Midwest Energy News: ELPC Standing Up for Consumers, Energy Efficiency Efforts in NIPSCO Rate Hike Case

An Indiana utility is requesting a fixed rate charge increase of more than 80 percent, even as nationwide utility commissions have denied or curbed many such requests and utilities in other states have backed off the strategy.

The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO argues, as other utilities around the country have, that it needs the rate structure revision to make sure that all customers pay their fair share for upkeep of the grid.

Increased fixed charges are widely seen as an attack on distributed solar, since a set charge regardless of how much energy one uses discourages generating one’s own electricity. The increases also discourage energy conservation and efficiency.

In a case filed October 1 (docket number 4468), NIPSCO asked for fixed monthly charges to be increased from $11 to $20 per month for residential customers. Previously the utility Indianapolis Power & Light Company also asked for a fixed charge increase, from $11 to $17 monthly. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering both cases.

The commission is often viewed as accommodating to utilities, so clean energy advocates fear the fixed charge increases may be approved. A bill introduced, then later pulled, in the Indiana legislature last year would have forced the commission to approve any fixed charge increase requests.

“This conversation is getting underway in Indiana and the NIPSCO case is on top of the list because of the language they used and their stated intent that, ‘This is just the beginning folks, we’ll be back for more every few years,’” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the Citizen Actions Coalition. “It’s something we’d like to nip in the bud.”

Indiana currently has only a very small amount of distributed solar installed.

In discovery for the rate case, the coalition and the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found that NIPSCO has only 80 residential and small commercial customers with distributed solar, out of a total of 410,000 residential customers and about 51,000 small commercial customers. Statewide, there are only about 1,000 utility customers with solar.

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Northwest Indiana Times: ELPC Files Testimony Against NIPSCO Rate Hike

A grassroots Indiana consumer group and a heavyweight environmental organization have teamed up to attack NIPSCO’s efforts to raise fixed charges on electric bills.

The Citizens Action Coalition and the Environmental Law & Policy Center have filed testimony with state regulators alleging the increased charge will hit low income, minority and elderly customers the hardest. They also charge it will discourage people from conserving electricity.

“The company’s (NIPSCO’s) proposal would unjustly shift costs and cause disproportionate harm to low-volume, low-income residential ratepayers while undermining the viability of energy efficiency programming,” said John Howat, a witness testifying for the consumer and the environmental group.

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ELPC’s Learner and The Daily Herald Editorial Board Say It’s Time to End the Illiana Tollway

Seven months ago, we were extremely pleased with Gov. Bruce Rauner who had just announced that he was withdrawing any more funding for the unnecessary and expensive Illiana Expressway.

Yes, we acknowledged at the time there were administrative steps needed to completely end the proposal, which would connect I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana.

Unfortunately, not all the steps have been completed and the Illiana Expressway apparently is still alive and we must question again why that is.

Daily Herald transportation writer Marni Pyke reported Monday that the Illinois Department of Transportation filed court documents in late 2015 — months after Rauner said the plan would not move forward — saying the state agency was committed to addressing problems in the environmental report and will hire consultants to conduct more analyses.


“No decisions have been made at this point on next steps. No funding has been identified or spent. No consultants have been hired,” said IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell.

With the state budget stalemate ongoing, that’s not surprising. There’s not enough money for things that matter, much less for items that don’t. Our question and the question others have is why is Illiana still on IDOT’s radar in the first place?

“Why is IDOT trying to push this boondoggle.” asked Howard Learner, the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “It’s hard to read that any other way than saying they’re looking for money,” Learner said. “It’s baffling”

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Daily Herald: ELPC’s Learner Baffled by Gov. Rauner & IDOT Mixed Message over Proposed Illiana

Thought dead by many, the Illiana Expressway still clings to life in court, despite Gov. Bruce Rauner’s booting it off IDOT’s radar last year.

And that worries foes of the 50-mile proposed toll road linking I-55 near Wilmington with I-65 in Indiana.

