2019 #COleg: Colorado lawmakers approve a bevy of energy bills — The Denver Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf charging at campsite near Steamboat Springs August 21, 2017.

From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):

“If I had to sum it up in a word, I think I’d say ‘transformative.’ It’s a real shift in our policy, and I think it really shows the direction that Colorado is headed,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. “I think it shows that we’re starting to take climate change seriously and recognize the task that’s truly ahead of us if we’re going to do our part to help solve this problem.”

The bills include efforts to make houses and appliances — from refrigerators, to light bulbs to air conditioners and furnaces — more energy-efficient…

Lawmakers extended state tax credits for buying electric vehicles and allowed regulated electric utilities to own and operate vehicle charging stations to try to encourage people to buy and drive zero-emission vehicles.

One of the things that sets Colorado apart from other states working to boost the use of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is its efforts to look out for affected workers and communities, said Anna McDevitt, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

The bill reauthorizing the PUC has a provision requiring utilities to include a workforce transition plan when they propose shutting down a power plant. Another section on low-cost bonds to retire power plants for cleaner, cheaper alternatives also provides that a portion of the proceeds helps workers and communities affected by the closures…

Referring to the PUC bill and its carbon-reduction targets, Xcel Energy said in a statement Friday that the legislation was “heavily negotiated with a broad set of stakeholders” and protects safety reliability and customer costs…

One bill expands the size of community solar gardens, which are centralized arrays of solar panels that users “subscribe” to. They are intended for people who want to use solar power but whose roofs aren’t suitable, who live in an apartment or can’t afford to install a system.

Other legislation directs the PUC to study regional transmission organizations that would make it easier for utilities or municipalities to buy wholesale power. Another section requires regulators to take on planning to help facilitate rooftop solar and other distributed-energy installations.

The PUC also will have to look into so-called “performance-based ratemaking.” That would allow utilities to earn a certain rate of return on things such as increasing energy efficiency or installing a certain amount of rooftop solar rather than just on construction of plants or other infrastructure.

2019 #COleg: Colorado oil and gas director issues final objective criteria for [SB19-181] — #Colorado Department of Natural Resources

Drilling rig and production pad near Erie school via WaterDefense.org

From the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Director Jeff Robbins released Final Objective Criteria today to ensure pending oil and gas permits and applications are in compliance with Colorado’s new oil and gas law, SB 19-181.

“The finalization of the criteria is an important first step in implementing the new law and incorporating it’s public health, safety, welfare, environmental, and wildlife considerations,” said Director Jeff Robbins. “We appreciate the 340 public comments we received and believe the objective criteria satisfies the Colorado Legislature’s intent.”

The Final Objective Criteria (Criteria) released include provisions that the Director of the COGCC may conduct additional analysis and review on proposed oil and gas locations, which are within 1,500 feet of a residence, are within a municipality, 1,500 feet of a municipality or platted subdivision, areas identified as “sensitive wildlife habitat” by the Colorado Department of Wildlife, or in a floodplain or water supply areas, among others.

Guidance was also issued today to outline the process an applicant can expect from the COGCC to ensure a permit complies with the new law’s requirements.

The criteria was informed by a wide variety of comments received by the Commission from the public, local governments, the industry and other interested parties.

While the Director and staff determined that the draft criteria captured most public and stakeholder comments and upheld the intent of SB 19-181, the Director added Objective Criteria No. 16, which involves additional Director Review on specific wells when an operator is subject to individual or blanket financial assurance requirements in addition to a few other small edits.

The criteria will remain in place for the COGCC until final rules outlined in SB 19-181 are adopted.

Final Objective Criteria: here
Final Objective Criteria Guidance: here
Objective Criteria Public Comments: here

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

From The Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:

Environmentalists and community activists asked Colorado regulators on Wednesday to stop issuing new oil and gas drilling permits until they rewrite the rules under a new law that makes public safety and the environment the state’s top priorities.

Just a month after the law took effect, some activists told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission it should be further along in revising the regulations…

The session was one of the oil and gas commission’s early steps toward implementing the new law, which mandated a major change in the agency’s focus from encouraging production to protecting the public, the environment and wildlife.

The law reflects increasing fears about public safety as the booming Wattenberg oil and gas field overlaps with fast-growing communities north and east of Denver. In addition to the emphasis on safety, it gives local governments new powers over the location of drilling and changes the makeup of the commission to add expertise on safety and the environment.

Commission Director Jeff Robbins called Wednesday’s meeting to hear public comment on the first set of changes, which deal mostly with administrative procedures, not drilling. The commission is expected to take up more substantive rules later this year.

Activists called for faster and more sweeping action, saying that oil and gas drilling pollutes the air and water, worsens climate change and puts residents at risk from fires and explosions…

The commission’s first formal hearing since the law was passed is Monday, but it was not yet clear whether members would start the rulemaking process.

