Indiana

Think Progress: ELPC’s Learner Calls Possible Shutdown of EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago “Tone Deaf and Foolish”

ThinkProgress
Chicago Staff Want a Meeting with EPA Head After Leaked Report Targets Their Office for Closure
by Mark Hand

Environmental Protection Agency employees in Chicago are asking Administrator Scott Pruitt to take the time to meet with them on Wednesday after he visits a nearby Superfund site across the border in northwest Indiana where the federal agency is working to address widespread lead contamination.
The employees want to discuss rumors that the Trump administration plans to close the Chicago Region 5 office. Reports surfaced last weekend that the Region 5 office would be one of two EPA regional offices closed to meet the administration’s budget-cutting goals for the agency.
Pruitt reportedly is expected to attend a Chicago Cubs baseball game rather than meet with employees from the office, which could be consolidated with the agency’s Region 7 office in Kansas. The identity of the other regional office targeted for closure has not been released or leaked.

If Pruitt opts to skip the baseball game, the union that represents the 1,000 employees in the EPA’s Region 5 office, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, would want to discuss what it describes as “devastating cuts he and the Trump administration have proposed.”

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Learner Says Volkswagen Settlement Funds Will Help Transition to Cleaner Transportation, Reduce Impact of Climate Change

Advocates Hoped for More Volkswagen Funds for EVs to be Directed to Midwest

By
Andy Balaskovitz and Kari Lydersen

Advocates pushing to expand electric vehicle adoption across the Midwest are “a little disappointed” in the selection of U.S. cities to receive funding for EV infrastructure under last year’s Volkswagen settlement.

Chicago was among 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to receive money under a federal consent decree as a result of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests and deceiving consumers about its diesel engines. The plan will be overseen by Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary established to oversee the $1.2 billion that will be spent over the next 10 years on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education.

While they applauded Chicago’s selection, clean energy groups are underscoring the importance of the Midwest in a national transition to electric vehicles, and the importance of collaboration between utilities and other investors in this transition.

The $1.2 billion will be spent in $300 million increments over four 30-month cycles, and it’s possible more Midwest cities will receive attention in the coming years.

Major highway corridors in the region — including interstates 80, 75, 94 and 90 — were also selected to receive EV charging stations under the first funding cycle, though details about where those will be located are not yet available.

“We made the case that a number of cities in the Midwest — the Detroit area, Columbus (Ohio), Minneapolis/St. Paul and arguably some others — have been doing significant work around promoting electric vehicles and would have been other good places for Volkswagen to invest,” said Charles Griffith of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center.

‘More than just Chicago’

The Ecology Center and other nonprofits recently formed Charge Up Midwest to promote and seek funding for EV adoption in the region. One of Charge Up Midwest’s first projects was obtaining funding from the Volkswagen settlement.

“We would have liked to see more than just Chicago selected as one of the communities,” Griffith said.

Other critics have said the settlement agreement gives Volkswagen a leg-up in the electric vehicle market and that the company will be able to control where infrastructure is located to improve its bottom line.

The other cities selected in this first cycle — New York City, Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Miami and Raleigh, North Carolina — were chosen largely based on anticipated EV demand.

Michigan and the Detroit region in particular seemed like a good candidate based on the number of EV registrations there and of major U.S. automakers’ interest in breaking into the sector, Griffith said. The state of Michigan also made a separate pitch to Volkswagen for EV funding.

Also, Columbus — which was selected last year for a $50 million Smart City grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation — has been making strides in the clean transportation sector, he said.

“There’s no explanation (in the announcement) about why that wasn’t convincing enough,” Griffith said of the two cities.

According to the plan, Chicago was chosen because of its existing leadership on EVs, including a $14 million city EV program and the electrification of city buses, and because of its relatively dense population, commuting patterns and consumer interest in EVs. The city was chosen despite past troubles with its EV program, including the indictment for fraud of the owners of the provider the city hired, 350green.

“Electrify America notes that it was not able to select every metropolitan area that submitted a strong proposal, but it intends to expand its Community Charging investments into metro areas with supportive government policies and strong utility integration in future investment cycles,” the announcement says.

A new front

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, described electric vehicles and transportation more generally as the most important new front in the battle against climate change, since so many coal plants including two in Chicago have shut down in recent years.

“Because of the transition of the electricity sector with coal plants shutting down and more wind power, solar power and energy efficiency coming into the market as well as lower-priced natural gas, transportation is now the largest sector in terms of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” Learner said.