“When the state of Illinois doesn’t have a budget and is under severe financial distress — when core programs for kids and schools are being cut — why is IDOT trying to push this boondoggle?” asked Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

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Howard Joins WBEZ’s Worldview to Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Monday afternoon, Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s global affairs program Worldview to discuss what the COP21 agreement reached in Paris means to efforts to address climate change. You can listen to the broadcast below.

Press Release: ELPC Blows the Whistle on Departments of Transportation Trying to Stall Illiana Litigation


ELPC Blows the Whistle on Departments of Transportation Trying to Stall Illiana Litigation

ELPC continues to battle against the boondoggle Illiana Tollway, which would cost taxpayers an estimated $1.3 billion, undermine sound regional planning and harm the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. In October, ELPC submitted a statement to an Illinois federal court insisting that the U.S. Department of Transportation, Illinois Department of Transportation, and Indiana Department of Transportation should not be allowed to put the lawsuit on hold until it decides to re-do the Environmental Impact Statement analysis for the proposed tollway at some future date. ELPC argued there are no merits to the transportation departments’ claims and charged they are using it as a stalling tactic to prevent a final administrative action.

ELPC achieved a significant victory in June 2015 when U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso ruled the analysis used in the Illiana’s Tier One Environmental Impact Statement “arbitrary and capricious.”

In October, the transportation agencies asked U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle for a stay of litigation until July to give the agencies time to do additional analysis after Judge Alonso’s June decision. The agencies insist that they will perform a revised analysis when sufficient funds are made available to IDOT. Considering that Illinois is tangled up in a budget gridlock, it is unlikely those funds will materialize any time soon.

ELPC immediately blew the whistle on the transportation agencies in a statement to the federal court filed shortly after the stay of litigation was requested, asserting that a new analysis would not change the facts at the heart of the case.

ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner, who is the lead attorney representing Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and the Sierra Club, said, “Defendants fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of a stay, which is to put a case ‘on hold’ pending the outcome of a development that would in some way affect the outcome of the current case. This common-sense purpose is simply not met here. The fundamental issue here is the foundation has been invalidated. Tier 2 of the environmental impact statement, based on Tier 1, cannot stand. And the defendants are trying to stall.

“The second-stage environmental impact statement at the center of the suit was an administrative action which the public is allowed to appeal through the courts. Later changes to the assessment should therefore not affect the environmental group’s ability to pursue their challenge. There’s no such thing as a semi-final administrative action or a quarter-final administrative action. Once a final administrative action has been made, as it has here, it is appealable.”

ELPC will continue to monitor the transportation agencies’ actions in its continued efforts to bring the Illiana Tollway boondoggle to an end.




Press Release: Multi-state commission kicks mercury ban deadline for Ohio River back to state agencies

Multi-state Commission Kicks Mercury Ban Deadline for Ohio River Back to State Agencies

 Environmental groups disappointed commission not setting consistent standard 

 BUFFALO, N.Y. – Today, an 8-state commission that oversees pollution standards for the Ohio River announced a disappointing decision to remove the October 16 effective date for a ban that would forbid companies in all states along the river from dumping high levels of toxic mercury into the waterway. Instead, the commission changed the rule to shift the responsibility to state agencies for deciding whether to allow companies to discharge larger amounts of mercury into the river, which means there will likely be no unified standard.

Mercury is a known neurotoxin that causes brain and nerve damage to children and developing fetuses when they are exposed through consumption of contaminated fish.

In 2003, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, known as ORSANCO, authorized a ban to take effect in 10 years that would prevent polluters located in all states along the Ohio River from releasing high levels of mercury directly into the water through the use of mercury dilution zones. The ban on these “mixing zones” would improve the safety of consumption of fish from the river and protect public health. After delaying the ban by two years, ORSANCO set a new effective date for October 16, 2015.

Instead of enforcing a specific implementation date, ORSANCO at its public meeting today in Buffalo, N.Y. announced it changed the mixing zone prohibition to “As soon as practicable,” and left final decision-making to state permitting authorities. States will now have more leeway to decide whether to grant variances to individual coal plants, factories and other industries along the Ohio River that seek exceptions to comply with the ban.

