#Colorado Regulators Short on Funding Amid #Climate, Clean-Air Push — Westword

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

From Westword (Chase Woodruff):

CDPHE’s various regulatory bodies and rulemaking commissions have been tasked with leading the state’s charge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate an economy-wide transition to clean energy; they’re helping oil and gas regulators overhaul state rules in the wake of a landmark fracking bill, and after a federal air-quality downgrade, they’re stepping up efforts to tackle the Front Range’s ozone problem; and they’re dealing with emerging public-health concerns about vaping, toxic firefighting chemicals and more…

On Tuesday, January 21, Putnam and CDPHE executive director Jill Hunsaker Ryan delivered their annual briefing to lawmakers as required by Colorado’s State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent Government (SMART) Act. While touting the department’s progress in 2019, including the adoption of an electric-vehicle mandate and new oil and gas emissions rules, officials painted a picture of a department that’s increasingly underfunded and “oversubscribed” — particularly its Air Pollution Control Division, responsible for most of its climate and clean-air efforts.

Colorado employs just one toxicologist, who is tasked with evaluating public-health risks across more than a half-dozen environmental and health divisions; by comparison, Putnam told lawmakers, Minnesota has 38 state toxicologists and California has over a hundred. CDPHE has just one mobile air-monitoring unit, which typically needs to be deployed for weeks at a time to be effective. The number of inspectors assigned to oil and gas sites, responsible for finding leaks of greenhouse gases like methane and ozone-forming pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hasn’t kept up with the industry’s explosive growth over the last decade.

“We’re seeing a significant gap [between] our capability and what I think the public is demanding right now,” Putnam told lawmakers in a joint meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee.

In its 2020-’21 budget request, CDPHE is seeking funding for 21 additional full-time employees to beef up the air-pollution division’s staff, including doubling the size of its oil and gas inspection unit. The requested staff and funding increases would also allow the department to purchase a new mobile air-monitoring unit and establish two new VOC monitoring sites in oil- and gas-producing areas along the Front Range.

Of course, funding increases never come easy in Colorado, and department officials are also pushing for long-term solutions, including legislation this session that would allow the air-pollution division to increase the fees that it’s able to collect from polluters through its permitting and enforcement processes. A bill passed in 2018 raised the statutory cap on those fees by 25 percent, but with funding needs continuing to grow, the department now wants to eliminate the cap entirely.

New poll shows leading role of #climate policy in #Colorado primary — @ConservationCO #ActOnClimate #VoteEnvironment #KeepItInTheGround

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

From Conservation Colorado (Garrett Garner-Wells):

New polling released today highlighted climate change as the top issue in Colorado’s upcoming presidential primary, 10 points higher than health care and 15 points higher than preventing gun violence.

The survey of likely Democratic presidential primary voters conducted by Global Strategies Group found that nearly all likely primary voters think climate change is already impacting or will impact their families (91%), view climate change as a very serious problem or a crisis (84%), and want to see their leaders take action within the next year (85%). And by a nearly three-to-one margin, likely primary voters prefer a candidate with a plan to take action on climate change starting on Day One of their term over a candidate who has not pledged to act starting on Day One (74% – 26%).

Additionally, the survey found that among likely primary voters:

  • 85% would be more likely to support a candidate who will move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy;
  • 95% would be more likely to support a candidate who will combat climate change by protecting and restoring forests; and,
  • 76% would be more likely to support a candidate who will phase out extraction of oil, gas, and goal on public lands by 2030.
  • These responses are unsurprising given that respondents believed that a plan to move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy will have a positive impact on future generations of their family (81%), the quality of the air we breathe (93%), and the health of families like theirs (88%).

    Finally, likely primary voters heard a description of Colorado’s climate action plan to reduce pollution and the state’s next steps to achieve reductions of at least 50 percent by 2030 and at least 90 percent by 2050. Based on that statement, 91% of respondents agreed that the Air Quality Control Commission should take timely action to create rules that guarantee that the state will meet its carbon reduction targets.

