Iowa

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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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Howard Learner Remains Positive Despite Forthcoming Trump Administration

Midwest-Energy-News-LogoQ&A: Advocate Upbeat about Midwest as Trump Administration Looms
January 19, 2017
By Kari Lydersen

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center based in Chicago, spent the early 1980s fighting for fair housing laws and civil rights protections during the Reagan administration.

On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Learner lamented how he feels like the clock has turned back three decades, and he’s again in the position of fighting for basic protections and rights that many Americans have long embraced.

But Learner said he is up for the battle, and confident that public opinion, state and local politics and economics are on his side. 

Midwest Energy News talked with Learner about the impending Trump administration and the ELPC’s plans for the next four years. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This transcript has been updated for clarity)

Midwest Energy News: So how do you feel about the next four years?  

Learner: We have a plan, we’re geared up to fight back. The best defense is a good offense – we’re fired up and ready. At ELPC we need to step up and be prepared to act in the changing political landscape, we need to find ways to play to win both in terms of defense in Washington D.C. and the place we can play offense to achieve important progress in the states and the cities. The Midwest is a pretty good place for us to get things done.

What role does the Midwest play exactly in the struggle to protect the environment and clean energy during the Trump administration?

The American public and pragmatic Midwesterners strongly support core environmental values like clean air, safer drinking water and people being able to live in communities without toxic threats. And there’s strong bipartisan consensus in favor of clean energy development that’s good for jobs, economic growth, the environment.

There have been good examples in the Midwest that illustrate both points. The tragedy of contaminated water in Flint has made it clear to Democratic and Republican policymakers around the Midwest that the public won’t accept unsafe drinking water. It’s a bipartisan issue, it’s a nonpartisan issue.

Recently [Illinois Gov. Bruce] Rauner signed into law legislation to reduce the lead risk in the drinking water supply for children in public schools and day care centers…When it comes to clean safe drinking water and healthier clean air, there is strong mainstream public support for better protection by both the U.S. EPA and the state EPAs. They believe there are common sense solutions that we can carry forth, that transcend partisan urban-rural and other divides.

Are you saying that it will be up to governors and state legislatures to pass stronger laws in case the Trump administration weakens or does not enforce federal protections?

On the clean water, clean air and clean energy fronts, it’s clear we’re going to need to play defense in Washington D.C. Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be U.S. EPA Administrator.  Mr. Pruitt has spent his career as an Attorney General persistently suing the EPA to stop or stall standards to protect clean air and safe drinking water. It is the fox guarding the chicken coop. As the old saying goes, you hope for the best but you plan for the worst.

Unfortunately I expect that ELPC and our colleagues will have to file lawsuits to require the EPA to do its job and fulfill its responsibility, to protect healthy air and clean drinking water for people around our region.

The Trump transition team has indicated that they plan to greatly cut back EPA’s environmental enforcement. If EPA does step back on its environmental enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will help stand up to fill the gap. We’re hiring some additional public interest litigation attorneys. This is one of ELPC’s core strengths, and we are building upon it. This is a time in which public interest environmental litigation is needed both to defend the core environmental laws and to file citizen suits for environmental enforcement.

We have 20 environmental attorneys, and we are stepping up and hiring additional litigants. Secondly, we have created the expanded HELP program – the High-impact Environmental Litigation Program. After the election we got calls from a number of attorneys saying, “I want to help — give me a pro bono case I can do.” We are building upon and expanding on ELPC’s top-rated environmental litigation team and at the same time we are tapping a number of experienced litigators who want to take on pro bono cases to help protect clean air and clean water.

Since many environmental laws are self-implementing, depending largely on citizen suits for enforcement, is it really that different from what you’ve had to do during previous administrations?

We’ve certainly brought citizen suits in the past, we have a citizen suit pending in federal court in central Illinois to enforce clean air violations by Dynegy at its [E.D. Edwards] coal plant. But this is different. When an administration cares about environmental regulations in a positive way, the Attorney General tends to bring the enforcement actions, and we fill some gaps. If we see President Trump’s administration retreating on its enforcement responsibilities, ELPC will step up and have a much more vibrant enforcement strategy. We’re preparing to do that by increasing our in-house litigation team.