Representatives from a coalition of 20 environmental groups working toward a cleaner and healthier Ohio River are concerned that states along the Ohio River will not be tough enforcers of the ban.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center and our partners are disappointed about this decision because it fails to recognize that polluters have already had 12 years to reduce their mercury discharges,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC’s Staff Attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “ORSANCO hasn’t done its job well on mercury pollution so Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania need to step up and do it better. The Commission missed a crucial opportunity here to set a firm deadline for achieving safe levels of mercury in the Ohio River.”

Environmental groups worry about continued health risks for residents who benefit from the fish supply in the Ohio River and those who recreate there as well.

“ORSANCO’s decision flies in the face of Kentuckians who support the ban on toxic mercury discharges and the enforcement of water quality protections, and it flies in the face of science,” said Tim Joice, Water Policy Director at the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. “We are extremely disappointed for all the fishermen and families that eat fish from the river daily, and disappointed for the public at large. KWA will continue to fight for clean water for the health of our communities and citizens.”

The coalition also charges that  ORSANCO is abandoning its own mission to set one standard for the entire river, which is intended to reduce overall pollution and create a level playing field for industries along the length of the river.

“This decision to eliminate the ban deadline provides no end in sight to the increasing mercury pollution in the Ohio River,” said Angie Rosser, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “Cleaner water for our residents simply can’t wait.”

Several companies along the Ohio River were in the process of requesting variances to the mixing zone ban from ORSANCO and they will instead have to seek exceptions directly from states agencies.

ORSANCO, which is composed of governor-appointed individuals from eight states and three federal government representatives, is charged to conduct a review of its pollution abatement and control standards every three years. More than 16,000 public comments were submitted opposing the lifting of the mercury mixing zone ban deadline.



Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio River mercury decision passes authority to states

State officials along the Ohio River will now be left to decide whether companies can discharge mercury and other potentially harmful chemicals into the Ohio River in areas known as mixing zones.

Members of the board of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) made the decision Thursday morning at a board meeting in Buffalo, New York, to the dismay of many environmental groups.

“This decision is disappointing and fails to recognize that polluters have already had 12 years to reduce their mercury discharges,” a statement from the Environmental Law & Policy Center reads. “ORSANCO hasn’t done its job well on mercury pollution so Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania need to step up and do it better. The commission missed a crucial opportunity here to set a firm deadline for achieving safe levels of mercury in the Ohio River. Without such a deadline, it’s likely that polluters will just spend another 12 years twiddling their thumbs rather than taking concrete steps toward reducing mercury discharges.”


Cincinnati Enquirer: Mercury in the Ohio River: To Mix or not to mix

Twelve years ago, pollution monitors banned diluting mercury into the Ohio River, a demand still under negotiation.

Across a small lake in the flood plain of the Ohio River, fish jump from the water on a gorgeous, late-summer morning.

A fisherman casts into the blue waters of one of several lakes on a 2,500-acre preserve straddling the Indiana-Ohio border, at a place known as Oxbow. The lakes are full of fish and the fisherman has a good chance at a crop of crappie, blue gill and bass.

But he’ll want to throw all but one back.

The Ohio River Fish Consumption Advisories urge him and others not to eat more than one fish per month from the river – including these wetlands, which flood at least three times a year.

Why? Mercury and other chemicals, byproducts of industry, that build up in fish over time create potential health risks.


Cincinnati Enquirer Op-Ed: Miller, Fleisher: Keep Mercury Out of the Ohio River

Michael C. Miller is professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. Madeline Fleisher is a staff attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Columbus.

Everyone loves a good fish story. Depending on how this tale ends, it may not be one we’ll want to read to our kids at bedtime.

That’s because this story begins with how much mercury has been dumped into the Ohio River where locals love to fish, swim, boat and jet ski. And it could end badly – and soon – if an eight-state commission announces this week it will withdraw a ban it crafted in 2003 to reduce the flow of mercury, a dangerous neurotoxin, into the river.

To be sure, there are other pollutants in the Ohio River we need to worry about too. Recent headlines rightly focused on outbreaks of poisonous algae spreading across the Ohio since August.


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