Joyful, joyful we adore our Earth in all its wonderment
Simple gifts of nature that all join into a paradise
Now we must resolve to protect her
Show her our love throughout all time.
For contrast from the world of old-time religion, here’s the first stanza of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” written by Henry van Dyke in 1907 and found in most hymnals:
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
There’s a clear line between worshipping the Creator and mistakenly worshipping the creation, and it’s not a new error.
Meet a self-described “co-founder” of Earth Day, murder Ira Einhorn, a.k.a. the Unicorn. Reason’s Nick Gillespie offers a glimpse into:
a dark corner of the 1960s’ and ’70s’ countercultural carnival, one involving Philadelphia’s highest-profile hippie guru: Ira Einhorn, also known as “the Unicorn,” a preacher of love and flower power who was convicted of killing his girlfriend in 1977 and stuffing her remains in a trunk that he kept in his apartment.
While Gillespie acknowledges that some claim “The Unicorn” had no formal connection with Earth Day, still he articulates the lunacy of radical eco-chic.
However spurious his Earth Day connection, his case is a must-read for anyone interested in the excesses of and bizarreness of the broadly construed hippie movement and the sorts of radical-chic enablers who help obvious sociopaths and psychopaths avoid the law.
Because the U.S. doesn’t mine much of these elements here, U.S. manufacturers look elsewhere. Sadly, individual tragedy in China’s “cancer villages” reveals the dirty secret of ‘clean energy.’
‘Yun Yaoshun’s two granddaughters died at the ages of 12 and 18, succumbing to kidney and stomach cancer even though these types of cancers rarely affect children. The World Health Organization has suggested that the high rate of such digestive cancers are due to the ingestion of polluted water.
The river where the children played stretches from the bottom of the Daboshan mine…Its waters are contaminated by cadmium, lead, indium and zinc and other metals.’
Sponsors excluded from cost of own bill:
Two of the main State Senate sponsors, Senate president John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Aspen) conveniently carved their own districts out of the bill.
Because municipally owned utilities are excluded from the bill, Morse won’t have to pay the cost of his own legislation. While Schwartz evades the cost because Holy Cross, the co-operative that serves her district, doesn’t meet the bill’s 100,000-meter threshold.
If this government mandate is so good, then why don’t they include all of Colorado — including their own communities.
We care about the environment:
Expanding the definition of what is an eligible resource, including coal mine methane, is a good idea. However, including bio-waste while excluding hydroelectric makes no sense unless claiming it’s for the environment is just a verbal facade
If eco-left progressives really cared about carbon emissions, they would include hydroelectric in Colorado’s energy source mandate. As this blog mentioned just days ago, the EPA considers hydro a renewable resource and the Colorado Energy Office says emissions from hydro are on par with wind and solar. Furthermore, Colorado already gets significant power from hydroelectric:
Colorado has 1169 megawatts (MW) of existing hydroelectric capacity. Of that total, 82 percent is generated at facilities with a capacity over 30 MW—meaning it is not “renewable” unless the facility was built in the past eight years. Unfortunately, most facilities do not meet this requirement
According to the most recently released figures, renewables other than hydro produce 9.8 percent of the total net summer electricity capacity. If the total 1169 MW of existing hydro capacity were considered renewable, hydroelectricity would contribute another 8.5 percent of capacity. Instead, only 4.8 percent of hydroelectric power is considered renewable.
Two percent rate cap:
We’ve proved so many times that the two percent rate cap is a sham for Investor Owned Utilities (IOU), it’s amazing they keep advancing it. Sources from wholesale power supplier Tri-State Generation say this bill could cost anywhere from $2 to 4 billion for capital construction. That equates to $8,000 per meter. That will be a financial strain on the residents of the ten lowest income counties in Colorado that Tri-State covers.
Lastly, we’ve heard from other electric cooperative sources that they weren’t even included in crafting this bill. They simply will have to implement and pay for it.
UPDATE: Colorado’s electric cooperatives have confirmed that not one of them was consulted during the crafting of this bill, which will cost their consumers billions of dollars.
I didn’t make up this. The Denver Post lede paragraph in a story about the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is almost laughable:
Hooking a toaster oven to a solar panel is not an easy thing, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new $135 million integrated energy facility will able do just that. While it may seem like a lot of money for toast, the Energy Systems Integration Facility can do a lot more.
