2019 #COleg: SB19-096 (Collect Long-term Climate Change Data) #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

The Four Corners methane hotspot is yet another environmental climate and public health disaster served to our community by industry. But now that we’ve identified the sources we can begin to hold those responsible accountable for cleaning up after themselves. The BLM methane rule and EPA methane rule are more clearly essential than ever. Photo credit: San Juan Citizens Alliance

From The Cortez Journal (Ryan Maye Handy):

Effort worries coal counties on Western Slope; seen as duplicate by some

Lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill Thursday that orders the state to expand its tracking and possibly regulations of greenhouse gas emissions through 2050, an effort to buck the Trump administration’s disinterest in tackling climate change.

Colorado has been tracking greenhouse gas emissions by sector since 2008, but Senate Bill 096 greatly expands an existing effort by the Air Quality Control Commission. Under the bill, the commission would collect data and propose rules to address emissions by July 2020. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be required to collect annual greenhouse gas data by sector and publish it; the department would also be required to forecast emissions through 2050.

The bill’s opponents say it would generate more regulations that could push coal-fired power plants closer to extinction, killing jobs and further raising electricity costs on the Western Slope…

…Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would help Colorado reach its 2025 goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least a quarter. It would also ensure that greenhouse gas emission data would not depend on the federal government, which under President Donald Trump has abandoned its commitment to the Paris climate change accords.

The bill passed the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2; it now heads to the Appropriations Committee…

Southwest Colorado greenhouse gas emissions attracted global attention in 2014, when NASA scientists discovered a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the Four Corners caused in part by natural gas production. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Even as Colorado grapples with methane emissions from oil and gas operations and a power mix still mostly reliant on coal, Sen. Ray Scott, a Mesa County Republican, questioned why SB 096 would have the state spend nearly $2 million to duplicate data already being tracked by the federal agencies and local universities.

Chemical contamination from 7 #Colorado #coal-fired power plants found during #groundwater monitoring — The Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Comanche Station at Dusk. Photo credit: Power Technology

From The Colorado Sun (Tamara Chuang):

Local plants vow to minimize coal-ash contamination to meet new EPA rules; report finds cases much worse in other states

Since federal regulations kicked in a few years ago, coal-fired power plants are required to monitor and publicly report what happens to the residue from burning coal and determine whether chemicals are seeping from the coal-ash disposal sites into the groundwater.

But the reporting process is inconsistent between facilities and the data collected is often complicated to interpret. So a group of environmentalists culled the data from 265 coal-fired power plants or ash dumps, including seven in Colorado, and found 91 percent had unsafe levels of one or more chemicals in nearby groundwater.

“This is only the beginning of the end,” said Abel Russ, a senior attorney for The Environmental Integrity Project, which published the report as part of a collaboration between the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and other environmental organizations. “If it’s gradually leaking and if you don’t do anything about it now, future generations will have to deal with it. And it’s not any one chemical but a bunch. Most had four different chemicals (contaminating groundwater). The coal-ash rule and our report are looking at drinking water standards, but there’s the whole fish and wildlife (ecosystem) that this doesn’t address.”

Cutting carbon requires both innovation and regulation — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

Where coal-state Sen. John Barrasso got it wrong in a recent New York Times op-ed.

In December, after world leaders adjourned a major climate conference in Poland, Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, penned an opinion piece in the New York Times headlined “Cut carbon through innovation, not regulation.”

Those first two words were enough to get me to continue reading. After all, when was the last time you heard a conservative Republican, particularly one who represents a state that produces more than 300 million tons of coal per year, advocate for cutting carbon?

“… the climate is changing,” he wrote, “and we, collectively, have a responsibility to do something about it.” What?! In one sentence he not only acknowledged the reality of climate change, but also admitted, obliquely, that humans are causing it — and have a responsibility to act. I had to re-read the byline. Had someone hacked the senator from Wyoming?