That all takes resources and funding. Some media outlets and non-profit organizations have actually seen a boom in support because of Trump. Has that happened for environmental organizations, or do you expect it to happen?

We’ll see. There are some groups out there these days that seem to be asking for money twice a day, it’s a disaster and then it’s another disaster. I hope we’re at a time when environmental philanthropy will be stepped up in response to the needs of the times. These are extraordinary times. And it doesn’t hurt that the stock market is at a relatively high point.

Certainly people in the Midwest and around the country who care about the environment understand that it’s likely to be under siege if someone like Scott Pruitt does become the next EPA Administrator. I think when times are tough, people are willing to dip into their pocketbooks more and step up. But we aren’t taking out loans based on hoped-for increased fundraising, and you’re not going to see the fundraising emails from ELPC. This isn’t about money.

So a Trump administration especially with Pruitt as EPA Administrator would likely roll back enforcement of environmental regulations. On the clean energy development front, will the Trump administration halt progress?

We hope and believe that Congress will not allow the Trump administration to roll back the Production Tax Credit for wind power or the Investment Tax Credit for solar power. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) said [a PTC repeal] would happen “over my dead body.” This is pretty bipartisan.

Solar and wind power have strong bipartisan support. Look what has happened in about the past three months. Illinois passed a strong Renewable Portfolio Standard [fix] supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Iowa Gov. [Terry] Branstad has always taken pride in the state’s wind power leadership, and Iowa is starting to step up on solar development. Wind power development in Iowa is good for jobs, economic growth and the environment, and it’s supported by the entire Republican leadership as well as the Democrats.

Michigan just passed legislation that improves and steps up the RPS. Governor John Kasich in Ohio just vetoed the attempt by the legislature to freeze energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. In just the last few months, we’ve seen progress in four Midwestern states in significant ways.

And Minnesota has always been a leader, in Indiana we have a little work to do, in Wisconsin we have Gov. Scott Walker. But there are two new wind farms in Wisconsin now. For a long time wind power was stalled in Wisconsin, now there are large new wind farms going up in Wisconsin and Dairyland Power [Cooperative] is doing another 15 MW of solar. We’re seeing smart policy plus technological innovation driving clean energy development in the Midwest.

We’re going to have to play some defense in Washington D.C., but we’re looking at these four Midwest states if not five that have stepped up in the last few months. What it shows is first of all that clean energy development has strong mainstream public support. Secondly, it makes sense as a matter of economics. And policymakers understand where the economics are and they are supporting smart policies.

Trump claims he is such a great businessman, so if this is all true why would he undermine clean energy development? 

I will not try to interpret what’s going on in President-elect Trump’s mind. The ITC and PTC have created thousands of new jobs and accelerated cleaner energy in the power markets, protecting public health and the environment, which is what the public wants. This is good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for the environment.

Trump has said he wants to create jobs. If President-elect Trump were to support repealing these important public incentives, that would be a triumph of misplaced ideology over common sense.

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GreenBiz: ELPC’s KIein Says Water Quality Trading One Option to Reduce Water Pollution

GreenBizQuantifying Water as a Liquid Asset
January 7, 2017
By Kelli Barrett

The World Economic Forum ranked the water crisis as one of the top threats facing society after listing it as the No. 1 threat in 2015. Water was also central to the Paris climate talks, while the United Nations dedicated Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 to water and sanitation and the Sioux people of North America put the previously unknown town of Standing Rock on the global map by standing up to protect their water rights.

Fortunately, scores of efforts are underway to meet the challenge and the Electric Power Research Institute started off the year with a review of its Water Prize-winning Ohio River Basin Trading project. A January webinar outlined a multi-pronged strategy that includes promotional videos and impact investors rather than donor-based finance.

Using the project’s funding, Midwest farmers such as Ken Merrick have been able to implement conservation activities to reduce fertilizer and animal waste from running into nearby waterways that flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Merrick, who operates Conser Run farm in Ohio, added a storage area for manure and a buffer strip where his cows only occasionally are allowed to graze.

He also lets trees and grasses grow along the creek running through his farm, which mops up excess pollution before it reaches the water.