    Full survey results can be found here.

    State Health Officials Have Sent A Clear Message: #Colorado Needs Better Air Quality Monitoring — Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Natural gas flares near a community in Colorado. Colorado health officials and some legislators agree that better monitoring is necessary. Photo credit the Environmental Defense Fund.

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    The message from a forum on air quality and climate change Thursday is clear: Colorado needs to do more to accurately measure emissions from oil and gas wells.

    That means better technology is needed, state health officials said. And that requires more money, which is a big hurdle.

    In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency downgraded the Front Range’s air quality rating to “serious.” CPR News has also found that Colorado’s records of how much methane is in the air contain potentially flawed data.

    A lot has been made of compounds released into the air by oil and gas operations that contribute to ozone pollution and health problems. The panel, with state officials, researchers and health professionals, zeroed in on this and also considered how to reduce emissions from cars. Many agreed that the state needs to improve air quality monitoring…

    Air quality is a priority during this legislative session, said Democratic State Senator Steve Fenberg, who attended the panel.

    “We’re going to be looking at all kinds of things,” he said. “One is simply making sure we’re regulating the right emissions. One is making sure that the fees that are put on emitters are appropriate.”

    Higher fees would bring in more funding, Fenberg said. So to start, he’s drafting a bill that would bring in more money by raising the cost of air pollution permits.

    Some local governments, like those in Boulder County and Broomfield, have already upgraded monitors to improve air quality measurements around oil and gas production.

    As #Coal Declined, This Valley Turned to #SustainableFarming. Now Fracking Threatens Its Future — Inside #Climate News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

    Driving down Highway 133 from the craggy wilds of the West Elk Mountains in central Colorado, one of the first signs of civilization is a mile-long coal train on a siding, along with the rusting steel framework of a canyon-spanning loading station that still dumps the black rock into trains at the rate of 50 cars per hour.

    This nearly relict fossil fuel infrastructure is an improbable gateway to the orchards and vineyards of North Fork Valley. The few miles between the mine and Paonia mark a transition from the fossil fuel era into an uncertain post-carbon age, defined by climate change.

    In Paonia, the air around Big B’s fruit stand is scented sweet-sour from the harvest of ripe apples. There are four types of cider on tap and nearly all the food on the menu is grown within a few miles of the local gathering spot.

    The Mountain Harvest Festival is underway, and the place is buzzing, as community catalyzer Pete Kolbenschlag starts explaining how Paonia is building a sustainable future.

    This community once relied heavily on coal mining jobs. Now it is developing a path toward a sustainable local economy based partly on organic agriculture and local renewable energy. It also must find ways to navigate challenges like global warming—and the growing threat of new fossil fuel development.

    About eight years ago, the federal government proposed major oil and gas drilling in the North Fork Valley, and the plan roared to life this past summer, just as the organic food industry was really starting to take off. New drilling would take up land and threaten to bring more air pollution and potentially groundwater contamination that could put organic crops in jeopardy, while also contributing to climate change.

    That’s not a mix that can work, said Kolbenschlag, who’s been working on community sustainability in the North Fork Valley for 20 years.

    Many proposed drilling areas are right next to organic farms or ranches, and even directly on top of community drinking water springs, according to the Western Environmental Law Center, which is supporting the community’s legal challenges to fracking. Leaks from drilling could threaten local and regional water supplies. Industrial emissions and dust from increased traffic could taint fruits and vegetables, and energy infrastructure could harm wildlife habitat and diminish the area’s tourism appeal, along with the direct climate-harming impacts of more fossil fuel development.

    “Leases were proposed in a ring around my house for 2 miles in every direction,” Kolbenschlag said. “We were able to stop that lease sale twice because the underlying land plan was outdated. There’s millions of dollars of agriculture on the line, even in a small area like this.”

    Oil and gas drilling has been delayed above Paonia, Colorado because agencies didn’t adequately analyze climate and wildlife impacts. Courtesy of EcoFlight via The High Country News.