Unfortunately, no, as became clear in the rest of the op-ed. The “responsibility” thing was just the first of three “truths” that Barrasso gleaned from the climate conference. He continued: “Second, the United States and the world will continue to rely on affordable and abundant fossil fuels, including coal, to power our economies for decades to come. And third, innovation, not new taxes or punishing global agreements, is the ultimate solution.” Ah, yes, there’s the sophistry we have come to expect from the petrocracy.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., argued in a recent op-ed that fossil fuels, like the coal processed at this Wyoming plant, will continue to power the world for decades, and that the solution to climate change is “investment, invention and innovation,” not regulation. Photo credit: BLM Wyoming

Translation: We’ve got to stem climate change, but we have to do it by plowing forward with the very same activities that are causing it. And we have to take responsibility by, well, shirking that same responsibility and hefting it off on “innovation” instead.

Fine. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here getting rid of my growing love handles while I continue to eat three pints of Chunky Monkey per day.

Aside from the abstract answer of innovation, Barrasso offers two specific solutions to take the place of regulations or carbon taxes. The first is nuclear power. Aside from the waste and the uranium mining and milling problems, nuclear power can be a great way to cut emissions — as long as it displaces coal or natural gas, which doesn’t seem to be what Barrasso has in mind.

His primary solution, however, is carbon capture and sequestration. It sounds great. Just catch that carbon and other pollutants emitted during coal or natural gas combustion and pump it right back underground to where it came from. Problem solved, without building any fancy new wind or solar plants. But there are currently only 18 commercial-scale carbon capture operations worldwide, and they’re not being used on coal power plants, where they’re most needed, because of technical challenges and high costs.

Once the carbon is captured from a facility, it must be sequestered, or stored away somewhere, perhaps in a leak-free geologic cavern. Most current carbon-capture projects, however, pump the carbon into active oil and gas wells, a technique known as enhanced oil recovery. This widespread method of boosting an old well’s production usually uses carbon dioxide that has been mined from a natural reservoir, the most productive of which is the McElmo Dome, located in southwestern Colorado under Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Using captured carbon instead makes sense. It obviates the need to drill for carbon dioxide under sensitive landscapes, and it can help pay for carbon capture projects. But none of that changes the underlying logical flaw in the whole endeavor, which amounts to removing carbon emitted from a coal plant only to pump it underground in order to produce and burn more oil and therefore emit more carbon.

Barrasso writes: “The United States is currently on track to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, … not because of punishing regulations, restrictive laws or carbon taxes but because of innovation and advanced technology…” And he’s right. Carbon emissions from the electricity sector have dropped by some 700 million tons per year over the last decade. But it wasn’t because of carbon capture, or more nuclear power. It was because U.S. utilities burned far less coal, period.

Sure, innovation played a role. New drilling techniques brought down the price of natural gas, and advances in solar- and wind-power did the same with those technologies, making them all more cost competitive, displacing some coal. But Barrasso seems not to understand whence that innovation comes. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. More often than not, innovation is driven by money, regulations, or a combination of both. Fracking was a way to increase profits in old oil and gas fields. Renewable technologies moved forward in response to state energy requirements. Carbon taxes would encourage renewables, nuclear and, yes, carbon capture, by making them more competitive with fossil fuels.

“People across the world,” Barrasso writes, “are rejecting the idea that carbon taxes and raising the cost of energy is the answer to lowering emissions.” He mentions France, and the Gilet Jaune, or Yellow Vest, movement, the members of which have passionately protested against higher taxes on fuel, among other things. But the yellow vests aren’t opposed to carbon-cutting or environmental regulations. They were demonstrating against inequality, and against the fact that the fuel tax was structured in a regressive way, hurting the poor far more than the rich. The lesson is not that regulations are bad, but that they must be applied equitably and justly. That, in turn, will drive innovation, and hopefully more thoughtful op-eds.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

San Juan County, #Utah commissioners’ resolution condemns @Potus reduction of #BearsEars acreage #KeepItInTheGround

The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

From Pacific Standard Magazine (Rebecca Worby):

The San Juan County commission voted two-to-one in favor of a resolution that rescinds the county’s previous opposition to the monument and condemns its reduction by Donald Trump.

The county commission of Utah’s San Juan County—home of Bears Ears National Monument, which President Donald Trump vastly reduced in 2017—has historically opposed the designation of the land as a national monument. But it has now changed its tune: On Tuesday, the commission voted two-to-one in favor of a resolution that rescinds the county’s previous opposition to the monument and condemns its reduction.

