Illinois

From Peoria Journal Star: ELPC, Allies Win Federal Clean Air Case Against Coal Plant

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August 24, 2016

Federal Judge Rules Against Edwards Coal-Fired Energy Plant
By Andy Kravetz

PEORIA — A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against the owner of a coal-fired energy plant in Edwards, saying its owners allowed too much soot to be emitted from the smoke stacks there.
A 50-page order, issued Tuesday by Senior U.S. District Judge Joe B. McDade, states Illinois Power Resources Generating LLC, which owns and operates the E.D. Edwards power plant, must work to clean emissions from the facility.

The Sierra Club, along with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council and Respiratory Health Association, filed a lawsuit in 2013 alleging violations of the Clean Air Act. The suit was initially filed against Ameren Illinois, but the plant was acquired later in 2013 by IPRG, which is a subsidiary of Dynegy, an energy company based in Houston.

“We’re thrilled that Judge McDade is holding Dynegy accountable for the many years that it has spewed out harmful soot, failing residents of Peoria County,” said Jennifer Cassel, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center which represented the Respiratory Health Association. “It’s time for Dynegy to recognize that if it is going to continue to operate the Edwards plant, it must respect the community and the law by installing functional pollution controls.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Kearney Calls for Immediate Action to Reduce Imminent Threat of Enbridge Line 5 Disaster

Midwest Energy News

Advocates, State Disagree on Legal Case to Shut Down Mackinac Pipeline

By Andy Balaskovitz
Aug. 19, 2016

The state of Michigan says there is “inadequate information” to justify pursuing a court order to shut down an underwater oil pipeline between the Upper and Lower peninsulas.

But environmental attorneys working to eventually shut down Line 5 — as a growing number of businesses and local governments in Michigan are calling for — disagree and say they’ve presented evidence within the past six months that contradicts the state’s position.

Moreover, advocates say the state could have been pursuing much of the crucial information it’s seeking but instead has punted with a pair of pipeline studies that could take up to 18 months to complete.

The state is holding off on any potential legal action to force closure of the controversial pipeline until those studies are done, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Last week, the new director of the DEQ said calls to shut down Line 5, at this point, are “premature.”

The DEQ says the state has “available legal tools to address an imminent threat” from the twin pipelines, such as enforcing an easement agreement from 1953, common law public trust and public nuisance doctrines and potentially state law, a department spokesperson said.

But a court order is the state’s “only legal mechanism” to shut down Line 5, and it would have to prove there were “clear violations” of the easement, there is an “imminent threat” that the pipeline would fail, “and that such a threat outweighed any interest in Enbridge continuing to operate the Pipeline.”

“The (Michigan Petroleum Pipeline) Task Force believes the State has available legal tools to abate any immediate and actual threat of a spill from the Straits Pipelines. But at this juncture, particularly given the nearly unanimous view that there is inadequate information at this time to fully evaluate the risks presented by the Straits Pipelines, the Task Force does not find a basis for recommending that the State take the extraordinary action of seeking a court order to immediately shut down the Straits Pipelines,” said DEQ spokesperson Michael Shore.

Attorneys who have joined the Oil and Water Don’t Mix campaign do not share the view that there is “inadequate information” to pursue court action.

Earlier this month, the state notified Enbridge that it was violating the 1953 easement due to a lack of anchor supports and gave the company 90 days to take corrective action. A public comment period on that is currently underway.

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Peabody trying to shift coal clean-up costs onto taxpayers, ELPC’s Learner explains to NPR’s Marketplace

Just about every big coal mining company in America is in bankruptcy, or emerging from it. That includes the world’s largest private sector coal firm: Peabody Energy.

Peabody won court approval to set aside just a small amount of money for environmental cleanup – a mere 15 cents on the dollar. That leaves the states in which it operates at risk for the rest.

The whole question here is, if coal companies wobble and fall down for good, who pays for the cleanup? The process of removing water pollution, planting trees and shrubs and returning the topsoil is expensive and time-consuming.

In Peabody’s case, the court and three key mining states agreed to let the company put up just a fraction of the cleanup money that would be required.

“They’re trying to shift the costs from the coal mining companies back to the states, and basically onto taxpayers,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. “And unfortunately, for example, the state of Indiana seems to have agreed to take 15 to 17 cents on the dollar.”

