“If I had to sum it up in a word, I think I’d say ‘transformative.’ It’s a real shift in our policy, and I think it really shows the direction that Colorado is headed,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. “I think it shows that we’re starting to take climate change seriously and recognize the task that’s truly ahead of us if we’re going to do our part to help solve this problem.”
The bills include efforts to make houses and appliances — from refrigerators, to light bulbs to air conditioners and furnaces — more energy-efficient…
Lawmakers extended state tax credits for buying electric vehicles and allowed regulated electric utilities to own and operate vehicle charging stations to try to encourage people to buy and drive zero-emission vehicles.
One of the things that sets Colorado apart from other states working to boost the use of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is its efforts to look out for affected workers and communities, said Anna McDevitt, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
The bill reauthorizing the PUC has a provision requiring utilities to include a workforce transition plan when they propose shutting down a power plant. Another section on low-cost bonds to retire power plants for cleaner, cheaper alternatives also provides that a portion of the proceeds helps workers and communities affected by the closures…
Referring to the PUC bill and its carbon-reduction targets, Xcel Energy said in a statement Friday that the legislation was “heavily negotiated with a broad set of stakeholders” and protects safety reliability and customer costs…
One bill expands the size of community solar gardens, which are centralized arrays of solar panels that users “subscribe” to. They are intended for people who want to use solar power but whose roofs aren’t suitable, who live in an apartment or can’t afford to install a system.
Other legislation directs the PUC to study regional transmission organizations that would make it easier for utilities or municipalities to buy wholesale power. Another section requires regulators to take on planning to help facilitate rooftop solar and other distributed-energy installations.
The PUC also will have to look into so-called “performance-based ratemaking.” That would allow utilities to earn a certain rate of return on things such as increasing energy efficiency or installing a certain amount of rooftop solar rather than just on construction of plants or other infrastructure.
Ed Quillen used to say that oil shale had been the, “Next big thing for 100 years.”
Here’s the release from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (Ray Bloxham) via Earth Justice:
Conservation groups today sued the Trump administration to challenge what would be the nation’s first commercial-scale oil shale mine and processing facility. The lawsuit says officials failed to protect several endangered species when they approved rights-of-way across public lands to provide utilities to the proposed oil shale development.
The massive Enefit project in northeast Utah’s Uintah Basin would also drain billions of gallons of water from the Green River, generate enormous amounts of greenhouse gas pollution and exacerbate the Uintah Basin’s often-dismal air quality.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Utah, argues that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the law by ignoring the potential harm to endangered fish. In its biological opinion, the agency considered only the harm from water depletions necessary to build the pipeline, not the billions of gallons of Green River water that will be sent through the pipeline to Enefit’s oil shale development.
“The responsible federal agencies have worn blinders in approving this project, leaving themselves and the public in the dark about the immense ecological harm it would cause,” said Alex Hardee, attorney at Earthjustice. “We’re going to court to uphold the nation’s environmental laws and save the Upper Colorado River Basin from the devastating effects of oil shale.”
The Bureau of Land Management also violated the law by failing to adequately analyze the significant environmental impacts of the proposed oil shale development, which likely would not occur but for the agency’s approval of the rights-of-way.
“This is a prescription for disaster for our climate, wildlife, and the Colorado River Basin,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Draining the Green River to mine one of the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet sends us in exactly the wrong direction. It’s putting us on a collision course with climate catastrophe so a foreign fossil-fuel company can make big bucks.”
The Trump administration paved the way for the project last year by approving rights-of-way for electricity, oil, gas, and water lines across public lands. At full buildout, the Estonian-owned Enefit American Oil facility would produce 50,000 barrels of oil every day for the next 30 years or more from the Green River Formation.
“The environmental destruction, air pollution and water pollution inherent in this proposed oil shale mining project is something that every citizen of Utah should be alarmed about,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president and founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “That it would become a long-term public health disaster is being callously dismissed by a BLM that is being run as a subsidiary of the dirty energy industry.”
Huge amounts of water are required in the oil shale production process. The water pipeline will allow Enefit to drain more than 10,000 acre feet annually from the Green River, harming critical habitat for endangered fish, including the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. The project comes as Western states struggle with record droughts and climate-driven declines in river flows in the Colorado River Basin.
“Our region is already feeling the effects of pollution and climate change. To destroy our public lands in order to drill for more polluting fossil fuels would be a disaster for our communities and our planet,” said Dan Mayhew, conservation chair of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We should be accelerating the transition to clean energy, not sacrificing our water, air quality, and climate for an investment in one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world. Today we continue the fight to ensure that federal agencies can’t continue to approve dangerous, dirty energy projects without fully considering the totality of environmental damage that would result.”