The program is still in a pilot phase but, if it evolves as planned, Ohio River farmers can quantify their pollution reductions and generate stewardship credits using a market-based approach called water quality trading. They then can sell these credits to power plants and wastewater treatment facilities interested in meeting sustainability goals or to comply with regulatory requirements.

The Trading Debate

Water quality trading made headlines in 2016 after an organization called Food and Water Watch penned a paper in late 2015 condemning the entire practice and re-labeling it “pollution trading.” The group charged that it undermines the Clean Water Act (CWA) and puts U.S. waterways at great risk. Advocates of the practice dismissed the paper in August, arguing trading is one of several tools states and utilities can use to improve water quality.

“Trading isn’t a silver bullet. It’s not a panacea,” Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said. “But we need to get on top of this issue of water pollution, and water quality trading may be another arrow in the quiver.”

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Des Moines Register: ELPC’s Mandelbaum Says Iowa Water Group Should Focus on Water Pollution Solutions if it Really Cares About Water Quality

Des-Moines-RegisterFarm group: Suburbs, Not Nitrates, Driving Water Works Upgrades
December 21, 2016
By MacKenzie Elmer and Donnelle Eller

A farm-backed water group says exploding population growth in central Iowa suburbs, not high nitrate levels, is driving Des Moines Water Works’ need to invest $241 million in plant improvements over the next five years.

“Des Moines Water Works is using nitrates as the boogeyman,” said Jeff Boeyink, a partnership member and Gov. Terry Branstad’s former chief of staff. “The reality is we need new infrastructure … because we’ve more than doubled the number of customers.”

But Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe decried the partnership’s findings as “half-baked truths” and an attempt to deflect attention away from Iowa’s “dirty water crisis.” The water utility last year filed a lawsuit against drainage districts in three north Iowa counties over high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa residents.

The Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, a statewide group backed by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, points to a memo from L.D. McMullen, the utility’s former CEO, saying the metro area’s “significant increase in population over the past several years” is straining the drinking water system’s “aging infrastructure.”

It’s not higher nitrate levels, the ag group says, pointing to two University of Iowa studies. “It’s important to understand that the need to invest in additional nitrate removal systems is not being driven by significant changes in river nitrate levels,” the report said. “The river levels show no statistically significant trend in almost 15 years.”

“It’s not about adding capacity for growth,” Stowe said, adding that per-capita water use has actually declined as consumers learn to use water more efficiently. “The idea that growth of more people means more water demand in and of itself shows how little the Farm Bureau knows about water.”

An Increase in Daily Demand

The report from the partnership, citing a Water Works consultant, said the average daily demand for water will have nearly doubled to 69.3 million gallons from 1990 to 2035 as 20 area cities, towns and water districts look to Des Moines Water Works for drinking water.

The partnership says suburbs now make up just less than 60 percent of water consumption from the system, but they don’t have a seat on Water Works’ five-member board of trustees, who are selected by the Des Moines mayor.

Des Moines Councilwoman Christine Hensley, also a member of the partnership, called for a change to Water Works’ governing board to give suburbs more say. That could be done and has been attempted at the state level, a move Stowe says he would challenge. A bill in the state

Legislature last year that would have reorganized the board failed to win approval.

West Des Moines, Waukee and Urbandale are exploring separate water treatment plants.

Urbandale’s utility has already purchased land that could serve as a site. The moves would take a “huge customer base away” and leave Des Moines ratepayers with the bill to replace the city’s aging infrastructure, Boeyink said.

If every city had its own system, Boeyink said, the costs for water treatment overall would go up for everyone. That’s why it’s important to share the burden, he said.

Can Iowa improve its water quality if it can’t agree how to measure success?

Stowe agrees that, in order to keep costs low for everyone, the system should remain regional.

“We’d love to have greater representation, realistically, on our board, but it doesn’t come for free,” Stowe said. “It’s about who owns the asset. Who bought the Fleur Drive (plant)? Des Moines residents bought that.”

Reaction to the Report

Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said Iowa has serious water problem and “agricultural pollution is a significant contributor.”

“Our water pollution problems lead to excess nitrates in drinking water sources for Des Moines and communities around the state, threats to drinking water from microcystin, and record beach warnings caused by toxic algae blooms.

