2019 #COleg: #Colorado Is Entering A New Environmental Era…Maybe — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

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:

Just Transition From Coal-based Electrical Energy Economy. Creates first-of-its-kind Just Transition office, and makes grants available to coal transition workers.

Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services. Allows electric utilities to apply to the Public Utilities Commission to build electric vehicle charging stations.

Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations. 29-page bill makes health and safety a priority for regulators and launches more than a half dozen rulemakings on things like flowlines, adopting additional methane controls.

Collect Long-Term Climate Change Data. Directs state health officials to collect greenhouse gas emission data annually, and make data available to local governments.

Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act. Allows community solar gardens to expand from 2 to 5 megawatts.

Modify Innovative Motor Vehicle Income Tax Credits. Current law phases out EV tax credits at the end of 2021, new law extends tax credits through 2025.

Electric Vehicle Grant Fund. Allows for more flexibility in how EV Grant Fund administered by the Colorado Energy Office is used.

New Appliance Energy and Water Efficiency Standards. Appliances and plumbing fixtures sold in Colorado will have to meet new energy efficiency and water efficiency standards.

Building Energy Codes. Local governments required to adopt one of three international energy conservation codes when they update building codes.

Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution. Directs Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050.

Housing Authority Properties. Allows public housing authorities to participate in state PACE program, a way to finance clean energy projects.

Front Range Waste Diversion Program. Creates Front Range landfill fee that goes to help communities meet waste diversion goals.

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.

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

Will the @POTUS administration boost uranium? Energy industry lobbying could lead to more mining from #BearsEars to #Wyoming — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

In July 2017, lobbyists from Energy Fuels Resources, a Canadian uranium mining company with operations in the United States, urged the [Administration] to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in order to free up uranium deposits for future mining.

Some observers found it odd. After all, foreign competition and low prices had beaten the domestic uranium industry down to just about nothing, and lobbyists — including Andrew Wheeler, who has since been appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency— had already convinced the Obama administration to leave Energy Fuels’ Daneros Mine out of the new national monument. Why would they want to go after more deposits?

Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Now we know: Those same lobbyists are pushing the [Administration] to order utilities to purchase at least 25% of their uranium domestically. Such a quota would throw a lifeline to the handful of uranium mining companies still operating in the U.S. and likely spur more uranium mining in the West — including, perhaps, within Bears Ears’ former boundaries as well as near the Grand Canyon. And it would continue the federal government’s long history of propping up the uranium industry at the expense of the people and places of uranium country —and maybe, even, of the nuclear power industry.

When prospectors with Geiger counters started scouring the Colorado Plateau in the 1940s, the government supported them, building roads to potential deposits, giving federal land to anyone interested in staking a claim, and paying $10,000 bonuses to those who found uranium. When corporations arrived to develop the prospects, the government again stepped in, becoming the sole buyer of the yellowcake they produced, virtually eliminating any economic risk.

Hundreds of mines and mills popped in Wyoming and across the Colorado Plateau, many of them within or near the borders of the Wind River Reservation, the Navajo Nation and New Mexico’s Laguna and Acoma pueblos. Many, if not most, of the miners and millers — and the people who eventually suffered from radiation — belonged to those tribes.

Decades before the U.S. boom got going, researchers had firmly established that European uranium miners (before the bomb, uranium was used to make dye) got lung cancer at much higher rates than the general populace. And in 1952, U.S. scientists uncovered the mechanism by which radon — a radioactive “daughter” of uranium found in at dangerously high levels in mines and mills — caused lung cancer. And yet the miners were never informed of the risks, nor were protective measures taken. In fact, the federal Atomic Energy Commission actively withheld this information from the public in a cover-up that benefited the corporations.

The government ended its uranium-buying program in the 1970s, but by then nuclear power was catching on worldwide, and demand for reactor fuel kept U.S. mines afloat and spurred new mining in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. After the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, though, U.S. utilities stopped building new reactors. A global glut resulted in a uranium price crash, and with cheaper yellowcake flooding in from overseas, the industry withered. As of 2017, U.S. utilities were buying only 5% of their nuclear fuel from domestic producers, and mines and mills employed just 424 people, compared to 16,000 in 1979. While the industry’s future remains in question, its past legacy endures in the form of hundreds of sick miners and millers; abandoned, contaminated mines; and the ongoing, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up giant tailings piles near communities.