That doesn’t just seem like a lot of money, it IS a lot of money. On this blog we’ve detailed NREL’s excessive spending. And Colorado Watchdog.org exposed NREL’s million dollar employee Executive Director Dan Arvizu.
So is $135 million a lot for toast? For most taxpayers yes but likely not for NREL. It might be more humorous if it weren’t our money. Frankly, we haven’t seen NREL do anything that couldn’t wouldn’t be done better in the private sector — assuming it is done at all.
By Peter Blake
This column appeared originally on Complete Colorado Page 2.
When the runners are closing in on the finish line, move the tape farther back.
That’s the usual strategy employed by greens when it comes to establishing renewable energy standards for electricity production. It’s a marathon that never ends, and the added cost to consumers is secondary, if not irrelevant.
Colorado’s power producers are awaiting introduction of a bill that would raise the minimums yet again. But their lobbyists don’t know the details — and neither does the prospective sponsor, apparently.
There’s plenty of “radio chatter,” said Jeani Frickey, a lobbyist for Colorado’s rural electric associations, but “we don’t have anything specific yet.”
“I’ve not seen any bill drafts, or even outlines of ideas,” said Mike Beasley, an Xcel Energy lobbyist.
An aid to Rep. Su Ryden confirmed that the Aurora Democrat is going to be a sponsor of a bill, but even she hasn’t seen it. “A lot of different people” are still working on the bill.
The ever-rising renewable standards began back in 2004, when Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, an initiative that required regulated, investor-owned utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity through renewable energy by 2015.
Three years later the legislature, assuming that one popular vote gave them carte blanche to do the work themselves from then on, raised the minimum to 20 percent by 2020. At the same time it established a 10 percent mandate on REAs, co-ops, which are not under the Public Utilities Commission.
In 2010 lawmakers raised the minimum to 30 percent for regulated utilities by 2020. The REAs were left at 10 percent. Now it’s three years later, again, and history tells us that lawmakers will be back with yet higher standards.
Some predict the figure will go to 40 percent for Xcel and Black Hills Energy, and 20 percent for the REAs. Others believe that only the REAs will be raised. But they’re only guesses, and the figures could be adjusted during the legislative process anyway.
By the way, you might think that hydroelectric power would count as a renewable, since no fuel is required and it produces, as Frickey noted, “zero greenhouse gas emissions.”
But Colorado enviros refuse to recognize water power as a renewable. Perhaps they’re afraid it would lead to the damming of various rivers. But if it did count, the REAs would already be over their required 10 percent just using existing dams. Tri-State Generation & Transmission, which supplies 18 of Colorado’s 22 REAs with electricity, gets 12 percent of its power from water, said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey. It’s generated by the Western Area Power Administration, an agency of the Energy Department.
REAs would be a natural target for the Democratic-controlled legislature. They cover 73 percent of Colorado’s land but less than 25 percent of the state’s population, said REA lobbyist Geoff Hier. Democrats predominate along the Front Range, where Xcel provides most of the power, and Republicans in the hinterlands.
One group working on the bill is Conservation Colorado, a recently formed amalgam of the state’s Conservation Voters and its Environmental Coalition.
Last September, before the merger was formalized, the leaders of the two groups wrote a letter to legislative candidates urging their support for “Colorado’s Path to a Clean Energy Future.” [Read entire letter below]
They seemed to be targeting the REAs. Noting that Xcel has a 30 percent mandate, “most rural and municipal energy providers have only made a 10 percent commitment that is below the national average,” says the letter. It went on to blame coal plants and autos for air pollution and urged a four-point program:
- “Decreasing the emissions that cause climate change” by at least 2 percent a year;
- Ensuring that “over a third” of Colorado’s electricity comes from renewable technologies;
- Requiring all utilities to offer “energy efficiency” programs that will help customers save energy.
- Encouraging the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles.
- Senate Bill 126, now in the House, would help promote the last point.
It’s hard to predict how Xcel or the REAs will react when a bill is finally introduced. In 2004, Xcel fought the first mandate. But then the greens got smart and stopped treating it as an evil corporate enemy while Xcel came to realize its job was to make money, not provide cheap power. It’s entitled to 10 percent return on investment, no matter what the cost of fuel or capital equipment.
The PUC helped by no longer requiring utilities to apply the “least cost” principle when building facilities or buying fuel. What’s more, the PUC made retail fuel prices subservient to more nebulous environmental goals.