“It’s time for those of us who are interested in accelerating carbon pollution reduction to focus more attention and get more serious about the opportunities for progress in the transportation sector,” he added. “The advent of hybrid vehicles and electric cars is potentially as transformative to the transportation sector as wireless technologies have been to telecommunications and as solar and wind plus storage have been to the electricity sector.”

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Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC Focus Groups Find Trump Voters in Midwest Swing States Care about Water, Energy Jobs

Trump Voters Actually Do Care About the Environment, Kind Of
April 12, 2017
By Greg Hinz

Environmental issues carry political weight even with Donald Trump voters, and even when top aides to the new president seem anything but green. But for the issue to count, it had better be something those voters can see and smell and feel.

That’s the big takeaway from a fascinating set of 12 focus groups that Chicago’s Environmental Law & Policy Center conducted in recent weeks with Trump voters in swing-state Midwest cities.

Participants from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; and Ft. Wayne, Ind., made it quite clear they care about pollution that’s visible, especially of water used for drinking, swimming and recreation. But global warming drew a big “meh” from the focus groups, many of them industrial workers.

“Water matters, and matters a lot,” said Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co., who ran the focus groups for ELPC. “It is a concrete issue they can see in their daily lives.”

Efforts to boost renewable energy also resonate with voters, particularly if they result in job creation, Selzer says.

The key on that point is numbers—showing the jobs that have been created. “Data on installed solar capacity in Indiana was met with awe and a spark that the state is a leader in the Midwest,” Selzer wrote in a report on the sessions. “They want to feel this kind of pride, and discovering what already is happening makes them feel more favorable to the renewable energy development.”

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Bloomberg BNA: ELPC’s Kearney Says States Should Learn from Peabody Coal Bankruptcy that Self-bonding is Bad Idea

No Collateral Needed for Cleanup in Some States Despite Mine Bankruptcies
March 30, 2017
By Tipp Baltz, Stephen Joyce and Stephen Lee

Several states are still willing to let mines operate without putting up collateral for land cleanup even though three of the country’s biggest coal companies only recently emerged from bankruptcy.

Their plans could get a boost from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly shown a willingness to appease the ailing coal sector. And financial analysts predict that at least one major company will return to the controversial practice of self-bonding within 18 months.

Self-bonding is a financial mechanism that lets coal companies mine without setting aside money to reclaim the land once they’re finished mining. Instead, the companies are allowed to move forward by demonstrating that they have enough money in their own coffers to pay for reclamation.

But that approach has broken down, as three of the sector’s biggest players—Alpha Natural Resources Holdings Inc., Arch Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp.—have filed for bankruptcy. Each of the companies agreed to cut back its use of self-bonding in its bankruptcy agreement.

“Hopefully, what states are learning from Peabody and from the earlier coal company bankruptcies involving self-funding is that it’s not wise to allow self-funding for reclamation obligations,” Margrethe Kearney, staff attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s an inherently volatile market. Things change more quickly than can be responded to by state regulators.”

Yet across the nation, state regulators said they don’t intend to rule out self-bonding, even though federal law allows them to.

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ELPC Statement on Proposed Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 15, 2017

Contact:

Judith Nemes

David Jakubiak

Trump Administration’s Rollback of Fuel Economy Standards Is Misguided

Rolling back common sense fuel efficiency standards will cost people more at the gas pump, increase pollution, and reduce America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness

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 President Trump’s announcement that his administration will reverse the schedule in place for U.S. automakers to adopt improved fuel economy and pollution reduction standards by 2025:

“The misguided rollback of the CAFE fuel economy standards moves America in the wrong direction. The Trump rollback will force consumers to pump gas more often, result in more pollution that harms public health, and weaken American technological innovation leadership and competitiveness. The U.S. will import more foreign oil, which weakens our national security.”

“The Phase 2 CAFE fuel efficiency standards drive automakers to accelerate technological innovation and supports American manufacturing jobs. This is smart, common sense policy that has been adopted after many technical studies and input from a wide range of stakeholders. The United States should not voluntarily cede our technology innovation leadership to Asian and European automakers.”