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019

    From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

    Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of 2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline under the existing agreement.

    The bureau’s officials will examine how the 2007 guidelines have worked as the agency prepares for negotiations among the seven states on a new set of rules that will take effect after 2026.

    “It makes sense to review how well something worked before determining its replacement,” Bernhardt said Friday during a speech at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas. “We think that starting now and not waiting until the deadline a year from now makes sense.”

    […]

    David Bernhardt answers a question about climate change from Luke Runyon, December 13, 2019, Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.

    Climate change, energy development

    He didn’t mention the words climate change during his speech at the conference. But during a press conference afterward, reporters asked Bernhardt about the role of climate change.

    “I certainly believe the climate is changing,” Bernhardt said. “I spend a lot of time with our scientists, and I spend a lot of time with our models. And you know, what the scientists tell me is that the best thing we can do is make sure that if we’re using a model, we use multiple models and multiple ranges within each model. And so that’s what I’ve insisted on when we’re looking forward to the future.”

    In projecting the river’s flows into the future, he said, “we absolutely follow best practices all the time.”

    President Donald Trump’s administration has begun pulling out of the landmark Paris climate agreement, and has promoted oil and gas drilling.

    In California, the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that could open up about 1.2 million acres to new oil and gas drilling. When asked about environmental groups’ opposition to the plan, Bernhardt said: “We have really strong policy guidance and laws that say that we’re supposed to develop energy, and we will develop energy responsibly.”

    Before joining the Trump administration, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry in the West.

    “The president was very clear when he ran for office on his position on energy. He’s for an all-of-the-above approach,” Bernhardt said. He pointed out that oil development on federal lands has generated revenues in New Mexico for schools and other state programs.

    “And so, when people tell me that they want to stop oil and gas development on federal lands, I say call the governor of New Mexico,” Bernhardt said.

    A ‘disconnect’ in Trump policies

    John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, said Bernhardt’s comments reflect a dichotomy within the federal government in which officials are taking steps on climate adaptation but not on combating planet-warming emissions.

    On the one hand, water managers at the Bureau of Reclamation are working with scientists and using climate models to assess risks and project the river flows into the future, Fleck said.

    “They’re absolutely taking climate change seriously. It’s built into the modeling work they’re doing,” Fleck said. “You don’t find water managers doubting the reality of human-caused climate change and its effects. They’re seeing it in the flow in their systems, and they’re dealing with it.”

    On the other hand, he said, there is a “disconnect” in that the Trump administration isn’t taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    “So that increases our risk,” Fleck said. “That’s a problem because we need to reduce greenhouse gases to mitigate the effects on the Colorado River.”

    One of Lake Mead’s spillways the last time water lapped at the top of the spillway was 1999.

    Bernhardt said the government’s review will focus on “what’s worked, what’s not worked.” He said that will include looking at lessons as the water cutbacks kick in next year under the drought deal.

    Bernhardt said while the Colorado River Basin faces growing challenges, he is optimistic that parties across the region will continue working together to solve problems.

    “We have a legacy here of states cooperating in a way that is absolutely incredible,” he said.

    BLM halts leases after sage grouse, climate legal brawls #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

    From E&E News (Niina H. Farah):

    Federal officials have withdrawn thousands of acres of land slated for sale to the oil and gas industry after courts demanded that the government take a closer look at greater sage grouse habitat protections and climate change impacts.

    Conservation groups opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s actions say a recent slate of deferred lease sales in Colorado, Nevada and Utah illustrate the problems with the Trump administration’s aggressive push to encourage energy development on public lands…

    “The broader pattern we’ve seen from this administration has been a headlong rush to get as much remaining sage grouse habitat under lease as possible,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program.

    He said the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” approach has led BLM to violate federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act.

    “That needs to stop,” Saul said. “They are not simply a real estate sales agency. Under congressional statute, they have multiple obligations, which include duties to conserve wildlife habitat.”

