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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.