Specifically, the https://www.utah.gov/pmn/files/467927.pdf rescinds all prior resolutions opposing the establishment of the monument, or calling for the dissolution or reduction of it. Most notably, it also “condemn[s] the actions of President Donald Trump in violating the Antiquities Act of 1906 by unlawfully reducing the Bears Ears National Monument” in his December 4th, 2017, proclamation, and “call[s] upon the United States to fully restore” the monument.

The vote does not signal a change of heart, but rather reflects a major shift in the county commission’s make-up: Thanks to recent redistricting, it is now Utah’s first-ever majority-Navajo county commission. Previously, the county’s three districts were drawn such that most Native American voters were grouped into one district, but in 2016, a federal judge ruled that the voting districts were unconstitutional and ordered the county to redraw them. (According to the census, Navajos make up the majority of the county’s population by a small margin.) In response to the shift in representation, Utah state representative and former San Juan County commissioner Phil Lyman—notorious for the time he rode an ATV down a trail that was closed to motorized vehicles in protest of federal land control—has raised the possibility of splitting the county in two to bring power back to his white-majority hometown of Blanding.

Both of the Navajo members of the commission, Willie Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy, voted in favor of the Bears Ears resolution. The dissenting vote came from the commission’s white member, Bruce Adams. (When I was in San Juan County for then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s visit to Bears Ears during his monuments review in 2017, Adams greeted Zinke wearing a white “MAKE SAN JUAN COUNTY GREAT AGAIN” cowboy hat—and gave Zinke one too.)

Environmental victories don’t guarantee economic justice — @HighCountryNews

Navajo Generating Station and the cloud of smog with which it blankets the region. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson via The High Country News

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

Without a just transition, the Navajo Generating Station closure will have harmful consequences.

Last year, climate-hawk billionaire Tom Steyer forked out more than $23 million to support an Arizona ballot initiative that would have required the state’s utilities to get half their power from renewable sources by 2035. Arizonans for Affordable Energy, a front-group for the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, spent nearly $38 million in opposition. The initiative — which failed — was the most expensive ballot measure campaign in the state’s history.

Meanwhile, a group called Save Native American Families, funded by the Navajo Nation, spent an additional $785,000 opposing the measure. This might seem odd. After all, it’s becoming more and more clear that the ravages of environmental degradation — climate change included — have a disproportionately large impact on Indigenous people, people of color and the poor.

Yet too often, the victims of the very efforts to stem that degradation come from disadvantaged communities. A fuel tax takes a greater portion of the income of someone driving an old beater between two jobs than it does from a wealthy, SUV-driving gas-guzzler. If you don’t own a house, you can’t take advantage of rooftop solar incentives, and yet may have to pay for your wealthier neighbors via increased electricity costs. And the great coal phase-out has failed to faze coal corporation executives, who pay themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses while yanking health insurance and retirement benefits out from under retired miners.

This can be the result of badly crafted policies or of wily corporate polluters who have managed to shift the burden of environmental policies onto those in the lower income brackets. Regardless, the dynamic often results in environmental justice coming at the expense of economic justice. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Take the case of the Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona. In early 2017, the majority owner of the plant, the Salt River Project, announced that it would shut down the plant at the end of this year, forcing the closure of the Kayenta Mine on Black Mesa, which is currently operated by Peabody Energy. The closure comes primarily because the plant is no longer profitable, but pollution-control requirements played an indirect role by increasing the operating costs. It is a major environmental victory, keeping more than 14 million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere annually along with a slew of other harmful pollutants. It also represents a dire threat to the communities that have come to rely on the revenue from the plant and the mine. The closure will do away with as many as 900 jobs, 90 percent of which are currently held by Native American workers, in a region where unemployment hovers around 50 percent. It would also eliminate more than $50 million in royalties and other revenue to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe.

As a result, members of both tribal governments have fought to keep the plant open. They’ve sought outside purchasers to no avail, and they’ve appealed to the federal government, which owns 25 percent of the plant, to intervene. And now the tribe’s own Navajo Transitional Energy Company is looking to purchase both coal mine and power plant and keep it running — and polluting — for decades to come.

