December 10 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Fracking ban faces CO Supremes; fracktivist compares technology to slavery; House GOP calls Interior EPA spill report a “whitewash”

Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments over Longmont’s fracking ban:

On Wednesday, the state’s highest court will consider Longmont’s voter-approved ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits.

Longmont voters added the ban to the drilling method, also called fracking, to the City Charter in 2012, convinced that a city-negotiated set of regulations on oil and gas drilling didn’t go far enough.

Both the regulations and the ban brought lawsuits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group. The oil and gas regulations lawsuit was dismissed as part of a compromise brokered by Gov. John Hickenlooper before the 2014 election.

The suit on the charter ban, however, has progressed through district court and the Colorado Court of Appeals and is now before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The city has argued that the state allows for local control, that Longmont voters should be able prohibit a type of drilling in city limits.

It is not known when a ruling can be expected.

***

Speaking of local fracking bans, Colorado Peak Politics found this gem from “fractivist Maria Orms, head of North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy, at an Adams County Communities for Drilling Accountability Now (ACCDAN) meeting”:

“If you accept anything like an MOU [memorandum of understanding], that’s your terms of surrender…signing an MOU is collusion with the oil and gas industry. We need to talk to our county commissioners and tell them not to agree to any of this.

“Apartheid was legal at one point. Would you agree with that? Slavery was legal. Didn’t make it right. Well, maybe that doesn’t apply here to an environmental issue, this is not right, do not agree to this.”

***

Adding more time and uncertainty to drilling operations in Colorado as a result of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s fracking task force recommendations has operators weighing risks and reconsidering Colorado operations:

“The risk [to operate] in Colorado has gone up because of this potential rule or potential application of this on a case-by-case basis,” Wonstolen said.

The COGCC on Monday held its third day of hearings on controversial proposed rules to implement two recommendations from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force in February.

The recommendations, No. 17 and 20, focused on increasing the communications between local governments and energy companies about where new oil and gas wells would be located in and around neighborhoods. It also called for the impacts of those new wells to be mitigated through best management practices.

But where the proposed rules would be enforced, and how the impacts would be mitigated, has spawned a months-long battle that’s expected to drag into next year. Another day of hearings is expected to be scheduled in late January.

Oil and gas industry representatives said the COGCC’s rules go too far. Citizen groups and representatives from local governments said they don’t go far enough.

***

And one other recommendation from the Governor’s task force calling for a complaint line on oil and gas operations has begun collecting said complaints:

A new state-run program created to field and respond to health concerns related to oil and gas operations has started to receive complaints.

As of Thursday evening, the new Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program had fielded 20 complaints, according to Dr. Daniel Vigil, who is heading the program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The program began Oct. 15, allowing people to file a health concern and access information. Information includes “unbiased” staff reviews of existing research on the health impacts related to oil and gas development, said Vigil.

In addition, a mobile air monitoring program is being designed and is expected to be completed in the spring.

The health response program, which Vigil said is the first of its kind in the country, was one of nine approved recommendations from a task force created by Gov. John Hickenlooper as part of a compromise to avoid multiple oil- and gas-related ballot issues in 2014.

It will remain to be seen how “unbiased” those review remain, and whether or not a concerted effort by anti-energy forces moves to overwhelm the complaint system in an effort to draw attention.

***

Carbondale is implementing government carbon fees based on energy consumption as state and federal subsidies for renewable energy disappear:

“Carbon fees harness market forces to encourage local investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Michael Hassig, former Carbondale mayor, said in a prepared statement. “We have to take what steps we can, now, right here in our own community, to reduce fossil fuel consumption.”

In 2010, Carbondale set the goals of increasing energy efficiency by 20 percent; reducing petroleum consumption 25 percent; and obtaining 35 percent of energy from renewable sources all by 2020. These figures are measured off of a 2009 baseline.

One scenario calculates that by installing energy-saving measures in 1,200 homes and in 60 businesses, combined with doubling the amount of solar electric systems (or the equivalent of 800 kilowatts of power-generating capacity), Carbondale could meet its targets, according to CLEER’s website. These energy improvements could be achieved by investing $1.1 million per year over the next five years.

The Carbondale trustees adopted a resolution in 2014 that dedicates 20 percent of the town’s state severance tax and federal mineral lease revenues to help reach clean-energy goals. Traditionally, funding from federal and state government grants, the town’s general fund, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program (generated through building fees in Pitkin County and Aspen) and utilities have been used toward energy efficiency.

But the federal and state grants have since dried up, necessitating another path forward to raise revenue.

Carbon “fees” are not a harnessing or channeling of voluntary market decisions, they are an example of government force, picking energy behavior winners and losers.

***

A battle over a Department of the Interior inspector general report on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gold King Mine spill has prompted Republican calls that the effort was “whitewash” of EPA efforts and lacked independent review:

The accident prompted harsh criticism of the EPA for failing to take adequate precautions despite warnings a blowout could occur. Yet Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said a review by her agency showed the spill was “clearly unintentional.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything in there to suggest criminal activity,” Jewell testified during an appearance before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Republicans were dissatisfied. They pointed to earlier statements in which Jewell and other agency officials said the Interior review focused on technical mining issues — not the potential culpability of those involved in the spill.

Immediately after Wednesday’s hearing, committee Chairman Rob Bishop asked Congress’s non-partisan Government Accountability Office to investigate the Interior Department’s evaluation. The Utah Republican accused Jewell and other agency officials of stonewalling his repeated efforts to obtain documents relevant to the spill.