Enefit intends to strip-mine about 28 million tons of rock a year over thousands of acres of high-desert habitat, generating hundreds of millions of tons of waste rock. It will also construct a half-square-mile processing plant, about 45 miles south of Dinosaur National Monument, to bake the rock at extremely high temperatures to turn pre-petroleum oil shale rock into refinery-ready synthetic crude oil. That will require vast amounts of energy and emit huge amounts of ozone precursors in an area recently listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as not in attainment with healthy ozone standards.
Oil shale is one of world’s most carbon-polluting fuels, with lifecycle carbon emissions up to 75 percent higher than those of conventional fuels.
“BLM’s approach here is to ignore the elephant in the room, which never ends well,” said Ann Alexander, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’ve focused exclusively on the relatively small impact of building some power lines and pipes, hoping no one will notice that this infrastructure will facilitate large-scale environmental destruction. Well, we noticed.”
The project would produce 547 million barrels of oil over three decades, spewing more than 200 million tons of greenhouse gas — as much as 50 coal-fired power plants produce in a year. Those emissions would contribute to global warming and regional drought already afflicting the rivers and their endangered fish.
“Enefit’s proposed oil shale operation could deplete more than 100 billion gallons over three decades,” said Sarah Stock, program director at Living Rivers. “That’s water taken away from other current water users and the downstream river ecosystem. The BLM needs to stop side-stepping their responsibilities by ignoring the devastating impacts that oil shale development will have on the climate and downstream water availability in the Colorado River Basin.”
“As a result of mismanagement, drought, and accelerating climate change, the Colorado River system is on the verge of collapse,” said Daniel E. Estrin, advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Yet despite this crisis, BLM and FWS have approved rights-of-way across public lands for a project that could remove 100 billion gallons of water from the basin, push several endangered species closer to extinction, and rapidly degrade the water supply of almost 40 million people. These approvals, that will allow an Estonian hard rock oil shale company to exploit US public lands and resources, must be reversed.”
“The BLM approved the rights-of-way to service Enefit’s proposed oil shale mine and processing facility based on an utterly inadequate analysis of potentially devastating air, water, climate and species impacts,” said Michael Toll, a staff attorney at Grand Canyon Trust. “Considering the rights-of-way are a public subsidy of an otherwise economically unfeasible oil shale development, the public has a right to know exactly how Enefit’s project will impact their health and environment.”
The groups filing today’s lawsuit are Living Rivers/Colorado RiverKeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Waterkeeper. The groups are represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, Grand Canyon Trust and the Center for Biological Diversity.
From the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Director Jeff Robbins released Final Objective Criteria today to ensure pending oil and gas permits and applications are in compliance with Colorado’s new oil and gas law, SB 19-181.
“The finalization of the criteria is an important first step in implementing the new law and incorporating it’s public health, safety, welfare, environmental, and wildlife considerations,” said Director Jeff Robbins. “We appreciate the 340 public comments we received and believe the objective criteria satisfies the Colorado Legislature’s intent.”
The Final Objective Criteria (Criteria) released include provisions that the Director of the COGCC may conduct additional analysis and review on proposed oil and gas locations, which are within 1,500 feet of a residence, are within a municipality, 1,500 feet of a municipality or platted subdivision, areas identified as “sensitive wildlife habitat” by the Colorado Department of Wildlife, or in a floodplain or water supply areas, among others.
Guidance was also issued today to outline the process an applicant can expect from the COGCC to ensure a permit complies with the new law’s requirements.
The criteria was informed by a wide variety of comments received by the Commission from the public, local governments, the industry and other interested parties.
While the Director and staff determined that the draft criteria captured most public and stakeholder comments and upheld the intent of SB 19-181, the Director added Objective Criteria No. 16, which involves additional Director Review on specific wells when an operator is subject to individual or blanket financial assurance requirements in addition to a few other small edits.
The criteria will remain in place for the COGCC until final rules outlined in SB 19-181 are adopted.
Final Objective Criteria: here
Final Objective Criteria Guidance: here
Objective Criteria Public Comments: here
FromThe Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:
Environmentalists and community activists asked Colorado regulators on Wednesday to stop issuing new oil and gas drilling permits until they rewrite the rules under a new law that makes public safety and the environment the state’s top priorities.
Just a month after the law took effect, some activists told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission it should be further along in revising the regulations…
The session was one of the oil and gas commission’s early steps toward implementing the new law, which mandated a major change in the agency’s focus from encouraging production to protecting the public, the environment and wildlife.
The law reflects increasing fears about public safety as the booming Wattenberg oil and gas field overlaps with fast-growing communities north and east of Denver. In addition to the emphasis on safety, it gives local governments new powers over the location of drilling and changes the makeup of the commission to add expertise on safety and the environment.