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ELPC Statement On Opening Of New Self-Bonding Rulemaking

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 16, 2016

Contact:
David Jakubiak

Federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement Opens New Self-Bonding Rulemaking
New Rules Must Ensure Coal Mine Clean-Up Is Done Well and Costs Not Shifted To The Public
STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER
Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement’s (OSMRE) opening of a federal rulemaking addressing the problems of coal mining companies’ self-bonding of mine reclamation costs:

“OSMRE recognizes that the self-bonding standards should be strengthened to deal with today’s energy market reality of multiple coal mine company bankruptcies and declining demand for coal. We commend OSMRE for moving forward with a new rulemaking process to better protect taxpayers and ensure that mine reclamation and environmental clean ups are paid for by the companies that are responsible for the costs.

“ELPC will work to ensure that improved self-bonding standards prevent coal mine clean-up costs from being shifted onto taxpayers and that the coal mining companies fulfill their mine reclamation responsibilities and do that well.”

Progress IL: Enviros rally & testify on clean energy justice issues in Chicago

Environmentalists from across the country were in Chicago Wednesday to testify before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

CEIP is an optional component of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. The voluntary incentive program is meant to jump-start action to curb carbon pollution and help states comply with the Clean Power Plan.

CEIP seeks to reward early investment in energy efficiency and solar projects in low-income communities as well as zero-emitting renewable energy projects — including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower — in all communities.

Participating states could use the emission allowances or emission rate credits distributed through the program to comply with the Clean Power Plan when it takes effect in 2022. The EPA, which released its updated CEIP plan in June, is proposing that the matching pool of allowances or emission rate credits be split evenly between low-income community projects and renewable energy projects.

Emma Lockridge, a leader with Michigan United and the People’s Action Institute, was among dozens of speakers from across the country who testified this morning in support of making CEIP mandatory and more comprehensive.

Lockridge and many other hearing attendees described themselves as living in frontline, environmental justice communities.

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FOX32: Save up to 20% on your a/c bill with a smart thermostat

ELPC Senior Attorney Rob Kelter spoke with FOX32 about how smart thermostats can save consumers money — the rebate cuts the cost of the thermostats in half, and the energy savings pay for the rest of the cost of the device within a year.  The Chicago area has the largest rebate in the country for smart thermostats, and ELPC helped make that happen.

Learner says no deal from Peabody in Illinois could signal better reclamation deal

Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer in the U.S., reached a deal this week with several states on plans to cover the costs of mine cleanups. Illinois is not among them and environmentalists said that could be a good sign.

The company is filing for bankruptcy and has been allowed to self-bond – essentially a promise to pay for coal site cleanup without actually setting aside the cash. Peabody operates several coal mines in Illinois and according to the state’s attorney general, the energy company could be on the hook for $92 million to reclaim the sites if they’re shut down.

That money should not have to come from Illinois taxpayers, said Howard Learner with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“The state of Illinois has not filed a stipulation with Peabody,” Lerner said. “And we’re pleased that Governor Rauner and the Illinois Attorney General are looking harder at this one, and reassessing what’s the fair balance here in light of Peabody’s legal responsibilities.”

Learner said that the deal Peabody reached with Indiana could force the state’s taxpayers to foot about 80 percent of the bill to clean up the company’s coal sites. So far, Illinois has not made a deal with Peabody.

In July, a federal bankruptcy judge allowed groups, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, to weigh in on the court proceedings. Learner called it a breakthrough decision that could help keep Peabody accountable.

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Public News Service: ELPC’s Learner Discusses Peabody’s Responsibility to Fund Mine Reclamation

By Brandon Campbell, Public News Service

Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer in the U.S., reached a deal this week with several states on plans to cover the costs of mine cleanups. Illinois is not among them and environmentalists said that could be a good sign.

The company is filing for bankruptcy and has been allowed to self-bond – essentially a promise to pay for coal site cleanup without actually setting aside the cash. Peabody operates several coal mines in Illinois and according to the state’s attorney general, the energy company could be on the hook for $92 million to reclaim the sites if they’re shut down.

That money should not have to come from Illinois taxpayers, said Howard Learner with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“The state of Illinois has not filed a stipulation with Peabody,” Lerner said. “And we’re pleased that Governor Rauner and the Illinois Attorney General are looking harder at this one, and reassessing what’s the fair balance here in light of Peabody’s legal responsibilities.”

Learner said that the deal Peabody reached with Indiana could force the state’s taxpayers to foot about 80 percent of the bill to clean up the company’s coal sites. So far, Illinois has not made a deal with Peabody.

