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.

December 30 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: the anti-fracking force awakens; EPA receives a lump of coal in its budgetary stocking; pot is not green

Theeeeeeey’re baaaaaack!

As promised, the anti-energy, anti-fracking folks have delivered nearly a dozen ballot initiatives that focus on either banning hydraulic fracturing altogether or a host of other setback measures.

The group has cleverly dubbed themselves Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development, or CREED, likely to inspire confusion among voters who might be only familiar with Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, or CRED:

Each of the constitutional amendments would need signatures from 98,492 registered Colorado voters to get on November’s ballot.

A review-and-comment hearing on the language of the ballot questions is set for at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 5 in Room 109 at the Capitol.

“If the state will not adequately protect Coloradans and communities, then we, the people of Colorado, must do it, and that requires a change to Colorado law,” Tricia Olson, CREED’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Our beautiful state should not be overwhelmed by wells, pads and other industrial oil and gas operations plunked down next to neighborhoods and schools.”

As the Post points out, these measures would toss the efforts of Governor John Hickenlooper’s grand pragmatic strategy to develop and cultivate the blue ribbon commission that existed in 2014-15, narrowly averting a previous slate of anti-fracking measures brought forward in 2014 that Democrats feared would threaten the midterm election that cycle.

But the supporters of the 2014 measures felt that Hickenlooper’s attempts to find “balance”–his words–on fracking in Colorado did not go far enough, and felt betrayed when the measures were pulled. Continued efforts on this issue could once again upset a delicate situation for Democrats in the state split between development and anti-energy, more left-leaning Democrats.

The Independence Institute will be tracking these measures throughout the year in 2016, and will provide regular updates on ballot specifics, tracking ballot measure progress, and weighing in when and where appropriate.

Stay tuned.

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s Christmas stockings weren’t as full this year as they would have liked, instead getting a lump or two of coal, so to speak:

The EPA received $8.1 billion or $451 million less than Mr. Obama had demanded, and no increase from the year before. Congress has cut the EPA’s allowance by $2.1 billion, or 21%, since fiscal 2010. This has forced the EPA to cut more than 2,000 full-time employees over the same period, and its manpower is now at the lowest level since 1989 (see nearby chart).

Mr. Obama sought an additional $72.1 million to turbocharge his extralegal climate rule on power plants. That request included $8.3 million for the EPA’s science and technology groups, which do the phony modeling to justify regulations. It also included $68.3 million for the agency’s environmental programs and management department, which is where the minions draft and implement the President’s climate initiatives. Congress denied every penny.

Two thousand fewer EPA officials to harass the American public with onerous regulations? Sounds like a good start (from the WSJ):
Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.34.03 PM

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There will be plenty of energy battles in 2016, from the Clean Power Plan’s effect on rising electricity costs to anti-fracking ballot measures and beyond. The Independence Institute has already revealed that residential electricity rates in Colorado have skyrocketed 63% between 2001 and 2014, before the CPP or other measures even kick in at the state level.

But this nugget, from July 2015, illustrates just how much the impact of rising electricity costs disproportionately targets those least able to afford it:

Average households pay 2 percent to 3 percent for energy, compared with low-income households, which often pay as much as 50 percent.

“That leaves very little for food, clothing, medicine,” said Pat Boland, Xcel’s manager of customer policy and assistance.

Percent_Increase_NRG_Income(Independence Institute)

The next time someone advocates for higher energy costs through regulation or burdensome energy mandates, remind them who really takes a hit in the pocketbook.

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Speaking of folks who like higher energy costs:

A coalition of environmental groups announced earlier this week its intent to take legal action against several federal agencies for extending operations at the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine just outside Farmington.

On Dec. 21, San Juan Citizen Alliance, among other regional and national conservation groups, filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others over a July decision to allow the plant to operate until 2041.

“While the rest of the world is transitioning to alternative forms of energy, the Four Corners Power Plant continues to burn coal and will do so for the next 25 years,” Colleen Cooley with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment said in a news release. “Prolonging coal not only condemns our health and the water, air, and land around us, it undermines our community’s economic future because we are not investing and transitioning to clean energy.”

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On the other hand, lawsuits to protect Coloradans from rogue agency actions, like the EPA spill in August, could be on tap in 2016:

DENVER – State legislation has been drafted in an effort to pressure the federal government into quickly settling damage claims stemming from the Gold King Mine spill.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said he will carry the bill at the start of the legislative session, which begins next month.

The bill would allow the state to file lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of individuals financially impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.

“It’s authorizing the state of Colorado to sue the EPA in case they renege on their obligation,” Coram said.

He added, “The idea behind the bill is that it encourages them to settle this in a gentlemanly manner.”

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It’s not every day that pot and energy end up jointly in the same article, but this revelation may be a real eye opener for a lot of folks, some who steadfastly approve of pot legalization but prefer more renewable forms of energy:

DENVER – Pot’s not green.

The $3.5 billion U.S. cannabis market is emerging as one of the nation’s most power-hungry industries, with the 24-hour demands of thousands of indoor growing sites taxing aging electricity grids and unraveling hard-earned gains in energy conservation.

Without design standards or efficient equipment, the facilities in the 23 states where marijuana is legal are responsible for greenhouse-gas emissions almost equal to those of every car, home and business in New Hampshire. While reams of regulations cover everything from tracking individual plants to package labeling to advertising, they lack requirements to reduce energy waste.

Some operations have blown out transformers, resulting in fires. Others rely on pollution-belching diesel generators to avoid hooking into the grid. And demand could intensify in 2017 if advocates succeed in legalizing the drug for recreational use in several states, including California and Nevada. State regulators are grappling with how to address the growth, said Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner Pam Witmer.

“We are at the edge of this,” Witmer said. “We are looking all across the country for examples and best practices.”

Light ‘em if you got ‘em. It’s legal here, ya know.

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Looking into the future of Colorado’s oil boom, thanks to the end of the U.S. oil export ban–but only time will tell.