Xcel ended up backing the 2010 bill, just as the REA’s backed the move to 10 percent renewable for them.
If renewables were economically competitive in the marketplace, there would be no need for legislation. Utilities would turn to them automatically. But so far, they’re not. Wind survived only because Congress belatedly extended its special tax credits. Solar is even less competitive.
Xcel already is allowed to charge you an extra 2 percent per month to pay for its renewable facilities and fuel.
Three years ago, when Bill Ritter was still governor, a coalition of natural gas companies, Xcel and greens worked behind closed doors for months before dropping House Bill 1365 into the hopper on March 15. It required Xcel to close down three coal-fired plants or convert them to natural gas by 2017. It was then rushed through the legislative process in a couple of weeks as more than 30 lobbyists worked the halls.
A similar rush-rush process recently worked for the gun bills. Perhaps it will be tried again when the renewable energy bill is introduced.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
By William Yeatman
In mid-February, EPA Region 8 Administrator James Martin—who previously had served in the Ritter administration as the key facilitator of the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act—announced his resignation. The announcement came as a surprise, as Martin’s tenure at EPA was unusually brief. In fact, only one other (of 9) EPA Regional Administrators served a shorter term during the Obama administration. That was EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz, who quit after infamously comparing his enforcement strategy to a “crucifixion.” Martin served about 1 month longer than the disgraced Armendariz.
Martin cited “personal reasons” as the cause of his departure, but the truth is that he left amidst a storm of controversy. Only two weeks before his resignation, Martin was caught lying before a federal court about the extent to which he used his private email accounts to conduct official EPA business. Fibbing to a federal court is a much more likely explanation than “personal reasons” for Martin’s abrupt departure.
The lawsuit that led to Martin’s mendacity was filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And CEI’s lawsuit, in turn, was based on records from a Colorado Open Records Act obtained by the Independence Institute. The upshot is that the two organizations likely toppled an EPA Regional Administrator. In light of Martin’s history of using public office (first in the Ritter administration, then in the EPA) to wage a war on affordable energy, the Independence Institute and CEI have performed a public service. This blog post explains how we did it.
It all began in the fall of 2010. At the time, Colorado state regulators were implementing the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act (CACJA), legislation requiring that Xcel Energy switch almost 1,000 megawatts of electricity generation from coal to natural gas. On this blog, Amy and I were posting regularly on the folly of the CACJA (see here, here, here, and here). In that capacity, we attracted the attention of the Colorado Mining Association, which was also opposed to the CACJA, for obvious reasons. The Mining Association had performed a Colorado Open Records Act request for all Ritter administration correspondence pertaining to the development of the CACJA. In return, the Mining Association received a huge tranche of almost 3,000 emails, which were provided to us.
The emails demonstrate that James Martin, who was head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment when the Ritter administration pushed the CACJA through the General Assembly, was a central player in the development of the fuel switching plan.
Yet the emails also expose the fact that Martin worked exclusively from non-official email accounts while serving in the Ritter administration. Whereas every other state official involved in CACJA deliberations sent emails from a government email account (ending in “@state.co.us”), Martin used three different “@gmail.com” accounts.
At the time, I made a mental note of Martin’s unique use of private email for public business, but I didn’t think anything more of it…
…Until last summer.
A colleague of mine at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Chris Horner, is one of the foremost transparency experts in the country. He literally wrote the book on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While researching that book last summer, he came across mounting evidence that Obama administration officials are using private email accounts to conduct official business, in an effort to circumvent public scrutiny.
His concerns prompted my memory of Martin’s practice of using his gmail accounts. So we filed a FOIA request with EPA, asking for all email correspondence about policy between Martin and the professional greens at Boulder-based Environmental Defense. We limited the search to email traffic to and from Environmental Defense because Martin had spent ten years there as a litigator before joining Ritter’s team. Also, we knew from the Colorado Open Records Act emails that Martin coordinated public policy with his former colleagues. To be precise, with this FOIA request, we were trying to find out how much environmental policymaking was being rendered by unelected EPA bureaucrats colluding with unelected bureaucrats. (This is a practice known as “sue and settle” policymaking).
Here’s a timeline of what followed:
May 1, 2012: CEI files FOIA request for EPA Region 8 Administrator James Martin seeking all business emails between him and Environmental Defense. Our request noted that Martin had a history of using non-official email accounts to consuct official business.