Commission Director Jeff Robbins called Wednesday’s meeting to hear public comment on the first set of changes, which deal mostly with administrative procedures, not drilling. The commission is expected to take up more substantive rules later this year.
Activists called for faster and more sweeping action, saying that oil and gas drilling pollutes the air and water, worsens climate change and puts residents at risk from fires and explosions…
The commission’s first formal hearing since the law was passed is Monday, but it was not yet clear whether members would start the rulemaking process.
Environmental and community organizations want the state to halt approval of oil and gas drilling permits until all new rules are written in the wake of more stringent regulations passed by the legislature in this year’s session.
Approving all the rules is expected to take at least a year, given the complexity of the new law. A new Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will need to be seated; new regulations to protect public health, safety and the environment will be developed; and new bond and fee rates to ensure cleanup of well sites will be set.
When the bill was moving through the legislature, the sponsors repeatedly disputed opponents’ arguments that Senate Bill 19-181 would lead to a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling.
But for several at a hearing Wednesday on the first set of rules being considered, the right thing to do is to halt approval of all permits until new regulations putting health and safety first are adopted…
Environmental and community activists who think no oil and gas permits should be approved until the new regulations take effect said so in letters sent Monday to Gov. Jared Polis, the COGCC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…
Jeff Robbins, executive director of the oil and gas commission, said Tuesday that his staff is moving forward as directed by the legislation. The staff is expected to release final criteria this week that will be used to consider permit applications while the new regulations are being developed.
The legislation directed the staff to draft criteria to provide additional review of permit applications to make sure new development meets the law’s objective of protecting public health and safety, the environment and wildlife, Robbins said.
The new law also clarifies that cities and counties can use their planning and land-use authority to regulate oil and gas in their borders. The guidelines, which the staff took public comments on, also address that change.
The COGCC staff has paused approval of new permits to write those guidelines and appoint an interim commission.
“Some permits may be approved and some may not given the heightened scrutiny and changes in progress. That course of action is consistent with SB 181,” Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayaette, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in an email.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a main sponsor of the bill, said the COGCC staff is following the process intended by the legislation.
“I have full faith in the director and the commission and the individuals there to ensure that they’re moving in a way that honors the spirit of the bill,” Fenberg said. “If they don’t, we will step in if we need to, not to punish anyone but to make sure our intentions are clear.”
The criteria the staff will use to determine if applications need more scrutiny include whether proposed wells are within certain distances from schools, homes or parks; are in a municipality; or if local governments want more input.
There are about 6,500 permit applications waiting in the queue. From January until the bill came law, the COGCC approved permits for 88 well locations and more than 800 associated wells.
The proposed change the COGCC took public comments on Wednesday deals with allowing administrative law judges to consider disputes and some administrative issues now handled by the commission. Robbins said the change is intended to give the commission more time to consider rules and policies.
This report was part of the May 3 issue of Mountain Town News.
Peter Butler, of Durango, and Auden Schendler, a town councilman in Basalt, are members of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, whose monthly meeting I attended this morning. At hand was whether to go forward with rule-making that would put Colorado in the company of 9 other states in adopting California’s zero-emission vehicle standards. It’s called Regulation 20.
The intent is to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. Gov. Jared Polis, in an executive order in January, the first of his administration, directed the air agency to consider the California program.
There are at least two good reasons to do so. One is ozone pollution, ozone being the primary constituent of what we more loosely call smog. Colorado’s Front Range has violated federal ozone standards since 2008, and vehicle emissions are a major reason why. Second, if Colorado has any hope of meeting its greenhouse gas reductions goal, it must reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Transportation became the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2017.
A staff member of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (an agency now headed by former Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan), described electric vehicles as being evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Left to its own devices, the staff member suggested, the free market will eventually embrace electric vehicles for the simple matter of cost. The cost of gasoline to get 100 miles in an internal-combustion engine is 2.5 times that of a battery-powered vehicle.
Of course, electric cars remain more costly. The staff member said the state assumes that battery-powered vehicles will reach up-front cost parity with internal-combustion engines somewhere between 2025-2028. In adopting California’s standards, Colorado will seek to accelerate the rate of adoption, by requiring manufactures to offer more electric vehicles in Colorado.
I sat in the second row, amid a bunch of suits. When it came time for testimony, nearly all of them identified themselves as auto dealers. They objected without exception. They want a voluntary market. They don’t want “cumbersome regulations.” Legislators need to tackle this, not a state agency directed by the governor. If it worked so well for California, why does California have such crummy air quality?
