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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encouraging.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

Finally, your poop may be keeping the lights on:

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

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

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

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

The biogas–a delicate term–is renewable.

August 13 Colorado Energy Roundup: EPA dumps on Colorado with Clean Power Plan, Ozone rule–then releases a toxic mess!

August 13, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC 

To say the Environmental Protection Agency has been in the news lately would be an understatement. Just this time last week, less than 24 hours after triggering a spill of toxic sludge including heavy metals into the Animas River in SW Colorado, most folks were unaware of the situation due to a lack of EPA communication–but more on that in a minute.

They were too busy focused on the new carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan rules being dumped on the state by the regulatory side of the agency.

Here’s a recap of the CPP, as Independence Institute’s Mike Krause can explain:

Or more in depth from former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chair, Ray Gifford:

Last week the EPA finalized the rule, as we told you in last week’s edition of the Energy Roundup, with the Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman considering joining a multi-state lawsuit challenging the CPP’s legality, and legislators possibly returning to some form of transparency or oversight for the CPP state implementation plan, now with pushed back deadlines (and therefore more sessions to seek legislation).

The Independence Institute has a CPP backgrounder that provides further details.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy discussed the launch of the CPP in a video on Tuesday.

***

Hot on the heels of the CPP, the EPA expects to finalize rules for ground-level ozone some time in October. But large and small businesses alike, from the National Association of Manufacturers to Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, joined the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), in a press call yesterday to announce a new study that looked at the effects of the ozone rule on Colorado. The sheer volume of bipartisan commentary opposing the proposed ozone reduction is particularly eye-opening in these normally contentious times, and shows a break with the EPA on new regulations–the ozone rule might be a step too far following so closely behind the CPP:

“This ozone proposal gives the federal government far too much control over state and local planning decisions that shape the Colorado economy,” said Karen Kerrigan, President of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “Colorado is one of the biggest success stories of the federal Clean Air Act, but now the EPA is moving the goalposts. The standard is so strict – approaching background levels in some areas – that the vast majority of the state economy will be found in violation immediately. Violation of the ozone standard gives EPA the authority to effectively rewrite state and local environmental laws the way Washington wants.”

“No wonder this EPA proposal has been met with such strong and diverse opposition from across Colorado’s political spectrum. Washington officials, all the way up to President Obama himself, should listen to the voices coming from Colorado and across the country and once again give the current standard a chance to work.”

A sample of the key findings:

By lowering the National Ambient Air Quality Standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the 65 to 70 ppb range, EPA would force, with a single action, at least 15 counties in Colorado to be in violation of federal law. These happen to be some of Colorado’s most populated counties, concentrated in the Denver metropolitan area, but a number of counties on the Western Slope may be dragged into non-attainment as well. Together, these 15 counties are responsible for 89 percent of Colorado’s economy and 85 percent of state employment. (Page 3)

Under the Clean Air Act, cities and counties that do not meet the NAAQS for ozone are placed into “non-attainment,” or violation of federal environmental standards. Once in non-attainment, local and state officials must answer to the federal government for permitting and planning decisions that could impact ozone levels. State officials are required to develop an “implementation plan” that imposes new restrictions across the economy, especially the transportation, construction and energy industries. The EPA has veto power over these implementation plans. States that refuse to comply, or have their implementation plans rejected, face regulatory and financial sanctions imposed on them directly from the federal government. (Page 19)

The report, entitled “Slamming the Brakes: How Washington’s Ozone Plan Will Hurt the Colorado Economy and Make Traffic Worse” has revealed that opposition to the ozone rule with a river of comments from Colorado state and local officials.

Here’s a sample of the bipartisan criticism:

State Senator Cheri Jahn (D):

“Coloradans care deeply about the environment. After the great progress we have made on air quality, our state should be praised, not punished. This ozone proposal out of Washington, D.C. scares my constituents, because it could hamstring our regional economy and cost jobs.