The clean up bill for the EPA spill is around $8 million, according to the 2015 “Wastebook” issued by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), and summarized here by Colorado Peak Politics:

An Orange River Runs Through It: The Animas River. Perhaps you’ve heard of this disaster? The EPA contaminated it, and then, denied responsibility. To date, the EPA has spent $8 million cleaning up its own mess, and that figure is expected to grow.

***

It wouldn’t be a Cheat Sheet without a Clean Power Plan update, so here’s one from the National Federation of Independent Business:

But NFIB believes that the Administration is once more overstepping with the Clean Power Plan. For one it imposes quotas on each state, mandating that they achieve targets for emission reductions—targets that, in some cases, are wholly unrealistic. The plan rewards states that have already taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but would penalize states that fail to meet their federally mandated reduction targets. To avoid those penalties the rule allows states that are missing their targets to enter into cap-and-trade compacts, which would require those states to essentially purchase credits (at great cost) from states that are meeting their targets. Thus the rule penalizes states that have chosen—for the same policy reasons as Congress—to reject such regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Accordingly, the rule raises serious federalism problems because the federal government cannot force the states to enact law that they do not wish to enact. But as we argue—first and foremost—there is a separation of powers problem with the EPA rewriting the Clean Air Act. Once again, we’re fighting in court to enforce the basic principle that only Congress can make law. And once more, we’re defending small businesses against extreme energy-rate hikes.

We are currently asking a federal court to issue an injunction preventing EPA from enforcing the rule against the states. Our hope is that we will ultimately strike-down the rule as another example of executive overreach. For further explanation as to how this rule will affect ordinary small business owners, check out Randi Thompson’s recent editorial in the Reno-Gazette Journal.

***

It’s trees vs. bugs in the forests near Colorado Springs, and the U.S. Forest Service is giving the nod to the bugs, according to this Gazette editorial:

If our plush green backdrop becomes an ugly brown wasteland, tourists will avoid us. Home and business values may drop. And, of course, dead trees greatly increase the likelihood of more deadly, costly forest fires.

Because of diligence by the governor and mayor, we could have a good chance of saving thousands of acres of trees. There is one big problem: The Obama administration’s U.S. Forest Service. Federal forest officials seem to think tree-killing bugs have a right to life.

Forest-managing entities working cooperatively on a contract to exterminate the bugs include: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, responsible for the 1,260-acre Cheyenne Mountain State Park; Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, responsible for 2,132 acres of city-owned forest; NORAD, which manages 400 acres; Broadmoor Bluffs Subdivision, with 291 acres; Broadmoor Resort, 146 acres; Broadmoor Expanse, 1,677 acres; Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 81 acres, and El Pomar with 140 acres.

“The only party I know of that is not interested is the U.S. Forest Service,” said Dan Prenzlow, southeast regional manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They have 1,300 acres touching all the rest of us.”

The Forest Service remains adamantly against spraying, saying that nature should take its course:

Oscar Martinez, district manager for the Pikes Peak District of the U.S. Forest Service, said there is no chance the federal agency will join the eight other entities killing bugs. Even if federal officials could be convinced to change their minds, Martinez said, the federal government would require so much environmental assessment that nothing could be done in time to make a difference.

“If you bought a house up there with big trees, and you moved here for those big trees, I understand the concern,” Martinez said. “But there is a natural cycle of forest disturbance that must be allowed to occur as part of responsible forestry management.”

By letting nature run its course, Martinez said, dead and dying trees can “release the vegetation that was suppressed by the tree cover. If you look at butterflies, they are tied to flowering plants that are suppressed by trees.”

Martinez said a naturally occurring bacteria detected by federal foresters stands to kill many of the bugs over the coming year, which should save a lot of trees. But Prenzlow said federal officials told state officials two years ago the bugs would begin dying naturally. They remain alive and well.

“We’re going into our third year and the bugs have not died. The trees are struggling and dying, so we’re going to spray,” Prenzlow told The Gazette.

***

A lot of energy is going to pot–literally:

Attendees learned that Xcel Energy, which serves most of urban Colorado, sells some 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to pot growers per year, or enough to power some 35,000 homes. The U.S. marijuana-growing industry could soon buy as much as $11 billion per year in electricity.

One study estimates that it takes as much energy to produce 18 pints of beer as it does just one joint. The data are alarming, and will only get more so as legalization spreads. But legalization, if approached correctly, also opens doors of opportunity. The biggest guzzlers of electricity also hold the most potential for realizing gains via efficiency.

Back in 2011, a California energy and environmental systems analyst, Evan Mills, published a paper quantifying the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. That footprint, he discovered, was huge. His findings included:

While the U.S. pharmaceutical sector uses $1 billion/year in energy, indoor cannabis cultivation uses $6 billion.

Indoor cannabis production consumes 3 percent of California’s total electricity, 9 percent of its household electricity and 1 percent of total U.S. electricity (equivalent to 2 million U.S. homes per year).

U.S. cannabis production results in 15 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions per year, or the same as emitted by 3 million cars.

Cannabis production uses eight times as much energy per square foot as other commercial buildings, and 18 times more than an average home.

Time to stop before I write any more doobie-us puns. Have a great weekend!

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?

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.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 10.49.23 PM

More on the public comment:

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.”

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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
waivers

You can view the bill summary here, and the full text of the bill here.

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.

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(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.”

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(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.

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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.