Now, the industry — led by Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy — is hoping the government will once again step up, meddle in the markets, and throw it a lifeline. The 25% quota would immediately and substantially up demand — and prices — for domestic uranium, potentially raising production to levels that haven’t been seen in decades. It could breathe new life into Energy Fuels’ Canyon Mine, which is near the Grand Canyon, along with its Daneros Mine and White Mesa Mill — the only conventional mill in the U.S — both located near Bears Ears National Monument. Ur-Energy, meanwhile, would see more demand for its products from the spill-prone Lost Creek in-situ facility in Wyoming near Jeffrey City, a community that bet everything on the uranium boom in the 1970s, only to see it all crash a few years later, leaving the town a husk.

If these existing, active mines can’t keep up with demand, uranium companies could revive long-dormant ones or seek new deposits. Both can be found in the White Canyon uranium district, which was part of the original Bears Ears National Monument but was cut out by the [Administration’s] shrinkage at Energy Fuels’ request.

Late last year, U.S. Department of Commerce officials visited the White Mesa Mill, the Energy Fuels mines near the La Sal Mountains outside Moab, Utah, and other uranium facilities. This spring, they submitted their report on the quota proposal to the [Administration], which has 90 days to act. Indigenous and environmental activists, including citizens from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe near White Mesa, Utah, are protesting the proposal. And this time, they have an unexpected ally: The nuclear power industry. That’s because the proposed quotas will drive up fuel prices for nuclear reactor operators, which are already having a hard time competing against cheap natural gas-generated power.

That puts the President…who hasn’t hesitated to interfere in the free market in order to boost the coal and nuclear power industry — between a rock and reactors.

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.

2019 #COleg: State Senate passes HB19-1261 (Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution: Concerning the reduction of greenhouse gas pollution, and, in connection therewith, establishing statewide greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals and making an appropriation)

Leaf, Berthoud Pass Summit, August 21, 2017.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Joey Bunch):

With a cursory stop in the Colorado House, the state Climate Action Plan should be on its way to the governor’s desk to become official policy.

The state Senate passed House Bill 19-1261 with an 18-16 party-line vote Wednesday, sending the bill back to the lower chamber to approve the upper chamber’s amendments.

Senators early Tuesday morning tweaked the language in the bill to address disproportionately impacted communities, as well as to grant more credit for technology that reduces emissions, and to instruct regulators to consider how new rules impact electricity reliability.

Republicans continued to warn that the goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would cost the state’s economy and residents at levels that aren’t known…

The bill says the state should create policies that reduce emissions by at least 26% by 2025, at least 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050, based on 2005 levels.

The state Air Quality Control Commission would be tasked with creating unspecified rules to help the state meet those goals…

With just two days left in the session, the bill will be a high priority when it returns to the House, where it was introduced by House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, on March 21…

“Our state is on the front lines of climate change and Coloradans agree we must act,” Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, said in a statement Wednesday.

“Thank you to our state senators who prioritized climate action today and voted to pass HB 19-1261, the Climate Action Plan.”

From Westword (Chase Woodruff):

House Bill 1261, which would set a series of statewide targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades, passed the Senate on a party-line vote on Wednesday, May 1. Hours later, the House, which had given its initial approval to the bill last month, re-passed the bill with Senate amendments, sending it to Governor Jared Polis to be signed into law.

“Make no mistake: This is a big deal,” Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement on the bill’s passage. “The Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution ensures that we are doing our part to reduce carbon pollution and leave a livable, healthy Colorado to our kids and grandkids.”

HB 1261 would commit the state to achieving a 26 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2025 — formalizing a goal set by former governor John Hickenlooper in a 2017 executive order — as well as a 50 percent cut by 2030 and a 90 percent cut by 2050. That’s roughly in line with the global decarbonization timeline suggested by top U.N. climate scientists in a major report last year.