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EnergyWire: ELPC, Allies Seek Information on Plant Closures

MISO Urged To Disclose Power Plant Shutdown Notices
Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter

No matter how the Donald Trump presidency plays out, or whether the Clean Power Plan survives, the Midwest power grid will see dozens of older coal-fired power plants shut down in the next few years.

The region’s grid operator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), can keep plants running if they are necessary to keep the lights on. But when it comes to knowing which ones will close, and when, will the public be left in the dark?

Under MISO’s tariff approved by federal regulators in 2012, notices of looming power plant closures and suspensions filed by the plants’ owners remain a secret until the plant stops running. There are exceptions if the plant is needed for reliability or if the owner announces the closure.

Now, MISO is considering changing the rules at the urging of parties who say market conditions have changed in recent years and utilities, regulators and customers would benefit from greater transparency.

“Allowing all stakeholders to have more granular information on what is happening with the system would be a significant improvement to the planning process,” a group of environmental and clean energy advocacy groups from throughout the Midwest said in comments to MISO.

The groups, including the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Great Plains Institute, Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, said making notices public sooner would yield benefits. Those benefits include helping parties understand changes in the region’s generation mix, assist with siting of new projects and inform discussions of new transmission projects.

Read the whole story at: http://www.eenews.net/energywire/2016/12/19/full

 

 

Public News Service: ELPC’s Klein Praises Advancements For Solar In Illinois Legislation

Public News ServiceIllinois Called Leader in Move to Renewable Energy
December 15, 2016
By Veronica Carter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Strides are being made in the Midwest when it comes to renewable energy, but there’s still lots of room for improvement.

Illinois is being praised for last month’s passage of the Future Energy Jobs Bill, with some calling it the most important climate bill in state history.

Attorney Brad Klein with the Environmental Law and Policy Center hopes other Midwestern states will follow the lead.

He says the legislation will lead to huge growth in solar and wind technology, combat climate change, create jobs and lower utility bills.

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Des Moines Register: ELPC’s Mandelbaum Says Real-Time Measurements of Water Quality is Vital

Des-Moines-RegisterCan Iowa Improve its Water Quality if it Can’t Agree How to Measure Success?
November 19, 2016
By Donnelle Eller and MacKenzie Elmer

As Iowa lawmakers prepare to battle again over investing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve water quality, a new and controversial debate is looming: What measurement should the state use to determine whether that spending is working?

A big part of Iowa’s efforts to improve its rivers, streams and lakes centers on farmers adopting conservation practices spelled out in the state’s ambitious Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which seeks to slash nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the state’s waterways by 45 percent.

But a political divide has emerged over the best way to measure the success of those improvements:

  • Environmentalists, water advocates and scientists want Iowa to rely on real-time water-quality monitoring, building on the state’s existing work to measure how well the state’s conservation efforts are working.
  • Farm groups prefer a yardstick that leans on counting how many acres of cover crops, grassed waterways and other conservation practices have been put in place, presuming that the more Iowa has, the better its water quality will be. Working with Iowa State University scientists and an industry-led nonprofit, they’re working on a plan to precisely track conservation gains.

The problem is that neither method guarantees that Iowa will be able to quickly figure out whether water quality is actually improving.

The reason: Farm practices that cut nitrate and phosphorus levels likely will take more than a decade to produce results in major rivers and lakes.

Iowa could invest “tens of millions of dollars” in added water-quality monitoring and “not know a lot more than what we do now,” said Bill Northey, Iowa’s agriculture secretary.

Moreover, he said, money spent on monitoring would take away from conservation practice investments that help improve water.

“If we only have a certain pool of dollars, taking from one has an impact on the other,” Northey said.

But without a good measurement for success, persuading lawmakers to fund millions of dollars in water quality improvements could be a difficult sell.

Proposals to fund a major water-quality cleanup in Iowa have ranged from increasing the sales tax three-eighths of 1 cent to diverting projected revenue growth from an existing statewide sales tax for school infrastructure.

‘We’re Tired of Cheerleading’

What’s beyond the dispute is that water quality in Iowa is a serious problem: Half of the rivers, streams and lakes that scientists have assessed are considered impaired.

