February 11 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: SCOTUS stay on Clean Power Plan edition

February 11, 2016 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal 

Join us Tuesday, February 16 at noon as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Independence Institute discuss the latest on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan/111d rule, including the SCOTUS stay issued this week.

Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, and Raymond Gifford, a partner at the law firm Wilkinson, Barker, Knauer, LLP and a leading an expert in public utilities law, will provide in-depth analysis of what the Clean Power Plan means for Colorado and discuss the efforts being made across the country to stop this onerous regulation.

Free lunch, RSVP required.

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What is the stay?:

WASHINGTON—A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s initiative to limit carbon emissions from power plants, dealing an early and potentially significant blow to a rule that is the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s efforts to slow climate change.

The court, in a brief written order, granted emergency requests by officials of mostly Republican-led states and business groups to delay the regulation while they challenge its legality.

Although the Supreme Court’s order is temporary and isn’t a ruling on the merits, it indicates the court’s conservative majority harbors misgivings about the Obama administration plan. It signals the rules could run into trouble in the courts, which could hamper the administration’s ability to follow through on U.S. commitments in the Paris climate deal.

The court’s action, which divided the justices along ideological lines, came as a surprise to many observers because the court has strict criteria for granting stays. And the Environmental Protection Agency rules, issued last summer, have yet to be evaluated by lower court judges.

The EPA rule is aimed at compelling utilities to shift away from coal-fired power plants, which have been the bedrock of U.S. electricity generation for decades, toward such renewable sources as wind and solar, and to a lesser extent toward natural gas and nuclear power.

Some have said that all that needs to be done is for the administration to change as a result of the 2016 election, but that may not be enough:

The Supreme Court issues stays sparingly, and only when specific criteria are met. Those include a “reasonable probability” that four justices will agree to review the case, and a “fair prospect” that five justices could vote to overturn a lower court ruling.

In addition, the court must find that irreparable harm will result to parties in the case unless the stay is granted, and that public interest is served by granting a stay.

White House officials said they were surprised by the court’s move. “Granting a stay in these circumstances is extraordinary,” one official said.

The ultimate outcome of the case likely won’t be decided until the next president is in office. Should the rule survive in the courts and a Republican be elected president, a GOP administration would face hurdles in abandoning the regulations.

Very few final regulations have ever been repealed by an administration—Republican or Democratic. To repeal a regulation, you have to write, and legally justify, a new regulation explaining why you are getting rid of the earlier one, a process that could take years and would be unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny, experts say.

As we wrote in a previous blog post, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plans on proceeding with the rule’s implementation, calling its own decision to do so, “prudent”:

It is prudent for Colorado to move forward during the litigation to ensure that the state is not left at a disadvantage if the courts uphold all or part of the Clean Power Plan. Because the Supreme Court did not say whether the stay would change the rule’s compliance deadlines, Colorado could lose valuable time if it delays its work on the state plan and the rule is ultimately upheld.

The legal experts I’ve spoken with have said that the compliance deadlines were part of the stay, and dispute the agency’s interpretation that the state would lose time if it did not proceed with planning.

When the Independence Institute conducted our own poll last August on Colorado and the Clean Power Plan, “Nearly 6 in 10 said the state should wait to comply—not move forward as Governor John Hickenlooper has directed—on drawing up a state implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan.”

The new timetable for the Clean Power Plan and any legal proceedings should push well into 2017 and even early 2018.

The Attorney General’s office said Cynthia Coffman would not pursue intervention at the state level (DBJ article, paywall).

The EPA, like CDPHE, plans to push forward at the state level, offering guidance:

The EPA immediately issued a statement pledging to support states that wish to continue developing compliance plans.

“We’re disappointed the rule has been stayed, but you can’t stay climate change and you can’t stay climate action,” the EPA said. “Millions of people are demanding we confront the risks posed by climate change. And we will do just that. We believe strongly in this rule and we will continue working with our partners to address carbon pollution.”

Legal experts began weighing in on the SCOTUS stay, saying the EPA’s own attitudes and statements regarding previous rulemaking legal challenges may have pushed the Court to take this action:

This Court’s decision last Term in Michigan v. EPA, 135 S. Ct. 2699 (2015), starkly illustrates the need for a stay in this case. The day after this Court ruled in Michigan that EPA had violated the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) in enacting its rule regulating fossil fuel-fired power plants under Section 112 of the CAA, 42 U.S.C. § 7412, EPA boasted in an official blog post that the Court’s decision was effectively a nullity. Because the rule had not been stayed during the years of litigation, EPA assured its supporters that “the majority of power plants are already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.” Then, in reliance on EPA’s representation that most power plants had already fully complied, the D.C. Circuit responded to this Court’s remand by declining to vacate the rule that this Court had declared unlawful. […] In short, EPA extracted “nearly $10 billion a year” in compliance from power plants before this Court could even review the rule […] and then successfully used that unlawfully-mandated compliance to keep the rule in place even after this Court declared that the agency had violated the law.