May 7, 2012: EPA acknowledges our FOIA request, and assigns it ID number 08-FOI-00203-12
July 5, 2012: EPA responds to the request. The Agency provides 11 emails from an official “epa.gov” account. Regarding our specific request for EPA’s FOIA search to include all emails, in both official and non-official account, EPA states, “Documents sent to a personal email address that an individual is not intending to use for official purposes are not Agency records.” That’s all they said. We were confused. It seemed as if EPA was dodging the issue.
July 19, 2012: CEI files an administrative appeal of EPA’s July 5 FOIA response.
September 9, 2012: Although the Freedom of Information Act gives EPA 20 days to respond to an administrative appeal, the Agency ignores CEI’s July 19 appeal for more than 6 weeks. So we sued EPA in the District of Colubia federal district court. Here’s a copy of our complaint.
November 19, 2012: EPA files a motion to dismiss the case. The Agency’s motion relies on a signed affidavit by Martin, attesting to the fact that he had conducted a “broad” search of his personal email account, and had produced 19 records. Of the 19 records, Martin testified that “While some of these documents mention EPA of environmental issues, I did not solicit them, nor did I act on them in connection with my EPA position.” Based on this evidence, EPA moved to close the case.
January 29, 2013: Senator David Vitter and Rep. Darrell Issa launch an investigation into Martin’s use of private emails to conduct public business.
February 19, 2013: EPA Region 8 Administrator James Martin resigns.
March 7, 2013: EPA withdraws its motion to dismiss the case. The Agency tells CEI that Martin had “alerted us to additional documents that he came across. In a motion filed in court that day, EPA states,
“Based upon its review and analysis of the content of the additional documents, the EPA has concluded that there are additional documents from Mr. Martin’s personal, non-Government email account responsive to the FOIA request at issue in this litigation.”
Present day: CEI, the Department of Justice, and EPA are negotiating a full release of Martin’s newfound emails.
The timeline speaks for itself. Martin had a long history of using private emails to conduct official business. CEI learned of this history from the Independence Institute. CEI then filed a FOIA request to probe the extent to which Martin continued to employ non-official emails to perform official work. When EPA obfuscated, CEI sued. In the course of this litigation, Martin lied to CEI, EPA, the Justice Department, and a federal judge. Then he resigned. Case closed.
Good riddance. This is a positive development. Martin is not capable of being a disinterested civil servant. Rather, he is a professional environmentalist who has spent a career demonizing industry. It’s one thing to war with economic development as a lawyer at a deep-pocketed green group like Environmental Defense. It’s an entirely different ballgame when these same anti-industry zealots are allowed to take the reins of the EPA, and use state power to “bankrupt” entire sectors of the economy.
By William Yeatman and Amy Oliver Cooke
As Coloradans we thought we might have to apologize to the rest of the country if President Barack Obama nominated former one-term Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to head the Energy Department. If the President wanted to make electricity costs skyrocket and the eco-left community happy, Ritter was his guy, but the President didn’t pick him.
Despite his dense résumé and desire to cut emissions, however, Moniz can be a polarizing figure in scientific and environmental circles. Few experts deny the value of a scientist as DOE chief, but many fans of renewable energy worry about Moniz’s gusto for natural gas and nuclear power — not to mention his financial ties to the energy industry.
‘We’re concerned that, as energy secretary, Ernest Moniz may take a politically expedient view of harmful fracking and divert resources from solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources vital to avoiding climate disaster,’ Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a recent press release. ‘We’re also concerned that Moniz would be in a position to delay research into the dangers fracking poses to our air, water and climate.’
And the Washington Post reports:
But over the past couple of weeks, many environmentalists and some prominent renewable energy experts have tried to block the nomination of Moniz because of an MIT report supporting “fracking” — as hydraulic fracturing is commonly known — and because major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell, ENI and Saudi Aramco, provided as much as $25 million each to the MIT Energy Initiative. Other research money came from a foundation bankrolled by shale gas giant Chesapeake Energy.
‘We would stress to Mr. Moniz that an ‘all of the above’ energy policy only means ‘more of the same,’ and we urge him to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar,’ Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement Monday.
The Sierra Club doesn’t have much credibility because financially it was sleeping with the enemy, having taken $26 million from Chesapeake Energy to destroy the market for coal. One place they enjoyed great success was in Colorado with HB 1365, the fuel switching bill and cornerstone of Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.”