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ELPC Statement on Proposed U.S. EPA Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     

February 28, 2017

Contact: Judith Nemes 

Trump’s Proposed U.S. EPA Drastic Budget Cuts Put Great Lakes, Safe Drinking Water, Public Health At Risk

Reckless Funding Cuts for Protecting Clean Water and Clean Air Will Hurt Midwest Communities

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 White House’s proposal to slash U.S. EPA funding for vital clean water and clean air programs:

“The Trump Administration’s drastic cuts to the U.S. EPA’s budget would weaken vital protections for healthy clean air and safe drinking water that all Americans care about.  Americans rely on the U.S. EPA to help protect them from dangerous air pollution and unsafe drinking water, but President Trump’s drastic budget cuts impede necessary protections for core environmental and health values and responsibilities.”

“EPA’s clean water grants to state and local agencies help prevent water pollution problems and protect clean, safe drinking water for all.  EPA’s work to protect healthy clean air is vital to reducing asthma and respiratory problems that harm both at-risk elderly and young people.  EPA’s work to reduce mercury pollution is vital to protect children’s health and make it safe to eat the fish we catch in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and rivers.”

EnergyWire: ELPC’s Brad Klein Says Net-Metering Does Not Raise Rates Paid by Non-Solar Customers

EnergyWireNet-Metering Proposal Raises Subsidy Questions in Ind.
February 10, 2017
By Jeffrey Tomich

Indiana joined the cavalcade of states debating the factious topic of net metering as the utility industry squared off with solar advocates and other supporters over how to fairly compensate consumers who generate their own electricity.

A hearing before the Senate Utilities Committee included familiar arguments about jobs, the environment and whether the state’s current policy, initially adopted in 2005, is forcing non-solar customers to subsidize their neighbors with solar panels.

From Nevada to Arizona and beyond, legislatures and utility commissions have debated proposals to eliminate or weaken net-metering policies — changes pushed by utilities who say increasing solar penetration hurts their ability to recover costs of maintaining the grid.

Currently, Indiana net metering customers are credited for the excess power they put on the grid at the retail electricity rate. On average, the retail rate in Indiana is about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour.

State Sen. Brandt Hershman (R) filed S.B. 309 last month. It addresses more than rooftop solar. But the debate over net metering consumed most of yesterday’s five-hour hearing. In the end, the committee adjourned without taking a vote.

As filed, S.B. 309 would end net metering in Indiana in 2027 and replace it with a “buy-all, sell-all” model under which customer-generators would sell their electric output to utilities at the wholesale rate and purchase energy for their home or business at the retail rate.

The bill prompted an immediate backlash, and Hershman offered an amendment yesterday that replaced the “buy-all, sell-all” proposal with a system to credit customer-generators at a rate equal to the utility’s average wholesale energy price, plus a 25 percent premium. Based on testimony from the Indiana Energy Association (IEA), the lobbying group for investor-owned utilities, that wholesale rate is presently about 3 cents per kWh.

The amendment would end net metering in 2022 — five years sooner than the initial bill. Customers who participate in net-metering tariffs when the programs end would be grandfathered for a decade.

“We want to encourage a technology to a degree,” Hershman said. “But at such point as that technology’s cost is dropping dramatically and that policy stays static, what you’re doing is creating an increasing subsidy.

“It’s a heck of a deal if you can get it,” he added. “But the question is, is that good public policy?”

Subsidy Questions

At the heart of the debate was to what extent, if any, net metering creates subsidies among Indiana utility customers.

Bill supporters including the IEA, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity told the committee there is no doubt that solar-owning customers in Indiana are being subsidized by customers without rooftop solar systems.

“While we’re growing an industry, while we’re developing an industry, that kind of solar support with a subsidy is not a bad idea,” said Mark Maassel, IEA’s executive director. “But at some point, we do need to transition away from asking someone to pay for someone else’s facilities.”

Even Hershman’s amendment that would compensate customer generators at 25 percent above the wholesale energy price wouldn’t change that, he said.

“It does continue a subsidy,” Maassel said. “It’s less than there is today, but it does continue a subsidy.”

Bill supporters, however, had no answer when they were asked to quantify the amount of any subsidy or provide data to back up their claims.

“If the utility believes there is a subsidy, then the burden of proof is theirs,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, an environmental and consumer advocacy group. “They have no burden of proof in this building. We should not blindly accept their false narrative.”

Brad Klein, senior attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group, cited studies from other states and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that showed net metering has little if any impact on the rates paid by non-solar customers.

If anything, he said, the benefits of distributed generation are too often overlooked.