We have worked so hard to bring manufacturing jobs to Colorado, and by moving the goal posts on ozone, the EPA is going to chase manufacturing jobs away from our state. This plan could also gum up the approval process for badly needed road and transportation investments, which will make our traffic worse, and make it much harder to attract new industries, grow existing businesses, and strengthen Colorado’s middle class.”

State Senator Ellen Roberts (R):

“If the EPA carries out this ozone plan, Western Colorado will be placed at a terrible economic disadvantage. We have worked hard to responsibly care for our environment even as we grow and diversify our economy.

Tightening the ozone standard any further just does not make sense when the existing standard, which is less than 10 years old, is working. I urge the EPA to reconsider this plan and leave the 2008 standard in place.”

State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R):

“The EPA’s proposed new standards would drive small family farms such as mine out of business. We have never been able to afford new equipment and if the only way to comply with this new standard is with new equipment, my family would have to leave agriculture. Even if we could meet the standards with expensive upgrades to our machinery, the increased costs to finance those upgrades, as well as the fuel and the fertilizer, takes a marginally profitable farm and turns it into one that can’t make its payments.

Unless you want to see the family farm only as a memory, one must make the EPA understand that their new standards will have a devastating effect on rural America and the agriculture economy.”

Routt County Commissioners Douglas Monger (D), Cari Hermacinski (R), Timothy Corrigan (D):

“We set and meet high standards because we know it is good for our people and our state. So you might expect us to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards for ground-level ozone. Those standards, however, are too overbearing and are meeting with a lot of resistance even in places where air quality regulations are welcome…

These standards must not be implemented. If they go forward as proposed, they will do more than put good people out of work and cause hardships for communities that have done so much to protect the land, air and water around them. They will turn away a lot of people who have been receptive to the idea that government can be trusted to do environmental regulation the right way.”

NAM also released a video ad buy, to be seen across Colorado over the next few days:


***

Only the sheer quantity of toxic material–some 3 million or so gallons of Sunny-D colored water laden with heavy metals–comes close to the media coverage of one of the biggest environmental stories in recent Colorado history.

Most of the stories have been widely publicized and shared, so here is a quick look at this EPA-related (not strictly energy-related) blockbuster news blitz from just the past two days alone, in reverse chronological order (most recent first):

EPA Contractor Behind CO Mine Spill Got $381 Million From Taxpayers:

The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.

A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.

EPA Withholding Mine Spill Info From State AGs:

The EPA is not letting the public know the names of the government contractors responsible for spilling three million gallons of toxic wastewater from a southern Colorado mine. The agency is holding the information close — so close, the Colorado attorney general’s office doesn’t have it.

A spokesman with the Colorado attorney general’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation the EPA had not disclosed the names of the federal contractor that caused millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River — leaked contaminants include zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead and aluminum.

Animas River outfitters shut as plume passes, but say they’ll endure:

“Very difficult,” said Alex Mickel, who has turned hundreds of customers away from his Mild to Wild Rafting each day since the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally unleashed a 3 million gallon torrent of toxic mine water into the headwaters of the Animas last week.

“We are anticipating around $150,000 to $200,000 in lost revenue,” Mickel said. “But from an emotional standpoint, it’s difficult to see a beautiful river damaged in this way.”

Animas River spill leaves Colorado, neighbors weighing EPA lawsuit:

The attorneys general of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah said Wednesday that a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency is an option in the wake of a massive mine wastewater spill caused by the agency.

All three, however, agreed that it’s too early to say if they will sue.

“I would hope that it would not be necessary,” Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, said of a suit in an interview with The Denver Post. “The statements by the (EPA’s administrator) indicate the EPA is accepting responsibility for the accident. The question is: What does that mean? What does accepting responsibility mean?”

Hickenlooper drinks Animas River water to make a point:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday drank a hearty gulp of the Animas River in an effort to highlight that the river has returned to pre-contamination conditions.

The governor and his health department director, however, cautioned that citizens should not be freely drinking from the river, because the water was unsafe for consumption even before the Environmental Protection Agency released an estimated 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into it.