Indigenous opposition groups, such as ToNizhoniAni, Diné CARE and Black Mesa Water Coalition, have made concerted efforts to stop the purchase, because it would mean taking on financial risk while also allowing the plant and mine to continue to inflict harm. Meanwhile, the major outside environmental groups that have badgered the Navajo Generating Station for years — and remain deeply invested in keeping the plant closed — are in a difficult position. Any interference with the plant’s purchase would constitute an attack on sovereignty and a continuation of the same resource colonization that brought the power plants and mines to the Navajo Nation in the first place. Yet if the environmental groups stand idly by, they risk allowing serious environmental and human harm to continue.

There is a middle way, though. Environmental groups can work with the affected communities, the polluting companies and the relevant governments to push the current owners to live up to their moral duty and repair the damage they’ve done, to make amends for historical land and resource theft, and to patch up the economic hole their departure leaves. They can help pave the way for a just transition away from coal, one in which a solid framework is provided for affected communities to exercise agency and move forward to a greener and more economically robust future.

The initial pain of closure can be soothed by ensuring that the corporate owners live up to their legal obligation to adequately reclaim both the power plant and mine sites, a commitment that will keep hundreds of jobs active for several years after closure. And even though they are not legally obliged to do so, the corporate owners have a moral duty to take the reclamation further by healing the damage caused by dumping nearly 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and poisoning the land, the air and the water — along with the people and other creatures — in the plant’s vicinity. The damage can’t be reversed, nor can much of the mess be cleaned up. But the corporations that are responsible can contribute to the healing by creating a just transition fund that could retrain power plant workers, provide loans for green energy entrepreneurs in the affected community, or perhaps go toward tribally developed utility-scale projects, such as the solar plant recently constructed by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority near Kayenta, Arizona. This healing process can begin by restoring water rights and transferring transmission lines to the Navajo and Hopi nations as soon as the plant closes.

Such an initiative does not come cheap. But the money not only exists; it is owed to the tribal citizens who have been bilked by corporations for decades. Peabody began mining on Navajo and Hopi land on Black Mesa in the 1960s, displacing families and destroying grazing lands and cultural artifacts, sucking up groundwater at a rate of 1.3 billion gallons per year, and shipping the coal — which was owned by the tribes — off to the Navajo and Mojave power plants. In return, the tribes received just 2 to 6 percent royalty for the coal, an amount that was finally increased to the still-below-standard rate of 12.5 percent in 1984. There it has stood since, another product of the bad-faith negotiations that were facilitated by the federal government.

“Royalty” is a euphemism that is employed to obscure what is really going on here: For nearly five decades, these corporations have paid mere pennies on the dollar to wreck tribal land, take the coal that belongs to the citizens of the Hopi and Navajo nations and burn it in power plants that, in turn, poison the land and people of those very same nations. By not adequately compensating the tribes for their coal, the coal company and its customers have cheated the tribes’ citizens out of billions of dollars.

The resulting cheap power lights up the neon of Las Vegas, while the Colorado River water that the plant’s electricity pumps has enabled Phoenix and Tucson to sprawl into the desert, enriching the operators of the Southwest’s growth machine: real estate developers, mass-production homebuilders, the automotive industry, the corporate shareholders, the ratepayers and the executives. Arizona Public Service, 14 percent owner of the generating station, raked in half a billion dollars in profit last year. Peabody’s CEO is paid $20 million a year to run a company that just emerged from bankruptcy. They are all beneficiaries of outright theft.

And then there’s that $63 million squandered on the renewable energy initiative campaign. That money could have offset a year of the tribal government revenue lost owing to the plant’s closure. That same amount could have bought and installed more than 4,000 solar systems in low-income households, providing hundreds of jobs while cutting emissions. Or the money could have been put into a just transition fund. Instead it was squandered on public relations campaigns that certainly brought no environmental gain.

The Navajo Generating Station and the coal mines on Black Mesa were built on a foundation of theft and colonialism. But closing them down will not help unless it is done in a just way, one that heals old wounds rather than opening new ones.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

@AOC to introduce the resolution for a #GreenNewDeal today in the U.S. House of Representatives #ActOnClimate

Read the resolution here. Thanks NPR for posting it and thank you Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for your leadership on this issue.