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The State Journal-Register: Learner Says ELPC will Stand Up for Citizens’ Rights to Clean Air and Water

State_Journal-Register_logoEnvironmentalists Preparing to Battle Trump, GOP in Court
January 29, 2017
By Tammy Webber and John Flesher

CHICAGO – The night before Donald Trump’s inauguration, five environmental lawyers filed a federal court brief defending an Obama administration clean-water rule that the new president and his Republican allies have targeted for elimination, considering it burdensome to landowners.

The move served as a warning that environmentalists, facing a hostile administration and a Republican-dominated Congress, are prepared to battle in court against what they fear will be a wave of unfavorable policies concerning climate change, wildlife protection, federal lands and pollution.

Advocacy groups nationwide are hiring more staff lawyers. They’re coordinating with private attorneys and firms that have volunteered to help. They’re reviewing statutes, setting priorities and seeking donations.

“It’s going to be all-out war,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. “If you’re an environmentalist or conservationist, this is indeed a scary time.”

Trump’s first week in office only heightened their anxieties. He moved to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that the Obama administration had halted, while signaling intentions to abandon his predecessor’s fight against global warming, vastly expand oil and gas drilling on public lands and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, introduced measures to overturn a new Interior Department rule barring coal mining companies from damaging streams and to remove some wolves from the endangered species list.

“They’ve wasted no time in doing bad things,” said Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s 50-member legal team, which he said is likely to grow as environmentalists increasingly regard the courts as their best option, even though success there is far from certain.

The Department of Justice, which represents the federal government in environmental lawsuits, declined to comment, while the White House did not respond to emails seeking comment. Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said of the environmentalists that he’s “not sure what they think they’re preparing for” but suspects they are stoking fear of Trump as a fundraising tool.

“They’re more concerned about raising money than protecting the environment,” Ericksen said.

Jim Burling, litigation director for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights group that sues regulators on behalf of businesses and landowners, also contended environmental groups were exaggerating the Trump administration’s threat for political and financial gain.

The government bureaucracy is entrenched, Burling said, and, “who happens to occupy the White House hasn’t made that much difference.”

Environmentalists say their fears are justified by the new administration’s antagonism toward government’s role in keeping air and water clean and the planet from overheating.

Donations began increasing after Trump’s election, “even before the fundraising letters were sent” asking for support to fight the administration’s actions, said David Goldston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earthjustice, which has represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, has about 100 staff attorneys and plans to bring more aboard, said Tim Preso, who manages the group’s Northern Rockies office.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is adding four attorneys to its pre-election staff of 18 and is coordinating with more than a dozen outside attorneys who would file citizen suits against polluters for free if agencies fail to enforce existing rules, said Executive Director Howard Learner.

“We cannot fully substitute and replace the EPA doing its job,” Learner said. “But on the other hand, we’re not going to default to zero if the EPA steps backward when it comes to clean air and clean water enforcement.”

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EnergyWire: ELPC’s Learner Expresses Commitment to Advance Clean Energy Standards

EnergyWireIn Midwest, a Vow to Continue Clean Energy Push Under Trump
January 23, 2017
By Jeffrey Tomich

Across the Midwest, clean energy advocates will go to work today like they would on any other Monday.

They’ll engage with legislators, regulators and utilities on policies to advance wind, solar and energy efficiency and curtail emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that affect the environment and public health.

Moving forward, of course, there is one obvious change. While green groups generally had backing from the White House over the last eight years, they now face a brisk headwind with Friday’s inauguration of President Trump.

Within minutes of taking the oath of office, the incoming administration scrubbed references to climate change from the White House web site and posted an energy policy summary that outlined plans to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

Clean energy advocates across the Midwest said the reversal in policy at the executive branch cannot overcome trends that are increasingly steering utilities away from coal and to cleaner sources of energy.

Solar panels are a fraction of their cost only a few years ago. Utilities and corporations are continuing to add thousands of megawatts of new wind generation across the Midwest. Energy demand is declining, or at least flat-lining even as local economies grow. And emissions are falling and aging coal plants are retiring.

“There’s a market transformation that’s going on that’s being driven by smart policies combined with technological improvements,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest environmental advocacy group.

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WGN Radio: Learner Talks Environmental Policy Under Trump Administration

wgnradiowlogo-wideWhat Can We Expect from President Donald Trump’s Environmental Policy?
January 19, 2017
With Justin Kaufmann

Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center joins Justin to talk about Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Energy and what we can expect from President Trump’s environmental policy moving forward.

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