July 2 Colorado Energy Roundup: New Belgium signs ‘Brewer’s Climate Declaration’

More reaction from the ongoing Colowyo Mine saga in northwest Colorado, as Colorado Public Radio profiled residents from the community on what the possible mine closure would mean:

It’s been nearly two months since a judge required the federal government to take another look at a 2007 mining plan it approved for the Colowyo Mine outside Craig. Reaction in the small town of 9,000 was swift with much of the frustration directed at WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group that initiated the lawsuit.

Brent Malley moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to Craig 10 years ago to work at the mine, which supplies fuel to the nearby Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association power plant. Tri-State also owns Colowyo.

“It’s a much cleaner coal, low sulfur. I deal with that on a daily basis,” said Malley, who analyzes the coal at Colowyo. “There’s a bias against coal and I think it comes from pre-World War II where you saw really dirty conditions and miners getting hurt.”

Another resident, Rev. Jason Wunsch, called the actions against the Colowyo Mine–and the community–by WildEarth Guardians an “abuse.”

“The way it went about things through litigation and not through organic community dialogue I think was both an abuse to the public, but I think it will be a loss for authentic environmentalists,” Wunsch told CPR.

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In a week filled with blockbuster Supreme Court decisions, the court’s ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury rule flew somewhat under the radar, but the agency’s illegal rule had already done the damage intended, and even offered the EPA an “out” in future rulemaking:

A measure of the Environmental Protection Agency’s radicalism is that on Monday even this Supreme Court shot down one of its regulatory abuses. The agency’s extraconstitutional law-writing was too much even for the Court willing last week to tolerate the rewriting of laws for ObamaCare subsidies and housing discrimination.

In Michigan v. EPA, several states and industry groups challenged a 2012 EPA rule related to mercury emissions, which was really a pretext to force most coal-fired power plants to shut down as part of the Administration’s climate agenda. Though the rule was then the most expensive the federal government had ever issued, the EPA said it had no obligation even to consider costs when deciding whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate.

“One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” Justice Antonin Scalia writes. “EPA’s interpretation precludes the agency from considering any type of cost—including, for instance, harms that regulation might do to human health or the environment.”

But imposing those economic costs and forcing the closure of coal-fired power plants in the process of the rule’s implementation had already occurred in between the 2012 promulgation of the rule and the Supreme Court’s finding this week. Too little, too late.

But while the initial reaction appeared to have a silver lining in forcing the EPA to consider costs, the agency got a reprieve from not only the minority who sided with the rule, but from the majority as well:

But here’s the, er, catch. Justice Scalia’s opinion says the agency can’t regulate without considering costs, but his decision also says the EPA can still decide what counts as a cost. Uh-oh.

And sure enough, Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent offers the EPA a soft-landing path for future law-writing. She does not say EPA can ignore costs altogether. But she and the three other liberals would have blessed the mercury rule because the EPA would allegedly scrutinize costs at some indeterminate point, eventually, down the line.

So while Michigan is a welcome rebuke to EPA arrogance, presumably the agency can still do most of what it wants as long as it claims to have considered costs. In any case, most of the utilities targeted by the EPA rule have already shut down those coal plants or spent billions to comply. They won the legal battle but lost the climate war.

In other words, the make-it-up-as-you-go agency’s agenda in bringing forth coal-killing regulations received the green light to conjure up any cost methodology it wanted to justify the rule, and to do so whenever it pleased.

That doesn’t bode well for future rule implementation of the EPA’s upcoming Clean Power Plan (carbon reduction) or ground-level ozone targets.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), in an op-ed at Forbes, illustrated the EPA’s attitude toward the Supreme Court’s ruling, and their attitude in general when it comes to their role in the rulemaking process:

To make matters worse, the EPA sees no problem in a regulatory process that forces electricity companies to comply with an illegal regulation. “EPA is disappointed that the Court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” an EPA spokesperson said in a statement.

As long as the rule did what was intended, even when dinged by the Supreme Court, the agency’s mission was accomplished.