Governor Ritter coined the term New Energy Economy for his signature agenda. In practice, his New Energy Economy entails three policies: (1) a Soviet-style green energy production quota; (2) subsidies for green energy producers; and (3) a mandate for fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy, and natural gas is twice as expensive as coal in Colorado, so these policies inherently inflated the cost of electricity.
Last month, the Independence Institute published the first ever line item expensing of Ritter’s energy policies, and the results were shocking. In 2012, the New Energy Economy cost Xcel Energy (the state’s largest investor-owned utility) ratepayers $484 million, or 18 percent of retail electricity sales.
This princely sum purchased the equivalent of 402 megawatts of reliable capacity generation. By comparison, Xcel had a surplus generating capacity (beyond its reserve margin) in 2012 of 700 megawatts—almost 75 percent more than the New Energy Economy contribution. Thanks to Governor Ritter’s energy policies, Xcel ratepayers in Colorado last year paid almost half a billion dollars for energy they didn’t need.
In addition to implementing expensive energy policies, Governor Ritter also has experience picking losers in the energy industry. In May 2009, Governor Ritter hand-delivered to Secretary Chu a letter in support of a $300 million loan guarantee for Colorado-based Abound Solar, a thin-filmed solar panel manufacturer. In the letter Ritter claimed Abound would “triple production capacity within 12 months, develop a second manufacturing facility within 18 months and hire an additional 1,000 employees.”
Taxpayer money couldn’t keep Abound afloat, which never reached production capacity. After its solar panels suffered repeated failures, including catching fire, Abound declared bankruptcy in early 2012 leaving taxpayers on the hook for nearly $70 million and even more at the state and local level. A former employee explained, “our solar modules worked so long as you didn’t put them in the sun.”
Abound Solar wasn’t the only pound-foolish Stimulus spending associated with Governor Ritter. During his administration, the Colorado Energy Office’s coffers swelled with almost $33 million in stimulus subsidies for weatherization efforts. According to a recent report by the Colorado Office of State Audits, the Ritter administration failed to even maintain an annual budget for the program. As a result, the audit was unable to demonstrate whether the money had been spent in a cost effective manor. All told, the auditor found that the energy agency could not properly account for almost $127 million in spending during the Ritter administration.
Ritter told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that the scathing audit accusing the agency under his watch of shoddy management practices was not the reason the President passed over him for Energy Secretary.
The former Governor is especially proud of the job creation associated with the New Energy Economy. To be sure, throwing taxpayer money at any industry would create jobs. The problem occurs when the public money spigot runs dry. In this context, an October 22, 2012 top fold, front page headline in the Denver Post is illuminating: “New energy” loses power; A series of setbacks cost over 1,000 jobs and threatens the state’s status in the industry. To put it another way, in the two years since Ritter left office, his New Energy Economy has atrophied in lockstep with the reduction in public funding.
Ritter has taken to proselytizing for the gospel of expensive energy. He founded the Center for the New Energy Economy, the purpose of which is to, “provide policy makers, governors, planners and other decision makers with a road map that will accelerate the nationwide development of a New Energy Economy.” He even brought with him the former head of the beleaguered energy office Tom Plant to work for him as a “policy advisor.”
So far Ritter’s bad energy policy has remained largely within the Centennial State, and, for now, that’s where it will stay. With the choice of Moniz, the rest of the country can breathe a sigh of relief. For Coloradans, we’re still stuck with him.
William Yeatman is the Assistant Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a policy analyst for the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Amy Oliver Cooke is the Director of the Energy Policy Center for the Independence Institute
According to the most recent Form 10-K that Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest investor owned utility (IOU), filed with the Security and Exchange Commission dated December 31, 2011, electricity generation from natural gas was more than double the price of electricity generated from coal in Colorado.
A table on page 18 of the report shows that in 2011, Xcel produced 76 percent of its electricity from coal at a cost of $1.77 per MMBtu while natural gas cost $4.98 per MMBtu while providing 24 percent of Xcel’s electricity.
As more and more of Xcel’s electricity is mandated to come from natural gas thanks to HB 1365, the fuel switching bill and the cornerstone of what former Governor Bill Ritter coined the “new energy economy,” along with additional regulations and out right bans on hydraulic fracturing, Xcel ratepayers should get used to spending more and more on their electricity bills.