2019 #COleg: SB19-181 rule-making #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):

Environmental and community organizations want the state to halt approval of oil and gas drilling permits until all new rules are written in the wake of more stringent regulations passed by the legislature in this year’s session.

Approving all the rules is expected to take at least a year, given the complexity of the new law. A new Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will need to be seated; new regulations to protect public health, safety and the environment will be developed; and new bond and fee rates to ensure cleanup of well sites will be set.

When the bill was moving through the legislature, the sponsors repeatedly disputed opponents’ arguments that Senate Bill 19-181 would lead to a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling.

But for several at a hearing Wednesday on the first set of rules being considered, the right thing to do is to halt approval of all permits until new regulations putting health and safety first are adopted…

Environmental and community activists who think no oil and gas permits should be approved until the new regulations take effect said so in letters sent Monday to Gov. Jared Polis, the COGCC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment…

Jeff Robbins, executive director of the oil and gas commission, said Tuesday that his staff is moving forward as directed by the legislation. The staff is expected to release final criteria this week that will be used to consider permit applications while the new regulations are being developed.

The legislation directed the staff to draft criteria to provide additional review of permit applications to make sure new development meets the law’s objective of protecting public health and safety, the environment and wildlife, Robbins said.

The new law also clarifies that cities and counties can use their planning and land-use authority to regulate oil and gas in their borders. The guidelines, which the staff took public comments on, also address that change.

The COGCC staff has paused approval of new permits to write those guidelines and appoint an interim commission.

“Some permits may be approved and some may not given the heightened scrutiny and changes in progress. That course of action is consistent with SB 181,” Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayaette, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in an email.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a main sponsor of the bill, said the COGCC staff is following the process intended by the legislation.

“I have full faith in the director and the commission and the individuals there to ensure that they’re moving in a way that honors the spirit of the bill,” Fenberg said. “If they don’t, we will step in if we need to, not to punish anyone but to make sure our intentions are clear.”

[…]

The criteria the staff will use to determine if applications need more scrutiny include whether proposed wells are within certain distances from schools, homes or parks; are in a municipality; or if local governments want more input.

There are about 6,500 permit applications waiting in the queue. From January until the bill came law, the COGCC approved permits for 88 well locations and more than 800 associated wells.

The proposed change the COGCC took public comments on Wednesday deals with allowing administrative law judges to consider disputes and some administrative issues now handled by the commission. Robbins said the change is intended to give the commission more time to consider rules and policies.

Colorado has led the way on regulations designed to limit emissions of methane. Photo/Allen Best

#CarbonDioxide Soars to Record-Breaking Levels Not Seen in 800,000 Years — Live Science #ActOnClimate

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

From Live Science (Yasemin Saplakoglu):

On Saturday (May 11), the levels of the greenhouse gas reached 415 parts per million (ppm), as measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Scientists at the observatory have been measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels since 1958. But because of other kinds of analysis, such as those done on ancient air bubbles trapped in ice cores, they have data on levels reaching back 800,000 years…

During the ice ages, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were around 200 ppm. And during the interglacial periods — the planet is currently in an interglacial period — levels were around 280 ppm, according to NASA.

But every story has its villains: Humans are burning fossil fuels, causing the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which are adding an extra blanket on an already feverish planet. So far, global temperatures have risen by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the 19th century or pre-industrial times, according to a special report released last year by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Every year, the Earth sees about 3 ppm more carbon dioxide in the air, said Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of meteorology at Penn State University. “If you do the math, well, it’s pretty sobering,” he said. “We’ll cross 450 ppm in just over a decade.”

[…]

“CO2 levels will continue to increase for at least the next decade and likely much longer, because not enough is being done worldwide,” said Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The long-term increase is due to human-related emissions, especially the emissions of our burning of fossil fuels.”

However, he noted that the annual peak in carbon dioxide, which fluctuates throughout the year as plants change their breathing rhythms, occurs right now. The annual average value will be more like 410 to 412 ppm, he said. Which … is still very high.

“We keep breaking records, but what makes the current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere most troubling is that we are now well into the ‘danger zone’ where large tipping points in the Earth’s climate could be crossed,” said Jonathan Overpeck, the dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. “This is particularly true when you factor in the additional warming potential of the other greenhouse gases, including methane, that are now in the atmosphere.”

The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high, way before Homo sapiens walked the planet, the Antarctic Ice Sheet was much smaller and sea levels were up to 65 feet (20 meters) higher than they are today, Overpeck told Live Science.

“Thus, we could soon be at the point where comparable reductions in ice sheet size, and corresponding increases in sea level, are both inevitable and irreversible over the next few centuries,” he said. Smaller ice sheets, in turn, might reduce the reflectivity of the planet and potentially accelerate the warming even more, he added.

“It’s like we’re playing with a loaded gun and don’t know how it works.”

Global CO2 emissions by world region 1751 through 2015.

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.

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.

@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.