Some environmental activists, however, argue that Colorado should set even more ambitious goals. Many theoretical models for rapid global decarbonization require the U.S. and Europe to achieve net-zero emissions much faster than developing Asian and African countries — and in general, the more aggressive the timeline, the better the odds of staying below dangerous warming thresholds.

In a statement on HB 1261’s passage, the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate, which includes more than two dozen environmental and social-justice groups, applauded the “historic progress” made by the bill but urged Democratic lawmakers to do more when they return to the Capitol next year.

“The CCLC calls on the legislature to improve upon the goals established by HB19-1261 in 2020 so that they are more in line with what the science is telling us we must do,” the statement read. “Our state must adjust its goals in accordance with the best available science to establish Colorado as a true climate leader, for the sake of ourselves and future generations.”

Lawmakers on Wednesday also gave final approval to Senate Bill 77, bipartisan legislation that incentivizes electric utilities to build charging ports and other infrastructure for electric vehicles. After electricity generation, transportation is Colorado’s second-largest source of carbon emissions, and the widespread adoption of zero-emission EVs is a crucial strategy for achieving the necessary cuts. Officials have committed to putting nearly one million EVs on Colorado roads by 2030, or roughly 15 percent of all light-duty vehicles in the state.

“[SB 77] is really important, because in order to hit Colorado’s electric-vehicle goals, we’re going to need to build thousands of charging stations in lots of different places,” says Travis Madsen, director of the transportation program at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. “And our electric utility companies are well-positioned to do a lot of that work. It’s an essential step in getting rid of the pollution from our vehicle system.”

As the clock runs down on the legislature’s 120-day regular session, a backlog of roughly 200 bills remains on the official legislative calendar, and Republicans are doing everything they can to slow down floor work. While Democrats prioritized HB 1261 and SB 77 for passage, many other significant pieces of legislation are at risk of not being passed, including several related to climate policy…

Also awaiting Senate action is House Bill 1159, which would extend state tax credits for electric-vehicle purchases. House Bill 1313, which would codify and provide incentives for Xcel Energy’s plan to achieve an 80 percent carbon emissions cut from electricity generation by 2030, advanced out of a Senate committee on Wednesday night and will need to clear another committee and two votes of the full Senate before midnight Friday.

Advocates for climate action are hopeful that the remaining bills will get in under the wire and confident that the legislature’s work this session will mark a turning point for Colorado’s efforts to cut emissions…

In last year’s landmark report, U.N. scientists told the world’s policymakers that achieving a 45 percent emissions cut by 2030 would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Once Polis signs HB 1261 into law, Colorado will be formally committed to making such changes. A long rule-making and implementation process will follow, and only time will tell how effective the new law really is. But the stakes, as activists noted following the bill’s passage on Wednesday, couldn’t be higher.

“The risk that climate change will destroy all we hold dear is readily apparent now,” Gina Hardin, president of climate activist group 350 Colorado, said in the CCLC’s statement. “The Midwest may take centuries to recover from the massive loss of topsoil from the unprecedented flooding in what has been the world’s breadbasket. The damage has already cost $3 billion and is rising. Recovery from the infrastructure and economic destruction will take years. Mozambique has just been slammed by an unprecedented two cyclones within 6 weeks. The horror stories go on and on.”

Fram Chapter 7 could leave #Colorado taxpayers on the hook to abandon wells #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The filings by Fram Operating and its owner, Fram Americas, both of Colorado Springs, means that the companies go out of business and nonexempt property is liquidated and the proceeds distributed to creditors. Fram Americas is owned by Fram Exploration AS in Norway.

In March 2018, the Bureau of Land Management approved Fram’s Whitewater Unit Master Development Plan, under which it hoped to drill 108 wells from 12 pads 15 miles southeast of Grand Junction. The BLM had estimated the project could result in production of 8.7 million barrels of oil over 20 years.