Environmental advocates such as Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney at Environmental Law & Policy Center, are pushing hard for real-time measurements, arguing that investing in terraces, bioreactors or other water improvement practices without such measurements risks wasting years of money and effort.

“You need to actually check the water to see if the water quality is improved,” Mandelbaum said.

Bill Stowe, CEO of the Des Moines Water Works, the utility suing north Iowa drainage districts over high nitrate levels, said agricultural leaders want to focus on measuring conservation practices, instead of water quality, to hide the state’s lack of progress.

“We’re tired of the cheerleading about minuscule gains in acres of cover crops, and ribbon cutting for biofilters,” said Stowe, who calls the volunteer Nutrient Reduction Plan ineffective, since it has no deadlines to meet its goals.

The utility seeks federal oversight of drainage districts, and indirectly, farmers.

“Data is key, and we’re not seeing that,” he said.

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Press Release: New Report Reveals Illinois & Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways, Mississippi River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center
JNemes@elpc.org 312-795-3706

Kim Knowles, Prairie Rivers Network
KKnowles@prairierivers.org 314-341-1641

New Report Reveals Illinois and Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways
Environmental Coalition Calls on EPA to Step Up Efforts to Reduce Nutrient Pollution in Mississippi River

Mississippi River – The Mississippi River Collaborative (MRC) today released a report that implores the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take specific actions to clean up nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Illinois and nine other states, because those states have failed to make sufficient pollution reductions. The 10 states included in the report all border the Mississippi River and send their pollution to the river and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.

The report, “Decades of Delay,” was prepared by MRC, a partnership of 13 environmental and legal groups, and assesses state progress in reducing the pollution that threatens drinking water supplies for millions of Americans and causes the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.

The report finds that nitrogen and phosphorus continue to pose serious threats to Illinois waters, interfering with the public’s use and enjoyment, and threatening the health of people and aquatic life. Illinois lakes have been especially devastated by phosphorus pollution.

“EPA’s hands-off approach is simply not working in Illinois. Every summer our lakes and beaches are fouled by noxious, smelly and sometimes toxic algal blooms,” said Kim Knowles, Staff Attorney at Prairie Rivers Network. “The state lacks a rigorous program for addressing this scourge.”

“For 20 years, we have been told the EPA and the states would address the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that fouls our rivers and lakes and perpetuates the Gulf Dead Zone,” said Jessica Dexter, Staff Attorney, Environmental Law & Policy Center, an MRC member. “This report demonstrates the falsity of that claim. EPA should use the tools outlined in the report to uphold the Clean Water Act and get us on a path to clean rivers and streams.”

The report suggests six specific steps EPA can take to protect human health and water quality in state waters. Recommendations include setting numeric limits of allowable nitrogen and phosphorus in state waters, assessing more waterways to determine the full extent and impact of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and making sure states develop rigorous plans for reducing pollution and for procuring the funding needed to address this significant problem.

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Decades of Delay Executive Summary
Decades of Delay Full Report

Energy Wire: ELPC’s Brad Klein Talks Updating Interconnection Standards for Solar

EnergyWire

October 17, 2016
Midwest States Urged to Update Grid Access Rules Ahead of Growth
By Jeffrey Tomich

When Xcel Energy Inc. began accepting applications for community solar projects in December 2014, the utility and virtually everyone else who worked with regulators to develop rules for the program were stunned by the magnitude of the response.

Within weeks, Minneapolis-based Xcel received requests totaling hundreds of megawatts of shared solar capacity. To date, more than 1,000 applications pending represent more than 1 gigawatt of capacity.

The backlog that accompanied the community solar boom in Xcel’s service area — the product of a 2013 law — not only led to frustration and anger among developers, it served as a cautionary tale for regulators, utilities and solar developers in other states.

While other Midwest states might not see such sudden and dramatic growth, solar advocates believe it’s a matter of when, not if, those markets take off. And when that happens, they want states to have the tools to smoothly handle the increase in projects wanting grid access and not repeat the Minnesota experience.

“That’s exactly the type of situation we’re trying to avoid,” said Brad Klein, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest clean energy advocacy group.

Read the whole story at www.eenews.net

 

 

 

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