But the drinking exercise indicated that state officials are more than confident that the river does not pose a toxic risk to humans, as they publicly stated on Tuesday.

“Am I willing to go out there and demonstrate that we’re back to normal?” Hickenlooper asked out loud after The Durango Herald raised the idea with the governor. “Certainly. I’m happy to do that. I’m dead serious.”

Navajos Distrustful OF EPA Promises On Toxic Mine Spill:

Navajo Nation is furious with the EPA, not just because the agency accidentally spilled three million gallons of toxic mine waste in the region, but because the agency is allegedly trying to get tribal members to waive rights to future compensation for damages incurred by the toxic spill.

“The federal government is asking our people to waive their future rights because they know without the waiver they will be paying millions to our people,” Navajo President Russell Begaye told Indianz.com. “This is simple; the feds are protecting themselves at the expense of the Navajo people and it is outrageous.”

Congressmen: EPA Must Answer For Spilling Toxic Waste:

Republican congressmen are calling for the EPA to be held accountable for spilling 3 million gallons of toxic mine wastewater into the Animas River last week, especially since the agency is a government entity and won’t be punished to the same degree a private company would for spilling waste.

“The EPA must be held accountable for its actions,” Rep. Lamar Smith told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “If a private company caused such a disaster, it would be hit with substantial penalties and would be required to pay for cleanup.”

“In this case, it will be the taxpayers who foot the bill,” the Texas Republican said. “The EPA has an obligation to the families and businesses that have been devastated by this spill.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 9.51.55 PM

From the Denver Post house editorial:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s clumsy, tone-deaf response to the toxic disaster on the Animas River was an embarrassment even to the EPA. One agency official managed to admit the reaction was “cavalier,” but that’s putting a mild face on it.

Top EPA official takes responsibility for Colorado mine spill:

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that she takes full responsibility for the spill, which she said “pains me to no end.” She said the agency is working around the clock to assess the environmental impact.

Hickenlooper sees a silver lining:

“Colorado’s governor thinks a mine spill accidentally triggered by an EPA crew will move the state and federal government to more aggressively tackle the “legacy of pollution” left by mining in the West.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that much of the wastewater has been plugged up, but the state and the Environmental Protection Agency need to speed up work to identify the most dangerous areas and clean them up.

The former geologist says that if there’s a “silver lining” to the disaster, it will be a new relationship between the state and the EPA to solve the problem.”

Navajo Nation Mourning, Pleading for Help After Toxic Mine Spill Contaminates Rivers

John Hickenlooper calls Animas River disaster “unacceptable”:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday stood on the banks of the Animas River and said last week’s spill of 3 million gallons of contaminated mining waste water into its flow was “in every sense, unacceptable.”

He said the long-term effects of the spill, which happened as the Environmental Protection Agency was investigating the contaminated mine, are unknown.

The governor said he has spoken with the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, and described her as “committed” and “firm” in her resolve to respond to the spill. McCarthy will be in Durango and New Mexico on Wednesday, she said Tuesday on Twitter.

“I think we share the anger that something like this could happen,” Hickenlooper said. “But I think that said, our primary role is now: that’s behind us and how are we going to move forward.”

EPA Shrugs after Spilling Millions of Gallons of Toxic Water into a River in the Mountain States

EPA Chief Apologizes as Anger Mounts:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized Tuesday for a mine spill in Colorado that her agency caused last week and planned to travel to the area Wednesday, amid increasing criticism from lawmakers about the EPA’s response.

Ms. McCarthy said at a news conference in Washington that she was still learning about what happened, responding to a question about whether the EPA was reviewing changes in how it cleans up old mines. “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there,” she said. “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.”

EPA won’t face fines for polluting rivers with orange muck:

Unlike BP, which was fined $5.5 billion for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the EPA will pay nothing in fines for unleashing the Animas River spill.

“Sovereign immunity. The government doesn’t fine itself,” said Thomas L. Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s division of environment and natural resources.

And of course, some folks don’t think the EPA should be blamed . . .