The project was supported in some quarters due to the jobs, tax revenues and other economic benefits that could result, but opposed by activists groups and others due to concerns about potential air, water, traffic and other impacts.

Fram’s bankruptcy could mean the end of the project unless it can be sold during the liquidation process. Kenneth Buechler, the attorney representing Fram in the bankruptcy proceedings, said bankruptcy law generally provides that contractual rights existing at the time of bankruptcy become property of the bankruptcy estate, and another asset the trustee in the case potentially could sell. But he said he didn’t know if there would be restrictions on any possible sale of the Fram project or items that need to be cured, such as when it comes to the pertinent oil and gas leases.

“This (bankruptcy) isn’t surprising to us at all,” said Emily Hornback, staff director of the Western Colorado Alliance activist group.

She said opponents of the Whitewater project have been raising questions for years about the financial solvency of Fram. She said it’s fortunate Fram’s financial situation came to light before work proceeded on the project, so the public isn’t left holding the bag on cleanup costs.

The project was supported in some quarters due to the jobs, tax revenues and other economic benefits that could result, but opposed by activists groups and others due to concerns about potential air, water, traffic and other impacts.

Fram’s bankruptcy could mean the end of the project unless it can be sold during the liquidation process. Kenneth Buechler, the attorney representing Fram in the bankruptcy proceedings, said bankruptcy law generally provides that contractual rights existing at the time of bankruptcy become property of the bankruptcy estate, and another asset the trustee in the case potentially could sell. But he said he didn’t know if there would be restrictions on any possible sale of the Fram project or items that need to be cured, such as when it comes to the pertinent oil and gas leases.

“This (bankruptcy) isn’t surprising to us at all,” said Emily Hornback, staff director of the Western Colorado Alliance activist group.

She said opponents of the Whitewater project have been raising questions for years about the financial solvency of Fram. She said it’s fortunate Fram’s financial situation came to light before work proceeded on the project, so the public isn’t left holding the bag on cleanup costs.

#Renewables Cheaper Than 75 Percent of U.S. #Coal Fleet, Report Finds — @YaleE360 #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Comasche Solar Farm near Pueblo April 6, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters via The Climate Reality Project

From the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies:

Nearly 75 percent of coal-fired power plants in the United States generate electricity that is more expensive than local wind and solar energy resources, according to a new report from Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. Wind power, in particular, can at times provide electricity at half the cost of coal, the report found.

By 2025, enough wind and solar power will be generated at low enough prices in the U.S. that it could theoretically replace 86 percent of the U.S. coal fleet with lower-cost electricity, The Guardian reported.

“We’ve seen we are at the ‘coal crossover’ point in many parts of the country, but this is actually more widespread than previously thought,” Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, told The Guardian. “There is a huge potential for wind and solar to replace coal, while saving people money.”

Using public financial filings and data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency, O’Boyle and his colleagues analyzed the cost of coal-fired power plants compared with wind and solar options within a 35-mile radius. The report found that North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Texas have the greatest amount of coal capacity currently at risk of being outcompeted by local wind and solar. By 2025, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin will be in a similar situation.

“Coal’s biggest threat is now economics, not regulations,” O’Boyle told CNN Business.

Coal currently makes up just 28 percent of total U.S. power generation, down from 48 percent in 2008. Renewables, meanwhile, now account for 17 percent of electricity generation, dominated by hydro and wind, with solar capacity quickly growing.

@POTUS’s infrastructure order threatens local right to protect the environment — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):

Washington blocked a coal terminal under the Clean Water Act. New rules could subvert that authority.

At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is part of the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. Meanwhile, about a thousand miles south in Longview, Washington, on the banks of the Columbia River, decades of industrial waste mar the proposed site for the largest bulk coal terminal in North America.

On the surface, these places may not have much in common, but they’re both part of a simmering nationwide conflict over state and federal power. In the Tongass, that means the Administration deferring to Alaska’s desire to rewrite federal rules to promote logging, while in Longview, that looks like an executive order designed to limit a state’s ability to block fossil fuel projects — including the Millennium coal export terminal.