    BLM yesterday added to its growing list of delayed leases when it deferred its Dec. 19 Colorado sale in response to a federal court order temporarily blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s greater sage grouse plan.

    Judge B. Lynn Winmill, a Clinton appointee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho, required BLM to revert to evaluating leases under sage grouse plans the Obama administration finalized in 2015…

    The six parcels covered 4,259 acres and were subject to sage grouse habitat restrictions.

    Conservation groups lauded the move, while urging BLM to take more permanent action to stop lease sales on the birds’ habitat. Other state offices could defer or cancel leases as more sales approach next month…

    The BLM office was responding to a lawsuit filed in September by the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which raised claims that the agency had not adequately considered the impacts of climate change from leases in the central and northeast portions of the Beehive State.

    The lawsuit encompassed eight different parcels finalized between 2014 and 2018. The leases fit into a pattern of BLM failing to adequately consider climate impacts, said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

    Altogether, Utah has had over 300,000 acres of leases suspended in response to similar litigation…

    In addition to challenges over sage grouse protections and climate change, Dascalu-Joffe said concerns about analysis of cumulative water withdrawal impacts could also become an area of legal vulnerability for BLM.

    She noted that while the preliminary injunction forced BLM to look at sage grouse impacts in a more programmatic way, the same was not true for assessing climate impacts.

    “I don’t have a lot of confidence that this is going to drive any programmatic analysis of climate impacts from the entire oil and gas program because that’s not how this agency works right now,” Dascalu-Joffe said.

    Aurora Organic Dairy commits to 100% carbon-neutral energy in its fourth Sustainability Report #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Here’s the release from Aurora Organic Dairy:

    Aurora Organic Dairy today published its 2019 Sustainability Report. The report provides a detailed and transparent update on the Company and its progress toward goals to improve its sustainability performance around three core pillars of Animals, People and Planet.

    The Company announced updated goals that encompass three key areas:

  • Caring for the comfort and well-being of its cows and calves, always putting animal care at the forefront of farming practices.
  • Employee safety and wellness, and local community support.
  • Commitments to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, water efficiency and waste reduction, and one important new goal to commit to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “At Aurora Organic Dairy, we have a longstanding commitment to continuous improvement when it comes to our animals, people and planet,” said Scott McGinty, CEO of Aurora Organic Dairy. “While we are proud of our achievements, in today’s world, we cannot rest. We must continue to do more to support our animals and people, the environment and our local communities. Our updated sustainability goals strengthen this commitment.”

    The Company’s sustainability goals – established against 2012 baseline data – include many initiatives that have bolstered Aurora Organic Dairy’s sustainability performance:

  • Aurora Organic Dairy farms improved the overall welfare of its animals through goals to reduce lameness, to perform fewer dehorning procedures, to used paired calf housing and to increase video monitoring.
  • Significant progress against People goals was made with increased training programs, communications around the value of benefits, bilingual communication and community centers in remote farm locations. Going forward, Aurora Organic Dairy will continue its focus on safety and on employee volunteerism.
  • For the Planet, Aurora Organic Dairy achieved significant reductions in water and energy. Its milk plant achieved a 71% solid waste landfill diversion rate, and normalized GHG emissions were down 11%. The Company is committed to reducing its GHG emissions by 30% by 2025. Given the urgent need to address climate change globally, Aurora Organic Dairy has made an important commitment to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020.
  • “This last year was a milestone for Aurora Organic Dairy in terms of environmental stewardship,” said Craig Edwards, Director of Sustainability for Aurora Organic Dairy. “We installed solar arrays at our High Plains and High Ridge Dairies in Gill, Colo. and we committed to 100% carbon-neutral energy by the end of 2020. To get there, we will invest in renewable energy projects directly and will support additional projects by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates and Verified Emission Reductions to address 100% of our electricity and fuels use across our Company farms, raw milk transport, milk plants and headquarters.”