@POTUS names David Bernhardt to lead @Interior

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Bernhardt — the department’s deputy secretary, who has been acting secretary since Ryan Zinke’s departure from the top job at the end of the year amidst ethics probes — was announced as the President’s choice to replace Zinke…

It’s believed that if Bernhardt is confirmed, he would be the first Western Slope native to hold a Cabinet-level position, at least in recent history.

His nomination was heralded in some quarters Monday and met with staunch criticism in others, reflecting that Bernhardt, like Zinke, has been a somewhat polarizing figure at Interior.

“This is fantastic news for Colorado,” U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a news release. “I’ve known David Bernhardt for many years and have worked closely with him over the last two years to advance Colorado priorities. As a native Coloradan from the Western Slope, David knows how important public lands are to our state and has a keen understanding of the issues Coloradans face every day.”

[…]

But Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, called Bernhardt’s nomination “an affront to America’s parks and public lands.”

She calls Bernhardt a “walking conflict of interest” because of his prior work as an attorney representing oil and gas, water and other industries and interests.

“As an oil and gas lobbyist, Bernhardt pushed to open vast swaths of public lands for drilling and mining. As deputy secretary, he was behind some of the worst policy decisions of Secretary Zinke’s sad tenure, including stripping protections for imperiled wildlife. Bernhardt even used the government shutdown to approve drilling permits for companies linked to his former clients,” Rokala said in a news release.

“As senators consider Bernhardt’s nomination, it’s crucial they remember that the ongoing investigations into Ryan Zinke’s conduct intersect with policies that David Bernhardt has helped enact. Otherwise, we’ll see another Interior secretary fall into the same ethical abyss that ended Ryan Zinke’s political career.”

Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, said in a statement, “Bernhardt is an ex-lobbyist and the ultimate DC-swamp creature with so many potential conflicts of interest that he has to carry around a list of his former clients. He is simply too conflicted to be our next Interior Secretary, and the Senate should vote his nomination down.”

Last week, the Center for Western Priorities released a poll by Keating Research that it said showed more than 60 percent of Coloradans were extremely or somewhat concerned that clients Bernhardt once lobbied for have business before the department he now runs.

The poll reportedly found that just 18 percent of Coloradans think increasing oil and gas development should be Interior’s most important issue, while 74 percent said what matters most is striking a better balance between preserving public lands and responsible oil and gas development.

Bernhardt has sought to recuse himself at times from potential conflicts of interest. In September, he bowed out of tentative plans to speak at a water forum in Grand Junction because of a potential conflict.

Mike Samson, a Garfield County commissioner who taught Bernhardt at Rifle High School, said he thinks anyone in government faces the potential for conflicts of interest to some degree.

He said Bernhardt, who was “a great student,” is smart enough to make sure that what he does is right, so as not to create problems down the road.

Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, said that based on her limited interactions with Bernhardt, he is strict about avoiding conflicts of interest.

“He seems to be very adamant in that regard,” she said.

Local government representatives such as Samson and Petersen are thrilled at the prospect of a western Coloradan running a department so influential in the West.

“We had thought that he would be a good candidate for the position and apparently the president thinks so as well,” Petersen said…

Bernhardt has worked in roles including serving on the staff of Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis when McInnis served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as Interior’s solicitor during the George W. Bush administration. More recently he has been instrumental in carrying out the Trump administration’s energy-dominance agenda.

Gardner, Samson and Petersen all credit him for the role he played during the Trump administration in getting oil and gas revenue returned to western Colorado governments that was left over after the cleanup of the Anvil Points oil shale research site near Rifle.

Petersen said he worked closely with governor offices in the West to consider comments from local governments regarding revising greater sage-grouse management plans, after local governments weren’t listened to when the plans were first issued in 2015.

Whit Fosburgh, president and chief executive officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said that his group has worked closely with Bernhardt, “and we have found him to be accessible, fair, and true to his word,” and the group supports his nomination.

He said the nomination “places him in an unenviable position to balance the priorities of the Trump Administration with the mission of the (Interior) Department. We have often disagreed on policies, such as the pace and siting of energy development and the failure of the department to require developers to mitigate the damage they do to the lands that belong to all Americans. At the same time we have worked productively with Mr. Bernhardt to expand recreational access to public lands and protect big-game migration corridors.”