The American West from the air — @publicbooks @EcoFlight

From Public Books (Laura Pritchett):

I recently found myself 1,500 feet above ground, traveling at 180 mph. When I wiped away the breath-mist from the window, I could see the American West in the chill of November: snowy mountain ranges, high alpine, high desert, waves of blue mountains, the shocking red rocks of Utah, the undulations of landscape as it bore out its transformation from range to basin and back again. If I peered closer, the details revealed themselves: the way snow had blown itself into watersheds, the paths I’d hiked winding up mountains, the glint on the curves of some of the nation’s best cutthroat trout streams.

I also saw the unbeautiful: spiderwebs of fracking roads, missing mountainsides, uranium mines, orange ponds for storing tailings and dust, stands of felled trees, the white puffs and yellow haze from coal-fired power plants.

My ticket to this view was a program called “Flight Across America,” which gives college-age and early professional folks the chance to see the West from the air. It’s a program of EcoFlight, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for environmental issues from the air. Ecoflight was started by Bruce Gordon (good friend to the late John Denver, another pilot-conservationist) 13 years ago; since then, EcoFlight has flown politicians, conservation groups, media, scientists, and celebrities.

In three small Cessnas, we took off from little airports in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico: Grand Junction, Farmington, Cortez, Durango, Moab, Walden. We crammed into these 1970s-era planes with recording gear and notebooks and cameras, with hats and gloves, with headsets for communicating both within the plane and to the other planes, and with curiosity.

Below, we saw Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming; saw the Navajo nation, site of the most polluting coal-fired power plant in the United States; saw the West’s many rivers and diversions; saw the Roan Plateau of western Colorado, a major drilling site. We flew over the proposed Hermosa Wilderness Area in southern Colorado; we camped in freezing temperatures at the Hovenweep National Monument near the ruins of the ancestral Pueblo; we hiked in the heat of Moab and in a blizzard at the Maroon Bells. We also met with an array of experts representing Colorado’s politicians, ranchers, mountain bikers, conservationists, and photographers.

The amount of information we absorbed from our pilots and guest speakers was immense. But perhaps the most important discovery—for those of us who hadn’t flown like this before—was the simple but essential confirmation that the landscape is a whole. Despite the state lines, designations, management agencies, political jurisdictions, and roads, the planet Earth is the planet Earth, a continuous entity. As the snowy peaks morphed into plateaus and into high desert, it was clear that the natural world does not segment or cut herself up at all…

Every day, we witnessed yet more instances of ecological and political interconnectedness; each night, the students would gather around and discuss the questions these examples raised: How can we see the West as a whole, and act accordingly? And how does one action influence others? Indeed, was this very trip culpable in some way? Was using up fuel to see these areas worth it? When I posed that question to Bruce Gordon, the program founder, he said, “That’s always a tough question, but we do our best to offset our carbon footprint as much as possible through various carbon savings in other areas. We work diligently to minimize flight times. We ensure that on each and every mission the value added of empowering our passenger participants and the subsequent outreach is worth the cost in adding to a carbon footprint. We aren’t against oil and gas, but we feel it can and should be done properly, and there are some places it just shouldn’t be done.

Black Hills Energy donates water rights and infrastructure to Pueblo Water for the Arkansas River Walk

Historic Pueblo Riverwalk via TravelPueblo.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (John Pompia):

At the El Pomar Fountain in the shadow of the Union Avenue bridge, Christopher Burke, vice president of Colorado Utility Operations for Black Hills Energy, officially transferred ownership of water rights and water diversion infrastructure to officials representing Pueblo Water, the city of Pueblo and Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.

The water rights, appraised at $280,000, were donated to Pueblo Water. To the city were given water diversion infrastructure — head gates, tunnels, diversion dams, ponds, etc. — and the pipeline that carries water from the Arkansas River to the HARP channel.

Formerly, this system was used to transmit cooling water to the now-decommissioned power plant but now has become an essential part of the operation of HARP’s water course.

While the water infrastructure is nearly a century old and is fully depreciated, the hypothetical cost of replacing these assets critical to properly operate the water flows would be substantial

Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead

zinke-confirmation-photo

By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

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@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.”