Reaction from the Colorado Senate Republicans was swift:

Senate President Bill L. Cadman said he believes Gov. Hickenlooper should respect the Court’s ruling by instructing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to suspend all CPP implementation activities.

“In granting the stay on the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan, the US Supreme Court said there is a likelihood that the 27 states now suing the EPA will prevail in court and that allowing EPA to proceed without a stay would do irreparable harm to the states,” said Cadman. “That being the case, Colorado should follow the federal court ruling and suspend all CPP implementation.”

Senator John Cooke (R-Weld County) called the stay “a great victory for Colorado ratepayers and the rule of law. This US Supreme Court decision should send a strong message to the Governor not to force Colorado working families into an expensive, likely unconstitutional EPA plan that will cost Coloradans thousands of jobs.”

Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) said he is very surprised by the White House and CDPHE statements defying the Supreme Court ruling. “Today the CDPHE said it is ignoring the stay and proceeding to implement the CPP. That is unacceptable, and Governor Hickenlooper needs to explain why his administration is not complying with the federal court order,” said Sonnenberg.

Republicans also offered praise for Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s participation in the 27-state court challenge, which has drawn fire from Gov. Hickenlooper.

“We owe a big ‘thank you’ to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman for challenging the plan in federal court,” said Cooke. “This victory illustrates the value of having an attorney general who can act independently from the governor when the public interest demands it.”

As a reminder, the Heritage Foundation’s Nic Loris outlines just how much an impact the Clean Power Plan would have on its intended target–climate change:

The plan, which the EPA finalized in October 2015, requires most states to meet individual carbon dioxide emissions reduction goals for existing power plants by 2022 and again in 2030. States are to submit plans about how they would comply with the regulations by September but could ask for two-year extensions. As Politico reports, “[l]awsuits over the rule are expected to continue into 2017 at the earliest, with the Supreme Court widely expected to be the final arbiter of the regulation.”

To be clear, the Clean Power Plan has nothing to do with regulating pollutants that have adverse impacts on human health. Instead, it focuses strictly on attempting to combat global warming. Attempting is the operative word.

Even if you accept the administration’s premise that climate change is an urgent threat (which is questionable), the regulation would have almost no effect on global warming. If the states implemented the regulations flawlessly, a near impossibility, the Clean Power Plan would avert a mere 0.02 degrees Celsius by 2100.

As we say frequently on this blog, there will definitely be more to come!

January 27 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: COGCC rulemaking pleases no one; anti-fracking measures disastrous for Colorado economy; pushing back against Clean Power Plan

Even small changes to oil and gas regulations can have deep and damaging effects on Colorado’s economy, according to researchers at the University of Colorado:

A statewide, 2,000-foot buffer zone between drilling rigs and homes, schools and businesses would take a hammer to Colorado’s oil and gas industry, already reeling from low commodity prices, as well as the state’s wider economy, according to a new study from University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Such a setback requirement “could result in slower economic growth” for Colorado’s economy as well as state revenue, according to the study released Wednesday.

The study said its forecast on the effects of a 2,000-foot setback included:

Production of oil and gas statewide could drop between 25 percent and 50 percent;
A $6 billion to $11 billion drop in Colorado’s gross domestic product;
A loss of 33,000 and 62,000 jobs between 2015 and 2030;
Loss of $214 million to $428 million in per year in tax revenues from oil and gas companies.

Given that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission just concluded a round of rulemaking based on the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force recommendations from 2015, new and more onerous regulations like the setback examined by CU researchers or the more dangerous proposed fracking bans and various setback ballot measures could have catastrophic consequences on top of the recent commodity downturns impacting the state.

Anti-energy activists have intimated that even more proposals could be in the offing for 2016:

Larimer County resident Katherine Hall, who testified in favor of local control, said she would not be surprised if a citizen-initiated measure ended up on November’s ballot.

“The final outcome of the rule making does not go far enough to ease the concerns of Colorado citizens,” Hall said.

Remember when this blog said the Oil and Gas Task Force was merely kicking the can down the road?

We’ve made our way down that road, and the can is about ready to explode.

In the near term, the COGCC rules could go into effect in as few as 6 to 8 weeks, subject to review by the legislature and the Attorney General:

Compton said the months of rulemakings were “the most difficult” that he’s been through — a string that included the 2008 wholesale overhaul of Colorado’s oil and gas regulations.

The commissioners voted 5-4 to define “large” oil and gas facilities, the threshold that triggers the communication process between energy companies and local governments, as eight new wells and storage tanks that can hold up to 4,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids. The commissioners restricted the rule to large facilities in “urban” areas, defined as 22 buildings within 1,000 feet of the wellsite, rejecting request from some quarters to take the rule statewide.