A recently signed executive order looks to fast-track permitting for coal terminals. Photo credit: Peabody Energy, Inc./Wikipedia Commons

The [President’s] administration’s treatment of these areas demonstrates its all-in support for extractive industries. In the name of energy dominance, the federal government is looking to curtail state environmental reviews and promote fossil fuel exports. By doing so, it’s wading into an ongoing fight between coastal and Interior West states over permit denials for export facilities on the West Coast. Where the administration stands on that battle — and its apparent willingness to trample on some states’ regulatory authority — exposes the uniquely flexible nature of its support for states’ rights: It appears interested in shifting power to states only when the goal is less environmental protection.

[The President’s] April 10 executive order was part of a package of directives designed to pave the way for infrastructure like the Millenium coal terminal. In the order, [the President] asked the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the policies for how Section 401 of the Clean Water Act is implemented. That section of the linchpin federal law gives states and tribes authority over whether to permit facilities that release pollution into federally protected waters within their borders. [The President’s] directive declares that the current process “cause(s) confusion and uncertainty, leading to project delays, lost jobs, and reduced economic performance.”

While it’s unclear exactly how the EPA will change the guidelines, environmental lawyers are skeptical that the executive branch has the authority to weaken state and tribal oversight. That’s because the right of states to protect their rivers, lakes and coastal waters is fundamental to the Clean Water Act, and the 401 certification process gives affected communities a voice in that process. Andrew Hawley, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center, put it bluntly: “To undermine that goes straight to the heart of the Clean Water Act.”

The orders come as states are battling over export infrastructure along the Pacific Coast. Fossil fuel-producing states in the Interior West — frustrated that local and state governments in Washington, Oregon and California have stymied a string of projects — see [the President’s] directives as a crack in the coast’s green wall. “I stand with governors across the land in asserting our states’ rights to access markets foreign and domestic,” said Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, R, following the orders’ announcement. “The states along the West Coast have abused their authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act to unfairly discriminate against Wyoming coal.”

Gordon blamed the blocking of export facilities on climate politics, but Washington denied the Longview permit because of local impacts, not big-picture threats. In a summary of the decision, the state’s Department of Ecology wrote that the project “would cause irreparable and unavoidable harm to the Columbia River,” by driving hundreds of pilings into the riverbed, destroying nearly 30 acres of wetlands and aquatic habitat, increasing ship traffic on the Columbia River by 1,680 trips a year, and impairing tribal access to protected fishing sites.

Elsewhere, the…administration has sought to shift power to the states — so long as the end result would slash environmental protections. In the past couple years, the Interior Department has implemented policies that defer wildlife management to states, thus allowing controversial hunting practices like killing coyotes and wolves during denning season on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. And the Forest Service is working with Utah and Alaska to weaken restrictions on carving roads into roadless forests. That would mean major changes in areas like the Tongass, where most of the forest is inaccessible to industry.

As some Western states get more leeway to weaken environmental safeguards, green activists are left wondering how far the federal government will go to subvert state regulatory authority in their communities. Diane Dick, who lives just outside the Longview city limits, has spent the better part of a decade fighting the Millenium coal terminal. From the beginning, she said, the fight over the terminal felt bigger than just one project; she’s watched it become a poster child for a national debate over energy infrastructure. Now, as the executive branch tilts the scales against local environmental protection, Dick sees a larger question looming: When and based on what can a community protect itself?

Longview, Washington, residents gather to protest the coal terminal project. The community has been fighting the proposed terminal for years. Photo credit: Power Past Coal

Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, WA.

#Denver Completes Divestment From #FossilFuel Companies — Westword #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From Westword (Chase Woodruff):

A spokesperson for Denver’s Department of Finance confirmed that the city’s fossil fuel investments have been sold. As of earlier this year, its various portfolios had included about $50 million in corporate bonds issued by fossil fuel giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron, though in previous years that figure had been higher.

“This is a powerful statement to our children, grandchildren and future generations that we care about them and want to invest in their future,” said 350 Colorado boardmember Barbara Donachy.