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New Belgium Brewing appears to be doubling down on its environmental commitment even as it is still contending with pushback on its support of WildEarth Guardians, the activist group responsible for threatening the Colowyo Mine (see above) through its litigation:

The beer industry is booming, but water resources are becoming scarce while warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are hurting hop production.

“They do say whiskey’s for drinking and waters for fighting out here. And there’s a reason they say that,” said New Belgium’s Bryan Simpson.

Now, brewers are finding ways to integrate green business practices and they want others to do the same. Three Colorado breweries are joining a national call-to-action, signing the “Brewer’s Climate Declaration.”

The declaration signed by New Belgium, along with a couple dozen other companies, sees climate change as a threat to its basic ingredients–water and hops:

Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snow pack.

That’s why leading breweries are finding innovative ways to integrate sustainability into their business practices and finding economic opportunity through investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste recapture, and sustainable sourcing. To highlight the steps they are taking and issue a call to action to others, brewers are signing the Climate Declaration.

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A Colorado thin-film solar supplier company goes belly-up due to flagging sales:

Faced with slumping sales in its solar inverter business, and no suitors willing to step in to buy it, Advanced Energy Industries, Inc., announced Monday it was getting out of the business.

The move will cost the company millions of dollars and likely hundreds of jobs.

The impact on jobs at the Fort Collins-based business is unknown, but the company said in a statement it expects to spend $260 million to $290 million to wind down the company, including $15 million in employee termination costs and $30 million to $45 million in severance and other expenses related to the decision.

As of Dec. 31, AE, which develops power and control technologies for thin-film manufacturing and solar-power generation, employed 1,583 people globally. Founded in Fort Collins in 1980, AE manufactures inverters in Fort Collins, Canada and China.

Abound Solar, a thin-film solar panel manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 despite a $400 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Tracking the declining global share of thin-film solar and difficulties seen in other companies in places like China, it’s easy to see that the once highly touted technology hasn’t caught fire the way proponents once envisioned.

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Despite top rankings as a manufacturer of wind technology and employment of wind-related workers, Colorado must increase its wind energy efforts, according to a new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs:

But the state needs to do more, according to the report.

The state needs to implement the federal Clean Power Plan, which would cut carbon emissions from “dirty” power plants in Colorado by 35 percent in part by increasing clean renewable energy.

Secondly, the state needs “new policy direction … to expand the state’s renewable energy portfolio.”

“Colorado’s leaders need to take action with policy opportunities that are good for its economy and good for its environment,” the 16-page report concludes.

June 25 Colorado Energy Roundup

Last week at the Steamboat Institute, Independence Institute Energy Policy Center Director Amy Oliver Cooke moderated a panel entitled “The Coming Storm of Federal Energy Regulations and Their Impact on Colorado Business”–with attorney Ray Gifford discussing the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan,” Dan Byers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offering an explanation of the newly proposed EPA ground-level ozone rule, and Lee Boughey of Tri-State Generation and Transmission revealing the impact of the WildEarth Guardians lawsuit and the Colowyo Mine:

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Blowback over the controversial support of WildEarth Guardians and the lawsuit threatening the Colowyo Mine stirred up trouble not only for New Belgium Brewing Company but over 450 other businesses and organizations listed as WEG supporters who quickly pulled their names from a list of “supporters” on the activist group’s website:

Some businesses listed said they never gave anything to the group responsible for a lawsuit that put Colowyo Coal Mine at risk of closing.

The Craig Daily Press published its first story about local liquor stores and restaurants pulling New Belgium and Breckenridge Brewery beer on June 8, and shortly thereafter, WildEarth Guardians staff deleted its webpage called “Businesses for Guardians.”

The newspaper then published the cached webpage of supporters, and less than 24 hours later, the environmentalists republished the webpage.

On that page, a total of 605 businesses across Colorado and New Mexico were listed as supporters. As of June 18, that number shrunk to 151 businesses listed as supporters.