But the rules appear to exceed the recommendations, and create ambiguities that will only incur more procedural red tape:

The process approved by the COGCC will triple, from 90 days to 270 days, the amount of time needed to get a hearing on a large project before the oil and gas commissioners, said Tracee Bentley, the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, an arm of the American Petroleum Institute.

The final rules also said facilities should be “as far as possible” from existing buildings, a phrase Bentley called “vague and confusing” that would cost energy companies time and money to comply with.

The commissioners also rejected a request that existing surface-use agreements between energy companies and landowners be grandfathered, and allowed to avoid the notification and consultation process.

“We feel the industry brought reasonable solutions to the table that were largely ignored, and the rules still go beyond the recommendations of the task force,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

Bringing reasonable solutions and constructive dialogue should be expected of the industry, but the same can’t be said for the forces calling for the end of natural resource development altogether:

Activists addressing a state oil and gas rulemaking hearing this week levied a barrage of accusations and insults toward state officials and even renewed calls to eliminate Colorado’s state agency responsible for regulating oil and gas development.

Speaking at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) hearing, Lauren Swain, representing national climate activist group 350.org, largely ignored the fact that the rulemaking was supposed to be the focus of the hearing and instead used her time to complain about the agency. From Swain’s testimony:

“With this new proposed rule, the COGCC has proven once again that it can no longer be considered a legitimate state agency because the COGCC continues to facilitate the pace of hazardous polluting oil and gas drilling and fracking operations near homes and schools subjecting communities to the risks of toxic emissions, spills and explosions.”

But Swain took her testimony even farther by lobbying for disbanding the agency in favor of creating a new agency that would “swiftly” transition the state to 100 percent renewables using the Solutions Project at Stanford as a guide. From Swain:

“The COGCC must be replaced with one or more agencies charged with one, facilitating to protect Coloradans from the harmful impact of oil and gas production and two, to aid and foster Colorado’s swift transition to one hundred percent renewable energy production and consumption using the Solutions Project developed at Stanford University as a guide.”

Up next was testimony from an activist who has previously accused the oil and gas industry of having a “personality disorder” and of being “socially deviant.” This time, Amanda Harper called oil and gas producers a “short sighted, selfish and sociopathic industry.”

Not a lot of balance or reasonable tone, it seems.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper offered his comments at an event that saw journalists kicked out and required an open records request to seek audio of the Democrat’s comments–and while he questioned the leverage of the anti-energy groups to get the proposed measures on the 2016 ballot, he surreptitiously argued that the COGCC rules discussed above had, in his opinion as well, gone further than his own Oil and Gas Task Force had recommended:

“I haven’t heard of any funding source for any of them,” Hickenlooper began. “Like the normal, large funders of those initiatives, you know, I haven’t heard of. So, maybe they’ll get on the ballot, but without a lot of money, I don’t think they’re going to do well. I can guarantee you there’ll be money spent showing that, the, the problems associated with any of those initiatives.” (Forum Q & A – 17:05)

Moments later, he added, “Again, we’re going further even than the commission recommended, and in certain cases, to try and give local, local municipal elected officials more, a greater role.”

Further.

We’ll see how that plays out.

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan received a stay of its own last week when the DC circuit refused to grant a stay of the rule, forcing 26 states to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.

Meanwhile at the Colorado legislature, Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley) has championed measures designed to keep the implementation of the Clean Power Plan at arms’ length, allowing lawsuits to be completed before the state moves forward, something Coloradans clearly support:

Two weeks into the 2016 legislative session, Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from the heart of the Front Range oil and gas patch in Greeley, has introduced two bills that take aim at the plan, which requires power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, largely by shutting down or converting coal-fired plants to alternative fuel sources.

One of Cooke’s bills couldn’t be more timely. After several state attorneys general, including Colorado’s Cynthia Coffman, failed to win a stay of the plan from a federal court Thursday, Cooke’s Senate Bill 46 jumps into the ring like a tag-team wrestler, working from another angle to stall implementation of the Obama administration plan.

“Well, it wasn’t really a surprise that the court in D.C. struck down the stay request,” Cooke told The Colorado Statesman. “Unfortunately, the bill is more relevant now.”

The “Preserve State Clean Power Plan Options Act” aims to “slow down the implementation process” in part by suspending it “until all [related] lawsuits are done,” Cooke told members of three rural Colorado advocacy groups, including some representing coal mining areas, who were visiting the Capitol Friday.

In effect, Colorado wouldn’t need a stay from a court because it would have passed a stay for itself, written by Cooke.

Cooke’s other bill, SB 61 or “Ratepayer Protection Act,” would require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pay for costs generated as a result of Clean Power Plan implementation.

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NEWS ROUNDUP:
Silverton punts on Superfund designation

How the EPA handled Flint, MI water contamination, vs. Animas River spill

Plunging oil prices means lower severance tax revenue in Colorado

Lower gas prices? Let’s raise taxes!

Anti-energy activists oppose coal development on the Western Slope. News at 11.

Trading: Coal extraction for sage grouse habitat