(As for California’s air quality, it has improved as the state now nears 10 percent market penetration of EVs. In Colorado, EV sales in late 2018 neared 3 percent).
The most interesting objection was that hydrogen will be the better solution than electrification, and time should be allowed for the hydrogen-powered cars to come a long. There were objections to subsidization of electric vehicles. We can, said several, do better than this.
The car dealers never did explain why the regulations would be burdensome, nor did they offer evidence of how fast the market, without guidance by government, would respond to the need to abate the pollution, both ozone and greenhouse gases.
But there was pushback. “A lot of people here have said we can do better,” said an individual who identified himself as Josh, a mechanic in a car dealership that specializes in EVs and hybrids. “If we could have done better, we wouldn’t be here (today). I am here because air quality in Denver is just awful and because of climate change, which we all know is a real thing.”
A woman pointed out that car dealers make little money on sale of cars. Their money comes from fixing cars and unlike internal-combustion engines, electric vehicles need comparatively few repairs.
Then came the final testimony of the morning. The speaker, Jim Burness, manages a company called National Car Charging. Revisiting automotive changes of the last 50 years, he pointed out that safety belts came as a result of a government mandate. Ditto for airbags. Ditto for improved fuel efficiency. His take-away conclusion: “Industry today is fighting for their right to pollute, and I find that very disturbing.”
A few minutes later, the commission voted with only a shrug of dissent from a member from Craig to pursue the rule-making. Colorado is hurrying to accelerate the energy transition. As one speaker said, there’s no time to spare.
On Saturday (May 11), the levels of the greenhouse gas reached 415 parts per million (ppm), as measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Scientists at the observatory have been measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels since 1958. But because of other kinds of analysis, such as those done on ancient air bubbles trapped in ice cores, they have data on levels reaching back 800,000 years…
During the ice ages, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were around 200 ppm. And during the interglacial periods — the planet is currently in an interglacial period — levels were around 280 ppm, according to NASA.
But every story has its villains: Humans are burning fossil fuels, causing the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which are adding an extra blanket on an already feverish planet. So far, global temperatures have risen by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the 19th century or pre-industrial times, according to a special report released last year by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Every year, the Earth sees about 3 ppm more carbon dioxide in the air, said Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of meteorology at Penn State University. “If you do the math, well, it’s pretty sobering,” he said. “We’ll cross 450 ppm in just over a decade.”
“CO2 levels will continue to increase for at least the next decade and likely much longer, because not enough is being done worldwide,” said Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The long-term increase is due to human-related emissions, especially the emissions of our burning of fossil fuels.”
However, he noted that the annual peak in carbon dioxide, which fluctuates throughout the year as plants change their breathing rhythms, occurs right now. The annual average value will be more like 410 to 412 ppm, he said. Which … is still very high.
“We keep breaking records, but what makes the current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere most troubling is that we are now well into the ‘danger zone’ where large tipping points in the Earth’s climate could be crossed,” said Jonathan Overpeck, the dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. “This is particularly true when you factor in the additional warming potential of the other greenhouse gases, including methane, that are now in the atmosphere.”
The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high, way before Homo sapiens walked the planet, the Antarctic Ice Sheet was much smaller and sea levels were up to 65 feet (20 meters) higher than they are today, Overpeck told Live Science.
“Thus, we could soon be at the point where comparable reductions in ice sheet size, and corresponding increases in sea level, are both inevitable and irreversible over the next few centuries,” he said. Smaller ice sheets, in turn, might reduce the reflectivity of the planet and potentially accelerate the warming even more, he added.
“It’s like we’re playing with a loaded gun and don’t know how it works.”
More than a dozen new energy and environment bills are headed to Gov. Jared Polis for a signature. They cover an array of issues from the oversight of electrical generating companies to how companies have to factor climate change into their decision making to the nitty gritty of how oil and gas drilling is governed in the state.
“Given the priority we saw voters make of energy and the environment this past fall they were a really an important part of this past legislative session,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, an environmental nonprofit.
While momentous, the actual impacts of some policies are yet to be determined. At least two — the oil rule and greenhouse gas reduction goals — will see many details decided in rulemaking by state agencies.
Agencies will release basic ideas on their plans for new regulations. Then they’ll release a draft rule for the public to weigh in on. Some environmental groups plan to put pressure on the state to hold evening sessions, so the public has a better chance to share their concerns.
The oil and gas law, for example, will require at least a half-dozen rules to be written or rewritten. That means it could take years — not months — to completely spell out details of measures that could have the biggest impact on curbing climate change…
Here’s a list of the key energy and environment bills:
Sunset Public Utilities Commission. 81-page bill gives new charter for state electric utility regulators, including a move in 2020 to calculate the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions in certain utility proceedings.