A complete list of all companies previously named as “Businesses for Guardians” has been archived here as well.

“You don’t mess with my community,” one resident told the Craig Daily Press.

There’s no doubt the Colowyo Mine issue is already impacting the economy of the northwest corner of Colorado:

After less than six months of being in business, the owner of Stacks Smokehouse closed the doors to his restaurant due to Craig’s economic uncertainty in light of what’s happening at Colowyo Coal Mine.

Steve Fulton said his business — which opened in the former Double Barrel Steakhouse building on Feb. 20 — dropped 40 percent days after the community met on June 3 for a public meeting with Colowyo representatives.

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Two Colorado counties have seen tremendous growth in jobs, despite the recent oil and gas downturn:

Two Colorado counties were among the three large U.S. counties with the fastest job growth rate in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

And Colorado overall ranked No. 3 for the rate of job growth among states.

In the counties ranking, Weld County topped the list for a second straight year. Weldco tied with Midland County, Texas, with a best-in-the-nation 8.0 percent increase in employment between December 2013 and December 2014, BLS said.

In 2013, Weld County posted 6 percent job growth.

And Adams County came in at No. 3 in the nation with a 6.4 percent growth rate.

In fact, Weld County saw a 19.6 percent gain in natural resources and mining employment over the 12-month period, adding a net 2,074 jobs, BLS estimates.

And Adams County is home to companies that service the energy industry.

Only North Dakota (4.5 percent) and Nevada (4.2 percent) outpaced Colorado’s job growth rate of 3.9 percent, according to the BLS.

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Meanwhile in Indiana (from a press release):

Indianapolis – Governor Pence sent a letter today to President Obama informing him that unless the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is demonstrably and significantly improved before being finalized Indiana will not comply. The Governor’s letter in full can be found attached.

“As I wrote to Administrator McCarthy on December 1, 2014, the proposed rules are ‘ill-conceived and poorly constructed’ and they exceed the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Air Act,” wrote Pence. “If your administration proceeds to finalize the Clean Power Plan, and the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved from the proposed rule, Indiana will not comply. Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented.”

“Our nation needs an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that relies on a variety of different energy sources,” said Pence. “Energy policy should promote the safe, environmentally responsible stewardship of our natural resources with the goal of reliable, affordable energy. Your approach to energy policy places environmental concerns above all others.”

In addition Pence noted, “Higher electricity prices brought by the EPA’s plan will inhibit our ability to advance our manufacturing base and the jobs it creates.”

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels in Indiana by the year 2030. The proposed rules do not dictate how states achieve reduction. Instead, the rule suggests four building blocks as guidelines for compliance. The rules will increase the cost of electricity and force the premature closure of coal-fired power plants, leading to concerns of electricity shortages. On December 1, 2014, Governor Pence and Indiana State agencies submitted letters to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy detailing the proposed rules’ impact on Indiana and urging their immediate withdrawal.

More than 26,000 Hoosiers are employed in the coal industry in Indiana. Governor Pence has pledged to fight the EPA’s regulations with all legal means at Indiana’s disposal. Governor Pence’s comments today come on the heels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissing State of West Virginia et al v. Environmental Protection Agency, Case No. 14-1112. Indiana was one of fourteen petitioners in the case, which asked the Court to review the legality of the EPA’s proposed regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The Court of Appeals’ decision was based on procedural, not substantive, issues and does not preclude future litigation challenging the regulation. Indiana intends to renew its challenge in the courts following the release of the final rule.

The EPA is expected to release the final rule in August.

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Thin-film solar–remember Abound Solar?has also taken a tumble in China.

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A quick reminder of why government choosing energy winners and losers is a bad idea–an expensive burden on taxpayers and ratepayers alike.

