@Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

Gov. Matt Mead: Clean Power Plan Case Heard Before the U.S. Court of Appeals

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com
Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

Here’s the release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office:

Wyoming and 26 other states, industry groups and others presented arguments before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday in opposition to the Clean Power Plan. The states argued the proposed rule goes far beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority. Wyoming would be particularly impacted as the rule requires the state to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 44%.

“Federal regulatory agencies continue to push the boundaries of their legal authority. This results in unreasonable and onerous burdens on industry, businesses, individuals and states,” said Governor Matt Mead. “The Clean Power Plan is just such a situation. I am pleased the Court stopped the implementation of the rule pending a decision in this case.”

Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit denied a petition from states to halt implementation of the rule while litigation was pending. The petition was then submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court which ultimately granted the stay and stopped implementation of the rule. The petition argued the EPA did not have the proper authority, the Clean Power Plan would take authority away from states to regulate in-state power generation and transmission and the final rule was substantially different from its draft version, a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

Rocky Mountain Energy Summit examines intersecting industry issues — @DurangoHerald

Despite ups and downs from year to year, global average surface temperature is rising. By the beginning of the 21st century, Earth’s temperature was roughly 0.5 degrees Celsius above the long-term (1951–1980) average. (NASA figure adapted from Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The timing of the three-day summit at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver was appropriate, given two proposals that could be approved or rejected for the November ballot as early as next week.

One proposal would allow local governments to overstep the state’s regulatory authority to enact stringent rules, including bans on fracking.

The second proposal would increase setbacks of wells from schools, hospitals and homes from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.

The industry has said that effort would put 95 percent of land in the top five oil-and-gas-producing counties in Colorado off limits. La Plata County would become almost completely barred from development, as 99.6 percent of land would be prohibited.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, supports fracking, and he has concerns with the two ballot proposals. In 2014, he struck a deal that kept initiatives off the ballot. The compromise was that a task force would meet to address the local control issue.

But the task force largely fell short in the eyes of industry opponents. The rule that came out of it requires operators to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities. But it did nothing to extend powers to local governments.

The Colorado Supreme Court in May ruled that state power trumps local rules and regulations, which has caused some local governments – including Boulder County – to re-examine moratoriums on oil and gas development.

But with groups continuing to push ballot proposals, the issue has so far not gone away.

Hickenlooper believes education and stakeholder processes have quelled some concerns. He doubts proponents will make the ballot this year, as groups submitted about 100,000 signatures per proposal to the secretary of state’s office. It takes 98,492 valid signatures to make the ballot, so there’s not much of a cushion.

“People get so swept up in the emotion of the moment and carried away by some image, or a fact, that turns out not to be a fact,” Hickenlooper said while speaking during a panel discussion at the summit. “What we should spend a lot of time trying to do is make sure the right information is out there…

Federal regulations and politics
Even if the state enacts its own standards, much of the burden falls on federal regulators, which has tied into elections and politics.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce floated a report at the energy summit that stated that a ban on energy production on federal lands would cost Colorado 50,000 jobs, $124 million in annual royalties and $8.3 billion in gross domestic product.

Former Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders forced Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party further to the left on the oil and gas issue, moving them closer to a “keep it in the ground” platform.

The Clinton campaign says it is not pushing for a ban, just that “our long-term goal should be no extraction of fossil fuels on public lands.”

Proposals include reforms to fossil fuel leasing, a continued review of the federal coal program, prohibitions on development in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, raising royalty rates and ensuring that new leasing accounts for the clean energy market.

In Colorado, the business world is concerned about the transition…

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, took a more middle-of-the-road approach.

“Colorado truly is a state that can embrace all energy sources …” Bennet said. “Colorado is particularly well positioned to have these markets because of industry-led efforts to protect Colorado’s air and water.”

@PNS_News: Solar Could Employ Laid Off Coal Workers, Study Finds #keepitintheground #climatechange

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From Pixabay via The Public News Service:

The growth of solar and wind energy related jobs could easily absorb coal industry layoffs over the next 15 years and provide full-time careers, if investments are made to retrain workers, according to a new study by researchers at the Oregon State University and the Michigan Technological University.

Edward Louie, the report’s co-author, says between solar and wind, Utah is in a good position to become more energy independent and a leading exporter of renewable power.

“To transport the wind blades, to install the wind turbines – and then also all the jobs it would take to upgrade the transmission lines to handle that high percent of renewables – then there’s more than enough positions,” he explains.

Louie notes coal jobs have become increasingly at risk because of falling natural gas prices and new Environmental Protection Agency rules targeting coal-fired power plants to limit climate pollution.

He says if the U.S. goes completely renewable, nearly 1,400 Utah workers – and 75,000 nationally – will need to find new jobs.

The solar industry already employs more than 200,000 people and is creating jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy, according to the study, which also determined closest equivalent solar positions and salaries.

Louie says a coal operations engineer, for example, could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10 percent salary increase.

“Obviously there are some jobs that are very specific to coal mining, and those workers will probably need some retraining to find a job in the renewable energy industry,” he says.

The study also found that a coal CEO’s annual salary would be more than enough to retrain every company employee for a job in renewables.

Louie adds other possible funding sources include federal and state dollars, and he says coal workers also could choose to pay for training themselves.

Scientists Urge Obama to End Federal Coal Leasing — Climate Central #keepitintheground

Coal fired plant
Coal fired plant

From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

Citing coal’s effect on climate change, a group of more than 65 prominent scientists is urging the Obama administration to end coal leasing on federal public lands by making permanent a moratorium the government placed on leasing in January.

In a letter sent to the administration [Wednesday, July 27, 2016], the scientists said that unless coal mining is stopped permanently, the U.S. cannot meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, and the goal to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F) may be impossible.

Governor Mead Opposes Federal Coal Lease Moratorium #Wyoming #keepitintheground

temperaturedeparturefromavg01thru062016noaa

Here’s the release from Governor Mead’s office:

Governor Mead’s formal comments strongly oppose the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) moratorium on new coal leases. The Governor outlined the State’s concerns in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze. The moratorium began January 15, 2016.

“States like Wyoming, where coal is produced and environmental stewardship is a model for the nation, were not consulted and were caught by surprise,” wrote the Governor. “Now, national revenues, energy users across the nation, coal miners and their families are at risk. The justification for this moratorium and the manner it was unveiled are unjustifiable.”

The Governor states this Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) process is an attempt by the DOI to bypass Congress and impose a Carbon Tax. The moratorium will dramatically impact jobs, energy security and energy independence. It targets Wyoming as the nation’s leader in coal production. Wyoming produces roughly 40% of the nation’s coal – 80% of that comes from federal land.

“The BLM needs to stop the PEIS, but at a minimum it needs to commit in writing what it has promised repeatedly, that the PEIS will be completed by January 15, 2019 and, completed or not, that the moratorium will expire on that date,” said Governor Mead. “I will continue to oppose the administration’s unjustified approach to coal.”

The Governor’s letter is over 75 pages long with 4179 pages of attachments. The letter is available on Governor Mead’s website: http://governor.wyo.gov/documents.