In July, a federal bankruptcy judge allowed groups, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, to weigh in on the court proceedings. Learner called it a breakthrough decision that could help keep Peabody accountable.

“What that really means,” Learner said, “is the court’s attention is now focused on Peabody living up to its legal responsibility to fully fund the mine reclamation and hear the arguments about why those costs should not be shifted onto the public.”

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Ecosystem Marketplace: ELPC’s Brad Klein Weighs in on Water Quality Trading Programs

Water Quality Trading: What Works? What Doesn’t? And Why Don’t We Know This Already?

By Kelli Barrett

July 22, 2016

Water utilities and NGOs around the world are using market-based mechanisms to clean regional water bodies and restore surrounding watersheds, but critics say the programs are unproven. Proponents counter: yes, they are, and the data exists to prove it!

For years now, North American cities like Denver and New York have been diverting water fees into forest conservation, while Kenyan flower-growers have been voluntarily paying upland farmers to develop terraces that slow runoff. Just this week, legislators in the Peruvian Capital of Lima authorized a program that will divert some of the city’s water fees into the restoration of ancient, pre-Incan canals high in the Andes to capture floodwater for the dry season. In addition to these “investments in watershed services” (IWS) programs, water authorities in the United States, New Zeeland, and Australia are experimenting with something called “water quality trading” (WQT), which aims to keep levels of fertilizer at scientifically acceptable levels by helping farmers implement conservation practices that reduce their agricultural runoff.

Each program is uniquely its own, but they all hinge on the premise that market-based mechanisms deliver better results and more flexibility by focusing on quantifiable, verifiable outcomes – either in terms of water quality or regularity of supply – rather than the rigid edicts of “command-and-control” regulation.

Last autumn, an organization called Food and Water Watch (FWW) challenged that assumption, at least as far as WQT is concerned, in a paper that re-labeled WQT as “pollution trading” and charged that it undermines the Clean Water Act (CWA) and puts US waterways at great risk – a contention that was promptly dismissed by WQT proponents like Brent Fewell and Bobby Cochran.

Fewell, a one-time senior official at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and founder of the law firm Earth and Water Group, penned a piece entitled “Food & Water Lies – FWW Stands in the Way of Environmental Protection” which derided the organization as being ideologically anti-market and anti-public private partnership, while Cochran, the Executive Director of the Oregon-based nonprofit Willamette Partnership, was a bit more forgiving.

“FWW did not do an independent assessment on water quality trading,” said Cochran, whose organization is active in the WQT space and often acts as an advocate for trading.

However, Cochran adds that proponents of trading aren’t producing objective content either.

And while the pro and con camps continue to argue, reams of hard data from dozens of pilot projects are sitting around just begging for a disinterested, scientific evaluation. Cochran, among other practitioners, suggest a third-party, independent review of this data to settle the debate over whether WQT is effective.

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Judge rules that ELPC is in position to assert that Peabody put up necessary funds for mine reclamation and cleanup

From Midwest Energy News:

Environmental groups won a partial victory last week in their campaign to make sure Peabody Energy cleans up its coal mines, a growing concern as the company is going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

A federal bankruptcy judge found that the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Western Office of Resource Councils can proceed in petitioning the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) regarding Peabody’s use of “self-bonding” for eventual clean-up of its coal mines.

When a company is in bankruptcy, there is an “automatic stay” imposed on citizens pushing for enforcement of environmental laws, including the federal law governing coal mine reclamation. The groups had asked the bankruptcy court to be exempted from that stay on the self-bonding issue.

Peabody had strongly objected, but the judge ruled in the groups’ favor, deciding they can continue sending information to the federal enforcement office and demanding  regulators take action to limit Peabody’s self-bonding.

The groups have been arguing that Peabody should have to put up real capital ahead of time or invest in an insurance policy or surety bonds to clean up mines, rather than be allowed to “self-bond,” or essentially promise that it will have enough money when the time comes.

As ELPC executive director Howard Learner sees it, bankruptcy judge Barry Schermer’s July 20 decision signals that the feds can enforce reclamation requirements on Peabody even as the company reorganizes in bankruptcy proceedings. And if federal regulators do not take action the environmental groups find sufficient, the ruling protects their right to sue the agency, Learner said.

“The question will be, where do Peabody’s mine reclamation and environmental cleanup responsibilities fall within the competing demands of creditors and vendors and Peabody’s plans for future,” as hashed out in bankruptcy proceedings, Learner said.

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