June 18 Colorado Energy Roundup: Pushback on EPA ozone rule effect on rural US, oil and gas operations get the thumbs up from Colorado communities

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed ozone rule–reducing acceptable ground-level ozone from 75 ppb to between 65 and 70–has drawn criticism from 22 medically trained members of Congress (E&E Greenwire, behind paywall:

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the 22 Republican members of the House and Senate raised questions about the analysis underlying EPA’s conclusions about the public health benefits of a lower ozone limit.

EPA in November proposed to tighten the national ambient air quality standard for ozone from 75 parts per billion — last set in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration — to between 65 and 70 ppb after finding that the 75 ppb limit was no longer adequate to protect public health.

“As healthcare professionals, we rely upon the most accurate health data,” the group of lawmakers wrote. “From this vantage, we believe that the proposal’s harms outweigh its claimed benefits and are concerned it could ultimately undermine our constituents’ health.”

Of the lawmakers signing the letter, 13 have doctor of medicine degrees. Some of the other signatories have been trained as dentists or eye doctors. Two are registered nurses. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who has a doctor of medicine degree, led the effort.

From the letter to McCarthy:

Studies show that income is a key factor in public health, a link confirmed by our first-hand experience as medical professionals caring for patients, including the low income and uninsured. As well, stakeholders have noted serious questions regarding the health benefits EPA claims to support the proposal, and we are concerned that the uncertain benefits asserted by EPA in its ozone proposal will be overshadowed by its harm to the economy and human health. In light of the long-term continuing trend towards cleaner air, as well as ongoing work by states toward further improvements under existing regulations, we encourage EPA to protect American jobs, the economy, and public health by maintaining the existing ozone NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standards].

The letter, citing a study from the National Association of Manufacturers, points out that at a 65 ppb threshold for ozone, rural areas like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon National Parks would fall into “non-attainment” of the new standard, and as much as over half the entire nation. This would lead, naturally, to job loss and economic turmoil, “making the proposal the most expensive regulation in U.S. history.”

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Oil and gas development a boon to one Colorado community, whether or not the company’s investment pans out:

DE BEQUE — A natural gas project by Black Hills Exploration & Production in the De Beque area is involving some upfront investment risks by the company, but with the potential of large rewards for not only Black Hills but the region’s economy and tax base.

Whatever happens, the investment already is paying off for local farmers and ranchers, thanks to a pipeline and water pump station project that officials celebrated the completion of Friday. Black Hills paid for the $8 million project to help supply water for its hydraulic fracturing of wells, but most of the water will be used for irrigation, including by the town, which will reduce De Beque’s need to exercise its senior water rights at the expense of area ranchers.

The water project is an upfront investment that won’t fully pay off for Black Hills unless its De Beque drilling project proceeds to the development phase. But John Benton, vice president and general manager of Black Hills E&P, likes the fact that the company has built something of such value to the De Beque area no matter how its drilling project pans out.

“Regardless of whether we go forward or not with our program, it’s created something that will benefit the community for years to come,” he said.

If the project proceeds, Mesa County could see not only more jobs but an increased tax base.

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Not all Colorado communities are filled with activists seeking to ban or otherwise hinder oil and gas development in their back yard:

A few years after a series of anti-oil-and-gas ordinances and ballot initiatives cascaded through several towns in Colorado, some local governments are speaking up in favor of the state’s multibillion-dollar energy industry.

In the last few months, trustees in the tiny town of Platteville in Weld County and commissioners from counties near Denver have signed letters and passed resolutions that speak in favor of the industry and its high-paying jobs.

“If there’s someone who comes in and wants to ban fracking, at that time we’ll vote on it,” Bonnie Dunston, Platteville’s mayor, told the Denver Business Journal.

“But we’re not going to ban fracking. Oil and gas does a lot for us, for our town, our community, and we’re just saying that we’re going to keep oil and gas going here in Platteville,” she said.

Douglas, Arapahoe, and Jefferson county officials have all recently either affirmed support for responsible development within the oil and gas industry or indicated their opposition to bans of any kind, according to DBJ. The officials noted that, while the counties did not see as much direct involvement within their borders compared to places like Weld County, many of their residents worked within the industry.

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