October 29 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper vs. Coffman over EPA lawsuit; EPA spill report short on info says New Mexico; Frack or Treat

October 29, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, Legislation, PUC, regulations, solar energy, wind energy 

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s decision to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to implement the Clean Power Plan has initiated a constitutional battle in the eyes of Governor John Hickenlooper:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he will seek the state Supreme Court’s opinion on the legality of Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s lawsuit to stop implementation of the Clean Power Plan.

“This notion of everyone suing all the time every time you disagree with a specific remedy, a specific statute, is part of what makes people so frustrated with government,” Hickenlooper, who supports the plan, said in a meeting with The Denver Post’s editorial board.

“Except in very rare circumstances, generally the governor is supposed to make that decision in concert with the attorney general,” Hickenlooper said of the lawsuit. “But the governor should have that final say.”

Hickenlooper’s office pushed the issue further, saying the AG’s actions “just gets in the way” of state plans to cooperate with the CPP:

“The statute that we’re looking at speaks of prosecuting and defending on the request of the governor,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed, Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel, citing Colorado’s revised statutes, title 24, article 31, part 1.

Cooper Melmed said she is worried about conflicts as some Coffman deputies work with Hickenlooper’s administration to implement the plan while others in the attorney general’s office try to quash it.

“This just gets in the way,” Cooper Melmed said of the lawsuit. “There’s no wall really high enough to allow these two things to happen out of the same office.”

Coffman, for her part, said she was “disappointed” in the Governor’s decision.

Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton called Hickenlooper’s stance “unusual” when it comes to the relationship between AG and Governor, even when representing opposing parties:

“For the governor to try to challenge in this way is unusual,” Norton said.

In almost all cases where a governor challenges an attorney general, Norton said, rulings are in the attorney general’s favor.

“The attorney general represents the state and not the governor,” Norton said. “The attorney general is elected to provide independent representation of the state’s interest.”

The Pueblo Chieftain and the Colorado Springs Gazette support Coffman’s lawsuit, while the Denver Post welcomes the clarification that the Colorado Supreme Court’s advice might bring.

Steamboat Today has a great roundup of other reactions for and against the lawsuit.

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It’s not just states suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan–at least 26 states filed almost immediately after the ruling was published last Friday–but other lawsuits are on their way from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Association of Manufacturers.

The EPA, meanwhile, is touting its flexibility–a “wide range of choices”–in allowing states to file extensions:

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Taking another crack at busting the CPP progress, this time using pre-existing Congressional review legislation:

Lawmakers opposed to the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants are moving to block the regulations from taking effect.

Several senators will offer Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions Monday that seek to stop the Clean Power Plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a longtime opponent of carbon regulations for the power sector, will schedule a vote on the resolutions soon after they come out.

“I have vowed to do all I can to fight back against this administration on behalf of the thousands of Kentucky coal miners and their families, and this CRA is another tool in that battle,” McConnell said in a statement.

The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers the ability to end an executive branch regulation through an act of Congress.

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Communities around Colorado continue to struggle with mine runoff, the August EPA spill in southwest Colorado not withstanding:

Toxic mines hang over this haven for wildflowers, contaminating water and driving residents — like counterparts statewide — to press for better protection.

A local group went to federal court this month seeking long-term assurances that a water-treatment plant will always remain open as the collapsed tunnels and heaps of tailings leak an acid mix of heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, zinc and others.

State data show these contaminants reaching Coal Creek — the primary water source for Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley’s green pastures — at levels exceeding health standards.

“A lot of people are nervous,” said Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates. “We’d like to get it as clean as possible.”

But the EPA isn’t being all the helpful, as the Interior Department inspector general report on the Gold King Mine/Animas River spill concluded, as the U.S. Chamber points out:

These two quotes from the report illustrate just how careless EPA was:

EPA has “little appreciation for the engineering complexity.”

“[T]here appears to be a general absence of knowledge of the risks associated with these [abandoned mining] facilities.”

Even EPA’s internal investigators didn’t hold back on the agencies irresponsibility. Its initial review concluded the spill was “likely inevitable,” but the agency wasn’t prepared to contain a spill before digging into the mine.

That isn’t much consolation for the folks in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation affected by the spill, as New Mexico’s top environmental watchdog Ryan Flynn said, quoted again by the Chamber:

While the report reveals that an EPA decision was made to refrain from validating the flawed water level estimates with a previously used successful procedure (using a drill rig to bore into the mine from above to directly determine the water level of the mine pool prior to excavating the backfill at the portal); the report says absolutely nothing about who made the decision to fly by the seat of their pants, by digging out the closed Gold King Mine tunnel based on un-validated estimates of what volume and pressure of contaminated water would be violently released.

Here in New Mexico, we are already quite clear on the fact that EPA made a mistake, as the DOI’s report underwhelmingly reveals. What we were wondering, and hoped the report could tell us, is why EPA made the mistake, and who at EPA made the decisions that authorized dangerous work to proceed based on un-validated estimates. It is shocking to read the DOI’s “independent investigation” only to find that it overlooks the who, the how, and the why. [emphasis added]

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How big are subsidies for electric cars? Without the $5,000 tax credit in Georgia, the state saw sales of electric vehicles plummet nearly 90% in just two months:

According to Georgia car registrations, sales shot up as electric car buyers rushed to take advantage of the tax credit before it expired. But the numbers declined sharply in July and took a swan dive in August — the most recent month tabulated:

electric-vehicle-sales-in-Georgia-in-2015-data-compiled-by-Don-Francis

The decline from 1,338 in June to 148 in August represents a drop of 88.9 percent.

Read the rest of this excellent Watchdog article here.

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It’s almost Halloween, so we’ll end on a spooky anti-energy note from Energy in Depth:

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The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been waging an extreme campaign to ban fracking through so called “Community Bill of Rights” ballot initiatives, especially targeting communities in Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The group has already forced taxpayers to pay tens of thousands of dollars to defend their illegal ordinances and it is now planning to hit communities in California, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington State. In fact, as Energy In Depth’s new video shows, this Halloween, CELDF’s extreme (and expensive) campaign could be coming to a ballot box near you.

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.